Pingdingshan, JiTong, Yuanbaoshan & Pingzhuang
22 September - 07 October 2002
Report by Duncan Cotterill
This report covers a trip to China by a group of four photographers in September/October 2002. The visit was organised by Bryan Acford through Sun Xiaolan (of China Liaoning Steam Locomotive Photography Association). Xiaolan accompanied us as guide throughout. Flights from London to Beijing and return were with Air China.
Dahuichang Limestone Railway (22 September 2002)
We arrived at Dahuichang, around 15:30. The next hour was hectic with four uphill workings at 15 minute intervals worked by locos 1 and 4. At 16:25 number 1 returned downhill light engine signalling the end of activities for a while We left shortly afterwards for Beijing Xi.
Motive Power: C2 1, 4 in steam
Beijing – Baofeng (22-23 September 2002)
Train 1389 left behind an SS8 at 18:23 bound for Chongqing. A few DF7C, DFH5 and SS8 were seen around Beijing but nothing of great interest was noted before nightfall.
We arrived at Luoyang around daybreak. The depot opposite the station was stuffed with 6K Bo-Bo-Bos, SS4 twin units and a solitary DF7C. Our electric gave way to a DF4D. A few km further on the wires stopped at a yard where several DF4 and DF4D were stabled. Freights seen south of Luoyang were all hauled by Baofeng based DF4 including some fairly early examples such as DF4 0454.
Near Xiaotunjie, what appeared to be an SY was seen at a large brickworks. We got off at Baofeng, just in time to hear Pingdingshan Coal Co train 103 head west behind an unidentified steam loco. DF4 9024 & DF4 9102 were on CNR at Baofeng.
Baofeng was remarkably quiet compared to similar sized stations we'd used elsewhere. The reason why soon became obvious - a sea of mud that lay between us and our vehicle. After carefully making our way to the bus, it turned out to be an ancient underpowered vehicle that crawled all the way to Pingdingshan.
Pingdingshan Coal Co (23 - 25 September 2002)
This is an extensive industrial system serving at least 12 deep coal mines and numerous other industries in the Pingdingshan and Baofeng areas of Henan province. Motive power is 100% steam. The fleet consists of over 25 locos of classes QJ, JS and SY. The area around the central yard is very busy but activity drops off considerably towards the extremities of the system.
The main line of the system runs from a point some 20 km west of Baofeng (Gouzhongquan? or Ting*zhuang?) through Baofeng and Pingdingshan to Shisankuang (literally 13 Mine), north of Pingdingshan. The main line climbs into Pingdingshan from both directions with a summit near the main passenger station at Zhongxin.
We found the central yard to be 2 stations further west than shown on Peter Odell's map, between the power station branch and the "industrial spurs". It wasn't clear whether the name Tianzhuang refers to this location or the one shown on Peter's map. When we asked staff at the yard what the place was called they replied Zhongku or "Central Stores" as the mining company parts warehouse is located there. The loco depot is situated a short distance to the east of the yard on the south side of the line.
(It appears that there are, in fact 2 yards. The one we found is called Shenxi. Zhongku is actually Zonku and refers to the main warehouse north of the line here. Tianzhuang yard is located further east, beyond the loco depot as shown on Peter's map. [DC 12/12/02])
The "industrial spurs" are in fact substantial branch lines serving at least 4 collieries on the flanks of Pingdingshan mountain. There are actually 3 branches, each fully signalled with reasonably well maintained track and steep gradients.
The eastern branch to Shisankuang passes through a very rural area dotted with attractive villages. The road doesn't follow the line too closely but does cross it in twice en-route. It is narrow and winding and was being used for threshing corn for much of its length. Traffic had to negotiate it's way past the many piles of corn and parked trailers so chasing was impossible in spite of the slow progress of the train.
The loco fleet is 100% steam with classes QJ, JS and SY all represented. All locomotives face west. We saw:
QJ 2035, 6450, 6690, 6813, 7186 in steam, QJ 6786 under overhaul.
(QJ 2035, 7186 were deflectorless. QJ 6690, 6813 were only seen on shed.)
JS 5644, 6225, 6429, 8030, 8031, 8054, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8120, 8122, 8338 in steam, JS 6252 cold, JS 6292 dismantled – bits scattered around the site.
