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Steam in Northern China - Nov/Dec 2001

by Colin Hussey

Some Pictures


My flight carrier between Sydney & Beijing was Japan Airlines, and having read other comments regarding poor service on airlines, I can only say to anyone travelling to try JAL as the service and food was great. As this was my first ever overseas trip I can only respond based on this experience. No direct connection was available from Tokyo, so JAL provided overnight accommodation, transport and breakfast before flying to Beijing.
My internal trip was organised by Mr Zhang from CITS in Changchung and everything went off well, and I had no trouble with food nor inflated prices, as I ate with the guides and paid only for the evening meal with the guide paying for breakfast, and providing sufficient for lunch, until dinner at around 1730 each evening. The dearest meal I paid for cost 42RMB for the 3 of us but included 4 large plates & rice for all.

On arrival at Beijing I was met by Chunlin Zhang for my stay in Chengde. My first experience in Chinese road rules made me realise that it seemed that there was only one rule, "who could bluff the fastest & most aggressively" also if a car didn`t have a horn then, it was unroadworthy. A stop at what remained of the Great Wall some few Kilometres from Chengde was interesting as the remains are part of the original, without any modern rebuilds.

Chengde

Two nights stay at the Huilong Hotel and while it was well presented it was typical of all the hotels I saw & stayed in. These hotels seemed to age very quick, and the smell of what seemed stagnant water was strong, the almost suffocating pollution did not help maters either. My room was adjacent to the railway line & if I get the chance to go again, I will choose not to have a room on the railway side of the hotel. This was that a new DF7 5290 was utilised in shunting and accompanying any and every move was long whistles that made sleeping difficult on the hard beds.
I eagerly wanted to see steam in action even at a distance, but all seemed dead as all I heard was the DF7 and air whistles, until around 2000 I heard a steam lifting a load and heading away from the station area with much slipping. It was at this stage when watching this event that I realised that Chinese steam locomotives to the uninitiated seemed to have an identity crisis, for I did not hear anything other than the air horn until the next day.

Saturday 1/12
After a Chinese/Western breakfast we were met by our taxi for the day at 0730 (200rmb or U.S$25.00). Chunlin then set about pointing out various locations used by photographers along the line to the exchange sidings. At the exchange sidings 4 engines were in steam, 1 shunting and 2 readying to return to Chengde, 1 proceeded to the servicing area. Photo`s are only permitted from the surrounds and not in the yard itself Chunlin explained owing a foreigner being injured there, caused a lot of trouble.
0900 headed back towards Chengde, with an inspection of the bank engine detaching point. Just as we were about to leave a loaded goods arrived & proceeded to detach the train bank engine, whilst the 2nd rear end banker had come off just outside the tunnel. Apparently the 2 bankers were not completely coupled up to allow this to happen. (This was the common feature of NSW rear end banking in steam days) after the train departed the 2 bankers coupled up & proceeded to Chengde. Chunlin then showed me the main sites along the line on the Chengde side of the tunnel, and then saying for me to choose where & when I wanted to go to. I chose the spot approx. 600 metres down from the tunnel mouth, where it was possible to capture the train including all three engines at a time.
Train details as follows
Saturday 1/12 : 4 loaded trains, 1 late morning 3 afternoon between 1400 -1600 -- 2 empties with engines both ends.
Sunday 2/12 : 5 loaded, 2 morning, 3 afternoon, last 2 were operated by single engines front & rear, 2 empties 1130 & 1430. The 2nd loaded morning train 1030 the bankers went through to exchange siding & returned on empties 1430. After noon loaded were at 1345, 1515, 1610.

11 steam engines serve this line: 1xSY 10 JS engines sighted include, SY 0532; 5720 blue front ( number board) 6217, 6368 with high deflector & standard defector (nice) 6227; 6403

Owing to the expanding nature of Chengde the existing railway line to the steel mill is to be relocated by 2004 to the North of the city on a lighter gradient. May still continue with steam

I departed Chengde at 1930 on train 2111 on hard sleeper to Yi-xian after a thoroughly good time. Chunlin was a good guide & went out of his way to help in whatever way he could. The train journey was smooth, however my 1st experience with toilets on trains left a lot to be desired, as there were no lights, and floors tiles were broken and missing. A bucket in the corner with either urine or water constantly swished over the floor leaving around 12mm of this combined slush running over the floor.

