|Having made two successful visits to China with 'Steam In Paradise', it was with great dismay that I read numerous reports in
the early part of 2002 detailing the rapid demise of steam in various parts of China. As a teacher it is rare to find any
companies who tailor their trips around the school holidays and since no-one seemed to be organising a tour over the Easter
holiday the only solution was to consider 'going it alone'. This was not a decision lighty taken and it was only after some
morale boosting conversations with various people who had already trodden the 'solo trail' that I decided to take my own
chances. Not speaking a word of Chinese presented its own very real problems as I no wish to spend large amounts of money
on a guide or interpreter during my trip. The key requirement was to be able to buy the right train tickets and without the
wonderful English translation of the CNR timetable marketed by Duncan Peattie and the loan of a Chinese version of the
same I don't think the trip could have succeeded. To this basic travel kit was added a Mandarin Chinese phrasebook, some
phrases written for me by a Chinese friend and a ring binder full of internet reports. Also necessary was a large amount of
Chinese currency since changing travellers cheques or even currency away from the major cities is nigh on impossible.
Friday 29 March
Arrived in Beijing aboard an Air China flight from Frankfurt and took the airport bus into town. This a cheap and easy way to
make the 30km journey and requires minimal conversational skills. The bus stops right outside the main railway terminal in
the centre of the city. My original plan was to visit the Dahuichang limestone works, with its 762mm narrow gauge railway
but the weather was cloudy and grey turning to cloudy and very wet! After a very long wait at Beijing Nan station I caught
overnight Train 2559 to Chifeng, sharing a hard class sleeper with the usual group of curious Chinese.
Saturday 30 March - Yuanbaoshan
The original plan was to catch a train from Chifeng to Yaunbaoshan and to aid the process I had taken with me several copies
of a small piece of paper which was a request for a train ticket, written in Chinese. The idea was to fill in the train number,
date and destination and hand it to the booking clerk. Unsure of my ability to write Chinese characters I pointed to
Yuanbaoshan in the CNR timetable and 'asked' one of my fellow passengers to write it onto my slip of paper. The usual
curious throng quickly developed and someone indicated a elderly lady who I was assured was going to Yuanbaoshan. After a
brief game of charades it was ascertained she was going by bus not train and would take me with her! Sure enough on arrival
in Chifeng she accompanied me through the throng of 'taxi touts' and led me to the bus station (turn right and its 50 yards up
the road, on the left, behind a row of shops) Tickets were purchased and my luggage safely stowed. Thirty-five minutes later
I was dropped outside the hotel in Yuanbaoshan and my fifty new friends waved farewell as the bus headed off down the hill!
The mine railway was only 200 yards away and the sight of JS6246 and JS6544 being prepared on the depot and JS8249
arriving on a train of loaded coal wagons quickly dispelled any tiredness. These were joined shorty afterwards by JS6245
which arrived on the morning train from Anqinggou. All the engines face east and photography is at its best until about
11.00am when the light begins to get well behind the engines. I spent the afternoon on the steep bank where I saw JS8250 on
a downhill working of loaded wagons and JS8249 on a short uphill train. Returned to the station around 5.00pm as the light
was now to the west and provided good opportunities for glint shots as the engines returned to the shed for servicing.
Sunday 31 March - Yuanbaoshan
The 7.00am departure was supposed to be a mixed train but left for Anqinggou with only coaching stock. As on the previous
day there was plenty of action in and around the main yard with JS8518 puttng in an appearance. Around 11.00am the crew
of JS6544 invited me to join them on the footplate - an offer which was gratefully accepted. Following a period of shunting, a
train of empties was assembled and we headed off for the coal mines in the hills above the town. It rapidly became clear that
these locomotives must have the highest coal consumption per mile of any class of engine in the world. Every time the engine
stopped the footplate was invaded by people bearing five or six large sacks which were then filled with coal from the tender!
In between bolstering the local economy the crew shunted the empties into the yards at the various mines and assembled
rafts of loaded wagons ready for collection on the return journey. The hillside was dominated by what appeared to be a newly
constructed conveyor belt system for bringing coal down to the power station but the crew of the locomotive indicated that
it had been abandoned before completion. Around 1.00pm the crew parked the engine and began firing jets of steam into a
container alongside the boiler. After a while they then opened the container and extracted mess tins full of hot food!
Makeshift seats were laid onto the cab floor, spoons produced and I was invited to join the crew for lunch! Chinese hospitality
of the highest order and gratefully accepted! The afternoon was spent with more shunting before we eventually returned to
Yuanbaoshan where I took my leave and returned to the hotel. Following another game of charades in a local cafe it was
evident that regular buses ran from the town to Pingzhuang - my next stop.
