|As with my other solo trip reports, this account is primarily intended to encourage and assist others who may wish to travel
independently in China without a group leader, guide or interpreter. For that reason it includes far more detail about issues
such as travel arrangements, costs and accommodation then otherwise might be the case. Where appropriate I have
included such things as scans of hotel names in Chinese since these are more useful when trying to seek assistance in locating
such places than having the 'pinglin' version which most Chinese do not recognise. I have also drawn on other trip reports
published on the web sites of Rob Dickinson and Florian Menius (now administered by Dave Fielding)
Hegang - December 20th to 22nd
I flew British Airways from London Heathrow to Beijing, arriving on December 19th, and spent a pleasant couple of hours in
the company of Rob Dickinson and Yuehong. I then returned to Beijing airport and caught China Air flight CA1611 (d.16.05)
to Harbin (flight cost - Y910). The flight was delayed by over an hour due to bad weather in the Harbin area and my initial
plan to take the airport bus from Harbin airport to the station was abandoned in favour of an inspired (and well paid) taxi
driver who defied treacherous road conditions to ensure I was able to obtain a soft sleeper for Y145 on Train N19 which
departed at 20.22 and delivered me in Hegang at 06.05 the following morning. After travelling for the best part of 48 hours I
decided to treat myself to a little luxury and booked into the Long Yun Da Sha Hotel, an imposing 15 storey hotel opposite
the station. A standard room here cost Y188 with the added bonus of a view which overlooked both the CNR and mine
railway stations together with the steam/electric engine shed.
The system here is certainly interesting with CNR traffic, electric and steam locomotives working on adjacent tracks. Good
maps and trip reports already exist on the above mentioned web sites and there seems to have been relatively little change
over the years. The main problem from a photographic viewpoint is that much of the steam operated section of the system
is on a north - south orientation with the majority of locomotives facing north. This means that most shots tend to be
back-lit with few opportunities to get 'sun on the smokebox'. The section between Dalu and Fuli runs east - west but trains
here were both limited and with one exception running tender first. On the one occasion when there was a smoke-box first
working a strong westerly wind meant smoke blowing down over both the locomotive and the train.
I mainly based myself in the area around Nanshan, the first station to the south of Jipei (Hegang). This is on the summit and
so offered pictures of trains working hard in both directions on the mine railway plus the added interest of workings on the
CNR. With temperatures averaging a bone chilling minus 25 degrees it offered the additional advantage of being able to sit in
the level crossing keepers hut for most of the time with occasional forays up and down the line. The generosity of the railway
staff cannot be overstated and on both the 20th and 21st lunch was offered and gratefully accepted!!
On both the 20th and 21st the passenger train on the south branch was hauled by SY0555 which not only has a decorated
smokebox but was also one of only two south-facing locomotives, the other being SY1685. With fresh snow on the ground
and beautiful clear blue skies, this made for some wonderful pictures. I rode the 16.01 train from Jipei to Junli on 21st
December - an action causing concern to the female carriage attendants who were concerned that I was on the wrong train!!
This eventually led to me being handed a mobile phone with an English speaking voice at the other end seeking to tell me I
was on the wrong train for Jiamusi and that I should immediately get offi!! Such are the difficulties of not speaking Chinese!!
Bus travel in and around Hegang is both cheap and simple and details of bus numbers and routes can be found in Rob
Dickinson's 2001 report. The Number 3 bus follows the line from Jipei to Dalu and stops right outside the hotel.
An internet cafe can be located by turning right out of the hotel and walking south to the next main road on the right which is
opposite the southern exit to the station square. The 'wang-ba' is about 50 yards down on the right hand side and cost Y2.5
The weather on the 22nd took a serious turn for the worse and so I cut short my visit and rather than take Train 6546 to
Jiamusi at 15.57, I caught the earlier Train N90 which left Hegang at 12.50 and arrived at 13.53 (hard seat - Y7) Buses to
Huanan leave every 40 minutes from the bus station immediately to the left of the station exit and cost Y17.5 for an express
bus or Y15 for the ordinary bus.
Locomotives seen at Hegang - SY 0472, 0498, 0555, 0561, 0635, 0683 0799, 0905, 1030, 1464, 1685, 3013, 3014 and 3024
Huanan - December 23rd to 28th
My original plan was to stay overnight in Huanan and then travel up to Tuoyaozi before dawn on the following morning.
However the heavy snowfall of the previous day had closed both the line and the road to the village and so I had an extra few
hours in bed at the Huanan Binguan in the centre of town (Y120)
On the 23rd the taxi took me to the Forestry Department headquarters where Class C2 0-8-0's Nos.168, 004 and 044 were
all in steam in the yard. After about 45 minutes No.168 backed onto three coal wagons and about 40 - 50 workers armed
with shovels climbed aboard. It was obviously a track clearing train and my taxi driver indicated a willingness to give chase!!
