The JiTong Line in Late Summer
28 August - 14 September 2003
Report by Duncan Cotterill
This trip was a joint effort between Bryan Acford and myself. Although we would be in China at slightly different times, it was worth combining our itineraries for the week we were both there together. We'd both been inspired by our visit to China in late September and early October 2002. It was clear that there was considerable potential for photography away from the traditional winter season but also that it could be a frustrating experience. A visit at this time of year carries greater risks than a winter trip. The weather tends to be less settled and the chances of getting no exhaust at all are significant. On the other hand, the landscape is more colourful and you don't risk frostbite every time you change a film.
Arrangements within China were made through Sun Xiaolan of CLSLPA. We had a driver arranged throughout but only used a guide for the week we were both at Lindong and Chabuga. Post SARS there were some cheap flight deals available. I flew London to Beijing and back via Frankfurt with Lufthansa for £524. The Beijing - Frankfurt leg was actually flown by Air China. Fares at this time of year are usually 25-50% more expensive.
Beijing Railway Museum (28 August 2003)
This was my first visit to the museum. The collection is impressive, especially if you like JFs. There are no fewer than 4 examples of this fine class on display. Obvious omissions include FD, SY, C2 and DFH1 classes but nonetheless it's well worth a visit if you're in Beijing. The staff indicated that English language signs for each exhibit would be produced shortly. Photography should be straightforward on a bright day as the locos are well spaced but when I visited it was terminally dull outside and even darker inside.
Locos: BJ 3003, DF 1301, DF4 0001, DFH2 0008, DFH5 0001, GJ 1019, JF 1191, JF 2101, JF 2121, JF "Mao Zedong", JF6 3022, JS 5001, KD7 534, KF1 006, PL3 51, PL9 146 (in passenger DF4 orange livery), QJ 0001, RM 1001, SL 601, SL12 890, SS 1008
Beijing to Reshui (28 - 29 August 2003)
As usual, travel from Beijing to Chifeng was on train 2189, the 16:32 from Beijing Nan. Traction was provided by a standard green DF4 to Chengde. The following were seen en-route;
Beijing Nan: DF10F 2004A/B, various unidentified DF4, unidentified BJ on train 7203 16:28 to Fengtaixi, DFH5 0079.
Beijing Hbf Loco Depot: Around 10 brand new SS9. Numbers SS9 0076, 0104, 0105, 0111 were noted. An SS8 was also on shed. Lots of DF11 and DF11z 0002 & 0004, a number of DF4D, but very few DF4B, BJ or NY7.
Beijing Dong: DF7 incl 0242, DF4B and DF8B
Huairou: DF4 9217 on K712 14:40 Chengde-Beijing express.
Miyun: DF7 5524, DF4 9321 on 7156 12:27 Chengde-Beijing local, BJ on shed.
On winter trips it's usually dark by Miyun but this time I was able to experience the climb to the summit before Xinglongxian in daylight. It's hard to believe that it's almost 10 years since I photographed QJs on the same line. By Xinglongxian, the jet lag was beginning take effect, ensuring I would get a decent sleep before getting off at Chifeng at 03:07 the following morning.
Driver Li met me off the train and took me on to Reshui, arriving shortly after 06:00. As we approached Linxi and the darkness gave way to daylight it became apparent that something was very different. The landscape was green, not just slightly green as it had been last September but very green. The fields were green, the valleys were green and the hills were green all the way to the top. Clearly, this was going to be an interesting trip.
Jingpeng Pass (29 August - 06 September 2003)
Apart from Julien Blanc, there can't be many people who can claim to have had Jingpeng Pass all to themselves. However, for almost three days, I was the only photographer there. For the next six days there were only two of us and our paths rarely crossed. When a group of five Kiwis turned up right at the end of my visit, it seemed positively crowded!
Traffic levels varied a lot from day to day with between 3 and 7 trains in each direction. A few trains in each direction were single headed but the vast majority had a pair of QJs on the front. The averages were well balanced at around 5 trains each way. Bear in mind that this is over a 12 hour day, as opposed to about 8 hours in winter, and the figures don't look particularly impressive. It should also be noted that for the middle 4 hours of each day photography is tricky as the sun is too high in the sky.
In spite of the relatively low traffic levels, there were a lot of locos in traffic. No less than 32 different QJ were seen. One of these, Baiqi's QJ 7088, was returning after overhaul while QJ 6850 was probably on its way to works. Several of the Daban QJ also appeared to have been recently overhauled including QJ 7137 which was literally a few days out of works. QJ 6385, 6773 and 6996, previously noted as Chabuga locos, were each seen several times while QJ 6808 and 7030, ex Shuangyashan, are new to the line. Also of note was the absence of several of the older regular locos; QJ 6125, 6230 and 6274 were not seen although QJ 6110 still soldiers on.
