Arrival Beijing 7.00. We were three Norwegian friends. Their guide was Tina from Chifeng CITS, who did an excellent service during their stay. I parted from them after arriving Daban.
Fast passport control. Very warm weather. Many flowers still blooming, and on Tiananmen they are putting advanced decorations built of flowers for the National day on October 1. We then proceeded to Dahuichang limestone railway. It operated all afternoon. One train derailed and they put the locomotive up on the rails again by driving on stones they laid below it. This worked after a few tries. No wonder with the state of the rails...
We took the night train to Chifeng from Beijing Nan at 21.33 with DF4 0403. The train had new type 25 cars, only the RW car was a green one.
And yes: I got a Chinese mobile subscription: +86 13520228154. If
anyone need to loan it, contact me. I bought it in the China
Telecom shop in the old railway station at Qian Men. Interesting
is the price: You pay 98 Yuan for any subscription, plus a premium
for your number. If you want it to contain many "8", it may cost
you an additional 200 to 600 Yuan. I chose a number ending with
"4", considered very bad by most Chinese. This cost only 50 Yuan.
For else, you buy charge cards. The instruction manual, and the
computer dialog with the operator at recharging center is in
Chinese or English. Price for placing calls is 0,6 to 0,8 Yuan a
minute, price for receiving calls about the same. A lot cheaper
than using your foreign mobile phone! You get charge cards in many
QJ 7115 with red and brass number plates was seen in the diesel depot under steam. Maybe a private engine or stationary boiler. One JS seen from distance at the electrical power plant. Otherwise DF4 only, on the way to Tongliao both 2xxx series and DF4C.
We proceeded to Pingzhuang mine first where we were welcome. We found it by asking local people where the brewery was. They knew this better than the coal mine. Many farmers grow hops around here. In Chinese they call it "beer flower" (pijiu hua). At the coal loading point, JS 5702 had shunting of side-unload-wagons. These looked a bit "old" but were probably not. I think if you load and unload wagons several times a day it does not take a long time until they look "old". The electric locomotives also looked a bit dirty, but at least one was newly repaired. We finally got an explanation why there is often white dust on top of coal wagons. This is chalk. They put it on top of a loaded coal wagon to show to their customers that coal has not been stolen from that wagon. The coal went to Chaoyang, Chifeng, Yuanbaoshan and Changde.
Had a look into the deep coal mine pit. Lots of traffic, electric locomotives with stone trains, and steam locomotive relaying tracks in the pit, as well as on the shuttle between the mine and Pinzhuang Nan CNR station. The mine should work for many years to come. They said they have enough reservres. More about this area on this page. Then lunch, and then to Yuanbaoshan where we arrived right before the afternoon passenger train. We photographed the passenger train at the large bridge, then at Fengshuigou. The loco returned to Xi zhan for an hour or so. The it came again with empty coal wagons, got coal from the mine silo, and returned with the mixed train after connecting some 1000 tons of loaded coal wagons. Hard work to start from the stations. The locomotive put the landscape on fire several places. We successfully chased the train for four passings until Xi Zhan.
At Fengshuigou i s a little narrow gauge railway ending behing the coal silo. 600 mm gauge, electric weith 550 volts. We did not see any locomotives, just a lonely car came intyo the station, unattended by anybody. It looks like it serves a quarry farther east. At least they had many stones stored at the station. Electrification was kind of ramshackle. Poles were of all kinds of material, and the electric wire was fixed a bit like we would do it in an improvised manner on a model railroad. As a tall European I found I better go very crooked in order not to touch the wire with my head. This railway was in use. As we came, a bunch of line workers just packed their tools and went home.
For overnight, we used the power station hotel, which was good,
with warm water all the time.
But nothing happened after 9.30. JS 8250 stood nicely painted in the depot, good for some pictures, and 8249 did not look much worse. We went by car to Majiawen to see if anything would happen. What we saw was agriculture. They harvested corn, manually, and donkeys carried this back to the village. The autumn corn was for feeding animals. Only one empty JS came from west and ran to the mines. No more traffic on the railway. A lone railway worker cleaned sand from the rails at the level crossing.
