China Oct - Nov 1999: Chengde, Jingpeng pass


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This autumn China holiday was very different from last time. I nearly only was on locomotives. Travelling from Daban to Haoloku and back with heavy freight trains, and doing as much of the job myself, as they would allow me.

Oct 20, 1999 Beijing to Chengde

The flight to Beijing was as awful as ever. With a middle place I did not see anything. Flew with Lufthansa through Frankfurt. One hour late arrival. I only had the train schedule from last year and hoped to catch the morning train to Chifeng. Customs went very fast this time. No problems. But at the bank I had to wait for nearly 30 minutes because they just changed personnel. 8 people working at the counter, of which one did a job! They had problems about my new Norwegian 500 kroner notes, did not know them! But finally changed them anyway.

Got a taxi by meter to Hauirou Bei. He did not know exactly how to drive there, but did a tremendous job finding the way. Zigzag to the north. Nice weather, high speed, partly very new and fine roads. People are just now spreading corn along and on the streets for drying. Everywhere. Long stop at a level crossing in Huairou where BJ 6105 was shunting. At Huairou Bei they told me the next train would be in the evening. It now runs earlier than before. So I got another taxi to drive me to Huairou main station on the Chengde line. There a train would leave one hour later. But a taxi driver asked if he could do something for me and proposed to drive me to a bus stop. I agreed on a price of 10 Y, and he drove me ONE kilometer. But a bus came within one minute! So this time I took the bus to Chengde. It cost 25 yuan. Very slow bus, bad motor. But it worked. Not too full. And it ran into the steel works area, not directly to Chengde. So I jumped off at the summit tunnel, much to the wondering of the other passengers. What does a Laowei with a full backpack here in the middle of nowhere? Some school children ffollowed up immediately. Never seen a stranger? I drank a JianLiBao, and headed off to the summit, along the old road. When arriving up there I heard the first train coming. Fast run through the lower tunnel, and then into position. Five minutes after I had the train! Last train of the day. Hard work as ever, slipping in the tunnel and nearly zero speed through upper tunnel. Steam action at its best!

Otherwise here are autumn colors, people are fetching the straw off their maize plantations, and they are planting trees here and there. I went down the line. People are collecting coal dust as before, and at the big street bridge a man was pressing the stuff into rund "coal stones". I took a minibus down to Huilong hotel. No place there, but opposite they had. Had to look hard to find the new timetable, but finally got one at Chengde station and a ticket for tomorrow afternoon to Chifeng. Vegetarian dinner at a nearby small restaurant. Fried cabbage. Very good.

Early night after a bath. Warm water available!

Seen locomotives: JS 5634 + one more JS at the depot

15.55 at tunnel SY 1522 supershine ex works, JS 6403, SY 0533

21. October Chengde, and Chengde to Chifeng

Up at 5.35 after being awake since 3 in the morning. Morning light from 5.50. Went to station without breakfast.

BJ 3122 shunting at station

6.05 SY 1522 + JS 5634 leave without a train for steelworks

6.40 SY 1765 leaves with 11 full C62 cars, full steam out of the station

7.00 SY 1765 + 11 cars + JS 5634 + SY 1522 up from Chengde Xi. I was just too late with my taxi. Went further up the line on foot. Cold this morning. Anorakk and gloves good to have. Very good steam from the locomotives. I went up to the very top. It is conglomerate kind fo rock. Maybe sandstone. Not easy to climb because of loose gravel on the surface. But I got up. People are around in ther fields and gather straw to their houses. Most of that they carry on their backs. They also chop off wood from smaller brush. Some carry out manure to the fields. Donkeys all over the place.

8.05 JS ex works condition towards Chengde. No train.

9.10 SY 1522 + SY without train towards Chengde.

9.55 SY 1522 + JS + 11 cars + SY up. Only SY back to Chengde again. Very much black smoke. Nice video shots from the top, also between the tunnels. My first train with two locos in the front of a train. Very black smoke.

10.34 JS 5634, train of empties, JS 6403, SY 1765 towards Chengde

11.30 SY 1522 + 11 cars + SY 1765 + JS 6403 up. The usual hard work. Black smoke, slipping. The two back llocos down again.