(All JS are deflectorless. JS 8030, 8031, 8338 have not been reported before. JS 6429, 8054, 8065, 8120, 8338 were only seen on shed.)
SY 1002, 1010, 1209, 1687 in steam.
(SY 1687 was only seen on shed.)
Passenger train operations were as reported previously by Peter Odell and Roger Blundell.
Freight traffic around Shenxi Yard followed a pattern of sorts. After the shift change at 08:00, it would take around an hour for things to get moving again. Then there would be a spate of departures from the west end of the yard to the collieries up the branches and to the west of Pingdingshan on the main line, probably around 8 trains between 09:00 and 11:00 with a similar number of loaded arrivals from the collieries between 10:00 and 12:00. Then everything would stop for lunch. A similar pattern of operations would take place in the afternoon between 14:00 and the end of shift at 16:00. Then the whole pattern would start again. Early mornings were quiet with just a few arrivals between 06:00 and 08:00.
At the east end of the yard, long trains of empties would arrive from the CNR exchange at Pingdingshan Dong, often using the QJs as power. The trains would then be split and tripped to the various collieries as described above. Similarly, loaded wagons from each colliery would be combined into long trains of 40+ wagons and taken to Pingdingshan Dong. At least 50% of trains were formed of non-CNR wagons. As well as the central power station, there was another on the western outskirts of Pingdingshan and a third on the way to Baofeng. Several cement works or similar factories are also located towards Baofeng. A large industrial complex near to Pingdingshan Dong CNR yard was thought to be a coking plant. There are also said to be 3 washeries on line but we didn't discover their location.
We didn't see any empties going out at the east end of the yard, or loads arriving, so must assume that the pits at the east end of the system are supplied directly from Dong yard or the coking plant.
For those hoping to travel round by road, be aware that the 8 seat minibuses used at Jingpeng and elsewhere are virtually unknown at Pingdingshan. There are plenty of "mianbao" microbuses but these are too small for a group of four plus guide plus luggage so we ended up with a clapped out old 24 seat vehicle that was slow and unmanoeuvrable. With hindsight it might have been better to go for two mianbaos from Baofeng to the hotel then use one for getting around the area. Pingdingshan city is very congested and the country roads, e.g. to Shisankuang are narrow so a small vehicle is a distinct advantage.
Several of the mines have narrow gauge electric systems hauling mine tubs around. These appear to be of varying gauges, from 600 mm to metre gauge. There are also rope worked lines at several drift mines (not included in the total of 12 deep mines noted above).
We stayed at the Jinxiu Hotel in the city centre. It was clean and comfortable with a decent restaurant. There were several similar hotels and some other good restaurants nearby.
Although Pingdingshan is a large and prosperous city, it is badly served by CNR passenger services. Baofeng, some 25 km further west, is on the Luoyang - Xiangfan main line (25) and well served by expresses from Beijing and other centres.
The weather was hot and generally sunny. Temperatures never dropped to the level at which exhaust steam was visible and during the afternoons rose to around 30 C.
Baofeng based DF4 6497 & 6303 were seen Pingdingshan Dong yard DF7C 5413 was there as well (depot code unrecognised). No electrics were seen at close enough range to be identified.
There are several lines in this area still to be explored. None of them is likely to be busy or scenic but there may be some workings of interest. These lines run north from Pingdingshan to Yuxian/Yuzhou, south from Pingdingshan to Wuyang/Wugang Shi and east from Wuyang/Wugang Shi to Luohe. When we crossed the Yuxian line near it’s junction with the line to Shisankuang, it appeared to be used but very lightly trafficked.
Like all locations in southern or central China, the weather is rarely ideal. We got reasonably sunny weather but only by visiting when the weather was too hot and exhaust of any sort was unusual. Winter temperatures should be far more suitable but there are likely to be long periods of unbroken cloud.
Pingdingshan is a very busy system but only if you stay close to Shenxi yard. We met another group who had concentrated on the western end of the system and claimed not to have seen a single coal train during a visit lasting several days. The variety of power and the presence of deflectorless QJs is a big plus point. Photographically, it’s difficult to find good locations but there are a few reasonable spots if you make the effort to explore.
