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Hong Kong - Yuexi - Kunming - Hekou - Sanmenxia - Changsha - Yingtan - Jingdezhen - Nanpiao - Fuxin



This is part three of my Spring 2016 trip to China, covering Nanpiao, Fuxin, Beijing and between.


To return to part one, covering Hong Kong, Kunming, Yuexi and between, please click here

To return to part two, covering Hekou, Sanmenxia, Jingdezhen and between, please click here

28 April 2016

Our train arrived at Jinzhou station right on 4am. I went straight for the Jinjiang Inn across the road which I had pre-booked in the hopes of getting an early check in. This wasn't successful as they would not accept check-ins until 830am at a minimum. They did however allow me to store one of my bags there which was a blessing. I then went back to the train station, stocking up at a convenience store before going to purchase my ticket to Nanpiao. With three hours before the train departed I figured the crowds, and my poor Mandarin abilities should be enough time, however it took no more than two minutes before I had a ticket for 4252 in my hands. For any prospective visitors to Nanpiao, there are two trains per day in each direction, one in the morning & evening. I then spent the next two hours napping in the cold and practically empty waiting room. The train to Nanpiao was led by DF4DK 4053 and comprised of five YZ25B class coaches, all recently repainted in dark green and yellow (the yellow lining being slightly different from the original design to be uniform with the other massive coach repainting program of the 25B, G, K and T rolling stock).

The train took about an hour to reach Hunjiang, initially running at a decent pace until we departed Nverhe where the track to Nanpiao diverges off the mainline. From here it was slow going, I'd say 50kph at best. Although assigned a seat, my space had already been taken by a group of policeman who told me to sit anywhere I liked. I sat on the right hand side of the train, but didn't locate the tracks leading to the old Jinzhou 701 works, so unsure if the track leading here has been lifted or I just missed it. I alighted the train in the town centre at Hunjiang, hoping to get the mine railway passenger trains there. But there were none, with most of the workers alighting on to waiting busses instead. I would later learn that these services have recently ceased. The China Rail train terminates at Nanpiao, also called Xiamiaozi on Duncan Cotterill's excellent map of the network. This is the interchange yard between the mine and China Rail.

I walked first from Hunjiang to the locomotive depot, encountering light engine China Rail DF4C running light engine to the interchange area. Upon arrival at the locomotive facility, DF5 1074 arrived and shut down immediately while fitters started working on her. Dumped BJ 3290 is stored outside missing her builders plates (1986) and is used as a parts donor. I had been told prior to arriving that Nanpiao's fleet of four BJ class locomotives had been reduced to two with the elimination of the passenger trains and a couple of new second hand DF5 arrivals. DF5 1156 was seen in one of the workshops undergoing a major rebuild.

In the main yard area was DF5 1055 and recently refurbished BJ 3197. I only saw her move a couple of times during the day, but only shunting moves. She was then reversed onto a short maintenance train and shut down for the rest of the day. The maintenance train comprises of a single YZ22 passenger car, Z151 steam crane (converted to diesel) spliced between a pair of N16 class flat cars. A few other wagons are stored in the yard, seemingly for scrap at some stage - a partially dismantled KF60, YZ22, flat car (converted from a box car), etc.

I decided to tackle the northern line today, arriving at the first mine, Zaojiatun, after about 45 minutes on foot. I set up my equipment prior to arriving at Zaojiatun as I heard the bells at the level crossing, but after 5 minutes they turned off again. This repeated a few times before I gave up guessing that they were being activated by a locomotive shunting in the yard. Zaojiatun has a large rickety old footbridge which offers some pretty nice views of the yard, especially in the morning light. Two DF5's 1039 and 1374 were constantly shunting cars in and out of the conveyor and while a pair of narrow gauge electric locomotives could be seen constantly brining in coal from a small coal mine from the east.

Unlike many of the coal railways I've visited, it appears Nanpiao doesn't care much for a standardised fleet of wagons and a surprisingly large amount of types could be seen on any train - KF60, M11 (steel and timber variants), K70, K18, C62 and C64 are all used interchangeably. The K18 class are the newest rolling stock additions to Nanpiao's roster with builders plates showing 2009 and 2010 on most.

The 600mm narrow gauge electric railway is a fascinating little railway, about a mile in length from the mine to Zaojiatun. It is double track, but essentially just a loop - the trains load up and discharge, without the requirement of reversing or switching tracks. Units #2 and #4 were the locomotives being used and trains had five wagons each. They fly down the hill with the pantographs not touching the overhead, then slowly climb the grade to the mine with the empties.