INow I went down the line towards Chengde. Got the next train at the high street bridge at 12.30. SY in front, two locos back. Nice video shot, with the camera lying between the railsÖ

Then I rushed to hotel, got my backpack, checked out and went to station. This time the taxi took a road on the west side of the hills, not through the normal road (Xi Dajie). Much faster!

Train at 13.21 to Chifeng. A railway worker showed me to the Ruanzuo car, which was not marked from the outside. Usual RZ22 car but with shetts on the seats. . I paid some 10 Yuan extra. Not many people in this car. BJ 3226 pulls from Chengde.

Not much to report. The line mostly follows valleys. Some tunnels, some large bridges. Speed not measured above 70 km/h. The rails would easily allow more speed, but they donít run faster. Many freight trains in opposite direction ,especially after Longyuan, all of them with Chifeng based DF4C. Passenger trains are operated by green and orange DF4. There is neavy traffic, and we met about one freight every two stations.

Locos seen: DF4B 0692, 2173

DF4C4030 built 1991, 4075. 4027, 4029, 5246 and 5247 built 1999, all of them blue and yellow painted.

Many places here they have sun warmth collectors for warming water. A water tank on the top and collectors at an angle below.

At Chifeng I went into Chifeng Binguan to have some luxury. For 200 Y I got a room where everything worked, and warm water. Dinner at nearby restaurant where they even had snakes. (I did not eat a snake).

Report from visit to Jitong line from October 22 to November 1, summary.

This time in China I visited Jintong line only, as I am now using most of the time to work on the engines, instead of standing outside and freezing. Also the workers there know me so much that it is difficult to get away from the engines. Here are some updates about the service on the line, and the use of steam engines.

Daban and Baiqi are the main depots. Daban has 44 own engines, and cares for 15 from Chabuga. Baiqi is the main deport for the eniges west of Haoluku. I do not know the assignment there, but observed which engines visit Haoloku.

Just a few words about running these QJs:

They are running 6300 kilometers between boiler washouts. Every 3000 and 10000 kilometers there is a small scheduled repair. Typically the engines of Daban do one run to Haoluku and back in a day, or just a little more, which accounts to 400 to 450 km.

Most engines have some minor problems, like nonfunctioning coal pushers or nonfunctioning warm waterpumps. On these engines, footplate riding gives you the chance to do some hard work on the tender, shovelling coal to the front, thereby stading in the free and hearing the sound of two exhausts!

Repair: 6230 at Zhangwu depot.

Dead engines in Daban: 2388, 6027, 6050, 6079, 6630, 6632, 1760, 2706 with tender from 6876, 7142 without number plates, damaged in collision 1996.

Baiqi engines seen in Haoluku: 6912 (ex Baotou), 6564 (ex Baotou), 6835, 7088, 6636, 6483, 7136, 7138, 7139, 7115, 6854

Baiqi engines reported to me by locomotive staff, not seen by myself:

6302, 6304, 6563 (ex Baotou), 6835, 6987, 7043, 7088, 7118, 7114, 6636, 6333, 2624, 6997.

The following numbers were reported to me by Daban staff as never having been at Daban (to correct false reports from earlier times):

2079, 6136, 6366, 6680, 6715, 6736, 6808, 6816, 6887, 7000, 7415

Some observations of how life is on the QJs between Daban and Haoluku in winter

The problem at this time of the year is the possibility for quite cold weather. Temperatures may fall down to minus 30 centigrade, which is quite arctic, for a railway being as far south as this one.

Cold is a heavy problem, as the cab is not windproof at all. There are just too many places cold air is blowing in. As the boiler needs to have room to move back and forth (steam boilers get longer when fired, shorter when cold), the cab is not completely tight around the boiler. Most windows and doors are in a sorry state, as the constant pounding and bouncing of the engines destroys them slowly, but steadily. The steam also tneds to put ice on the outside of the windows. This leads to the need for the driver to have his head outside the cab, at least at strategic places.

