Railways in China - November 2005
Weiyuan, Shibanxi, Podicun, Xingyang, Handan, Huanan, Jixi
by Till Mosler
On this tour I travelled together with my friend Udo Kandler. Our focus was not only steam but also various kinds of old industry (like in Europe in the 50s). The people`s life and landscapes offered a lot of photogenic scenes too. All this is influenced by the fast changes with a couple of things already having disappeared forever.
18.11 With comfortable flight CA932 from Frankfurt Udo and I arrived in Beijing around 10:30 pm. Then connection flight CA4108 to Chengdu at 14:00 pm. From Chengdu airport we went to the bus station in the city and two hours later, we already sat inside the bus to Zigong. We arrived there after three hours using the new highway. Heavy rain at Zigong. From there we took a taxi (after 19.00 pm we couldn´t find any buses) to Weiyuan.
We checked into a hotel in the centre of Weiyuan.
19.11 In the morning at 06:00 pm our taxi driver already waited in front of our hotel and took us to Huangjinggou village. The road conditions on the direct way from Weiyuan to Huangjinggou are very bad. Because of the long rain during the past days the road condition was incredible. Three times we even had to push our car through the mud. On the way some buses and trucks shared this destiny with us. But finally we arrived at the bridge near Nihe just in time before the 07:00 uphill train appeared. With a surprised laughter from all of us, we realised that a new almost completed tar street to Weiyuan was under construction at Huangjinggou.
However, we were happy to have found this nice railway still working. After the first uphill train to the factory in Nihe around 07:15, we changed the position near the bridge and waited for the downhill, which passed by at 07:50 pm. The weather became better (sunshine!). So we followed the train to the village crossing in Huangjinggou.
In the depot we were "welcomed" by the well known "friendly" chief who wanted to charge 100,- RMB each person. However we left this place soon and went back to the village for breakfast and waited what would happen next. After one hour or so we realised some movement behind our street market restaurant near the loading point of the engine and saw that a new train was being loaded with coal.
Around 11:00 pm this train departed. During the whole day loco 31 was working. 32, 34 stood cold in the shed.
After the second downhill train around 12:30 pm we left Huangjingou with our driver to Weiyuan. From there we took a bus (12Y per person) to RongXian. There we changed to another bus to Qianwei via Leshan. After four hours fast, struggling journey and a bus change on the highway (!) we arrived in Qianwei around 18:00 o´clock. There we checked in a hotel (100Y a double).
20.11 In the early morning we went to Shibanxi by bus and took the train at 10:30 up to Bagou. After the one and half journey up to the mountains and first impressions of the wonderful landscape there, we settled down in the lüdian near Bagou station which Rob
Dickinson had mentioned in his report. A warm welcome of the owner and a wishlist, which dishes we want to eat the next days, let us feel home immediately.
In the afternoon we took pictures of the 15:00 hr passenger in the station and went asleep after a delicious meal. Only one point made us feel uncomfortable, the cold and grey weather all days and our clammy room. But with a bed heating and warm water we found our rhythm.
The following days were spent on the line between Huangcunjin and Mifengyian - a wonderful line. With a bit luck and chance of sunshine you really could get great views. All traffic and timetable as reported. No changes.
During our visit we saw only two Japanese tourists along the line. But who dressed up the stuff with the crazy new "Lufthansa" uniforms and baseball caps? That's almost the only thing which made taking pictures tricky (stations). Every passenger car gets now one of these "colourful" conductors.
We saw loco 07, 10 and 14 working.
The coalmine at the end of the line in Huangcunjin is still active, but has got a new owner now. Another new mine in the southwest of the old mine (see John Raby´s new report, too) also exists. Now they´re using both the old 300mm gauge system combined with 600mm in a dual gauge system. For coal they are using the old small and for stones the new bigger cars on the line to the new mine.
On Nov 24th we took the 12:00 pm passenger from Bagou back to Shibanxi. From there we took a fast bus to Chengdu.
In the evening we took train 1434 (hardsleeper) from Chengdu Bei to Weinan (Sha´anxi prov.).
25.11 We arrived at Weinan at 16:06 in the afternoon. From Weinan station we went to the bus station and took a bus to Pucheng (12Y). There we stayed one night at the "Pucheng Binguan" near the main street (110Y a double).
