China Trip report March-April 2007

Observations near Shanghai (March 26 to 31)

Line Wuhu to Huangshan - Xingtan

Freights 3500 tons are operated by pairs of Hefei based green DF4.
Passenger trains are operated by Hefei based orange DF4B (2xxx).
A few passenger trains, even local ones, are operated by red-yellow DF4D.

Line Wuhu to Hangzhou

Passenger trains have red-yellow DF4D.
Freight trains have either green DF4B or, in most cases, ND5 or ND5 + DF4B. The ND5 are either dark green or light green.

Line Nanjing - Wuhu

Passenger trains have red-yellow DF4D or orange DF4B.
Freight trains have ND5.
26 km out of Nanjing is a major industry, and one SY locomotive was seen operating there.

Line Nanjing - Shanghai

The whole line is fenced or bushes are planted tightly. It is electrified but most trains run with diesel.
Train T708 ran with the new Shinkansen-lookalike CRH EMU (only soft seat).
Most other fast passenger trains ran with DF11G (Shanghai) and 12 soft seat cars (no power car in the train).
However, SS9 (Shanghai), DF4D in red-yellow from Ningbo and DF11 (0435 Shanghai) turned up.

The freights are handled by DF8B, and a few ND5 and SS4.

Traffic was very heavy, with a train about every seven minutes. Speed for the passenger train was 160 km/h. (DF11G with 12 cars).

Line Shanghai-Beijing

The night trains Z... have nearly only sleepers and a dining car. Sleeping accommodation (RZ) includes a lunch package. Two bed compartments are available. They were handled by DF11G from Shanghai. (Z14 only soft sleeper and dining car).
I saw one of the trains having two seating cars.

Shanghai metro

The network is growing. They are going to open 11 lines until the Expo in 2010. Transportation is efficient and fast. Line 3 is especially nice as it goes on the surface.
Ticketing is either manual or by ticket machines. The English language dialog on the ticket machines works fine. They take both bank notes and coins. Ticket price depends on the distance and is from 3 to 5 Yuan. The tickets are RFID based with automatic entry and exit gates. If you a wrong ticket, station clerks will help you buying an upgrade. However, in the rush traffic, the metro is very full!

Inside the cars they announce every station in Chinese and English, and Bombardier built cars even have an English display. You may pass from one car to the next inside the train, there are no closed individual cars like in Beijing. The metro seems to run every three minutes or so in rush hour.

Observations in and near Beijing (April 10 and 16)

Beijing Bei to Chifeng

The station has a new approach road. From the metro go along the new road northwards about 150 meter, then turn left. Engines seen here were all green DF4B. Outside the station, a bus to Chifeng is waiting and taking passengers who have no seat ticket to Chifeng on the day train. I did so. Cost is 100 RMB (instead of 60 for the train). The bus ride is slow, as roads out of Beijing are congested, and further north the bus has to compete with everything from trucks to tractorsw and donkey carts. However, after Chengde it gets better, and the last 100 km are more or less four track motorway with a lot of toll booths. The bus needs about one hour less than the train, including stops for eating and toilet. If you want to have a trip into nice landscape, there are two places, but infrastructure for tourists is nearly onoexisting: One is 60 km south of Chengde, right after Gubeikou. The other nice area with mountains is just before entering Inner Mongolia, about 100 km south of Chifeng, about raod km 58 - 62 on the two track road from Chengde.

I used luxury accommodation this time: Chifeng Binguan. A double room is 380 RMB. Everything, especially the water, is working. They have internet in the room. However, there seems to be no food between 20.00 and 7.00.

Huhehaote to Beijing

I had the privilege of riding in the best accommodation China rail has to offer in a night train: Soft sleeper in a 2 bed compartment with its own bathroom. There even was a flat screen TV, headsets and a selection of (less interesting) American movies. The cost was double the cost of usual soft sleeper: 453 RMB from Huhehaote to Beijing. But a lot better than hard seat! They had the same possibility on train Z14 from Shanghai to Beijing.

