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Steam in China, January 2011

by Roger van Duijnhoven

Yanzhou/Zoucheng, Sandaoling

We (Eelco de Graaf and I) decided to make a 3 week trip (and farewell tour?) to China from 4 January till 24 January 2011. We wanted to visit Yanzhou/Zoucheng, Sandaoling and Jixi. It was my 17th trip to China, but now once again only to see and enjoy the steam locomotives, no newly discovered locations, but just to enjoy the last steam in China. Still marvellous to see in 2011 steam locomotives in normal service! And of course we wanted to visit "the last living QJs".

4 - 5 January:
Flew by Finnair Amsterdam-Helsinki-Beijing, arriving Beijing at 08:50 with one hour delay. An advantage of independent travel is, you make plan A and B, but until Beijing we still hadn't decided which plan to take. So, in Beijing we made plan C…… [Hum]. After quick passport control and a small change of money, we took the airport shuttle bus [16 Yuan] to Xidan. In Xidan we change the rest of the money (better exchange rate) and take our coffee break and lunch. Afterwards we went by metro to Beijing-Xi (west) station. We wanted first to buy our Hami tickets (train T69) for 9 January, but at the ticket window "no sleeper to Hami, only standing"!, with about 3200km not a happy prospect! The lady at the window spoke some English and explained the tickets could only be bought a maximum 5 days in advance. We had to come back next morning after 09:00 hours, (Tickets for 10 January). So, we checked in at Beijing Dou Shi Hotel, now reduced to 260 Yuan. [From station, to the left, go across the parking place and follow the main road. After 100 metres left-hand side you can see a passageway (beside the China Post distribution centre). The rooms are clean, the staff friendly and free internet in the hall]. A dinner at a Japanese restaurant and a good night's sleep in Hotel. So not a bad decision after our "jet lag" and no sleep in the plane.

6 January:
At 09:00 back to the ticket window, met the same lady! She looked on the computer and got a red face…, no train on 10 January ???? No explanation why, but after she made some "consultation with the manager", we can buy tickets to Wulumuqi [Ürumqi] and get off in Hami, on 9 January! [Maybe that is a good option next time?. By the way, Hami is now also known as Kumul]. We then also bought our tickets for the D31 CHR (High Speed Train) to Yanzhou. Meanwhile, only 30 minutes to go, so by James Bond High speed taxi to Beijing-Nan (South) station, just in time to get our train. It's funny, in 4 hours by High Speed Train to Yanzhou, to see the last QJs! We checked in at JinJiang Hotel [120 Yuan]. From the station, cross the square and first street to the left, after 50m left-hand side, here also clean rooms and friendly staff. We called the taxi driver recommended by Dave Habraken. [Phone number: 13054950919, 280 Yuan/day]. He was busy, so after a coffee break etc. we met him at 18:00 hours. He told us today he was at DaDongzhan together with a Belgian guy….? Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant next door to our hotel and ate our first lovely "tángcù liji" meal of the trip.

7 January:
In the morning we met our taxi driver with another driver [and car of course…..!] I was very surprised to meet Dave Habraken here. Especially, as he had given me good information about the QJs in Yanzhou in 2009! Together with two French and Chinese companions we left for DaDongzhan.

Here we met the two QJs at the servicing point, now QJ 7189 and QJ 7190. Although only two QJs working now, it is still fascinating to see these great locomotives. We always say: "you have steam locomotives and you have QJs"!

The rest of the day we took beautiful pictures and video of the two QJs, working to Dianchang, Mengsuo and Nantun. A perfect first day, so we celebrated this together with a lovely Chinese meal.

8 January:
This morning we left for the Daewoo Cement factory at Sishui, and met our third QJ. I suppose we were very lucky, because QJ 7129 was busy shunting wagons for loading.

This QJ, with high deflectors, is in good condition (including a working water pump, mostly already been removed from QJs). After many nice pictures and video in a nice industrial plant scenery, we left for DaDongzhan again, and passed the "QuFu Confucius" area. [Sorry, no time for culture….]. A loaded train and some sheep in the foreground were nice for our next photo and video. Next to Mengsuo - Nantun, but here we had to wait a long time! First a parade of all diesels…….., but eventually a beautiful passage of a QJ with a long train. We returned to our hotels and said goodbye to our taxi driver. After dinner we all left for Beijing (Elco and I on the 1478 night train, departure 21:36, Dave and the French on train K52).

