'Defending my right to wear a facemask (when it's cold)'
This trip resulted in a DVD called Nanpiao, Huludao and Meihekou Railways. You can see more information about this and my many other DVDs here. Or, you can click here to send me an email order enquiry.
(1 January 2013, for further details of the lines visited - none of which use steam with the possible exception of Jixi - please see SY Country. Given time, I will replace the links below - broken, I expect - with new links of the SY Country website.)
My thanks to Florian Menius and all those who have contributed maps and reports to the Steam in China website.
Thanks also to Mike Ma for being my patient minder and guide (mike68ma@ yahoo.com) and to Rob and Yuehong for looking after me in Beijing.
As a video photographer, I can’t take video and write down loco numbers at the same time. The report below, therefore, includes very few actual loco numbers. However, I saw nothing working that wasn’t allocated to the systems as detailed in Steam Operations in China and I may eventually be able to deduce more numbers after editing the videos of the trip.
The digital pics are grab shots from my video.
Day 1: Bus ride to Nanpiao from Jinzhou in time to check into the Mining Company Hotel opposite Huangjia Station and then video the 09:45 working to Xiaomiaozi Junction. This was SY 1096 which was the only steam we saw working the passenger trains. Passenger turns are shared between this SY and one BJ diesel. While we were there, steam worked the morning turn to Sanjiazi and the afternoon working to Linghe. The BJ did the other pair of trains (Linghe morning and Sanjiazi afternoon). Evening trains 109, 110, 209 and 210 did not operate.
One SY shunting at Zaojiatun on the east line late morning. Later, one steam SY (the same?) seen at Qiupigou.
Rode train 206 1640 Linghe – 1728 Huangjia.
Discovered that chasing by motorcycle taxi (especially the small cc ones) is not possible.
Rode the steam passenger to Sanjiazi with sunrise just before arrival. Loco then went light to the Weizigou washery at Daguopu to shunt and bring back empties before returning to Huangjia. The view of the washery and background mountains at Weizigou is excellent in the early morning light—one of the best photo locations of the trip.
Checked out the ng electrics at Sanjiazi which now only work to dump slag from 1. the mine and 2. (less frequently) from the standard gauge loading point. Coal is now moved from the mine to the loading point by conveyor.
Late morning first a BJ and then an SY came to Weizigou. In the afternoon walked back to Fulongshan to see a BJ on the afternoon passenger and at sunset, the SY worked loads tender first to Xiaomiaozi.
Took morning BJ hauled passenger to Quipigou from where an SY departed tender first with coal towards Zaojiatun shortly after the arrival of the passenger. The ng electrics were not in action here. Then walked back to Zaojiatun where they were. Light snow began to fall so we had an extended lunch at Xiamiaozi. This was the best food of the trip. Conventional Chinese dishes but cooked very well. The restaurant is almost opposite the rail junction and road bridge under the Sanjiazi line the other side of the river. The first of the set-back restaurants away from the private hotel.
Took the afternoon BJ hauled passenger to Hongshila to see one BJ deliver coal to the power station and the same SY tender-first working from Weizigou to Xiamiaozi around sunset. The scenery for a chimney-first train from Shagoutun to Hongshila is very good with a dramatic mountain backdrop to a climb on a curve. However, this was one that got away.
Nanpiao is difficult because of the 3 BJ diesels in use. Apart from the one steam passenger turn, the BJs seem to get all the interesting work. It was especially difficult in around the shortest day and the morning chimney-first steam passenger to Sanjiazi runs most of the trip in darkness.
The refurbished Mining Company Hotel is (along with the private hotel at Xiamiaozi) a place to see steam from your window but is overpriced and very basic. It is convenient for public transport in and out of Nanpiao. The bus ride to Huludao has a very scenic section around a reservoir but did not follow the line to Sanjiazi at all.
07:50 bus from Nanpiao, journey time 2 hrs. After check in at a hotel near Huludao Station, took local bus to the loading point near Yangjiazhangzi. There was a 12:30 departure of fulls towards Huludao JS hauled. Return was at 15:00 with the empties and then a second daytime fulls runs around dusk at 16:00. The loco propelled the empties from Yangjiazhangzi junction to the loading point and was turned on the turntable here on both runs on arrival back from the loading point.
No trains all days. Railway staff put this down to no empty wagons available at the cement works. One of life’s little frustrations. Walked quite a lot of the line from the summit back towards Huludao.
Trains working again but JS6307 operated tender-first to the loading point with the empties on both runs. First train arrived at loading point around 09:30 and chimney-first return reached the summit 10:40 with a load of 14 wagons. The climb to the summit as noted by others is pure slog down to walking pace. The loco normally stops at the summit for fire cleaning before continuing. In the afternoon, the same pattern was seen.
