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Steam in China - September 2004

by Charles Towler

Meihekou, JiTong, Baiyin, Pingdingshan



I arrived in China at Siping on the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow on 23rd September. There is a shiny JF plinthed very close to the border crossing at Manzhouli. An unidentified SY was cold on the diesel depot at Harbin. To / from works?

Meihekou

24 September 2004

. I headed by train N193 first to the Meihekou Coal Railway.
I said Sijing and Mei (the Chinese word for coal) and that got me there by Taxi without difficulty, I think for Y20.
Here I found a busy scene as reported. Initially I was diasappointed. The first loco seen was DFH5 4010 (carries 0104 on the side). I had come to this location as it had a steam passenger train. No longer. The passenger workings were all diesel hauled.

No other workings were diesel however. 4 SYs were noted working, numbers 0791, 1216, 1217 and 1662 and they were all very busy. SY 1564 was in the shed for repair. SY 1445 is outside the shed cold, and from the early signs of rust hasn't worked for a while. It appears complete however.
I spent most of the day walking around the yard at Yijing and was given a footplate ride on three of the locos, two around the yard. and SY 0791 to a location where coal was discharged from tippers to be loaded onto lorries. This is just short of the river bridge marked on Florian's map (very useful, thanks) on the branch towards the CNR at Heishantou. Emergency stop on the return, including using the reverser! Another, this time unsuccessful, candidate for a Darwin Award for services to evolution at a level crossing...

I can't recommend the Xing Gan Han Shi Xi Yu hotel. Y411 for two nights in a room with a bathroom. The main problem was that everything you wanted required a 15 strong committee who would all put their own interpretation of your meaning, such as a meal, a bath or laundry. It is so much simpler with just one or two people to deal with. Hot water not working in my room, so they showed me to another room to have a bath. Kind of defeats the object really, but such is life.

25 September 2004

Train 6870 back to Siping then T184 to Shenyang Bei. Saw SY 0443 cold in the yard at what I guess was Tieling.
Attempted to visit the Shenyang Railway Museum enroute to Jitong. Failed. The taxi driver thought they knew where it was and took me on a Y61 ride to Sujituan. I got the train 2219 back and then discovered (too late) a poster at the other end of the Shengyand Bei station exit corridor...

Train 6776 diesel hauled on the 'old line' to Dahushan for 1343 hard sleeper to Tongliao. Hotel large building to the right of the exit Y66 for a good sleep and a bath. Y126 if you check out after 12:00 I think.

JiTong

26 September 2004

Train 6053/2
DF4 0444 : Tonlgiao to Chabuga
QJ 6992 : Chabuga to Daban
QJ 7010 : Daban to Jingpeng

I cannot recommend this train enough. The world's last normal steam hauled sleeper train. The restaurant car is good and cheap. Despite the two sections lost to DF4s it still enjoys 535 kms behind three different QJs, but not for much longer. A hard sleeper Galadesitai to Jining is Y109, about the same Tongliao to Jingpeng. Forget the bus from Chifeng. Stay on the overnight to Tongliao and take 6053 from there.

No steam was seen east of Chabuga, but plenty from there (plus one a DF4 + QJ pairing facing towards Daban on a freight. One other DF4 on shed at Chabuga. QJ7052 noted cut into an eastbound freight, warm but with motion off. I assume en-route to works. No Diesels seen from the train at Daban (but it was dark by then). Front YZ nearly empty. Window open for thrash and lots of coal in my hair after Linxi. Weather warm...

I won't list my observations from 27 September as much is reported elsewhere. DF4 + QJs on the pass. Note though that they have always had at least 5 people on board when I have seen them, suggesting that the use is for training at present, though I have no idea what implication that has for the likely volume of diesel workings for the near future. There is a nice evening move from Jingpeng. Train K503 to Galadesitai for a plus about 40 minutes onto 6053.

27 September 2004

QJ7002 train 6053/2 from Galadesitai to Jingpeng.

