The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Steam in China Part 3
Panjiadan and Yebaishou Part 1

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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Shangbancheng Junction. Train 552 from Chengde crosses a freight detaching its banker, seen in pre-dawn light, 4th January 1996

Miyun, 90km north of Beijing still saw steam freights on the section to Chengde in January 1996, but by December that year when I made a return visit only one daylight train was still steam hauled in each direction. Traveling by a slow train from Chengde we arrived at Panjiadan where the sun had yet to rise over the surrounding mountains. On arrival we found a QJ brewing up having been held in the loop, we scrambled to find a position as the engine made a volcanic eruption, frozen wheels protested at being forced into motion after a lengthy wait. Here, it accelerates out of the station, the banker will be about to kick into action. 26th December 1996

The line runs alongside the river valley before disappearing into a tunnel; it proved to be an excellent location, but with only two upgrade freights in full light action was sparse, 5th January 1996 


With the end of the “big shows” Yebaishou was now a favoured location, lines connected south to Chengde, Chaoyang and Fuxin to the north east and Chifeng to the north. Yebaishou nestled in a river valley, and each of the lines had to climb out of the junction, which tested crews and their engines, the scenery was pretty good too! 

I had two enjoyable trips there in January and December 1996 which was the first year of the new 5 year plan that aimed to eliminate steam and modernize the railway, it became a race to see the last years of CNR operated steam trains. It was also time to admire the old semaphore signals that were rapidly being replaced. A heavy freight ex Lingyuan approaches the summit.

On 9th January 1996, we spent a day near the summit of the Lingyuan (Chengde) line, workings were sparse, but the summit saw engines working hard on both approaches. The passenger trains had gone diesel recently, but I had a terrific day. Heavy freight ex Lingyuan provided me with a long video sequence as the driver applied full power to enable the lone QJ to drag its train slowly along the long straight from the level crossing to the summit, in the still air a tall column of smoke attested to the struggle.

Loaded coal trains were much shorter, although some had to be banked out of Yebaishou, they were going to the steel plant at Lingyuan. Unfortunately return workings were tender first. Yebaishou had a few DF4s used on passenger workings, but a spare could be found on any train and we had the misfortune to see it on a heavy freight from Lingyuan. A year later a QJ banks tender first, 29th December 1996

By 14.30 on 9th January 1996, the shadows were lengthening when we when we sighted another train from Yebaishou making a slow ascent. The hills had changed colour going from a dull to bright ochre; reminding me of Central Australia: only this was somewhat colder! Approaching was a heavy freight with a banker hard at work in the rear, the sound was magnificent, signalling a fitting if early close to the day’s activities.

The Chifeng line was my favourite and there was often an international gathering at the north side of the summit as the sun rose. The temperature was a balmy minus 24C, 10th January 1996

Train 1774 would roar out of Shahai leaving a stupendous steam trail in its wake, relentlessly speed fell, the sun casting a glint on the ice encrusted engines which had almost reached the summit slogging away at walking speed. I watched spellbound as the lead engine’s driving wheels slipped; the driver recovered from the spin as the train engine began to slip and the train seemed bound to stall. The two drivers showed how to squeeze the best out of their engines, they still had to work them hard until approximately a third of the heavy train was over the summit and then they would have to use their expertise to control such a heavy train down steep gradients to Shinao, on the way stopping for a compulsory brake check. It would be followed by a similar train which also needed two QJs. Approaching the summit from Shahai. 8th January 1996

Nearing the summit and down to walking speed.

Passenger 454 from Chifeng had steam to spare as it surmounted the grade on 30th December 1997

Rob Dickinson