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Steam in China - Autumn 2004

by Jan Willem van Dorp

Tiefa, Meihekou, Beitai, Fuxin, Yuanbaoshan, JiTong, Yinghao, Pingdingshan, Xingyang, Shibanxi


Back to China: After reaching Indonesia overland (see my June 2004 China report and a very pleasant month with Javan sugar steam (see my report in CRJ 140) visa regulations forced me to cheat and fly Surabaya-Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok-Macau (www.airasia.com, very cheap). With buses Kuala Lumpur-K.B. and K.B.-Rantau Panjang, the train Sungai Kolok-Bangkok and the fast ferry Macau-Hong Kong (MOP 140) this brought me to Hong Kong in a week.
In Hong Kong I stayed as usual in Mirador Mansions (New Garden Hostel, 13th floor, HKD 50 dorm) and learned that the fees for Chinese visa had been raised from 1st August, in particular for Dutch nationals: CTS charged me HKD 760 for a 3-month visa in 2 days (a 6-month visa would have set me back a mere HKD 1280), but rates are more moderate for nationals of most other (less xenophobic ?) western countries.
KCR Eastrail Hung Horn - Lo Wu (HKD 33) and train T836 Shenzhen - Guangzhou (soft seat, 70Y) brought me to Guangzhou where I bought a ticket to Tieling for the next day: train T124 Guangzhou Dong 22.29 - Tieling 08:29 (-Changchun), hard sleeper 539Y. After a 3-hour-search for more reasonably priced accomodation I for once paid 168Y for a night at the Yi Shu Hotel in an alley opposite Guangzhou main station.

Tiefa : Visited 26-29th August

By then the first DF4 (DF4 7721) had already arrived and was working most Dongguantun freights and DFH3 2007/8 were also working some freights, but SY still monopolised the passenger traffic.
Engines seen in use: SY 1255/1412/1749/1751/1767/1769/1770/1772. The only significant change to the 2003/4 winter service was the retiming of passengers 307, now Diaobingshan 8.52 - Daqing 9.19 and 108, now Daqing 8.30 approx. Diaobingshan 9.00 approx.
The Tiefashi Zhanqian Hotel in Diaobingshan station square still charged 100Y for a single room including a ticket for the in-house bathing facilities.
Buses to Diaobingshan (5Y) still run from the northern side of the slightly remodelled station square in Tieling. Continuing to Meihekou I found train 4281 ShenyangBei-Tieling-Meihekou-Ji'an cancelled, so train 2509 (Shenyang -) Tieling 08:19 - Siping 10:10 (- Qiqihar) (hard seat , 9Y) and train 6869 Siping 12:34 - Meihekou 16:01 (hard seat, 10Y).

Meihekou : Visited 31st August - 3rd September

Yijing 1st mine, the centre of operations on the Meihekou coal railway is actually located in the town Hongmeizhen (红梅镇). Frequent buses to Hongmeizhen start in front of the bus station on the northern side of Meihekou station square; they terminate about 200 m from Yijing station. I did not see any hotel in Hongmeizhen, but there might well be one. In Meihekou there are no obvious hotels around the station either, but after a while I found an adequate single with shower for 80Y (including an excellent breakfast) 200m down the road: exiting the CNR station cross the station square, turn right and the hotel is the curved building on the corner at the next major junction leading to a railway underpass. As you go it is on the right-hand side (the good rooms are in a new wing at the back).

At the time of my visit all traffic on the coal railway remained SY (1216/1217/1564/1662), all facing south. Approximate timings for the southbound passengers were 09.50, 14.15 and 17.30 from Sijing (4th mine).
Freights to 3rd and 4th mines were none too frequent (only one or two each during daylight), but southbound they do run around (just after or just before) the passengers. There was more traffic between 1st and 2nd mines, but much of it was by light engines for coaling at 2nd mine.
At the time of my visit flowers were blooming everywhere, especially South of 1st mine, but this meant that photography between 1st and 2nd mines was very difficult until late afternoon. The outer reaches of the system between 2nd and 3rd mines and between 4th and 1st mines offered better photo opportunities but none outstanding.
Both 1st and 2nd mines have nice electric narrow gauge systems. 2nd Mine is a good base with a platform shop which sells cold beers and peanuts. Regrettably a shed visit produced besides cold SY 0791 and dumped SY 1445 also a diesel, DFS 4010. It looks like I was there just in time.