The line between Shacheng and Luopoling is spectacular! On April 16 it started to get green, but all the fruit trees and peach trees on the mountains were blossoming. There were a lot of coal trains, most of them 55 cars, and pulled by the orange 198x built Alstom double engines (8K). Capital Iron and Steel is just west of ShiJingShanNan station, not far from the western subway terminus either. They had a fleet of GK1 and of imported east German V100 engines in use. It should be easy to get to the line where it crosses the mountains from the metro terminus.

Train 90 was operated by supershine DF4 2001 (a blue-yellow DF4C) from Fengtai depot.

Local trains from Beijing Xi to places west of Beijing are composed of type 22 material, pulled by BJ engines. (One seen at 7.05 at Fengtai, westbound, another one left Beijing Xi at 7.20 south eastbound).
At Beijing Xi, SS9 0129 arrived with something called "super speed parcel express at about 7.30. This train was composed of baggage cars type 25T, all marked 160 km/h, white color. The SS9 is a six axle engine marked with 170 km/h speed. In Beijing Xi station, number 0146 and 0147 Beijing depot as well as 0129, 0137 and 0141 Jinnan depot were parked. They parked more engines in a station track as trains arrived.
Another locomotive type seen in Beijing Xi is SS7E. Numbers 0012 and 0075, both from Xi'an depot. These engines are also marked 170 km/h.

Later I went to Beijing main railway station by bus. No problem to find a bus right outside Beijing Xi, on the north side. I took bus number 67 to Qian Men as I wanted to see a shop there (which turned out to be torn down and replaced by a new park). Road traffic was enormous, making the bus ride slow. But there was enough place to have a seat in the bus.

From Beijing main station I got to Dong Dian Men (also called Dongguan jiao lou), the old city wall tower overlooking the station entry tracks southeast of the station. It is possible to go there on foot, from Beijing station. Go east on the road outside the station, or go to Chongwenmen and then turn south, then east. This cost 10 RMB to enter. Very nice view of the station tracks from there, with traffic every six or seven minutes. Locomotives coming in on trains went to the depot after maybe 30 minutes.

To enter Beijing depot follow the road outside Beijing station straight east about two kilometers, and then turn right.

All taxis in Beijing now seem to be of the 2 RMB per kilometer type. The cost from Beijing railway station to the airport was 85 RMB plus 10 for the way toll. From Dongzhimen metro station to the airport it was 55 RMB plus way toll. A new airport metro line is visible from the airport expressway and nealry completed.

Jitong line news

All stations now have at least 850 meter track length, many 920 meters or more. Train load is 3200 tons westbound, 3500 tons eastbound, but they will start running 5000 tons trains with double tracktion. Over the Jingpeng pass such trains will be moved by two engines in the front and one in the back. Daban has five DF8B and will receive three more soon.

Operation in Daban just now:
5 locomotives Daban to Tongliao
10 locomotives each Daban to Chabuga and Daban to Baiqi
10 Baiqi based DF4 also running between Daban and Baiqi
3 DF4A running as shunters in Zhelimu, Chabuga and Daban
3 DF4 running the passenger trains
4 DF8B and one DF4 being assigned to Linxi (2) and Jingpeng (3) for helper services.

Link to the Daban locomotive roster

The personnel serves from Daban to either Chabuga, Zhelimu or Baiqi, then has 15 hours rest, returns to Daban with another engine, and has 30 hours rest. Thus all engines run with pooled crew assignments. Every engine has two drivers and one assistant driver. Drivers now make about 3000 RMB per month. I met no crew who missed steam.

The DF5s they had for shunting have been returned to Baotou, from where they were leased.

The plan is to take over Chabuga to Zhelimu from China Rail in June, after receiving a few more engines. They already operate some of the trains here.

In February 2007, the average daily service distance for Daban based engines was 568 km, with an availability of 99,9%. (Scheduled repairs are outside this number.)

Maintenance schedule for DF4:
Major repair (changxiu) about every 700000 to 800000 km, amongst others at Xiangfan works, medium repair (zhongxiu) at Chifeng depot about every 200000 km, small repair (xiaxiu) at Daban depot about every 20000 km.
From 18 April 2007, the maximum speed of the diesel motor car express train (501/504) is 100 km/h, and 60 between Jingpeng and Galadesitai. The other passenger trains will run at max speed 90 km/h. Its times as well as the times of tourist trains Huhehaote-Hailaer, and Huhehaote-Xilinhaote are now displayed in the National timetable.

