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CHINA 2003

by Roger Blundell



Wednesday 17 September

2130 Air China flight to Beijing. Plane 60% full. A better time to fly though rather than the late afternoon departures favoured by European airlines, you can get more sleep as breakfast wake up call comes at a less shattering time. Overpriced at £583 and only managed that with the help of a colleague. Overall cost for the bash about £950.

Thursday 18 September

Beijing arrive 15 early at 1400, reconfirm ticket at window 65 Air China office on concourse at Beijing Airport. Bus into town & walk down road to main station. Book soft sleeper to Jinzhou Y234, asking for next available train. As expected this proved to be the Beijing - Jinzhou overnight at 2157. A long wait so tempted into the Renming Foot Clinic & Massage just over the road, a smart expensive place, Y118 for an hours massage (£9.50). Much dearer than Pingdingshan but still less than the cost of three crappy lunches in the office canteen. Train to Jinzhou not full, soft sleeper very smart with soap, towels and toilet paper.

Friday 19 September

0635 right time arrival at Jinzhou. 0730 to Nanpiao. Off at Nanpiao centre/interchange station with Mine Railway. A mistake. Train departs immediately to its terminating point of Xiamiaozi where CNR has its own station parallel to the Mine Railway platform about six tracks away. I follow in hired breadvan taxi, about a two mile journey. Arrive just in time to see two SY hauled passengers arrive at about 0930, the second of which continues through to Nanpiao/Huangjia.

0937 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 0945 SY 0366
A fast start downhill then slow run in through the town centre.

0955 Huangjia - Xiamiaozi 1005 SY 0366
A short but interesting climb through a typical Chinese urban/semi urban landscape.
Long wait for afternoonís activity. I was told that trains would head north at 1500. Dumpling lunch at village cafe. Freight related activity heard at 1130 and three further SY freights arrive between 1330 - 1345 giving 5 locos on the servicing point by 1350. At 1400 a freight leaves towards Sanjiazi with SYís front and rear whilst a single SY took a freight onto the Banjita line at 1415.

1435 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 1445 SY 1478
The first working of the evening session

1450 Huangjia - Xiamiaozi 1500 SY 1478
Train continues to Banjita and connects into:-

1500 Xiamiaozi - Sanjiazi 1540 SY 0638
An undulating semi rural line with many hills. A load of 6, five YZ22 + van (both sets) resulted in considerable thrash in places. At Sanjiazi loco disappeared back down the line with some coal wagons.

1700 Sanjiazi - Huangjia 1750 SY 0638
More good noise. At Xiamiaozi crosses the next Huangjia - Sanjiazi working, a wedged commuter train. Good atmosphere in the twilight, lots of bustle and activity, the real steam railway doing a real job.

1755 Huangjia - Banjita 1835 SY 0638
Another undulating line and very good thrash on the grades.

1845 Banjita - Xiamiaozi 1920 SY 0638
More good thrash. Train terminated Xiamiaozi (on this day) so off for connection down the hill.

1940 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 1950 SY 1478
This train had come from Sanjiazi. Next to the Mine Railway side of the station is a hotel set in its own grounds. Stayed here for two nights, a scruffy room with facilities 62 Yuan (£4.95), not bad value I suppose. Good fish restaurant across the road by the crossing at the north end of the station.

During the night steam worked in (on passenger I assume) at 2230 and 0145.

Saturday 20 September 2003

I guessed 0700 departures were likely from Xiamiaozi with one train starting from Huangjia at about 0645 but I was only partly right. A train arrived at Huangjia at 0620 and only by leaving most of my noodle breakfast behind in the hotel did I manage to scramble onto

0625 Huangjia - Sanjiazi 0730 SY 0638
A cold clear morning resulted in very good backlighting from the low sun as the loco took water at Xiamiaozi. Train very crowded, not surprising as most trains are ungripped. Some noise from the loco but not as good as the previous days runs. Once again loco trips & shunts coal wagons.