The next was a visit to the brick works near Wu Dan city between Chifeng and Daban. This was a total improvisation, just stopping the car and walking in. We were so welcome! They showed us everything and were proud of their works! You should really go and see this when you pass here! But in winter they are closed.
We slept at a mongolian hotel near Sha Hu. Mongolian meal, which
was good, and music and dance. The local TV was there to film
them, so first we say the performance they gave for the TV, then
they came and had one more (different) for us.
We came to Daban depot. I was immediately greeted happily by many people who know me there. QJ6301 was on its way out and the crew wanted me to join them. We had a trip around the depot. The bad news is that this year traffic is a bit slow, due to lack of wagons in Northern China. So they only have 35 locomotives in their plan, against 42 last year. Many days I could see up to 20 engines under steam parked at Daban.
There is one problem now at Daban: The guy in the depot restaurant is hard selling locomotive plates and parts, and the people in the workshop try the same. It is a nuisance. They steal railway property and try to sell it to foreign visitors. Morale is deteriorating... (In spring 2003, luckily, this practice was forbidfden, now they only hard sell to night visitors.)
QJ 3073 was standing on the ground in front of the power station,
looking quite like scrap. But for the National Day they removed it
here and put it on rails in the scrapyard.
My friends parted here and went to the Hotel in town.
I remained in the dormitory of the depot, where I dumped my baggage for the next 11 days. Actually I was riding engines most of the time, doing work in the cab under supervision. Some firing, some driving, some checking water levels and signals, some work pulling coal forward in the tender. In principle, some crews should have taken me along. But because of the erratic traffic pattern, it is not always possible to join the crews who actually should train me. Thus, on some days I just rode with any crew that would invite me with them. They all know me from before, as I have been there more than three years now doing this. The trouble is to do appointments: Several times a tour turned out to be cancelled or the engines were just running light engine, no train available. Thus, the whole atsy became very varying and changing every day.
I will not tell all I did or saw. Something is better not said.
For example there are some explanations about why there are so
many sunflowers missing along the railway line, especially near
stations, and why remainings of sunflowers are lying along the
railway. I will not give all the details about doings in the
evenings at Daban. This trip report is about steam locomotives and
what is going on around them.
Looked around the depot in the morning. Many flowers are still around, and the trees are still green or yellow, and growing fast every year. This looks better than I have ever seen it before. The brickwork south of the depot seems to be abandoned after just one year of use. The city, however, is growing more and more on the south side of the depot.
I had a trip with QJ 6778 to Lindong. The boiler was bad, and the
coal even worse. Until the top near Chaganhada, the firebox was
full of ash. We sometimes were down to less than 10 km/h because
of low steam pressure. Before Lindong we met two trains with a
second engine, not working, returning from repair or new. In
Lindong I met the others and joined them for a trip to Yamenmiao.
However, no train up west came until I had to return to Daban by
train 6052. They had a good meal in the dining car. I went to the
internet cafe at the station. Still horrible keyboards. But
connection was good.
My best friend, brigade locomotive driver, phoned at 0h 52 and asked me to immediately come to the station. He had had no time before... I jumped into my clothes, grabbed my stuff and flashlight and ran to the station. The train started at 1h24 with QJ 7012 and 6110. I was on the first engine until Linxi, but this was not good. We were five people there, which means one is always in the way for the workers. tI changed to QJ6110 which I got to fire six periods on its way up, three times until Shangdian, three times after Jingpeng. This even if they had an apprentice on board who was supposed to be trained as fireman. But he seemed to like to relax, seeing me working, probably worse than he could do. Over the pass it was still dark, and only at Jingpeng the sun came up.
