Jingpeng, Yuanbaoshan, Pingzhuang, Tiefa & Weihe
23 February - 09 March 2003
Report by Duncan Cotterill
This report covers a two-week photographic trip to China by Robert Horlacher, Bryan Acford and myself. Greg Howell joined us for the first week and Robin Gibbons for the second week. As usual, arrangements within China were made via Sun Xiaolan of CLSLPA but unusually, we travelled without a guide for the first week.
Beijing to Reshui (23 - 24 February 2003)
Bryan, Robert and I were met at Beijing Airport by our usual Beijing driver who first took us to a restaurant in south Beijing then to Nan Station. The driver had our tickets for train 2189 to Chifeng and took us to the soft class waiting room. On the way we had to pass an X-ray machine where they tried (and failed) to X-ray our camera bags as well as the suitcases.
The soft sleeper coach on 2189 wasn't full and the fourth berth in our compartment was never occupied. After the overnight flight, it wasn’t long before we were all asleep, just as well as arrival at Chifeng was on time at 03:07. Our old friend Li Wei Feng, not to be confused with the footballer of the same name, met us on the platform and then drove us to Reshui in the record time of 2 hours 38 minutes, arriving at the Post Hotel well before 06:00. We met up with Greg at the hotel.
The only sighting of interest during the journey was a DF11Z twin unit on shed at Beijing.
Jingpeng Pass (24 February - 01 March 2003)
Very little change from previous reports. No nasty surprises, no diesels, no new QJs and no major changes in traffic or operations. Although we saw the Mafia on several occasions, we had no guide for them to victimise and they soon lost interest in us.
The area was busy with visiting groups, particularly during the first few days of our visit, but there were few problems with people getting in the way. It was good to see Ron Olsen at Jingpeng. Mr Li wasn’t so pleased to have someone in ex-footplate condition in his bus.
Traffic was fairly heavy and well balanced between eastbounds and westbounds. We actually saw more westbound trains than eastbounds but there were still a couple of westbound light locos and one instance of a loco being detached at Shangdian and returning to Jingpeng to assist the following train. On average, there were 4.7 eastbounds and 5.3 westbounds in photographic light each day during our visit. Much of the eastbound traffic was coal.
QJ 6230, 6274, 6356, 6517, 6577, 6630, 6735, 6751*, 6763, 6828, 6851, 6876, 6878, 6882, 6891*, 6905, 6978*, 6981, 6986, 6997*, 6998, 7007, 7009, 7012, 7112, 7137, 7143.
Locos marked * normally work elsewhere, usually east of Daban, although QJ 6997 was a Baiqi machine and was probably en-route to works. QJ.7143 was ex-works with a smart blue plate at the front.
Very mixed. We got the impression that spring arrived early this year. The lowest temperature experienced was only -13C and the remaining snow and ice was melting rapidly by the time we left. There was a lot more cloud than usual but also periods of brilliantly clear sunny weather. The wind blew as expected.
Yuanbaoshan and Pingzhuang Colliery Systems (02 March 2003)
We travelled from Jingpeng to Chifeng on Saturday afternoon and stayed the night at a hotel in the city. The next day was occupied visiting the Yuanbaoshan and Pingzhuang colliery systems.
The weather was poor to start with and snow fell for much of the morning. By late afternoon the clouds had disappeared and we had a short period of sunshine before the day ended.
Traffic was heavy at the north end of the system with significant volumes of coal arriving from the CNR interchange at Yuanbaoshan and from the branch to the opencast loading site and mines 2 and 3.
Locos: JS 6246, 8218, 8246, 8249, 8250 were all seen working.
Power Station: GKD1 4009
There is a fifth deep mine on this system. It is located south-west of the opencast site at Wujai. The branch serving the mine connects with the colliery main line at Wufeng, between Pingzhuang Nan and the washery (Thanks to the Steam & Safaris group for this info). The branch skirts the southern end of the opencast mine and runs alongside the spoil tips from the original excavation. There is a small rail served spoil tip still working in this area but it appears to see little use. Another shorter branch from Wufeng leads to a large workshop complex where an SY was seen in steam. Could this be where steam loco overhauls are carried out?
Locos: JS 5758, SY 0304, 1052, 1083
Electrics: 6788, 7335, 7344, 7347, 7359
From the collieries we travelled back to Chifeng where Greg left us to return to the UK.
