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Steam in China - 19 December 2004 - 8 January 2005

by Andrew Forster, Jon Ascher

Ji Tong (Daban, Lindong, Chabuga, Baiqi), JiningNan-Baotou, Baotou-Shenmu, Shenmu-Xi'an, Xi'an-Luoyang by train, Pingdingshan


Sunday 19 December

Fly with Lufthansa from Heathrow to Beijing via Frankfurt. Fare 332.

Monday 20 December

Arrived in Beijing. We booked hard class sleeper berths on overnight train 2559, the 21.19 Beijing Bei to Chifeng.

Tuesday 21 December

Arrived on time at 07.15. We ignored the crowds of taxi drivers outside the station and walked to the bus station. This is five minutes from the rail station. Turn right outside the station and the bus station is on the left side of the road. There is a bus to Daban at 07.40. A local woman guessed we were heading there and helped us buy tickets (28 Yuan each). We arrived Daban just before 11.00 and booked in to a binguan on the corner of the road with the bus station (70Yuan a night for a twin room). A warm room but no hot water. There look to be better hotels closeby.

Daban yard: 6884 (deflectorless)
Daban depot - Servicable QJs: 6763 6825 6882 6925 6977 6978 6986 7007 7009 7040 7063 7104 7112 7119 7143 7163 7164
Daban depot - DF4: 0548 6005 6031
Daban depot - Withdrawn QJs including: 6632 6633 6729 6760 6778 6808 6831 6844 6876

We spent the afternoon at the depot and in and around the station area. We were charged 200Yuan each to visit the depot by the security guard at the depot entrance. Almost all QJs have been stripped of their build plates. We were offered the brass numberplate from QJ 7009. Perhaps as many as 20 QJs are dumped on the north side of the depot in the fenced off area. Passing the depot we saw two freights coming off the Jingpeng section both DF4/QJ combinations.

Wednesday 22 December

Daban-Haoluku 22/12/04
QJ: 6751(passenger loco 26/12) 6828 6882 6986 6996 7143(passenger loco)
DF4: 0392 0490 0537 0539 0570 0636 6005 6031

Daban-Chabuga 21/12-26/12/04
QJ: 6639 6825 6828 6849 6851 6853 6878 6891 6911(passenger loco) 6977 6978 6981 6984 6988 6998 7037 7040 7041 7048 7049
7063 7081 7104 7163 7164
In consist of trains: QJ: 6925 (for overhaul); 7002 (ex-overhaul); DF4 4045

Spent the day in and around Daban yard. The staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming and we encountered no problems wandering in and around the staged trains taking pictures. All trains to/from Chabuga were QJ hauled. We were told that this section would remain steam until 2006. Trains to/from the west (Haoluku) were either DF4 or QJ (no combinations).


(Daban yard)

Thursday 23 December

Took the 06.18 QJ-hauled passenger train no 6051 from Daban to Lindong. Fare: 9Yuan. A bus connects this service with Lindong city, some 3km away (it also connects with the westbound QJ-hauled passenger train 6052 in the evening). Bus fare is 2Yuan. Once in the city we jumped in a cab and asked for the binguan. Although there may be more than one binguan in the city, all the taxi drivers over the next four days responded to 'binguan' by taking us to the one we stayed at (100Yuan per night for a single room). Though the rooms were cold, the hot water was excellent and the restaurant was staffed by wonderful waitresses.
Spent the day in the environs of Lindong station. Good photographic opportunities of uphill (westbound) trains at either end of this station. All trains stop at Lindong to take water and clean out ash. A few stop to attach/detach wagons.

Friday 24 December

Travelled on train 6051 from Lindong (dep. 08.09) to Yamenmiao, 10km east (1.5Yuan). Walked back to Lindong. Hans Schaefer's map of the line is excellent. At this time of year there are three or four reasonable photographic locations where the sun shines onto the front of westbound (uphill trains). Longer daylight would offer a number of further later afternoon/evening opportunities including an impressive embankment overlooked by a hillside about 15 minutes walk from Lindong station (pictured).