Monday 3/12
Woke at around 0410 as train went over long bridge. A Station which looked like it had about 5 tracks had two trains facing the opposite direction to which we were heading. 1xdiesel (green & silver) and a QJ (I think it was Beipiao Nan).
The train was due at Yi-Xian at 0515 but at around 0500 we were held in a station that had a lone QJ next to us facing towards Yi-Xian. After 30minutes the QJ ran around us to the other side of that train, and at 0550 a diesel arrived into the siding with the QJ where the QJ attched to it pulled in clear and finally we set off arriving at Yi-Xian at 0615 1 hour late.

On arrival I met my guide & driver for the next 10 days, Zhang Lan Dao & Zai Wei, both these men proved again to be wonderful hosts, & while only Lan spoke English Wei proved to have a good sense of humour & had a watchful eye for steam & smoke, pointing it out before we could see it.

Fuxin

We were on the way to Fuxin by 0635 and about 25 Klms out noticed a QJ in distance heading L/E towards Yi-Xian from Fuxin. It seemed that there was some limited QJ working in the area.

On arriving at Fuxin we went straight to the CNR depot where no entry was allowed, but there were around 10 QJ`s set aside in one line to the side of the depot. Coal was seen stored in the depot next to a coaling crane in steam.

At 0845 we headed out to find the steel works, & came upon an SY with a single passenger carriage heading into Fuxin. Owing to the roadside markets & masses of people we were unable to turn & chase it for a photo. Shortly afterwards however, we were presented with another passenger train SY1318 T/F. A short trip to the steel works revealed 2 SY 1x unidentified plus 1416 shunting, along with the crocodile electric's. Knowing that steam had basically finished here in Fuxin with little other prospects we decided to change the itinerary & go straight to Faku/Tiefa in one day instead of trying to fill in the day in Fuxin.

Tiefa

We arrived in Faku & went to the crossing junction just before the last section into Faku. We were in time to get a crossing between the last 2 trains of the day in daylight. Goods to Tiefa 1xSY T/F, passenger with SY 1412 T/F.

Tuesday 4/12
On the road at 0600 & travelled a back dirt road from Fau to Tiefa, missed the first passenger (SY T/F) to Tiefa owing to its speed & the condition on the dirt road. Stopped at small village 0800 on the line for some food & we were advised by some railway workers that a train was due at 0930, waiting for it revealed a road bus with 2 flat wagons with wooden sleepers to unload for fire in the rail workers quarters. There was enough to keep an interest while watching the rail workers antics in the unloading & then a family getting yellow sorghum ground by a local merchant for sorghum porridge. As I watched the rail workers unload the sleepers I was reminded of similar antics here in Australia. There is something in common that the nationality of people is bridged when mixing with people from other countries who share the same type of work.
At 10:45 SY engine first passenger arrived and picked a lone passenger & proceeded to Tiefa. We proceeded to the tunnel at the summit just out of Tiefa for the 1130 passenger (SY T/F) then for lunch at Tiefa & an inspection of the station & facilities.
SY 0435 & 1765 were on duties along with one other SY shunting. An invitation into the cab of 1765 brought the security down within 5 minutes with a stern warning of permits required inside yard area. The driver brushed these men off but, for his sake we went off thanking him anyway.

At 1300 we went to Dalong coal mine and stayed within the bounds of the triangle next to an old Chinese man who had piles of coal that he bought cheap & sold in order to make a living. We were befriended by this man, ( as in many other locations in China) I was able to show him & a couple of friends some video of parts of Australia which was very much appreciated.
During this 2hr interlude several shunting trips went by with SY`s facing different directions, one DF4 coming through on a passenger from Tieling.

To end the day we went to capture a passenger to the branch shown in Quails map without a name, a very nice video with an SY Engine First (E/F) at speed.

Wednesday 5/12
Up at 0630 & walked down to station to phot the workers trains arriving & departing. The 1st one in sufficient light arrived with SY 0475 (T/F) at 0745 arriving from Daqing direction. Then SY 0435 (E/F) departing at 0800.
Back to hotel for breakfast & then to Sanjian Station & yard. In the yard 1751 was the area shunter, along with one other SY that departed for the works at the Eastern end of yard & then to the branch. In 2 hours spent there, 3 Passenger trains went through 2xT/f & 1x E/F. At 1040 a Double headed SY both T/F come from the Dagger line & accelerated on towards Tiefa.

