|Travelling alone in China has now become something of a habit and as each year passes it becomes easier in some respects
and harder in others. Travel has become increasingly easy. With the help and information provided by others the
dependence on rail travel has decreased and the use of long distance buses has increased. These are usually far more
frequent, and often quicker, than travelling by train. For very long distances the growth of internal flights in China has also
provided a viable (but expensive) alternative to overnight sleepers. However as the number of steam locations decrease so
it becomes harder and harder to put together a worthwhile itinerary for a relatively short two week visit.
Once again I have attempted to give plenty of detail regarding travel and accommodation to assist independent travellers
and have not included the degree of detail regarding engine numbers and photographic locations that are already to be
found in many other reports.
Pingdingshan - December 23rd and 24th
I visited Pingdingshan in December 2002 and was cursed by four days of sleet, rain and grey skies. Decent photography was
almost impossible in the prevailing conditions and so I was determined to have a second go at this location.
An 11.40 arrival in Beijing on an Air France flight from Paris left plenty of time to visit old friends and still be at Beijing Xi in
time to catch K279 at 17.00. A hard class sleeper cost 179Y and I arrived in Pingdingshan shortly before 07.00 the following
morning. I was unsuccessful at locating the Kuang Gong Hotel mentioned in a previous report and returned to the Jinxiu
Hotel where a very comfortable double room costs 148Y per night. On this occasion the weather was near perfect and so I
quickly set out by bus for the large yard at Shenxi using the map included in my 2002 report. However the level crossing at
the west end of the yard is being replaced by an underpass and therefore is no longer served by the No.37 bus. Access was
achieved by alighting from the No.34 bus about 100 metres after the main road takes a slight right hand bend. There is a
very wide street on the left-hand side which leads up to the line just west of the junction to the mines.
The use of four diesels has certainly reduced the amount of steam action on this system. Two very long trains of diesel-
hauled empties went out on the Baofeng line and one on the line to Mines 1-6 shortly after I arrived at the yard and steam
hauled trains to the west were at a premium. Later in the day several trains of loaded wagons came back from the mines
but these were tender first workings. In 2002 my notes show 20 steam hauled trains heading west between 09.15 and 16.00.
This year a similar period yielded just seven such trains. Maybe I was just unlucky or perhaps this is the new reality. I guess
other reports will confirm or contradict this level of activity. All trains were worked by JS class engines except for the
afternoon eastbound passenger train which was hauled by SY1687.
The following morning (December 24th) was overcast and so I began the day by visiting the engine depot. Access was freely
granted once it was established that I was on my own and I was free to go wherever I wished both in the yard outside and
also inside the workshops themselves. As the day began to improve I returned to the Shenxi area where traffic levels were
about the same as on the previous day.
With the light fading about 4.30pm, I returned to the hotel, collected my luggage and took a taxi to the long-distance bus
station which is located on the main street just before the power station. A ticket on the express bus to Zhengzhou cost
47Y and the journey took about two and a half hours. The bus station at Zhengzhou is just in front of the main railway
station and there are a number of well-lit and easy to locate hotels around the large open square. I opted for the somewhat
overpriced Tian Quan Hotel (268Y) which is on the left-hand end of of the railway station frontage. This hotel certainly
offers some very interesting and immoral room service facilities! I'm afraid I cannot give any idea of prices but as with all
things in China I am sure they are negotiable! On a more practical note the English speaking hotel porter was able to
purchase a hard sleeper ticket (237Y) for me in advance of my journey to Huludao which I planned to make on December
26th. Zhengzhou has a reputation for being a city where train tickets are hard to come by as their allocations seem
inadequate for the numbers of people wishing to travel and advance booking is certainly a wise precaution if at all possible.
Xingyang Brickworks - December 25th and 26th
The following morning I took a taxi from the hotel to Xingyang which is about 30km to the west of Zhengzhou. I stayed at
the Binguan Zhuan Yong which faces the CNR station. This provided a more than adequate double room for 100Y and is a
very short walk to and from the brickworks. A comprehensive account and map of this fascinating narrow-gauge line can be
found on Rob Dickinson's web-site.
Many visitors have been disappointed by a visit to this railway as it does not work on a daily basis. Initially it appeared that I
would be one of them as all appeared to be rather too quiet. Arriving at the shed on a beautifully sunny Christmas morning I
found it firmly locked. It was impossible to see what was inside but shortly after my arrival I was hailed by a local who
pointed to the west and gave a passable imitation of a locomotive hard at work! I headed towards the furthest loading
point and as I did so I could hear the engine in the far distance. It duly arrived with its regulation 26 wagons in tow and
off-loaded the clay at the brickworks. After a short pause for water it then set off tender-first for the quarry, returning
some 75 minutes later. In all the locomotive made five round trips during the day and on the last trip the crew were happy
for me to join them on the footplate making it yet another memorable Christmas Day in China.
