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Steam in China, December 2010 - January 2011

by Dave Habraken

Jixi, Tiefa (Diaobingshan), Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Beitai, Yanzhou, Sishui

My thirteenth trip to China started quite stressful as 4 hours for my departure time at Brussels Airport, 80% of the flights were still canceled because of the huge amounts of snow that fell the previous hours. Well, “heavy snow” would turn out to be one of the key items during this China Trip.
As the price difference between Aeroflot and other companies was rather big, I decided to fly with them anyway after last year's delay and a persistent non-communication at Moscow airport. It has to be said: this year, only positive things can be said about my flights.
I arrived in the night of the 25-26th of December and I was met there by the two French guys who were about to join me for the trip. Also Tina was present as she had been guiding them at Beijing for a day. We settled at an airport hotel for a short night as we had to pick a flight to Jixi the next morning. Luckily, our flight wasn't cancelled like in the case of Ameling some days before…

Jixi, 27th of December 2010 – 30th of December 2010

The plan was to stay for just half a day at Jixi, but as Huanan was not running due to heavy snowfall, we had a prolonged stay at Jixi (where we also had some snowfall now and then). Afterwards, this turned out to be a good thing as there were still some nice opportunities around Chengzihe and Didao (we didn't check out Lishu and Donghaikuang).
We stayed at the “National Territory Hotel” as at the hotel across the station refused us (no rooms available quoting the lady at the desk).

About the electrification works at Chengzihe: please have a look at this adjusted map from Bernd.

One guy told us electrification works will be ready around June 2011, but this seems a little optimistic (yes I know, we're talking about China, but even then…).
An interesting development (probably because they shut down the loading facilities at Nanchang) is that around 9:00 and around 19:00 several engines come to Beichang to get fresh coal via the loader.

I think furthermore, there isn't so much more to tell about Chengzihe you didn't know already. Well, maybe just one detail that amazed us: one of the days, we saw an empty train with about 30 cars on the way from Zhenyang to Xinhua which was banked. So far nothing unusual… But 2 days later, another banked train was seen from Dongchang towards Zhengyang. Of course, this train was due to continue to Xinhua so we chose a good position for a picture. Well, let's say we were quite amazed when we saw only one (!) SY pull the whole rake (about 40 empties) up the hill. It nearly stalled right in front of us, as an hour before it was still snowing very hard so the track was covered with snow. Unnecessary to say that this was some real thrashing, but it seemed silly they didn't send the second engine as a banker with this train as it was just waiting idle at Zhengyang.

We visited Didao on 2 occasions. The first time was in the late afternoon, as we were at Qiaonan (the western and of the Chenzighe-system) anyway and we just wanted to check out if steam was still in use to know what to do the upcoming days. On this first occasion, we saw SY1446 shunt some cars at Hebei after which it left solo to Jinkeng. We followed it by bus as we were too late to jump on after a somewhat late invitation from the driver. There, the SY pushed a rake of cars underneath the loader. Once they finished the job, the whole train went to Hebei but it was already dark by then.
On the second occasion, we saw SY1446 coming back from Lijing after which it performed some shunting. After servicing at the stabling point (we had to leave here because of a police officer) the engine went solo to the private part of Didao-station to pick up a nice rake of empties.
It seems at Didao, steam will linger on a little bit longer.
On the 30th of December, we left Jixi (more than probably, this will turn out to be my last visit to Jixi in the steam-era).

Locos seen in service:
Chengzihe: SY0863, SY0951, SY0953, SY1058, SY1340, SY1351, SY1369, SY1437, SY1544, SY1545
(on one morning, up to nine engines were seen at the daily shift change at Dongchang)
Didao: SY1446

Diaobingshan (Tiefa), 31st of December 2010 and 3rd of January – 5th of January 2011

We visited Diaobingshan on 2 occasions during this trip as this was an easy way to have a useful day between traveling from one place to the other.
We stayed at the Yutaidasha Hotel (near the road from Diaobingshan to Daming).
The “Tiefa Energy Hotel” and the “International Hotel” offered some “western” prices for 3 person rooms, so we were happy to find this other hotel.

During our full stay, the following trains were steam hauled:
Diaobingshan - Daming: 101, 104, 105, 108
Diaobingshan - Xiaonan: H211, 202, 203, 206
Diaobingshan - Daqing: 301, 308, 309, 304
For the moment, trains don't go to Wangqian but all go to Xiaonan immediately.

On our first morning, we experienced some very heavy snowfall which changed in only 15 minutes to total sunshine (!). Of course, this only happened after the morning trains. For the rest, both our visits were blessed with sunny weather expect for some heavy fog on our last morning.

