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Steam in China - October 2004

by David Thomas

Hegang, Huanan, Jixi, Mehikou, Fuxin, Nanpiao, Reshui, Guda, Zhungeer, Tongchuan


Travelling solo, planning this trip relied heavily on previous reports - grateful thanks to the many contributors. Additionally, I had the 2004 issue of Duncan Peattie's Chinese Railway timetable and the current CNR timetable, purchased at Harbin station. The Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books were useful at 'tourist' towns.
Total cost, including flights, for the 31 day holiday was roundly £1,100, plus say £200 on film and bits and pieces.
Flights were with Lufthansa, changing at Munich outward and at Frankfurt on return. Arrived Beijing at scheduled 14.00, giving plenty of time to deal with currency exchange and book forward on CA1611, 16.05 to Harbin, arriving 15 late at 17.55. The waiting airport bus left as soon as passengers had boarded and dropped me at Harbin station at 19.00, where I purchased a hard sleeper ticket for the 20.22 train to Hegang, arriving 06.07.

6 - 8/10/04 HEGANG

6/10. At 06.15 booked into the Long Yun Hotel, visible diagonally right across the road from the station entrance (208 yn double en suite room incl. breakfast). From it saw the 06.40 train from Jipei to Xingshan with the 'usual' electric loco. However, the trains to Shanzhuang (due to dept 06.55 and 13.23 and to arrive back at Jipei 09.35 and 15.58) were not running, and there was no sign of stock for them.

Incidentally, the Xingshan line now has only two return trips. Jipei depart 06.40 and 14.18, returning from Xingshan at 07.20 and 16.50, the latter arriving back at Jipei at 17.17.
The day was spent meandering a bit before travelling on the 13.35 to Junli and return. Dark by 16.30.

7/10. Next morning the 06.40 was again electric. Caught the 08.15 to Xing'an for a day's linesiding. The line towards Shanzhuang, which curves off sharply to the west, was definitely in use. Another line, electrified, branches off to the southeast. Although well clear of the colliery and station, after an hour an official arrived as a motorcycle passenger and asked me to move on. So walked to Fuli, where the NG electric was running beneath the railway line to the base of the coal tip in use, and then climbed the disused coal tip to photo the 14.44 ex Junli ascending the bank below. By now it was a warm afternoon, so no exhaust. And swarms of ladybirds - at least 100 on my clothes. No problem, but some bit. Just a little nip which doesn't swell up, but enough to notice! Back at Fuli the staff beckoned me up to the signal box whilst waiting to catch the train (at 16.32) to Junli and back to Jipei. As previously reported, this train does not run on to Junde.

8/10. Noticed the 06.40 to Xingshan today was steam before left the hotel to travel to Jiamusi and on to Huanan.

Summary of steam locos seen, all SY:

SY (in use)0354, 0498, 0635, 0799, 1370, 1498, 3013, 3014, 3023
SY (dead on shed)0472, 1030
SY (oou)0561

Did not look inside the workshops. 2 or 3 locos on shed appeared to be 'spare in steam'. Not all faced north. Loaded trains and empties, apparently randomly steam or electric, were running to/from the CNR at Junde.

8/10/04 HEGANG - HUANAN - TUOYAOZI

Found that my train, 6548, had been retimed to leave Hegang an hour later at 06.50 and arrive at Jiamusi 08.14. Local trains 6543 and 6544 between Hegang and Jiamusi are withdrawn. Needless to say, it was late and failed to connect into train 6412, the 08.20 ex Jiamusi to Huanan. As I'd pre-arranged for a taxi to meet me there off that train, resorted to a taxi for 160 yn (bargained down from 200 yn). The driver spent 10 minutes in urgent mobile phone conversations before coming to a halt on the outskirts of town. Another taxi drew up and transferred a bemused passenger across. Using an expressway, we were at Huanan station at 10.00, in good time for my planned rendezvous and transfer via the Forest Railway stabling point to Tuoyaozi village.

8 -10/10/04 HUANAN FOREST RAILWAY

Arrived at Tuoyaozi at 11.45 to stay two nights at the railway worker's house (arranged, per Rob Dickinson's suggestion, via Mike at CITS). How did he get the impression that 'guests' invariably have beer with breakfast at 05.45? The daughter appreciates small value UK/Euro coins. By the way, required here are a sleeping sack (still got a few bites), a towel, toilet paper, cup, tea bags (only got hot water flask), a bottle of drinking water for daytime and, for after dark sorties down the garden to the 'facility', a good torch.

