|This was my second trip to China and once again I went with 'Steam In Paradise'. However I began this trip with three days in
and around Beijing in order to do some sightseeing. This included a visit to Tianenman Square, the Forbidden City and the
Great Wall. It was also an opportunity to be independent of the group and to explore a little bit of China on my own. The
Beijing Metro proved to be great fun and an easy way to get around the city. A 'ticket to ride' costs 3Y and at any station the
ticket office is easy to find - just follow the mob! Stations are announced in Chinese and English and all carriages have maps,
some with illuminations to show the progress of the train. I stayed at the Jin An Huang Du Hotel which is close to the main
railway station and cost a very reasonable 265Y for a double room. Rooms at the Jin An Huang Du can be easily booked over
the internet. To get to the hotel from the airport I took a bus which cost 16Y and stopped right outside the hotel. A taxi is
probably easier but will leave your wallet considerably lighter!
Sunday 23 December - Beijing to Weihe
The main group arrived in Beijing and we met them at the main railway station. We took Train K265 which was the
overnight sleeper to Mudanjiang via Harbin. Being a guided group trip we travelled in 'soft class' sleepers, with four bunks to a
compartment which also has its own door. This is luxury travel compared to 'hard-class' sleepers which have six bunks and no
compartment door and absolute luxury compared to hard-class sets which have very little padding and even less leg room!
Overnight trains have their own dining cars and a meal on the train is one of my favourite Chinese experiences although
inevitably one has to put up with the inquisitive and incredulous stares of the native population!
Monday 24 December - Weihe
Our train arrived at Yabouli shortly after 8.00am and we transferred to a waiting mini-bus to make the short journey to
Weihe. We stayed at the Forestry Commission Guest House, an establishment most notable for its lack of heating, hot
water and decent electric lighting! The description 'basic' is probably the kindest that can be used for this establishment but
in the absence of a decent alternative it had to suffice. However the narrow gauge railway at Weihe more than made up for
the short comings of the accommodation. This is a 762mm gauge line from Weihe to Luishan, a distance of about 45km.
The line was built to transport logs from the surrounding forests to the transfer sidings with the CNR at Weihe although
there is also one return passenger working a day. We arrived at the railway just after a train of empties had left and we
pursued this train as far as Pinglin, which is the half-way point on the system. In all we saw four trains during the day, all
worked by C2 class 0-8-0's. These were Nos.33, 34, 53 and 54 with No.55 in steam on shed at Weihe.
Tuesday 25 December - Weihe
What a way to spend Christmas Day! The weather was perfect, with temperatures of about -15 degrees, a clear blue sky and
a coating of snow on the ground. Traffic was quite high, with the passenger working and several trains taking empty wagons
up the line and in mid-afternoon we were able to photograph a loaded log train on its way back from Chonghe. Like many
forestry lines, the daylight hours tend to be used to load wagons with the trains themselves travelling at night. However on
this occasion we were lucky!
Wednesday 26 December - Weihe
Better still and better. After photographing the passenger train leaving Weihe we were lucky enough to find a late running
loaded train heading towards Weihe and photograph it from high ground near Zhenzhu. After chasing several trains of
empties we found a second loaded log train in the afternoon and were able to chase it from Chonghe to Dongfeng before the
sun went down. My final memory of Weihe was of No.53 flogging its way up grade between Shuangfeng and the summit near
Pinglin - a little engine on the limits of its capacity. What a tragedy that 2001/2 is rumoured to be the last operating season
for this railway as deforestation has made the logging operation finacially unviable. After an evening meal in a restaurant in
Weihe we returned to Yabuli to catch Train 2018 - another overnight train - from Weihe to Tieling, via Harbin.