(Near Yamenmiao above)


(Near Lindong)

Saturday 25 December

Caught morning passenger train from Lindong to Chabuga (5.50Yuan). Spent the day at the station. Traffic levels quite low. Station pilot was QJ7048 which had been working Daban-Chabuga services the day before. Returned on afternoon passenger 6052, the 16.28 to Lindong.

Sunday 26 December

Spent the day in the around Lindong. Traffic levels appalling! Two westbound and one eastbound train during daylight hours. Caught train 6052 steam-hauled train, the 17.51 from Lindong overnight to Baiqi (Fare: 37 Yuan). QJs haulage: 6911 Lindong-Daban; 6751 Daban-Haoluku; 7118 Haoluku-Baiqi.

Monday 27 December

Baiqi was certainly a high point of the trip. We arrived Baiqi just before 06.00, jumped in a cab and asked for binguan. Baiqi town is about 3km from the station and the binguan, the Ming An Xing, is at the far end of town. Rooms were very comfortable and had hot water. Food was good, except for one plate of pigs bones and gristle! Paid 200Yuan a night for a twin room.

The depot is in the latter stages of dieselisation. Steam will be eliminated from Baiqi in 2005 - a driver said April, a shunter said August. All trains west from here to Benhong are DF4 hauled. Trains to/from Haoluku are shared by DF4 and the depot's 13 remaining QJs. Based on three days of observations, diesels handle more than 50% of daytime workings to/from Haoluku. However, every afternoon there was a double QJ train that made a fantastic spectacle leaving the station and beginning its climb eastwards.
There are some good photographic opportunities immediately east of the station. A long curve offers good opportunities for photographing westbound trains arriving (downhill) from Haoluku from 09.00 right through till at least 14.00. Eastbound trains have to work hard out of Baiqi station and can be photographed on the long straight immediately after the curve. Sun on the front trains from about 10.00 till 14.00. Further east the line twists and turns - we didn't explore further but it may offer further good opportunities.
Over the three days we were there we found the eastbound (uphill) pattern of trains fairly stable, with a departure each day around midday, followed by another at 14.00 (on two days) and another at 15.50. The midday departure was the best for photography but unfortunately was diesel-hauled on each day. The 14.00 departure was diesel on day two but a pair of QJs on day three. Meanwhile, the 15.50 was double QJs on days one and two but a DF4D on day three.
In the afternoon we visited the depot where the foreman charged us 200Yuan each. The depot feels more atmospheric than Daban. The only disappointment is that the depot faces due north. Since steam only operates eastwards all the QJs except one were the wrong way round for photography in the glorious sunshine. Ten of Baiqi's remaining 13 QJs were on shed in steam.


(Baiqi depot)

Baiqi depot 27/12/04

Servicable QJs: 6982 7043 7052 7088 7118 7136 7138 7140 7162 7139
Withdrawn QJs: 6642 6764 6790 6838 6846 6854 6855 6965 6997
DF4/4D: 4070 4071 4170 4178 4172 6020 9518

Baiqi-Haoluku 27/12-30/12/04

QJ: 7114(passenger), 7118(passenger) 7136 7138 7139 7140 7141 7162
DF4D: 4170 4173 4174 4175 4177 4178 6020

Note:
According to drivers, Baiqi has 13 serviceable QJs: 6982 6987 7043 7052 7088 7114 7118 7136 7138 7139 7140 7141 7162 And 20 DF4/DF4Ds: 4069 4070 4071 4072 4089 4090 4170 4171 4172 4173 4174 4175 4176 4177 4178 4179 6020 9516 9517 9518 Plus yard shunter DF5 5014

Tuesday 28 December

Two QJ-hauled trains arrived in Baiqi from Haoluku in the morning, a pair and a single header. There were no QJs eastbound until the 15.50 departure.

Wednesday 29 December

No QJ activity until 14.00 when a pair arrived from Haoluku on a mixed freight. Then a pair departed for Haoluku at 14.15 (pictured).