Baofeng to Reshui via Beijing (25 - 26 September 2002)
We travelled on train 1390 back to Beijing, the return working of the train we'd travelled south on with the same crew and stock. This was very fortunate as Xiaolan had arranged with the train manager for a soft sleeper compartment to be held for us, making the journey north more pleasant than it might have been otherwise. Most of the journey was overnight so few other trains were seen. Train 1390 left Baofeng behind DF4D 0533. An SS8 probably took over at Luoyang for the run to Beijing. Baofeng allocated DF4 6498 & 6433 were seen early in the journey. 6K 001 was at Luoyang.
We had planned to take train 2189 overnight from Beijing to Chifeng but there were no soft sleepers available. Rather than endure hard class or miss a morning at Jingpeng, we arranged to travel by road from Beijing to Reshui via Chengde and Chifeng. Our driver collected us from Beijing Xi at 06:50 and we rolled into Reshui at 20:10, just over 13 hours later. Actual driving time was around 11 hours. It would be wrong to describe the journey as pleasant or enjoyable but it was a practical alternative to the train.
Jingpeng Pass (27 September - 02 October 2002)
All my previous visits to China had been in winter and I was curious to find what autumn would be like. The reality was a little disappointing due to poor weather.
We saw 26 different QJ on line including new arrival QJ 6882:
QJ 6110, 6230, 6274, 6356, 6388, 6389, 6517, 6577, 6630, 6638, 6735, 6760, 6828, 6876, 6878, 6882, 6905, 6981, 6986, 6992, 6998, 7007, 7012, 7041, 7112, 7143.
Traffic levels were not significantly different to mid-winter with 4 or 5 trains in each direction on most days. The period following the National Day holiday on 1st October saw less westbound traffic with a couple of light engine moves each day. Eastbound traffic levels held up well during this period.
It was noticeable how many times the locos on an early morning train re-appeared before the end of the day heading in the opposite direction. Evidence that the round trip from Daban to Haoluku and back isn't taking as long as it did before Sandi and Hatashan passing loops came into operation.
A new road is being built along the riverbed in Reshui, passing under the viaduct. It appears to be a bypass to the town's congested main street and should speed journeys between photspots without detracting much from any existing positions.
The mafia were said to be active by other groups we met but we didn't actually see them ourselves.
Photographing on the Jitong line in autumn is quite different to winter. There is certainly more colour in the landscape and plenty of activity in the fields to enhance the pictures but this is counterbalanced by the lack of white exhausts after around 09:00 and the high sun in the middle of the day. On balance, I'd say that a winter trip would produce more and better photos but if you've already done several winter trips an autumn visit could provide worthwhile variety to your collection.
That always assumes that the sun shines. I imagined that autumn in northern China would be similar to much of the western USA with generally settled sunny weather and relatively brief cloudy spells as weather systems passed through. What actually occurred was rather different. A low pressure area sat over the north-east of China for a whole week without moving or weakening significantly. It brought us a lot of cloud and haze as well as icy blasts of cold arctic air. Only 2 days out of 6 were reasonably cloud-free and there was only one day of good visibility. Whether we were just unlucky isn't really clear. It was noticeable as we flew home that the cloud was almost unbroken all the way from Beijing to London. In winter the sky is usually clear from Beijing right across Mongolia and past Lake Baikal but not this time.
The autumn colours and harvesting in the fields added considerable interest until the wind blew all the colours away!
Lindong and Chabuga (03 - 05 October 2002)
From Jingpeng, we moved east to Lindong for three days.
Daban - Chabuga: QJ 6301, 6631, 6884, 6911, 6925, 6978, 7010, 7037, 7081
Chabuga - Zhelimu: QJ 6375, 6632, 6729, 6853, 6891, 7048, 7104, 7163, 7164
Passenger engines were QJ 6884, 6911, 7104. QJ 6978 had decorations but none of the new locos were particularly smart.
Trains were relatively infrequent on both sections of line but there were more workings than in early December last year and the longer days allowed the afternoon passenger to be photographed until Yamenmiao. All we needed was good light but there was very little of it.