The line had been closed for the previous three days, 4 to 7/10, due to problems with a conveyor at the mine, and workings were erratic.

8/10. After 168 passing through Tuoyaozi with empties at 12.30, there was another empties uphill behind 044 at 14.50. The first train towards Huanan was heard at 18.10 - almost 2 hours after sunset.

9/10. Motorcycle ride up to the summit and walked down past LiXin and part of the way to Hongguang, then back to Tuoyaozi. In the first 3 km below LiXin former trackbeds of two lines branch off to the left. The railcar ran, although with only a few passengers. It would have arrived Hongguang at about 10.20 and left again at 12.00.
06.15: 044 loaded towards Huanan at Tuoyaozi
09.15: 168 empties to Hongguang at LiXin
10.55 168 loaded to LiXin from Hongguang
12.20: 004 arrived with empties at LiXin
13.05: 168, banked by 004, left LiXin for Huanan
15.05: 044 climbing to summit with empties from Huanan
17.30: (heard, not seen) loaded train passed through Tuoyaozi

10/10. Moving on again, after an all-to-brief stay!
03.30: heard empties passing through Tuoyaozi
05.30: loaded towards Huanan
08.00: 168 empties towards Hongguang.

By taxi to Huanan for train 6412 at 10.17 to Linkou (arr 14.15) and then N77 at 15.03 to Jixi, arr 16.36.

11 - 13/10/04 JIXI

To the Long Fu Hotel, diagonally to the left from the station entrance on the opposite side of the street. Rapidly arranged a double room for the bargain price of 100 yn, incl. breakfast. Got bitten and had to use insect repellent for head and hands protection. A kiosk within the station sold a town map that around the edges had additional plans for surrounding towns and villages and the hotel staff read them out loud for me. This made subsequent local travel much easier. Also checked train times and found that the 08.00 'stopper', the second and last westbound train of the day to call at Jixi Xi, now left at 07.30 and the two night trains to Harbin were reduced to one, N76/N73 at 21.16 (arriving Harbin 05.44). Presumably similar rationalisation applies to Harbin - Jixi overnight trains.

11/10. Having the excellent Farrrail diagram of mine locations, decided to concentrate on just two areas. Using the street map, enquired at the square outside the station (used as a basic bus terminus) for a bus to Hengshan and was advised to catch a No. 1 from the adjacent stop. Where it (and route 2) terminated on the outskirts of town, re-directed on a No. 27 bus and alighted when saw Hengshan CNR station. The bus continued past the coal railway station and on to the end of its route at Shannan 'mine'.
Two SYs were in the sidings. Walked west, initially part way down the Da Hengshan branch (appears to be a loading gantry here) and then uphill due south to Shannan. Here, the colliery buildings have been demolished, with only a nondescript loading bank for coal brought by lorry. And a very prominent Mines Police office.
For both these branches, a loco tripped empties, returned light to Hengshan, then later went back light to pick up the half dozen or so loaded trucks. Not a lot was happening, so walked back via Hengshan to Zhongxin. Empties went down to Xiao Hengshan mine, a 'true' coal mine with screens and a potentially excellent background photo for a loaded train leaving. But the loco slowly drew loading through the screens for over an hour; by which time it was dark and increasingly cold. Walked road downhill from the mine, bearing left and found a bus terminus with one about to leave for Jixi, though it terminated about 1 km short of the railway station.

12/10. Cold, unwelcome, rain until 11.00, so I stayed in Jixi for a while before returning to Hengshan and again walked up the incline to Zhongxin. Across the valley and adjacent to the CNR diesel worked link to Jixi is a further mine where a SY was shunting; a separate line runs to it from the east side of the CNR sidings at Hengshan. Went on to Erdaohezi mine (loco exchanged empties for full; again a 'proper' mine). The longer branch to Zhangxin passes quite close by, though at a lower level, and I was able to photograph a train on this. This time a train to Xiao Hengshan mine swapped empties for loaded and returned to Zhongxin within half an hour. Bus back to Jixi.

Locos seen, all SYs facing east and in use: 0341, 0741, 0746, 0804, 1095, 1369.