0850 Sanjiazi - Huangjia 0945 SY 0638
Some good noisy starts. Provides connection at Xiamiaozi with terminating train from Banjita. The CNR train to Jinzhou departed Xiamiaozi a few seconds after us at 0937 but arrived Huangjia/Nanpiao a few seconds earlier (steam slows down earlier near level crossing). It does not use the mine railway island platform or tracks but has a separate track and a bodged platform on the opposite side to the steam line. This `connectioní is not guaranteed as the diesel only stops for a short while.

0955 Huangjia - Xiamiaozi 1005 SY 0638
Last haulage possible until afternoon. Adjourn to village across river for haircut & shampoo (32 pence) and lunch.

1435 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 1445 SY 0366

1450 Huangjia - Banjita 1545 SY 0366
The Sanjiazi train was away first from Xiamiaozi so unlike the previous day there was no parallel running. There was some good thrash but this was almost overwhelmed by the noise from the school kids in a totally wedged train. At Banjita taken by two students to visit their homes and families in a smallholding on the outskirts of the village. The settlement here goes under another name, the railway not actually quite reaching Banjita.

1640 Banjita - Huangjia 1735 SY 0638
A couple of good thrash sections but quite a lot of downhill in this direction

1740 Huangjia - Sanjiazi 1830 SY 0638
Fine twilight run. Very good thrash on the banks.

1840 Sanjiazi - Xiamiaozi 1925 SY 0638
Good in places. Train terminates Xiamiaozi, the opposite method of working to the previous evening. Await arrival of Banjita train.

1940 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 1950 SY 0366
Then off again to the hotel and the fish restaurant.

Sunday 21 September 2003

0625 Huangjia -Xiamiaozi 0635 SY 0638
Another very cold morning with good clag and light effects at Xiamiaozi with the two passenger sets and light engines on the servicing point.

0700 Xiamiaozi - Banjita 0740 SY 0366
This train starts at Huangjia, it works out from Xiamiaozi a few minutes after the 0625 ex Huangjia arrives. A fairly quiet run. At Banjita the passenger locos are again swapped - there is a lot of freight activity on this line.

0850 Banjita - Xiamiaozi 0932 SY 1299
Good noise on the banks.
Off at Xiamiaozi for the 0937 Jinzhou train. As previously the steam train started a few seconds earlier but the diesel arrived Huangjia/Nanpiao just in front. I would probably have made the connection but it would have been very tight.

The following (I hope) summarises the passenger trains that I saw.
0140 arrival Huangjia
0145 depart Huangjia
0620 arrival Huangjia
0625 Huangjia - Sanjiazi 0740
0640 arrival Huangjia
0650 Huangjia - Banjita 0740
0850 Banjita - Xiamiaozi 0930
0850 Sanjiazi - Huangjia 0945
0950 Huangjia - Xiamiaozi 1000
1435 Xiamiaozi - Huangjia 1445
1450 Huangjia - Banjita 1545
1640 Banjita - Huangjia 1735
1500 Xiamiaozi - Sanjiazi 1540
1700 Sanjiazi - Huangjia 1750
1740 Huangjia - Sanjiazi 1830
1755 Huangjia - Banjita 1835
1845 Banjita - Xiamiaozi or Huangjia
1840 Sanjiazi - Xiamiaozi or Huangjia
1955 depart Huangjia
2225 arrive Huangjia
2230 depart Huangjia

Huangjia 01:4506:2506:5009:5014:50 17:4017:5519:5522:30
Xiaomiaozi01:5506:3507:0010:0015:0015:0017:5018:0020:0522:40
Sanjiazi ?07:40| |15:4018:30|??
Banjita  07:40 15:45  18:35

Banjita???08:50  16:40  18:45?
Sanjiazi|08:50 |17:0018:40|
Xiamiaozi01:3006:1006:3009:3009:3514:3517:2517:4019:2519:3022:15
Huangjia01:4006:2006:40 09:4514:4517:3517:5019:40(?)22:25

I would highly recommend this system to both bashers and photters although sadly I see that the first diesel incursion on both traffics occurred within days of my visit. All locos on system face north.

