North-East China - January 2005
by Adrian Freeman
Huludao, Nanpiao, Benxi, Fushun, Meihekou, Hegang, JiTong
A mostly independent trip accompanied by various combinations of Don White, John Tickner and Mike Poulter during the three-week period.
Air France flights from Manchester via Paris to Beijing.
The railway got off to a late start today with the first train of empties not until 15:00. Nos 1 and 3 in action.
Then train 2549, 21:00 Beijing to Huludao.
Arrived at 04:56 and booked a room at the YouYi hotel opposite the station, where a respectable twin cost 160 Yuan. A couple of hours to relax before taking a taxi to the limestone railway yard. JS6243 and SY1415 were in steam. The train timings today were different to those I've seen in previous reports.
JS6243 departed on limestone empties and loaded coal wagons at 09:30 with SY1415 banking. Don and I took a taxi to Yangjiahangzi, where the train, without the SY arrived at 10:45. The shunting operation here was as follows: empty coal wagons removed from the coal drops. Half the loaded coal wagons propelled on to the coal drops. The limestone empties were then propelled down the branch to the loader and loaded within half an hour. The loader is beyond a substantial but derelict cement works. After the loaded limestone wagons had been brought back to Yangjiahangzi and the JS turned, the now empty wagons on the coal drops were removed and replaced with the remainder of the loaded wagons. Departure to Huludao was at 13:25 with coal empties and limestone. Back at Huludao, a further train of limestone empties departed unbanked for Yangjiahangzi just before the sun disappeared at 16:00. As far as I could see, the interesting bits of this line are at each end. The landscape between is pretty uninspiring, although the gradients do mean the locos must work hard.
After clean up at the hotel, we caught train 2589, 17:24 to Jinzhou (half an hour's journey) and then a taxi to Nanpiao. On reflection, it would certainly be quicker to take a taxi from Huludao direct to Nanpiao, along the expressway for most of the distance. The Nanpiao Hilton adjacent to Hungjia station has been smartened up a bit and the staff much more helpful than a year ago. A twin room was actually clean. Still no shower and bath achieved by ferrying bowls of hot water from the boiler in the common wash room. A twin room cost 104 Yuan.
Despite 3 BJ, all of which were in active use during our visit, Nanpiao is still most worthwhile - the place has so much character. Four or five SY were in use with up to three seen at Zaojiatun at one time. SY 1478 appeared recently overhauled and was still looking smart. Trains of spoil were pushed by SY up to the tip from Zaojiatun yard this time. The daylight passenger train times are unchanged and were all BJ-hauled during our visit. Steam-hauled freight seen on both east and west lines.
The morning China Rail return workings from Jinzhou ran whilst we were there, but the afternoon workings had been cancelled, so we were forced to take a taxi back to Jinzhou, before catching train 2195, 19:35 to Shenyang Bei, where we booked into the rather smart hotel on the left hand side of the station square from the north exit. A twin room cost 196 Yuan.
31.12.04 Benxi steelworks
This visit was arranged via CITS. Took train 2251/3 at 07:17 and were met at Benxi by Miss Wan. After a poor start - visiting the brand new depot workshop and electric stabling point, we were deposited near steelworks no. 2. The area was thick with snow, some generated by the four adjacent cooling towers and SY activity in the morning was high. This session yielded some of the best photographs of the trip. It was quieter in the afternoon and we returned to Shenyang Bei on train 2258/5, departing 16:10.
Our original plan had been to visit Benxi today, but CITS said 1st to 3rd Jan were holidays. John & Mike had arranged tickets for Jiamusi for this evening, so today was a 'spare' day. So a day was spent at Fushun with the aim of investigating the old electrics and any steam activity. Suffice to say that the day was not a great success.
Train 2223, 05:38 from Shenyang Bei to Meihekou, then taxi to Yijing, the centre of operations of the Meihekou Mining Railway. Booked into the hotel on the square, as recommended by Andy Fisher. Although there were two of us, we were given a nice triple room at 50 Yuan per person. Kuangs excepted, the bed here was the hardest I've ever slept on in China.
The railway was entirely steam operated during our visit. The main yard at Yijing is quite photogenic with the line at one end passing under Yijing high street with its numerous shops and stalls selling all sorts of delicacies, recognisable or otherwise. In the middle of the yard, a narrow gauge electric line crosses on an overbridge - a useful vantage point. The electric trains ran only very infrequently and although SY were often stabled close to this bridge, a phot of SY and electric train proved impossible. No problems taking photos here, and we were shown into the shed, where diesel 4010 and SY 1662 were residing. SY 0791, 1216, 1217 and 1564 were busy during our visit, with SY 1445 outside the shed out of use. The passenger train times were as previously reported.
The landscape in the area is pretty flat and none of the mines very special, but there are several sections where the line runs next to the road, which give the railway its own distinctive character.