13/10. The 07.30 train to Jixi Xi gave easy access to the line to collieries to the north east of here and I walked to all of them. A relatively new line branches off well before Nanchang to serve the 'new' mine directly north of Jixi. A run-round loop at the junction is used by trains to/from Nanchang. There are one or two older buildings at the mine and a disused formation apparently leading directly towards Nanchang, implying that this is an older one that has been redeveloped, rather than a new site. 1344 left at 09.00 with a hefty loaded train for the CNR.
Onwards to Nanchang, there is an excellent bridge mostly over a river, though a parallel bridge on the SE side and the lie of the land means the only realistic photo spot is from the NW side.
The Farrrail map may be slightly incorrect for the Nanchang area. The line shown running north-north-west from here may not exist. However, there is one, not shown, to the east of Dongchang sidings that leads to a power station. .
There are two loco servicing points, one in the sidings at Nanchang (where a chap came up shaking his head at taking photos) and close by at the west of Dongchang sidings. Each had a loco in steam. Between them a triangle gives access to the 'selecting station'; at Chengzihe and short trains were being tripped to here.
Walked on to Zhengyang colliery and finally the branch to Xinghua, both being 'proper' collieries. It was now dark, so took up a roadside position and within 5 minutes a bus came along for the half hour ride back to Jixi.

Locos seen (facing both NE and SW), all SYs in steam: 0733, 0863, 1058, 1344 (Nanchang loco servicing point), 1437 (Dongchang loco servicing point).

14/10. CHANGCHUN TRAM

After the overnight journey from Jixi to Harbin caught 07.30 to Chanchun to travel the length of the surviving tram 54 route. Looked in vain for a left luggage room for my main bag before being advised to leave it at a kiosk in the station forecourt. The light railway from just outside the CNR station took me to Kuan Ping Bridge, where the tram crosses above. First rode to the north, then all the way to the south east terminus, and a 25 bus back to the CNR station. This gave just time for taxis to and from the 'Puppet Emperor's Palace', where a Japanese-sponsored Emperor resided in impotent splendour, before continuing by train N188/9 at 14.46 to Meihekou, arr. 19.04.

15/10. MEIHEKOU

Following previous good report, to the XingGanHanShiXiYuBathhouse hotel. After being shown a windowless box (80 yn), led through lengthy corridors and up stairs to a room for 140 yn to include a proper en suite bath. Breakfast? Yes. After return from an evening meal found there was no towel - but it didn't matter as there was no water, hot or cold, either. Staff suggested use of the 'communal' sinks/WC area. After considerable fuss and threatening to go elsewhere the hot water was turned on - but only a flannel-size towel provided. The room, unusually, didn't have a hot water flask. More fuss involving several staff before I got not a flask but a pot of tea. Ah, well..... Next morning, no water..... Breakfast was a conducted walk to a café 100 metres away - where I had to pay. At check-out 30 yn was deducted from the refunded deposit. Much exasperation before 20 yn, for a non-existent 'special shoe cleaning', was eventually waived, but no way would they refund the final 10 yn 'for the tea you ordered for your room'. Prospective visitors - avoid this place!!

Unable to find a bus to Sijing, so taxi to Heishantou CNR station (arr. 09.00), just as a SY arriving with a long train from Yijing. Walked connecting line of about 2.5 km to Yijing, waiting en route for the return empties to cross the river bridge. Diesel 4010 was on passenger trains (as reported by others; it has a painted date of 2/9/2004).

Locos: 1445 outside shed, rusting (un-used for a few weeks); 0791, 1217, 1564, 1662 in use; 1216 in steam inside shed.
Having been asked to leave the colliery's narrow gauge railway yard at Yijing (2 coach man rider in use in drift mine), walked the line to Erjing (NG mine electric railway, again asked to leave). The branch from here to a further mine is definitely closed. On to Wujing (line to mine definitely in use). Caught the passenger to Sanjing. It arrived there 15.08 and departed 15.13, as soon as the diesel had run round. Looked at the adjacent mine NG electric railway for a while, then sought a way to get back to Meihekou. Fortunately a taxi came along and took me to a village about 5 km away on a main road. The waiting bus departed 5 minutes later! Back at Meihekou, got a meal before boarding train at 18.25 to Shenyang Bei (arr 22.22).