Stayed in the Keqi Binguan near the clock tower. Y200 for a room with a bath. Hot water 06:30 - 07:00 and 19:30 - 23:00. This hotel has a problem though: a chain on the door on arrival at 00:45 from 6053/2. Both nights entry was gained by 10 minutes of shouting and banging on the door. My hands were raw by the time I got in. And I had told them of my late arrival the second night, which I thought had been understood (always a dangerous assumption here).
3 wheelers or taxis to / from the station Y5, to Siming Yi (in a 3 wheeler!) Y20.

28 September 2004 and overnight to 29 September 2004

QJ7040 + QJ6991 freight train 83071 riding in the brake van from Jingpeng to Liudigou (Y40).
QJ7040 train 6053/2 from Galadesitai to Haoluku.
QJ6912 train 6053/2 from Haoluku to Zhengxiangbaiqi.
DF4B 9517 train 6053/2 from Zhengxiangbaiqi to Benhong.
DF4B 6032 train 6053/2 from Benhong to Jining Nan.

29 September 2004 and overnight into 30 September 2004

Sadly I missed 6051/4 to get back to the pass so...

DF4B 3643 train N903 from Jining Nan to Benhong (train N903 is the Huhehaote to Xilinhaote train numbered K736/7 in Duncan Peattie's timetable).
DF4B 9516 train N903 from Benhong to Zhengxiangbaiqi Another DF4b or DF4D took the train forward, but I didn`t get to see the number.

N903 was wedged solid. I managed to talk my way into the XL to Benhong and then pleaded for a YW to Baiqi. The train is formed:
Green type 22 coaches: XL-YZ-YZ-YZ-YW-YW-YW-RW-RW-YW (assume the last for staff). Sad to think this came so close to being a steam working! However definitely worth avoiding so close to the 1 October holiday.

From here I made my way by freight:
QJ6987 train 83075 from Zhengxiangbaiqi to Haoluku on the footplate. This took about 5 hours, mostly downhill, but the last part is a good climb.
QJ7164 (on the footplate) + QJ7038 train 83075 from Haoluku to Jingpeng. This took about an hour and three quarters and is almost all downhill.

I dumped my stuff in the hotel and came back for:
QJ7030 + QJ6851 (on the footplate) train 44127 from Jingpeng at about 16:30 to Galadesitai. Too late for the minivans back, so had to hire one alone (Y60).

1 October 2004 and overnight into 2 October 2004


QJ7002 + QJ6735 (on the footplate) train 44139 at about 12:00 from Jingpeng to Linxi.
QJ6776 (on the footplate) + QJ7105 train 18010 at about 15:30 from Linxi to Jingpeng.

REQUEST: If you were in the Trains Unlimited party or another group and have photos (or even better video) of the three trains listed above you would be happy to share with me, I would be really happy to hear from you. Likewise if you photographed the passenger trains I mention, especially the hardy sole on Galadesitai station late on 26 September or at Sandi Level crossing on 28 September I would love to see a picture or two.

Cart on K503 to Galadesitai for
QJ6840 train 6053/2 from Galadesitai to Haoluku.
QJ6912 train 6053/2 from Haoluku to Zhengxiangbaiqi.
DF4B 9516 train 6053/2 from Zhengxiangbaiqi to Benhong.
DF4B 6032 train 6053/2 from Benhong to Jining Nan.

No steam was seen between Baiqi and Benhong either time, but deflectorless QJ6965 remains at Behong shunting. There was a coaling crane in steam here too.

Some notes on footplate rides: The Baiqi to Haoluku footplate ride was free! Many fewer Laowai there obviously. I paid Y270 for QJ7164. Y300 for QJ6851, but was then charged Y100 for the 'photo in the driver's seat'. This crew were particularly annoying, wanting more to open the window for photos.I had originally asked for Linxi and when it was taking longer than my estimate and I wanted to get back they wanted more for me to get off early at Galadesitai!! I managed to avoid this, but was asking myself why I had bothered.

Thankfully the both the crews on the next days rides were much more friendly. Thanks to Bernd Seiler for negotiating a Y350 ride with one of his group. Coming back I agreed Y350, but two others then came aboard from the Trains Unlimited party were aboard to Galadesitai, their guide having negotiated Y300 a piece. As they 'tipped', I felt there was little choice, but to pay Y400.

I understand there is a 'fine' for the crews to pay to give rides. Some will want you to keep your heads down when passing stations and crossing other trains (particularly the DF4 training runs).