9 - 10 January:
Arriving at 06:58 in Beijing station, we took a taxi to Beijing-Xi and stored our luggage in the station. Now, as tourists, we stayed one day in Beijing. Breakfast in Xidan then we visited the museum in the old railway station next to Tiananmen Square. No QJs, JFs, etc., but many pictures of "the old days of China Railways". [And a lot of attention about the CHR trains and their network in China]. Dinner in our well know Chinese restaurant and back to Beijing-Xi to take the T69 to Hami, departure 18:37. We had two "lower" sleepers, so were comfortable for the two nights and one day travelling.

11 January:
In the early morning [04:14] we arrived in Hami. Other passengers had tickets for Wulumuqi, but got off in Hami! Here we met our guide [Ms Gou Li] and later on we went by car to Sandaoling. When we left Hami, the car indicated an outdoor temperature of -29 c …! (Despite heating up to maximum, ice remained inside the car!) In Sandaoling we checked in at the Sanhe Hotel. Mike Ma with six English people also arrived here today. After a short break we went to DongBolizhan. Here the well known depot activities and of course the passenger train to/from XiBolizhan [Along the top]. This still consists of two special closed wagons with stoves, and a yellow control car. After seeing the depot activities, we took some nice pictures and video between DongBolizhan and KengKangzhan. Trains from DongBolizhan first need to climb before they descend into the mine.

Around noon we took a look at Nanzhan. Here a nice departure of a JS with empty wagons in the direction of Erjing. A DF8B diesel was also ready for departure to Liushuquan, but of course we don't give attention to this. [No diesels on my video….] Hereafter we went to the east side of the open pit mine, from here you have a beautiful panorama, some nice pictures from above, and then descended down. There are usually four trains used for the coal trains and these days there are three with their locomotives "nose ahead". Now, once again our ears were filled with lots of "JS-drumming", we took a break for lunch and then towards XiBolizhan. Here we stayed for the rest of the afternoon, seeing several JSs with spoil trains to the dump area. Finally, some nice mood pictures with the setting sun before we went back to the hotel. Together with our guide we had a lovely [Muslim] dinner and back in our hotel to bed for a good night's sleep!

12 January:
Today we started in Xibolizhan. In the morning you have here the personnel change. Therefore you get a "whole nest of JSs" together, all side by side! With the cold temperatures, this is a wonderful sight! Later we walked to the east side of the open pit mine. Unfortunately it was a bit hazy, but still we could take some nice pictures. Some of the spoil trains had to go down first, but meanwhile we looked at some work trains. Together with a steam crane they moved a few tracks to their new positions. After an hour of rest the first train was loaded again, and one by one they returned.

Once again some nice videos of hard working JSs and then walked back to XiBolizhan, looking at some personnel activities. Some crew cleaning the wheels, etc. as far as possible in these circumstances, other defrosted some parts with little small gas burners…. In the afternoon we visited the workshop, which is always very worthwhile. In total there were five locomotives inside. We were just in time to see how the first came out again, with constant working air pump a nice atmosphere for a video! [Better said: total fog….Hum]. Anyhow, one JS and SY were inside for minor maintenance, one JS for longer maintenance. [Replacing of bearings, cylinders, etc.].

In another hall stood the third JS. This JS was just in, now stripped, and prepared for major maintenance. It is great to see how this work still continues as normal in 2011, a great honor for these professionals! [In my opinion, this place should be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List……!] Even outside was busy today, two works trains on shunting and one JS busy shunting some tenders. This combination seemed to be a "JS-Garratt" in the backlight…. Back in the workshop, work staff were engaged testing a JS, blower fully open, safety valve open, whistle test, air pump on, etc, and of course all inside the shed. Splendid!!! The last part of the day we stayed around KengKangzhan. A nice place is at the final corner out of the pit, but seen from the left side. A big hole of the mine is in the foreground with the heavy working coal trains high on the hillside opposite, almost reaching the top. We then returned to Sandaoling for a delicious dinner and back to our hotel.

13 January:
Today we started in DongBolizhan again. First we visited the depot, then some trains in the direction of KengKangzhan. Also filmed some trains from the washery, beautiful in the rising sun.

