China 10.6.2000 - 22.6.2000

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10.6.2000 Beijing to Jinzhou.

I came by Finnair. As usual, no problems at the airport. Things go fast and smooth. I found the airport bus, which does not run quite often. They had parked the buses under the parking house, to protect it from the warmth. It was about 35 degrees C. Finally the bus started and brought me all the way to Beijing Railway station. The trouble is, however, that most interesting train connections are gone when you come to town late in the morning. So I went into the soft class waiting room to get rid of my baggage and change clothes. After some hassle with the new electronic locker system I got rid of my backpack. No problem to get a ticket for train 439 to Jinzhou, which was the first to leave for northeast China. I got a hard sleeper, but on the platform the conductor of the soft sleeper car said I could get a ticket from him. So I traveled soft class, and that was good.

Before that I got boughtsome fruit. Peaches are sold, but not quite ripe, and apricots, which were good. I also needed a pair of glasses, as my old ones broke at Helsinki airport. And I found a pair at a kiosk for 26 RMB. They served their purpose well. Otherwise, around the station are lots of new shopping centers of the higher class, but many shops are empty.

Anyway, I got underway. Did not much to inspect the station. Everything looked like before. Our train was with DF11 0144 (Beijing). In Beijing depot, lots of diesel engines as always. A DF10, a double BJ, a measurement car or something like that in brown-yellow, many NY6 and NY7, some of them looking like scrap, some good looking, and lots of DF11 and DF4D. We headed east in a dry but green landscape. They grow mostly corn. Some wheat is already ripe and harvested. Shepherds have goats along the railway line, even here with all the traffic.

Much traffic, mostly freight trains. They are hauled partly by DF4, partly by SS1. From Fengrun on eastwards we met nearly only SS1 electrics. The turnouts here have two driving motors; thus I have to conclude that this line is already rebuilt for higher speeds. From Fengrun on until Shanhaiguan there is a lot of construction work going on. They are setting up fences along the line, some places new rails. There IS some work to construct the high-speed line! At Qinhuangdao three lines meet and there is somehow railway all over the place. This continues until Shanhaiguan. This area is a bit like the Ruhr area in Germany. Lots of train lines criss crossing, and a lot of traffic all over the place. But the locomotives: Green DF4 (Beijing depot) on the non-electrified line and SS1 else. I only saw one train with a new SS4 (0162). But I could see some coal cars which were higher than the usual C62. Maybe a special brand for the coal line.

At Shanhaiguan the depot was full of DF4D, DF11, DF4 orange, and another depot full of SS1. The diesel depot had QJ 7071 shunting in ex works condition. Probably on its way west. The first steam today. In the station we got a new DF11, and water for the toilets. One worker for every car stood waiting for us. From now on there was no electrification, and no line work to see. The freight locomotives were DF4C in the 44xx and 52xx series, the passenger trains DF4D and DF11, even the local trains. Only one local train at Shanhaiguan with BJ. I also saw a locomotive DF4C 0016, looking like the 5xxx series, but maybe a start of a new number series. The landscape is a bit more interesting from here on. More hills and curves. I had a dinner in the dining car. They had an exhibition of their different meals, but only the raw materials. I chose beans and meat, but the end result turned out to be this stuff in soup. Anyway, it was goof as always. In my compartment were just two ladies on their way all the way to Mudanjiang. Long travel...

Finally we arrived at Jinzhou. QJ 6770 + 6764(or54) were shunting a permanent way repair train at Nüerhe. Otherwise no steam to see. I went into the first hotel I saw, just opposite the station in a high rise building: Jinzhou Da Shan Binguan. Cost 214 Yuan, but everything worked fine here, and they had a swimming pool. Went out to get some ice cream, and got a ticket to Yebaishou for tomorrow. No problem to make me understood. The investment in learning some more Chinese has really paid off. Still, the fine details are difficult to get right.