Wander round the centre of Jinzhou, now full of upmarket shops then, away on the Shenyang - Baotou express at 1244 to Yixian. A wedged train this, only just able to get a seat. Yixian had more in common with Old China rather than New China and it was a rather tedious and hot wait for the Chengde - Shenyang train at 1557. It left about 10 late, dropped more time with an emergency stop just outside Fuxin and finally arrived in the station at 1722, 17 late. Quick taxi transfer to Wulong for the commuter turn to Xinqiu which arrived from Wangying at 1736 just as a freight flailed through in the opposite direction.

1740 Wulong - Xinqiu 1830 SY 0770
This set is load 8 and the loco was tender first. Valued from the open vestibule `balconyí. Plenty of deafening flail blasting away from stations but once the loco shut off thick black clag covered everything including my `Genuine Harris Tweed jacket. Hand woven in the Outer Hebridesí (£7 Oxfam) Busy around Taiping with 2 locos stabled and 3 on trains. At Xinqiu a freight departed just as we arrived.

1840 Xinqiu - Wulong 1915 SY 0770
Load 8 again but a quiet trundle with passengers restricted to the rear 2 vehicles. Several middle vehicles in this set sported ISO 9002 slogans on the side. Perhaps they are cleaned to a much higher standard and the windows donít crash down immediately after you lift them up. Have the gripper ladies been sent on the customer care course? Could the gob be disease free? Went as usual to the cheap hotel outside the station. They would not take me in or it may in fact have closed down. I was passed on to a Bingguan on the corner directly across the road from the station. I do not remember this being a hotel on my previous visits. The entrance though did not look new although the smart rooms I was shown on the 6th floor definitely were. I took a small en suite room (80 yuan/£6.40) for two nights. There are larger rooms priced at 128 yuan.

2114 Wulong - Xinqiu 2200 SY 0770
Another run with the 8 coach set. Fairly quiet. The six vehicles nearest the buffers at Xinqiu were detached.

2215 Xinqiu - Wulong 2305 SY 0770
Load 2 full coaches, very quiet slow and late.

Monday 22 September 2003

0620 Wulong - Taiping 0627 SY 0076
Load 3. 4 locos on trains and 4 on the depot were seen within a few minutes.

0630 Taiping - Wangying 0715 SY 0770
Back onto the 8 coach set. Full & standing into Wulong then quite empty. Not very exciting

0859 Wangying - Xinqiu 1020 SY 0770
Reasonably lively. Again plenty of freight activity en route including a train at Xinqiu. Clag washed from hair by barbers at Xinqiu. I then had to have my photo taken with each member of staff.

1339 Xinqiu - Wangying 1453 SY 0770
Hot and fairly quiet but good climbing out of Minzu.

1708 Wangying - Xinqiu 1825 SY 0770
As usual a very spirited run on this crowded commuter train.

1840 Xinqiu - Wulong 1915 SY 0770
Another quiet trundle. Back to Wulong to watch the departure of the 2114. It leaves parallel to another SY on a trip. A fine sight.

Tuesday 23 September 2003

0620 Wulong - Xinqiu 0715 SY 0076
Fairly lively run. Crosses the 0548 ex Xinqiu, fully wedged, just after Taiping. Again find the Xinqiu end of the line busy with freight.

On to CNR station at Xinqiu only to find that the 0906 to Tongliao now leaves at 1500, the second time Iíve been caught out here with a train to Tongliao being retimed. So, back to the Mine Railway station for:-

0907 Xinqiu - Wulong 0955 SY 0076
A well used service.

Session at Internet cafť then back to Wulong for:-

1330 Wulong - Xinqiu 1420 SY 0076
A final run on this section and a good connection into the now 1500 Xinqiu - Tongliao which arrives at 1845, just too late for the evening Daban service.

Usual hotel outside the station. Big room with facilities including hot water now 120 yuan (£9.60). Up in price from 100 yuan last year. Catch up with some sleep and lie in for the 1135 Jitong train.

Wednesday 24 September 2003

Note DF4 9518 on Zhelimu servicing point.