Then we walked along the railway in the open pit mine in the direction to the coal loading station. Of course, we made many stops, with beautiful pictures and video of the climbing trains. Not only the sunlight, but also the sound is fantastic here. Because it is often deathly quiet in this section of the opencast mine, you can hear the engines from far away. Also the echo from the rocks of course gives a wonderful effect!

[Indeed, take a seat and enjoy…! , which "plandampf" can offer this today?]. Around 13:00 we returned to Sandaoling for lunch, and the rest of the day visited the west side of the mine.

At the end of the afternoon again many spoil-trains, all 'clamber' to the top. [Boring? No, you can watch it for hours………..], and finally we walked to XiBolizhan. Here we could see the "rock plough" (spreader) in action. Back in Sandaoling we had a pleasant dinner jointly with Mike and six Englishmen, before we went back to our hotel.

14 January:
Today a little bit the same formula as the previous day. At the depot again where we looked at how the locomotives are made free of ice. There are special contraptions made for this purpose, like a "bucket" under the "three-way valve" [brake air pipe] and 'motion handle'. The glowing coals keep the parts free of ice and a small air pipe provides enough oxygen to the coals to burn! [Even when driving, a clever construction!]. An extra protection before windows and slow running air pump is also needed for the cold temperatures. [Currently about -23/-26c, daytime -15/-18c]. Funny also was thawing of the brake hose! A glowing cloth was used to heat the brake hose. Little later a loud bang as a stick of ice popped out the brake hose! After this spectacle, we walked back towards KengKangzhan. Unfortunately, my video tapes were used up, so it was "picture day" today. [My mistake just how fast they go here……]

The weather was much brighter, so the mountains in the background made everything a lot more beautiful. After a couple of nice pictures in KengKangzhan, we walked to the loading station with a few stops of course. Here we meet two Japanese. Lunch and then back to the west side of the opencast mine where we could again enjoy the many spoil trains. Maybe off-topic, but halfway up the slope to XiBolizhan we had "a research" done of the beautiful green and yellow colours on the rocks, formed from the many sulphur fumes from the ground. Eelco took some beautiful close-up pictures. Of course after a while some protest received from our lungs and fortunately you cannot smell this "dirty egg smell" on the pictures! A second discovery was glowing "rock" in the ground, what looked like "lava". This was just under the ground (gaps between the rocks) and very hot. (You can burn your gloves……. We know). During the day it is often harder to see, but against the darkness are several "glowing holes" to see, very nice and special! [as you can see, a beautiful natural environment…………]. OK, back to steam. At the end of the day in the last sunlight, some wonderful recordings were made, before we went to XiBolizhan. [Yes, secretly still some videos taken on my camera……….!]

15 January:
On our last morning we went straight to the washery. First, in the "blue hour", a few recordings were made, later with a wonderful purple sky. Our main reason was the double traction of the morning train to KengKangzhan. In the past days, we had already seen this double traction in the background. Although both engines quite doing their best, they had trouble pushing the train up.

The combination of the steep slope and icy track was not ideal. It certainly was cold, a little wind and -26c. As a souvenir of this happening I have suffered from "two dead fingers" for the past weeks. Fortunately, they are now almost "thawed". The next train, about 40 minutes later, had one JS as usual. But because of the slippery track, the train could hardly come up. Tribute to the driver that he finally succeeded! The rest of the day we stayed in KengKangzhan. The weather was sunny and bright today. Therefore we took some nice pictures of a few coal trains, with the mountains clearly visible in the background. Here we met three other Japanese. At 13:00 hours sadly we had return to our hotel, change clothes, and with another guide back to Hami.

A new chapter, back to reality….. In Hami (including the last days) we could not get tickets [sleeper] for the T70 back to Beijing. Only two hard seat [YZ] tickets were available. After some considerations in recent days, such as travel via Ürumqi or travel by plane, we decided to make this journey in second class hard seat. [Yes, a nice prospect……]. It also became clear why we left at 16:21 hours, instead of the usual time at about 02:00 hours. By 10 January a new timetable had started, as well as a new connection between Zhongwei and Taiyuan! [So that was the reason that no train ran on 10 January…….!!] The journey time is approximately 6 hours shorter and the arrival and departure times in Hami are respectively 13:31 and 16:21 hours. [a great improvement, handy for next time …..]