QJ 6110, 6356, 6385, 6517, 6577, 6630, 6735, 6751, 6760, 6763, 6773, 6808, 6828, 6850, 6851, 6878, 6882, 6905, 6925, 6981, 6986, 6996, 6998, 7002, 7009, 7030, 7040, 7041, 7088, 7112, 7137, 7143.
The weather was very mixed. Some days were sunny from start to finish and others cloudy all day. On average, the sun shone around half the time. Temperatures varied as well. There were some cool mornings when the white exhaust lasted until after 09:00 and others where there wasn't a trace of steam, even at 06:00. Most of the time the daytime temperatures were between 20 and 30 C. Rain was relatively common, often falling as heavy downpours accompanied by thunder, lightning and hailstones. These usually cleared up after an hour or so and could be followed by sunshine and stunningly good visibility. If it didn't rain, the landscape wouldn't be so green so it was a price that had to be paid. As always in this part of the world, the wind blew incessantly. However, it didn't always blow from the same direction. On one brilliantly clear morning, the wind blew from the east and there were three trains out of Jingpeng before 10:00. Of such things are memories made!
Daban (06 - 07 September 2003)
This was a short visit with the primary aim of exploring the hilly section between the loco depot and the main road bridge west of town. Photographically, it's not as good as it appears it should be. There are some excellent positions for downhill trains but good uphill shots are difficult.
Traffic was light with only 4 westbound and 4 eastbound departures plus the eastbound passenger in daylight on the 7th. The weather was mixed, starting foggy, clearing, clouding over then partially clearing again over the course of the day - fairly typical for the trip. A shed visit was considered but in view of the cloud and unfavourable wind, there was little point in going. Daban pilot was deflectorless QJ 6639. One morning, QJ 6981 brought the passenger, train 6051, into Daban. QJ 6751 was seen on the same train the following day. For other loco details see Jingpeng Pass section above and Lindong & Chabuga section below.
Lindong & Chabuga (08 - 14 September 2003)
Bryan arrived at Daban early on the 08 September with Deng Feng from CLSLPA and we headed east to visit the area around Lindong and Chabuga. This was the area worst affected by the recent earthquake and we were a little concerned at what we might find. However, we needn't have worried as damage was relatively limited and provision had been made for the unfortunate people whose homes had been affected. For most people in the area, life continued as normal. The same applied to the railway, which was operating normally in spite of earthquake damage to some of its buildings.
Daytime traffic was relatively light, averaging around 4 freights each way in daylight. There appeared to be more trains overnight. In addition to the freights, there was also an all-stations passenger train each way in daylight. The passenger timetable changed on 10 September (see below for details) but the all-stations trains remain QJ worked.
Again, a wide variety of locos were seen. QJ 6778 and 7010 were the regular passenger locos on the Daban - Chabuga section. QJ 6358 performed similar duties east of Chabuga. Ex-works QJ 7136 was seen heading back to Baiqi, its home depot. A total of 17 different locos were seen working west of Chabuga and 8 to the east. Two locos, QJ 6110 & 6735 seen on the Daban - Chabuga section were also noted working west of Daban.
Daban - Chabuga Locos:
QJ 6110, 6351, 6576, 6631, 6735, 6778, 6825, 6891, 6978, 6984, 7010, 7037, 7063, 7081, 7119, 7136, 7163.
Chabuga - Zhelimu Locos:
QJ 6349, 6358, 6478, 6580, 6853, 6988, 7048, 7049.
The weather was sunny over half of the time although visibility could be quite poor, particularly when the wind wasn't blowing as strongly as usual. It only rained once, in a downpour which lasted for around 10 hours. Afterwards, the dirt roads were extremely muddy and impassable in places. Temperatures were generally warmer than at Jingpeng and any white exhaust disappeared rapidly after sunrise. Afternoons could be very hot with temperatures rising to over 30C.
Back to Beijing (13 - 14 September 2003)
We returned to Chifeng on 13 September. Bryan would continue to Yuanbaoshan before going to Reshui for a week.
For me, it was time to go home. I travelled to Beijing Nan on train 2560 at 20:00 from Chifeng. There's very little to report as I slept most of the way. I did see an NY7 moving under it's own power near Beijing Dong but only as a light engine.