Crews may also demand money for your turn to pose with the shovel and in the drivers seat. Unless you are competant enough for a proper turn at the shovel, this posing for photos became a bit of a chore. They didn't look any different the fourth time.

The lesson I learned was that you should agree the price destination at first, particularly if the train may have to stop specially.

Some crews will try to sell odd gubbins. Usually this is small China Rail uniform insignia or anonynmous metal plates, although I saw (but did not ride with) one crew brandishing the number plates from QJ6110.

Jingpeng (Keqi) is a good base for footplate riding as everything stops here for water. The same is true of Linxi, although this is further from the pass for the obligatory photos. You cannot rely freights stopping at the stations close to Reshui. The section from west from Linxi to Galadesitai is less obviously mountainous than the pass, but is an excellent thrashing climb.

Baiyin

I arrived in Baiyin Xi from the Jitong Railway on Oct 3rd in the afternoon, on train 43. Noted a QJ in steam south of Daba in the yard to the north of the power station (too distant to identify).

Given the emphasis of the previous report about restrictions on foreigners here, I didn't know what to expect. However two police on the station paid little attention. I was able to buy a sleeper from Lanzhou to Xian here too.
Took a taxi into town and was deposited at the Telecom Hotel in the main square. They charged Y180, but if I had been awake I think I could have had a smaller room for Y120. Hot water all the time.

Once settled, using the maps posted with Warwick's report, I found my way to the workers station. Just in time to see the tender of an SY disappear with a 7 coach passenger train.

I walked along the track and came upon the main yard. Here SY 0819 and SY 0965 were shunting. I found a position in some scrub above the yard and tried to keep a low profile, although I was soon spotted by the crews. There is a mass of yellow tankers in the yard, but the SYs shunted coal wagons. At about 16:15 SY 0819 collected a 7 coach set of carriages and set off East (away from the city). DF4 7007 arrived with a train of both empty and loaded coal wagons. Some of these were shunted by SY 0965. The DF4 returned to the CNR light engine. I left my position just as SY 1047 arrived from the East on a passenger. This departed towards the Workers station at about 17:10 in the City and was followed by SY 0819 within 15 minutes.

I then set off on foot across the suspension bridge and walked down past the loco shed. This contains 4 SYs including SY 0135 and SY 1013 and JS 8021 dumped. One other SY was visible, possibly dumped or cold. I went onto a comound further from the line. This contained 3 JS including JS 8350 plus SY 0701. I may be able to identify others from photos.

I walked up to the road next to the yard station and caught a taxi back to town. This was metered and the fare was Y4.5.

Oct 4th 2004

Today, I started early and got to the City workers station in time to catch SY 0819 on a workers train. This was soon joined by SY 1047 on another passenger. SY 0819 departed at 07:35 and I travelled up the north line to a coal mine. The journey took 24 minutes with two stops including the main yard station. It was a superb thrash from the main yard to the mine with several instances of slipping. The train returned from this mine at 08:10, but travelled to a two road carriage siding compound adjacent to the main yard and loco shed. On the way back, this train crossed SY 1047 heading up the north line.

I walked over to the station and was invited in. Three ladies were operating a panel controlling the yard. I made conversation with the other staff here who were welcoming. I established that the stations are called Gong Si Zhan (the main yard), San Ye Lian (the first mine and destination of SY 0819). This station is just off the main north line which continues to Shen Bu Tong Kuang. Passenger trains leave Baiyin at 07:35 to San Ye Lian and at 07:50, 15:15 and 18:15 to Shen Bu Tong Kuang. There is also a departure from the carriage compound to San Ye Lian at about 16:15. There seem to be equivalent return workings and passengers are carried on the 'ECS' trains between the main yard and Baiyin.

At this point I was joined in Baiyin by Florian and a companion. They had much better Chinese skill than I. He established that the line is 19 km long and that there are 12 locos. I then took a ride to and from Baiyin on SY 1047's train (a good thrash towards Baiyin). Florian set off to the loco shed. One other loco was next to the shed in steam.