Train 4264 (Qianyang -) Meihekou 13.13 - Benxi 18.48 (- Dandong), YZ, 24Y)

Waitoushan

On 4th September a chimney-first SY with a freight was seen approaching Waitoushan station from the Northwest when passing on train 4264.

Beitai : Visited 5th September

Still a lot of SY action, but outside the security perimeter mainly tender-first at this ugly industrial location. I don't think steam has much of future here though; brand-new diesels GK1C 0201/2/4/5/11/12/13 were also seen working.

In Benxi there are plenty hotels around station square. I stayed at the BenxiShiZhenFuZhaoDaiSuo on the corner opposite the station where a single room with bath was easily discounted from 138Y to 100Y.

Train 4204 (Dandong -) Benxi 11.01 - Shenyang 12.14 (- Changchun) (YZ, 7Y)
Train N158 Shenyang 14.40 - Fuxin 17.37 (YZ, 16Y)

Fuxin : Visited 7-11th September

Still a lot of activity here, both with SY and electrics. Freight traffic levels vary from day to day but overall I found not all that much less activity compared with my 2001 visit apart from the cancellation of almost half the passenger service (all Dongliang trains). With the amendment in my 2001 report (the morning Wangying passenger runs to the timings of 108, not 110) the Wangying -Xinqiu and Wulong - Xinqiu passengers still seem to run to the timings in WS 99-5. SYs still congregate at Wulong about 08:00.

The electric narrow gauge has been curtailed though and now only works around the site U on the CRJ 124 map. The railway hotel opposite the CNR station still provides an excellent single (hard bed though) with shower for 80Y including breakfast.

Train N154 (Dalian -) Fuxin 22.03 - Yuanbaoshan 5.35 (- Chifeng), (hard seat 31Y).

Yuanbaoshan : Visited 12-14th September, 8-10th October

Remains all JS. Engines seen working JS 6245, 6246, 6544, 8250 all with large smoke deflectors and JS 8246 with small smoke deflectors.
Traffic varied from day to day but was largely as previously described with a 06.30 approx arrival at Yuanbaoshan Xi from Yuanbaoshan CNR, the 7.00 departure of the Fengshuigou mixed, an 08.00 - 10.00 departure for the branch, a 9.00 - 9.30 approx departure for Yuanbaoshan CNR and their returns, the one from Yuanbaoshan CNR usually at about 10.30 - 11.00, the one from the branch much more unpredictable but often about 12.00 - 13.00.
As all engines face North midday photography is impossible on sunny days. The afternoon mixed to Fengshuigou was retimed twice; in September it left Yuanbaoshanxi at 14.40, in October at 14.00.
In the afternoon there would usually be another train to/from Juanbaoshan CNR as well as the second train coming off the branch (this goes up midday) So plenty of activity , but it is quite a challenge to be on the right spot at the right time, having to choose between the main line and the branch. From Chifeng buses to Yuanbaoshan do not leave from the main bus station near the CNR station, so to get there first catch nr 1 town bus (1Y exact fare) from the CNR station which after a while turns right and a few hundred metres further left on a big square. Get off immediately as it turns left and the Yuanbaoshan bus station is 50 metres further on the main road. Buses are frequent and the fare is 5Y. In Yuanbaoshan these buses continue past the town bus station over the railway into the power station district. Get off where the bus turns right about 500m after the bridge over the railway and walk another 500m towards the power station. The (old) Power Station / Yuan Dian Hotel is the last building on the left with the clock tower. Here the choice is between a 162Y room with or a 72Y room without bath. No discounts, but single gricers can get one bed in these rooms for half the rate. Buses from Yuanbaoshan CNR (3Y) are less frequent, but will drop you right in front of the power station (hotel).