(East of Baiqi)

Thursday 30 December

Took a taxi from our hotel to Baiqi station for the 05.56 departure to Jiningnan. As we the taxi approached the station we witnessed the spectacular sight of a pair of QJs leaving the station on a mixed freight towards Haoluku illuminated only by floodlights.
From Jiningnan we caught an afternoon train to Baotou. The only steam we saw en route was at Hohhot where a QJ was stabled on its own quite close to the main line. Couldn't read the number but presume it was 7064 which Duncan Cotterill's website says is plinthed here. Shunting at Benhong was being undertaken by a DF5 shunter.

Friday 31 December

Caught the train from Baotou to Shenmu Bei. The train has been retimed and renumbered since Duncan Peattie's China rail timetable was published in April. It is now train no. 4695 and departs Baotou main station at 07.50, arriving at Shenmu at 12.24. How things have changed since my last visit three years ago! Then the line was entirely steam worked. Today, our train was hauled by one of Dongsheng's DF4s. The only locomotives visible at Dongsheng depot were DF4s and the station yard was shunted by a DF12. Further down the line at Daliuta, in 2001 the coal loader at the south end of the town had been worked by two QJs with white smokeboxes, 6286 and 3521. The trains now appear to be worked by DF4s. Other mines further north seemed to be worked by GK diesels. From Shenmu Bei we caught a taxi to Shenmu main station. This is quite a distance - about 20-25 minute cab ride down a reasonably good main road and it cost us 100Yuan. From Shenmu we caught the 15.27 train to Xi'an.

Saturday 1 January

Arrived Xi'an early in the morning. Booked into a hotel and then visited Terracotta army.

Sunday 2 January

Caught the 11.39 train from Xi'an to Luoyang. Quite a lot of steam activity seen on route:

We arrived at Luoyang too late to continue by train to Baofeng which is at the western end of the steam-worked Pingdinshan Coal Railway. However, across the road from Luoyang station there are two bus stations. The eastern one (on the left hand side as you walk out the rail station) is mainly long distance coaches and we found a bus there going to Pingdingshan via Baofeng at 19.15. We bought tickets for this and endured a three-hour ride to Baofeng along a road that varied in quality from expressway to dirt track The bus dropped us at a roundabout 1km from Baofeng city centre. Here we jumped in a taxi and asked for the train station. We had hoped to find a decent binguan there but were sorely disappointed! There was indeed a binguan but our room resembled a prison cell. Still, what can you expect for 40Yuan?

Monday 3 January

Caught the morning CNR train into Pingsdingshan main station. From there we jumped in a taxi and said 'binguan'. The driver obviously had a deal with a favourite hotel for he took us some distance to the Pingdingshan Grand Hotel (twin: 296 Yuan). By chance, it was quite conveniently located for the PCR. The sound of engine whistles could be clearly heard from the hotel room and it was a 25-minute walk north-east through the city's streets to the railway.

We stayed in Pingdingshan for two-and-a-half days. The railway is extremely busy and we were pleased to visit it. However, if you want nice sunny shots of steam trains forget it! The city's smog blocks out much of the sunlight on a daily basis. We left regretting the fact that we hadn't brought some black and white film.
In the afternoon we visited the depot. Unlike the Ji-Tong we didn't have to pay anything to visit. There wasn't much on. QJ's 6813, 6690 both looked in a sorry state but were perhaps awaiting repairs. Meanwhile, QJ6539 was also present but looked to be awaiting cutting up. Inside the shed QJ 7204, the fourth youngest QJ (the 1988 build plate was still in situ) was in the shed under repair, including receiving a new cab. Duncan Cotterill's site records this as being based at Xin'an colliery, east of Yima in October 2004.

PCR 3/1/05-5/01/05

Servicable locomotives seen:
JS: 5644 6225 6253 6429 8030 8031 8054 8057 8062 8065 8068 8120 8122 8338 8421
SY: 1002 (passenger loco)
QJ: 2035 6450 7204
GKD3B: 0003

In addition, the following locomotives were are on Pingdingshan shed and appeared dumped but conceivably could be awaiting repair:

QJ 6539 6690 6813
SY 0758 (definitely withdrawn)

Note: a driver informed us that half a dozen JS locos have recently been scrapped.