During my day, as well as the diesel:
10.05 1217 empties from Heishantou to Yijing
11.00 1217, 0791 standing in sidings at Yijing and 1216 in steam on shed, possibly under light repair
13.10 1662 from Yijing, tender first with just 2 trucks
14.30 0791 from Yijing with 5 trucks
14.50 1564 at Wujing with loaded to Yijing
15.30 0791 shunting at Sanjing.

16/10/04 SHENYANG

Stayed in the railway hotel at Bei station. All the 'cheap' rooms for 128 yn had gone, and staff produced a tariff card showing prices ranging from 368 yn for a standard room to a deluxe suite at 3680 yn. We quickly settled on 180 yn for a nice standard room.
Next morning went to see the North Tomb and Park - pleasant as, being a Saturday, there were groups of singers and musicians under the trees and families flying kites. Then to the railway museum. Showing pages from the Internet, which gave an address in Chinese, drew complete blanks from the first two taxi drivers, but the third understood and off we went, well out of town in a north-easterly direction. 40 yn later, we came to it. Well worth a visit, and no attempt to stop me (the only visitor) from taking photos, even though there is a 'no photography' sign. They sell a set of reasonable postcards. To return, I did the usual - stand by the main road and wait. Within minutes a 330 bus stopped. It terminates quite close to Shenyang South station at the junctions of Zhonghua Lu/ Heping Dajkie/ Shiyi Wei Lu. Some 330's from town appear to turn at Botanic Gardens, about 1 km, say 15 mins walk, short of the railway museum.
On to Shenyang South station for the 18.00 to Fuxin. There was clearly something wrong and announcements were made to the restive crowd as departure time came and went, but of course I was clueless. Unable to speak Chinese, all I could glean from staff was to stay put. In retrospect, should have swapped to the following train one hour later (on time), as mine was 195 minutes late, eventually arriving at Fuxin just after midnight.

17/10/04 FUXIN

As previously, stayed at the Guo Tai hotel in town. A bit of a lie-in, so 09.00 when I headed over the CNR level crossing to the east of the station towards the coal railway. Rather than going to Wulong station, turned left at the first level crossing, then left at the junction amid the houses to find the 'second' loco stabling point - SYs 0127, 0576 out of use and JF 506 derelict, all still in the same place as seen in 10/02, plus SY 1320 in steam (also seen there in 10/02).
Then to the Works. Outside were SY 0785 'ex works' and 0036 dead without rods and just the grounded cab of 508 (presumably scrapped?). Surprisingly, was politely refused access on 'safety' grounds (possibly because it was a Sunday?), noticing only 1319 and 1478 just inside.
Set off eastwards along the 'main line' line towards Taiping station. At the end of the sidings area is a line that links back to the 'second' stabling point. A short distance along this was a scrap yard containing 7 long-dumped electric locos, bogie coal trucks and steam cranes and the remains of cut-up 'electric railway' coaches - but no steam locos. There was also a workshop that appeared to be repairing heavy non-railway mobile machinery.
The steam stabling point before Taiping station was deserted, with only SY 0541, dumped, minus chimney, and derelict YJ 403 (both as in 10/02).
Decided to continue east, after a quick look at the 'big pit', (one steam visible below) but following the ELECTRIC railway. This loops off due east for a couple of km before again coming close to the 'steam' railway at the next station, Gaode.
After a while, saw the top of a steam loco behind a high wall to my right. At the wall end there was a railway connection through locked gates. Continuing round the far side along a road, eventually came to a locked gate quite close to 'hut' whence a chap emerged with keys to allow me to wander in. The compound contained:
- 3 x SY: 0112, 939 and 0912
- 2 x JF: 624, 2345
- 5 electric locos
- plus a few steam cranes and 2 x 'electric railway' coaches; all items were surrounded by grass and bushes.

Leaving, saw a second area almost adjacent. This was an active scrap yard with a road gate open (and rail access at the far, eastern, end, from the same siding as the first one). Here, again surrounded by bushes, were:
- 4 x SY: 0002 (part dismantled, but not recently; had been used as stationary boiler), 0035, 0205, 1089
- JF 2195
- 4 x electric locos
- 1 x small railcar
- 4 x 'electric railway' coaches
- plus several coal bogie trucks on a separate siding actively being cut up.
SY 0911 shunted in a further two trucks whilst I was there.