Thursday 27 December - Tiefa
Arrived in Tieling at 8.50am and transferred to a minibus to take us to the mine railway system centred on Tiefa. Stopped at
the Railway Transportation Department Headquarters at Daqing where it was necessary to purchase photographic permits -
these enable access to the workshops, station areas and mines. Whilst it may be possible to avoid buying them, there are a
number of reports of enthusiasts being given a very difficult time by both the police and railway officials when trying to take
photographs anywhere on the system! The railway were not content merely to sell us the permits but 'invited' us to watch a
video about the steam locomotives of Tiefa and to pose for official photographs! Finally we made our escape and retreated
to the minibus to continue the journey to Tiefa. Just beyond Daqing the road crosses the railway and we saw a train
approaching. This turned out to be SY1772, the last steam locomotive built in China, on a long train of 49 coal wagons - an
impressive start to our visit. After booking into our hotel we returned to Daqing to photograph locomotives on the stabling
point and then returned to Diaobingshan (Tiefa) station to photograph the arrival and departure of four local passenger
trains around 2.00 - 3.00pm. Finally we chased one of the passenger trains along the branch line towards Wangqian until the
light ran out as the sun slowly set.
Friday 28 December - Tiefa
The day started with sunrise at Daqing stabling point, with lots of opportunity to take atmospheric glint shots before we
transferred back to Diaobingshan station to photograph the morning 'rush hour' with once again four trains arriving and
departing within the hour. These included SY0979 in 'supershine' condition having just become the first locomotive to be
completely overhauled in the railways own workshops - previously locomotives had been sent away for boiler repairs. Having
seen the last of the passenger trains depart we returnwd to Daqing to tour the locomotive workshops and then we drove to
the 'diamond' which forms the centre of the system near Shanjiazi. Having seen several trains pass through the junction our
final destination was Sanjiazi station itself to see the arrival and departure of two passenger trains from Wangqian and
Daming. As the second of the two trains departed the sun disappeared for the first time in eight days! Since we were due to
drive to Shenyang to catch the train to Chengde this was not a crisis! However the driver had seriously underestimated the
time needed to reach Shenyang and the final dozen or so miles turned into a nightmare dash through rush hour traffic. Red
lights were ignored, other vehicles cut up and cyclists thrown into confusion as we careered towards the station which we
finally reached about 10 minutes before departure - far too close for comfort! Train 2258 (depart 17.50) took us overnight to
Chengde where we arrived shortly after 6.00am.
Saturday 29 December - Chengde
After a break for breakfast we headed out of Chengde to the steelworks at the very end of the branch, stopping en route at
the stabling point to photograph JS5720 as it left the yeard and headed for the works. Our 'official' visit to the steelworks
was not as official as it had been the previous year but we were still able to see the blast furnaces in operation and
photograph SY1422 shunting cauldron wagons and SY0099 on the slag tipping road. The slag tipping area was full of coal dust
and in an increasing wind we were soon in the middle of a black dust storm which eventually put an end to photographic
activities. We then returned to the familiar location on the hill side between the town and the tunnels and watched a
procession of trains tackling the fierce grade. JS5720, JS6403, SY1522 and SY0533 worked in various combinations, mainly
single headed with two bankers although the last train in daylight was headed by JS5720 and SY0533 with JS5634 providing
banking assistance. In the late evening I decided to go for an evening stroll from the hotel to the banking station. After a
wait of 20-30 minutes the banking engines returned from their previous assist and separated, SY0533 heading for the CNR
exchnage sidings and JS6403 remaining at the station. After an exchange of waves and smiles it was clear that my presence
on the footplate would be tolerated and so I joined the crew. Having admired the cab and declined the offer of a cigarette,
the sound of SY0533 and JS5720 returning with a loaded train from the station suggested that action was imminent. The
crew seemed happy for me to remain on board as they buffered up to the rear of the train and shortly after we set off up the
hill. The noise was indescribable and the fire became incadescent as we met the grade. The fireman was using what was little
more than dust and this was being sucked off the shovel as soon as it came near the fire box doors. After what can only be
described as a thrilling 20 minutes we began to reach the summit. The crew handed me a large ball of cotton waste and
incicated that I should hold it across my nose and mouth and to crouch down on the floor. As I did so we plunged ito the first
of the tunnels and the cab filled with acrid, choking smoke. A brief respite between the tunnels and the same thing happened
again as we entered the second tunnel. The train began to pull clear and very quickly we were back down the hill towards the
town again. A fabulous memory to treasure!