Tuesday 4 January

We caught the 07.40 passenger train on the PCR to the western end of the line at Gaozhangqan (and the 09.55 return) This was hauled by SY1002, the only SY we say operating on the PCR during our stay. The train calls at Baofeng on the way but there is no cross platform interchange with the CNR. The PCR station is on the north side of the CNR station yard and separated from CNR by a fence. West of Baofeng the line climbs through scenery dotted with small co-operative mines. One or two larger mines are rail connected including one very close to the end of the line at Gaozhangqan. One coal loading point west of Baofeng also doubles up as a ballast loading terminal. Pollution levels don't seem as bad in this area and it may be that this is the best section of the PCR to visit if you want sunny shots of steam. There are three passenger trains a day to Gaozhangqan and the afternoon one, leaving Pingdingshan at 13.XX may offer the best photographic opportunities. Freight traffic levels on the Baofeng to Gaozhangqan section are low, but there is some traffic.

Wednesday 5 January

Spent the day on the PCR before catching the 17.41 departure from Pingdingshan Dong to Baofeng and, from there, the 19.41 overnight train to Beijing.

Thursday 6 January

Visited Beijing railway museum in the north-east of the city. Hans Schaefer's website has directions. The 403 terminates at Huaixing Tiedao close to the museum but we had difficulty finding the stop in the city centre. Instead we caught a taxi. Note, few people appear to have heard of the museum (we received blank looks from tourist information staff and taxi drivers). Fortunately, a local man helped by describing to our taxi driver the circular railway track of the China academy of railway sciences which is adjacent to the museum.

Beijing railway museum
Steam: QJs 001/004/101, SL12 890, SL3 152, SL 601, SN23, PL9 146, PL 51, GJ 1019, JS 5001, JF51 738, JF11 3773, JF11 3787, JF1 304, JF1 1191, JF1 2101, JF 2121, JF9 3673, JF 4101, JF6 3022, KD5 373, KD7 534, KD55 579, KF1 006, FD 1979, 0 (China's oldest loco, an 0-4-0), RM 1001

Diesel : BJ 3003, DF 1301, DFH2 0008, DF4 0001, DF5 0007, DFH5 0001, ND3 0001, NY5 0003

Electric : SS1 008

Friday 7 January

Visited the Echo Train model shop. Thanks to Ronald Olsen for the directions: "To get there go to Xizhimen Subway station in northwest of Beijing. Go out the D exit. Turn right, walk for 350 metres, go down into pedestrian underpass, come up the other side of street, continue in the same direction you were going before (west) for 200 metres, you will come to 732 bus stop. Take this bus, it is about 25 minutes in midday traffic. Sit on the right hand side and you will see two shops side-by-side, the Leishan model and toy shop with blue sign, and Echo Train shop in smaller lettering on a red sign." The shop sells three versions of QJ: 7207 (the youngest QJ); 6732 with red numberboard; and decorated 6800 (Harbin bureau, Jixi allocated). 7207 and 6732 retail at 1,500 Yuan; 6800 at 1,600Y.

Saturday 8 January

Returned to London Heathrow via Frankfurt.

Summary

Though one of us had been to China twice before in groups, this was our first independent trip. Pleasingly, everything went remarkably smoothly. Duncan Peattie's Chinese rail timetable was absolutely invaluable. Hans Schaefer's website was excellent for Ji-Tong information. The Chinese people were fantastic everywhere we went and helped us out of one or two ticket purchasing difficulties. Finally a big thankyou to the railway staff on the Ji-Tong railway who, almost without exception, greeted us with friendly waves, smiles and information. How different to Britain!
Steam may be set to end soon on the Jingpeng pass section of the Ji-Tong railway but Daban-Chabuga seems set to offer QJs for one more year. Baiqi was a great surprise - an evocative shed and good photographic opportunities east of the station. However, steam will be eliminated here this year. Pingdingshan is a great place to watch and video steam. However, the poor light was a constant frustration for colour photography and I regretted not taking a black and white film. Without it, two-and-a-half days was rather too long to spend there. Indeed, you can get a good feel for the system in a day.
Financially, the three-week trip cost just over 650 including air fare (but not including model QJ purchase!). We didn't skimp and save - all the hotels were of reasonable quality, with the exception of Baofeng.
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© 2005, Andrew Forster ed.ltt@landor.co.uk