1100 on to Daqing Yard & depot. On the way another goods heading to Tiefa with 1163 (E/B) at the head. Daqing revealed itself to be a hive of activity. The depot was out of bounds but reasonable freedom was allowed in the yard. Another friendly gate keeper allowed us in from the cold. One keeper was a coin collector & he swapped old Chinese currency, no longer in use for small foreign coins, 1 for 1 etc.

Leaving Daqing at 1230 to travel back to Faku for the night, making the road trip to Tongliao easier. On the way we photoed the 1330 passenger to Faku at the Summit Tunnel SY E/F. Then on to a long sweeping curve near bottom of the bank leading up to the tunnel to wait for a scheduled goods. A wait of one hour provide the highlight so far, when the earlier sighted double header at Sanjian returned from Faku, this time both SY"s E/F and charged the hill in spectacular fashion. This was followed shortly after by the return of the earlier passenger, with the day concluding with the last passenger to Faku.

Thursday 6/12
Depart Faku for Tongliao at 0610, allowing sufficient time to catch the passenger to Daban. The road from Faku to Tongliao was in 2 sections a somewhat rough tarred road as far as Zhangwu & then the main road to Tongliao. For most of this later part the road runs reasonably close to the railway line, sighted during the trip were 5 East bound goods, 1 passenger, 2 West bound goods, and at one spot about 65 kms from Tongliao steam & smoke was seen : a QJ in steam heading south.
We arrived at Tongliao at 0930 & had breakfast at a small restaurant near the station, that most westerners would not go into, owing to it not looking very clean, yet inside it was & great food & service.

JiTong

Departed Tongliao on time with rusty blue & white diesel 0037 to Zhelimu. Engine change to QJ 6996. On departing there were 3 QJ in depot & 1 on W/B goods ready to go. Fuju cross E/B passenger & W/B goods; Kailu QJ7049 E/B goods; Zhunshaniwusu E/B 7163 ; Sharinai 7045 W/B goods; Chabuga Change engines to 6631. 8 QJ in depot, 5 facing west, 3 east. Yamenmiao E/B goods; Lindong W/B & wait for E/B goods. Daban arrive on time. Stayed at Jitong Railway Hotel for night. (The worst conditioned hotel stayed at on whole trip)

Internet Cafe Daban
Using email was generally hopeless as was almost all attempts to contact my family at home. Constant blackouts and computer shut downs were experienced in Daban ( the one at the station is a waste of time and money,  unless you want to get high on some of the type of smoke there and choked on the rest) other one not much better, could not send out.

Friday 7/12
Eastbound passenger arrived at 0700 as soon as it cleared a westbound goods departed. After breakfast depart (0730) for Rehsui, caught up with the goods east of Reshui 0850 & chased it to Shangdian. Engines were 6715 + 6110. Cross E/B 7012 + 6790 at Liudigou, trains through rest of day were (Times are between Reshui) & Shangdian W/B 1010 6775 + 6540 ; 1050 6986 + 6876; 1130 6388 + 6577; 1630 6351 + ? E/B 1000 @ Shangdian ? + ? ; 1330 6898 + 6878. Stayed at the Post Office hotel.

Mafia has reached Keqi.

One car a maroon VW Santana Reg No.D 120374  regularly patrols all roads around Kegi - Reshui, even if you go past these areas it is seen. I had them go past me in different places every day. On my last day they confronted my gude for more money even though I had an "official KEQI STEAM LOCOMOTIU PHOTO" glossy picture covered 'licence?' Awful English, and I wonder whether its worth informing the Consulate about them.

Everyone is after your money in this area. I was approached by staff at two stations in particular, asking if I wanted to buy items. Package deal of 1 Hat, 2 old shoulder epuletes 4 Jitong badges 160RMB Hat by itself 120 RMB and other items 20RMB each. When refusing to buy they get angry. I can only presume that some are paying these prices owing to their reactions.

Saturday 8/12
Unfortunately, engine numbers on particular trains were lost for both Saturday & Sunday. However, my photo`s for these days reveal the following combinations W/B 6230 + ?; 6388 + ? .There were only 4 E/B & 3 W/b on this day, even though it was the last day of the Steam festival.