For the next few hours a familiar pattern established itself. The train would pass the taxi and we would follow behind. In
many places we then had to wait for tractors to clear the road of snowdrifts before we could continue the pursuit. On one
occasion the workers on the train climbed down to push us through a troublesome drift encountered before the tractors
arrived. We overlapped on about six or seven occasions before road conditions became impossible and we were forced to
return to the hotel. Despite the disappointment of not being able to reach Tuoyaozi it was an excellent 4 or 5 hours worth of
chasing with some unique shots to enjoy. My taxi driver finished up taking pictures of me on the footplate of No.044 and then
after an excellent lunch charged me a very reasonable Y150 for the previous six hours of fun.
On 24th December the road to Tuoyaozi was once again open and trains were running. A 5.00am start put me in the village
before first light and I stayed at a guesthouse in the village arranged for me by Rob and Yuehong. I was rewarded with my
first train of the day shortly after 9.00am - a downhill loaded train - and about 10.45am there was an uphill train comprising
No.044 and a caboose which was clearly replacing the normal diesel railcar. A second loaded train appeared about 2.45pm
and a train of empties past through the village about 3.20pm. Throughout my visit temperatures were between -20 and -30
degrees with sunrise about 8.00am and sunset about 3.30pm.
|With deep snow on the ground there was no chance of taking a motorbike taxi to the summit of the line and beyond and so it
appeared that the only alternative was a 20km hike to Li Xin and back. I was unwilling to do so for several reasons - firstly the
difficulty of walking in deep snow, secondly the potential danger of being out alone in such extreme conditions and thirdly my
generic laziness!! However my hosts had alternative plans and having photographed a Huanan bound loaded train shortly
after 9.30am on Christmas Day the alternative transport arrived! (see above)
The sledge driver took me firstly to the horseshoe curve where it was possible to hear a train climbing all the way up the
grade from Tuoyaozi. Due to the nature of the line here it was possible to make two shots of the train as it snaked around
the bend. We then continued up and over the summit towards Li Xin. The whole endeavour was then rewarded with a
banked train of eight loaded wagons which climbed away from Li Xin and up to the summit, the banking engine then returning
to Li Xin to continue to take its own train of empties onwards to Hong Guang. The journey up to the summit had been
leisurely as my driver was well aware of the time that the train of empties would reach the summit. However the return
journey was a much more lively affair with the snow flying and the horse undertaking a brisk canter for most of the way back
down the hill. All in all it was a totally memorable way to spend a Christmas Day in China and given my apparel it was
impossible to avoid a few seasonal "Ho! Ho! Ho!"s on the way!!
The weather on the 26th took a turn for the worse, with snow clouds and ice crystals filling the air. The sun shone all day
although it was somewhat hazy and visibility was considerably less than on previous days. Three more trains ran on the 27th -
arriving at Tuoyaozi from Li Xin at 10.25am and 2.20pm and from Huanan at about 11.20am.
After a poor start to the day on the 27th - my camera shutter freezing and then totally distorting - the traffic took a sudden
dive. Only one steam-hauled train ran in daylight hours - a loaded train from Li Xin at about 10.50am. In the afternoon I met
Florian Menius who had arrived on the railcar from Huanan - a ride which had cost two Japanese rail fans Y200 each and for
which Florian had been forced to pay Y100. This is clearly a rip-off and can only be avoided by taking a bus to and from the
village although these only run to Tuoyaozi in the afternoon and to Huanan in the morning. Taxis cost about 100Y for the
journey although this may be negotiable.
I left Tuoyaozi on the morning of the 28th. Traffic levels again looked disappointing with the railcar passing through the
village at about 10.30am - thus seriously limiting the chances of much steam-hauled action. I therefore wished Florian the
best of luck and returned by taxi to Huanan. Once in Huanan it was necessary to visit the supermarket in order to purchase a
bottle of wine which had caught my attention earlier in the week. Whether this is simply a case of mistranslation of 'sparkling
wine' or something far more interesting is something which I sadly I may never know since I
dropped the bottle at check-in on my departure from Beijing!! If anyone is visiting Huanan in
the near future and would care to buy and transport back to England another bottle, then my
girlfriend and I would love to hear from them!!
I caught a bus from Huanan back to Jiamusi and then travelled overnight on Train 1391
(d.17.30) to Siping. The hard sleeper cost Y175. My original plan had been to connect onto
Train 4281 to Meihekou. This would have meant a four hour wait at Siping and so I decided
to negotiate a taxi instead. After some bargaining this eventually cost Y300 - expensive but
allowing me an additional day in Meihekou.
Meihekou - December 29th to 31st (Photos)
Rather than staying in Meihekou and commuting daily by taxi to the railway, which is some
15 - 20km south of the city, I acted on information provided by Andy Fisher and stayed
instead in the surprisingly good Binguan Zhuanyong at Yijing. This is no more than a five
minute walk from the main yard and provided an ideal base at Yijing. My room cost Y140 with en-suite facilities although hot
water was only available in flasks. The shower had a large water heater which appeared to work but had no water supply.
However sufficient flasks were forthcoming when I indicated that I wished to have a bath and they provided a personal guide
to the nearest wang-ba. About half way to the station, on the right hand side, is a rather nice family run restaurant - nothing
fancy - where the nephew speaks excellent English. The restaurant is located down a small alleyway just before you reach a
staircase which runs out into the street. Amongst other things which I learned was that no one would pay more than Y20 for
a taxi to and from Meihekou!!