The following morning was far more hazy with high thin cloud suggesting a change in the previously idyllic weather. The line
was in action again but after the first three trains the light began to disappear and so I took the taxi back to Zhengzhou
(100Y) and caught Train 1056 to Huludao which left Zhengzhou at 16.05 as snow began to fall. Time to leave the
comparative warmth of mid-China and head for the frozen North-East!
Huludao - December 27th
Arrived at Huludao shortly after 9.00am and engaged a taxi for the day for 200Y. Went to the cement factory where an SY
was in steam but inside the factory compound. My attempts to photograph the loco were frustrated by a zealous security
guard who was determined that I should be prevented from doing so at all costs. My use of a telephoto lens from the public
road caused him near apoplexy but the shots were secured without further incident. My driver and I then headed out of
Huludao towards Yangjiazhangzi, stopping at the first level crossing after the motorway. Here it was ascertained that there
were no trains running and that it was ˜Finish2. My lack of Chinese and the absence of an interpreter meant that no further
information was forthcoming. (Subsequently Bernd Seiler has said that they are simply having a winter holiday at the
cement works which started in mid December and which will last until Chinese New Year has finished - lets hope this
information is indeed correct) With no prospect of working steam my driver then took me, at no extra charge, to Jinzhou
Nan where I was able to get an unreserved seat on Train K265 to Mudanjiang (147Y) departing at 19.20. This meant an
enforced days rest in Jinzhou but after a week of almost non-stop travelling this was no great hardship. Once on K265 I
headed straight to the chief conductorâ€™s desk where a sign warned that no sleeping berths were available! Despite this
ominous sign I was eventually upgraded and allocated a soft sleeper (an additional 203Y) once the train reached Shenyang
|Jixi - December 28th to January 2nd
Arrival at Mudanjiang was spot on time at 09.44 and I paused briefly to photograph the C2 which is plinthed on Platform 1 of
the station. To my delight Mike Ma, one of the finest guides in China, (firstname.lastname@example.org) was waiting for me at
the station exit and we briefly renewed acquaintances. Taking his advice I transferred onto the express bus to Jiamusi which
runs from the station forecourt and this dropped me off on the motorway exit to Jixi some two hours later. A local minibus
then delivered me to the CNR station forecourt. (Slightly slower buses are also available from Mudanjiang which go right
into the centre of Jixi.) Having read Ameling Algra's report I opted to stay at the Jixi Fandian but was slightly uncertain of its
location. I asked a local taxi driver who promptly drove me about half a mile to the hotel and asked for 15Y. Since our
journey ended some 20 yards (yes - 20 yards) from where it started this request was refused and instead he received a totally
free introductory course to ˜Abusive English". The Jixi Fandian provided an excellent double room with full en-suite facilities
and 24 hour a day hot water for an incredibly reasonable 85Y per night.
Once ready I followed Ameling's advice and caught the No.1 bus to its northern terminal and then transferred to one of the
many minibuses heading in the direction of Chengzihe. (Bus No.3 goes there without the need to change but takes a more
circuitous route - however it does save 1Y in fares!!) Once at Chengzihe I headed for the washery where two SY's were to
be found. Shortly after arrival however I suffered a potentially fatal accident which may serve as a warning to others.
Moving photographic positions I walked onto what appeared to be coal dust covered ground only to discover it was in fact
covering thin ice. I plunged in up to my waist and further immersion was only prevented by grabbing hold of some solid
ground to prevent me from going in any deeper - my feet certainly never touched the bottom. Several locals came to my aid
and I escaped serious harm but I was totally soaked and in the sub-zero temperatures my clothing rapidly froze. A rapid
return to the hotel and a hot shower were very much in order.
The following day (December 29th) I returned to Chengzihe where I quickly discovered that my notoriety was already well
established. I began with the morning gathering at Dongchang and then spent some time at the crossing just to the west of
the mine watching passing trains. As locomotives face in both directions there is always the frustration of tender first
workings but there was certainly enough action to maintain a near constant interest. I eventually headed back to the
washery at Beichang and after much careful testing of the ground I was able to get the photographs of the donkey carts and
SY's which are the most interesting feature of this location.