Jitong/Reshui : Visited 16th September - 7th October

The first fortnight of which saw an unusual large number of single headers and too many eastbound trains running at night but was otherwise fine; the last fortnight of the greatest steam show left on earth. Then, on the 30th September, the world (or at least mine) came to a grinding halt; the sky was in mourning black and and heaven wept continuously as a plague of biblical dimensions descended on the Jingpeng Pass: 4 big unsquashable green beetles of the DF4-species (smaller more easily squashable green beetles had been congregating around Reshui hotel windows for a while) being transferred from the Daban - Chabuga section.
Two stories about the future were circulating; one that in October/November/December 7/8/10 new diesels would come, but that most if not all would go to Baiqi and second that these 4 old DF4s were not really really trusted to work over the pass in winter and consequently might go back to the Daban-Chabuga section when it would get really cold? WeIl, time will tell, but don't put your hopes too high.

Despite the beetle plague it still took me several days to detach myself; over the last 3,5 decades I have seen the end of a great many steam centres, but there was always another great place to go to. Now -although steam hasn't finished yet, not even on the JiTong- there is none: from now on it is really just wrapping up, sorting out our slides and reminiscing over them (in which context I may perhaps refer to "Dampf zu Honeckers Zeiten" , GeraMond Verlag, München, ISBN 3-7654-7257-3) and head to Indonesia where PG Olean -if it reopens its field lines next year- is now really the brightest star in the steam sky.

In Reshui I stayed this time at the Asihatu hotel recommended by Rinus Spiering where an excellent 100-Y-room with bath was offered for 50Y in single use. It is located on the railway side of the main road at the western end of town, 100m into town from the new pink Longquan Hotel. When the Asihatu Hotel closed for a few days I moved to the Jia Ri Hotel (also 50Y for a room with bath in single use), 200m further towards Jingpeng next to the police station.
In 3 weeks time neither I nor any other gricer travelling individually was bothered by the Jingpeng mafia/triade, but virtually all groups, however, who had a Chinese guide and/or driver who could be held hostage were. Few Chifeng - Jingpeng buses go via Reshui these days as most take the much shorter route over the new 4-lane highway now.

Train 2560 Chifeng 20:20 - BeijingBei 06:14 , hard seat 53Y .

Dahuichang / Beiiing : Visited 11-12th October

Two busy afternoons on this narrow gauge line with C2s 3 and 4 working. Engine numbers are now painted on their smoke box doors in a rather haphazard way. Bus 385 was running normally from/to Bajiao Amusementpark Metro station.
As always I stayed in Beijing at the Jinghua Hotel (dormitory, 35Y), see my June report. Here I learned of the cancellation of the steam hauled mixed, the generally slack freight levels and the expected diesels at Jinchengjiang. Having been their twice in better times I decided not to go back there but to spend some more time on the JiTong where the Daban - Chabuga section had just been revaporised.

Train 2189 BeijingNan 15:13 - Tongliao 05:00 (- Ulanhot) , hard sleeper 117Y .

JiTong / Tianshan, Lindong : Visited 15-22nd October

Indeed 100 % steam again, with about half the freights double headed, but with the usual lack of westbound trains most afternoons. Furthermore, new electricity lines close to the railway which were being expanded westward and had already reached Yamenmiao from Chabuga were no improvement at most photo spots.
Like last year I stayed at the ALuKeErQin Hotel in Tianshan and at the ShijiLong Hotel in Lindong (see my 2003 report).

Train 6052 (Tongliao -) Lindong 17.51 - Jiningnan 12:05, hard sleeper 127Y
Train 1674 (Baotou -) Jiningnan 14.09 - Huashan 7.45 (- Xi'an), hard seat 64Y, YW-upgrade 76Y Train K16 (Chongqing -) Huashan 9.04 - SanmenxiaXi 10.35 (- Jinan), hard seat 19Y

Yinghao : Visited 24-29th October

A very nice narrow gauge system with a lot of activity, basically as described by Rob Dickinson. Yinghao is on the Zhengzhou - Xi'an railway line and has a CNR station some 10 km west of Mianchi, i.e. about 40-45 km east of Sanmenxia (road signs say: Sanmenxia 50 km , Luoyang 72 km), but no trains stop at Yinghao. Mianchi is the closest railhead, but few trains stop there or in Yima or even Sanmenxia. Arriving at SanmenxiaXi I found a bus (2.5Y) to SanmenxiaDong, where I was transferred to town bus nr 1 (1Y) which took me to Sanmenxia station and the bus station just opposite. Local buses from here to Yima or Luoyang (not those via the expressway) call at Yinghao (10Y, perhaps a few Y too much).