11.6.2000 JInzhou to Chifeng.

I did not know how far I would go. No idea how much steam there would be. I took the first train I could get. 7.51, train number 853. I was awake at 4.30, so I went into the station without breakfast and got some peanuts and fruit and Jianlibao and had it at the platform while watching passing trains. Freights are passing steadily, every 6 to 8 minutes, with DF4C. DF5 do shunting and otherwise nothing to see of steam. DF4 7454 (in bad shape) from Yebaishou is heading our train and DF4 6196 at another local train. Some of the DF11 look rather shabby here. Maybe the color is bad. It looks like Jinzhou depot has lots of DF4C and DF4B orange.

The day is quite warm, so I had to consider my activity level. Decided to go to a station up north and see what happens. Beipiao Nan is first candidate. Before that I saw QJ 7489 from Fuxin at Bajiaotai, shunting a train probably for the power station. There was even an abandoned locomotive service point. The next two stations brought crossing Fuxin based DF4 green headed freights. At Yixian QJ 6753 from Fuxin was waiting, direction against us. Obviously, as seen later, this locomotive was turned and then continued further west, our direction. At Beipiao Nan I found the landscape to be more hilly, and there was QJ 6172 waiting with a crossing freight. So I decided to jump off. A permanent way repair motorcar was waiting in track 1, obviously to take people to Beipiao. As the stationmaster did not want to store my baggage, I just took all of it and headed east out of the station, to look at the eastbound train with the QJ. It was probably 30 degrees, and very dry. I found some old irrigation ditch a little higher than the station and found a nice photo spot. But this train did not start. First it waited another two passenger trains heading east, a passenger train heading west, and then came the freight from Yixian with QJ 6753. While I was waiting I could see overloaded lorries transporting stone to the station. QJ 6172 had set back into the station and then did a jump-start. Full steam out and I finally realized it was because the incline out of the station is hard. It barely made it to the top about 2 km further east. This must be a good place to be in winter, with full steam. If there still are QJ around then... Now it was 11.25 and I headed west into the station, but on the south side, to try to photo the westbound freight. They had black smoke, and good photo light. But this time not! The fireman waved, and I just HAD to climb up and be with them. Five minutes later, I had the shovel in my hand and was firing. They let me do this for about ten minutes, and then gave the OK signal. I kept steam pressure up. But the fireman then just turned a handle, and on went the stoker. I had falsely assumed the locomotive was hand fired as the Daban engines. Further on to Chaoyang we had some hard inclines, but the fireman just fired a few shovels to the back end now and then. The train had 1800 tons.

On the way we met QJ 6412 (Yebaishou), tender first, with the local passenger train to Beipiao, three orange colored YZ22, and we met QJ 6707 Fuxin with eastbound freight. We sat under some high aspen trees while waiting the crossing trains, and while a thunderstorm broke. With wet rails, the start was interesting. We used a lot of sand for that, but finally picked up speed. There was no speedometer, but I estimate speed to have been around 40 upgrade. At 13.30 we arrived Chaoyang and the crew retired here. A nice ride, with hard working most of the time. But somehow, with a stoker, I wonder if they really need three people on the locomotive.

A new crew took over, and there was some shunting, so I just went around the station to take photos, with all my belongings with me. There was too much to do to pause and get rid of something. Good to have a backpack!

First, QJ 7116 was waiting with an eastbound freight. It started right after the next westbound passenger arrived. I watched at the busy level crossing east of the station. Then, QJ 6753 started at 14.40 towards Yebaishou, with a new crew. And there was heavy shunting with QJ 6415 (Yebaishou). QJ 3185 Yebaishou arrived with a westbound freight at 15.00 and departed right after. It had a six-axle tender. 15.36 saw arrival of eastbound freight with DF4 1618 and 2117, both Yebaishou. First time I saw an orange DF4 with freight! 15.43 arrival of passenger from Beipiao with QJ 6412. The station personnel looked at me photographing. As it was Sunday, some of them had their families hanging around at the station. I had a good time, but now had to decide what to do. As my priority was to go to Daban, I took the 16.08 train to Chifeng. It had an orange DF4 (Yebaishou based) until Yebaishou and from there a green one. I found the soft seat car. From the trolley I got a lot of drinking stuff. Else, it was nice to sit with an open window and no fear for the cold.