On the way from Chengdu to Weinan I could observe the following locos from the train:
SS1 0532, 0731, 0733, 0739, 1221, 1348
DF 4 0612, 2336, 2412, 6310
Near Xian: SS1 0654, 0664, 1623, 1682 DF 4 0257, 0445, 0988, 6502, 6522
During the whole journey no sign of any steam.
26.11 In the early morning we went to Podicun CNR station by taxi and were delighted by the sunny and clear weather after so many grey days in the south.
At Podicun station, we first asked for steam movements. Local staff told us that steam on the line between Podicun and Dongjiahe had already been taken over by diesels (DF 4) for a few monthes, because of a steam ban. However, we went up the line until the first cutting beyond the large bridge. Between 08:00 and 14:30 we didn't see any train activity. Some locals, the staff near the bridge (whatever they do there the whole day), confirmed us that steam already had finished on this part of the railway, taken over by diesels. But they told us that in the northern part of the system 3 QJ are still working at the coal mine itself. For a demonstration one man made a big crossing across the big poster near the bridge which shows a QJ hauled train (see Florian`s Oct 2004 report).
Our limited time for this area, low traffic and mood, did not encourage us to find out more. So we went back to the very busy Xi`an-Yan`an JV line on the other side of the valley and took some shots of trains there in the nice typical loess landscape of this area. Many trains were hauled by DF4 and DF11.
In the evening we decided to go to the Xingyang narrowgauge directly. So we left Pucheng without any other observation by train 4702 (hardsleeper) at 23:17.
27.11 Arrival in Zhengzhou city at 05:30 in the morning. From there it was one and half hour by local bus to Xingyang. We went to the known hotel near the station and after check in directly to the brickworks factory. We found engine 241 under steam near the coaling facilities with no sign of any movement. One Japanese gricer we met there, didn't know more about the traffic at this day than we.
We found some staff in a office nearby. They told us that they wouldn't work this day, but maybe tomorrow. During the days before they already reached the volume of clay necessary for brick production. Sadly we arrived one day too late. So we spent this day again with observing the interesting landscape and life around Xingyang. You can still find a lot of old working industry, like small blast furnaces, coalmines etc. there.
28.11 Another day in Xingyang. The information that the line would work today was wrong, no wheel turned all day again. We decided to leave Xingyang and took a bus back to Zhengzhou station in the afternoon. Using train K386 16:18 we went to Handan where we arrived at 19:20. We checked in the Handan binguan.
After that we took a bus to the northern steelwork entrance for getting a short overview. We saw a lot of steam activity there, but some new GK diesels have arrived, too. The traffic balance steam:diesel is already 50:50! Near the blast furnaces and the well known railway crossing you still can see most of steam activity. On the other hand, all slag train duties seem already to be hauled by diesels.
After the first impression we went back to have a very delicious and cheap Beijing duck ("blast furnace duck") dinner in one of the restaurants near the steelwork`s entrance (northern main road).
29.11 We started early in the morning. On this day we had arrange a guide via Mike Ma. Last night we were lucky and we hadn't had any trouble to enter the factory street, before asking the stuff at the gate and inside. We had luck and they had good mood. But beware carefully! It´s still a dangerous area and "private" ground. We expected every minute to be thrown out and so we didn't leave the "safe" factory street.
With our arranged guide we could observe more areas of the steelworks during daylight. Such an arrangement for "closed" factory areas is still very useful. Staff confirmed us that they still use a fleet of 14 steam engines. But more new diesels should arrive soon and take over all duties until end of 2006!
Engines seen: SY 0557, 0702, 1081, 1139, 1154, 1203, 1208, 1393, 1535, 1658, 2002, 2005, 2007
GK 001, 004, 008, 121, 146….
In the evening at 22:20 we took train 1390 from Handan station to Beijing (soft sleeper).
30.11 We arrived at Beijing station around 07:00 in the morning. Our connecting train K339 to Jiamusi started at 15:50. So we still had enough time to meet one part of my family in law there (a very warm welcome). Then we visited the old city of Beijing (hutongs) and had a relaxed morning there. In the afternoon we left Beijing for Jiamusi.