A short warm breakfast at Jingpeng station, in the house besides the water cranes, and then we rushed on to Haoluku. The engines worked hard, as the train was heavy. In the 12 per thousand inclines we came down to 25 km/h. Arrived at Haoluku at 8.30. Cleaned the engine, then a good and long warm shower, a meal in the restaurant, then some sleep until 12. I went out to have a look at the landscape. Trees are still yellow, and it was nice and warm. When coming back, the crew of QJ 6997 of Baiqi invited me for a trip. They had a working stoker, so there was not much firing. Here is a photo on the next station west of Haoluku. Only firing in the back corners sometimes, and making sure the coal went into the stoker from the tender. They used a little metal stick to push the coal into the through. But they had other work for me to do... And more work there was after meeting Jitong's safety inspector who accidentally turned up at Sanggendalai. We had a long stop there because we waited for a mixed train from Xilinhot to Baiqi with DF4 4055 to go first, then an eastbound freight. From behind, QJ 7088 came with another freight and had to wait. We started there at 18.00. Then things went fast. Especially the grade the last 40 km before Baiqi was fun. Hard working engine, and they fired like hell in addition to the stoker! The chimney was like a volcano at night!
The line west of Haoluku is full of good photo possibilities. Not as spectacular as at the Jingpeng pass, but nice scencery with sand dunes, forest, hills. And the trains have only one engines which is hard working at times. I had never seen this part, as the passenger trains do not run in daylight here. Sanggendalai depot looked finished but nobody was there. No engine either. In Sanggendalai we had a long stop, because DF4D 4055 had to move first with its mixed train from Xilinhot to Baiqi, a nonscheduled one.
It became a bit exciting as I wanted to return to Daban by the
passenger train. We were stopped at the station entrance at 20.05
as they exchanged engines on the passenger train. But then we
pulled in, I jumped off the engine at 10 km/h, ran over the rails,
climbed over some freight wagons, and reached the passenger train
at 20.15 just before it left. No problem to get a bed.
I had a trip to town, looked into the markets. They sold sheep by
hanging them, living, on their four legs onto some scales, then
transported them away by bicycle. A sheep goes for 8 Yuan per
kilogram. I also got new glasses at the optician in Daban ,who
does very good work. Then by taxi to Baomutu. A train passed by
with 6631+7009 westbound (7009 from repair). Thus, 6631 is now one
of the freight engines. 6911 was still running one trip to Chabuga
every day on one of the passenger trains, but the opther turn was
served by different engines every day. Just east of Baomutu is a
nice curve and a bridge, but I did not get so far. Then back to
town by taxi. This time I had to walk along the road for about
half an hour. No taxis... (But mobile coverage is there, so I
COULD have called one).
On SiMingYi bridge they blew sludge, and in the steam there we saw a rainbow. Tough luck I could not pull out the camera fast enough! Everywhere on the stations they now have China cabbage lying around. It looks like they dry it before storing it. They also have new heaps of coal many places.
The coal is awful and we had to remove slag at both Linxi and Jingpeng. I had a short meal with the crew at Jingpeng and then waved them good-bye. At the station I bought four Jianlibao. Then some cookies and chocolate, and then on foot down to the road, eating and drinking on the way. Down there I changed to civilian clothes, from my black and dirty work dress. A taxi came by after one minute. I took it to Shangdian for 10 Yuan. (Too expensive, but a train was approaching from east, so I had no time to discuss). QJ6630 came up, but no smoke. So I got another taxi down to Reshui. They are constructing a new highway along the river valley which seriously hinders crossing the valley! People around were harvesting wheat, buckwheat, sunflowers and corn. Threshing was done by having a horse or donkey pull a concrete roll over it. As no train approached, I had a look at the agriculture. Everything here is hand worked. They even grow chili here. It was hanging on long lines along the house walls. And the grain was cut by hand and left in nice bundles. Like in Europe before machinery arrived. The level crossing guard invited me for a cup of hot water (or three) and proudly showed his TV, driven by electricity from a windmill. An electronic device keeps the voltage constant. Then I walked over the bridge to wait for a train at the hill above Reshui school. A lonely railway worker was painting white number on the inside of the rails. It turned out to be the number of millimeters extra height for the outer rail, and a reference to the line drawing. Sitting above Reshui in the evening sun was nice, having a look over all activity in the valley. The mafia, however, did not turn up. The next train came after sundown at about 17h00.... QJ 6230 only, with 48 empty cars. Hard working and generating some black smoke, though. Some kids watched me all the time I was sitting there.