I am not sure the data are correct, but they say they have DF4A, mostly in the 0xxx series, and they have a power of 2MW, the DF4B are the 6xxx engines, 2,1MW, else DF4D.
Info from Florian Menius: The type DF4A were built in 2 series: freight DF4 0109-0771 (DF4A) and passenger DF4 2001-2032 (DF4AK). All others DF4s are in fact DF4Bs (e.g. DF4 1001-1999, 3001-2022, 3101-3999, 6001-6578, 7001-7733-.., 9001-9585-..). As to my knowledge, there are only minor differences between A and B - only the motor is modified, but power ratings are the same. The A-version has got 1000 rpm, the B 1100 rpm is the main difference as to my knowledge...

The diesel motor unit is operated by two drivers at a time, one at work and one at rest. The change in Daban and Jining Nan. One pair of drivers works from Tongliao to Chabuga, then to Daban. The next pair from Daban to Baiqi and Baiqi to Jining Nan, the last one driver operated Jining - Huhehaote - Jining. They are assisted by an assistant driver. The one not working is in the crew car (as is half of the conductors). They have three units. On April 14, they had 8 cars in the westbound train, one more than usual.

New line opened:
The coal line south of Sangendalai to the power station at LanQi is now open, with a coal train from Xilinhaote every two hours or so. Engines are Baiqi based DF4.
Jitong line is now 1175 km long and has about 12.000 employees.

New lines construction

New line near Lanqi

Another line to a coal mine is being constructed from Lanqi towards southeast, about 50 km in length.

Chifeng-Daban-Baiyinhua line

A new line is being built from Chifeng northwards, connecting with the Jitong line at Baomutu. This is going to be a private railway, the owner will be Baiyinhua coal mine, and the line is built to haul coal towards Chifeng. The line is due to be opened in August 2008.

Earthworks are quite complete, and many place between Chifeng and Daban, the bridge pylons are ready. The first 40 km have even rails. They are constructing a four lane motorway, too, and the railway sometimes crosses it on large bridges constructed in place. Especially long bridges are visible near WuDan and after. The road is getting very rough, however, and bus prices Chifeng to Daban have risen to 35 RMB. The bus ride takes just more than four hours now, with a lot of slow and bumpy riding.

The new line is east of Daban and crosses Jitong line at km 615 on a long bridge. The northernmost pillar is not yet ready.

Daban Dong has five tracks now, of which two are open, and the other ones loaded with rails to be laid. The crew here mounts about one kilometer of rails per day.

They have a huge factory here, making all kinds of concrete parts. People cut iron wires, bow them, and then put them into concrete, all using hard hand work. They must turn out more than 1000 ties per day. They also have a factory to make bridge beams, most of them 32 meters in length, weighing 130 tons each. They have about 900 of them ready here. The whole area has many rail-going electrical cranes to lift all this material. They own four diesel engines (DF4A 0544 and 0661 (ex Tongliao) and DF1 1940 and 2050. They all carry the writing: China Railways 19th construction bureau. The DF1 are from 1973. The rails are from Baotou steel works and weigh 50 kg/m.

The line Chifeng - Daban Dong is 190 km, then 163 km more to Baiyinhua towards north-east. This is not the same coal mine as the one delivering coal to Lindong. By the way Daban itself has a small coal mine, about 30 km north.

There must be many sandstorms in this area: The new ditches along the line were already filled with sand.

One DF4 took a train with four bridge elements towards north. They filled ballast on top of the bridge beams before leaving. They probably lay two lengths of bridge per day (64 meters), then the new rail, probably at night, then next day the next four bridge elements. When bridges are finished, they will probably lay rails fast towards the next bridge. They said they are digging a tunnel some 70 km north of Daban dong.

Mountain trips near Daban

Nan Shan is the mountain at the toll booth just south of the city. About one hour to climb up, partially on stairs, partially steep terrain. Nice view of Daban. The round trip is about three hours.