Then the afternoon passenger train behind SY 0770 from Gaode to Wangying (arr 15.04). In hope that there might be a freight, walked back along the track to the main road at Minzu, but nothing materialised. So bus back to near Fuxin station for the 16.40 to Jinzhou, where I stayed in the station hotel.

Summary of locos seen at Fuxin during the short stay were:

SY0391, 0770, 0849, 0911, 0988, 1210, 1320 (in steam but not moving), 1359, 1395, 1396, 1397
SY(cold)0036, 0785, 1319, 1478
SY(oou)0002, 0035, 0112, 0127, 0205, 0541, 0576, 0912, 939, 1089
JF(oou/derelict)506, 624, 2195, 2345
YJ(oou/derelict)403

The place remains quite busy, although with lots of light engine movements, and there were, of course, also electric locos moving around. Whilst the majority of SYs faced east, some faced west.

18- 20/10/04 NANPIAO

18/10. Travelled in a thick smokers' haze by the 07.30 local from Jinzhou, alighted at Hungjia and booked into Room 207 at the adjacent hotel. Without breakfast, wandered into the covered market (open from about 0730). At the entrance nearest the hotel was a stall selling absolutely wonderful hot and substantial 'pain au chocolate' things for 0.5 yn. Two completely filled me, and a further treat with chopped veg. inside did for lunch.
Caught 09.45 to Xiamiaozi (09.53) behind 1092. No other locos at the station. Then set out to walk the line through to Sanjaizi (probably only about 15 km from here). Almost immediately DL 3241 arrived on freight, later passing me at 11.15 going back up the branch; saw it at 14.50 shunting at Weizigou mine/washery.

Along the line, not exactly a lot of activity:
11.00: Noted 0366 on a one-truck per way train standing at the power station
13.15-40: Fulongshan. SY arrived on loaded train ex Sanjiazi direction, shunted siding, then departed towards Xiamiaozi. Nice photo on river bridge from nearby road bridge.
15.40: 1092 passed on 14.49 passenger Xiamiaozi to Sanjiazi.

Nothing was moving on the NG electric railway at Sanjiazi mine in the period 16.00 - 16.30. Back to Huangjia on 17.00 passenger, chatting to the English-speaking Chinese primary school teacher who translated everything to the audience of the on-train crew and passengers in the coach. Apparently the train crew lead her to any travelling English speakers and she'd had several similar conversations over the preceding weeks!

19/10. 06.22 from Huangjia to Xiamiaozi behind SY 0754. Photographed it departing for Sanjiazi just as sun rose. Then DL 3248 on the morning train to Linghai, arrive 07.37. What a depressing soul-destroying place first thing in the morning. Bought some dumplings from a roadside stall and walked the track back to Xiamiaozi, arrive 14.30.
Freight at this end of the line was DL 3132, which passed me doing two round trips, so the first steam seen was at Zaojiatun mine (0754, 0973 shunting). Here, followed the charming NG electric line that brings tubs from a separate mine about a kilometre or so away. The double track line has a loop at each end to load/unload the two permanently coupled sets of half a dozen drams, with a train about every 15 mins in each direction. At the mine a further electric loco shuttled with waste about every 15 mins to the base of the tip incline and there were 2 more locos on shed.
Decided to photograph the 14.59 Xiamiaozi - Sanjiazi from a panoramic vantage point on the hill across the river and clambered to a suitable spot. It was diesel today and the 14.56 to Linghai was steam. Walked down to the loco shed, passing 0366 and 0973 and DL 3132 in the station. On shed were 1092 in steam under running repairs, 1299 rods off - in traffic but dead. The 16.40 ex Linghai was 0754 arriving and departing Xiamiaozi. The loco then did a further passenger round trip on that line, arriving back at Huangjia at 19.53 (?due 19.40).

20/10. Up again in time for the 06.22 from Huangjia to Xiamiaozi and luckily managed to find a route to scramble up the hillside overlooking the station in time to photo it leaving a few minutes late at 06.45.
DL 3248 again on the following Linghai train. Once it had gone, the station had absolutely nothing happening, with DL 3241 and SYs 0366, 0973 and 1092 all idle. Meanwhile on shed were DL 3132 plus SY 1299 still dead and rods off.
Walked back to Huangjia (breakfast again from the market stall) and the morning train to Jinzhou which left 15 late, and arrived at Jinzhou exactly 30 late after being 'looped' on the main line for expresses (into which it presumably should connect?) to pass. Noted the stationary loco (?SY) outside the private loco shed on line that runs to the north at the second station from Huangjia.