The kilometre numbers on Bernd’s map relate to road distances. The actual railway is approximately 30km long not 40.
Huludao – Panjing –
Shenyang – Meihekou
This was an attempt to follow up on some diesel-operated narrow gauge lines that Duncan Cotterill had spotted between Panjing and Jinzhou. He wasn’t sure what the traffic on the lines was but it would appear to be reeds from the marshes. I took a gamble that Panjing would be close to the lines but it’s not. Linghai is the town marked from the closest exit on the expressway (coming from the south before the first line), we then saw 3 (possibly 4) lines which seem to radiate from an unnamed location close to the coast south west of Panshan. There was a second exit to Jincheng(?) and Chonguan(?) after the first line and before the others. Anyone wanting to explore further would need base themselves at Jinzhou or Panshan (not Panjing) or better at Linghai, Jincheng or Chonguan. The first line crossed seemed to head inland towards Linghai and was more like a main line, the other lines were more like field/branch lines. The new expressway crosses no major roads in this area and there are many waterways. Ideally, a future explorer would go knowing the name of the place that these lines come together, where they meet China rail (if they do) and where the depot is. Rather than throw 2-3 days of the trip at finding this out, I continued to Meihekou.
Good news x 2 here. The hotels near the station both have bedrooms with broadband computers as part of the basic price. And steam was working the passenger trains (and the diesel seemed relegated to trip-working to the China Rail connection).
Local bus from Meihekou station to Yijing. After checking out Yijing where the electric ng line over the railway was working, minibus to Erjing where the ng line was not. Steam passenger via Yijing to Sijing and then lunch. Photted the return afternoon passenger on the roadside section. The SY on the passenger went back to Yijing between trains.
Taxi from Yijing to Wujing Station. The railbus running ahead of the passenger used the branch to Wujing Mine. Photted the morning steam passenger in both directions and then walked to Sanjing. A tender-first SY came from Sanjing with fulls en route. After lunch, empties arrived at Sanjing and shunted prior to the afternoon (steam) passenger arrival. Sanjing is good for afternoon glint shots. Then, passenger back to Yijing.
With steam on the passenger and the diesel only seen once, this is a steamy system that is will worth visiting. Locos are reasonably clean and decorated. Yijing depot and yard have early morning potential for photography.
Meihekou – Changchun
– Jaimusi – Hegang
Bus travel in China is now very reliable and offers convenient alternative to infrequent trains. Bus to Changchung which dropped us at the new, quiet side of Changchun China Rail. Bought tickets for the evening train to Jiamusi and then 1. took the new light rail to see the remaining tram route 54 and 2. paid a visit to Changchun East Junction to see how much this had changed from steam days. The light rail goes past Changchun depot and gives a good view of the diesels/electrics on shed. Changchun East Junction is still find-able and recognizable but DF4s have replaced QJs on the Baicheng – Jilin oil traffic and electrics have replaced DF4s on the mainline. Overnight to Jiamusi and then bus to Hegang. The hotel opposite the station here is another place to see steam from your bedroom.
In the afternoon, 1 SY was at Nanshan Mine heading back to Hegang. Then by taxi to the line towards the power station at the loop. One train was due to return from the power station and was seen chimney first back towards Hegang. A second train then came tender first with fulls to the power station. All was set for a fantastic silhouette at the flyover over the China Rail line at sunset but the loco ran light engine from the power station to the coking plant and another master shot got away.
Steam on both passengers to Junde and Xingshan throughout our visit. Took the Junde train to Fuli to climb the disused slag heap for the master shot. The weather was misty but photted a light engine working and the passenger return to Hegang from the top. Then bus back to Hegang. In the afternoon, video-ed the afternoon tender-first working to Xingshan and then went to Nanshan to see a busy procession of steam and diesel on the mining railway and China Rail in both directions. Caught the Junde passenger back to Hegang (Jipei) and then took shots in the yard. Yard lighting gives some good effects here after dark. Met two Chinese gricers (one from beijing, the other from Taipei) and had dinner together. Restaurant in Hegang offers draft black beer and some reasonable food (cross the main road and take the road heading away from the China Rail station. The restaurant is the first significant restaurant on the left hand side.) The two Chinese were off to Jalainur following the close-down at Huanan ng.
Passenger to Xingan and then walked back to Fuli. Saw a double-unit electric working at Xingan (the only one of the visit). After lunch, took a bus towards Xingshan and climbed the hill near the short tunnel for the tender-first afternoon working. Then returned to Jipei Station to see the return steam passenger workings.
