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Steam in China, November 6th - December 2nd 2007

by Terry Andrews

Xingyang, Yinghao, Pingdingshan, Huludao, Nanpiao, Fuxin, Tiefa, Qingbaijiang (Chengdu Seamless Pipe Works), Shibanxi

Apologies for the somewhat late report of my winter's jaunt around some of the remaining steam locations in China. I went to ride and photograph these wonderful relics, so the information contains more practical travel and accommodation tips, rather than train numbers!

Flight KLM Amsterdam-Beijing with my first steam train spotted - the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter! Good flight & (Chinese) food. Straight onto the airport bus to Gongzhufen (16y), the nearest point to Beijing Xi Station. Window no. 16 is English speaking, so no problem to get a hard sleeper to Zhengzhou on K269, 2142 arr. 05.19 for 164y. Unfortunately jet lag and the wrong Chinese characters on my otherwise good map (from Gizi) meant I ended up at Xingzheng, so I didnít get to Xingyang until the afternoon. The right buses run regularly from Zhengzhou West (Xi) bus stn (6y) and take about 90 minutes. Then its local bus no.5 to the stn/underpass and a short walk to the line.

Xingyang

Xingyang is a lovely old brickworks with friendly workers (= cab rides!). The 5km line rolls quietly through the Henan countryside, passing previously excavated pits and over a classic brick archworks, best for a.m. photography. 207 worked 7 & 8/11, making 1 trip/hour back & forth from 07.00-18.00. I stayed in the hotel opp. the railway stn for an easily negotiated 60y. Just around the corner are food shacks where dinner & a beer cost a whole 5y. On the other corner is a bathhouse/sauna/massage joint.

Yingao

For Yinghao I stayed in Luoyang, at the Luoyang International Youth Hostel (60y), 5 mins from the train stn and took train 1157 (or 1432) at around 9.00 to Mianchi. Then itís a 10y taxi or bus no.1 from up the hill to the west of town where the Yinghao buses (either yellow Sanmenxia buses or white microbuses) depart. Purple buses run up a bumpy road to Huangmen, the end of the road. Here is the loco depot with 5 or 6 locos, so itís the best place to check if the railway is working. It all looked pretty run down and finished, though workers told me it would work again?? There's a better chance of seeing live steam (SY) some 50 kms west at Sanmenxia, but I only found this out later!

Pingdingshan

K240, 11.47 from Luoyang took me to Baofeng. Out of the CNR stn, under the tracks and up to the not so obvious Baofeng mining railway stn in time for a fantastic cab ride in JS 5644 pulling the 14.28 to Hanzhuangzan and back. Definately a highpoint, it also meant I could jump out and take photos at every stn! In PDS I stayed from 10-13/11 in the ok YeJin Hotel (20 mins walk from the PDS mine stn) for a negotiated 80y. Maps of PDS are available at the smart PingAn Hotel, taxis cost 5y in town or 10y out to the Tianzhuang shed and yards. Otherwise, bus 35 goes to the sheds, bus 33 to Wukuang and bus 2 to Bakuang. 8.00a.m. sees the daily parade of around 10 locos at the sheds and there is usually action in the TZH yards as well as the steam passengers (west facing). JS 8120 was fresh out of the works and being (badly) photographed by Chinese bigwigs. Here, peering over the wall into the sheds, I met the only other (foreign) enthusiast seen the whole time, Derek Jenkins.

Huludao

3 hours on the express coach to Zhengzhou for the convenient K386 16.26 to Huludao (arr. 6.53). Jinxhin Hotel is opposite the stn. and almost luxurious at 80y. Sadly this line is steam history. I was lucky to see JS 8207 struggling up to the summit (14/11). The next day JS 6307 was performing.

Nanpiao

Maybe there are direct buses from Huludao to Nanpiao, but I couldnít find them, settling instead for 2 very local buses to arrive, amazingly, in (coal)dusty Sanjiazi, the end stn of one of the Nanpiao lines. From 16-18/11, SYs were working both sets of passengers, in fact I only saw one diesel working the Power Stn the whole time. SYs 0366, 0973, 1092 and 1478 were working. I stayed at Huangjia in the binguan (68y) with its cold water compensated by its in town location, 1 min from the stn and train views (from rooms 203/4 etc). Be warned there is a very quick turnaround at Huangjia and trains sometimes leave early! The sun is best for the Linghe line a.m. and the Sanjiazi line p.m. A friendly place, especially worth a visit with its crowded steam passengers, old China feel, local market and scenery.

