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Steam in China, July 2007

by Ameling Algra

Shibanxi

My friend Hans & I intended to make a three week China trip, visiting Xingyang, Yinghao, maybe Pingdinshan, and Shibanxi. As it is, on the day of departure it turned out that the doctors would not ‘’allow’’ Hans to make the trip. With full cooperation of KLM, the tickets were cancelled & restituted (even though they were of the no-restitution variety) and I started to work on some necessary things at home. After a few days, I decided I still wanted to go so booked again, for two weeks. With the clear intention of enjoying myself, not making video or photo ‘’production’.

Wednesday July 18
Flight Amsterdam-Chengdu, arriving Thursday July 19 at 11.45, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. The swift procedures in Chengdu made it possible to go through border control, change money, buy an airline ticket to Zhengzhou for 690 Yuan, and get into the airport bus within half an hour; so just 30 minutes after the official arrival time I was in my hotel room at the Traffic Hotel (160 Yuan double AC)

Friday July 20
Bus 28 to Shi Yang busstation – extremely crowded so I did not succeed in paying the 2 Yuan fare. Then bus to Qianwei – in contrast to Rob Dickinson’s report, I was charged Y45 as always. Arrival in Qianwe around noon. Walk across the bridge which is in the process of being renovated, and go to my favorite Bai He hotel. AC double for 80 Yuan. I can highly recommend this hotel for those who want to stay in Qianwei. Just as good as the Tian Bo for less than half the price, with an excellent restaurant that offered me an excellent ‘’surprise’’ meal this trip for Y15 every evening.
After setting up at the hotel, went to Shibanxi to confirm the very early departure of the first train, and see & film the arrival and departure of the 16.30 and 17.30 trains.

Saturday July 21
Leave the hotel at 5.15 AM to look for a taxi. As my bargaining position was rather weak, I settled on the meter fare of 25 Yuan. Train trip to Bagou, to my surprise they charged me Y15, not Y25 as I expected. Later I read John Raby’s report which made it clear that Y25 is the single fare and the day return is Y30…
Weather overcast. After the first passenger, the coal train ran. And then after the second passenger (with tourist coach), there was a one coach train transporting someone to hospital. Though they must have done that before, they had trouble getting the stretcher onto the coach – great for filming but probably not for the patient. Went up to the coal mine; no threats this time but instead very friendly welcome. Went back to Qianwei on the third passenger, in the tourist coach. I can recommend riding on it! Crossed the second coal train in Mifeng.

Sunday July 22
Decided to take the day off (rain) and then an hour later decided to make it a short Yueyin day. The bus at 6.20 AM still runs but alas no longer connects to the train. Some rain in Yueyin, but interesting operation as the loco of the first coal train had to take coal from the bunker and to do that, had to pull away a long train of loaded coal wagons away first. Second coal train also ran. Tourist coach on second and third passenger.

Monday July 23
Taxi at 5.30 AM, take the train at 6.00 AM to Mifeng. Some discussion with the train staff who wanted to charge 9 Yuan instead of 6. The new timing does wonders for the use of the early morning train from Bagou. Lots of people at Mifeng station who had trouble finding some place to stand on the train.
Weather starts overcast but soon rather sunny, so good video at the tunnel & at the other spots near Caiziba. Both coal trains ran. Return on third passenger, in the pig’s coach (all other were very crowded).

Tuesday July 24
5.30 taxi again and then on to Jiaoba. Fare discussion again, ended on 12 Yuan. Nice departure shot from Jiaoba and then it started to rain heavily. Got interesting ‘’different’’ video but decided to call it a day as the second passenger returned. Crossed the second freight in Yueyin where I got off.

Wednesday July 25
5.30 taxi and then Bagou again. Sunny weather, got my first sunny shot of polo players with steam train, then my best shot ever between the two tunnels and at the dam past Jiaoba. Both freights running.