Monday 1 April - Pingzhuang
Decided to have another go at photographing the 7.00am mixed train prior to catching the bus. On this occasion it really did
run as a mixed train - with 20 long wheel-based wagons behind the engine and the coaches somewhere back in the early
morning mist! The bus to Pingzhuang deposited me outside of the Pingzhuang Hotel - a hotel of 5 star oppulence and willing
to accept 300Y for a suite of rooms! I showed a picture of the colliery washery to a local taxi driver who was confident that
he could take me to the place - a confidence that slowly evaporated over the next hour and a half! However we eventually
reached our intended destination and to his great credit he refused to take anything other than the standard fare which was
50p. Having taken several shots of locomotives on the coaling point I found traffic on the system was scarce with mainly light
engine movements although just before mid-day two long trains of empties passed through the washery area - but tender
first. There is a huge open cast pit at Pingzhuang which is mainly worked by electric locomotives although some steam
movements were seen. Late in the afternoon two trains passed through the washery rewarding me for my long wait.
Engines seen - SY1052, SY0400, SY1083 (with deflectors) SY0210, SY1007, SY0916, JS5702 and JS1001
Tuesday 2 April - Pingzhuang to Fuxin
Time to buy my first train ticket in China - Train 650 to Fuxin. The slip of paper works like magic and the ticket is issued
without problem. Six hours later, and having seen SY1195 as we passed Aiyouying coal mine, I arrived in Fuxin. A taxi across
town took me to the more than adequate Hai Zhou Hotel (190Y per night) The previously glorious weather was
deteriorating into a dust storm so I took a taxi to the mine railway and rode the steam passenger train No.114 from Fuxin to
Wangying and back. The two hour lay-over at Wangying was relieved by being invited to share the company of the eight
'dragon ladies (they weren't) and the guard plus his copious supply of beer!
Wednesday 3 April - Fuxin
The weather was a total contrast to the previous afternoon with deep blue skies and a noticable drop in temperature. I took
a taxi to the mine railway and then walked from Tiaping station to Wulong, taking photographs en route. The action was
thick and fast with SY's facing in both directions. There is little to say about this system that isn't really covered by the
photographs that I took there - it is truely a wonderful location to see steam in an industrial landscape. Around lunchtime I
came across a small brick hut alongside the line with two ladies sitting knitting and a man frying fish over an open fire.
Pleasantries were observed and a 'conversation' conducted using semaphore and a phrase book! The end result was an
invitation to join them for lunch - an offer gratefully received and enjoyed. During the course of the day it was possible to visit
both the north and south stabling points and also the repair shop as well as taking in all the main line action. This consists of
movements to and from the main yard to the CNR exchange sidings, the passenger service from Xinqui to Wangying and
various trip workings. In all I recorded over 60 train or engine movements and saw a total of 23 active SY's, 3 under repair, 5
out of use plus a dumped YJ and an out of use JF.
Thursday 4 April - Fuxin
How cruel life is! Woke up to grey skies and a stinging wind carrying dust and more dust. Stayed in my hotel room all day and
read Terry Pratchett books. Slept a lot and acquired a taste for Chinese basketball on television!
Friday 5 April - Fuxin to Tiefa
The weather showed no sign of improvement so I caught a taxi to the railway station (all taxi fares in Fuxin should be 5Y - be
prepared to argue!) and bought a ticket for Train K965 to Shenyang. I had been sat in the waiting room for about 20 minutes
when the hotel porter arrived bearing my wash bag and shaving gear which I had left behind when packing! Such honesty is
unbelievable! Once in Shenyang I bought a ticket on Train 4227 to Tieling and then caught a bus from the station forecourt
to Tiefa. Booked into the Bowling Palace Hotel - turn left out of Diaobingshan station and it is about 200 yards up the road -
which at 200Y per night was far better than the hotel in the station forecourt. I then took a taxi to the railway headquarters
at Daqing to buy a photo permit. There has been much arguement about permits at Tiefa but it is certainly an 'access all
areas' document which smoothes out any problems and at 120Y for two days was reasonable if not exactly cheap. The
weather closed in during the afternoon and I contented myself with watching the afternoon passenger departures from the
main station before retreating to my hotel to pray for better weather.
Saturday 6 April - Tiefa
Prayers largely unanswered as the weather was grim to say the least. Decided to watch the morning passenger departures
all of which leave arrive and depart again between 8.00 and 9.00am. However just before 8.40am the weather broke and
large blue patches began to appear from time to time and it was finally possible to get some shots of trains departing. With
only broken skies rather than clear skies it was going to be difficult to photograph moving trains in sunshine so I headed to
Daqing depot where i say SY1769/1749/0860/1772/1147/1751 and 1770. As the morning progressed so the skies clouded over
again and so I took a taxi back to Diaobingshan station and caught Train 407 to Dongguantun and back. SY1769/0665 and
0063 were seen at Tiefa and SY0393 at Xiaotang. Once back at Tiefa I discovered an internet cafe actually in the station
building. Unlimited access was available for 1Y and so I was able to catch up on football results, trip reports and sent e-mails
to the masses back home.
