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JINGPENG PASS IN SUMMER 2003
by Louis Cerny
Eastbound train amid the beauty of Summer at Liudigou on the eastern slope of Jingpeng Pass. 19 August, 2003
My first visit to Jingpeng Pass and the town of Reshui in summer was a revelation to me in three ways. First, the scenery was especially beautiful, like colorful quilts of varied bountiful crop hues blanketing the mountain valleys. Second, the climate was of a pleasant mountain resort nature, considerably different than Daban or even Linxi or Jingpeng City. Third, Reshui was crowded with Chinese tourists enjoying these things.
In addition to expanding on these three themes (including photos of steam trains amid the scenery), information on Ji-Tong traffic (the highest I've ever seen) and recent changes in the area are provided (including a new map), and some comments on the potential for family vacations and on our relations with model railroaders are made.
The Beauty of Summer on Jingpeng Pass
On the way to Jingpeng Pass traveling westward along the Ji-Tong from Tongliao, I was very impressed by the verdant nature of the area. Areas that at other times of the year looked arid, where it would appear to be a struggle to eke out a living from the land, were instead a green blanket of bountiful crops that would do justice to states in the U.S.A. like Iowa or Illinois. So I anticipated that Jingpeng Pass would be green. But what I found there was not only the general verdancy, but a breathtaking widespread colorful pattern of small fields of different crops getting ready for harvest. This made a very interesting background for rail photography. Below are summer scenes taken August 16-22, 2003 on the pass.
Heavy eastbound freight struggles up the final kilometers to the summit of Jingpeng Pass. Note clear exhaust. 18 August, 2003
Another heavy eastbound freight approaches Shangdian at the top of Jingpeng Pass, 17 August, 2003
A westbound freight about 3 km east of the Summit Tunnel on Jingpeng Pass. 18 August, 2003
Eastbound heads downhill between Liudigou and Sandi on third level of eastern side of Jingpeng Pass. 19 August, 2003
The Pleasant Summer Climate of Reshui and the Pass.
I had anticipated some discomfort from summer temperatures, and indeed this was true on my trip westward from Tongliao toward the pass. It was quite hot at Daban, and still warmer than ideal at Linxi, but pleasant at Reshui. How pleasant? I stayed in room 405 of the Post Office hotel, which has no air-conditioning or fans, and which has the sun pouring in through the window until 14.00 in the afternoon. Yet the room remained a reasonable temperature all day.
It appeared there is a special localized mountain climate at Reshui and the pass, which makes the temperatures considerably lower, and the breezes stronger, than at Linxi (which is the weather information I had used in forming my pre-conceived notions). As an approximation, this localized climate appears to be in effect from about the level of Hatashan station on the west side of the pass to about half way between Reshui and Yuzoudi on the east side. Crops here seemed considerably advanced in the late summer portion of their yearly cycle compared to lower areas.
Chinese Tourists at Reshui in Summer
Having had a preconception that all the hotel construction (there were 5 new ones being built at the time of my visit) in Reshui was due to steam enthusiasts visiting the pass in fall and winter, it was a surprise to find it difficult to get a room in summer due to its popularity with Chinese tourists. After experiencing how pleasant the climate was in summer and how beautiful the scenery, as well as realizing the usual clarity of the air and lack of big-city congestion, it's no wonder why urban Chinese would want to come here. A Chinese-language brochure for tourists did show the steam trains as one of about 20 attractions of the area, but I did not see anyone other than myself photographing trains while I was there.
While of course the financial viability of the hotels is much enhanced by having a second season in the winter, the idea that Reshui will become a ghost town if there is no steam does not appear to be correct. With the increasing affluence of many Chinese, internal Chinese tourism is probably a major factor in its future. It is possible that many of the Chinese tourists are "closet" enthusiasts, where the steam is a factor in their coming here, but this is just speculation on my part.
Recent Changes at Reshui, Jingpeng, and Elsewhere
Much construction continues in the vicinity of Jingpeng pass and along the Ji-Tong.