At the first station we met QJ 6752 ex works and QJ 6416 tender first with freight, next station another QJ with coal train eastbound. There still is a lot of steam here!

The landscape was quite green, with cornfields, wine yards, fruit trees, but no water in rivers. All over farmers were in the fields working. We got a thunderstorm on our way. (We had one while on QJ 6753 also!)

For later photography it may be good to get off at station Dong Da Dao, as this station seems to be on top of a hill. Near GongYingZi, however, the landscape is not so good.

Yebaishou had newly painted station pilots JS 8237 and 8238. Nothing seems to have changed here in the last 1 1/2 years. After Yebaishou, there first came the depot. Still some QJ were standing there and smoking. Still, the dead ones were present. And some DF4 diesels. Then started the long upgrade to Shinao and Shahai. Now everything was green, but our speed was a low as ever. A motorcyclist on the drift road held the same speed as we! It is hard even for a DF4 up here. Heavy sound! Our soft seat car was the first one! The grade near Shinao was 18 promille, later near the top near Shahai, at km 17, it was 21 promille from both sides. The water reservoir near Shinao was empty. Maybe it is out of use, as it is full of sand. We met DF4 6511 and QJ 6411 tender first with a freight, then at Pingzhuangnan QJ 6728 and a JS as station pilot, and another QJ northbound. Maybe this line is good to be visited this winter.

Arriving Chifeng at 21.00 I had a hard time to get through the taxi drivers. I decided to have a look at the Railway hotel, about 100 meters into the main road at the left-hand side. Fine. No problem. They had a newly renovated room with everything working, even a local electric warm water heater in the room, for 60 RMB. The only trouble was filling in the arrival form, as I did not understand what to write. But they helped. I had tea at the room, and everything here looked as if it had never been used before. Had a good shower and washed my clothes. From now on I made sure I always had a wet shirt to change to, for later in the day.

12.6.2000 Another warm day. Chifeng to Daban

I got up at 6 and went directly to the bus station, just 200 meters to go. Got a bus ticket for the 6.10 bus to Daban, but that one did not run. So a conductor helped me to change it into a 6.20 bus ticket. They had numbered places, so I got a window place far back, at 28. Even then, they put more people into the bus than they had seats. But we got under way at 6.30, and there was no slow driving through the town any more. I was careful not to drink too much, in case I needed to use a toilet and it would not be available. But no problem. They had a stop after two hours. The road is as bad as it was before. Mostly it is tar road, but at one place just after Chifeng and then the last 25 kilometers into Daban they are building, and the bus was creeping through the dirt road at a very slow pace. I hate this bus drive! The landscape was extremely dry, and many fields were not green yet at all. They had planted lots of new trees along the road, but some of then seemed to be dead. At one place people were digging a cable ditch for kilometers. They just had a male or female worker with a shovel every 20 meters. Most brick works on the way were now working. Many people busy with bringing bricks into and out of the works. Anyway, the general impression was ´hot and dryª. At Daban I immediately got a three-wheel taxi and got to the depot. Came there at lunch break, and nobody of my friends there. But finally they came and welcomed me warmly.

