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Steam in China, December 2010

by Ameling Algra

Xingyang, Jixi

A brief report of my 35th China steam trip. On the first, in 1989, I went on a tour group with Bill Alborough. After that, twice with Rob Dickinson, three times with my wife, nine times with Hans Duyfjes, the rest on my own. I enjoyed all of them, even the 9th trip ending with an almost fatal incident in Shuangyashan.
This trip was intended to be more a good bye trip than anything else. It would certainly not be my last one, but definitely the last one in the cold winter to the north. I intended to go north to take a last look at JiXi and, if running, Huanan. And then work my way southward to Tiefa and Fuxin. A few days before the start of the trip, ctrip.com announced that my JiXi flight was cancelled. At the same time, there were some reports announcing the death of Xingyang brickworks railway. I figured that, if the railway would be finished after Chinese New Year, they would probably use the remaining weeks to transport as much clay as possible. So decided to gamble and go there from Beijing instead, a comfortable but rather boring journey on one of the high speed train sets. Beijing Xi is an impressive railway station lacking public transport. The subway line there seems to be almost ready –but was not among the five new openings this week.

Xingyang

I decided to stay in Zhengzhou and travel up and down to Xingyang as I did before – I did not know the whereabouts of decent hotels in Xingyang and could not be bothered to find out. Going from Zhengzhou to Xingyang by public transport is easy. Bus 1, halt at the right side of the bus station if coming from the railway station, brings you to a small local bus station (NOT the west bus station), for 1 Yuan. After crossing under the railway lines, the bus follows main streets. One turn right, one turn left, and then another turn left into a much smaller street. The bus station is right before that turn, and sells tickets to Xingyang for 5 Yuan, buses leaving every 5 minutes or so. In Xingyang, I got out at the bus station and walked to local bus 5 (1 yuan) going to the railway station there. And from there on it is an easy walk to the line. All in all, the trip takes a little more than an hour. More if the traffic in Zhengzhou is a problem, which it was on Sunday evening (mostly due to subway construction, by the way).
I was delighted to find rails in shiny condition and one loco in steam at the shed. Soon the horn and whistles of the other one were heard in the distance, so my gamble paid out.

The line was operating in its usual pattern, in excellent weather. Loco 207, replaced during the second day by loco 207 (sorry...). I concentrated mainly on the area near the factory, as I had not yet any video there and enough elsewhere. All in all, a few very satisfying days on a line I had not intended to visit. As an afterthought, I should maybe have stayed there a bit longer, but my farewell to JiXi was waiting.

Jixi

I flew Zhengzhou-Harbin and then on to JiXi by bus. Spent some nice days there, also visiting old friends at restaurant and internet café. And steam in Chengzihe was still impressive, with all seven locos present every morning. And no poles up to the washery (yet?).

For three days the weather was terrible, three other days just fine with sun and not too much wind.

Met Dave and two French friends in the hotel, heard what I already expected (Huanan closed, because of snowfall), and returned to Beijing via Harbin, I did not want to risk the JiXi flight for fear of missing my flight home. My plan was to take the bus from JiXi to Harbin and then flight Harbin-Beijing – for 280 yuan, I don’t think the railway can beat that. It almost went wrong anyway as the bus was cancelled and they could only provide me with a ticket on a late evening bus. Luckily, there were collective taxis waiting outside the bus station, bringing me to Harbin at a slightly higher price than the bus and slightly less comfortable (but faster).

So this was the end of one of my last trips, I am wondering whether I will be at home for Christmas next year and what to do those boring days. I will definitely go to China at least once again, Shibanxi is still there, but it was probably the last of many trips into the cold north in winter.
Back to Amsterdam with KLM. Unlike Duncan, my verdict is positive. Plane was late leaving Amsterdam on the way out, due to delayed connecting flights (snow), but made up for the delay during the flight. Return was exactly on time, arriving half an hour early. As usual KLM gave me business class seating. Well, I think I deserve a better treatment than Duncan. After all, through taxes I have to pay for the free tickets our royal family gets for example flying up and down to South Africa to watch some silly ball game (and probably shoot some game as well).

Ameling Algra

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