Rest of the day was spent travelling by train, changing at Yui Yang, to Chiefeng arriving at 21.05 on the increasingly empty train 4208/9. Chiefeng Hotel had gone up market a bit since the last visit, and the cheapest room was 236 yn.
On the way, at Bajiaotai station, between Jinzhou and Yui Yang, ex works QJ 6244 was at the head of freight trucks, facing west. Only a glimpse, and not enough time to judge whether in steam or 'dead'.

21/10/04 - 24/10/04 JINGPENG/RESHUI (just a few notes)

21/10. At Chiefeng bus station found out the hard way that the 08.30 bus to Jingpeng is now direct (arrive 11.50) and no longer serves my intended destination, Reshui, for which the only morning bus had already left at 07.40.

Fortunately, Jingpeng bus station has a left luggage room, so left my main bag and went linesiding near the viaduct to the west. Between 13.00 and 16.00 there were two freights -QJ eastbound and 2x QJ westbound. Reshui Railway Hotel has been given a facelift, with prices increased, the cheapest room being shown as 200 yn. This quickly came down to 140 yn. Changes include fitting tinted non-opening windows on the façade that gives a distant view of the railway, destroying the possibility of a clear-weather telephotos.

22-24/10. Surprisingly, only met one other enthusiast (twice) in three full days of linesiding from west of Jingpeng to Yuzhoudi and otherwise 'had the place to myself'. As others have commented, there's quite a lot of activity, but including 4 diesels appearing ad-hoc as single loco, in front of a QJ or as a double header.

On the evening of 24/10 made my way from Reshui to Daban by taxi (buses had finished running by 16.45) but was unsuccessful in seeking a sleeping berth on the DMU to Hohot from the booking office or from the train crew. However, as we left Galadesitai an attendant came along and said 'come with me'. Hey, an upgrade to a sleeper. Perhaps a few berths are kept in case they are needed by passengers joining at unstaffed intermediate stations.

25/10. Day spent sightseeing at Hohot (wonderful dinosaur skeletons and eggs in the Mongolian museum) before a hard sleeper on train 1717/1720 to Yinchuan, arr 20 late at 00.38. Quickly booked into a hotel near the station.

26 - 27/10/04 DaGu LINE

26/10. Town bus No. 1 from Yinchuan station (where left all except a 'day bag') on a 40 minute journey to the centre of the old town and the bus station. Booked on next available bus at 11.15 to Guyaozizhan, arrive 12.30. The bus crew insisted we were 'here' at a scruffy little place of a few buildings and a garage. NO sign of a railway. Trusting to instinct (and a map from the Internet!), walked forward, veering right at two road junctions. After half an hour, saw a mine ahead and at 13.25 walked round the boundary, to find 6545 arriving light engine to remove loaded trucks. Hadn't appreciated that it would return propelling empties within half an hour and didn't have time to get into a photo spot.

Walked to and through the station, past the loco shed and onwards to the west, but there was only one train in daylight, at 16.45 towards Daba. Where the road and railway ran parallel, about 6 km out of Guyaozizhan, gave up and waited for an incredibly rattly bus which sped to Lingwu bus station. From here, a piece of paper with 'Binguan' in Chinese got me led to a hotel - but the heating had broken down. So a taxi to another, adequate, place.

27/10. Left hotel 07.40 and a 3 wheel taxi to the east, where the railway crosses the main road, and started walking. All too soon realised a train was following and ran up the nearest sand dune for a rushed photo of empties just after 08.00. Waited only until 10.15 but no activity until just after I'd returned to the road to await a bus, when a QJ drifted past on a loaded train. Showed the bus driver a map and indicating the Yellow River; as we arrived at Lingwu bus station a local bus (Lingwu-Wuzhong in large western lettering on the side) was setting out and our driver 'flashed' him to transfer passengers. In turn this dropped me off just after passing under the railway approach to the Yellow River bridge. A train facing west appeared ready to leave, but in fact it was shunting. Eventually it set out at 12.30, by which time I'd navigated the spits of dry land around a series of paddy fields (some under water) to get to the river embankment. Good photos of the train - 2x QJ - heading west over the bridge, as the locos continued steaming across its length.