The morning of the 30th was grey with falling snow so I headed for Hengshan with a view to doing some reconnaissance for
another day. Once again following Ameling's advice I took the No.1 bus to its southern terminal at Jixi University but could
see no sign of any bus marked No.27. Eventually I was assisted by a local who put me onto the correct bus - these are the
older and slightly larger buses with a front and middle door. This dropped me off at XinHengshan where I was just about
able to see the gathering of engines amidst the falling snow. However just after 9.00am the snow stopped and the sun
began to appear. Two trains of empty wagons left for Zhongxin in very quick succession - sadly before I could relocate to the
steep climb just beyond the level crossing. The weather eventually closed in again about 3.00pm just before another train of
empties headed for Zhongzin. With a little more co-operation from a German enthusiast I might have made it to the hill but
once again I was frustrated in my attempt as he had ˜no space for me in his car" (sic). So with just two people in the back
seat off he sped without me. I cannot find it my heart to hope that he gained a master shot - in fact I hope the smoke blew
The 31st dawned bright and clear and so I made an early morning return to Hengshan and headed straight for the climb to
Zhongxin. On this occasion I was rewarded with three trains of empties at 08.30, 09.55 and 10.45 and the smoke didn't blow
down either! Based on the previous day's activity levels I took a few shots back at XinHengshan and then caught the bus
back to Chengzihe where I enjoyed a pleasant, although somewhat quiet afternoon at the washery. I have read reports of a
"movement every 10 - 15 minutes" at this location but this certainly wasn't reflected during my trip.
The New Year brought more snow and grey skies so having enjoyed the spectacle of seven SY's sitting in Dongchang yard, I
managed to get myself a ride on the footplate of SY1018 as far as Zhengyang mine. By lunchtime it was clear that no real
photography was going to be possible so I caught a local minibus back to Chengzihe. This managed a fairly spectacular skid
on the snow covered road, depositing most of its passengers (including me) onto the floor! With the depth of snow now
about 4cm it was time to reconsider my plan to return to Mudanjiang. Somewhat unnerved by my experience of earlier in
the afternoon I decided against bus travel and bought a ticket for the following morning's Train N72
Mudanjiang - January 2nd
Up early and to the station for the 06.13 departure. Shortly before arriving at Mudanjiang the train passed the power
station to the north of the city where QJ1830 and JS6242 were ˜top and tailing" a train of loaded coal wagons. Mike Ma was
once again waiting to meet me at the station and at his suggestion we took an 18Y taxi ride out to the power station to
take a closer look. We were refused entry at the southern end of the plant but advised to walk alongside the CNR tracks to
the northern end where we would be able to see the engines outside the shed. Once there, Mike sent me to get my shots
while he engaged the security guard in conversation. He explained to Mike that entry to the site was not allowed - oblivious
to the fact that I was already taking my pictures. In fact no-one challenged me and I suspect no-one even noticed I was
there. It was a great way to finish the trip with the two engines side by side outside the shed and QJ1675 inside, out of steam
but still warm. From Mudanjiang I took a China Southern flight back to Beijing, departing at 16.40 and arriving in Beijing at
18.30 - a saving of over 18 hours on the equivalent train journey although about three times more expensive than a soft
The rapid depletion of working steam in China makes each trip more and more difficult to plan. Remaining steam centres
are far apart and/or remote from Beijing.and so more and more time has to be spent travelling. The end of mainline steam
on the JiTong line, the closure of Dahuichang Limestone Railway and the increasing dieselisation at Pingdingshan and Tiefa
have made 2005 an ˜annus horribilis" for Chinese steam. I have no reason to hope or expect that 2006 will be any better.
China itself is also changing and although away from the big cities the pace of change is much slower, the economic divide
between rich and poor seems to be growing. However the people remain as charming and friendly as ever and for that
reason alone I will continue to visit China even when the last steam engine has dropped its fires.
Finally I'd like to thank Rob and Yuehong Dickinson for their hospitality and help in obtaining plane and train tickets, Mike Ma
for his continued friendship, Duncan Peattie for the English version of the Chinese railway timetable and finally my immense
gratitude to all those who contribute their trip reports and provide the level of information without which none of my trips
would be possible. And I really do hope the smoke blew down!
|The tyre from a JS class locomotive is turned on the
wheel lathe in the workshop at Pingdingshan
|Stuffed and mounted there seems little chance that this C2
plinthed on Mudanjiang station will ever turn a wheel again
|NORTH AND SOUTH OF BEIJING
DECEMBER 2005/JANUARY 2006
Pingdingshan, Xingyang, Huludao, Jixi and Mudanjiang