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Steam in China - February 18th to March 3rd, 2008

by Ian Juden

Nanpiao, Zhali Nuer, Tiefa, and Shenyang

Nanpiao, Feb 18th to 21st

On 18th and 19th steam activity was much as reported in Trevor Maxted's more recent report. However, on 20th there was only one steam hauled train in daylight, coal empties to Sanjiazi leaving Xiamiaozi about 15.30. On the 21st there were no steam movements at all during daylight.

During this period all four diesels were operating - BJs 3132, 3241, 3248 and 3290. The steam locos working during the entire period were SY 1092 and SY 1299. On the 20th and 21st both spent the day in steam by the control tower at Xiamiaozi. SY 0366 was in the shed with the staff attempting to repair serious valve gear problems, so it's not surprising that it has since been reported as dumped. SY 0754 was present in the pw yard, ex-works, but with all brass fittings removed. SY 1478 was not present during this period, so it's possible it was away being repaired at Jinzhou works.

The narrow gauge electric lines at Sanjiazi and Zhaojiatun were operating, but the one at Linghai is now derelict. However, the line at Sanjiazi does not operate all the way to the loading tower by the station. The tub wagons were being hauled the last half mile or so from the mine to the loader by gangs of workers. At Zhaojiatun I saw a BJ push two wagons up to the spoil dump, but its use now appears to be very infrequent.

A new mine has been opened about 500 yards south west of Shaguotun power station, and coal is being hauled from it by truck along a haul road. Also, coal was arriving at the power station by large trucks with trailers along the main road from Jinzhou. However, on a more positive note, half the steam shed has been given over to overhauling what appear to be second hand steel wagons from China Rail. On the system as a whole the number of old wooden bodied wagons had decreased since my last visit in 2003.

The China Rail line between Jinzhou and Nanpiao no longer has a passenger service, and as far as I can see no regular freight traffic either. However, the night passengers were running on the mine system - I was woken by them at around 2.00am on two nights.

Between Qiupigou and Liudongfang there are huge chasms in the cuttings and adjacent hillsides that are about three feet across, and going downwards into the earth hundreds of feet. They extend over hundreds of yards at the surface, and anyone walking along the track in this area should beware. As this is in the area where there are the rubble remains of many houses, I assume there has been a major earthquake here at some time in the past.

A taxi from Jinzhou to Nanpiao costs about 100 yuan on the meter. In Nanpiao I saw many minibuses with Huludao destination boards, so that may be a better bridgehead for this system than Jinzhou now, particularly as more of the high speed 'D' trains stop there.

The newer hotel at Xiamiaozi was not open, presumably due to a prolonged New Year holiday. The 'Huangjia Hilton' had singles at 75 yuan, and doubles at 158 yuan, but was poor value for money, particularly if there were no singles available. Despite its refurbishment since 2003, the rooms in this establishment have again become very grubby.

Zhalai Nuer, Feb 23rd to 25th

Nothing much new to report on the open cast operations. A very deep seam of coal was being worked at the base of the pit, and there were few spoil trains, four or five per day at most. About 15 SY were working coal trains within the pit. Coal trains for the power station were coming out of the hole, then taking a line that diverged from the Nanzhan line at the south east corner of the pit, just before the wide S-bend. These were fairly frequent, maybe every ninety minutes or so.

Apart from the small dump of wagons in the pit, there is a huge dump of them about a mile south of Nanzhan where the dido terminates. As far as I could see the wagon repair shop in the old loco shed here has closed.

The works had SY 1119, SY 1618, and SY 1663 under heavy repair, including boiler re-tubing. It is located adjacent to the China Rail main line about a mile east of Zhalai Nuer Xi station. The running shed for the deep mine system is adjacent to it, the former running shed at Daqiao now being used for wagon repairs.

The deep mine system was very busy, with about 4 or 5 trains per day on each of the branches to Tiebeikuang and Mankuang.. On the Tiebeikuang line an early morning train went out 'top and tailed', and one of the locos then spent the day shunting at Tiebeikuang. It then returned in another 'top and tailed' train between 14.00 and 15.00. By mid afternoon, about 15.00 or so, many rakes of wagons had accumulated at Dongfanghong, and there were usually 3 or 4 locos present shunting them through the washery. All locos on this system faced west.

As far as I could see, Tiebeikuang and Mankuang were the only deep mines currently in operation. I saw no trains operating south of Mankuang, though the tracks to the power station did not appear entirely disused. The deep mine system was interesting, and I could have easily spent another day or two here exploring. The northern branch is predominantly rural, whereas the southern branch passes through urban areas and derelict land.

There is a brand new hotel just across the forecourt from Zhalai Nuer Xi station. It is an easily spotted bright red building, with rooms at 160 yuan after discounts. I thought it was a bit overpriced, particularly as hot water was non existent. It has a good restaurant, though again, it's very pricey.

There is another, older hotel north of the station, which may be better value. Take the road bridge, and it is the four or five storey building on the left set back from the cross roads at the end of the spiral ramp. I found taxi drivers here particularly rapacious. The official flat fare in town is 7 yuan, but on several occasions it took heated arguments to get charged the correct amount. The best I could negotiate for a taxi from Manzhouli out to Zhalai Nuer Xi was 50 yuan.

