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Hong Kong - Yuexi - Kunming - Hekou - Sanmenxia - Changsha - Yingtan - Jingdezhen - Nanpiao - Fuxin
To return to part one, covering Hong Kong, Kunming, Yuexi and between, please click here
To continue forward to part three, covering Nanpiao, Fuxin, Beijing and between click here
|21 April 2016|
After a terrible night's sleep on the train, despite my best efforts to arrange my bags as pillows, I arrived about 5 minutes early into Hekou North. The train station is so far only 2 tracks, but typical for Chinese railway stations, i.e. huge. At the moment it sees only four return services a day which is ample at present and most of the station amenities are shut down until a train is about to arrive or depart. On arrival, the entire station building was closed with only a couple of station staff to make sure everybody left the platform promptly. Interestingly there was a military guard presence here with three armed soldiers at the front of the station. The only other station I have seen this was in Beijing 2014 which was relatively soon after the terrorist attacks about a year prior.
I left the station and made immediately for a road bridge to the east of the station that I had seen on Google earth imagery. The bridge overlooks the standard gauge locomotive depot further to the east and the station to the west. Further west of the station is a freight yard the bulk of traffic being containers. Hekou North is another interchange point between the standard gauge and meter gauge systems. It seems all the freight that arrives at Hekou North is from Vietnam and not the industrial areas from Kaiyuan. In the standard gauge depot were three (unidentified) HXD1C's and HXD3D 0315. DF5 1837 is the freight yard pilot and there was a double unit SS3B #6012 nearing departure for Kunming.
One thing that I had forgotten to consider when I planned for Hekou was the humidity which was near 100% for most of the day. While not overly hot, after less than an hour, my clothes had become wet through and it was a real struggle to move about with my two packs. I therefore decided to abandon the idea of walking to Shanyao and took the (rare) opportunity to flag down a passing taxi (Taxi's at Hekou North are usually only present when there is a train coming or going). I got the driver to take me to a hotel next to the meter gauge level crossing right next to the railway bridge that crosses into Vietnam and got myself a room for the day, using the same approach I took in Yuexi. Again this proved to be well worth the money for having a place to dump the bags, charge the equipment, a shower, a sit down toilet and a nice air conditioned room only a stone's throw from the railway line and many of the points that I would visit during the day.
One of the great fascinations at the border area is the army of Vietnamese traders and transporters. In the morning when the gates opened on the Chinese side, there was almost a race to get into China first. Many brought along customised bicycles with seriously impressive loads of fresh produce and returned to Vietnam with almost unimaginable loads of manufactured goods, machinery, tyres, alcohol, baby goods and processed food with the spectacle lasting until late afternoon.
The rails between Hekou station and the bridge into Vietnam had fresh rust on the rail heads and for a moment I wondered if China Rail had stopped the already limited service. There is a bit of a look out area on the west side of the level crossing next to the customs control for people visiting from Vietnam, which gives a nice view of the railway bridge. The best light is in the afternoon from here if there is strong sunshine. A level crossing guard didn't know when a train would be coming, but when a military officer saw me taking photos of the bridge, he told me in broken English that there would be two trains to & from Vietnam today, the first entering China at 11:30 and leaving at about 15:00 and the second entering at 16:00 and exit 17:30. Easy!
With the four hours before my first Vietnam freight, I decided to walk the line from Hekou station towards Shanyao, the first station up line. Hekou station has been closed to passengers since 2005 when the passenger service ceased and the platform has turned into a bit of a highway for motorcycle taxis. Walking on or around the tracks is accepted practice here. Trains move slow and the drivers are hanging off the airhorn almost constantly giving plenty of time to move out of the way. No trains were seen in the 3.6km walk here and I got as far as the diverge to Hekou North before the humidity dictated a break. I set up the video camera just incase something came around, and sure enough DFH21 092 came from Hekou North with four P31 box cars.
I walked back down the line to try and get it from one of the many excellent vantage points along the line, but it returned quicker than anticipated and only some mediocre shots were able to be had.