Seen engines on the way: Beijing - Shenyang SS1 1359, 1375, 1436, 1471, 1501
DF 4 1912, 1466
DF 4C 5092, 5191
Seen engines on the way Harbin - Jamusi: DF 4 1387, 1738, 1926,
DF4D 3018, 3088
DF 4C 0023, 2005, 4453, 5065, 5072 (dek), 5094, 5160, 5192 (near Nancha), 5196 (Nancha), 5299 (Jamusi)
DF 5 1354 (Nancha), 1358 (Nancha), 1492, 1538 (Suihua)
01.12In the afternoon of the first December we arrived in Jiamusi at 13:38 after a very comfortable journey. There we bought a hard seat ticket to Huanan. Nice to see that you still can travel in old green Y22 type coaches freshly overhauled and painted. During the four hour journey we were the reason of all interest and circus in the car.
Engines seen between Jiamusi and Huanan : DF 4D 3163, 3299, DF4C 4003 many double headed trains passed us.
DF 5 1802, 2012
After arrival in Huanan we settled down for four nights in the "Huanan binguan" in the centre of the town. Very cold and clear weather.
02.12 In the morning we went by car to the depot and observed 168 and 044 at the stabling point. Around eight o´clock one loaded train from Touyaozi arrived (loco 04?) and the railcar left short time later. At 10:30 a loaded train with loco 168 started to Tuyaozi. At 12:30 another loaded train came down near Tuoyaozi with loco 043. The next uphill to Li Xin came at 14:55 short time before sunlight disappeared (loco 044). In LiXin we met Ron Olsen and his friend.
03.12 Today a snowstorm was blowing during the whole day. Until evening 20 cm of snow fell. So we decided to take the railcar for line observing.
Not a good decision we had to realise later. Before we started at 08:00, we were first sent to the "chief" in his office near the station. He confirmed me (on paper) that we can enter the railcar for a trip until the end of the line for 50,- RMB each person! Go and back. Still a unbelievable price for this distance and transportation quality. But as already mentioned in other reports it seems that the railcar only can be used by workers of the railway and some other staff (maybe ex workers of the forestry bureau). See Bernd Seiler`s report too. However, we saw many locals using the railcar every day paying 5Y or fewer for one trip.
However back from Hongguang they stopped the railcar at a lonely part of the line in the middle of nowhere between Hongguang and Li Xin. Suddenly, they wanted to get more money. The "red dragon" (the unfriendly, money infected conductor woman) started a loud and long procedere. It seems to be that she controls the price system there. All other people inside the car kept silent. In the end we paid another 50Y. We were too tired to walk back 8 km through the high snow and icy wind. I hope all visitors in future will take more care, save money and don't accept any "fantasy price" they (she) want to get there! Many locals include our driver told us that some other visitors already paid unbelievably high prices.
Observed trains: 10:00 train downhill crossed at Xiahua Zhan station crossing with railcar.
Uphill train waiting in Li Xin at 13:30 (loco 41). The derailed railcar in Tuoyaozi stopped all traffic for four hours. We "joined" the break with all passengers of the railcar in a farmers home beside the track. A warm tea on the kang gave us a bit compensation for the waiting. We were lucky that this didn't happen on a sunny day!
04.12 In the morning we got up at 06:00 pm and observed the line between Huanan and Xiahua Zhan. At 10:30 one train of empties run up to Li Xin (loco 168). Another came down at 13:00 (Xiahua Zhan) with loco 044. The weather got better with a mix of sunshine and ice clouds the whole day. The next train gets up to Li Xin at 13:45 (041) near Huanan. Sunset was around 15:00.
At 15:00 we went back to the hotel and to our great restaurant in the center of the city.
05.12 First we took a short look to the depot. Loco 168 and 043 stood near the loading point. At 08.30 a full train with 04 came in. At 10:30 loco 043 started with a train up to Li Xin. We followed the train to Xiahua Zhan station. There, loco 043 waited with its train nearly two hours for crossing. Beyond Tuoyaozi loco 041 came down at 12:20. After that we waited for the uphill train with loco 043 after the crossing in Xiahua Zhan wich passed at 13:05. The last train in sunlight came down from Li Xin passing Tuoyaozi around 15:05.