JiTong Passenger Timetable
The timetable changed on 10 September. The through Tongliao to Baotou expresses, A201 & A202 which were running on alternate days, ceased on that date and a new Tongliao to Huhehaote service, A263 & A264, started using the "Hanlu" diesel units. It appeared from what we were told that the diesel would run on alternate days but it actually ran every day between 11 and 13 September. There may have been some confusion because there was no westbound working from Tongliao until 11 September, after the first train had arrived from Huhahaote.
The all-stations passengers continue as before with QJ haulage but have been retimed slightly to fit around the new service. I don't have intermediate times for anywhere except Chabuga as the change wasn't widely publicised. We didn't find out about the change until trains started turning up at unusual times on the 10th. The main impact photographically is that 6051 will be lit around Daban even in midwinter and 6052 is lit for longer around Chabuga and Lindong.
6057 03:22 Daban, 06:29 Chabuga 06:39, Tongliao 10:45
6052 11:35 Tongliao, 16:03 Chabuga 16:15, Jiningnan 13:56
6051 14:56 Jiningnan, 11:34 Chabuga 11:49, Tongliao 17:30
6058 18:18 Tongliao, 22:42 Chabuga 22:54, Daban 02:16
A264 13:55 Tongliao, 17:14 Chabuga 17:29, Huhehaote 09:05
A263 11:00 Huhehaote, 03:20 Chabuga 03:29, Tongliao 06:35
It also appears that the Huhehaote - Xilinhaote expresses are retimed:
K736/737 19:35 Huhehaote - Xilinhaote 07:58
K738/735 19:34 Xilinhaote - Huhehaote 07:50
The JiTong QJ Fleet
The prophets of doom concluded that the reported cessation of overhauls at China Railway depots at the end of April was the beginning of the end for JiTong steam. I'm delighted to report it's not true. If anything, there seem to be more than the usual number of locos around in recently ex-works condition. It's pure speculation on my part, but could locos now be going to main works (e.g. Sujiatun, Changchun) for intermediates as well as major overhauls and getting a repaint while they're there? Concentrating these jobs on the main works would make sense in a declining market for steam overhauls.
There also seem to be more locos around with the smart Sujiatun blue and white front panel. The arrival of two new locos is also an interesting development. It appears that QJ 6808 and 7030, ex Shuangyashan locos, may nominally be Mudanjiang rebuilds of QJ 6230 and 6274 but how much of the originals is incorporated in the new locos is questionable. QJ 7030 appeared to have been in traffic for some time but QJ 6808 was ex-works. I was also amazed by the sheer number of locos that were in traffic. No less than 56 different QJs were seen in use during the trip including 3 Baiqi locos en-route to or from works. However, it’s sad to see the disappearance of the older locos, some of which I’ve been photographing for over 10 years. Of the 61xx and 62xx numbered engines, only QJ 6110 was seen in traffic. QJ 6230 and 6274 have probably gone to the scrapper and there can’t be much hope for QJ 6125.
In spite of SARS and the recent earthquake, it was largely business as usual. There was an additional form to fill in and a health check leaving Beijing but that was about all.
There have been some improvements to the roads since last winter. The road leading to Jingpeng station is now tarmac and the road from Chabuga to Fuxindi is in the process of being tarred. On the downside, several old road bridges between Lindong and Tianshan and one in Tianshan itself have been damaged by the earthquake and short diversions are in place. The new road under the viaduct at Reshui isn't finished yet but appeared to be almost ready for paving. Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a route across the river for vehicles so tunnels 6 and 7 remain a long walk up from the village.
There will soon be even more hotels to choose from in Reshui. One new establishment has opened already and another 3 are currently under construction. I did wonder why Reshui needed more hotels, then one night Tina from Chifeng CITS turned up with a group of 300 domestic tourists - maybe that's who the new establishments are aimed at.
On a lighter note ......
One amusing incident summed up the difference between Chinese and European cultures. Having almost trodden on a snake and being worried about the consequences if it had bitten one of us, we asked if it was poisonous. "No" came the reply, "it's not poisonous. You can eat it". Did you ever wonder where that meat you didn't recognise came from?
Well, is it worth visiting JiTong in early September? The answer is a resounding "maybe". It depends what you're looking for.
If you want cheap airfares, dramatic exhausts, virtually guaranteed sunshine and heavy traffic, then go in winter. There's no doubt that you'll get more good shots in a week than I did. On the other hand, if you don't mind enduring a significant amount of bad weather, can cope with very long days involving hours of sitting around while nothing happens, aren't put off by the snakes and are prepared to take the chance that you'll get nothing out of the chimney when the train does appear, then it's worth considering. At its best it was very, very good but you do have to work far harder for your shots than in winter.