In Yinghao the New China Hotel used by Rob Dickinson and Ameling AIgra is indeed the slightly curved building opposite the junction with the road into town and the bus stop (roomrate - no discount - is now 50Y for a room with toilet/washbasin and hot water provided). There is no reception as such and when I was told to wait in the copy/phoneshop in the absence of the caretaker I thought I had come to the wrong place and subsequently ended up in the more modest establishment across the road for one night (rooms o.k. at 20Y, but the other facilities) after which I changed hotels.

On the narrow gauge I found three engines (4, 13 and 17) in use and at Huangmen shed, 15 was under major overhaul and 3 awaiting its turn. All three working engines were in a fairly bad condition, leaking steam from about every joint - this is not a line to visit in winter, unless you want to photograph moving clouds of steam. Nr. 17 was clearly in the worst condition and was confined to the Liangwa mine branch, bringing trains of 2, 3 or (with brew-up stops) occasionally 4 coal wagons to Xiangyang junction. 4 and 13 were working the main line, together bringing about 3 trains of 8-10 loaded coal wagons from Xiangyang junction to Yinghao per 8 hour shift with the main line engine often working the last trip on the branch to make up the complement of 9 loaded wagons and then immediately continuing to Yinghao if the line would be clear (there are no loops on the way), all this barring derailments of course.

The gradient on the main line is against the empties from Yinghao to Xiangyang summit and usually several brew-up stops are needed.
On the main line engines always work chimney-first and on the branch uphill trains are chimney-first, downhill the engine pushes the wagons.
Road improvement was underway between Yinghao and Xiangyang - Huangmen, but not to truck width. Frequent minivans charge 2Y from Yinghao to Xiangyang and 3Y all the way to Huangmen. but drivers will try for a charter first. From Yinghao to Luoyang the bus (13Y) crosses another narrow gauge line about 1 km east of the arch marking the boundary between Sanmenxia and Luoyang counties or about 5 km west of Xinan town.

Pingdingshan : Visited 31st October - 3rd November

Apart from the single diesel (GKD3B 0003) already reported by other visitors all traffic on the mine railway system remains steam, mainly JS but also SY (mainly on the passenger service) and QJ. Indeed I have little to add to my 2003 report. One day I got lucky at Shenxi yard when two freights waiting for the road with QJ 6813 and SY 1209 respectively were overtaken by a third one, hauled by JS 8338: a summary of the epitaph of Chinese steam.
I stayed again at the Ye Jin Hotel on Gongyuan (Bei)jie (opposite the Pingdingshan Fandian, see the situation sketch provided separately) where the standard rooms had been renovated and the first price lowered from 100Y to 98Y (second price up from 80Y to 90Y though). With the CNR service further detoriated (few trains call at Pindingshan main station these days), I used buses from Luoyang (20Y, 4.5h, the bus station in Luoyang is almost opposite the main CNR station) and to Zhengzhou (33Y, 3 hrs, arriving in Zhengzhou at a bus station about 800 m south of the CNR and main bus station). In Pingdingshan both these buses used the South bus station near the main CNR station.

Xingyang : Visited 5th November

The narrow gauge brickworks line was in full action again with C2 207 working long (about 25 wagons) trains of clay at about 1 hr intervals apart from a longer lunch break. In my June report I detailed the line and how to get there with a situation sketch so here I only need to report a few minor changes. New buses with payboxes (exact fare 0.5Y) now work Xingyang town bus nr 5 which was found extended beyond the CNR station (perhaps not all buses) to the north via the railway underpass where one should get off for the n.g. line. Also, the hotel opposite Xingyang CNR station now looked open.