For the locomotives, not much has changed. A few of them have been overhauled and look much better than before. Especially 6301 got a facelift. All depot rails are in full working order again. But now they were repairing the warm water piping throughout the depot. The repair workshop had been repaired since October last year and was now in full use again. They had a full overhaul of one of their steam cranes. Much of the time I was in the operating center. Nothing looked changed. The train planner still gets telephones from Zhelimu and Baiqi and plans train routes by hand drawing. He looks up which engines are at Zhelimu, Chabuga, Daban and Haoluku, and then finds the next engine or pair of engines and assigns them to the train. Another man finds the right crew. Crews report to the operating center at certain points of time and then hear their new assignment. If there is little traffic, they may as well learn that their next train will be some hours later. For people staying over night in Haoluku, this may mean a lot of boring time. Anyway, I was around, then had my dinner at the canteen, and slept for a few hours before joining 6639 for Haoluku. We got an unexpected stop at Xiakengzi, because on the right cylinder the cylinder oil outside it was burning. The driving rod was very warm, but they just put out the fire, put a little more oil on it, and continued to Jingpeng. We arrived Haoluku at about 5, in the first morning light. I had a wash, and then got a room to relax for a while. Then I had a trip into the landscape. It is green now, but still much sand. Now I could see all the plantations to make sure sand is not blowing at the station. They even have birch trees here. Generally it is quite green. At 17 we started back with 6639, new driver. - I was tired. One night without sleep... I slept in the downgrades. Nothing happens. The locomotive just runs awfully bumpy. 19.00 we started from Jingpeng and I got to drive after Xiakengzi. This time it was fun. We kept 25 to 40 km/h, and this meant I could use full power at places (below 25 you cannot, as there is not enough friction). But near Hatashan, at the level section, they let me reduce steam. The donÌt run more than 40 here, maybe to save work. Steam pressure rises, and water level too, when they do this. Up at altitude, it is more green here than in the valley. Maybe more rain. Soon it was dark and we only had the long downhill run to Daban. We had shunting at Linxi where I did the firing, but otherwise there was nothing to do. I also fired the last few kilometers to Daban, as they use a little steam. Arrival at 23. Slow run, because of all the crossings and the shunting at Linxi. We even took water there. At Daban I had a shower, found even some washing powder now, so I got clean this time. Then a beer with the crew. To bed at 2.00.

14.6.2000 Daban-Jingpeng-Daban.

I left the engine at Yuzhoudi and entered car number 4, an open C62 car loaded with boxes, and started taking video and pictures from there. This was really a good show. Even if I got all the coal dust into my face and hair. I thought I was alone but just as the train left, another guy came in. He was a worker travelling to Beijing. He just slept all the way. Not interested in a foreigner entering his car. For viedo this was not too good because the resonance from the wheels in a C62 car is awful. But the experience was new and good! What a sound!

I even survived the tunnels. It was hard, as bad smoky and steamy air as on the locomotives, but the tunnels are short! Nice to see all landscape green now. Many people working in the fields. Horses are roped up, donkeys not. And the donkeys are completely unaffected by the oncoming train. Horses tend to panic. Sometimes cars cross the line right in front of us. They really take risks! The drivers donÌt like this. Anyway, I had a marvelous ride to Shangdian, and because of the warmth it was good downhill, too. But at Jingpeng I saw 6639 waiting, they saw me and waved. I climbed off and ran east through the station. Probably all of them wondered. I made it just as they got their start signal. I got to fire a lot. On the way to Shangdian and afterwards. Again we had shunting at Linxi, but this time we arrived Daban at 22 already. Had a beer, shower, and then to bed at 24. As it is now I am only really eating at dinner, the rest of the day I more or less only drink. Too hot to do otherwise.

At the Daban depot kiosk they have a brandy, made specially for Jitong railway! Trouble: These bottles are not completely tight, so you have to transport them upraised. This worked. I secured one with tape. Nice souvenir: Liquor with a railway symbol on.

15.6.2000 Visiting peoples homes and Daban town

Up at 7.30 when the music started at the depot. (They have music on loudspeakers mounted throughout the depot outside for the morning gymnastics!). Breakfast at canteen. I chose raw vegetables: one tomato and one cucumber and some tea. Very good. They think I am strange. But actually raw stuff IS good. The pigs outside the kitchen are also still here and grunt whenever I am passing them.