In Reshui, the by-pass road that goes under the railroad bridge and along the river is nearing completion, although paving had not started at the time of my visit. New hotels are being erected facing it (unfortunately partially blocking the view of the tracks from the Post Office Hotel), and a paved in-town connection road to the present main street is also being built. A large hotel under construction on the western edge of the town higher up on the hillside appears to have excellent views of the three track levels, including the passing tracks at Sandi.
The new "Trans-Inner Mongolia (TIM) Highway" is under construction from northeast of Chabuga (Tianshan) to Jingpeng and the west. The highway first comes near the Ji-Tong just west of Chabuga (Tianshan) and does not go to Tongliao, nor will it go over Jingpeng Pass or near Linxi. It takes a southerly route east of Jingpeng City using parts of the Moron He valley (not all, since parts of the valley are rugged and others have drifting sand problems). This construction was seen at Shuangjing on the road from Linxi to Chifeng. Improvements on the road over the pass are underway, and trees are being cut to allow widening.
West of Jingpeng, the TIM alignment parallels the Ji-Tong on the south side of the river until mid way between Majiazi and Meggendala. The Ji-Tong westbound grade west of Majiazi is as steep as Jingpeng Pass, so the new road will provide easier access to some interesting locations. The new access road south from the city of Jingpeng to the TIM goes through a new tunnel and then down a mountainside to reach the new highway. This seems illogical from an engineering standpoint, but perhaps was chosen for esthetic reasons to give people using the TIM the impression that Jingpeng City was IN the mountains, not just at their base.
Other changes include newly paved roads across the five-arch stone bridge to the Jingpeng station, as well as to the stations at Linxi and Chabuga. At Linxi, the road under the underpass west of the station is now the main road to Chifeng, replacing the alignment that headed south just west of the first level crossing on route 303 west of Linxi. A new paved road goes from west of Lindong to near the Lindong station, where tracks are being built to serve a new lead smelter. The four deadly dips in the road near Wenduheshuo have been replaced by bridges.
Traffic on the Ji-Tong was the heaviest I have seen in my visits to the pass, and plus the pass was 100% steam since the diesel passenger sets were out of service. The usual one-per-hour average was exceeded. For example, if one was at Hatashan or Xiakengzi on August 17 from about 8.00 to 12.45, one would have seen 4 double headed westbounds, 4 double-headed eastbounds, plus 2 single light engines returning to Jingpeng station from Shangdian, all in less than five hours. The lead engine on eastbounds dropping back from Shangdian to Jingpeng station was a common occurrence.
The summer experience at Reshui seems to open up travel here to a class of railfan who may not have felt able to visit the Ji-Tong. This is the person with a young family who wants, of course, to spend his limited vacation time with the family, but who has not felt that Jingpeng Pass could provide the basis for a family vacation. For a family that likes outdoor activity, children could be invited to select a mountaintop visible from Reshui, and this could make a nice day's hike, with the railroad visible at all times. Hiking down side valleys with villages might make an interesting "first contact" experience for children, as I doubt western kids have ever been seen by many of the local children. A Chinese-language brochure showed a national preserve of natural forest 42 km from Reshui. The large swimming pool next to the Railway hotel is open to guests of other hotels for a fee.
Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Model Railroaders (SPCMR)
With tongue somewhat in cheek, I propose this new organization. As we all know, Model Railroaders have made exquisitely accurate and detailed operating electric models of steam locomotives, and have developed sound systems to a high degree of realism. The one aspect that they are not able to duplicate operationally is realistic voluminous exhausts , especially of the type that are common in the fall and winter on Jingpeng Pass. As is shown in one of the photos of my summer visit, the picture of hard-working steam locomotives with no visible exhaust is a valid image of steam railroading, so model railroaders whose layouts have summer scenery need make no apology for the lack of visible exhaust.
To be a member in good standing of the SPCMR, all you need to do is include some clear-exhaust photos in what you show or publish professionally or at amateur presentations, or when sharing photos with friends, instead of exclusively presenting images of steam that model railroaders have no hope of operationally duplicating.
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