Both drivers had no problem stopping mid section to have a chat and offer me a cup of tea! With no signals or working timetable, they seemed to not be on any great time constraint. The line is full of character and while using pretty heavy gauge rail for a narrow gauge line, it seems to be held together on little more than a wing and a prayer. Photography is pretty difficult however, not only with the amount of stanchions in place, but also by the topography itself. While waiting for a train here, a pair of military men emerged from the bushes, one carrying a Chinese copy of an SVD-Druganov sniper rifle! I arrived back at Hunjiang, exhausted by nearly 28 kilometers of walking, at about 5pm - just in time for my train back to Jinzhou. A record that I have no intention on breaking anytime soon.

On the return trip to Jinzhou, aboard train #4251 with the same locomotive and rolling stock as the morning service, DF4C 5170 was seen again at Hesanjia, this time with a huge train of yellow G11 tank cars for the huge chemical works here. I probably would have found accommodation in Hunjiang for the night looking back, but then again I probably would have only spent the day here in the first place with an extra in Fuxin. I had come away with an astounding amount of photos and had seen my first BJ class out in the wild. 4251 arrived on time at 630pm and I made immediately for the hotel where I checked in with little fuss and had the best sleep of my life, thanks to two consecutive overnight trains and a ridiculous hike in the blazing sun.

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Nanpiao is as follows :

(diesel)
BJ 3197, 3290 (dumped), 3324 (stored/dumped)
DF5 1030, 1055, 1067, 1074, 1156, 1357
(China Rail) DF4DK 3053
(China Rail) DF4C 5170 Rail cars x 3

(diesel rail cars)
*** Class # 101
*** Class no #
*** Class no #

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in the Jinzhou area is as follows :

(electric)
HXD3B 0384 0217 +2
HXD3D 0202, 0216, 0516

29 April 2016

Woke up refreshed and went back to the train station for another crack at Nanpiao. With the withdrawal of the mine passenger trains, I decided to take the train all the way to Nanpiao, saving the unnecessary walk to the interchange area. I got some very nice footage with the DF4DK reversing around its train and heading back to Jinzhou. A pair of DF5's, 1030 and 1074 were shunting a few wagons around the yard jointly, with 1030 pretending to be one of the steam locomotives she replaced. She was uncoupled outside the servicing point and remained shut down for the rest of the day with a number of staff working on her.

1055 arrived from the north with a decent train of loaded K70 class coal hoppers. There was no sign of the BJ class and I was told she had gone up north with some wagons. So rather than waste time on the south side with seemingly very little going on, I headed north again. Almost immediately where the line splits, DF5 1067 came coasting downhill with a train of loaded coal wagons, followed no more than 2 minutes later by light engine BJ 3197. So with much regret I never made it to the good photo point and with now 5 DF's in the yard plus the BJ class, I decided to follow suit and head back to base.

1067 had already uncoupled from her train and had headed on the south line with the same crane train the BJ was coupled to the day before. DF5 1074 had taken a train of six fully loaded KF60 side dump hoppers of coal and was offloading them in the depot. I decided to push my luck and wander inside the engine shed. To my surprise I was made very welcome and was free to roam where I wished. The biggest surprise I got was in the back of one of the sheds where a third stored BJ class locomotive was sitting - number 3342 with special "Youth" plates in place of the usual Tianenmen logo the rest of the class wear. She's looking very rough, yet complete although I am told this one will also never run again and will serve as a donor engine or be sold soon. Also in the shed was a third brand new rail car which I never saw in operation. A full set of DF5 roof panels was also on the shed floor, the rest of the locomotive (#1156) in another locked shed.

Traffic is unpredictable at Nanpiao. Mainline workings are very few and far between, but the major mines are usually pretty busy with shunting. The only constant mainline traffic was the extremely dilapidated rail car #101, occasionally pulling or pushing a flat car with some supplies, blowing huge clouds of blue smoke everywhere it goes. Another railcar (unused during my visit) is in an equally poor state, is kept in the railcar depot being where the north and south lines split. There are a couple of extremely old looking timber green and gold cars inside here, but I ran out of time to investigate further.

The BJ class looks right at home sharing a pretty much identical color scheme. All locomotives are kept very clean and tidy, in the servicing point there was usually a couple of crew cleaning down their locomotives. I may visit here again someday, but with my ever increasing to-do list, that may not be for some time to come. In the evening I took train #2129 to Fuxin for the final time.

