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Beijing - Changchun & Jiutai - Hengdaohezi - Harbin - Tumen - Fushun - Fuxin - Luopoling - Dahuichang

Another trip to China has come and gone in a whirlwind thirteen day tour. I had initially planned to stay in Fuxin and Fushun given the excellent results I pulled in November last year (see report), however like most things I set out to do, my list of places to see and photograph blew up like the port of Tianjin and I ended up visiting nine locations with a mix of steam and modern traction in north east China (and a hint of Dear leader Kim).

Sadly Steven, my regular travel buddy of recent times from Sydney, was unable to join in this year's adventure, and while November's epic four week tour went by with relative ease, two weeks of solo-travel off the beaten track chasing trains in almost intolerable conditions proved to be long enough. There always seems to be some dramatic hiccup with my trips, but fortunately the only hiccup occurred during planning when the timetable for all trains in the north east of the country was thrown into disarray with the impending opening of the new Harbin - Qiqihaer line which meant train tickets could be booked in advance by only a week or so, rather than the usual 60 days. I planned my train travel through the Travel China Guide website and made hotel bookings through Ctrip. Once again my very good friend from Hong Kong, Rickly Wong, proved to be invaluable and with his magical powers was able to order, chop and change train tickets for my ever evolving itinerary. Many thanks also to the contributors of the SY-Country website and in particular Duncan Cotterill of Railography fame for assisting me with some maps, ideas and tips.

Given the length of this report, I have split it into three sections. The first part contains Beijing, Changchun & Jiutai, Hengdaohezi and between. The other two parts are as follows:

Part 2 covering Harbin, Tumen, Fushun and between - click here

Part 3 covering Fuxin, Luopoling, Dahuichang & between - click here

06 September 2015

My journey began from Melbourne at 7am on Cathay Pacific 134 with an A330-300, which has been the standard aircraft used by Cathay for this leg for many years. I had arranged my tickets to get a now rather rare 4-engine A340-300 for my Hong Kong - Beijing leg with CX312, however sadly this didn't eventuate and I was put on an almost identical A330. The temperature difference between Melbourne and Hong Kong was some 25 degrees and the aircraft for the Beijing leg had seemingly been left in the sun for some time and was scorching hot with the air conditioning struggling to bring the temperature down. Both flights were without delay and I made good use of the time at Hong Kong terminal photographing many aircraft landings in unusual blue skies.

I stayed overnight in Beijing at the City Line hotel in very close proximity to Beijing railway station and I arrived just after 10pm. From touch down to the City Line hotel, opposite Beijing train station, was only 2 hours. This is a pretty good hotel at a very reasonable price. After check in, I headed for Beijing railway station ticket office to collect my prebooked railway tickets, a very simple and straight forward affair.

07 September 2015

Today was a bit of a free day and slotted in to my travel plans as a buffer on the risk of my flights getting delayed, cancelled, or 'just-becaused' like they did last year with Sichuan Airlines. However, no such misfortune arose and I checked out at about 8am and stored my bag at the hotel. It was already in the mid 20 degree range at 830 in the morning and was nearly 30 by the time I arrived at the South East tower of the citadel about half an hour later. Before I went up on the wall, I found a little footbridge that spans over a couple of road lanes proving a pretty good vantage point of the arrivals and departures into Beijing. I stayed here for about an hour before the sun became a bit unbearable and I headed off to the Citadel.

Admission to this south east tower site is 10 Yuan and offers one of the best viewing locations for trains in Beijing. I certainly got my money's worth with 4 hours spent here and well over a hundred trains. I was unfortunately not able to get as much video as I would have liked as a security guard cited safety concerns over my small tripod, even though there was at best two or three tourists on the entire site at any time. Miraculously however, these safety concerns would become a none event for 100 Yuan. I refused his offer and gave him the globally recognised look of disdain before he retreated back to his hut out of the sun.

I was surprised to see as many DF4B's as I did and was even happier to see them in the light blue & cream livery which has eluded my camera for many years. There are no less than three of these working empty stock trains out of Beijing station to the passenger car holding yard. These are actually DF4B-D's, a rebuilt version with DF4D specs).

DF4C's were also in force on these empty stock workings with six examples seen sporting three different variants of the blue/cream livery. These appear to be in very good condition, however I am at a loss why they required 13 different locomotives (including DF7G's and DF7C's) to work these trains as three or four units could most likely handle all the work.

The highlight of the day was the dark green & gold double unit DF11Z #0004 on train T5687 with a long train of 25K rolling stock.