A small village with houses backing directly onto the railway near Hekou station was my next set up location and again without waiting too long, a pair of railcars packed with rail workers with two spliced flat cars loaded with sleepers and rail joiners approached. Not quite the epic DFH21 shot I was hoping for, but was nice for a bit of variety. I walked back to Hekou station where the workers were loading into waiting vans and the maintenance train remained in the station for the rest of the day. Both railcars are quite different, one being an old JY210 with the name "GOLO EAGLE" (I believe that they meant to say Gold Eagle) and the other a more modern GC-220ii. This one is rated for 100kph, however I doubt it would ever see such speeds on the Yunnan line!
I made it back to Hekou station just in time for Vietnam Rail D10H 006 (ex-CNR DFH21) slowly pull out of the tunnel at the west edge of the station with a huge train of predominantly Chinese C31 hoppers. At the end was a large guards van which appeared to be of a very old design looking at the style of the bogies. Despite the classification change, the Vietnamese locomotives have retained their old credentials with a large "DFH21" plate on the front. Even more oddly, these plates are not left over's from their China Rail days. The Vietnamese locomotives have also been remotored to a Caterpillar diesel.
The train headed for the interchange at Hekou North after the crew were checked out by immigration and rather than follow it up the line, I decided to head back into town for a quick shower and a dry t-shirt (so far my third for the day). I then went to the border area to catch the return working over the bridge into Vietnam with an equally long train.
D10H 006 returned to China very soon with another huge train of gondolas and box cars and I followed it to a beautiful large building with a pagoda roof for its return journey. The Vietnamese crews were very friendly as they passed including the very pretty lady guard. I caught up with it at the station as it had to wait for the Chinese guards to again go through the documentation of the Vietnamese crews, and even though it departed Hekou station, there was just enough time for me to again catch it going over the bridge into Vietnam - this time from an outlook from a cafe called "1903". With little else going back and me once again drenched from the dampness and sweat from all the running around, I went back to the hotel for a change and packed up.
I had walked over 15 kilometers today which was plenty for me and as far as I'm aware, I didn't miss anything else anyway. If there was to be another train I would have been able to hear it very easily from my hotel room. Asides from that, a massive storm touched down at about 6pm with very impressive lightning strikes and torrential rain, so my room turned out to be a real blessing. I hailed a taxi down at about 9pm and got myself back to Hekou North for the train back to Kunming. A note about taxis, a trip from the railway station into the center of two should cost about 10 - 15 yuan. However, demand increases during large storms and the price goes up accordingly. Taxis are also shared. A fare is never off the meter and the driver will hunt down more clients mid-job. While this is seen as pretty unsafe (and I believe illegal in many places in China), it is quite normal here.
Passing through the security checks were a bit more thorough than usual. As I was running on one and a half passports, it made the process a bit more complicated, but eventually my explanation played out OK. The train (K9824) was scheduled to depart an hour later than was on the ticket.
A list of the (operational) locomotives seen and photographed in Hekou is as follows :
|22 April 2016|
Our train arrived on time into Kunming and I had woken up with massive stomach cramps, nausea and a splitting headache. It couldn't have really come at a worse time as I had John meeting me at the railway station to get me down to Kunyang (also called Jinning) and Baoxing for the industrial railways.
I made the decision to cancel the day as I was simply too unfit to travel and went directly to the airport to rest it off. As a result I missed the East German built NY100 class diesels and the last surviving DF2 in China (although apparently has not been in operation since December 2015) at Kunyang, the rare DFH2's at Baoxing as well as some DFH5's and DF4B's. There are also some standard gauge DFH21's operating in the Kunyang steel mill amongst some other types, although this wasn't on my list. Not an ideal outcome, especially as I had missed the passenger trains in Kunming and invested a large portion of my time in China here. Still, the scenario of me soiling my pants on multiple occasions was even less appealing and I will one day return to Kunming hopefully in the near future for a few days to see what I missed.
I boarded a China Eastern flight to Xian and then spent the next half an hour of dealing with the silly Xi'an taxi drivers quoting me astronomical prices for a ride. Eventually I got one who agreed to take me via the meter, albeit in one of the more expensive black cabs. I had pre-booked a night in the Long Dong hotel, not because they had clearly named it in my honour, but due to its relatively close proximity to the Xi'an North CRH station, where I would take a train to Sanmenxia early next morning.
|23 April 2016|
Today was my visit to the Sanmenxia local railway, a small quiet railway on the western border of Henan province. The national railway that passes through here has a fairly unique mainline with a horseshoe curve through the eastern part of the city. The local railway connects to the national network at the west of Sanmenxia railway station with a single line to the old "Lake Railway Station". There is a large factory complex to the east with rail access, but the sidings don't appear to have been used for some time and the line to the Sanmenxia dam used during its construction has also long been abandoned. The line these days primarily serves a small chemical factory to the east of Lake railway station and as such, traffic is light.