Sunday 7 April - Tiefa to Shenyang
Woke up to discover the weather had changed ............. for the worse! Dust was absolutely everywhere and so I decided to
make my way to Shenyang. Caught Train 6688 from Tiefa all the way to Shenyang. En route passed the Shenyang Local
Railway at Hushitai where SY0537 was shunting. Arrived at Shenyang and went in search of a hotel. Found the Jun Jiao
Hotel which was excellent - turn left out of either of the South Exits from Shanyang Bei station and walk along the station
frontage (not the car park) unti l you pass the bicycle store. There is a large building ahead with a red neon sign. Walk
around the right hand side of this building and the canopy lights of the Jun Jiao are strung across the road. The room was
newly refurbished with endless hot water and very comfortable for 200Y per night. Spent the evening exploring Shenyang Bei
station - said to be the largest in China and certainly very impressive with every possible type of facility for the traveller.
Monday 8 April - Benxi
Met my guide at Shenyang Bei station and caught a train to Benxi steelworks. This was the only part of the trip where a
guide was necessary as Benxi is a closed site and permission is needed for a visit. The weather ws improving but still average
when we set out for the northern stabling point. In addition to SY730/726/720 and 702 were in steam on the depot and
SY708 was out of use. In the shed was SY707 with a blown cylinder cover and also two fireless locomotives No.5 and 9
together with XK28 (USA tank) and PL250. From the north depot we took a taxi to the main blast furnace area. Despite
negative reports of Benxi it ranks as one of my 'must visit' sites in China. It is certainly possible to take shots of engines
working smokebox first on cauldron trains particularly if you are able to access the central area between the blast furnaces.
My guide was a darling - she had little desire to get her clothes dirty in the steelworks and at the first opportunity found a
warm hut and invited me to 'come back when you have finished'. No second invitation to 'roam the site at will' was required
and with an 'access all areas' frame of mind I set out to get as many action shots in and around the blast furnaces as possible.
A total of 14 SY's were seen in and around the blast furnace area before the weather closed in again and it was time to return
to the hotel - the Tian Yi which is at the left hand end of the station frontage - adequate if not spectacular but a mere 132Y
Tuesday 9 April - Benxi
A second day at Benxi with slightly better weather conditions. My guide once again adopted her low profile approach to the
task and gave me free rein to go where I wanted. Nothing particularly different from the previous day although getting to
the blast furnaces from the hotel was made difficult due to protesting steelworkers who were blocking most of the main
roads in and around the city centre. They were protesting about closure of one of the steel plants and were being left to get
on with it by a seemingly sympathetic local constabulary. Finally, just before catching the train back to Shenyang in the late
afternoon the sun broke through to provide a last few shots in 250th at f8 mode - the first time in four frustrating days!
Returned to Shenyang and saw what was almost certainly a steam hauled passenger train as we passed Weitoushan Coal
Mine (since identified as SY1012 on a 3-4km shuttle service from the CNR station to the coal company 'township') Also saw
serveral engines as we approached Shenyang at Sujiatun - one tank engine and two SY's. The SY's were in steam which
suggests they were not museum locomotives but may still be CNR locomotives or working for the local railway. Booked
into a hotel for several hours at Shenyang where I was surprised to find the entire funeral service of the Queen Mother being
broadcast on one of the Chinese television channels - truely we are indeed living in a global village (except it doesn't feel like it
in some of the remoter parts of China!) Eventually caught Train K96 which is the overnight sleeper from Shenyang to Beijing
Wednesday 10 April - Beijing to London
It was, of course, inevitable! Woken at 6.00am by the sun shining in through the carriage windows from out of a totally blue
sky! Returned to Beijing and a brief wander around Tianenman Square before catching the airport bus from the Beijing
International Hotel and thence via Frankfurt to London.
The most obvious one - why have I not done it before? Despite certain reports I found the Chinese to be friendly, helpful and
very honest. The language did cause problems at times but never anything that a few smiles and gestures plus reference to
the phrase book couldn't solve. The positive experiences were simply too many to report but one stands out in my mind.
Booking out of the hotel at Tiefa, I once again managed to leave some of my personal property in the hotel bedroom. This
time it was a maid who ran down the road to return it to me. The lost item? This time it was my money belt containing
3000Y and $250 in cash! All returned - all intact! No reward accepted - it was her job and she had done it to the best of her
ability - China I love you! Finally I want to pay tribute to all of the various people who offered me help and guidance during the
planning of the trip and hope that this report may provide something similar to anyone contemplating an independent trip
|FIRST SOLO TRIP TO CHINA
Yuanbaoshan, Pingzhuang, Fuxin, Tiefa and Benxi steelworks