I met up with a group who were involved in the festival, organisors tourists etc. Also I met their 'senior driver' 29 years, and as I was driver we were able to exchange some mutual things via an iterpreter. Also Mr He Li Wen, who spoke some English, along with some corespondents there from overseas newspapers based in Beijing.

Sunday 9/12
This day proved no different then Saturday with 3 W/B & 3 E/B goods in daylight. However, it noted that one W/B went through at 0645, & another at 1700, one E/B at 1800.

Monday 10/12
This day produced better results. However the 1st of the day was too early for a photo :
W/B at 0700,
Eastbound Shandian 0815 6638 + 6905;
Xiakengzi 0905 6578 + 6578
Jingpeng 1005 7040 + 6974 crossing 6678 + 6981
bottom tunnel west side 1330 6230 + 6388
bottom tunnel west side 1400 ? + ?
bottom tunnel west side 1430 6986 + 7112
Reshui 1530 ? + ?

Tuesday 11/12
Off to bad start with our car developing gearbox troubles, missing the 1st W/B of the day until we caught up with it at Keqi, where the car was repaired. The day started off quite cold & remained so throughout the day; train patterns were similar to Monday.
Reshui 0815 wb 6517 + 6274
Reshui 0840 eb 6974 + 6230
Keqi 0920 ? + ?
Xiakengzi 1040 ? + ?
Xiakengzi 1020 6678 + 6981
Shangdian 1200 6277 + 6974
Shangdian 1230 7041 + 6936 cross 1235 7009 +6689
Shangdian 1246 6689 L/E off
Shangdian 1330 6689 + 7112
Shangdian 1420 6828 + 6351
Reshui 1600 ? + ? Light Engines Reshui 1630 ? + ?
By 1530 on this day clouds had come over & coupled with the build up of wind it was too dark to try & have any success in photography. I went to the Reshui Internet cafe to try it out.
It is on the same side of road as the Jitong hotel, about 200 metres towards Jingpeng.  You come to a shop with a red shop front sign with white chinese writing also the words "Welcome Shop" (last shop in block) High Blue sign in white Chinese, turn right into a large open area behinds the shops.
Straight ahead is a telegraph with sign on it and further on a row of seemingly empty shops. Beyond the left side of post a white sign over 2 wooden doors. All computers are new, and good equipment. However you are charged by the time 20mins, 3RMB. It seemed as if there was only one computer (out of six) that had a modem, so therefore you are paying for the connection costs.

Wednesday 12
It may well have been Friday the 13th, as the day turned out to be cold & winds at gale force. After breakfast, at 0740 we went to Galadestai Station to get a train schedule for the day, & the schedules were in line with what had experienced the previous two days with 5 westbound & 4 eastbound trains scheduled, with the first E/B due at 0910, & W/B not until 1100. Out to the river & road bridge just below the first level crossing beyond the town of Reshui to wait.
As the time ticked over the wind progressively got worse to the point where sand & dirt was blowing into the vehicle through any minor gaps. We tried to find somewhere where there might be some protection but had no luck.
We were OK when compared to watching the children walking to school, walking sideways trying to prevent the sand cutting into their eyes. At 0940 with no sign of the W/B & the wind getting worse blowing at up to 80Kp/h I was not prepared to risk my cameras with sand getting in. So we went back to the hotel hoping for a break later in the morning or day.
The more the day dragged on the worse it got, & by 1300 from my room overlooking the railway line I could just make out the outline of the top of the mountains without any features, by 1500 I could not even see that, & even the restaurant behind the hotel was obscured.
For the record only 3 E/B trains & one W/B at 1130 ran in Daylight hours (at least that`s all I could see let alone hear). By 1700 the wind & sand was now accompanied by snow.) The day was a write off.