Sanmenxia used steam up until relatively late in China, using a pair of JS 2-8-2 steam locomotives, #8160 and 8408. I had mulled over the idea to visit this area in my September 2006 trip, but Liujiaxia won out in the end. More recently I was drawn here by China's last two operating DFH3's the line was said to operate, a type of locomotive I had never seen in the proverbial wild as well as a DFH5. A few months prior to my departure, I learned that the DFH3's had been retired with the arrival of a DF7C, however the locomotives were said to still be on site and so I decided to pay the line a visit anyway.
I arrived on time via CRH service G820 at Sanmenxia south and took a taxi straight to the local railway yard. The driver knew where it was and dropped me off at the level crossing at the throat of the yard. The yard was completely empty asides from a pair of 1956 built N16 class flat cars that looked like they hadn't moved a wheel for years. Behind the yard was a brick wall and I could just make out the distinctive shape of a DFH5 diesel. Entering the locomotive depot was very easy, no gates and no personnel to ask - just stroll right on in.
There are two sheds with rails leading into them, one empty and the other bricked up way past head height making viewing into impossible and all doors were locked. I temporarily gave up on my curiosity, however, while I was photographing one of the DFH3's, I could see the unmistakable shape of some steam valves from through the remaining unbricked portion of one of the shed windows. I examined the shed even closer for some way of gaining entry and although unsuccessful, I did find a missing brick in the wall. It was too high for me to see through, so I attached my GoPro to the selfie stick and poked it through the hole. I was still unable to see what was in the shed until I reviewed the footage later on and would reveal JS 8160 in seemingly very good condition. Its unclear why she still survives, but judging by the 20 or so derelict cement trucks strewn across the tracks, it seems they just like hoarding stuff!
Four locomotives were on hand - DFH3 0200 (1987 Sifang) & 0210 (1986 Sifang), DFH5 0414 (1989 Sifang) and DF7C 5141 (2001 Beijing 27th). All locomotives are out in the open with both main tracks equipped with inspection pits. A new shed has been built acting as a sanding house.
Each of the tracks has a DFH3 at the far most point. Although #0200 looked to have reasonably fresh wheels, indicating recent use. I would later learn than this one sees very limited service when the DF7C or DFH5 is out of action. 0210 is for parts only, although asides from an air hose or two, none look to have been stripped off her yet.
I spent a couple of hours mulling around here until one of the drivers approached me and offered me a look inside his DFH5 which I happily accepted. I took the opportunity to ask for entry into the shed, but the driver said he didn't have the key for it, although he did confirm that there was a JS locomotive inside. He said movements were not to start until after 1pm, which didn't leave much time as my forward service to Changsha was to depart Sanmenxia South a little over 3 hours later. I walked up line towards the connection with the CNR system and waited for the first train to come through. As he had said, the orange DF7C was the first to make an appearance, heading light engine to pick up some tank cars from the China Rail network.
I decided to head back to the yard at this point to get her on the return. While she was gone, the DFH5 started up and moved from the depot into the main yard, then shut down almost immediately. Time was fast running out, but I was able to witness 5141 make a spectacular high speed entrance into the yard with twelve tank cars and a single C64 gondola. The gondola was broken off the consist first and moved into an empty road. Then both locos coupled together and headed off to the chemical factory light.
The full loads from the factory are banked trains (push-pull). I'm unsure why this is done, possibly a local requirement to have a locomotive both ends to transport this type of cargo.
While I also didn't get any time to take any acceptable photos of the CNR mainline, I can report for those interested that most freights are handled by double headed HXD3's or twin-unit HXD1's in a nice blue livery. Motive power for passenger trains varied with SS7D's, SS7E's, HXD3C's, HXD3's and HXD3D's. No diesels were seen.