On 3rd Jan decided to spend an afternoon at Liaoyuan (between Meihekou and Siping), where it had been reported that two QJ had been seen on the mines railway. The mines lines were explored on foot and by taxi. Two diesels were seen, but there was no evidence of the presence of any steam locos.
On 4th Jan, took train N190, 12:04 Meihekou to Changchun then after a wait of four hours, 2007, 21:18 to Jiamusi.
Arrived in Jiamusi at 08:33 and took a taxi to Hegang, where I checked into the Long Yun Da Sha hotel, opposite the station. This is a very nice hotel. Twin and triple rooms cost 208 Yuan, but I was alone at this point, so took a single and managed to get a reduction of 30 Yuan off the 188 asked.
Weather very grey on arrival so took the 13:35 train to Junli, hauled by SY3013. The passenger coaches on this system are steam heated from the locomotive, an unusual feature in China, and one which results in the exterior of parts of the coaches getting covered in ice, especially early in the morning. I only saw one SY facing south - it was 0555; the remainder faced north, as previously. The passenger train times are unchanged from my report last winter with one branch to the north and one to the south with services at this time of year. A third passenger service is advertised along a line that branches west off the south line at Xing'an, but apparently this is seasonal and wasn't running in early January.
Hegang's two newest engines and the final two SY built by Changchun, nos 3023 and 3024 - built in 1998 - were both outside the depot out of use.
Spoil trains were the best bet for SY haulage; coal trains being more often electrically-hauled. Some mines have spoil tips close to the mine, such as Fuli and Xing'an. Others, such as Nanshan, don't, and guessing where the spoil would be taken could be rather hit and miss.
In still conditions, it got extremely polluted here, things peaking between 08:30 - 09:30. Depending on your perspective this is either a good or a bad thing. I was quite impressed; it easily upstaged Pingdingshan.
As in previous years, coal scavenging was a full time occupation for a significant number of residents, the stretch of line between Nanshan and the washery being most intensively targeted. A coal train passing Nanshan level crossing in the direction of the washery was observed one morning. Moments after a one of the loaded wagons had passed the crossing, one of its side doors miraculously burst open and coal poured from it as the train proceeded on its way. An army of scavengers were on hand to quickly shovel and sweep the spillage into sacks and whisk them away, assisted for a while by one of the crossing keepers!
Last year, half the Hegang to Jiamusi trains were cancelled, but this year the complete service (as per current timetable) seemed to be running.
Took a taxi at 16:00 to Jiamusi, where I caught train 1391/4, 17:30 to Shenyang with John. This train had smart new stock and the hard sleeper coaches had compartments like soft sleepers, the difference being six bunks instead of four and the lack of a compartment door.
Our next destination was Lindong. There were two train options from Shenyang to Chifeng, one departing at 09:20 and the other 18:55. Either we had to sleep on the train or in a hotel at Chifeng and either way we would be on the same bus to Lindong the next morning. There is simply no quick way of getting from Hegang to Lindong (since cancellation of the 15:30 pass from Tongliao). We opted for a day in Shenyang, initially hoping that we might be able to arrange a visit to Sujiatun works at short notice through CITS, but we didn't succeed.
N151, the 18:55 to Chifeng had the more traditional hard sleeper coaches.
I rather like QJs, and not having visited the JiTong line for five years, decided to have a look before total dieselisation. Caught the 07:00 bus from Chifeng, which went to Lindong via Daban, then took a taxi to the Lindong Binguan, where a twin room cost 130 Yuan.
Whilst we were in the Lindong area there seemed to be a dearth of traffic, one day producing only two westbounds and one eastbound freight in daylight. Strong winds and afternoon cloud didn't help matters. The Steam Railway charter train was seen heading east and back on 12th Jan and then again on 14th.
On 14th Jan we took train 6053/3, 17:51 to Daban, hauled by QJ6911.
With more than 20 QJs on shed in steam, this was still an amazing place. On my previous visit in Feb 2000, there were approx. 10 -12 QJs in steam. Perhaps the increased number was indicative of them having less to do.
We then took the 13:00 bus to Chifeng and the usual sleeper, 2560, 20:20 to Beijing Bei.
The atmospheric Beijing Bei station still survived unscathed as yet by modern developments, as did the approach road. Surely this can't last much longer - a substantial development was nearing completion nearby.
Air France back to Manchester. I would not recommend using this airline as many of the connections at Paris are very tight and even slight delays often mean missed connections. Having to wait to be bussed around the airport (from plane to terminal, one terminal to another and then terminal to plane) make things slow and unwieldy.
I summary, my view about the locations visited:
Huludao - worth a day,
Nanpiao - still wonderful, a system with loads of character,
Benxi - obviously depends where you are allowed to go. With a free reign, we had a great time,
Meihekou - pleasant, but not dramatic,
Hegang - Coal mine paradise, with an atmosphere to match.
Lindong - my visit brought little reward, but I'm sure others can do better.
Adrian Freeman email@example.com