A completely new multi-lane super-highway is being built from Tongliao to Yinchuan. The exact route is not known but we saw construction work near to the railway just west of Chabuga and near to Dariqiga. The new road at Reshui does not appear to be part of the project and, with luck, the route of the new road will follow the river from Daban to Jingpeng, far to the south of the railway.
As with Jingpeng, the autumn colours and farming activities would have enhanced the photographic opportunities if there had been better light.
Lindong to Yuanbaoshan/Pingzhuang (05 October 2002)
Passing Daban, QJ 6230, 6274, 6356, 6385, 6388, 6576, 6638, 6760, 6778, 6828, 6825, 6851, 6882, 6926, 6992, 6998, 7040 were seen on shed.
Passing Chifeng diesel depot, QJ 7115 was seen in use as a stationary boiler. It had previously been reported passing through Chifeng station light engine and there was some speculation that steam might still be working in from Yebaishou. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.
Yuanbaoshan and Pingzhuang Mine Railways (05 - 07 October 2002)
In almost 3 days spent in this area we managed just 3 shots in sunshine. The rest of the time cloud predominated.
Traffic levels were low. Although just 4 locos were in steam each day there was barely enough traffic to keep 2 engines fully occupied.
The map previously published contains a significant error. The CNR interchange at Yuanbaoshan and the junction of the line up the hill to the mines are actually several km apart. There is no separate exchange yard as such. The mine railway runs into the yard at the CNR station, several km from Yuanbaoshan town. Several km towards Yuanbaoshan, the line to the mines diverges at Majiawan, a station in it's own right.
The mine railway's main station and yard in Yuanbaoshan appears to be called Xizhan (literally west station) although it is actually on the eastern edge of town. The shed and interchange with the power station branch are here. There are also coal loading and cement loading facilities in the yard. The covered hoppers previously reported as grain wagons are more likely cement hoppers.
On the western edge of town is a small yard on the branch to the mines. The lines to the cement works and mines diverge from here. The yard is less then 1 km from Xizhan by road although considerably higher up the hill. Higher still and another 500 m further west is the first mine. The line to it curves away from the north end of the yard in a great arc and climbs steeply to the colliery. Unfortunately wagons are pushed up the hill and pulled down. This mine appeared to be old and relatively unproductive.
The other line out of the north end of the yard continues north to a second colliery, which appears even less productive than the first, before terminating at a modern mine which seems to generate most of the line's traffic. Empties are hauled on this section. A branch from the second mine to a fourth mine looks abandoned.
One of the great mysteries of Yuanbaoshan is the opencast mine. There are plenty of technical references to it on the internet but it goes unmentioned in steam reports. The conveyor previously reported appears to have been intended to link the opencast site to the power station but it looks like construction was abandoned several years ago, well before any equipment was installed. There may be a functioning conveyor from the opencast pit to the modern mine but most of the output appears to be conveyed in the ubiquitous blue lorries to Xizhan where it is loaded into rail wagons for the short haul to the power station.
(The modern mine turns out to be a loading point for the opencast mine. There is no headgear here, only silos fed by conveyor from the opencast pit. [DC 12/12/02])
Unusually for a mine system, we didn't see any loaded coal trains leaving the system or empty wagons returning. We did see loaded wagons arriving via the interchange at Yuanbaoshan CNR though, indicating that the large power station may consume more coal than the local mines produce.
The system’s main line continues north from Xizhan via the intermediate station of Gongye to Fengshuigou, where there is another mine and station. At Fengshuigou the CNR main line to Tongliao passes by a couple of hundred metres to the north of the mine railway station. A 600 mm gauge electrified line runs from the pit, under the main line and away to the north-east. From Fengshuigou, the colliery system main line continues to the CNR station at Anqqinggou where there is an interchange with the Chifeng to Tongliao line. From Xizhan to the river bridge beyond Gongye appears to be gently downhill and trains trundle along with a minimum of effort from the loco. From the bridge there is a climb towards Fengshuigou.
The mixed trains ran as expected, conveying empties to the mine at Fengshuigou. On Monday morning, there appeared to be a separate passenger train followed by a train of empty coal wagons. The passenger/mixed trains stop at Gongye and several unmarked halts en route.
