Pingdingshan, Yuzhou, Xingyang, Tiefa, Lindong and Yuanbaoshan
23rd January - 6th February 2005
Report by Bryan Acford
It's winter so it must be China!
For my 20th anniversary (and first post-Jingpeng) trip I headed off with Ewen Brown to some of the remaining steam outposts in the hope of completing a few gaps in our photographic collections. We were joined for the second week by Robin Gibbons whose illustrated report can found at http://www.railwaysofchina.com/inner_mongolia.htm . Roger Gillard should also have joined us but he 'failed on shed' in Geelong as had to cancel, happily he is now back in traffic.
The trip ambled along with the usual banter and gastronomic delights despite, at times, the difficult weather. When the going got rough we could always laugh about some of the drivel which appears on the 'Steam in China' newsgroup and vote for our entry in the 'Steamiest place in China' (SPIC) competition, see later for my nomination.
I hope you enjoy these notes and find them informative. Sorry about the lack of photos but I am still a Kodachrome man and all of these locations are well documented.
Beijing, 23rd Jan
We landed at 0900 and were met by our guide (Deng Feng) and another old friend. We headed off for a tea-drinking session followed by an excellent early lunch. Any thoughts of railway activity were soon dispelled by fog outside and the excellent company inside.
We headed south on K279 at 1700 to Pingdingshan. Glimpses out of the carriage window showed there to be thick fog all the way. The train is accelerated from last year but still sits in stations for ages to be overtaken by more important services. Arrival was on-time at 0650, just in time for the sunrise shots, but as visibility was only about 20 metres it was off to the hotel followed by breakfast.
Pindingshan, 24th - 26th Jan
Little to add to previously published reports. At my third attempt it was finally cold enough for white smoke but the sun only appeared at midday on 25th, so film usage was minimal.
We watched and rode the trains and tried to understand operations. During our stay we saw all of the locomotives on the system along with QJ7204 which was just about to leave after overhaul (the staff said that it was from 'Heli' mine in Henan province). QJ6690 from Yuzhou was also present for attention. Sadly the diesel was resting in the shed throughout our visit - we were hoping that it would be next in line for a 'full service' and re-tube like SY1687, but it has subsequently been reported back in traffic.
The system was very busy and they did seem a little stretched without having the diesel to move some of the big loads. We didn't see the previously reported empties around 0800 from Tianzhuang, indeed they seemed short of empties from CNR and on the afternoon of 25th two long rakes were taken direct to Shenxi from whence they were tripped to the mines. Having watched for a couple of days it was notable how much distance some of the locos covered each day on such a compact system.
Also, to reinforce Duncan's earlier comment, we experienced a reluctance to allow us into the depot area for reasons of safety at what is a very friendly system. We were allowed in but it really important to respect the hospitality of our hosts and behave sensibly.
To compete the system map:
At Yuguaning, between Baofeng & 9th mine there is an exchange with CNR along with a branch to a large cement works north of the line
At 9th mine there a junction with a line which heads off to the north-west. It looked well used and may be to another mine. There is also a small rail connected cement works south of the line at 9th mine.
For the gastronomically minded........ Have you ever noticed how few donkeys there are Pingdingshan? About 200 metres west of the JinXiu Hotel is the reason why!
The Little Donkey Restaurant, actually part of a chain based in Zhengzhou - now re-christened 'McDonkeys'
Locos seen: JS5644, 6225, 6253, 6429, 6539 (stored/dumped), 8030, 8031, 8054, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8068, 8120, 8122 (w/shop), 8338, 8421, QJ2035, 6450, 6690 (Yuzhou), 6813 (dumped), 7186, 7204 (ex-wks), SY 1002, 1209 (ex-wks), 1687 (overhaul)
On 26th, after an excellent hour around sunrise watching the locos come off Tianzhuang yard and into the shed, the gloop descended again so we set off early for Xingyang.
En route we did a little exploring:
Yuzhou (sg) - Yu-Ping line, 26th Jan
We found the station in Yuzhou and it turned out to be the place where their locos sit in between duties. QJ6650 & 6786 were simmering there and a few wagons were scattered amongst some large piles of coal, but nothing was happening. The staff said that the line to Yuxian is now closed and there is about one return train towards PDS each day. The train register seemed to confirm this. The staff also confirmed that their third loco 6690 was at PDS for repairs, and that trains used 2 locos. There are no facilities at Yuzhou.