They had planted a lot of new trees along the street to the depot. I was told the young employees did this. Whoever that is. We went to town and I got a pair of new glasses at the optician shop at the central warehouse. Took 30 minutes and cost 150 RMB. Got some fruit also. Locally grown peaches. They are quite small, but good! Otherwise I saw the market was full of fruit and vegetables. Watermelons were ripe now, and sold for 5 RMB a piece. (Oh what a pity not being able to take them with me. In Norway you pay about 100 for one at this time...

16.6.2000 Daban-Haoluku-Daban

They came at 2.30 to wake me up. So I went out, tired but ready. Helped them inspecting the engine (6639 again). This time they had a fourth man: a locomotive inspector. He wanted to see how they do their work, so I was not allowed to do work until after Linxi. First some firing, then from Reshui to just before Shangdian they let me drive. The last kilometer before the summit tunnel I pulled coal from the back of the tender. The train was heavy as always with this train (this one was always heavy when I was here), and they had trouble keeping up pressure, but they managed. This was fun! Driving in the dark. I tried to open the throttle as much as possible when the line was straight, and reduced steam pressure when the line curved. With the cutoff I did the opposite. It worked fine and got me some smiling faces from the inspector. Again after Jingpeng I could drive some time in the heavy upgrades. Speed came up to 60 just before Haoluku when I was driving. The engine has good sound when it works fast! Like a dragon. In between I worked a bit in the tender.

After arriving Haoluku we got a thunderstorm and really heavy rain. As we arrived at 11.00 I also slept some time. But then I had a trip into the hills to see the landscape. Rain was threatening, so it was not a long trip. It rained quite hard while I was inside the depot. Good for the landscape. However, as everything is sand here, the rain water soon disappeared. Here is somehow more vegetation than at Daban, even if there is more sand around. Some real forest in the valleys. Probably the wind prevents trees on tops of the hills. Along the railway they are planting more trees, and some places where there is sand they have dug many tree-planting holes. I hope this will help! Along the railway some flowers have strong smell. Something like lavender. But otherwise you see nearly no flowers. Just everything green. Some places sand has been blown into the railway line. People were shoveling the sand out of the rails. It seems like just about any building or repairing project here is solved by putting lots of people to work at it.

From Haoluku at 17 again. This is more or less a downhill ride, with the only incline from Jingpeng to Shangdian. I got to fire a bit, but on this run there is not much to do. Downhill we are just sitting, the locomotive is hunting, dancing, jumping, a big noise. Everyone hopes we get green light at the next station, and the disappointment when it is red and we have to wait. We arrived Daban not before 23.55 because of too many crossings with other trains. Lessons learnt: When the locomotive does not work hard or is standing, one has to fire at the front end of the firebox also! When it is moving at speed, coal will tumble down towards the front by itself. Firing is easiest at speeds below 30, as steam consumption is not too high. Above 30 you have to really shovel coal all the time. Because of this, the crews let me do most work on the hard linclines (Linxi to Shangdian, Jingpeng to Shangdian, and Jingpeng to Hansulu). For every start after a stopping the train you have to spend some 40 shovels of coal. - After the trip ended I got into the shower hall, washed my dress and myself, and then a dinner and beer with the crew. To bed about 3.00.

By the way, when it comes to washing, I just had my work dress and underpants on, no more clothes needed. Even if the dress sometimes was wet after washing, it was still not too cold. Always warm enough or rather too warm! Even changing to a wet T-short did not help for long time. I was always wet, sweating like hell. But certainly this was more enjoyable than the winter. The Chinese, however, did not like the warmth as much as I did. Sometimes we joked about taking a bath in the tender.

