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Delayed by snow would be the sub-title for this trip, as will become apparent.
March 10/11. Calgary – Beijing via Toronto, when you travel on points you go by the route they chose! 15 minutes late out of Calgary waiting to be de-iced. Overnight at the Sino-Swiss in Beijing, which people at the information booth in T3 affected not to have heard of, and thus there was some difficulty in finding the free shuttle bus!
March 13. 06:00 Taxi to Tuoyaozi after telling the hotel I would stay another night. -5C and blowing hard from the west. Walked out along the line and found half an inch on snow on the rails. After about a mile or so a shallow cutting was drifted with up to two feet of hard packed snow with more coming down. Clearly there would no trains for a while. Walking back into the wind was a painful experience with hypothermia, if not frostbite, a possibility. Taxi back to the hotel and checked-out. They refunded my payment for the next night without a murmur. About 11:00 I walked down to the bus station and found the next bus to Jixi was at 14:20 so I got a taxi for the same fare as before. In all it cost ¥1000 for some rather un-thrilling photos of a C2 and two minutes of video mostly wrecked by wind noise – you can’t win them all!
March 14 dawned with no wind (at last) and after visiting the morning gathering at Dongchang (eight locos all dispersed by 09:00) I walked out to the east to get some good video of spoil, and other, trains and then came back to finish the day round the "golden triangle".
March 15. The plan was to visit the morning gathering and then go to Didao but the day dawned (an exaggeration for the slight increase in light) with blowing snow. Bus to the "golden triangle" which was miserably wet and cold and after an hour I decided to seek shelter in the lee of the signal cabin at Nanchang. Due to the wind this was a deposition area and even less pleasant than standing out in the open. However, the signalman invited me in and thus I spent the next few hours dry, warm and forewarned of the arrival of trains. His wife/girlfriend brought lunch which they insisted on sharing and all thoughts of heading to Didao were abandoned. By mid afternoon the wind had dropped and the snow tapered off so I wandered up to Beichang for a different view point and a chat with Dave Fielding who was occupying a mini van with another gricer and Mike Ma. Dinner in a you-pick-and-they-cook kebab place and onto K7076 to Harbin arriving on time at 05:58. Got at ticket on D28 to Shenyang North leaving at 09:02 and had a walk around Harbin for a couple of hours. At -10C and a stiff breeze I was happy to explore the underground markets part of the time. A visit to a dumpling shop got me breakfast and a “do-svidanija” as I left. Leaving Changchun I was casually videoing modern traction when, at the south end of the yard on the west side of the line, an SY in fairly good condition floated through the viewfinder. No details since the line-side wall was too high to see the number. On time arrival in Shenyang and on to K7358 to Fuxin. This train was grossly over heated and I ended up stripped to my tee-shirt; I could only have got more attention if I did back-flips along the aisle! The Chinese are not prone to removing layers for trifling matters like overheating.
Classic morning gathering shot at Dongchang.
SY 1369 under the coal loader at Beichang.
March 17. Over to the morning gathering with five light engines present plus an SY on a train of side dump cars, plus one diesel almost hidden at the back of the line up. A couple of Chinese gricers were also taking photos. By 09:00 both locos and gricers had dispersed and I walked to Taiping. The levels of activity previously reported appeared to be much reduced with periods with no locomotives in sight in the Wulong-Taiping corridor. The dumped locomotives previously reported at Taiping are still to be seen, very overgrown and with many parts missing. Also, a peep over the wall showed a long line of withdrawn electric locomotives falling into decay. Any thoughts of visiting this area were dismissed by the large number of guard dogs tied up in the yard and barking unpleasantly. An overview of the open pit showed a single line well polished. A steam hauled train on this line would be a treat to see and hear but sadly nothing materialized. The line which branches off on the south side of the depot leads over two crossings and through an area of, largely demolished, hutongs to one or more deep mines. This branch was quite busy throughout my visit and provided some good photographic opportunities in the afternoon. Recommended for dinner: on the left side of the road opposite the station is a red painted restaurant with white trim and the letters “KL”. It is bright, clean and the owners very friendly. Dishes are laid out on trays, you point and they cook; which beats the point and hope method of ordering from the menu!
March 18. Returned for the morning gathering. This time there were three diesels present but they were gathered separately from the steam locos; a form of apartheid I could approve of! The same number of steam locos were present as the day before. Invited onto the footplate of SY 1319 but soon found by the fat controller who strongly disapproved. He also didn't like gricers being between the running lines or close to loading gauge when at the side of the line. I caught three trains on the southern branch before heading for the station and 4208/4209 to Chifeng. Although this is a day train I got a hard sleeper since it is a more than eight hours and a chance to stretch out is most welcome, the sleeper was only one third full so plenty of room. Arrived on time at 21:08 and decided to stay at the first hotel on the left across from the station. A bit scruffy but only ¥120/night and the location was a godsend a couple of days later.
Freshly painted SY 1320 undergoing steam trails and adjustments to the motion outside the workshop.
Five SYs at the morning gathering in Fuxin.
Blue skies after an overnight snow fall, SY 1083 brings loaded coal cars from the deep mines to Pingzhuang.