The line to PDS seemed almost straight and across a plain, there appeared to be a small summit in a cutting about 5km south of Yuzhou.
Yuzhou (760mm) - Yu-Dan line, 26th Jan
We enquired at a crossing about traffic levels on this line. The crossing-keeper's register seemed to show about 5 pairs of trains every 24 hours. The track is well laid and looked well used. Yuzhou station is approx 2km from the sg station. Like the sg yard, the ng yard was really a series of large coal piles. Yuzhou station still has (sg size) semaphores.
The system is of course diesel worked, but it has been reported that they still own a couple of C4's.
Xingyang Brickworks Railway, 26/27 Jan
We arrived in Xingyang at 1400 and headed for the grotty end of town quickly finding the brickworks quarter, and seeing the smoke of 07 as it headed out to the loading point with empty tipplers, set off in pursuit.
We photographed on its return journey but strangely the wagons were empty. We then completed our recce of the line for the following day's photting.......
Thursday dawned cool and sunny if a little hazy. After an hour of inactivity we despatched to the depot to make enquiries. The previous afternoon's train had been the last before Spring Festival, and action would resume in around 4 weeks 'when the workers come back'
This left us with a few hours to kill before our flight to Shenyang. We turned tourist for an hour and Hongse Palin enjoyed a guided tour of a Bhuddist temple which was under construction nearby. We did however decline the invitation to reserve a place for our ashes - although rates were very reasonable!
We took CA6412 to Shenyang where we were met by Driver Liang and continued on to Diaobingshan for the next 3 nights.
Tiefa Mining Railway, 28-30 Jan
We were unsure of the level of steam operation but had headed to Tiefa confident that at least the passengers were still steam and hopefully some freight.
The 28th dawned overcast and threatening the forecast snow which duly started at 0830 and continued all day. It became a day of train watching and riding and trying to work out how both steam and diesel were being used. Our first surprise was to find a scruffy JS5029 and the immaculate KD6 in steam at Daqing stabling point. We didn't see either on line but both had retreated to the workshop by the 30th. We also rode the pax hauled by SY1749 to Dongguantun in the afternoon.
The following day dawned cold, still and sunny with fresh snow everywhere - at last some photos. We had two excellent days, mainly photting the passenger workings but also some freight including the immaculate & ex-works SY1770. We were joined by Robin on the evening of 29th and the anecdotes started to flow thick & fast. On the morning of 30th we visited the stabling point at Daqing. It was full of atmosphere with about 5xSY being coaled up and glinting in the sun & snow. In every way it was quite as good as dawn at PDS depot. Also, we didn't have any problems with the reported 200Rmb for photting here or at Sanchazi........ moral of the tale, always visit weekend when the management aren't on the premises. The staff were uniformly friendly.
Based upon our observations over the three days there are 2xDF4b, 5xDFH3 & 9xSY in traffic with a further 9xSY stored out of use at the workshop. A building was being erected around the stored locos. Based upon the numbers seen and other peoples observations there should be at least 4 more DFH3 somewhere on the premises but we couldn't trace them.
The locos were being used as follows;
All passenger workings were steam
Tieling - Daqing, almost exclusively diesel with the pair of DF4b working mainly on this section
Tieling - Dongguantun, all freights seen were diesel, mainly DFH3, with some trains exchanging locos at Daqing or Sanchazi. We only saw a DF4b on this section once.
Northern branch (Daming), all freight seen on here was steam
Southern branch (Dalong etc), most freight seen on here was steam, maybe one DFH3 was sharing this work
Locos seen: Working SY 1255, 1412, 1683, 1749, 1751, 1767, 1769, 1770, 1772
Stored SY 0063, 0393, 0435, 0665, 0860, 0979, 1147, 1183, 1771
Dumped SY 0023, plus bits of another 0029?
DF4b 7720, 7721
DFH3 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
We headed to Shenyang in the afternoon and took N151 to Chifeng arriving at 0605 the following morning.
Ji-Tong Line, 31 Jan - 4 Feb
Upon our arrival Chifeng seemed suspiciously cold and windy. This was confirmed by the dust and horizontal smoke from chimneys en route to Daban. The ice windows in the minibus were also an indicator of serious cold outside.
We reached Daban soon after 9-00 having had the days workings either side of town phoned through. The sky was grey, it was bitterly cold and the dust was picking up so we headed to an un-heated noodle shop for breakfast.