6053/6052 1201 Zhelimu - Benhong 1245 QJs 7104, 7081, 6751, 7136, 6633
Grey and very dull around Kailu with the sky full of cloud, sand and dust almost indistinguishable from the ground. Weather improved by Chabuga with showers, dark clouds and patches of blue sky which by evening made the scene look spectacular with silhouetted mountains and low sun. The Jitong line at its best with the sun glinting on the smart loco and its new train as they rounded the sharp curves near Lindong. The autumn leaves added a further touch of colour. Due to the Tongliao - Hohhot DMU running late we preceded it to Daban and were held there on the through road from 1950 until 2050. Unable to get number of fresh loco, staff very unwilling to let passengers off and wander about although I was allowed off under police escort to make a phone call from the booking hall. IC phone cards cannot be used for overseas calls from Daban, had to use BT chargecard at £2.15 per minute/part of minute Two problems in the sleeper coach detracted from the enjoyment of the journey, mosquito netting over the lower section of the window means this cannot be kept clean and for most of the journey the boiler is kept locked up and although flasks are always provided and refilled you cannot make a perfect cup of tea. Some good thrash either side of Linxi and from Liudigou to the summit but too windy on the curves above Reshui. The train stops at Linxi for a few minutes in both directions so there is just time to get the loco number. The sleeper was noticeably less crowded with the DMU now running

Thursday 25 September 2003

By Haoluku it was freezing cold, the attendants stood shivering to attention at the coach doorways along the platform. Up late at 0645, too cold & tired to get up earlier and value the sunrise. Very pleased to see a QJ back down at Baiqi. Excellent atmosphere here at 0730 with 5 QJs in and around the station with another leaving on freight in front of us towards Benhong. Very good with the low sun on the 180-degree curve leaving Chaogewenduer, in the distance a pair of QJs pulled away towards Baiqi through a gap in the hills. Heavily delayed on this section with a long 10 kph restriction past a wrecked freight and slow running as far as Shangdu where the freight that preceded us was looped. 60 late at Jiningnan.

Stayed in the coach at Jiningnan and gripped by a sweet young little Mongolian thing with a hand held computerised machine dispensing Edmondson type card tickets - impressive all round.
After a 12 minute stop the loco had run round and we were on our way again almost on time, creeping past 28 dead DF4s outside Jiningnan depot (how many more were inside?).

6051/6054 1605 Benhong - Daban 0740 QJs 6633,6900, 6751
Fairly quiet with 6633 until the cool evening air arrived then enjoyed some good crisp thrash starts. The best was a flail climb around a hillside which coincided with a beautiful red sunset behind the hills to the west. I had hoped to get 6304 on this section - this would have been my first QJ over a thousand miles. Alas it was not to be. Crossed one steam freight en route to Baiqi. Some more good noise in the cold night air beyond Baiqi, woken later by a freight approaching then flogging straight through the loop, a memorable sight and sound for 2003. Slept through the climb over Jinpeng.

Friday 26 September 2003

Off at Daban for a days photting and valuing the workings. The day started sunny and clear but clouded over almost from the moment I stepped off the train. Good fot of supershine and decorated 6911 on the passenger followed by a freight to Chabuga but then weather became very grey and dull Little traffic towards Haoluku in the middle of the day, just one train and a pair of light engines but plenty of traffic eastbound. Having wandered into town I was in fact caught out by two trains leaving within an hour. Nice lunch of mutton from a restaurant by the square, I had earlier witnessed the animal having its throat cut. A bowl was placed below it and the blood was vigorously stirred with chopsticks. Impressive parallel move just as night fell at 1835 as a double header slowed to a stop on the next road to a freight pulling out for Chabuga. These eastbound departures are actually the more impressive despite only being a single loco. On this evening the Hohhot DMU arrived before the steam passenger so the Wednesday method of operation must have been a bodge.
Fail at 1930 with minor stomach problems and gammy knee so miss valuing the westbound passenger. Stay at the CNR bingguan, pay 100 yuan (£7.90) for a room identical to one that I had been charged 200 yuan for on a previous visit. I was even asked if I would prefer a room with a view of the railway. A double header leaving at 2200 made a fine sight.