March 22-23. Picked up my ticket for T69 to Hami from the CITS Office at Worker's Stadium. The rest of the day was spent in playing tourist in Beijing. T69 left Beijing Xizhan on time at 18:36 and managed to lose more than two hours by the time we reached Lanzhou the next afternoon. The display in the train explained "TRACK NOW BE LATE", very helpful! About 15 minutes east of Lanzhou on the north side of the line there is a very large cement works which has an SY probably out of use and at least two industrial diesels. I don't think this locomotive has been previously reported so I'm sorry I wasn't paying more attention when it drifted past the window. Much of the lost time was won back overnight with arrival at Hami only 45 minutes late at 05:00 on March 24.
March 24. The bus makes a circuit of Sandaoling and from the southwest corner of the route it is a 15 minute walk to the mine through a hutong district. This places one above the coal train line on a cliff some 50 feet high, not a bad vantage point. I walked west and found a trail down to the coal train level, then headed west to the loading point. West of here is a reversing station for the spoil trains coming from the deeper levels of the pit. Only the uppermost levels from the pit go directly to Xibolizhan which is not quite as shown on Bernd Seiler's map. This is a site of intense activity with empty and loaded trains arriving and departing every few minutes. My video log will give an idea of what went on – this is not a complete record because I didn't video many of the downhill trains, nor all of the up hill ones. The locomotives are JS unless stated.
14:38 empties and loaded cross
14:49 SY with crane, etc.
16:07 empties and loaded cross
16:17 empties cross loaded
I exited the pit via a road west of the reversing point and hitched a ride back to Sandaoling for the 18:30 bus back to Hami.
March 25. 09:00 bus arriving at the pit about 11:00, as the day before. This time I headed south along the east end of the big hole videoing a sequence of coal trains coming and going. Over the next few hours every combination of pushing and pulling, chimney and tender to train went past with 10 trains between 11:00 and 14:30. Dongbolizhan had appeared quite busy from across the pit but by the time I arrived in the area the only item of interest was a sleeping JS which never stirred in the couple of hours I was in the area. I stopped at the workshop and was unsurprised not to be admitted, the only disadvantage to not having an organised tour. I continued to Nan Zhan and wasn't surprised when I was asked to leave the track. However there was no objection to photography and I was even allowed to take a quick shot of a JS hiding behind a line of Cs before I left the area. DF8B 0248/9/50 where sitting at Nan Zhan waiting for work. I continued to the level crossing just east of Nan and DF8B 0247 arrived with 35 Cs from the CNR after about 15 minutes at 16:45. With little prospect for further traffic I called it a day and hitched into town and the bus back to Hami.
March 26. Dropped my bag at the hotel's reception desk and took the 09:00 bus to Sandaoling. This time I jumped off the bus at Xingfu Road to head for the power station and deep mines area. This was prompted by seeing an SY propelling a line of Cs westward as we arrived in town and the excellent visibility which made me hope for a shot with the mountains in the background. A short distance along the road I was accosted by a police officer and had to go with him to a store-front station. A second male officer and a woman were on hand. She could speak enough English to tell me to "wait a moment" but that was all. They examined my passport and an inspector came and went but the response to all my questions about what they wanted as "wait a moment". At last they produced an English speaker who had been dragged out of her classroom to act as interpreter. I had to write down my passport details (with the exception of the number) in the incident book and I was free to go. Total time wasted about 45 minutes. I followed the road east and south to the first mine where I found the SY loading coal. About 15 minutes after I found a good video location she pulled out with a nice view of the Tian Shan behind. From there I headed south across the desert, through an abandoned village (mining subsidence?) and as the junction at Nan Zhan came into sight the SY trundled across in the distance. One of the DF8Bs looked ready to take a rake of loaded Cs down to the CNR, not a sight I wanted to see. I dropped down to the coal unloading point northwest of Nan Zhan and completed my series of shots of the coal trains. A lot of walking but on a fine sunny day with a cooling breeze it was a pleasure to be out in the desert. Bus back to Hami, wash, change, diner and on to K9781 at 23:30 to Urumqi.
A pair of unidentified JS locomotives shuttle train loads of spoil out of the south side of the big hole.
JS 8190 spotting cars under the new coal loader at Sandaoling.
March 27 et.seq. This was the end of the steam trip but not the end of the snow delays. March 27 was spent souvenir shopping and watching the considerable police presence in Urumqi. On the 28th I was to fly to Beijing in the morning with onward connection to Canada in the afternoon. At 07:00 it was snowing and by the time I reached the airport there were 2-3 inches on the ground. Several flights were delayed/cancelled but mine loaded and pushed-back on time. We then sat for 3.5 hours waiting to be de-iced. As we taxied to the terminal in Beijing I saw my flight to Canada take off. The flights the next day were known to be oversold so it was March 30 before I managed to get home, and only then via San Francisco and Vancouver, which took eight hours longer than the more direct route. On my spare day in Beijing I took the train from North station to Badaling for a walk on the Wall. A very nice way to reach the Wall but the first class car was one third full and the rest of the train considerably more empty than that – how long can this service last?
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© 2010 Colin Martindale