Every morning, we went to the double track section between Sanjiazi and Diaobingshan, as there were some quite reasonable opportunities (especially near the level crossing between Sanjiazi and Shifangdi and two steam powered trains followed one after the other.
A railway connection has been established between a power plant east of Diaobingshan and the mine of Xiaoming. I suppose this section isn'’t that new but I can't recall visitors mentioning this connection before and it isn't mentioned on Bernd's map either. Anyhow, no steam was seen on this section.

After some negotiation with the people in the tourist office, we could gain access to the workshop as well without paying an extra 50RMB above the 100RMB per person per day, but this didn't help us a lot at the workshop for steam engines was empty.

On first hand, we thought trains to Daming were easy to chase, but this turned out to be otherwise with the track often being far away from the roads. The most interesting trains to chase were the trains coming back from Xiaonan in the early afternoon (the main problem here was the position of the sun, but hey, we're talking of steam engines so it didn't matter that much).
For night photography, the station of Diaobingshan is interesting, especially if train 304 from Daqing is steam hauled. Train 108 is a little less interesting as it's partly hidden by another train on the adjacent track.

After having changed itineraries several times over the years (my first theoretical visit was due to happen in 2003, but then I decided to stay a little longer at Jingpeng, a choice I didn't regret a second), I finally managed it to Diaobingshan. It was a nice visit, but it's uncertain that I will return. This will depend on the fact if I'm travelling solo as it is a relatively expensive place to visit officially just on my own.

Engines seen in service: SY1770, SY1771

Pingzhuang, 1st of January 2011

We took overnight train K7362 from Shenyang. This train was due to arrive around 04:42, but it was delayed by an hour. After leaving our luggage at a small Lüdian across the station (30RMB did the trick), we immediately continued to Zhuangmei to witness the steam engines during the “blue hour”. We really hit the bull's eye here! There is some huge potential at this place to make nice pictures during this moment of the day!

After shift change, things started off a bit slowly so eventually, we found ourselves in the opencast mines taking pictures of the ex-DDR crocodiles. In the afternoon, a long loaded train left Zhuangmei towards Pingzhuang CNR. In contradiction to previous reports, the same engine hauled a train with empties back. After this excitement, another engine was sent towards Wufeng/Pingzhuang CNR. I decided to follow this engine to know what it was going to do and it turned out to be shunting at Wufeng. It returned with a freight train towards Zhuangmei around dawn, perfect for a nice silhouette shot.

My first visit to Pingzhuang some years ago wasn't really convincing to come back ever again, but this visit was a much nicer visit which left only one sad feeling: why didn't we stay a little longer? If I return to China, this place will probably be visited again. So yes, I had to review my first impression on this location.

We took a taxi to Chifeng and stayed at a big hotel near the station. Steam engines seen in service: SY1017, SY1025, SY1052, SY1079, SY1425, SY1441, SY1764

Yuanbaoshan (and Hongmiao), 2nd of January 2011

With low expectations, Yuanbaoshan was visited during one day. It turned out to be a relatively nice visit with 2 engines under pressure. JS8250 hauled both passenger trains to/from Fengshuigou. When it returned at Yuanbaoshan Xi, a nice parallel was formed in front of the shed with JS8249 which was under pressure as well.
We then went to make pictures of the local market in the city centre. When we came back, JS8250 was getting ready for the passenger train, but… JS8249 had left! It wouldn't… No, impossible… What? Yes, it was! Both the driver from JS8250 and the guy in the signal box pointed it was sent light engine to Yuanbaoshan CNR to pick up a load of cars. So we dropped our plan to chase the passenger train and went to Yuanbaoshan CNR instead. We had a short but heavy discussion with a taxi driver who refused to search for the small level crossing south of the CNR station as he kept on pointing that “we had to follow the big road to go to the station”. With the language barrier, we were unable to explain him that in that way, we would probably miss the train as it was clearly about to leave (exhaust from the air pump was already visible over the houses). So we paid him and dropped the plan to chase the train and chose the option to take one picture when the train left the station. This may sound a bit silly, but this happened in the afternoon and the sun was in a very bad position anyway on the line. At the CNR-station, the sun was in a much better position and we didn't have to wait long: seconds after we arrived, JS8249 left with a very long loaded train for the power plant.

Afterwards, we went to Hongmiao to see SY1565 having a break at a siding.

Engines seen in service:
Yuanbaoshan: JS8249, JS8250 (cold in the shed but certainly serviceable: JS6245, JS8242)
Hongmiao: SY1565

Beitai, 5th of January 2011

In the evening of the 5th, a short visit was made to the slag tipping area to make some night shots there. Like last year, certainly 10 engines were seen in service. It was a little tricky to make interesting shots here with all the developing steam when tipping slag, but it was a nice sight anyway.

Engines seen in service: SY0448, SY1567, SY2019. I couldn't read the numbers of the other ones in the dark.