Saturday 27 September 2003

6051/6054 0805 Daban - Zhelimu 1655 QJs 6911, 7048
Decorated 6911 seems to be the regular loco. Few people in the hard sleeper, it is noticeably less crowded nowadays. Once the Inner Mongolia Highway is complete together with the effects of the new DMU I fear that very few people will use the steam passenger. Very pleasant run on the scenic section towards Chabuga on a beautiful autumn morning with harvesting and threshing in full swing with very little machinery in use. Cross five steam freights before Chabuga, suddenly very busy in this direction. A major shock then followed, we crossed 6053/6052 with a diesel. Could have been the loco that was used on the load tests. All other trains seen between Chabuga and Zhelimu were steam hauled. After a long delay at Zhelimu we rolled into Tongliao just after six. Stay at same hotel in same room at the same price.
Locate an excellent massage place in town. It does mainly foot massages but you can get an upper body massage as well. This was so relaxing that I almost fell asleep during the foot massage. Total cost, including hot drinks, watermelon slices and a new pair of socks 60 yuan (£4.80). If you buy a carnet this price reduces to 40 yuan. If anyone wants the address I do have it written down in Chinese.

Sunday 28 September 2003

4225 0648 Tongliao - Tieling arrive 1138. A long smart train with Han Chinese attendants decked out in full Mongolian clobber. Good hot breakfasts available from trolley. My `soft seatí coach (actually a soft sleeper) had colour pictures of supposed sylvan Mongolian scenes in the corridor. Closer inspection of these pictures revealed an uncanny resemblance to the Peak District. Surprised to witness steam en route. In the yards just outside Tongliao station was a smart QJ in steam (ex works?)and facing Tongliao. Then near Zhengjiatun we crossed a freight with an ex works QJ dead just behind the diesel. From Tieling take 6687 local to Daqing at 1215. Note SY hauling a long coal train eastwards on the Coal Co. line.

1303 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1332 SY 1770
A good thrash run with a tender first loco and a well-filled train. I should have got off at Sanjiazi and followed on with the 1258 from Daming which arrived with one of the worlds newest steam locos, SY 1771 which I needed then and still do now. Instead I stayed on the Daqing train to ensure getting a good seat on:-

1406 Diaobingshan - Dongguantan 1539 SY 0063
I need not have worried. The eight coach train was not too full and a pleasant trundle ensued on a sunny afternoon. Crossed JS 5029 en route with a freight.

1617 Dongguantan - Diaobingshan 1756 SY 0063
A slow run and quiet with the wind behind the train. Very crowded with mine workers. Terminates 5 early, have trains on this line been decelerated recently? A change for the worse here is that this train no longer forms, or even connects into the evening commuter working to Daqing
Value the rush hour arrivals at 1803 & 1814.

1820 Diaobingshan - Diaobingshannan 1825 SY 1770
Could hear 1770 leaving Sanjiazi as the next train left Diaobingshan.

1837 Diaobingshannan - Sanjiazi 1842 SY 0665
Then a short wait at Sanjiazi for the next activity when 10 minutes later SY 0063 arrives on the 1843 Diaobingshan - Daqing and waits SY 1772 to clear the single line

1856 Sanjiazi - Diaobingshan 1906 SY 1772
Please to get this 1999 ? built loco for haulage. Deafening noise at the end of the front coach next to the chimney with no vestibule door. A fine way to end a fierce 60 minutes of steam activity involving 7 trains.

Usual hotel just to the right of the station. Room same price as last visit - 100 yuan (£7.90) Note H210, 953 ex Wangqian arriving Diaobingshan nearly 15 late. Assume this is because it calls all stations. Even so there were only a couple of passengers on it

Monday 29 September 2003

0640 Diaobingshan - Sanjiazi 0650 SY 1770
Let 0628 to Wangqian go and wait for 0640 to Daming. This `connectsí into the Wangqian train at Sanjiazi by 10 minutes but things did not go to plan. The inward working of the 0640 arrived 12 late and we eventually reached Sanjiazi at 0659. Run round front of both trains and just make it with the gripper keeping the front door open. At one time large numbers of passengers would make this move.

0700 Sanjiazi - Wangqian 0752 SY 1147
Runs via Xiaonan. Good noise near end on the pleasant rural section.

0802 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 0845 SY 1147
A mostly quiet run but good up the bank into Diaobingshan. Whilst dithering about deciding where to fot the 0914 to Daqing it pulled out at 0903.
Walk down path along track for:-

0926 Diaobingshannan - Diaobingshan 0931 SY 0665
Good noise.

0956 Diaobingshan - Daming 1037 SY 0665
A slow trundle as usual on this line, part of which is on ash ballast. The 2 + hours in dreary Daming were passed quite pleasantly.