IIn summary: it is cold, awfully cold, when there is no need to put coal into the fire. I have seen drivers putting coal and coal blended with water on holes on the floor, so it could freeze and tighten the holes. I have seen some drivers taking with them straw to put into holes. They use whatever is on hand. Some locomotives have damaged windows, and even cardboard does the service sometimes. All respect to people working under such harsh conditions!

From Daban to Haoloku things are fine, most of the way, because of heavy firing. If they have a train, they have to fire nearly continuously, and then temperature in the cab is OK. In the tunnels it gets like in a sauna. Smoke and steam in the cab, and very hot. It is natuyrally worst on the second locomotive. Thank God there is no really long tunnel! From Shangdian to Jingpeng, however, it is cold. Very cold. You will observe the people sitting in front of a half open fire door sometimes. I have seen them taking glowing slags out of the firebox and spreading on the cab floor to give some warmth.

The bad run is from west to east. After getting some warmth from firing the first 15 kilometers out of Haoluku, they run downwards for 50 kilometers into Jingpeng. Temperature inside the cab

is definitely freezing. If there is coal sludge on the cab floor it will freeze to ice. When passing stations they have to open the windows to observe signals from the guards outside. This contributes to cold. Naturally up the Jingpeng pass is warm, because they have to fire all they can do, but Shangdian to Daban is just horrible. There is also some steam warming in the cab sides, but this does not seem to work properly on every locomotive. And if it works, there will always be some metal pieces which are just too warmÖ In all, the winter working conditions on a QJ running downhill are just about as horrible as something can get. In addition to the cold you have the vibration, which can be heavy, and the sound. Sometimes I wondered how the rails could sustain this bouncing from the badly running engines.

Most of the Daban people are at the age from 18 to 30. I wonder how long time they will like to do these jobs. Most of the Baiqi people seem to be older. At least many locomotive drivers there are old Baotou drivers, who probably followed their engines.

In the 1.1 to 1.2% grades, the speed could fall down to 16 km/h. Below 20, slipping occurs continuously, specially in curves. The way to control this is most of the time just sanding. They dont touch the throttle. Only if very bad slipping occurs. But there is a certain point where you cannot give more steam pressure. If speed is low, you have to reduce pressure and increase the cutoff. At 16 km/h you typically had to reduce to two thirds of the throttle and 50% cutoff. Some drivers just gave something like half steam and 40 to 50% cutoff and then never touched the throttle again before Shangdian. The locomotive slowly but steadily creeps up the grade.

Anyway, the grades require a lot from the engines. You have to be on the watch for slipping continuously, and otherwise there are just too many people and animals on the line. A few times we were nearly hitting horses or cows or children.

Anyway, I met lots of nice and friendly locomotive people. Virtually everyone at the line was friendly to me.

October 30, 1999: To Jingpeng for overnight stay

QJ 6876 and 6763 left at 19.10 from Haoluku. I did no work because I was not dressed for that. Did some videofilming. The conductor was on the locomotive because of no conductor car. It was a coal train, 2100 tons. This locomotive (6876) ran very badly, hunted from side to side every 4 rotations. Long stop one station before Jingpeng (Matiazi). Donít know why. Maybe line repair. Nice weather, no wind, drove with open windows. Arrival at Jingpeng 22.00 Totally dark. Another train waiting there with only one locomotive (6925). I went into the station and found a drunk taxi driver who took me to Ke Shen Ke Teng Binguan. He wanted 70 Yuan for that. I gave him 12. Still too much, but OK. The hotel had space for 118Y. Bad room. No warm water today. Its a pity. Ordered a taxi for tomorrow which did not come.

>October 31, 1999: Linesiding Jingpeng pass

A day at Jingpeng pass, photography from along the line.

I was awake at 6.10 after a short night. I had som cola and instant soups, went down to see if there was the taxi. It was not there. So I just walked into the main crossing of Jingpeng to see what comes. After five minuts a minibus arrived. I asked the driver and he wanted 200 for the day. He did not at that time know what I would do, but soon learned that I was chasing trains, and going mainly to bridges and other scenic places. So he cooperated very well. The car was not very reliable, but at least inside of a good standard. He was always fixing something in the engine while I was photographing.