Yanzhou area, 6th of January – 8th of January 2011

As mentioned by previous visitors, our taxi driver (the same one I used before, phone number 13054950919, 280RMB per day, 350RMB including Sishui) confirmed that steam had finished at the coke works so we didn't check this out anymore. He also mentioned that steam will finish at Dadongzhan in 3 months. This was confirmed by an engine driver. I cannot underline it enough: this driver is a great guy! He got the phone numbers from the engine drivers and we could ask them about their movements and even to give us a little smoke on downhill sections when taking pictures. With a smile from one ear to the other, he told me that since my previous visits also other visitors have used him and he asked “if I had anything to do with this”. Hum, I wouldn'’t know…

I asked a Chinese railway friend to make reservations for our train tickets. Eventually, we had to buy the tickets ourselves, but managed to do so (only 4 tickets left for 3 persons, so we were just in time). In the meanwhile, he arranged 2 Chinese railway friends to hang out with us. I wasn't against the idea to let one of them company us in our taxi (easier for translation), but we didn't have room in the taxi for the second one. Then, it became clear that also 2 Dutch people just arrived at Yanzhou. Roger Van Duijnhoven and Eelco de Graaf were happy to take the second railway friend in their taxi so this way we could
A) Ask the right questions to the staff,
B) Stay in touch with both taxis.
This turned out helpful, even when language problems were never far away.

The first day, we only saw one train around sunset but as we arrived at Yanzhou in the afternoon, this was more then I hoped for. This train was pulled by QJ7190 from Xinlongzhan towards Dadongzhan.

The second day started with shift change from 8:00 until 10:00. After this, QJ7189 and QJ7190 were sent to Dianchang together to pick up two empty coal trains. The first train went to Nantun, the second one went to Baodian. As both trains had to stop at Mengsuo, we could make 2 pictures from both trains. While we chased the second train to the triangle behind Nantun, apparently, we missed a loaded train (tender first anyway) from Nantun to Dianchang.

The third day, we started at Sishui to find QJ7129 busy loading a cement train. Regarding reports of previous visitors, it seems we were quite lucky to find the engine active.
For future visitors to Sishui: don't try to get access via the main gate. At the back of the factory, a 180°-curve can be found making a connection with the CNR-station. Here, there isn't a real gate and the guard (in a watchtower) doesn't seem to care too much.
Also a diesel was working, but I didn't note the number.

Afterwards, we returned to Yanzhou where, thanks to our fantastic taxi driver, we got information just in time that QJ7190 was about to arrive with a loaded train of C82s. We could make a nice picture in the triangle with a lot of sheep on the side of the train.
We then went to the control office to hear that QJ7189 was waiting at Xinglongzhan for a train to fill. As this engine was to come back tender first, we were more interested in QJ7190. This engine went solo to Dianchang to pick up a train. Of course, we followed that one to see it pull a train on the way back.
Well, I think they must have built a diesel engine factory at Dianchang, as up to 5 (!!!) diesels were seen leaving Dianchang before the steam engine appeared with it's train. We had to wait for 4 hours and of course, the sun had disappeared by this time. But to be honest, even then it was a nice sight to see the train leaving Mengsuo with some nice exhaust.

Engines seen in service:
Dadongzhan: QJ7189, 7190
Sishui: QJ7129

Conclusions of this tour:

Well, photographically, this was a nice tour. It was really a shame that Huanan didn't run (especially after months of being in service) but the other destinations made up for that. I don't think we could have done a lot better in 2010/2011. It's a shame Jixi and (apparently) Yanzhou are getting rid of steam. Tiefa was great during our visit, but apparently, we were very lucky if I compare our visit to Duncan's report from a month earlier. Pingzhuang was also a very nice experience, Yuanbaoshan and Beitai were okay.
However: I am not sure yet that I will return to China for steam engines. I don't have the feeling I can do a lot better then I did before from this point on. I really loved the atmosphere around Jixi and I'm truly going to miss this place after having taken pictures here for more then 3 weeks in total over the years... The news about the possible reactivation of QJs for the Anshan Coal Railway will certainly influence my decision on this matter but I have serious doubts for the moment. The future will tell… To quote Ameling: well, there's not much fun neither in staying Christmas at home… So we'll see :-)

About the weather: this “winter” was a very non-cold edition: the lowest temperature was some -18°C in the morning (at Jixi) but most of the temperatures were in the range of -5°C to -10°C. I think the best way to show this, is mentioning that Yanzhou was almost as cold as Diaobingshan. That on it's own was very strange too: to see the lakes frozen around Yanzhou and the QJs making some nice exhausts!

Thanks to those who take their time every time to write a report to this newsgroup. I also want to thank the people drawing maps every time (especially Bernd and Duncan).

To finish with a typical Flemish saying: there is no place on this planet where you can avoid meeting Dutch people :-) No, seriously, I had a lot of fun meeting Ameling, Roger and Eelco. Especially as we didn't arrange this, we just met by coincidence.

Dave Habraken

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