1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344 SY 0665
Comes alive up the bank into town.

1451 Diaobingshan -Wangqian 1553 SY 1147
Runs via Xiaonan. Good noise into Wangqian.
The hillside behind Wangqian station is rapidly disappearing as stone is quarried. Along the village street dust is everywhere with stonemasons at work all along both sides of the road carving dragons and Chinese style statues. In amongst all this dust covered ducks & chickens dart about. An oasis of calm is a smart new church set back from the road with attractive flower gardens.

1644 Wangqian - Sanjiazi 1736 SY 1147
Runs via Xiaonan. Interesting rural life scenes in the village areas before the coalmines. Atmospheric twilight at Sanjiazi with a meet of three passengers and a freight.

1751 Sanjiazi - Daqing 1806 SY 0665
Busy student/commuter turn this. Value the tender first starts from the open front vestibule with loud thrash accelerations for short distances. Amuse gripper ladies at Daqing prior to the departure of:-

1840 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1906 SY 0665
A fairly quiet run, even up the bank.

Tuesday 30 September 2003

0640 Diaobingshan - Dongguantan 0819 SY 979
A good thrash run on a cold grey morning. Train crowded with mine workers

0829 Dongguantan - Diaobingshan 1006 SY 979
A much quieter run despite the loco being tender first. Again wind from the rear blew the thrash away from the train although it was quite good up to the tunnel.
Shared taxi to Tieling (10 yuan) from outside station. A few minutes in this reinforced my belief that Chinese road travel should be avoided wherever possible. At a long level crossing stop an SY rolled past with a train of empties at least a third of a mile long. I think this could be the first time I have ever been stopped at a level crossing for a steam hauled train to pass.

Join the National Day holiday rush for a short while. Had to stand on the daytime Harbin - Shenyang express which I joined at Tieling. Itís not often nowadays that you canít get a seat on a train in China. Note colour picture of a Routemaster in the adjacent toilet.

K96 overnight to Beijing in a very smart new hard sleeper, which was fairly comfortable. Glad I didnít excess to soft sleeper. As usual stay at Hademan Hotel, more expensive than last year at 380 yuan (£30). Most hotels seemed quite full, including a new place just over the road from the main station. Retired for a while with a knackered stomach then off to the narrow gauge at Dahuichang. Made the mistake of going to Guchenglu on metro for the 385 bus - there are no intermediate stops for this route once you turn right until you reach Bajiaocun and itís a long walk. The 385 bus is fairly frequent, perhaps about every 15 minutes in mid afternoon. It is a real Chinese bus, none of this flashy new modern stuff. It grinds, crashes and bangs along through a filthy dust covered landscape, you soon get back to the real China away from the glitz and smart avenues of modern Beijing.
Despite the National Day weeks holiday the line was operating with two locos until the servicing break just after 1700. A lovely little outfit, I am only sorry that I had not been able to visit the line sooner. Bus back to Bajiaocun in the twilight, just the time of day to appreciate Chinese pollution levels at there best.

Air China flight home, delayed 45 minutes on departure by some customs problem affecting all flights, Heathrow arrive 30 late.

And so ended another enjoyable Chinese bash, hopefully not the last. Itís always good to mix steam bashing with a study of a country whose historic culture remains unspoilt by outside influences. A place where hoardings advertise Whitbread Best Bitter and David Beckham sponsored merchandise with Rowan Atkinson forever on TV. Get away from all this by going to the cinema to see the latest Harry Potter blockbuster or stroll down to your new shopping mall where you can buy Clarks shoes or stop for a coffee at Starbucks. If youíre peckish grab a Kit Kat bar from a stall or perhaps a meal at KFC, Pizza Hut or McDonalds. Fancy smartening up your flat? then Dulux paints are available at your local B & Q. Yes ancient customs and traditions still survive in China, even if only in the form of steam locos! Roger Blundell


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© 2003, Roger Blundell , email: Roger.BLUNDELL@networkrail.co.uk