16 - 18 January:
Travelling in China in a crowded train [YZ] is definitely an experience! The coming Chinese New Year was already noticeable, and many people went home to their families. (Most trains were more crowded than usual). Funny is the ingenuity of the Chinese: brought buckets to sit, sleeping under the seats, extra baggage on the seat backs (neatly fastened to the luggage racks) and of course the gangway full of people. Yes, the Chinese trains are used very efficiently! Also wonderful to see so many sale trolleys just carry on, regardless of how many time people had to stand up or had to move. Here you really see a big difference in mentality between Chinese and Western people! Patience, not anger, and just enjoying friendly conversation, eating and playing cards. However, a slight drawback was the fact you were almost 29 hours "locked up" at your seat unable to move properly…………. Back in Beijing, we checked in again at Beijing Dou Shi Hotel for a good night's sleep!

The next day we went back to Beijing-Xi ticket windows. The idea was to go to Jixi, but the crowds for the approaching Chinese New Year were already very noticeable, although "the flood" still had to begin. The ticketing area was cordoned off, and outside on the forecourt, 142 counters (!) were built. We had waited a long time by window "136", but because it was very cold and the crowd, we decided to take "plan-B", back to Yanzhou! [It was unlikely we could get tickets to Mudanjiang or Jixi for the same day, and getting tickets to return to Beijing for our return flight was a big risk. The advantages of Yanzhou were 3 days hadn't been long enough, more trains back to Beijing and CHR trains are less crowded, and we like QJs…..!!!!]

So, by taxi to Beijing-Nan station. This station [a kind of airport building] is a lot quieter because primarily the CHR trains stop here. [A good idea for next time?]. No place left in the D31 to Yanzhou (this was also unlikely, the train left about 15 minutes!), but also all night trains were full (at least, no sleeper) and again sitting for 8 hours, that was now too much…… Finally we bought tickets for the D31 next day. After a coffee break and egg muffin at "big M" we visited the ticket machines in the station hall (waiting room/area). After some puzzling we could buy the return ticket, so everything was now arranged! By the way, the ticket machines are only for CHR trains. We then searched for a hotel, found on the southeast side of the station. A youth hostel, with good rooms and shower / toilet, 220 Yuan. [reached via south exit, turn left, follow the road along the bus terminal, on the crossing left, under railway bridge, walk straight ahead past two major hotels and over the water and ring road, immediately left and finally after 100 metres right hand side.] The rest of the day enjoyed in Xidan, and bought some extra video tapes…!

The next day we went by D31 to Yanzhou. Everywhere in China they are working hard on these high-speed railway lines. At 16:15, we arrived back in Yanzhou again, checked in at JinJiang Hotel and called "our" taxi driver. Of course he was surprised to see us again…. Had dinner at the next door restaurant, including "tángcù liji" and other delicious dishes, then back to our hotel.

19 January:
This morning again we drove to DaDongzhan. QJ 7189 had just arrived at the yard with a loaded train. It was a bit hazy and with the rising sun this gave some nice pictures of the shunting QJ. After a short "pit-stop" by the coal crane, QJ 7189 went towards the servicing point. The grumbling diesels meanwhile had started and disappeared in convoy. Both QJs were now resting and waiting for the new staff. The advantage is that you can admire the locomotives "inside out". After about one hour both QJs were brought back to life, and drove towards the yard. Meanwhile, the first two diesels came back already …..(?!).

After some "gibberish" by the yard speakers (thanks to our taxi driver who able to understand), both QJs disappeared towards Dianchang. At Dianchang for a while waiting for a nice departure of the first train. Here I had to think back about all those beautiful QJs in Yebaishou and Zhungeer. How time flies! Quickly overtook the train in Mengsuo, this is usually possible because the train often has to stop here on its way back to DaDongzhan. After the departure we had awaited the next train, following the same way. Later, on the way back to DaDongzhan, we stopped in Nantun, fortunately the train was still waiting here, so an extra departure in our program! When we left Nantun, we almost crashed into a "road runner" truck! (Stay alert…..!) With the help of our excellent taxi driver (after some calls) we knew that the QJ was departing to Baodian. Again this meant a departure towards Dianchang, with "the nose forward". The rest of the afternoon we were in Baodian, watching the shunting in the mine. And then at the end of the day a beautiful departure, a QJ with 42 loaded K18 coal wagons in the setting sun!