30 April 2016

I was blessed with clear skies on my first day in Fuxin and although the wind was quite high, there was no great dust cloud covering the city that I experienced last September. Had I known that much of the Kunming passenger service had been suspended for the month of my visit and/or Jingdezhen had shut up shop, I would have certainly opted for more time in Fuxin. The steam operations are under serious threat of ending over the next few weeks, bringing to an end the second last great steam show on earth. I decided to head to the shed in the morning, a place that I had spent the least amount of time at in previous visits.

SY 1378 was on standby duties for the day and 1320 departed for the yard shortly after my arrival after being coaled and watered. The sad sight of three SY's, 1195, 1397 and 1460, all of which were in superb condition only 7 months since my last visit, lying in a siding adjacent to the dump compound is an imminent sign of things to come. I suspect they will be moved into the dump yard once a refurbishment of a string of hoppers is complete. They looked like they had been here for at least a few weeks with thick rust building on many of her extremities. The chimneys/smoke stacks/funnels (insert your favourite term here), are boarded over and the characteristic Fuxin CCTV cameras have been stripped.

I had a quick walk from here to Wulong yard and found a number of SY's and DF5D diesels shunting wagons with high frequency. Of the three DF5D's working Fuxin, #0068 is a number I was yet to encounter. 0068 twice took loaded KF60's with fly ash out of the power station and replaced with empties, a service worked by steam during my last visit, although this may have been luck of the draw. DF5D0065 was briefly seen for a few minutes, but after she disappeared towards Pingan station was not seen for the rest of my time in Fuxin.

The workshops were locked again during my visit with nobody on sight to ask for access. From the rail access gates, a couple of SY's and 6 axle crane could be seen right down the back of the yard almost out of sight. Even with my 400mm lens I can't clearly make out the front number board on one, but it ends in 11 so presumably is 0911. This one looks like she's been out of service for some time with very pale red pain on the pilot area. I was unable to make out any locomotives in the shed itself through the windows.

Some other curiosities in Wulong yard, I found a long disused rail car at the south end of the yard with a particularly interesting headlight visor, similar to the ones I had seen on some of the North Korean locomotives last year. In bad news to those who follow the steam locomotives were some suspicious yellow track laying cars outside the turntable. DF5D 0068 also brought a train from CNR rails to Wulong yard comprising mostly of C64 type gondolas, but also a very rare T7 class track scale test wagon (2005 built). Despite looking like a simple box car, these wagons contain very advanced equipment for new rail lines, so undoubtedly to be used on the reworked line to the spoil dump. Bad!

When walking back to the depot area, I couldn't help but notice a few very large holes in a brick wall bordering the very large abandoned factory complex. As there were some very old YZ22 class cars visible over the fence, that was enough to warrant a bit of a look an see. I find these huge factories to be particularly interesting in themselves, but ultimately I was looking for anything railway oriented. In the various sidings I found six YZ22's, a six axle steam crane (1963) with associated modified flat cars, another huge crane with "TG" plate on the boom plus a few very old USA built self dump hopper cars dating back to the 1930's. These still have the "Magor" or the common KF60 cars).

Further towards the depot, I discovered the very large coal conveyor had some very interesting photographic potential, offering a good view of the yard (perhaps best in morning light), however locomotives in the depot face the "wrong" way from this position. I can't recommend anyone else try this as there are a number of decent sized holes which lead directly to the ground level, some eight stories below! Certainly do not attempt at night time. The China Rail mainline can also be seen from here with reasonable views leading into Fuxin station.