The first train was already on the ramp, and we found it just before Shandian, just before sunrise at 7. Hard working train, running with high cutoff and working very slowly the last kilometer. Then down to Erdi where the next train came up at 8.40. A group of nine english people came also there. This train was not too heavy. I had a better one in February. But steaming was good. However, the light was very hard. Extreme contrast between light and dark. The next train came too fast afterwards, so I had to go all the way up to Shandian to get it. Nice photo place at level crossing where the first signal is west of the station. Local children came and had a look at my video camera. My last postcards from Norway disappeared into childrens hands. Then down to Reshui where I got the train at the level crossing, and then went to eat at a small local restaurant. I left after half an hour and went to the crossing again, to wait for 8 o clock train from Daban. This one was heavy. Here I met an American. Good to speak English after all, not only Chinese.

Went back to taxi and off we went to Liudigou. He even drove up there. I got another passing here! The only problem is I crashed a box of lemonade in my backpack. Luckily I detected it and no more damage resulted. We then went down to SanDi and got two light engines on the way up. The bad news were: I stopped too long time there waiting for another train. When I finally gave up we came too late to the west side. I barely made it to the SiMingYi bridge. I did not chase this train, rather looked at the landscape for a good photo place for the next train. This came only after 2 hours waiting in the cold. I took it at level 2 and 3 at HaTaShan. Good position, and sun at low level, nice glint shots. Hard working locos, 6996 first. Heavty train, maybe 2200 tons. Chased this train all the way up to Shandian and got another passing up there. These trains need some timeÖ

Then we went down to the hotel. Got some fruit and cookies for tomorrow. Early to bed. But at 21 room service came in and announced warm water ("Lai Re Shui"). So I took a bath. Very, very good after all. Good I took it, because at 22 and next morning there was no water at all!

Cost for this hotel (KeShenKeTeng BinGuan was 118 Y per night. It is OK to stay there, as it is central in relation to the west side. Only less than 10 minutes taxi ride to SiMingYi. And even if a train is already far up you can still chase it to Shangdian.

November 1, Jingpeng pass linesiding, and then to Beijing

I awakened the hotel crew, checked out at 6, and 6.10 my driver arrived. We found the first train at SiMing Yi. Hard working. Got one more meeting with it at TouDi, even more slow and hard working. A lot of steam. I went on the top of Hatashan mountain, to see the next train all they way up. It came at 8.08 and disappeared at 8.57 Really good, but awfully cold. Some people must have been on the mountain, there is a cairn on the top. Some wild growing trees and brush, nice climbing. I saw all the cows, goats etc going out. The taxi had trouble with the engine. Would not start. So he had to park consciously, but I had to push him a few times. Anyway, we then went to the bridge below Xiakengzi, where it was warmer. Got a nice passing of the third train. We then chased it to Shangdian, and then left for the east side. People here are quite prepared for the winter. They have their corn on the rooftops, and all the straw collected around their houses. They already fire in the morning. Down to Reshui. Found an incoming train, but wind was hard, and this train only had af few cars. I waited for it to continue from Reshui, and finally it came, but not much action. So we left to Linxi. Just before we came into town a bus to Chifeng came against us, we stopped it, and off I went. Got a window place, and bus was not too full yet. But I was tired, slept soon, and as I awakened we came into the brick works town and had to change buses. Then it was both colder and became very crowded. Finally we reached Chifeng after dark. Along the last 50 km we continuously overtook or were overtaken by two motorbikes where they had at least 20 geese in cages at their back. Transport of living geese to town. You could hear them from a distance. As the bus arrived I picked up my stuff, went to the station, got immediately offered a black market ticket to Beijing for the 20.20 train. It was the last berth in the YW car, upper berth. I did not know it was at the door, but so tired I was, I slept well ayway, later. When they started to let people on the platform, a railway policeman shut me into the platform area outside the queue. Nice! So I came into my car quite early, and could stow away my things. They played high music, and continually talked about the train times, and advertizing. Sometimes both at the same time. Probably the tape, and the conductor speaking. But I was soon asleep to the sound of the train.