The rest of us caught train K650 to overnight to Shenyang. We shared our compartment with a Shenyang based railway manager who told us that the high-speed line from Shenyang to Qinhuangdao would be operational this summer. Approaching Shenyang, we saw two high-speed trainsets in a newly constructed depot.
At Shenyang, we were met by Sun Xiaolan and Robin and travelled by road to Tiefa with driver Liang.
Daqing Coal Company, Tiefa (03 - 04 March 2003)
We found everything as expected. The passenger trains were running as per Florian's timetable. It's worth noting that the trains shown as non-stop do stop at most, if not all, stations. As usual, it was a lottery as to which way the locos were facing but with a little effort you could predict what would be on most trains.
The weather was relatively kind to us with clear sunny weather and snow on the ground both days. In a place as drab and featureless as Tiefa, a little bit of snow makes the area so much more photogenic.
On the Faku line, the usual long train of empties ran around 10:00 from Daqing, returning loaded mid to late afternoon. There were two separate loaded trains on both afternoons, with one or both double headed. To achieve this, there must have been either light engine movements or other freights out to the colliery at Xiaokang. Robin rode the Dongguantun train one afternoon and reported that Xiaokang was the only significant source of traffic on the line. The stations at Faku and Dongguantun appear to be some distance from the towns they serve.
Locos: SY 0393, 0435, 0665, 0979, 1147, 1183, 1255, 1412, 1683, 1749, 1751, 1764, 1769, 1770, 1772.
After sunset on the Tuesday, we travelled by road to Tieling. East of Daqing there are two separate parallel single-track lines. The southerly line is the CNR connection from Daqing to Tieling, the northerly one connects Daqing to a large power station near Tieling. There is also a connection from the power station towards Tieling. It would be interesting to know what works the power station lines. Do they have their own locos, as at Yuanbaoshan, or do Tiefa Railway SYs work the traffic?
From Tieling, we took train 2017 overnight to Weihe behind DF4D 0307. Again, there were unsuccessful attempts to X-ray all of our bags entering Tieling station.
Weihe Forestry Railway (05 - 08 March 2003)
Probably our final visit to this fascinating system. If you didn't experience the sight and sound of a C2 being thrashed out of Pinglin on a loaded timber train then you really have missed out! I'm not a great narrow gauge fan but this operation was something special. The trains may have been small but the system had a main line feel to it. The C2s weren't the prettiest engines in the world but they looked just right on a long timber train and achieved quite impressive speeds in spite of their limited size and the heavy trains they were entrusted with.
Traffic levels were similar to previous years with daily workings to Liushan, Yulin, Chonghe, Qingshan and Dongfeng. The big difference was that loaded trains tended to operate in daylight instead of overnight. Sad though the end of passenger train operation is, it has had its benefits!
The line didn’t look as if it was on the verge of closure. We visited Yabuli in March 1999, just before it closed and found locos in very poor condition, very few trains and those that did run were often hours late. In contrast, many of Weihe’s locos were running well this year and repairs to track and rolling stock were still being carried out. Unfortunately, it still seems likely that the railway will close at the end of the season.
We met some officials of the forestry bureau at Dongfeng. They were having a last railcar trip over the line before it closed. They confirmed that closure would take place in late April/early May and that the track would be ripped up over the summer. The railway was said to be more expensive to operate than road transport. Next winter, all the timber would be taken out by truck, using the trackbed as a road.
They also stated that the proposed tourist line from Weihe to the forest park near Xinli would be operated by locomotives that “looked like steam locos” but were powered by internal combustion engines. We tried to explain that unless they used the original steam locos, there would be no interest from foreign visitors but I don't think they wanted to listen.
The loading point midway between Dongfeng and Shuangfeng dispatched it's very last loaded train just after midday on the 7th of March. Twenty four hours later, little remained except the track. The spar and winding gear had been dismantled and even the point blades removed. By the time you read this, the site will have reverted to farmland.
The weather was poor for two of the four days we were on the line but clear the rest of the time. Again, it was warmer than anticipated and by the time we left, most of the snow had melted and the roads were becoming very muddy in places.
Locos: 30, 33, 34, 35, 53, 54, 55. (Officially SW-21030 etc)
Some locos such as 30, 34 and 54 were in good condition and managed to take 12 cars up the grades unassisted. Others, such as 33 would struggle with 8 cars. Weihe yard pilot was 35, which was missing it's rear set of coupling rods and was running as an 0-6-2.