It was already approaching 5pm when I got back into the locomotive depot. There were now three locomotives on site - 1396, 1319 and 1378. After 1396 and 1319 left, so did most of the workers. I got chatting to a few of the younger crew of 1378 who became even more friendly when they learned I was a driver in Melbourne. I dished out my remaining photos and Australian coins and was about to leave but they insisted I get up into their locomotive. Naturally I obliged, and as soon as I was in, they had me in the driver's seat. They asked for my video camera and I assumed to take some of the usual posed photos of me at the controls. Before I knew it however, he had it trained on me and his mate grabbed my hand, put it on the regulator and popped the whistle. I initially suggested that I probably shouldn't be doing this, but in broken English replied "Is OK, is OK! No money! No money!" He then knocked the brake off, pointed at my foot and the air horn pedal and very enthusiastically shouted "go, go, go!". Seeing they were quite serious, I did as I was told and pulled the regulator towards me. It's quite something to be in a steam locomotive cab just for the ride, but to actually drive one is on a completely different level of enjoyment! After 20 yards or so, he motioned at me to shut off power followed by gently applying the brake some ten seconds after. As we came to a nice stop, both of them started cheering and clapping. He then pulled the reversing lever and had me reverse onto some self dump hoppers behind us mostly overflowing with ash from the locos (with my new trainer applying the brake as necessary). Another worker attached the air hoses and the driver moved the short train forward to switch tracks, before yanking me back into the seat and again yelling "Ok!... Go!". I cautiously opened the regulator, but the driver grabbed onto my hand and slammed it back much further open. Slowly the cars began to reverse out of the yard towards the yard. As we approached the mouth of the yard, the driver took over once again and pushed the cars into one of the vacant roads and uncoupled before picking up a pair of empties. Back onto the yard rails, I had my final bash at driving for a few hundred feet, somewhat slower than what the real drivers do coming in and out of the yard.

I stopped the locomotive under the coal facility, and the driver took over, switching tracks at the end of the yard and pushing the empty hopper back in place. And so ended my whole 16 minutes of driving experience, an unforgettable experience that I hadn't expected, nor asked for. Even more amazing that we are now living in China's final days of steam and it took me 18 years of chasing these engines all over China to experience it!

A list of the locomotives seen and photographed in Fuxin is as follows :

(steam)
SY 1319, 1320, 1387, 1396, 1818 (recently dumped 1195, 1397, 1460)

(diesel)
DF5D 0065, 0067, 0068

01 May 2016

My second and final day in Fuxin was a Sunday when traffic levels are a lot lower than the rest of the week. This was compounded by being a public holiday as well and as a result I saw very little traffic for the entire day. The only two locomotives working were 1319 and 1320. All the others were simmering away in the shed. I took an electric tricycle taxi to Wulong mine. No trains about, but the rails were shiny and there were rakes of wagons in two of the sidings. This was quite surprising given the cessation of rail traffic into the mine since the new year. I didn't hang around long, which turned out to be a wise decision due to the general lack of trains and headed up to the spoil dump. The wind had picked up and just like last year, the skyline of Fuxin had been consumed by a cloud of dust with very reduced visibility.

Since my last visit in September 2015, a new road has been completed from Wulong mine heading in the direction of Wangying mine. This has unfortunately meant one of the two beautiful double story level crossing huts at the crossing immediately south of Wulong mine has been demolished. The old level crossing has been removed and replaced with another to the east of the remaining hut with the rolling type barrier gates, similar to the ones at Wulong. There is a new section of track where the old level crossing was. I suspect the hut was destroyed in order to improve visibility for the new one.

Near the base of the spoil tip, I came across young Japanese enthusiast Harada Keisuke who had positioned himself on top of a large mountain of dirt and we both watched SY1319 struggling up the bank with 6 wagons - 5 loads plus the C50 timber gondola being used as a guards van. it was nice to share his company for the next hour and a bit and we made it to the level crossing up half way up the steep grade to the tip. Harada had found working trains in Wulong earlier on in the morning, so presumably it's operational again. We parted ways before the next train made it up to the spoil tip as Harada's train to Shenyang and Yakeshi was nearing. The next train which eventually arrived, again SY1319 with five gondolas - three with rocks and two with soil. It dumped the entire lot next to the mainline before a front end loader appeared out of nowhere and started to move it around a bit.

I then walked towards Ping'an mine station and was able to catch to more trains - SY1320 ascending the bank and SY1319 returning with her empties. And that was that. My time in Fuxin had come to an end. Only two days here, and it was time to go home. This was one location that in China that I have really enjoyed. It feels like it will go on forever, but as usual for steam locations, it's all coming to a very abrupt and undignified end. Boarded train 2102 for Beijing North, my final railway journey for this trip, in soft sleeper class.

A list of the operating locomotives seen and photographed in Fuxin is as follows :

(steam)
SY1319, SY 1320

02 May 2016

Arrived Beijing North on train 2102 at 10am. Our motive power had changed some time in the middle of the night with a DF4C taking us into Beijing North. DF4C's are rare on passenger trains in general in China, so this was quite a treat. The heavy rain beading off the windows prevented any good photos.