It was great to finally get some SS9's on camera as well. This was the first time I've been able to photograph these units under more controlled conditions (i.e. not flying past my train). I was also surprised to see only one HXD3 for the entire day, being the motive power for the Beijing - Ulaan Baatar service.

Sadly the greatest omission from the list and one which I was very much looking forward to was the DF10F double unit. This was the typical power for train #6452 however today (at least) it was just a regular DF11 with a mishmash of 22, 25G, 25K and 25T rolling stock. (Note : leaving that night on train Z63, there was no sight of the DF10F in the depot area, so I'm going to hazard a guess in that it's either under overhaul or removed from service altogether.)

Other notes, there appears to be a large scale repainting program for passenger cars being repainted into the traditional green & gold from their previous liveries of white/blue (25T), white/red/orange (25G) and white/blue/red (25K). Most trains had at least a few of these cars spliced into the consist. A handful of 22 class cars were seen but these were certainly few and far between. CRH5's high speed sets and the striking red HXD3D's are now common place. The most seen locomotive was the SS9G. The rarer locomotives were DF4DK, DF4D (in the traditional maroon & cream livery) and SS8's.

Just after lunchtime I succumbed to the heat, left the tower and headed west outside the citadel wall to the original signal box of the Beijing-Fengtai railway. The signal box is there along with a few other railway relics. The signal box itself is now 114 years old and according to the information plaque, most of its fittings are still in original condition. It does however appear to have been turned into a small restaurant or dwelling.

I spent some time in the shade here for a short while before heading back to Beijing centre for some lunch and a fruitless search for sunscreen and then headed back out to the railway lines. I found a number of good spots which weren't suited to the strong sunlight, but eventually came across a superb area along the bank of the Tonghui river where the line out of Beijing heads south towards Beijing Nan (South). This is an ideal location for the afternoon when the light is perfect. I set up in a few different locations during the couple of hours I had here, one on the bank of the river and the other on a road bridge in a very narrow walkway. While the traffic levels here aren't particularly busy as opposed to the lines heading east out of Beijing, I still came away with half a dozen trains and some very nice photos.

The sun set rather abruptly and I headed back to Beijing train station for some dinner. By now a nice breeze had picked up providing some comfort to my severely burnt skin. I opted to sit in front of the main building rather than brave the very busy waiting rooms and enjoy the impressive chimes from the clock tower. My train Z63 was headed by DF11G 0049/50 and comprised of 16 carriages of 25T class pedigree. We departed on time at 2054. I had walked over 12 kilometers and the heat had taken its toll on me. I don't remember much else of the journey, apart from the muffled groans from my roommates when I took my shoes off.

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Beijing are on this day is as follows :

(diesel)
DF4B 1662, 1755, 1758
DF4C 0003, 0014, 0019, 4256, 4257, 4404
DF4D 0062, 0353, 0355
DF4DK 3113
DF7C 5612, 5667
DF7G 5015
DF11 0316
DF11G 0005/06, 0013/14, 0035/36, 0043/44, 0049/50
DF11Z 0004A/B

(electric)
SS8 0021, 0041, 0081, 0085, 0119, 0124, 0125
SS9 0003, 0022, 0028
SS9G 0054, 0059, 0060, 0065, 0068, 0069, 0073, 0116, 0141, 0147, 0152, 0160, 0175, 0176, 0178, 0182, 0185, 0187, 0201, 0204
HXD3 0492
HXD3C 0228, 0282, 0463, 0464, 0487, 0556, 0558, 0560, 0578, 0597, 0598, 0663, 0746, 0755, 0756, 0790
HXD3D 0070, 0140, 0216, 0235, 0237, 0245, 0301, 0321, 0342, 0369, 0377

(electric multiple unit)
CRH5A 5027, 5032, 5036, 5061, 5074, 5092, 5114, 5116, 5117, 5138

08 September 2015

Z63 arrived on time a bit after 6am. I had woken up about an hour before and a couple of interesting things were seen. I found what appears to be an army tank dumping ground approximately 10 kilometers south west of Gongzhuling. Army tanks of various degrees of disassembly and dereliction were scattered about as well as a string of flat cars with fresher tanks being off loaded. The only other point of interest was a blue GKD1 #0019 (Dalian 2000) shunting in a large yard filled with automobile carriers.