Then via a vehicle track to the road to check out a 8-storey brick pagoda seen from afar. Only completed in 1998. The guardian kindly opened it up and accompanied me. Over 100 wall paintings of the life of Buddha (no photos) and a large gold-painted plaster Buddha in the topmost room. From here there is a distant view of the line that might, on a clear day, give a good side view of a westbound train approaching the bridge. Saw an eastwards one (at 13.30), but it shut off steam part way across the bridge and was indistinct. Afterwards, from a bus to Yinchuan, saw that a farmer was burning stubble, causing a smoke cloud that would have ruined the view of the railway bridge from the road one.

27 & 28/10/04 YINCHUAN - BAOTOU - DONGSHENG

The 20.13 train from Yinchuan to Baotou was not a good choice. Lights came on at 04.10 prior to arriving at Baotou at an inhospitable 04.45 on 28/10. Thank goodness for 24 hour availability of pot noodles and hot water in the waiting room! Caught 07.50 DMU to Dongsheng, and spent most of the day on a non-railway visit, 2 hours each way by bus, to the moderately impressive Genghis Khan mausoleum.

29/10/04 ZHUNGEER

As this line was still steam, fitted in a flying visit. At 07.00 on 29/10 was at Dongsheng bus station on a bus that eventually set off at 07.20. But the road was blocked by an accident, queues and the jams caused by queue jumpers, so we eventually arrived at 11.10, rather than the expected 10.00 or so. The painted bus station departure board showed plenty of buses back to Dongsheng, with the last at 17.20. However, buying a ticket proved impossible, with the staff insisting I book for the 12.20. Assumed this was just the next bus with an un-reserved seat and left it. With all the faff it was 12.00 by the time a taxi dropped me off at the Zhundong railway station (town bus 2 terminates here). Took the road under the line to get to the shed, where there were 5 locos in steam.
Although a lovely fine day, this was not one of my luckiest. A pair of diesel locos, 10D 0045 and 0046, arrived with a loaded coal train, after which 6827 and 7054 set off light engine. Set off on foot towards the first tunnel. When about a kilometre short of km post 8, saw a loaded train emerge from the tunnel - and shut off. It drifted past with no exhaust (7067, 6946). Then 6995 and 7058 headed west light engine.
Walking over the top of the tunnel, was just in time to see and photo (but with wires messing up the view) 2 QJs rasping their way uphill with a loaded train. It was now 14.15, so started to walk back.
14.50: the 2 x DL headed past light engine
15.30: 6613 and 6565 on a loaded train drifted past, again without exhaust..

As soon as they'd cleared the section another pair of light engines set off, 6907 and 6946. And finally, back near the shed at 16.20, 7067 and 6573 also set off light engine. So three pairs of steam locos had gone uphill light engine!

At the bus station, it became clear that the 12.20 was indeed the LAST bus of the day to Dongsheng (this brings into doubt ALL the bus times shown here!!) and the next one would be 05.55. Shelled out 200 yn for a taxi that sped along at frightening speed in the dark - until we came across a different traffic jam caused by a drawbar trailer that had overturned with its load of coal spilt across the road. It took a full 3 hours.

30/10/04 DONGSHENG - XI'AN

By 09.51 DMU to Shenmu Bei arr 11.50. Unaware that Shenmu itself is a completely different town some 40 km away, attempted to buy a ticket onwards from here to Xi'an, the train being shown on the departure panels in the waiting room (as is the private train arriving 13.26 and returning 13.43 from/to the Shenchi direction). The booking clerk waved a hand, which I took to mean 'go that way'. Out in the street, a local stopped me, found I was aiming for Xi'an and hailed a taxi. However, I got very uncomfortable as we sped out of town, clearly nowhere near any railway station and got the driver to stop. We then had a tug-of-war in the middle of the road with me trying to get my bag off him. Another taxi driver and a lorry driver joined in......... Eventually ended back at Shenmu Bei station to try again, and luckily a member of staff managed to explain that Shenmu was indeed some distance by taxi. Back down the same road, this time a bit happier!! The railway is parallel to the road; it just doesn't have a passenger service (?yet).