Trains to the CNR interchange at Yuanbaoshan seemed to run as required.
A regular trip to the mines branch from Majiawan appeared to leave Xizhan around 08:00 returning around lunchtime. A similar trip probably operated in the afternoon.
We saw 8 serviceable locos plus one dumped. All locos face north-east and are kept commendably clean with a little decoration on some.
JS 6245, 8216, 8249, 8250 were in steam each day. 8216 has acquired Datong 1996 builders plates!
JS 6544, 8218, 8246, 8418 were cold but serviceable. 8246 has high deflectors and is a former Bei’an loco. The other working and serviceable locos all have conventional smoke deflectors.
JS 6066 was dumped in a very dilapidated condition.
In view of some confusion in previous reports between 82xx and 62xx numbers these were all checked very carefully.
The line from Xizhan to the power station was operated by the power station's own diesel GKD1 4008. This loco is very similar in appearance and styling to a green DF5 but closer inspection revealed that it has Bo-Bo trucks with a very long wheelbase. According to the builders plate it was built by Dalian in 1997.
Yuanbaoshan was notable for its clean engines and for having JS with conventional deflectors but suffered from relatively low traffic levels. Of all the colliery lines we visited, this one probably had the best photographic positions and ran through the most pleasant countryside but as it was fairly straight and all the engines faced the same way, there were times of the day when the light was wrong everywhere.
There are effectively 2 separate operations here.
The opencast system is self contained, largely electrified and mainly operated by 1500V DC Bo-Bo electrics of East German origin. A few steam locos are required to assist with track laying and other work on non-electrified sections of track. Coal is delivered by the electrics to the washery for processing.
The deep mine system connects four underground mines north of Pingzhuang and the output side of the washery at Zhuangmei Zhan (literally coal loading station) with the CNR interchange at Pingzhuang Nan. Some maps show a second CNR connection to the north at Bushan, probably a misspelling of Gushan, but there is no evidence that this line ever existed. The deep mine system is entirely steam operated.
During our visit, the opencast operation was using a mixture of SY and JS while only SY worked on the main system. It is not known whether the locos are supplied from a common pool or whether there are two completely separate fleets. Most locos were filthy, a complete contrast to those at Yuanbaoshan.
Deep Mine System: SY 0210, 0271, 1052 in use. SY 0400, 1083 on shed, SY 1007 out of use on shed.
Opencast System: JS 1001 (DL 1958), 5758, 6401 (DT 1984), SY 0463, 0766, 0916, 0943 all in use.
Electrics: 6703, 6784, 7040, 7324, 7330, 7335, 7342, 7344.
On the deep mine system, locos would bring long trains of empties from the CNR interchange to Zhuangmei where some wagons would be left at the washery before the train proceeded to the other collieries in turn. The furthest mine looked the most modern and appeared to generate the most traffic. Similarly the return working would pick up at each mine, then the washery before continuing to Pingzhuang Nan. Zhuangmei is at the summit of climbs from both directions and locos work hard approaching from either side. Trains are not particularly frequent and the method of working results in a few long heavy trains rather than a lot of short trip workings.
On the opencast system, electrically hauled trains of side-tipper wagons emerge from the big hole every few minutes loaded with rock waste that is taken to a nearby tip and dumped. Trains of coal are fairly infrequent by comparison. The steam locos seem to come and go frequently with short trains of flat wagons and cranes but it is not entirely clear whether they go down into the hole with these or hand them over to electrics. This operation would be worthy of further investigation.
Pingzhuang was more gritty than Yuanbaoshan with grimy engines running through industrial landscapes. We didn't find anywhere that could be described as either pleasant or rural but some of the industrial backdrops were well worth including in a picture. The line describes an arc of around 90 degrees and engines face both ways so the light will always be acceptable somewhere. The opencast system was not covered in detail but there must be possibilities here as well, particularly if access to the big hole can be arranged and steam works down there as anticipated.
The 64,000-yuan question: would I go back in the autumn? Yes, I'd certainly give it another try. The bad weather we experienced was probably untypical.
If the choice was between a winter visit and an autumn visit, which would I choose? Winter, without the slightest doubt. The light is better, the exhausts last all day and the prospect of snow is absolutely irresistible.