I woke up about 1 hour out of Beijing North and was quite surprised to find that freight traffic is still very much in the hands of DF4B's, some double header. A number of the boxier design DF8B's were also seen, but mostly in the yards. All passenger trains were also behind dark blue or maroon DF4C and DF4D locomotives. Even though this is not the most scenic route, it is getting harder and harder to find these locomotives in service and being so close to Beijing, I may explore the line further on my next trip.

I had planned to visit to visit Mentougou on the western outskirts of Beijing where the very scenic branch line through Luopoling begins, however with an evolving shoulder injury and rotten weather, decided to have a relaxed day in the city instead.

A list of locomotives/trains seen in the Beijing North area is as follows :

(diesel)
DF4B (~10 unidentified units)
DF4C 4256 (+2 unidentified units)
DF4D (3 unidentified units)
DF7 0162
DF8B (6 unidentified units)
NDJ3 0003

(subway)
Beijing Metro H4331, H43396

03 May 2016

All flights back to Melbourne were on time. Departed Beijing on Flight CX347 for Hong Kong with a connecting flight to Melbourne. A few unrelated aircraft photos below for those who enjoy aviation.

Summary

Yuexi - absolutely brilliant! This is a massively impressive place with frequent trains in superb scenery. There are many more areas I ran out of time to explore so I would probably spend two or three days next time. The DF3 was of course the initial draw card however, being now the last working DF class in China and a locomotive type I was never able to satisfactorily photograph during my very first trip to China (and the only other time I've seen them working - now 17 years ago!).

Kunming - Such potential, but many missed opportunities, some out of my control, others due to ill health. The meter gauge is a brilliant line. A couple of photo opportunities around Kunming North when it reopens are the at the bridge over the Panlong river and Mayuan market - similar to the infamous market railway in Thailand, albeit limited to the level crossings only.

Wangjiaying, the eastern most edge of the passenger network, offers a good amount of freight action with shunting between the factories and the standard gauge interchange for most of the day. There is usually one freight train from Kaiyuan in each direction per day.

Yiliang will require about an hour travel by car from Kunming. It offers great photographic potential through the station area and there is also a small locomotive depot, although with only one train a day in each direction (usually), that's a big ask for most railway enthusiasts to bear. Most of the freight action happens around the Kaiyuan area where there are a network of factories that rely on the railway, another 130kms south of Yiliang. Asides from the passenger network, I was sad to miss the DFH2's, NY100's and the last DF2 in service (although apparently now retired).

Hekou - A fascinating section of the meter gauge railway that extends into Vietnam. Only one China Rail DFH21 return service from Hekou North to Hekou, but two Vietnamese Railways DFH21 long freights. Some extremely good photographic opportunities to be had with some patience and enough local curiosities to keep one occupied while waiting around for the trains to appear.

Sanmenxia - A quiet little railway that I was able to get a small taste of. The last DFH3's retired a few months ago, but if you're lucky you may see one getting used if the DFH5 or DF7C is out of action. The local workings with banked tanker wagons would be interesting to watch here! Plan for afternoons. JS 8061 discovered locked in a bricked up shed.

Jingdezhen - Narrow gauge appears to have shut down. It is an interesting city, perhaps a good place to visit if you have family in tow. Mainline operations are challenging to find good spots and the endless stream of modern HXN5's are enough to consider somewhere else to go for railway photography.

Nanpiao - Most railway enthusiasts to China have removed Nanpiao off their list. The network remains pretty busy, although traffic is unpredictable. It is now one of only two places (three if you include North Korea) where a BJ class diesel can be found in service, although unlike the one at Yiyang near Luoyang, this one is kept relatively busy and rotates with the other locomotives on all tasks. The fleet of locomotives is very well looked after and the crews seem very happy to have you around.

Fuxin - Most crews I spoke with confirmed that June would be the final month for steam in Fuxin, however a select few said a couple of steamers would remain on standby duties and the rest in at least temporary storage. Already, three of the regular locomotives are now apparently retired. The track upgrade for the diesels has not yet begun, however with all the preparations and the arrival of the track equipment, it is quite obivious this will start in the coming days/weeks.

This was a very trying trip, probably my hardest to date with the huge distances involved, personal afflictions and the disappointments with line closures or suspensions. Still in three weeks I was able to see a decent array of extremely rare classic diesel traction with a little taste of steam at the end and I have still come away with some unforgettable experiences and some very good quality images. I may head back to China one day, but for the moment I'm a little China'd out. One thing for sure, next time I will be a lot easier on myself with a much more relaxed timetable and more hotels rather than overnight trains. I'm getting far too old for this shit!


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