Sadly I was greeted on arrival back by the local security. The three of us were trooped off to the office to sit and have tea / show photos, while the boss looked at our passports, told us we needed an Alien Travel Permit to be there and that we shouldn't take photos. The city is OK though apparently and so I found a spot in the cutting between the workers station and the main yard to photograph the afternoon departure of SY 1047 and the ECS.

Bayin City seems prosperous by Chinese standards and is quite pleasant to walk around. It lacked the clear air Warwick found on his visit, with smog apparent! There is an internet cafe just down from the workers staion (where I am now). That is served by bus number 1. Bus number 3 serves the main yard, if you want to brave the security there. Probably if you keep your head down passing the yard, the passenger trains are OK to ride, but probably this yard is best avoided on foot.

There is some confusion about the CNR station names. Baiyin Xi (west), is the main CNR station west of the City about 10 km, served by Lanzhou - Zhongwei - Hohhot trains. Baiyin Shi is the CNR station in the City on the line to Honghui (Quail 39H).

Pingdingshan

Arrived in Pingdingshan from Xian at 01:10 on Oct 8th, but thankfully, unlike at Keqi, the Jinxiu Hotel had no chain on the door. The rate seems to be Y128 per night for a standard room. There are two Binguans across the road also. Restaurant OK, as is one nearby, built over the river. Internet cafe is close to the Jinxiu on road towards Zhongxin station - first right turn over the river (several Wang Bas).

The situation here is much as reported earlier in the year. Orange diesel GKD38-0003 is still here and working, but I saw no other diesels on the Pingdingshan network.

The passenger locos are SY 1209 and SY 1687 at present. The western line is quite long (maybe 60 - 70km) and reaches past Baofeng. There is some good thrash going west after Baofeng.

8th October 2004

Taxi back to Pingdinshan which cost Y 100, expensive, but I was too tired to argue.

9th October 2004

Taxi to hotel Y10 on meter.

West departures to Tingzhuang from Pingdingshan Zhongxin are at 07:40, 13:30 and 19:15. Return times are 05:00 (from one station closer to Pingdingshan), 09:55 and 15:49.
East to the 13th Mine there are trains at 06:00, 13:40 and 21:50. Return times are 08:50, 17:00 and 00:50 (the following morning). From observation, these are the diagrams:

Loco 1 (SY1209 yesterday and today) works the 06:00 East, 13:30 West then 21:50 East.

Loco 2 (SY1687 yesterday and today) does the 07:40 West, 13:40 East then 19:15 West.

The locos work the same diagram each day, presumably until maintenance requires a change. One of the two sets of coaches (both type 22) is painted in the CNR long distance orange and grey!

All three crews I enountered were very friendly and offered footplate rides with no payment expected. Indeed, just after Baofeng, I got to start SY 1209 from a station stop on a rising gradient. I didn't do too badly - no wheel slip. I left braking to the expert though! My previous experience of 'driving' (other than a 5 inch guage loco) has been the inevitable posed photograph on a Jitong QJ...

Both East and West lines have some geography and pleasamt rural settings. The downside for you linesiders is that movements are much less frequent further from Pingdingdshan than the industrial centre. The weather, well it was realistic for Pingdingshan. Hazy sun, with fog / smog early and late!

Locos I saw working:
SY: 1002(depot pilot), 1209, 1687
JS: 5644, 6225, 6253, 6429, 8030, 8031, 8054, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8068, 8120, 8122, 8421
QJ: 2035(nd), 6786, 6813.

From time to time I saw other JS with their numbers obscured by wagons, so there may have more than those listed. Equally there may be one or two photographed from the footplate when making notes wasn't possible. I'll add these to my full trip report.

This morning I went to the depot. I tried the yard end first, but the man operating the points wouldn't have any of it. The guard at the front gate however phoned somebody up and they said yes, so I duly signed the visitors log and was able to walk around, inside and out unhindered. Fantastic shots of bits of QJ 7186 (under overhaul) being worked on.

Locos in the depot and not otherwise seen working:
QJ: 6450 (in steam, 8 wheel tender), 6650 (cold being worked on), 7186 (in 1000 pieces being overhauled).
JS: 6539 (cold, probably OOU, high deflectors)
SY: 0758 (dumped, rusty, with bits missing).

Charles Towler


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© 2004, Charles Towler, email: charlestowler@yahoo.com