The plan for this trip had always been to head for Lindong as we were all short of photos on that section. Nothing which had happened in the previous 3 months had deflected us from our plan so we ignored a potential 11-00 to Haoloku and headed for Lindong. The trains which we saw en-route had smoke coming horizontally out of the chimney and were impossible for photography, even if the sun had been shining.
On arrival at Lindong the temperature around -20C and a gale force wind was blowing making for an equivalent of around -60C with wind-chill. Whilst I have experienced colder temperatures 'oop north, I have never felt so cold as that day. It was certainly a day to observe proceedings from the relative warm of the minibus. We met with our friends in Roger Johnson's group, but with tales of illness and a bitter wind for the previous days they all seemed relieved to be heading home. Over the following days the wind dropped and the sun shone so we not only saw but photographed the spectacle of the last steam main line in the world. There remained a good proportion trains single-headed allowing us to take some 'traditional' shots for this section.
It is worth saying that this section has it's own character with one feature being the 'race-track' between Yanenmiao and Diaojiaduan which being straight and gently undulating brings back memories of 25NC's across the Karoo. Personally this spectacle, seen from the parallel road, during an early morning chase was one of the highlights of the week.
Traffic levels were fair during the week, with about 6 daylight trains from Daban, these all seemed to keep good time whereas westbound traffic and time-keeping was more erratic. The fact that the passenger is in section mitigates against any early morning departures from Chabuga, 0930 regularly being the first booked working in daylight. One working to look out for is a freight preceding the passenger at approx 0745 from Lindong, given the need to get through the sections to Chabuga this made for spectacular running.
We visited Daban depot on the afternoon of 4th Feb and the number of locos present suggested that on the day there was quite a lot of activity to the west. One small mystery was the disappearance of 6911, it had been on its usual passenger turn the previous week but we saw no sign of it either on-line or on-shed.
Locos seen in traffic QJ 6751, 6763, 6828, 6850, 6851, 6878, 6891, 6925, 6977, 6978, 6986, 6991, 6992, 6996, 7002, 7009, 7010, 7037, 7041, 7048, 7049, 7063, 7081, 7104, 7105, 7119, 7163, 7164.
The following were newly ex-works 6850, 6925, 6991, 6992, 7081, 7105, 7119
On the evening of 4th Feb we made the long journey to Chifeng to visit the nearby mine railways on our final day.
Yuanbaoshan Mine Railway, 5th Feb
This was the busiest I have ever seen this system, 5 locos were in traffic and busy. There was a lot of coal coming off the branch and heavy loads were being pulled in from CNR. All 3 deep mines along with the Opencast were producing, maybe a result of increasing world coal prices?
The JS with full deflectors all look smart and in the cold weather the smoke effects are good, but sadly the drivers here win the all China award for minimal effort as they ease heavy trains around the system with minimal sound effects - a nightmare for videots!
Locos seen working JS 6245, 6246, 8216, 8250 (passenger loco not recorded).
Pingzhuang Mine Railway, 5th Feb
We made a quick visit and I maintained my record of taking almost no decent photographs at this location. Compared with previous visits the pit seemed to be producing rather more coal than the usual dirt. In general the electrics looked much smarter than on previous visits, there were also plenty of SY in action on the big-pit system with only a couple working the deep-mines. There was also a feeling that the place was winding down before Spring Festival, with 8 rakes of tippler wagons and a similar number of electric locos parked up on the edge of the pit.
Locos seen JS 1001 (stored), SY 0463, 0517, 0798, 1083, 1084, 1749.
The gloom had descended by mid-afternoon so after a brief stop at Yuanbaoshan to watch the afternoon action we headed back to Chifeng for dinner and Train 2560 back to Beijing and home.
I guess that we all know that the end is coming in China, the reciprocating steam engine is increasingly at odds with a country which is growing and modernising at such a rate. Equally, it is apparent that even on the 'pro-steam' systems such as Tiefa & Ji-Tong the loads are just become too big and the locos too old for it to continue much longer.
It may or may not be my last steam trip to China but personally the last 20 years have been a tremendous experience to not only witness but also record the last great steam show on earth. When the curtain finally falls we be left not just with memories but also friendships with guides, drivers and railway staff all of whom have helped to make it all possible. Having watched the country 'grow up' and travelled in some fantastic scenery, I know that I have many reasons to return when all the steam has gone.....
And my nomination for 'SPIC' - Haerbin followed by Baotou (......respectively in 1984 & 1990)