Thursday 13/12
My last day & the sorrow was that I really had not experinced anything of the winter steam scenery, instead I was confronted with one of the bleakest scenes I could imagine, barren, & hardly a tree to be seen.
However on this day there had been signs of snow overnight, with a light dusting to be seen everywhere. On getting the train running information it was off to Shangdian to get the first of the day. But things were not going to go right, as our car started to have trouble trying to climb the hill to Shangdian, & Sadly 2 westbounds were scheduled within 1/2 hour of each other. A decision was made to go back to Reshui & get another car, but by the time we got there the car was going OK. It turned out that the temperature had plummeted to -20 o/night with a colder wind chill factor.
The day actually warmed up to -12. We got to Shangdian in time to capture the 1st E/B at 0800 having missed the 2 W/Bs. At least when the sight of the 1st train struggling up near the top of the grade gave heart as the cold certainly made for a spectacular sight. Combined with the still howling wind it was impossible to keep a tripod upright I had no choice but to video by hand. Even though I had woollen gloves, a military hat + balaclava, 3 pairs of sox, 2 winter zip jackets (one bought in China, one a Castro jacket) two winter weight shirts, 2 pairs of thermal trousers, after being out in the wind, my fingers cracked through gloves, my beard was frozen as was the balaclava with my breath, this took less than 15 minutes to happen.
I have never experienced cold like this before, even in the snowy mountains, or during snowstorms on the Southern Highlands of NSW, which blocked many lines in 1965, & the wind that howled into the cab of the diesel locomotive I was travelling at 100K/ph. After getting this video I moved to the Eastern or Reshui side of the tunnel out of the wind & this was much more bearable.
At 1200 we went back to Shangdian & were welcomed back into the gate keepers lodging where we stayed until 1415, & then left to go to the other side again.

It seemed that there were extra trains this day, perhaps it also explained the absence of trains on Thursday in the wind storm. But it made me happy. Thus, I said goodbye to Jingpeng, while the last day proved freezing, I got some very nice video footage, (If only this technology had been around when I worked as a fireman on steam here in NSW, and I went out with an old super 8 camera) One other thing that had been noticeable on this last day was the covering of dust over the engines, that took the shine of them, they looked as if they earnt a living! Departed that night on time on the QJ hauled train to Jinning.

Friday 14/12
Woke up at Baiqi, with the countryside still the same barrenness, pockets of snow here & there testimony to Wednesday wind & the nights snow. In contrast to the cleanliness of the carriages from Tongliao to Daban and the efficiency in which the staff had worked to maintain clean conditions, by mopping the carriages 4 times, and wiping down all sills, the train crew this time did nothing until nearing Jining. The cars got one mop out and a whisk of a wipe over.
I saw only 1 E/B & 2W/B goods on this section & all with diesels. At Benhong much trackwork was taking place with tracks being laid towards & besides the line we had come in on. Deflectorless 6354 was shunting in the yard & after our arrival 6856 departed with a goods. 6524 was noted in depot, I could not read the numbers on our engine.

Departed Jinning on time, and arrived Baotou on time. I was met by my guide & driver for the next couple of days in Donsheng. I was informed that we would be taking the new highway to Donsheng & that it would only take about 1 -2 hrs to get to Donsheng, as against about 4 on the old one.
Once again I was to enlightened to the wonders of Chinese drivers. The new road is, well, sort of open, to get onto it you have to navigate over incomplete fills up to bridges, try not to get stuck on protruding reinforcing steel on the bridge surface, & then hope you missed many obstacles on the way, including huge cement barriers with room only for cars to get through. It`s OK though, as police guide you on and off in the middle but not at the Baotou end.

Saturday 15/12
Left the hotel at 0800 to the large bridge just below Dongsheng & waited hopefully for good action, but sadly diesels were here in force. All six blue & yellow DF4's were seen. Advice was recieved that all steam in Dongsheng and Baotou is to finish by July 2002.
The 1st loaded train consisted of 3 yellow & blue Df4s 9502/03/04. The next train was an empty with 2 xQJ Tender to tender with one on the rear facing Donsheng. The HST train came by at around the same speed as the ordinary passenger did later with a QJ on the front. At 1400 the only loaded goods with QJs came up the hill with 2 in the lead & 1 banking at the rear. Followed later by the HST.

Sunday 16/12
My guide had made enquiries regarding what steam was running & the information proved correct with 2 steam hauled goods in the morning only. The 1st rain consisted of 9506 & a green & silver Df4 on empties, with a QJ attached to the rear. This was followed by 9505 on an empty, & then finally the 2 steam services both with the usual 2 QJs leading & one on the rear.
The only thing to add highlighting this meagre amount of steam was the amount of snow around Donsheng & its covering of the surrounding hills. What I had missed in Jingpeng I gained in Donsheng. A visit to the Donsheng depot revealed 9 QJ in steam & 9 set aside. A total of 22 steam are supposed to be in use in the Baotu - Donsheng area.