Sadly my time had run out before I could see the other few workings from the from the chemical facory happening and I took G642 to Changsha. This time in first class being the longer journey. While I had enjoyed VIP class on some of my previous trips, I can't really justify the extra cost of first class over second. The seats were quite uncomfortable for such a long distance and I was glad to check into my hotel after finally getting a taxi driver to agree to take me such a "short" distance.
A list of the (operational) locomotives seen and photographed in and around Sanmenxia is as follows :
|24 April 2016|
I was thankful for a bit of an extra sleep in today, with my departure from Changsha Nan to Yingtan Bei at 9am. This was a short two hour journey on CRH service G1348. I had intended to try some mainline photography at Yingtan, but the rain was far too heavy to even consider it and with my plumbing again on edge, decided it was best not to venture too far from civilisation.
At 3:55pm I boarded K784 for the three hour journey to Jingdezhen on Hard Seat class. A large array of motive power on freight and passenger was seen in the Yingtan area, types seen DF4D, DF7C, HXD1C, HXD1D, HXD3C, HXD3D and HXN5.
The line from Yingtan to Jingdezhen is single track without electric overhead. It's quite scenic as well with rice paddies, farms and small villages. All freights seen were hauled by HXN5 diesels, although a couple were seen at the coking plant south of Jingdezhen with DF4B's, one of which was in a very attractive light green with rich yellow lining #9088, the other in standard 'watermelon' livery of dark green/light blue. Further south of here there is a power station at Jingtang where an idling DF7 with chopped short hood and an interesting solid light blue color was seen. Only one other passenger train was seen a DF11 with tradition orange/red/grey 25G and repainted dark green/ yellow 25G class rolling stock. Our train was delayed a couple of times en-route held in a passing loop for one of the many south bound freight trains.
I stayed at the Wenyuan business hotel right next to Jingdezhen railway station, a fairly bizarre room layout but comfortable, quick internet and hot water. The staff were amazed at my wish to have a room facing the railway line, so much so that they upgraded my room. The reviews on Ctrip regarding this place had me very worried at first, but after I got a second opinion on the Chinese translation, decided I'd take the risk.
I can understand why the train noise would be a problem for most visitors - those GE horns on the American HXN5's are very loud and the drivers aren't afraid to use them passing through Jingdezhen. I double locked my doors and propped a chair under the handle. Just in case.
A list of the (operational) locomotives seen and photographed between Yingtan and Jingdezhen is as follows :
|25 April 2016|
In the morning I got a taxi out to Huangnitou, the depot area, of the Jingdezhen local 762mm narrow gauge railway. The last report I had found on this line was dated in early 2013 on a Chinese railway website. John Athersuch's excellent recently released book (Narrow Gauge Railways of China) also makes mention that the railway was operating as late as November 2014. I decided to give two days to Jingdezhen as a buffer for the weather and to increase my opportunities for photographing some trains. The line to the north of the depot leading to the power station had closed a couple of years ago with the relocation of a newer power station to the south of Jingdezhen, however rest of the railway had survived, brining coal from the deep mines approximately 20kms south at Xiancha, Yangou & Yongshan to the exchange area with the standard gauge China Rail network. The taxi driver knew where to go and he dropped me at the level crossing on Xinchang West road. The tracks around the level crossing leading to the unloading point at the exchange yard were badly rusted and heavily pitted. A bad omen as without the standard gauge connection there would be no use for the railway. I walked in the opposite direction to the depot, where long strings of hoppers filled nearly every track, including the tracks leading into the yard, again heavy rust on all wheels and tracks.
Sadly the railway appears to have shut down and done so with very little notice. There are three sheds, a wagon works, general workshop and locomotive storage shed. The wagon works had a couple of freight cars inside. One of the gondolas was on jacks with a very freshly painted pair of wheel sets, although a very thick layer of dust on top. Lots of tools lying about, as if the workforce simply vanished overnight.
The Jingdezhen railway utilises/d two types of locomotive - the 80hp class CZ80, a small three axle type of which I found two on site, and the larger JMY380 type with a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement. I noted a total of ten of the latter. All of JDZ's locomotives were numbered NY80* for the CZ80's and NY380* for the JMY380's, the 'NY' prefix being the abbreviation of "neiran yeli" (or diesel hydraulic) and the number being the rated horsepower of the locomotive.