To my delight the diesel which arrived in Meihekou in August was out of action and
the system was 100% steam with four SY's in use each day. Most traffic seemed to
be between Yijing and the mines to the south with only one train seen arriving
from Sijing over the three day period. On each of the three days there were two
trains a day during daylight hours to and from the exchange sidings at Heishantou. The
pattern of working described in Florian's report of December 2003 was not being
replicated at the time of my visit and trains seemed to run simply when required. The narrow gauge electric railways were an
interesting diversion and at no time was I asked to leave any location. Buses run between the various mines and can be
identified by simply holding up the number of fingers to indicated the appropriate mine. Care of course should be taken when
wishing to catch a bus to Erjing!!!
All locomotives were in the good order indicated in Florian's report and during the three days SY 0791, 1216, 1217 and 1564
were used each day. SY1662 was undergoing maintenance on the depot and SY1445 appeared to be abandoned outside the
depot. I enjoyed Meihekou enormously - more so then Nanpiao which I visited last year as photographically the light is better
(all locos face south) and there seems more going on. Whilst trains are not as long as at Tiefa and there are less locomotives
the action is more concentrated and visitors chosing to stay around the yard at Yijing will rarely be out of sight of at least one
or two of the engines.
From Yijing I took a taxi to Meihekou and then an overnight hard sleeper to Huludao. Meihekou could not provide me with a
sleeper ticket so I simply took a hard seat on Train K75 (d.20.35) and upgraded once on the train at a total cost of Y121. The
train took me to Huludao, arriving at 3.43am!!
Huludao - Yangjiazhangzi Limestone Railway (Jinxi) - January 1st
On arrival in Huludao I booked into a hotel opposite the station (there are several) and took a single room at Y88. After a
few hours additional sleep I hired a taxi for the day at Y200 and set out for the Bohai Cement Factory. Simply showing my
driver a picture of an SY was enough to get me there and I found SY1415 being prepared for the day. Then we drove to
Yangjiazhangzi, having been previously assured by Florian Menius that the fact that it was a public holiday would not affect
workings. The CNR crossing keeper at Yetun indicated a train from Huludao at about 11.30 and I used Bernt Seiler's
excellent map of this line to locate the summit (although I suspect the turn-off is at Km36.5 and not Km38.5) However my
enthusism began to wane after waiting over two hours for a train and eventually I returned to the level crossing south of
Sierpu where, following a long phone call, the crossing keeper confirmed there was no service. I retured to the Bohai Cement
Factory where JS6243 was stood outside the shed.
A visit inside the shed revealed SY0513 (cold) and JS6307 (also cold). Also in the shed was JS6305 in very damaged condition.
The tender showed signs of a serious rear end shut and the running plate on the right hand side of the engine was severely
fractured and bent. There was also a considerable amount of collateral damage. When I pointed to the Chinese word for
'accident' there ws much shaking of heads. However when I pointed to the damage I was good-naturedly ushered from the
shed into the open air. Almost certainly I was asking too many questions. All the evidence suggests a runaway at some time
in the recent past. I saw no evidence of JS 8207.
On returning to my hotel I decided to purchase my ticket for Train 2177 to Beijing. To my horror I was told that no tickets
were available on this train and no other train would get me to Beijing in time for my flight the following morning. Having
enquired as to buses (left at 1.30pm) there was no other option than to seek a ticket at Jinzhou (the correct one - see last
year's trip report!!) A taxi to Jinzhou Nan cost Y70 and from there I was able to obtain a ticket on Train T94 (hard seat -
Y70) which deposited me in Beijing shortly before 10.00pm.
Although the arrival of diesels at Jing Peng has been a major blow in 2004 there still remains much to see and enjoy in China -
particularly if one enjoys contact with Chinese people and their culture. Their kindness, help and general friendliness was
universal. A final anecdote - as my train neared Beijing on January 1st the conductor handed me a small piece of paper. On it
an unknown hand had written, in English, "It's time to get off the train. This is Beijing Station. Have a good trip! See you next
time. Bye!" How can one possibly resist such an invitation?
As always I would like to thank all those whose contributions to the internet helped me in planning and executing my trip and
to Duncan Peattie for his work in translating the Chinese Railway Timetable. My especial thanks goes as always to my mage,
guide and spiritual advisor, Doctor Rob Dickinson, for arrangements which he made for me at Huanan. I hope he and
Yuehong enjoy the cheese and stuffing for the duck!! Also to Florian Menius for his advice and help - particularly with regards
to Huludao! - and for assisting me in drinking my beer whilst in Tuoyaozi! It was a pleasure to meet you for the first time
Florian and I hope we will meet again soon. To anyone considering a solo trip to China I have one final thought. The total
cost was under £750 for two weeks including air fares. Compare that to any of the organised trips offering steam in China.
Thinking about going solo? Do it!!
|ANOTHER SOLO TRIP TO CHINA
DECEMBER 2004/JANUARY 2005
Hegang, Huanan, Meihekou and Huludao