Thursday July 26
To Yueyin again. Excellent clear weather, excellent video of interesting shunting in Yueyin again. There is a new very good looking apartment building near the line. Would be nice if they would open a good hotel in it…. Both freights running and there was a tourist special with one tourist coach from Shixi to Yueyin. Loco and (alas) coach returned on the second passenger, providing it with a double header.

Friday July 27
Bagou again, hoping to do some more sunshine shots around Jiaoba. But alas, overcast again & it started to rain, so returned on the second passenger which crossed the first (and only?) coal train of the day in Yueyin.

Saturday July 28
Heavy rain, so decided to go to Chengdu instead of spending another (rainy) day along the line. Bus ride in the rain comfortable enough as usual. Bus ride on bus 28 again very crowded.

Sunday July 29
Flight to Zhengzhou at 15.35 (booked at the airport July 19 for Y690). Arriving Zhengzou in pouring rain. Bus into town for Y15, then taxi to the railway station. First taxi driver said ‘’four yuan’’ so I agreed of course. When driving, he showed me a 50 Yuan note so I got upset & off. Second taxi, pointed at the meter, he nods and then after a few minutes writes down ‘’Y47’’. Angry again, get off. Next taxi starts meter without asking, fare Y7. Tian E Binguan in the bus station across from the railway station. Y80 double with AC.

Monday July 30
Intended to go to Xingyang. I was never very lucky with this line. No trains (rain), or just got ill when I wanted to visit it, or the line was declared dead on the steam in china forum (please state ‘’not working’’ instead of ‘’closed’’). This time I was not lucky again: heavy rain made operation unlikely, ánd I had a high fever which explained my (unusual) anger the day before in the taxis. So stayed in the hotel room.

Tuesday July 31
Rain again, so I bought a ticket on the new ‘’harmony’’ d134 to Zhengzhou. First class was sold out, so bought second class for Y213 (more than double the hard seat fare).
Turned out I had the worst seat on the coach: seat 99 in the middle of a set of three, facing a blind wall with no windows to look through. But luckily the coach was not full so I found a better seat soon after the train left.
In second class, seats 1 – 6 – 11 etc are the windos seats in the rows of two seats; 5 – 10 – 15 etc are the window seats in the rows of three seats. Very comfortable airline economy seats with much more leg room than on airlines. First class is 2+2 witch business class seats. At only Y251 it is a bargain compared with second class (hence fully booked).
The railways introduced a japanese entering procedure on intermediate stops, with people waiting in disciplined rows at designated spots. Worked fine. Train arrived on time; went to subway from Beinig Xi and then on to the Jian Yuan hotel at Xidan subway stop (starting point for buses to airport). A very convenient very un-chinese hotel, centrally air condioned single room Y180.

Wednesday Aug 1
As for some still unexplained reason I could not reach Rob Dickinson, I just did some shopping & went to Beijing Zhan to buy a new timetable. The station has two nice AC ticket halls at the west side; one for the Harmony trains, the other for advance booking of Z trains etc. The one more to the centre has a foreign tourist ticket window, which given the queues at the other ticket windows is not a bad idea.

Thursday Aug 2
In spite of the crowds, procedures at Beijing airport were swift as usual. KLM to Amsterdam left on time and arrived Amsterdam half an hour early. Back into the Third World again. Only one passport check boot open (in Chengdu there were six); scrutiny of every and any passport & all luggage so the half hour gain was soon gone. Finding the first two trains home were cancelled. Almost got my camera bag stolen on the train. Youngsters fighting with security men at the railway station in my home town (at 4 PM). Walk home where everything was alright.

Conclusion
Though maybe not obvious from what I wrote above, I enjoyed the trip ‘’als usual’’. Being my 23rd trip, it feels like home… But about going in summer: my advice is, if you have an alternative, don’t. The oppressing heat and the fact that all Chinese start to travel, make summer trips to China definitely less pleasant than at other times of the year, though it certainly has its charm.

Ameling Algra

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© 2007 Ameling Algra