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Steam in China - July 2004

by Jens Toft Ingemann Larsen

Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, JiTong



I have just returned from my first ever trip to China- a combined family holiday and steam trip. So as a new-comer in respect to steam in China (but very experienced from Eastern Europe in the "old days" around 1980), I would like to express the deepest thanks to all who have provided essential information on the Internet, including the homepages of F. Menius and Hans Schaefer as well as the new railway timetable provided by Duncan Peattie, which proved very valuable - not just as a timetable, but also with the list of station names in both Pinyin/Chinese - which we used for ordering both railway and bus tickets - and the booking form for ordering train tickets also made it very easy to buy train tickets at various places.
In general, I found it possible to buy train tickets - including soft sleeper tickets - 4 days in advance at all major stations visited.
The valuable informations from the Internet, the actual timetable, my Berlitz Mandarin Chinese Phrase Book and Nelles North-Eastern China Map (and a little patience here and there) were the basic tools to make this trip a very successful experience for the whole family.

Daihuichang

I visited this small railway in the afternoons of both the 9th and 28th of July. On July 9th only few trains ran, but on the 28th I saw 18 steam trains from 14.30 to 17.00. Staff was very friendly and I did not have to pay any fee, even though I visited both the factory and the mine. Two unnumbered C2's were in use on both days, two others were dead in the shed. The tracks to the shed could not be used temporarily because of some sort of drainage work in front of the shed. The working engines are coaled and serviced on a track in the factory yard.

Pingzhuang and Yuanbaoshan

We had to postpone our travel from Beijing to Chifeng for two days because only hard seat tickets without reservation (not very attractive on a night journey with kids…) were available for the night train from Beijing Bei to Chifeng as we tried to buy tickets two days before the intended departure date. We were told that it is very attractive to travel to Inner Mongolia in the summer time because the climate there is not as warm and humid as in Beijing - meaning that trains tickets will be sold out very fast. So we got our soft sleeper tickets for the 14th and arrived in Chifeng in the morning of July 15th and the same day I had a taxi to drive me to both Pingzhuang and Yuanbaoshan - I negotiated a price of 250 RMB for the whole day. I spent about 1˝ hour in Pingzhuang and saw JS 5758 as well as SY 0400, 0517, 1025, 1084 in service and SY 0708 and 0943 dead. I also got some nice pictures of the electric locomotives in service there. A very impressing operation with the deep open mine.

We continued to Yuanbaoshan, where JS 8246 arrived from north with a loaded coal train just as I reached the bridge north of the station at 13.22. JS 8216 and 6544 were also in the station. The passenger train to Fengshuigou departed behind JS 8216 at 15.00 and was easy to chase. A new road toll gate was being constructed just south of the bridge north of Gongye - but was not in service yet when I visited.

JiTong - Reshui area and Daban

July 16th we had a 3-hour ride with the bus departing at 9.00 from Chifeng to Linxi, and with connecting local bus we arrived in Reshui about 12.45. It was no problem to get two double rooms at the Railway Hotel.
Reshui proved to be a very dusty place as most streets including the main street were just dirt roads because of intense sewerage construction. More new hotels were under construction, and a lot of Chinese tourists were in the area. Actually, my wife and kids made some interesting excursions to the mountains and the great salt lake in the desert at Dalai Nur (by taxi) while I was focusing on the steam trains… We found the hot spring (Reshui meaning hot water) - it is located on the main street just opposite to the Railway hotel - look for an entrance with two great dragons - and is used by the locals as a washing place. So actually the spring was a dirty place, surrounded by garbage, old washing powder boxes etc. The swimming bath at the railway hotel was open on the first days of our stay but was then temporarily closed because the water wasn't clean enough…
We stayed 4 nights in Reshui and one night in Daban. The weather was generally very nice, with clear sun most of the time - temperatures about 20 degrees Celsius in the morning, rising to about 35 in mid afternoon. The humidity was low, meaning that even mid afternoon temperatures were acceptable - but my umbrella proved to be most useful for sun protection while I was waiting for the next steam train on the hills.

Traffic pattern changed from day to day, but generally traffic was very intense and an average of MORE than one steam train an hour could be seen on all days, the longest interval without trains experienced was less than two hours and at many occasions I saw 3 steam trains within an hour… I don't understand why so few people have visited this very interesting steam line in summer time, the climate proved to be wonderful, lot of steam trains and sunlight from about 4.45 to 19.15 in mid-July! I did not meet any other steam photographers at all - except for a small group of Japanese visitors I encountered once.

On July 18th, two westbound freighs (both headed by two QJ's) shipped each a diesel locomotive in the train, one (headed by QJ 7112 and 6981) being DF4B 0490. As the diesel engine helped dragging the train up the incline, the train passed Sandi station with a speed of about 50 km/h..!

On the 4 days in Reshui, I saw about 35 different QJ's in service. Very few trains were headed by a single QJ, a pair of QJ's being the normal traction of almost any train. The same pair of QJ's could be seen at several occasions - meaning that engines are paired for a number of days, not just for a single return trip from Daban and back.

On July 20th, we moved east to Daban and I visited the depot. The fee was 200 RMB and I was allowed free access to the area. Many staff members tried to sell number plates, steam locomotive parts etc. In late afternoon, only about 5-7 warm engines were present in the depot, being serviced and waiting for trains, as well as receiving final attendance after a maintenance visit to the works, all others were on the line - also a sigh of a very high traffic level. QJ 6911 was seen in steam with nice decorations.
I saw DF4B 0548, 0552, 0570 and 0636 in the works area - not in use, but apparently intensive training was going on. No diesel facilities could be seen.

On the morning of July 21th, I saw the morning passenger train arrive 15 minutes late, changing engine in Daban (from QJ 6751 to QJ 6631) and making an impressive departure - seen from the bridge east of the station in beautiful morning sunlight at 6.30. QJ 6996 (without smoke deflectors) was shunting in Daban.
Traffic pattern in Daban was generally a freight train in each direction arriving / departing every 75-90 minutes, departing trains always waiting to cross an incoming train before departing. We left Daban with the 10.10 bus to Chifeng.
On the 5 days in the area, I saw more than 50 QJ's in service as well as about 20 dead in the dump at Daban.

The remaining days of our China trip was spent on more tourist-like activities, including some nice days at Shanhaiguan (where the Great Wall meets the ocean) and Beidaihe (a nice bathing and vacation resort) - but that is another story.

Jens Toft Ingemann Larsen, Denmark


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© 2004, Jens Toft Ingemann Larsen, email: bibjil@herning.dk