20 January:
The morning was again about the same, so a longer stay in DaDongzhan service point. Funny how many pictures you can make of two QJs! [How would it be if there are 10 or more QJs here……….(kidding!)] After servicing point activities, both QJs drove towards DaDongzhan yard, waiting for the new orders from the yard speakers.

Pleasantly surprised by a parallel departure of both QJs, QJ 7189 with empty C64 wagons towards Nantun and QJ 7190 with empty K18 wagons towards Baodian. After consultation with our "taxi tour guide", we knew that the "Baodian QJ" with loaded wagons had to go again towards Dianchang. The taxi driver was probably more and more enthusiastic, more often he took pictures of the QJs with his mobile phone! We arrived in Baodian and had to wait for the next movement. Whilst waiting, some walked on in the coal mine, under the "guidance" of some guards. [Or was it just entertainment? Two westerners who took pictures of those old steam trains……..?] Anyway, we took some nice pictures of the QJ during shunting. After another nice departure from Baodian, we went quickly towards Mengsuo. When we left Baodian, it was just as "Paris-Dakar"! Major clouds of dust caused by all vehicles, from the centimetres high dust on the roads. (only here the dust is more black in colour…..!) Behind Mengsuo, the railway line climbs, so this is a nice place to see (and hear) the QJ pulling his train 'uphill'. We had waited for a while for the returning QJs, but we were "attacked" by a number of diesels. We decided to go back to our hotel then enjoying a good meal.

21 January:
Our last day began again in DaDongzhan, however no QJs had arrived here. After some time waiting, the first QJ with a train from Nantun arrived, followed later by a single QJ. Funny is the increased height of the railway embankment between DaDongzhan and Nantun. Two colour light signals are now largely buried, so that now two oversized dwarf signals have arisen! Back below to the familiar servicing point activities, so we can get a little bit saying goodbye to these "Last of the survivors". In 2009 I had written that I was probably seeing "the last living QJs" in my life, never thought I could see these QJs again in 2011! However, now the message was clear that these QJs only have three months to remain in service , so then here too an era ends………

The rest of the day was still a full program. First the departure of a QJ with 50 C64 wagons from DaDongzhan yard. Then drove to Dianchang and there we awaited a departure, near the gate. Hereinafter of course a departure from Mengsuo and next the QJ with other empty wagons seen leaving out of DaDongzhan. Then the other QJ with loaded train was "caught" on the new S-curve between Baodian and DaDongzhan. This new S-curve was because of the construction of a new steel bridge over the river. [A steel bridge is already a rarity in China today, because of all concrete bridges!]. Here we waited for the train from Baodian. This was a wonderful farewell present! The QJ, with its K18 loaded train, must climb the slope to the bridge, so a pleasure for your eyes and ears………!! After one last look in Dianchang (unfortunately not able to catch up with the train), we returned to our hotel. Here we had to say goodbye to our taxi driver, a great and helpful man!

22 - 24 January:
On the 22nd, we rested and visited the market in Yanzhou. By D32 CHR (16:30) back to Beijing, arrived at 20:48. The urge to buy train tickets here was very noticeable, already about 30 people were waiting for the ticket office, to get tickets the next day. After a short stop by "Big M", we took a taxi to Sanyuan, Ibis Hotel, near Subway station line 10 / Airport express. [298 Yuan, 208 Yuan (by reservation)]. Although the rooms were fine, at the reception everything was very difficult… Unknown telephone application(?), reservation would not be correct(?), 10 x everything in entered computer and by check-out started everything again…..! I prefer the Chinese way, just one paper, easy and never problems!

On 23 January "one day Beijing", visited the Temple of Heaven, the necessary shopping and ended with a western meal. The pizza was meant to get us used to the western food. Well, until today never had any problems, but now high speed to "the small room"…

On 24 January returned home, starting by airport express metro to the airport. Thanks to an incomprehensible rule of Finnair, I had to cram my luggage into the cabin luggage racks. (Thanks….) For the rest a good flight back home, with only one hour delay due to a strike in Helsinki.

Although not everything went according to plan, it was a very nice trip. The (still) many steam locomotives in Sandaoling and still able to see the last magnificent QJs.

We just have to wait and see what the remainder of 2011 and the future will bring (?)

Roger van Duijnhoven

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© 2011 Roger van Duijnhoven