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Steam in China, December 2008 - January 2009

by Adrian Freeman

Huanan, Jixi and Jalainur

A two-week trip made with Don White, who managed to remain surprisingly upbeat despite braking a finger and ribs during the first week.

Some confusion arriving at the new international airport at Beijing and transferring (by rubber-tyred train) to the old terminal for a domestic departure to Harbin, saw us fail to change money into RMB. The bank at Harbin airport refused to do foreign exchange but one of the employees did a private exchange at the bank rate, and I was able to draw money from the cashpoint machine with my debit card, something I’ve never done in China before.

Took overnight train from Harbin to Jiamusi and then on to Huanan. This is the first time in eight years that I couldn’t buy hard sleeper tickets for one of the overnight trains. We ended up with unreserved seat tickets, but were lucky to be accosted by a friendly policeman, who was able to arrange two sleeper tickets from touts on the platform in part exchange for ours but with negligible mark-up.

We were unable to buy a printed timetable and found that train times had changed somewhat from those that appear on the online version.

Huanan 28 – 29.12.08
Arrived here on morning of 28th Dec and were informed that there would be one train running today and would set off in the early afternoon. This time was later revised to 17:00, i.e. after dark. Locos 011 and 168 in steam in the walled servicing area. We didn’t hang around to observe the departure. The following day, the news was the same so we bailed out and took a taxi to Jixi.
Stayed in the Huanan hotel at 100 Yuan for twin room.

Jixi 29.12.08 – 04.01.09
Stayed at the Jixi Fandian opposite the station, which was negotiated to 120 Yuan for a twin room.
Chengzihe and Didao systems visited. Both as per recent reports with no sign of electrification at Chengzihe other than the presence of eight electric locos in a specially constructed shed at Nanchang. On one day at Didao, all five of their SY were in steam at the washery but one did nothing all day. Jixi must be one of the friendliest places in China, and the hotel location is ideal for buses to/from Chengzihe and Didao, not to mention the cake and bun shop just along the block (almond pastries highly recommended!).

We took N56 to Harbin and then train 1301 to Jalainur Xi. Passing Dayan at about 14:50 on 05.01.09, we observed an unidentified tender first SY hauling four passenger coaches towards a coal mine on the south side of the line.

Jalainur 06 – 10.01.09
The area around Jalainur Xi station has been developed since my last visit three years ago and I lost my bearings a bit. Consequently we spent the first night in the hotel next to the station at 180 Yuan for a twin room. The following four nights were spent in the hotel in the middle of Jalainur at 60 Yuan for a twin, although the rooms are not en suite. Additional services are available at this hotel, should you be so inclined. These are the characters on the front of the hotel.

From this hotel it is about a 20-minute walk to Daqiao servicing point. The introduction of meters on the taxis in Jalainur is a huge plus as on my last visit every driver attempted to rip us off, which was very annoying. The drivers don’t always remember to switch the meter on, however, but on the two occasions we forgot to remind them, our estimations of the fare were accepted.

Each morning the temperature was below -30°C and the final morning it was minus 35. The railway operations are as described in other recent reports. The extending and raising of the interchange sidings by the washery means that departures of coal from under the washery loading hoppers are spectacular. In the ‘hole’, there were no spoil trains operating, which reduced the overall number of train movements significantly and meant that there were no trains entering or leaving the hole - the only activity were the coal trains at the lower levels. The deep mines lines were busy and banked trains of wagons ran out to mine at the end of the north line a couple of times each day. A huge number of brand new coal wagons were arriving from China Rail, whose main line past the washery has now been doubled and impenetrably fenced off.

Three years ago there was an extensive coal distribution operation using horse carts around town from two rail-connected coal yards, one of which was linked to the mining system and hence had coal brought by SY. Sadly the horse cart distribution now appears to have been largely abandoned - this was far more unusual than most of the remaining steam operations in China.

The Hainan Airlines daily 16:00 flight from Manzhouli to Beijing provided a quick and easy exit from this otherwise distant location. We bought our tickets for this flight when we were in Harbin airport and didn’t benefit from the cheap ‘Public Joy’ price, ours costing 650 Yuan each. Taxi fare on the meter was 106 Yuan from our hotel.

It was good to see the levels of steam activity at Jixi and Jalainur, probably for the last time in view of the changes predicted for 2009.

Adrian Freeman

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© 2009 Adrian Freeman