In the workshop were a pair of locomotives, a 3 axle CZ80 class # 802 toward the front of the shed and an JMY380 Bo-Bo class diesel NY38011. This one's engine was on the floor in the middle of a rebuild and again just left with some tools lying on top.
The locomotive storage shed was packed with locomotives, so much so that the coupler of one had been pushed through the rear door of the shed by about 10 cms! Track one held NY380*, NY80*, NY380* - track two NY38010, NY380*, NY3805, NY3803 - track three NY3806, NY3808, NY3802. All the locomotives are in varying degrees of condition with NY3802 being the worst and seemingly being cannibalised for parts. However NY3806 and NY3808 looked like they had been painted only yesterday (if it wasn't for the heavy layers of dust on everything. It looks like neither turned a wheel in revenue service since being out-shopped. On the walls were evidence of dark green overspray from various panels. Note that there are two NY3808's. The older one is most likely the true #8 and the fresh overhauled condition is most likely the imposter. If I had to speculate, I would say the 'new' unit was probably given #8 given China's fondness with that number (sounding similar to the word for wealth) and its original number most likely being the unlucky number 4 (which sounds similar to death).
All sheds were padlocked shut with most windows missing or broken, but I was unable to get inside anywhere due to the steel bars in place of the windows or some very extreme vegetation. I was able to obtain the above road numbers through some of the windows and by pushing open the main doors a few inches enough to squeeze the camera in, hence quite a bit of info is missing above. The JMY380's ranged in date from 1989 to 2000 from the few builders plates that were close enough to read.
The railway employs/ed two main types of coal hoppers, the seemingly older and marginally shorter (in height) class C5A are numbered in the 67*** range. The larger type has modern style body-mounted brake wheels and are numbered in the 11**, 78***, 79***, 80*** and range. Most cars are in very rough condition with rust holes eaten through the side panels or floor. Another note is that these are the largest coal wagons I've seen on a 762mm gauge railway measuring 24' in length. I counted 120 of these on my visit. Other wagon types seen were cabooses and flat cars, including one modified as a crane (again exceptionally long for a 762mm gauge railway).
The entire depot facility was completely abandoned and with no one around to ask for the lend of a set of keys, I took as many photos as I could, before embarking on a four kilometer walk to the exchange sidings at Lijia'ao. Another few strings of coal hoppers were in the unloading point sidings and again looked like they hadn't moved for a couple of months. The conveyor was shut down and every door on this massive piece of infrastructure was padlocked and starting to decay. Even more telltale of its disuse, was the standard gauge line with a build up of rust on all the rails and in a number of places, the locals have started dumping large piles of rubbish over the tracks.
I was unable to get official word of its demise, however it is my opinion that this line is now part of the history books. It could of course reopen one-day, but that seems unlikely as the slump in demand for China's coal will probably long out live the railway before it decays beyond a point of being financially viable to restore to operating condition.
I walked along the standard gauge to the CNR container yard to the west where the standard gauge line became bright again, but only enough for Jingdezhen's local shunter, a DF5, to shunt cars in and out of the yard. There is a fascinating 100 meter section of the branch line here where scores of small pottery workshops back on to the line and literally thousands of vases an other large ceramic pots are stored perilously close to the line. The DF5 moves cars in and out supposedly only early in the morning, after which it appears to be open slather for the factories and transporters in electric carts to comandeer the tracks. This would make some great photography, but as the rainy season had begun, most of these unfired vases were under large sheets of plastic.
After another five kilometer walk back to the hotel, I had a refresh in my room for a couple of hours before heading out to the standard gauge mainline. I was quite looking forward to this as diesel only lines are getting harder to find in China these days as electrification rapidly takes over the national network and the some recent photos showing double header DF4B's working the freight traffic. This turned out to be somewhat of a challenge however, with trees lining much of the mainline or steep embankments, buildings etc hiding all the good spots. I eventually found a number of acceptable locations, but most of these only suited north bound trains, and there were none for the entire afternoon! A total of six south bound freights were seen, all of these behind single new HXN5's. The best spots I found were near a bridge over the South river (Nanhe) to the south of Jingdezhen train station and another spot about a kilometer further south where the mainline becomes level with the road.