After that we had a warm noodle soup at the nice, old market in Tuoyaozi and went back to the hotel in Huanan.
06.12 On our last day in Huanan we decided to go to the summit of the line again. At 10:20 we observed loco 044 with a train uphill beyond Tuoyaozi near the horseshoe curve. Around 11:55 a train with loco 168 at the front and 04 at the back started from Li Xin.
Around 14:00 another train took its way uphill with loco 041. As the weather got cloudy again we decided to go back earlier. After check out at the hotel and a good meal we took a car with driver to Jixi for 200 RMB. Sadly there are no longer any buses in the evening. After a four hour journey through the dark, including detours around each toll gate (usual trick: driving straight across the frozen field), we arrived at Jixi just before midnight and booked into the reported Binguan near the station.
07.12 We got up early and took a taxi to Hengshan. There, we found two engines with coal trains at the shunting yard. Around 09:00 SY 0341 departed with a heavy coal train uphill to Zhongxin. All trains observed were single headed these days. In general the traffic seemed lower than usual.
At noon we left Hengshan to go to Chengzihe mines. Here we found a lot of activity. Nearly every half hour a coal train came in at Beichang. Or the washery pilot moved.
First we went down to the small depot where SY 0590 and 1344 waiting for work.
At the mine Beichang and Dongchang we saw: SY 0237, 0733, 1018, 1058, 1344, 1437.
In the whole area many of the small coalmines didn´t work during our stay. It seemed that the big coalmine accident near Qitaihe had released a general savety check. We saw many police cars with officials inside which patrolled from mine to mine. At one mine near Zhongxin we were observed by them. They asked if we were foreign journalists. But after a short discussion, showing some pictures and friendly words we left with a smile.
This experience made taking pictures sometimes quiet difficult. However, in the end we got all good shots without any trouble.
08.12 First we went down to the Hengshan system again. After the daily coal train to Zhongxin around 09:00 two other single hauled trains followed at 11:00 and 11:30 pm.
Another engine worked near Erdahoezi (SY 0341). Seen locos where SY 0746, 0804, 1095, 1340, 1369.
A short visit to the mine and washery at Didao showed a very busy but photographically difficult system. As reported all locos at the washery faced north so you can get here only tender first workings. The line up to the stone tip offers some spots.
Near the washery at Didao Hebei we found a very interesting and busy narrow gauge system which connects one coalmine in the north and east of Didao. The five kilometer long double track to the mine in the north includes three railroad crossing, two stations and iron footpath bridges. It looks like a small electrified mainline. Observed locos: SY 0407, 1205, 1213, 1446
At noon we went back to Chengzhi system for the rest of the day.
09.12 In the morning of the last day of our stay we went to Dongchang mine. At 08:00 we found nearly all engines there for the daily crew change.
In the bitterly cold morning (-20 C°) we found SY 0590, 0733, 1018, 1058, 1344, 1437.
The following hours were spent at Beichang. In the afternoon we made another short visit to the electrified narrow gauge railway near Didao Hebei again.
At 09:30 we took a fast bus from Jixi to Mudangjiang. After a two hours journey we arrived in the city and took train K266 (dep 14:58) to Beijing.
11.12 Arrival at 08:00 in the morning. The last day was spent togehter with my family in law, which has prepared a lot of surprises and wonderful dishes :-)!
12.12 At 13:15 we took flight CA 931 back to Frankfurt.
All in all it was a very interesting journey full of new impressions. Both beside-the-track-scenes and the remaining steam action, traditional life of the people, landscapes and old industry were highlights of this trip. And some lost hours along already diselised or unpredictable railways.
There are still a lot of interesting things to explore in the fast changing country. The "great step" of the modernisation comes to a new level. In the behaviour and outfit of the people you can see the fast development. Old times of great steam action really are memories from the past. It is time to say good bye tan an era! But when you are interest in other topics (culture, old industry or modern traction for example) there are still a lot of things and places to explore. But hurry up!
Thanks to all who provided help with their reports and visits! And also to Mike Ma who gave us some useful tips via phone (available everywhere ;-).
© 2006 Till Mosler, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org