When I arrived, the platform staff allowed me a few minutes to get up to the locomotive for some photos. I was quite surprised how battered some of these reasonably new locomotives are. Unit #0049 is in a very shabby state covered in patch work and severe rust around the doors and windows. Exiting the station was a bit of a process as the south entrance was closed with major works underway at the south end of the station. It took about 20 minutes to walk back to the South exit. The ticket checker at the exit gate took my ticket and refused to hand it back despite my protests. I suspect she was going to on sell them to a trader or collector which is becoming popular past time in China. She was the only one at the station who seemed to be doing this and had quite a nice little pile in her hand. I stocked up on Minute Maids (a common orange juice brand made by the Coca-Cola company) and some snacks for the day before boarding my next train.

Once back on the platform, I found three high speed CRH380BG's in various platforms, a DF4C in light blue livery #4179 (Dalian 1995) light engine in one of the through tracks and DF11 #0049. DF11 #0193 was the lead power on my train #4375 to Jiutai where I hoped to find SY 1407 working at a deep coal mine. 4375 was made up of 11 car hard seat 25B class green & gold passenger cars. The journey time was just under an hour with one stop at Kalun and was practically empty. I quite enjoyed the trip with the window down, a new experience for me with a minimum amount of summer trips under my belt. On arrival staff were very strict on taking photos on the station platform and I was asked to leave the area immediately. I hailed a taxi to get me to the mine and a simple word "Kuang" and a point in the direction and we were on our way. The ride was only some five minutes.

I was given a warm welcome by security and some mine officials and after a few photos of Australian trains was given free reign. The last report I read had two SY's present - suspected 0515 under a tarpaulin and 1407 in steam. SY0515 turned out to be true and the tarpaulin has now gone. She is slowly being stripped of parts to keep 1407 alive. Missing so far are the front headlight, a number of parts of the running gear, the air pump and a few other valves. A rather undignified end to a highly decorated locomotive with a full banner on the front.

The good news is, there is no plans to eliminate steam "at all". I'm unsure where major overhauls will take place, but it is possible that the staff simply don't know when steam will end. There is a minimal amount of work so the need for a diesel wouldn't be worth the expense and I suspect lorries will take over once 1407 becomes too troublesome. Locomotives face west which was really the worst possible lighting conditions, but there may be some worthwhile points along the branch line somewhere. A visit in less than sunny conditions would be ideal.

Unfortunately for me, the work had already been completed for the day (by 10 am). 1407 works every day but 'usually' only in the early morning and is permanently kept in steam. After mulling around for an hour or so, I made my way back to the CNR mainline. As I was leaving a superb looking ancient light blue railcar rolled into the yard and upon enquiry was told, that it too, had finished for the day.

I headed back to the town on foot with plenty of time to kill and visited a level crossing to see what mainline trains I could find. The line is surprisingly not busy at all, which is surprising being between the major cities of Jilin and Changchun. I only got one train in just over an hour, a HXN5 with a very long train of oil tankers. The staff were very happy for me to inside their hut while I waited around.

I got train K7366 with another DF11 #0030 on the front which was packed and was lucky enough to get a window seat which allowed me to press my severely sun burnt arms against the glass for some quick relief. After dinner I entered the station again for a second over nighter to Hengdaohezi on train 2051. My soft sleeper car was quite far down the train and I could make out the locomotive on point was a DF4D but I never got the number.

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Changchun & Jiutai on this day are as follows :

(steam)
SY 0515, 1407

(diesel)
DF4C 4179, 5173, 5223
DF7G 5074
DF11 0030, 0049, 0193, 0210
DF11G 0049/50
GKD1 0019
HXN5 0507, 0544

(electric)
HXD3B 0276
HXD3C 0331
HXD3D 0245

(electric multiple unit)
CRH380BG 5546, 5593, 5706

(rail cars)
no# (home made generic rail car), 02067

09 September 2015

Hengdaohezi lies approximately 50kms north west of Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang province in a valley along the Xitun river. I had always wanted to visit the abandoned roundhouse I passed in the winter of 2006 and was finally swayed after receiving a Chinese report that an SY had been moved here and would be working for use on film sets. As I was in the same general vicinity, I figured I could make a nice day trip out and by arriving as early as possible, which would also give me the best chance to sneak in to check it out on the off chance it was closed.

The train trip from Changchun was uneventful until we rolled into Hengdaohezi. I saw at the roundhouse not only the SY, but a number of other locomotives as well! Something that as far as I'm aware has not been reported, at least in the western language China rail rings. Train 2051 arrived on time at 430 am. The sun was starting to rise and the temperature was very pleasant - something which was not to last. I immediately made for the roundhouse by heading left from the station and soon came across some tracks with a couple of flat cars and an abandoned railcar with a number of components missing. I followed these tracks and soon came across a superb Russian built warehouse, which is located directly behind the roundhouse.