On a previous visit, we were told that the line had originally been built as a branch off the Chinese Eastern Railway, the original 5 foot gauge Trans-Siberian route across northern China from Manzhouli to Suifenhe. This explains the gentle curves, wide trackbed, deep cuttings and long embankments so unusual on a narrow gauge line. How far the broad gauge went is unclear but it certainly extended beyond Dongfeng in the direction of Qingshan. Can anybody confirm how far the broad gauge trackbed actually stretches?
About 0.5 km north of Dongfeng is the site of a former triangular junction leading off to the east. This was probably the line mentioned in Bernd's recent report. It's route followed the Dongfeng to Chonghe road much of the way and in places the road is built on the old trackbed. On the Chonghe side of the summit the descent is steep and there is evidence of a zig-zag. The width of the trackbed indicates that the line was always narrow gauge. Some maps, including Nelles and Quail, show this route as well as the current line via Qingshan. It's not clear what the purpose of this line was as the original broad gauge route would seem to offer a much easier alignment avoiding the steep climb.
As neither line will probably operate next winter, the following information is probably useless. There is a bus service from Weihe, via Pinglin and Shanhetun, to Wuchang on the Harbin – Jilin line.
Weihe to Beijing (08 - 09 March 2003)
We left Weihe by road around 15:00 bound for Harbin. The main road parallels the Mudanjiang to Harbin main line most of the way and a constant procession of DF8 hauled coal trains were seen. On the section west of Pingshan, westbound coal trains were piloted by DF4s up a steep grade. On a previous trip, steam was seen on an industrial system at Mao'ershan but there was no evidence of anything working this time.
At Harbin station, the X-ray fiasco continued but once again, our camera bags escaped. Another memorable sight was a member of railway staff charged with keeping passengers moving through the building talking at people through a megaphone even though they were standing only a few inches away.
We travelled from Harbin to Beijing on train T18, a crack overnight express formed of the most modern, comfortable stock. An SS9 was on the front for the first part of the journey followed by one of the brand new DF11Z twin units for the run from Shenyang to Beijing. The Qinhuangdao to Beijing route, rebuilt less than 15 years ago as a fast main line to the north-east is being rebuilt again. Considerable effort is going into realigning the track, re-electrifying some sections and extending passing loops on others as part of the Shenyang high speed line project. In spite of the work, we still managed to achieve 152 km/hr on this section. Beijing arrival was precisely on time at 09:01.
Freight traffic on the Qinhuangdao – Beijing section was mainly SS1 worked with a few DF4s also seen. Passenger trains were worked by DF11s or orange DF4s. We also saw a pair of SYs on a coal train somewhere near Mapuying. It was difficult to pinpoint the exact location, as the station signs were very difficult to read at high speed. Beijing diesel depot contained another of the DF11Z twin units (No 0004) as well as many DF4, DF4D, DF11, DF10F and a few NY7 and BJ.
We were met outside Beijing station by our driver and dropped off at the airport just after 09:30, in plenty of time to catch our flight home.
All things considered, it was a good trip with plenty of variety and usually plenty of trains. The weather wasn’t perfect. There was thin high cloud or hazy light for a significant proportion of the time but we did manage some shots in clear light on most days. It seems to have been another mild winter in northern China. We didn’t experience any really cold weather during our trip and even Weihe was above freezing much of the time we were there.
The enthusiasm of station security staff to x-ray everything is disturbing. It's one thing to subject your films to properly calibrated machines at international airports but if they have to go through machines at every station as well, the chance of damage is much increased. We managed to escape this time but will that always be the case? Has anyone else noticed this increased level of security?
It’s getting more difficult to find working steam in China and the impending demise of Weihe will reduce the variety of operations still further. A few years ago, steam worked narrow gauge forestry lines covered a significant proportion of Manchuria but next year, there will probably be none. Even diesel worked systems have become few and far between.
Fortunately, the industrial sector seems to be more secure with no sign of imminent change on the colliery systems we visited. Tiefa must now be the world's busiest steam passenger operation even if it's not the world's most scenic railway. Successful photography may be difficult but it is possible and it's almost worth a visit for the sheer volume of traffic alone. Yuanbaoshan and Pingzhuang both have their attractions but there can be long quiet periods when it's difficult to find anything moving.
As for Jingpeng, there's little to say except that it's still magnificent.
None of the remaining lines will last forever. However, there should still be plenty to keep us occupied for the next couple of years. And who knows what else is still to be discovered? Remember, a year ago, few people had heard of Pingdingshan, Zhungeer or Guyaozi.
Must go, it’s time to start planning the next trip.