At Reshui I found a taxi for Linxi. With me alone it should cost 50 Yuan. As I just wanted to return and have some comfort, I said yes. The driver was young, so I asked him to drive further to Daban for another 80 Yuan. He told me you can have a driver license at the age of 16. From the age of 18 one can drive buses, trucks and other heavy machinery, but for taxi driving you have ot drive five years or be 21. He stopped a few places I wanted to photograph along the way. Nice autumn colors. It only took 1 1/2 hours back to Daban, even with stops. By the way in Linxi they now had a traffic light at the main crossing. But nobody could care less. In the depot they were cleaning the streets and flower beds for the national day. It is a pity the flowers are going to freeze to death in a few days!
The evening brought hard wind and blowing sand.
A Railway friend at Jingpeng was a bit wondering what I did, as I checked the engine and then disappeared into the small house where we had our lunch. Not a gourmet lunch, but good. They have excellent potato strips with chili, tofu, beans, and rice. And they serve things fast. In ten minutes we were done. While this was being done the local workers shoveled coal to the front of the tender and filled water. We also repaired our shovel, which had a tendency to detach from its shaft...
From Jingpeng on I had work to do all the time. At Shangshuitou
we had a stop to get seven iron ore wagons. Another 560 tons were
added to our train. They keep the ore wet, deliver it to here by
truck. It is like dust. The sidings were quite covered with sand.
The fireman found some hawthrone bushes not far from the engine, so we ate the berries. Normally not the thing to do if in China. Eating berries with hand you have not washed for hours is against nearly all food safety rules. But this went fine. Now I had to fire. This turned into quite hard work as now we had our full weight to pull. But somehow firing is not so difficult any more. If you get used to distribute the coal evenly and thinly, it burns like hell immediately. Only after two minutes there is no more coal (dust) to burn and you have to fire more. Topday our coal was also full of stones. My colleagues just threw the stones out of the windows without lookinf if anybody was there. Another reason to keep your distance from the moving trains...
I also had to pull coal in the tender. This is always nice, as there is the direct sound from the chimney. The crews never understand why I love working in the tender and why I work there so much slower than when I am firing inside the cab... The wind turned icy now. Finally we reached Haoluku at sundown. Then cleaning the engine, a nice shower, meal and some sleep in the bed of one of the crew. I had my alarm clock at midnight to go to the station for the passenger train. The level crossing was open, and the guard sleeping...
At Chabuga we shunted some coal cars into the depot (these are Jitong line's own cars!) Then a short locomotive cleaning and off we went into the dormitory near the station. Shower, meal. Here they do not use "one time chopsticks", but wash them. A good beginning to save the environment! The driver insisted in me taking the passenger train back and not sit on an engine. His concern was my comfort. OK, so I did, and it was comfortable to just sit and look at the landscape. At Daban I sprinted from the dining car to the engine. This was filled by about 15 people who all used it as taxi to the depot.
Here I finally observed that they use 600 kPa brake pressure for the passenger train. The engine was 6925 today.
On the train I met Wang Ji Guo, driver of QJ 7041. I knew him from before. We went to dinner at a restaurant. He is one of the few people who do not insist on you drinking alcohol! A nice guy. They wanted me to join their engine tomorrow to Haoluku, but it later turned out that traffic was so low that their engine was parked for days.