Hengdaohezi was a major hub of the China Eastern Railway operated by the Russians, with the round house being built in 1903. When I passed through in 2006 from Mudanjiang, I noticed the area was in a seemingly derelict state. A few photos of the roundhouse can be found on Google Earth and I was almost hoping to find it in the same condition, but it seems I am about a year too late with a full restoration completed by the middle of this year. Most of the doors have been replaced with new ones and they've done a very good job. All the doors into the stalls were locked although I was able to see a brand new concrete floor inside. Tracks have been re-laid inside the building as well as around the turntable. The table itself is operational.

There are four locomotives lined up beautifully around the turntable in the front of the round house. The locomotives are SY 0477, JS 8116, QJ 6924 & JF 886. In the other tracks is a full set of locomotive wheels, A P62T box car #3110231 and a YZ22B passenger car # 339862.

In further detail regarding each locomotive:

JF 886
Avid followers of Chinese steam will recognise JF 886 as being a Beipiao locomotive, which was most likely the last place in China to have an operating JF, after Beijing Feb 27 Works' pilot locomotive. It was restored in Mudanjiang by the Mudanjiang Langda Vehicle Repair Company http://zqhct.com/NewsShow.asp?ID=442&classid=11269 who also make mention that this is the locomotive that worked in Beipiao. They've undertaken a very big task of replacing the modern Boxpok type wheels to a spoked set (of unknown origin), possibly in an effort to bring it back to her original specifications. It appears they've also changed the airpumps from the modern type (as seen from the latest known photos from Beipiao) to the early sidemounted type. There are a number of other cosmetic differences, not least being the level of decoration that Beipiao's never had. No dates could be found on it as there are no builder's plates present and I was unable to find any date stamps on the running gear or elsewhere. A bell is mounted between the whistle and dyno and brass boiler bands have also been applied.

QJ 6924
QJ 6924 was last reported at the Changshantun power station according to Duncan Cotterill's website. I haven't been able to find any photographs of it while she was in service, however I am doubtful of at least the front red smoke box banner as it seems unlikely such a locomotive would be given such credentials for such work, especially so late in its career. The font style is also identical to the JS & JF (which are obvious reproductions). Another faux-pas I can see, is the Datong builders plates which clearly state 1951. 6924 would not be built for well over 30 years after this date! This doesn't appear to be a simple slip of the paint brush, the actual number has been filed away. Certainly this style of builder's plate was not used during this era. The side rails along the boiler are fantastic with red stars in the mix. I've never seen a Chinese steam headlight with wires over the front ala-Indian style, however I've got no reason to doubt its authenticity.The cab was locked with a padlock.

JS 8116
JS 8116 was also a power station locomotive in its later years, and had none of the decorations it does now. The air horns are brand new and are apparently operational for visitors to have a go. The headboard is no longer blue, but standard China Rail red with a white logo. She has 1987 builders plates which fits in line with other JS's built in the same era.

SY 0477
0477 is an ex- Jixi machine that I witnessed in action back in early 2006. Currently she is being equipped to be operational again. Sort of... A geared wheel has been attached behind her left hand side front tender wheel and will be connected to a diesel motor hidden in the tender via a chain. Her paint is looking a bit rougher than the other locomotives, however I presume this is due to her being here longer and suffering an exposed winter unlike her new siblings.

I soon noticed the official gate was padlocked shut and after taking as many photographs as I could, left before anyone woke up and headed out for a day of mainline photography in some really beautiful scenery. I focused on the Harbin bound mainline west of Mudanjiang which involved walking back towards the train station and then taking the main road back around to the front of the official gate to the museum. As I passed the roundhouse I found a phone number on the gate (896-3175 - unsure of area codes), perhaps someone with a better grasp on the language would be able to establish opening hours and further details. The museum was opened in late July.

I spent most of the morning west of Hengdaohezi and covered about 5kms of the mainline. One interesting thing I found was a timber camp using horses, I think the first time I've seen horses in China. The two lines split about 2kms out of town due to the topography and I decided to follow the Harbin traffic line. This initially turned out to be a good idea with trains approximately 10 minutes apart. However after an hour and a half, the traffic stopped altogether - the last train being a rail car set with a couple of flat cars and lots of rail workers. Traffic was still heavy on the Mudanjiang line however, but my view was mostly obscured by the foliage and after listening to a number of freight trains rolling through, I headed back towards the town.