Train 2097 Zhengzhou 9.41 - Chengdu 9.43, hard seat 83Y, upgrading to hard sleeper 95Y (difficult because most sleepers are Luoyang , Mianchi! etc. quota).

Shangjie

When passing Shangjie on 6th November a very clean SY was seen shunting boiler vans.

Shibanxi : Visited 8-15th November

The good thing about this narrow gauge line is that it is located in Sichuan with its lush tropical mountain scenery. The bad thing is also that it is located in Sichuan with its cloudy and foggy weather conditions; in 8 days I had 2 afternoons with sun. The line is magnificent though and I can understand those who compare it with Darjeeling.
With ongoing pw work -worn-out rails have been replaced and resleepering (with brand new concrete n.g. sleepers) is underway- this line does not seem to be under immediate threat of closure anymore. There have been some retimings to the steam-worked passenger service; departures from Shibanxi are now at 07.30, 10.30, 14.00 and 17.00. Yuejin (the limit of electrification) is reached some 15 min later, Mifung (reversal station) some 35-40 min later and Caiziba halt some 50-55 min later, with the return working calling at Mifung some 2 hrs. 5-10 min after leaving Shibanxi and at Yuejin some 2 hrs 20 min later to return at Shibanxi some 2 hours after leaving of the uptrain. Apart from the passenger service some freight traffic (mainly building materials, but also sleepers, all originating from Yuejin) and the odd special passenger (whether for Chinese VIPs or Japanese Yen I do not know) is operated, on 4 out of 8 days C2 9 worked 1 pw train, 4 freights and 2 special passenger trains, with 7 performing on the passenger service for the whole of my visit, both chimney first ex Mifung.

There are no markers, but I estimate Yuejin to be at km 4, Mifung at km 9-10, Caiziba at km 13-14 and the summit about 1 km further. According to a sign at Yuejin the whole line is 19.84 km and opened in 1958.
As the first uphill and the last pair of passenger trains operate in the dark in November anyway I based myself in Qianwei (犍为), which can be reached by bus from Chengdu Xinnanmen bus station , either direct or changing in Leshan (32Y+11Y), at the Feng Huang Hotel (single with bath discounted from 120Y to 100Y), 500 m north of the long distance bus station and 500m south of the local bus station (for Shibanxi , 3Y). In Shibanxi buses stop below the n.g. railway station (there is a sign there "Welcome to ride the Jiayang little train"), but continue about 1 km north where one can change to minivans to Yuejin/Sanjin town (2Y). From the parking lot in Sanjin town it is 200m to Yuejin station and from there one can walk up the line or take an ojek (motorcycle taxi). In Mifung the friendly pharmacist keeps shop as well and sells what gricers need such as beer and pot noodles.

In summer, with longer days and more extreme weather conditions (either very good or very bad) it would definitely be advisable to stay on the line though, either at Bagou or even at Mifung.

Onwards:
Bus Qianwei-Leshan (11Y), Leshan-Ermei (7Y)
Train K113 (Chengdu-) Ermei 15:.06 - Kunming 7.10 (202Y, hard sleeper)
Bus Kunming-Jinghong, Jinghong-Mengla, Mengla-Mohan, Mohan-Boten(Laos), Boten-Luang Nam Tha , Luang Nam Tha-Huay Xai, across the Mekong to Chiang Khong (Thailand) , bus Chiang Khong-Chiang Mai, train Chiang Mai-Bangkok , Thonburi-Kanchanaburi for the 2-6-0s 713 and 715 at the River Kwai Festival (2004 : 26th November-5th December) and back to Bangkok for the King's birthday special (5th December) to Ayutthaya with 2-8-2 953 and 4-6-2 850 and home flying Bangladesh Biman to Brussels via Dhaka (THB 11800 + surcharges o/w).

Concluding remarks: With the end of (steam) times nigh China in general and Reshui in particular was swarming with gricers. It was good to meet some old friends and make many new ones.
Jan Willem van Dorp


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© 2004, Jan Willem van Dorp