Monday 18/12
A side trip to Singing Sands Gorge presented a mixed day, arriving at 0920 & leaving at 1630. Without a large telephoto lens this location I found to be not the best, & I would have preferred somewhere else, unless you are able to drive into the area using what seemed to be a rough coal road, from somewhere up near the power station, neither my guide nor the driver knew how to get to it. The following is a run down of the activities.
To Baotu To Donsheng
0940 QJ goods 1010 QJ goods
1040 QJ goods 1115 9501 Passenger
1130 9503 goods 1335 QJ Passenger
1425 QJ goods 1450 QJ goods
1555 HST 1605 9505 goods
Departure from Baotou on the Passenger for Beijing soft sleeper departing at 2030. Modern carriages well maintained, with very good heating so much so that in the morning windows were opened to cool the carriage down.

Tuesday morning whilst travelling from Baotou to Beijing on K264 the train came into what was a major junction. 2 x QJ's were in steam, with one other that apparently had been derailed, and attempts were abandoned in rerailing it were noted. The later QJ whilst upright, was covered in rust and had obviously been cannabilised (perhaps to keep the other two in steam?)
Shortly after as all the lines came together we came to a station called ShaCheng.

Conclusion & Reflections

I had an overall enjoyable time, my only regret was not being able to go to Weihe, owing to it`s services being suspended owing to the "warm" weather, & the other 2 places Beipiao & Da`An being dieselised. The complete trip cost me, not including air fares, was $U.S 1568.00. $1468.00 for C.I.T.S & $130.00. for food, clothing, presents & departure tax from Beijing. This averaged $U.S 92.00 per day. While in some ways it was expensive, I have no regrets, but if I get the chance to go again, I would go by myself, & hopefully with someone else who, either has been there or can act as an interpreter.

Chengde was good, but like everywhere else it seems that weekends produce less traffic.

Tiefa having read some reports that put this area down, especially because of the T/F running, I can only say, "if this is the reason for staying away, then you`re hard to please. Yes there is a lot of T/F running, but there is also a lot of E/F running. A morning at San Jian yard area will produce a wonderful variety of passenger & goods trains, with engines facing both ways.
There is good action on the line to Faku, as well as spending some time at Dalong coal mine. I could easily have spent an extra day there instead of just two.

There were some disappointments at Jingpeng. First & Foremost is the Mafia, & I will be certainly writing to the China Government Tourist Centre as suggested by Hans Schaefer. There was also the attitude of some staff who were after money from you, and expressed anger when you would not pay the exorbitant prices. The best however was one Jitong worker who spoke English, & approached me in a good tone.
After going through the niceties of where I was from, etc. he pointed to His Jitong jacket with the name on it, (BEN HUNG I think or something similar) & said that this his name & after getting me to say it correctly, asked me if I wanted to buy the badge for $30RMB, when declining he was mildly put out.
Later that same day at another location I noticed the same type of jacket another worker, & was informed that this was merely a branch name or something for the Jitong railway, either the later was true, or every worker on the Jitong railway was name BEN Hung or something.

On the Saturday of the Steam Festival I met up with some of the Jitong railway representatives, including Mr HE LI WEN and the Beijing correspondent from a major Australian newspaper, the "senior driver" for the festival as well as translators & tourists.
During the course of talking to these people it came out that the Jitong group are looking at finishing up all steam on their network by 2004/2005. This news was confirmed by one of the correspondents who was there for a Australian media interests. He told me that the Central Government has issued a decree that China was to have all steam locomotives removed from operation from all of China by 2005.