All freight trains are worked by the very loud and large American HXN5's, however all westbound freights seen had the addition of a helper locomotive, either a DF4B or DF8, on point to assist them over the steep grades. These helper locomotives then return light engine through Hengdaohezi approximately one hour later, presumably to Mudanjiang. Given this time frame, it is likely the helpers are detached at Yabuli. It was great to see the DF8's once more and I suspect by the time I return to China, they will have been withdrawn altogether.

All passenger traffic was handled by DF4D and DF4DK diesels usually with 25G class rolling stock, however there was an occasional train with something a bit more interesting including one with Bombardier-Sifang 25T class cars and a Beian bound K7112 had three soft seat double deck coaches thrown into the mix. Good warning for all trains is given as they are generally slow around the sharp corners in this area of the country and the frequent blaring of air horns resonates around the very hilly landscape and can be heard for miles.

Something else that can be heard for miles is a reasonably constant flow of Chengdu J-7 fighter jets (based on the Soviet MiG 21) on training sorties. There is a large fleet of these aircraft based at Mudanjiang, which I reported back in my February 2006 report, however they are so much more impressive at Hengdaohezi where they often fly at very low altitudes and usually in a two aircraft formation. They are reasonably quiet until they are right on top of you at which time a crack and roar of pant-soiling deafness ensues.

In the early afternoon during a lull in the traffic, I headed back towards the round house and noticed a number of workers inside. One approached me at the gate and after parting with a few Australian railway photos and broken mandarin phrases, he ushered me inside to get some proper photos. The sun was in an ideal position now and the big boss was only too happy to show me around for a few minutes and then let me loose to take photos as I pleased. The locomotives all have information boards for visitors (although as said previously, some of the information is dubious at best). Most of the information is given in Chinese, Russian and English.

As well as the railway museum, Hengdaoheazi is also capitalizing on tourism and claims to have the highest amount of Russian buildings in China in one place in the whole of China. The streets are clean and well manicured. There is a large timber Russian church to the north end of town and to the north east an 'oil painting' village where artists from all over China come to paint and/or display their works. An old factory has been converted into an art gallery and a number of pieces are railway oriented, some of which are for sale. I was tempted by a few pieces, however the practicality of lugging around an 8 foot tall framed painting of SY0477 around China and Japan for the next three plus weeks was somewhat off putting.

The day was coming to an end all too soon and I retreated to the station with my third day of sunburn. My forehead was now reptilian like and extremely painful, but what a day! I crashed at the station about an hour before the arrival of my train back to Harbin and the staff were very happy to allow me onto the platform to take some photos of the station building and the rolling stock stored in some of the roads. As with most places in China, the locals are very friendly and it's a very easy town to navigate. I would certainly recommend a visit here especially if you are able to gain access to the railway museum.

The tracks at Hengdaohezi station are currently storing a great number of L17, L18 & L70 grain hoppers. I didn't see any in traffic, so I'm guessing these are used seasonally for the corn season. The L17's were nice to see as they're quite different to the other hopper classes and given their age, also quite rare. All of the examples seen appear to have been recently refurbished in time for the upcoming grain season.

I took train 2728 in hard sleeper class back to Harbin. This was my first time in an upper bunk which were clearly not designed for people with a size like mine. The car was packed out and I had little choice but to stay in my assigned upper bunk staring at the ceiling 12 inches away from my nose with my luggage. I managed to drift off to sleep waking up to the conductor tugging my trousers to exchange the hard ticket for my paper one. Once at Harbin, I checked into the quite good Harbin international hotel a few blocks east of Harbin train station. By the time I had arrived however, it was already passed midnight and suffering from extreme exhaustion, heat stroke, sun burn and now large blisters from all the walking from the previous three days at almost 50kms, I decided to forfeit my early morning train to Xinglongzhen to check out the narrow gauge and have a more easy day in Harbin city instead.

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Changchun & Jiutai on this day are as follows :

(steam)
JF 0886*
JS 8116
QJ 6924
SY 0477

(diesel)
DF4B 7380
DF4D 0040, 0105, 0107, 0363, 069, 0430, 0518, 0537, 0538
DF4DK 3182
DF8 0045, 0105, 0128
HXN5 005*, 0076, 0078, 0107

(rail cars)
Beifang 2014
Qinling 3013
QGC-16 01037, 103*
Unknown (presumed JMY type) no #


Continued in part two - Click here!


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