Sunday 30 December - Chengde
Another day on the hillside with five trains on the climb during daylight and the opportunity to photograph one other as it
crossed the bridge over the river in Chengde. Locomotives were the same as for Saturday. After an evening meal at the
hotel we headed for the station and the overnight train to Tongliao.
Monday 31 December - Tongliao to Reshui
After yet another early morning arrival and breakfast in a hotel, we headed by mini-bus to the depot at Zhelimu which is the
steam depot at the eastern end of the Ji-Tong line. A number of QJ's were on shed - 7163, 7049, 7048, 6358 and 7105. Having
spent some time taking photos we returned to Tongliao to catch Train 6052 (dep.11.35) to Galadesitai and the Ji-Tong line.
The first few miles was behind a diesel but this was changed at Zhelimu for QJ6751. The rest of the day was spent travelling,
with several engine changes en route (QJ6631 at Chabuga and QJ6840 at Daban) and the passing of numerous freights, before
arrival at Galadesitai at 22.35. We transferred to the Railway Hotel at Reshui and assembled in the lobby just before
mid-night for an impromptu firework display laid on by our guides to celebrate the arrival of our New Year. As the fireworks
lit the night sky on the stroke of midnight, a double-headed freight train passed Rehui on the first of the levels - a truely
memorable end to 2001!
Tuesday 1 January - Wednesday 2 January - Jingpeng Pass
Jingpeng was what it always is - breathtaking. Despite strong winds on Monday we were able to photograph in all the well
known spots in excellent light, a feat repeated on Tuesday but with far less wind. Traffic was fairly heavy in both directions
and all trains were double headed.
Thursday 3 January - Daban
Overnight the sky had clouded over and the outlook didn't look too promising. We therefore headed for the depot at
Daban. The weather was still very cloudy on arrival but it rapidly improved so that by about 10.30 we were under clear blue
skies. Despite the pessimism of our tour leader we found the shed to be full of engines with about 21 in steam and another 7
or 8 stored for future use on the new line being built as a branch to Xilinhaote. Also on shed in a small compound was a 2-6-0
Baldwin with the (erronious) legend 'Made in England' on the tender. A shed visit cost 200Y but is certainly worth it as the
shed is now probably the largest working steam shed in the world. Long may it last! We photographed a number of freights
on the way back towards Reshui but as we approached the town the weather clouded over making further photography
Friday 4th January - Saturday 5th January - Jingpeng Pass
Thursday started grey and unpleasant but gradually the skies broke to give a pleasant afternoon. Fortunately the poor
weather co-incided with a period of fairly light traffic and so relatively few opportunities were missed. Friday however turned
out to be a classic day with clear skies from sunrise onwards. After taking a silhouette shot on the Curved Viaduct early in
the morning, we headed for the viaduct to the west of Jingpeng where we saw one train heading east which we were then
able to chase up the valley and photograph coming out of Tunnel 4. Back at Jingpeng we stood on the 'frozen' river which in
itself was an example of the extremely mild winter in northern China in 2001/2, with the top inch or so being composed of
water and slush although there was still a further 5 or 6 inches of solid ice below that. After seeing one train head west, half
the party abandoned the location and headed over to the east side of the pass. Here we met a single headed QJ which we
photographed crossing the viaduct to the west of Galadesitai, crossing the road bridge in Reshui, crossing the level crossing in
Reshui and approaching Luidigou! Here we met the rest of the party before collecting our baggage from the hotel and
heading towards Chifeng to catch the overnight train (2560) to Beijing.
Sunday 6th January - Beijing to London
Our final treat was breakfast in the revolving restaurant of the Beijing International Hotel - an expensive option but a
pleasant return to a western diet and a wonderful and unique view of the city. Another great trip and with excellent weather
for most of the time.
DECEMBER 2001/JANUARY 2002
Weihe, Tiefa, Chengde, Tongliao, Jingpeng and Daban