With bright sunshine, took the morning passnger to Fuli again and reclimbed the slag heap for a second attempt at the master shot. This worked well and I left for Huanan after lunch very satisfied with what had been achieved.
With steam on both passenger workings and plenty happening on the system, Hegang is a quality-system despite the overhead wires. The line to the power station is not electrified and justifies a full-day/half-day taxi charter to get the shots. There appears to be no regular public transport on the road towards the power station that crosses the railway on the Hegang side of Fuli.
Hegang – Jaimusi –
This had to be done by bus with a change of bus in Jiamusi. Despite a negative impression of Jiamusi bus station formed on our way through to Hegang, there was less hassle on the way to Huanan and again the buses came out tops against infrequent and overcrowded trains.
The coal mines at Hongguang were ordered closed by the local government in Jiamusi. This closure which saw the last coal traffic on the railway on 24 December is to last until after Chinese New Year but could become permanent. With no coal traffic, the Huanan ng line will surely close. So, will the coal traffic resume in spring 2007? My gut reaction is that it will due to economic pressure but that permanent closure of the mines and railway due to political pressure cannot be too far off. Some may question why I went there, knowing it was closed. Basically, I went to ride the railcar and take extensive video of the line from the front of the railcar to complete a DVD. This was achieved. I was also interested to see if I could confirm that the railcar operators are now friendly to foreigners and were willing to change sensible ‘Chinese’ prices for riding the railbus. This is, unfortunately, not the case. So, the negatives at Huanan are slowly building--unfriendly railway management who will not let those who have not chartered a train visit the loco depot (which they have moved well inside the complex at Huanan), an official in Tuoyaozi who represents the local forest owners (not the National Forestry Department) who aims to charge foreigners Yuan 100 to enter the area beyond Tuoyaozi, the rip-off railbus, the railway workers at Tuoyaozi and Lixin who offer overpriced accommodation and generally unfriendly railway staff. This is not the most hassle-free place in China to visit and compared with Shibanxi, Yinghao and Xingyang, locals here seem to have been more corrupted by visiting enthusiasts. I think it’s unlikely that I will return but I am looking forward to finishing my DVD of the system and I will be sad when it finally closes.
The railbus leaves Huanan at 08:00 and gets to Hongguang around 10:00. It returns at 12:00 and gets back to Huanan around 14:00. When the coal trains are operating, this schedule can be extended. During my trip, no other trains were seen anywhere and there was minimal track repair being undertaken.
Huanan - Jixi
There are two early morning buses to Jixi and two in the afternoon. Plan to get to the bus station before 08:00 or 13:00 if you want to be sure of catching one of these. Alternatively, take a bus to Qitaihe and change there to a bus to Jixi.
My second visit to this area and first impressions in the afternoon at Chengzihe were not good (again). For video, this system can be most frustrating—no obvious story to tell, locos doing very unpredictable (and, therefore, unphottable) things all over the place and most likely not where you are standing, less than dramatic scenery. This was an afternoon of frustrations
The bank at Hengshan is not so much better. Here there is predictability (loco on empties slogs up bank) but the bank is straight and without any great scenery. After two trains, the first banked, the second single loco, which looked OK but somehow didn’t quite do it for me we took the bus to Lishu where my impression of Jixi changed. Here we have an interesting system with good scenery, climbs and curves and clean, decorated locos. The predictable, twice-daily short train of wooden bodied empties chimney first to Qikang make for great video near the brickworks. I recommend all video photographers to go here first and keep going here until you have cracked it.
The early morning stabling point shots at Chengzihe are also predictable and good. This would be my second recommendation for Jixi.
I came away from Jixi with a better impression that on my first trip. It’s still a challenge to capture on video but I came away with some good sequences at Lishu and of early morning movements at Chengzihe.
Jixi – Mudanjiang –
31 December - 1 January
Bus to Mudanjiang arriving at the quiet side of the station. Train to Beijing departing 14:40 and arriving about 11:20 next day. A slow train but I had reasonable company and the journey passed quickly enough.
This could have been my last steam trip to China. I certainly felt that it might be before I started. However, visits to standard-gauge industrial systems I had not previously done (Nanpiao, Huludao, meihekou and Hegang) were all worthwhile and Jixi is beginning to grow on me. I could be back for more. Apart from the two Chinese gricers at Hegang, I met one solo Japanese at Lishu (Jixi). I saw no western steam enthusiasts in the whole of my 20 day trip. I may not have stopped visiting China but it looks like a lot of gricers have.