Like myself the reporter felt that this was a joke when you look at the overall polution that permeates China today. The places that had steam that I saw were vile in polution by so many other means that steam locomtives would only represent about 1%of overall polution even if all of China still was serviced by steam, or even in the least if all non electrified lines were steam hauled. We believe perhaps that maybe the real reason may just be that as China has been awarde the olymipcs for 2008, and in its drive to recognise as a modern country, steam locomotives do not fit that category.
After introductions, & when these people realised that I had worked on steam as a fireman, & as a volunteer a couple of times on steam specials, and being a driver on the NSW railways, much interest was shown by all, including the driver & Mr He. After some conversation Mr He invited me to Daban & set a date for the following Monday. On Monday a phone call to him to confirm the invitation, presented a change of opinions, when it was said that the driver had asked me, & if I wanted to go 200RMB would need to paid as well as 100RMB if I got on an engine.
Consequently I scratched the trip. I was disappointed at the seeming change of attitude overnight, but overall they were very friendly & the driver was very interested in Australian railways, as was Mr. He. While the Mafia are active, the Jitong staff are also making things hard, but I suppose, some are paying these crazy prices, & other tourists are getting caught out.

Having worked as a fireman on steam & knowing how here NSW all engines were loaded to the hilt with their capabilities on different grades. What surprised me was the seeming ease in which the QJ`s hauled their loads. Only 2 trains I saw them seem to be taxed by the load & grade. The speed at which they went up the hills was surprising, & it reminded me of what we called 75% loads for fast or express services in order to run at higher speeds.

The other end of the scale was that they (QJs) were very slow or seemed not to go faster down hill as they did up hill. Again, In NSW with a grade of only 1:66 (Jingpeng) our trains would run in most cases up to the maximum speed of the engine or the track & speed boards.
Having ridden on the passenger trains behind both QJ & diesel, and many different steam & diesels here, it is my sadness to notice the stark difference in how the trains run. By this I mean the ride in the carriages & passenger comfort. There is a saying here "there are drivers, and there are drivers, but many couldn`t make a drover". Driver skills are learnt over time, by engine & road knowledge, but some drivers given the best conditions possible could not drive a train smoothly, whether steam or diesel.
In general the diesels were & gave a lot smoother ride than the QJs, with exception sometimes of the rough braking of the train, by both types of engines.

The main problem however was the very noticable jerking, or hunting motion while the engine was steaming, as if the engine was being worked with the reverser too far back in gear, as against the regulator setting. It was noticeable pretty much everywhere, and on each section, even on the grade from Reshui to Shangdian. I was made aware that the Chinese steam locomotive use what I know as a "Thompson Bar" type reverser, as against what was used, with few exceptions here in NSW. While there were some of these types of reversers used, the main type of reverser used were screw type. I do not know if this would make a difference in passenger ride & comfort. I found the screw reverser in general gave precise control with the ability to notch out or up in small increments.

Finally regarding the reports the cost of steam vs diesel mentioned in an earlier report based on coal & diesel fuels. The thing that I noticed on the QJ class was the use of coal that would not have been permitted here on our engines owing to the small size & quality of it. Therefore they are able to get away with lesser quality coal that would normally go onto waste piles.
Jitong railway also owns it own coal mines & it is a convenient way to be rid of the waste coal. Diesels however, while the purchase price of new engines is higher than repairing QJs, offer the advantage (unfortunatley) of being able to run the required trains, faster & without the need for engine change over the full distance of the line, as against 5 changes that now exist on the Jitong line. Therefore it can cut out the intermediate depots & the heavy staff requirements. I noticed however that Chinese diesels were all manned & I could not see any Jumper coupling recepticles for one crew working, thus reducing the effects & benefits of diesel operation.

Based on the overall pollution levels in China, especially in the cities of Chengde - Fuxin - Tiefa & Jinning from coal fired industries & houses, along with the massive wood fires also used in homes, the masses of coal stacked everywhere, steam presents no problem in that area.
The main disadvantage of steam, is in the need of depot maintainence & staff levels to fuel the engines, (but as was pointed out to me manpower is cheap in China, & much work is performed akin to a welfare payment).
Based on the areas I went to water may well be the biggest problem that steam faces. On the English speaking World Wide News in my last week in China, it was announced that plans were being made to redirect water into the inland regions, as well as sea water desalinisation plants for China`s future. The issue of steam vs diesel however is one that will always create debate, with proponents on both sides. As I have already mentioned having worked as a fireman on steam engines, I enjoyed it when things went ok, bad experiences also took the edge off even wanting to not photograph them & to get right away from the railways when not working. I, like probably 95 -98% of enginemen welcomed the diesels as they provided a better lifestyle.

Colin Hussey


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