Shenmu station is a new utilitarian place up a long empty approach road and without any form of food kiosk. Trains had new times. One left at 13.43 and the Xi'an train, which arrived on time at 14.22, now left at 15.27. Sold a 'soft' sleeper. The weather became dismal and raining and I was quite glad to simply rest without the noise of a 'hard berth' sleeper. This 17 coach train, initially scantily loaded,(as well as the sole soft sleeper there were half a dozen hard class ones) had no travelling food dispensers until we had been travelling for an hour and a half.

Arrived on time at Xi'an (06.23) and made my way to the Jiefang hotel, just the other side of the town wall (which is being reconstructed!) and got a room for 280 yn. At station found that the intended 16.32 overnight train to Taiyuan (arrive 05.01) no longer runs.

1/11/04 TONGCHUAN

Left Xi'an bus station 08.10 and arrived T. at 10.00. From the bus station turned right, climbed up to the railway line, turned right and came to the enclosed yard that is the 'shed'. Apart from a steam crane, only a few diesels present. Half expecting there to be no live steam left, was pleased to see 2369 and 2368 in steam not far away in the through sidings adjacent to Tongchuan Nan CNR station. However, 2113 and 2182, although not yet rusty, were in a siding and appeared to be recently placed out of use. With nothing happening, decided to walk the line. After 3 km came to another Tongchuan Nan station! The in-town section of the railway was disgusting.

At about km 5, having crossed a river bridge, a branch curved away northwards sharply to the left. Thought I'd investigate. At this point it is on the valley side among houses well above the road. After 2 km there was a disused colliery and screens, though a smaller shaft nearby is still lifting coal moved out by lorry. Immediately beyond was an almost - new diesel servicing installation, with fuel wagons, a turntable, inspection pits and offices, though no covered repair facilities. Apparently-new diesel 5689 was here, dead (5690 was seen in use). The line continued, now obviously much less used, for a further 2 km to a loading dock where there was just one truck.

After retracing steps, continued uphill along the main line, noticing that km posts start again at this junction. So distances quoted in reports may need to have 5 km added; for example, Shijiahe is really 9.5 km, not 4.5 km, from Tongchuan. This extra distance eventually put paid to the intention to walk to Wangshiwa. Plenty of diesel activity, but no steam, so after returning to Shijiahe made my way down the rough track from there to the road. A few minutes later a taxi came along, getting back to Tongchuan at 17.10. Out of curiosity, went back to the through sidings to discover NO steam locos. One was now in the shed area. But three officials who lined themselves up in front of me blocked my visit route. No entry without written permission. Well, fair enough; they have probably had more than enough casual visitors. However, that left me unable to fathom what had happened to the 'missing' loco!!! The bus to Xi'an 'left' between 17.25 and 18.00. In fact at one point, not able to creep any further forward, it was reversed to start inching forward all over again!

For the record, working diesels seen, of 3 classes, were: 3065, 3135, 5217, 5690, 7001 (plus dead 5689).

1 & 2/11/04 XI'AN TO BEIJING

Apart from a trolleybus ride, until 14.00 next day at Xi'an was strictly sightseeing. Left booking too late and the 14.32 to Taiyuan (arrival scheduled 00.53, actual 01.10) had no free seats or sleeping berths. Initially watched the scenery from a vestibule window. When it started to get dark went to the empty restaurant car and sat for an hour before being served dinner. After which a sortie to the sleeping car revealed some available berths (presumably untaken allocations from intermediate stations), so I got get 6 hours' lie down.

From Taiyuan deliberately chose the all-stations 07.34 to Beijing via Wutai Shan, arriving 21.13, which passes through some fine mountain scenery. Luckily it was a pleasantly sunny day and enjoyed staying in the vestibule rather than remaining in my seat in the terribly smoky coach. The whole route has only a few industrial sidings and up until dark nothing was seen that might have a dedicated loco, steam or otherwise. After arriving at Beijing Nan got a taxi to the Handeman Hotel. The cheapest room was 380 yn; this rapidly became a deal at 320 yn, though without breakfast. Suited me as I left at 07.00 for the airport bus and the 11.30 flight to Frankfurt and then London.

David Thomas


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© 2004, David Thomas: email: davidthomas36@talk21.com