Tiefa, Feb 27th to March 2nd

Very much as previously reported with passengers to Daming, Daqing, and Wangqian remaining 100% steam. Trains 203 / 206 and 207 / 210 were terminating at Qiaonan, but I suspect this to be a temporary suspension, as there was extensive track work in progress to correct mining subsidence.

The Dongguantun line was the sole preserve of the two working DFH3s (2005 and 2006), with the exception of Feb 29th, when Trains 309 / 304 were SY hauled due to a diesel failure. With the exception of the first three or four miles from Diaobingshan, this line runs through fairly flat farmland.

There was one regular steam freight working. Between 10.00 and 11.00 an SY tripped to the power station and the wagon works, and assembled a train of empties, repaired wagons, and anything else that needed to be moved. About 11.00 it traveled to Daming. The return working was late in the evening, with arrival at Diaobingshan anytime between 21.00 and midnight.
This working was used to turn the locos on the southern triangle at Sanjiazi, though this was not done every day.

On March 1st the empties from the power station were attached to the rear of a regular coal train, and the SY picked up a rake of five newly overhauled coaches from the works, all with a tasteful red and gold dragon insignia, and titled "The Dragon Special Train". The rake consisted 3 LY22s, an LY1 and an LY2, these latter two being in a classic pre-war style. The train was fully staffed, and appeared to be intended for enthusiasts touring the system.

Unfortunately, the "The Gripper" was on this train, and he descended on me with a vengeance. This was really annoying, as I'd visited the museum and workshops at Daming the previous day, where I'd been made to feel very welcome without any demands for hard cash at all. The encounter went something like this :-

"Watching trains here is very dangerous. You must give me 200 yuan".

"How does giving you 200 yuan make it any less dangerous"

The Gripper followed me around for about ten minutes, talking animatedly on his cell phone, presumably to the Fat Controller. At one point he was concentrating so much on his conversation that he tripped over some baskets on the platform and fell flat on his face. When he'd finished his phone call he ran up to me, and again said :

"You must pay 200 yuan to watch the trains".

At this I pointed to a grizzled old lady, who looked like she'd been on at least ten Long Marches, who was avidly watching an SY being coaled, and said

"She's looking at trains, go and ask her for 200 yuan, and if she gives it to you, I'll pay too"

The Gripper continued to follow me around, back on his cell phone for about twenty minutes this time. Maybe this call took longer as the Fat Controller had to consult with the Even Fatter Controller. After this the Gripper caught up with me again, stamped his foot, and said

"You must pay 200 yuan to watch trains, NOW !"

"Will you give me a written receipt"

Within thirty seconds the Gripper was back inside the train scowling at me through one of the carriage windows.

On the freight side, the system was very busy, with China Rail diesels (DF5Bs and DF4s) working through to Dongguantun, as well as the mining systems own DF4s.

The China Rail passenger service to Shenyang no longer runs, being replaced by a coach services which departs from the station forecourt early in the morning, and from 4.00pm to 6.00pm.

The binguan in the station forecourt charged 100 yuan for a double room with constant hot water. In fact it was a bit too constant, as the heating tank was punctured, and a visit to the toilet required tip-toeing through near scalding water. Although the room was a bit grubby, it was good value for money. Gricers seem to be automatically given a room on the 5th floor with at least a partial view of the station platforms and coaling area.

There is a hot pot restaurant in the International Hotel opposite the station which is excellent value at 35 yuan. This not only includes the food, but as much beer, wine or rice liquor as one wants. Entertainment here is provided by groups of ten to twelve year old boys gorging themselves on huge quantities of food. Unfortunately, most of them already look like Michelin Men, a sad testament to China's new found prosperity.

A metered taxi from Tieling cost about 75 yuan, and the coach onwards to Shenyang cost about 20 yuan.

This system seems to have become quite unpopular over the last few years, since steam working ceased on the coal trains. Although it is not very scenic, it does have the atmosphere of a busy steam railway with the frequent passenger service, and I greatly enjoyed my visit here.

Shenyang, March 3rd

While traveling back to Beijing on one of the high speed 'D' trains I was most surprised to see an SY actively shunting the yard at the power station about two miles west of Huang Gu Tun in the Shenyang suburbs.

And the Most Curious Sighting of All………………

On Feb 17th on my coach trip into Beijing from the airport I was surprised at how much more development there had been since my last visit in late 2003. Also, many multi-national companies had set up shop, presumably in anticipation of the Olympics profits-fest. I found the prominent presence of a Kentucky Fried Chicken take away at Zhan station to be most incongruous. Has the Colonel got his eye on the trainshed as a drive through, I thought.

Anyway, my most curious sighting was a ‘Hooters’ restaurant somewhere in Chaoyang.
For European and Antipodean readers I may need to explain that ‘Hooters’ is a US fast food chain. Its very deep fried offerings are served up by well endowed young ladies in scanty scarlet hot pants uniforms. The impression of ‘fast’ in the food is enhanced by the fact that these young ladies zoom around the restaurants on roller skates. Well, I thought to myself, there can’t be many size 40 double D cups in Beijing, or the whole of China for that matter. I suspect that this restaurant will not be around for too long due to staffing shortages, gone bust, so to speak.

Ian Juden

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© 2008 Ian Juden