Fuxin

Buses (8y) run from outside the Huangjia Binguan to Jinzhou from 6.00-16.00. Walk 500m right to Jinzhou CNR. I took N127 from Jinzhou to Fuxin at 17.50 and was offered an appartment (55y) with distant steam views on leaving the stn. Bus 17 runs from the CNR to Wulong, the mining stn, or itís a 15 min walk to the morning parade there (c. 8a.m.) of some 6 SYs. Though flat and industrial, there's quite a lot of action, either in the nearby yards with 5 morning north departures or full loads from Lijing mine. Friendly crews and possibilites of cab rides. Sadly new blue diesels work the passengers. Locos seen include SYs 0941, 0988, 0989, 1210, 1320, 1359, 1378, 1395, 1396, 1397, 1460.

Tiefa

Train 4207 took me away from Fuxin to Shenyang at 16.22. After a night in Tieling in another apartment (40y) Ė there are often ítoutsí outside Chinese stns offering perfectly good accommodation- and an early morning bus (7y) to Diaobingshan, I stood on the famous stn bridge in time to watch and snap the snowy morning manoeuvres involving 4 SYs and a steam crane. Locos can face any direction, and, although flattish, good photo spots include the curve outside Diaobingshan, leaving Dalong mine, Wangqian and the Sanjiazi triangle. The passenger levels are low, the female guards are friendly, I managed a cab ride and yes, luckily just as I was leaving, I was asked for the dreaded photo fee! The place to stay is the huge Baoping? International Hotel opposite the stn and get breakfast and treated like a VIP for a paltry 99y (special). Ask for a railway view room eg. 1212 for great sunrise shots! Locos seen were SY 1767, 1770, 1771, 1772 and some freights were steam. Well worth a visit in steam-scarce 2008.

Qingbaijiang (Chengdu Seamless Pipe Works)

The Chengdu Steel Pipe Mills has moved from its Chengdu location to Qingbaijiang, some 40 kms north of Chengdu. The old Chengdu S.P.Works is completely flattened now - no locos - though there is a nice Pagoda in a park nearby which you can climb and forlornly search for steam exhausts! A local Qingbaijiang bus from BeiMen bus stn (JieFangLu street) in Chengdu stops at the gates of the large new plant, called the ďPangang Group Chengdu Iron and Steel Company ď, on the right some 3 kms before Qingbaijiang. No problems just to walk in and ask directions to the steam trains from the gate guards! Inside on 28/11/07 stood SYs, 1511, 1612, the real 2008 and 2010, all in good condition, 1390 under repair with its wheels off and, down at the nearby stabling point, amongst diesels GK 0007, 0008, 0051, 0358, and 0368 were SYs 1613 and a steaming (on standby) 1523. All work seems to be done by diesels, so why the ongoing repairs? I was informed of two further SYs, maybe 1161 and 1244 at the Great Wall Special Steel factory at Changgan?/Jiangyou some 120kms further north after Mianyang (not visited).

Shibanxi

Finally, where better to end this trip than the delightful, almost sunny! BaShi (Shibanxi) or even Jiyang Steam Railway. For 50y all-in I stayed in what must be the best location on the line - the doctors? house 5 mts away from the line at the crossing point of Mifeng and was treated to wake up whistles! Its future hopefully secure now, Chinaís first semi-preserved line still has its 2 x daily coal and goods train, and on Sunday reluctant pigs mixed with the camera-crazy Chinese tourists. It also has some 20kms of beautiful, hilly, rice paddy terrain of trackbed to walk and see old China and some N.G. steam trains passing by. On 1-2/12/07 no. 10 and 14 were working. Good photo spots are the reverse at Mifeng and Caiziba loop where uphill trains are funnel first. For my last night in China, I stayed in Qianwei, at the 60y FengHuang Hotel with its very hot water. A local green bus, no.3 goes from Qianwei to the railway at Shixi and Yuejin (more photographic). Express coaches (46y) leave Qianwei every 30mins starting from 06.40 for Chengdu, taking 3hours. I sadly flew a half empty KLM plane back to Amsterdam (on time!)

All in all a great, steamy trip in a fascinating country. Pingdingshan, Nanpiao?, Fuxin and Tiefa steam on. Shibanxi and (if you're lucky) Xingyang see NG action. Getting tickets on CNR is easier now the system is computerised and it's possible to make a reservation 3 days before at any station for any trip (although it may be difficult to convince the booking agent!) There are some high speed trains now (I took the half empty D12 from Shenyang-Beijing) which halve the travel time. www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains helps planning by giving all the trains between any 2 towns. Often internal flights are heavily discounted, working out sometimes even cheaper than a train (check out ticket.9588.com for internet bookings) And there's Chinese hospitality, excellent food and a good exchange rate now. Hopefully Iíll get back soon.

Terry Andrews

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© 2008 Terry Andrews