I got some info about job conditions: Locomotive people retire at
an age of 55, office people at 60. They have no paid holiday, only
10 free days distributed over the year, 3 of them near the
national day, 3 at the spring festival, and four somewhere else
during the year. As locomotive people sometimes have to work on
such holidays, they get triple pay during such days. People
working extra turns on Jingpeng to Shangdian get 200 per turn per
crew. A good extra income!
I finally met my friends near Liudigou, but missed an upbound train. Tough luck! We had a comfortable stay behind a mountain. (It was blowing here). They told me the mafia had not turned up here. Tina is always buying fruit for me. I really appreciate that! During winter stays I may more or less live of tangerines.
Another fast train came up, with good effects in the sun, and then I had to leave to catch QJ 7041 in Daban (I believed). So I got another taxi ride back. But this time not: 7041 was parked as there were no trains to run. Thus I met one of my other driver friends and had a dinner at the depot restaurant.
As the plan for tomorrow looked dim, nearly no trains, I
undertook some night photography in the depot and decided to rise
Here they work 6 days on duty, 3 days off. The shifts start at
20.00, 2.00, 8.00, 20.00. They were very friendly people. After a
short while, the passenger train came in, and I got my bed for
heading back to Daban. Same price as from Baiqi, 81 Yuan. It seems
to be the least price for a bed. The cook in the dining car was
running his own business: Woolen long trousers. I was not too
interested, so I offered a far too low price. He went down, but
still my price offer was far too low. When I went to bed after
dinner I found it was quite cold in the car. Soon after the cook
turned up and offered me the trousers on my price. So I had to buy
them, and they served me well this night!
They had a good dinner, a beer. The conductors also ran their own business. Everyone seemed to sell something. They would sell their complete uniforms if I was interested...
I visited Heliwen at his office. He now sells some Jitong picture postcards with steam locomotives. Some of his own pictures from summer amongst them. A good thing, if someone wants to see pictures from other times of the year. He also still has some books published by China Railways Publishing office. When I came to Beijing, they were not available there any more. So now Daban depot may be the only source for Chinese steam locomotive books.
And finally I got some clothes repaired and washed in the depot. They have a washing machine operated by an old man and the ladies from the dormitory. And a good old foot driven sewing machine. And still, even after the frost, they have a few flowers, even if the disappear fast!
Finally there was one train towards Chabuga. The engine was new
to Daban, QJ6978. A supershine engine with slogans and all. And it
was technically in an excellent state, and the crew knew me. The
train was at 2335 tons, 35 tons more than they normally should
have. The engine never slipped! And the boiler was excellent. We
used little coal. When I fired from Baomutu to the top after
Gulumanhan, the problem was rather to keep the pressure below 15
Bar than the opposite. Downwards we drove 70 km/h quite often, and
the engine ran smoothly! The real nice thing came after Lindong,
when it was dark: All the sparks coming out of the chimney when we
ran at full steam. Full steam we had: The driver said the engine
was only 40 days after major repair, and he opened up fully and
drive at 30 to 40% cutoff. So we were roaring along here. This was
steam engine at its best. I got to fire now and then, so this was
a lovely trip. However, it all comes to an end. We arrived
Chabuga, had our dinner at the dormitory, and they organized a
room for me to sleep. I went to bed at 1.20.
Then came the good bye dinner with the Daban people. It is always an unhappy thing for me to leave from here. They all want to know when I will be back. We had shou ba rou at a local restaurant, and outside more sheep were waiting to be killed. Really fresh meat! By the way, just as an information: A bottle of beer in a restaurant costs 3 Yuan, in the dining car 3 or 4, in the depot canteen 1,80, and in some shops 1,50 Yuan. This is a dream for a Norwegian used to 25 or more for a LITTLE beer. An interesting fact is that Heliwen's little daughter speaks many English words. They learn this in the kindergarden at Daban! And she pronounces them well! China's backcountry gets international!