17.6.2000 Daban, a slow day


Later in the day I found a depot fireman and was a trip around with him. He had the task to get pressure up to near 15, and the water level in the boiler high. He did that part of the job while I was firing. Then I found the manager of the telephone central. He finally explained why it is so difficult to get someone to the phone to talk to. It is because most people have no phone, just a beeper. So you have to tell the people in the phone central the beeper number to call, and what message to put on the beeper. And all this in Chinese. Only after that you may get the person on the phone. Then I went out into the landscape to read, relax and look around. It is extremely dry here. Some fields look abandoned. They have dug planting holes for trees on the hill west of the depot, but not planted any trees yet. The holes look old. I went through the fields, all looking dry, and into the village south of the depot. At least there are poplar trees, and they are green. But they need rain here!

18.6.2000 Daban- Haoluku - Daban

19.6.2000 Daban - Chabuga - Daban

Train 711 to Chabuga. Not too many places were occupied in the train, and this time there even was running water in the car, so I could wash my hands a few times, as they grew dirty. My backpack is so black now I am getting dirty hands from it. The locomotive had no hard work with this train. I rather had a look at the landscape. They have planted rows with trees along the railway many places, and I saw they are catching the sand. By the way at some places they planted spruce. Bad idea, I think, as spruce doesnÌt like dry climate and sandstorms. Wherever they had new plantings they also set up fences around, maybe to make sure grazing animals don't gnaw the trees. Some places there were large green plains and cows, sheep and horses grazed. Other places everything was dry. People dug in the rivers to get stones (and even gravel to sell to the railway). What happens when there comes a flood? Well, in the afternoon we got a heavy thunderstorm. It started pouring in less than one minute, and hard wind, so it even drove drops through the small openings on the wind side of the locomotive. And after the short storm small rivers turned into torrents and we had local floods! I went out to get wet, as this cooled me down when firing the engine. But after few minutes I was dry again.

I never reached the depot, as a QJ was waiting with a Daban bound freight train. I just HAD to join them. This was the best trip on the whole stay, as this engine was newly overhauled. It had a good machinery, an excellent boiler and was steaming well. Too well at times. I was used to having problems keeping up pressure, but here I had to stop firing at times (after I blew the safety valve once). The driver drove the engine hard. It was a neavy train. At times he had full throttle and 50% cutoff. Still, pressure was kept between 14.5 and 15. They let me fire every third section, and a bit in between. And we had this thunderstorm at Chaganhada, and after that saw water all over the landscape. A big new lake foremd near Gulumanhan, after just one rainstorm. Water flew in torrentious rivers.

20.6.2000 To Beijing

Up at 5, packing, and then off to Daban. I found a taxi near the station. The bus at 6 was completely overfilled, and they pushed people into it all time. The tires were so worn we got a flat one, repair underway. The road is awful as ever, a girl was bad and threw up through the window. Horrible trip, My backpacks got full of dust. I had to wait at Chifeng for about two hours, and no peace to get here. Too many people who want to sell stuff. I left my baggage and went into the markets to get some fruit. Got a hard sleeper ticket, but on the train I got an upgrade to soft sleeper. Good to relax. Only the compartment window was bad, full of condensed water. But most of the time I stood at an open window outside the compartment. Good meal in the dining car with beans and beef, and beer. The train seems to move fast but actually does not. The railway has not too sharp curves. I found all the traffic going with Chifeng based DF4 (DF4C for freights), and after Luoyang freights by double DF4B. Most freights about 50-car length, 3500 to 4000 tons. The line after that gets more and more tunnels and bridges, and is running through the mountains. The great wall is at km 115. Along the valleys people are planting corn and even rice, and there are lots of fruit trees. I got off the train at Beijing Dong. It goes further to Beijing Nan and Beijing Bei, but I was not interested in this long drag. Beijing Dong is a lousy small station, but a few taxis were there.

Result of this trip: The view that summer is pleasant for travelling in China. However, not so good for steam locomotive photography. Work on the locomotive is warm and hard. But you dont freeze...