Postcards from Beijing

Chinese Steam

1. The JiTong Railway

The JiTong Railway line runs for 1,000 km across Inner Mongolia between Jining and Tongliao. The line is/was generally acknowledged as the last steam-worked main line in the world. Steam operation has been gradually wound down over the last few years until just one section, between Chabuga and Daban, remained. When I learned that the official end of steam was to be celebrated with a gala in mid-December I knew I had to make a trip before then to take my last chance to see real live main line steam.
(Inner Mongolia, or Nei Mongol, is an autonomous region of China, and lies to the south of the separate country of Mongolia. I don't want to get into the politics here.)
My adventure started with a comfortable soft-class sleeper ride leaving from the rather run-down Beijing Bei (North) station. It is fortunate that I checked the place out the day before in daylight, or I would never have found my train in the dark!

The morning found me in Tongliao and after a long wait I boarded one of the Jitong's flashy new diesel trains for my ride to Daban.

It was dark when I arrived but I had to go for a quick visit to the depot to catch my first glimpse of the steam locos.

A few hours sleep in Railway Hotel (Interrupted by the sound of steam whistles.) and I was back at the depot before 4am to board QJ 7081. Our driver took us to the station where we attached to the coaches of the slow Jining to Tongliao train.

Soon it was time for another driver to take over. A schoolboy dream realised at last!

150 km later we reached Chabuga and handed the train on to a diesel for the remainder of its journey, and I got a chance to photograph 7081 in daylight.

Some more shots of QJs in steam, sadly I didn't see any steam-worked freight trains moving in daylight.

Plenty more locos at Daban shed, in conditions varying from live to derelict.

They've also got this fine old loco, made by the North British company in 1909.

Back to Daban station, where it was way too cold for the fountains to be operating, to watch the activity - Most operations I saw were in the hands of diesels.

According to reports received there have been little or no steam operations since my visit so it looks like I got there just in time - The sunset of main line steam indeed.

I close this report with two pictures of me: The first gives an idea of the size of these monster locos, and the second is me sharing a (railway) mug of beer with my Mr Fixit who organised the excellent day for me.

November 2005

2. The Pingdingshan Coal Railway

Another weekend away from Beijing to see steam trains, this time at Pingdingshan in Henan Province. I took an express train from Beijing Xi (West) station hauled by this Class SS8 electric locomotive, to the large city of Zhengzhou.

Zhengzhou's main claim to fame seems to be this impressive Pagoda in the centre of the bustling shopping district.

The following morning a very early train took us to the grimy industrial town of Pingdingshan (Sometimes also spelled Pindingshan.) where it was a bus ride to the other side of town to the coal railway. This is an industrial system hauling coal between mines and power plants, and also running some passenger trains, mainly for the miners. Almost all the trains on this very busy railway are steam worked. Getting off the bus we climbed up the embankment to the line and almost immediately saw a passenger working.

We spent the remainder of the day just watching operations on this railway, with a movement every few minutes there was always something to photograph. The grey industrial haze was not very suitable for good photographs, and were were shotblasted with coal dust in the cold wind.

Here's one of the "stations" on the railway.

In the locomotive shed we found more steamers, this one was built in 1986.

At the back of the shed scrap locos are found.

All in all, an enjoyable day observing a fascinating railway very different to the JiTong main line I visited previously. Here was a very busy industrial railway, with a steam-hauled freight operation seemingly every few minutes.
The train crews were all friendly, waving as they passed us and offering us cigarettes, and a yardmaster invited us into his office for tea and to thaw out.
3 December 2005

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