I looked at the timetable for tomorrow to find out how to get to
Xilinhot. My plan was to catch the express train to Huhehaote, but
on odd days it is from Xilinhot. So I had to go west somehow. The
preferred way is by locomotive, but now with my full baggage. I
found 6638 + 7012 scheduled at 8, and 6110 + 6517 at kl 10, both
with trains, but after that first a train at 13 with 6230 + 6760.
All these engines have crews which have invited me before and let
me work. So this seemed to give me good chances.
I found my friends arriving at Jingpeng just after myself. Even if the crew wanted me to go further I did not want to come with them, as I had to go to Xilinhot. I never know if I can get a lift further west from Haoluku. This is because all my contacts are Daban based. And Daban and Baiqi depots do not have much contact. Only the crews eat in the same restaurant in Haoluku service station. And going on the express from Sanggendalai at a time with lots of travelers seemed too risky. They could not have space... So I had to leave my people after a warm lunch in the small restaurant.
The remaining time of the afternoon was spent chasing trains up here. But most interesting was agriculture! People were threshing their crops on the old street, and we had to zigzag between them. Everything was full activity. This year gave good crops, but they have to reduce the number of animals because they are not allowed to have them in the mountains after Nov. 15 any more. I hope this will control some of all the erosion. There were lots of trucks transporting new taxi buses (mian bao che) towards west. It is a pity the railway does not transport them! Then I had to catch a taxi to Xilinhot. The driver thought the train from there would start at 20.09, so he sped at 100 km/h through the dark. A horrible drive! Along the road were all kinds of vehicles without lights. And we made it. At 19.10 I alighted at Xilinhot station. The downturn came afterwards: One hour in the ticket queue! Do they have place for me? And the departure time came and went! Finally at 20.15 I got a soft seat ticket. No more sleeper s available. Horrible! But on the ticket they showed the train runs at 21.09! Even at the station they display 20.09! Then a trip to the toilet, i.e. the washing facilities of it. And here I got off most of the black dirt. Water was flowing sparsely, but the toilets still looked OK. Two months after opening they should do so! The station is nice otherwise. The good thing was: The conductors still knew me from last year and they finally had a bed!
Well, all else has not much to do with steam locomotives. I went to Huhehaote for the management of Jitong line, to the safety inspector and chief locomotive crew teacher. The main news is that they have no immediate plans to abandon steam. The safety inspector meant they will have steam until 2010. Well, let us hope so! Their travel service, Aodu, is actually serving mostly Chinese customers. They were putting together a group travel to Italy! But in winter they have capacity for guiding foreigners in China, this is why they run their "steam festival" from Dec 5 to 9. This is actually just a guided tour to Jitong railway, with some special service. I found what they do is being in radio contact with the approaching locomotive crews, who then open up a bit or slow down if asked to. They have three English-speaking ladies. Now they said they are able to organize if people or groups want to join freight trains over the Jingpeng pass. They would put in another conductor car for such guests. No special comfort, no "circus train", but probably a good experience. A trip to the operation office revealed the way of operation. One man gets a phone from China Rail whenever they have a train to transport. The only thing they do themselves is shunting it to the right tonnage at Benhong and Zhelimu, and planning transportation from and to their own stations. And everything is still done manually. They manually draw the line diagram for the trains, and this plan is then given to the depots every 12 hours. Any delays etc. are only corrected after another 12 hours. This is why schedules are so unreliable. Another reason is engine or crew failure, or other technical problems sometimes.
Train number 90 to Beijing had conductors in mongolian national clothing instead of uniforms. And the soft sleeper was beautiful.
I decided to visit the Great Wall at Badaling. They had tourist
buses leaving from Qian Men every hour. Price was 50 Yuan, plus
tickets at the place. The bad thing was there was a guide who
spoke literally unbroken from Beijing to the Wall. Worse than a
football reporter! I decided to leave them alone for their return.
Maybe they are still waiting for me there...
Visiting China at this time of the year has its own charm: Autumn colors, and warmth. Not this horrible freezing as in winter. For photography of big steam, however, winter is still best.
Jitong line is still worth a visit!