As the light started to fall, I made my way back into town in search of dinner. I decided not to eat at the restaurant shown below, as I'd had enough of toilets over the past few weeks, instead deciding to eat at Pizza Hut in the Walmart shopping mall in a futile attempt to solidify.
A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Jingdezhen is as follows :
|26 April 2016|
With the railway out of action and the mainline offering not much else, I decided to commit an act of sacrilege and spend the day exploring the city instead, although I did spend the morning on the road overpass just north of the station which offers pretty good southward views of the train station but again was frustrated by the lack of north bound trains. I stayed for three freights, all single locomotive HXN5's and all south bound. I also saw in the distance two passenger trains depart Jingdezhen station in fairly quick succession with DF11's.
Jingdezhen, also known as the porcelain capital, has been producing pottery for nearly 2000 years. The English name of "China" for the country, as well as the ceramic, owes its origins to this place - a slight derivation of the ancient city name of Changnan. In almost every street there are small workshops or kilns, with endless shelves of unfired bowls, vases and figurines waiting. The city has a number of private and public kilns and judging by the sheer volume of products for sale, business is booming.
The first part of the city I explored was the Mingqing garden, a series of ceramic workshops, factories, kilns and shops. on weekends there is usually a traders market where just about anything made from clay is for sale. The workshops attract people world over to learn the art and many of the younger Chinese speak rather good English (although none knew anything about the narrow gauge railway, nor cared!). The workshops have usually got a student working on a piece and most don't mind you photographing them while they work.
The other location I visited, in a torrential downpour, was Fengjiajing - a market where the high quality stuff is sold, predominantly gigantic vases, out of seemingly endless little shops. From what I could see, Fengjiajing comprises of half a dozen narrow alleys which take about 10 minutes each to walk. Most of these shops are very protective of having their goods photographed, although I was able to catch a couple of places where the owners had fallen asleep and therefore no objection was made to me taking a few quick snaps.
Jingdezhen is very popular with westerners, with many coming to the city to study or create ceramics. Sadly it appears a few of these visitors have brought their own 'art' to China in the form of graffiti. Some entire streets have been plastered with murals with signs, rubbish bins, electrical cabinets etc all 'tagged'. As this misplaced form of art is purely in English and with the local people having more brains than participating in this idiocy, I can only assume it is imported. Some of the vandalism has even spread to some of the wagons in the narrow gauge yard and it's probably a good thing the locomotives are all locked up or I'm sure they would have fallen victim to these morons by now as well.
With departure time of my over night train to Nanjing fast approaching and the rain increasing even more than it already was, I retreated to the train station and thus ended my time in Jingdezhen. Not the most successful visit, but still fascinating exploring the city and certainly well worth a visit if passing through Jiangxi province. People are quite friendly and there's plenty to do. If the narrow gauge ever reopens, I will be back in a flash. I took K784 with DF11 0309 leading to Nanjing. It was getting dark when I boarded and nothing was seen through the night.
A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Jingdezhen is as follows :
|27 April 2016|
Approaching Nanjing, I noticed all freights headed by early ND5. As our train arrived into the station, immediately on the adjacent platform ND5 0211 charged through leading a lengthy mixed freight long hood forward. My next train to Jinzhou, K348, was late arriving from Shanghai by about 20 minutes, hauled by DF11 0385 until Xuzhou.
As it was 10 years ago, I was expecting a very busy mainline and was not disappointed. Nearly all the locomotive types I saw on my previous trip had been replaced by the newer HXD series electrics, but a few of the now elderly ND5 class still reign around the Nanjing area for the time being. Withdrawls of this class is now underway, so if any readers have been meaning to see one in action, now is the time. From Xuzhou our motive power changed to a HXD3C (number not seen).Below are some of the photos taken en-route:
A major stroke of good luck, as we passed by Jinan locomotive depot I found DF5 1001, the only one built by Dalian before Sifang took over production (asides from a further 5 examples built later on #6001 - 6005). The next two units in Sifang looked identical to the Dalian machines before series production began with the high short-hood version we know today. Prior to even the Dalian DF5, were 32 units built by Tangshan before the great earthquake struck.
A list of the (operational) locomotives seen photographed between Nanjing and Yucheng is as follows :
(CRH High speed units)
Continued in part three - Click here!
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