Bei Shan is the mountain area visible north of the depot. To the first range it takes 2,5 hours to the highest peak. It is an easy valley up from the depot, at the beginning some tractor tracks, then just animal pathes. Further up a few bushes and dry terrain, near the top a bit stony and steep. Nice view around, towards mountains in the north (no people visible) and towards Baomutu. A few birds (raven etc.). At the top a little altar with offerings. Nice trip to take if you want to do something else than just visiting the railway. Towards west, a small village is located far up the valley. Otherwise a few quarries are being worked between Bei Shan and Daban. No idea why they take stone at many places half way up the mountains. The rivers are very eroded.

At Baomutu, they have a large factory building bridge parts, ties and all kinds of concrete parts, as well as mounting rails on ties for track laying. On April 12, 2007 they mounted a bridge about 13 km north of this place.

The area around the Jingpeng pass

This was my first time out there without steam. I still got a taxi up to Shangdian in the early morning of April 14. There was snow at Shangdian! Traffic was heavy with about one train per hour eastbound and one every second hour westbound. The helper engines were DF8B 5640 and DF4 6108 between Jingpeng and Shangdian. The DF8B got more work than the DF4. The helpers most of the time returned alone. Farmers were out in the fields plowing and putting wheat seeds into the fields. Most of them used a horse to pull the seeding machines. A small wheel was driven by the device moving through the earth, and a bicycle chain drove the valve to release wheat seeds. Between the trains I met farmers working, and one invited to his farm. However I wanted to be outside. Some farmers used donkeys, and some cows. With the cows it was a bit more difficult, so they most of the time had another person to lead them. Interesting was that some farmers used a stick to beat their animals and screamed a lot, while others were in full control of their horse without even shouting. One used a small tractor while his wife had a donkey pulling stones over the field afterwards.

Trains did not move much faster now than before, but they were most often loaded to above 3000 tons.

In the afternoon I climbed up the mountains west of Simingyi, for my first time. Near the top I found birch and oak forest as well as lavender plants! However, on the west side of the tops it is not as steep, and people have been taking trees far up. On the other hand they had large fields of newly planted trees in the upper region, and at Tongxin they now have a large tree school, much larger than before, with pines, fir and other trees. Nobody else was out there in the mountains (only birds and rabbits). Otherwise, village life seems to be the same as before, with animals all over the place. People were busy collecting even the roots left over in the fields, to feed the animals before the spring will give them new grass.

The railway line seems to go through the wildest landscape of the whole area. Towards the horizon were snow covered mountains, but with flat tops, both south and north.

The last train up started at Xiakengzi at 16.10 and had DF4 6108, andother DF4D, then 3 cars type C62 and then new DF8B 5673 being pulled to Daban. First time I saw a train with three engines here (even if only two were active). I chased it by taxi and got to see it again at Sandi, but then with only one engine in front.

For else, there was a lot more car traffic than before, and better mobile phone coverage. Many places new fences have been put up and large areas are fenced off now, probably against animals eating the grass here.

At Reshui they have torn down many of the small houses and built blocks. The good old steam locmotive restaurant was not there any more. The warm spring has been walled, but it looked grotty with a lot of waste around.

The road is improved now, and there have come up 20 km/h signs at all curves. Nobody seems to respect them. The railway has been fixed up, probably to 23 tons axle load. A lot of new C70 coal cars (70 tons load + 23 weight) are in use. Jitong has three ballast cleaning machines and they have been over the pass recently. I saw them in Linxi. The railway has got new equipment for electric rail current to detect trains, both in stations and outside. Many place the right of way has been broadenend also. The points in the stations have been equipped with electric motors, thus there are not more watchmen at the end of the stations to operate the switches. In Daban, the way for engines to shunt is signalled by new blue-white dwarf signals. In all the railway looks more modern than before.

Sightings Jining to Huhehaote

Freigth trains seem to be up to 3500 tons with single or double traction DF8B + DF4, and up to 5000 tons with two engines. The DF8B were from Baotou. Passenger trains were mostly in the hands of DF4D (yellow-red) from Huhehaote.

Sightings: DF8B 5051, built 2000, from Baotou in very bad shape, 5333 Baotou in good shape.

There was a container train with two DF4B passing a coal freight at high speed. Thus they prioritize fast freight!
The speed increase of 18 April did not give improvements on this line.