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Digang - Dangtu - Ma'anshan - Nanjing
At the end of 2017 I found myself back in Asia and with a little over a week to spare, naturally I put my time to good use and headed back to China. This time I decided to spend my time in an area I had passed through a number of times before, but hadn't spent any time in - Nanjing. Nanjing is a large city of well over 8 million inhabitants and home to a fleet of aging American built General electric diesel locomotives. This railway, like most diesel powered lines in China is under threat and not only due to be electrified, but also duplicated and realigned to bypass much of the city. This work has been overdue for some time, but is now under way.
There are also four industrial narrow gauge lines in the area, two being 762mm gauge and the other two unique to China with a 1067mm gauge & 900mm gauge respectively. Ultimately the latter two lines would be the only narrow gauges I would be able to visit due to time constraints.
As all of my goals for this visit were in the same region, I only required three trains short trains to move me between the cities of Fanchang, Dangtu and Nanjing. I used a handful of Chinese trip reports to decide on certain locations, but for the most part, I was on my own to study up using Google Earth and Baidu street view. My very good mate from Hong Kong, Rick Wong, once again organised comms, booked my trips through my de-facto China Rail account and would even join me towards the end of the trip to take in some mainline action. Also a special shout out to my best mate Steve who helped with some photographic equipment after some of mine was irreparably damaged by some halfwits in the employ of China Eastern Airlines last year.
Given the length of this report, I have split it into two sections. The first part contains Digang, Dangtu and Ma'anshan.
Part 2 covers Nanjing - click here
|09-11 December 2017|
I decided to use Qantas to get me to China this time, flying on QF440 on an A330 to Sydney and then QF117 aboard one of their last remaining Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Sydney. I had chosen this less direct route for this factor alone, passing up a direct flight from Melbourne. The captain even granted my request to join him on the flight deck after landing in Hong Kong.
Despite me swearing never to use China Eastern again after the debacle the previous year at Shanghai, the return flight to Nanjing was some 70% cheaper than any of their competitors and a couple of days later I was back at Hong Kong airport for MU466 to Nanjing. Of course, in standard China Eastern fashion, the flight was delayed well over an hour.
I had predicted this would happen and booked my train ticket from Nanjing South to my first location with a sufficient four hour buffer which worked very well. Asides from the delay, the flight went very smooth and was over before I knew it. Just prior to landing and taking a window seat as per my standard travelling protocol, I could make out a CRH2 speeding along the NanjingAnqing intercity railway. The new Nanjing airport is typical of Chinese airports, very large, grey, under illuminated and for the most part, very empty. It is an international airport, however most flights are domestic with the only major international airline seen being a Lufthansa A340-300 taking off just after we landed.
Customs didn't take too long and soon I was on the excellent Nanjing Metro line (S1) heading for Nanjing South for my connecting high speed train to Fanchang West. Nanjing Metro is growing rapidly with 9 lines in service and another eight planned, including an extension of the red line which will eventually replace the China Rail mainline all the way to Ma'anshan. The entire network is very clean and efficient. Everything is bilingual with Chinese & English and despite a faulty ticket machine and long queues to acquire tokens from the airport station, it was a very simple process. It puts certain 'world's best practice' systems from my own supposedly developed country to shame.
I had heard that China was experiencing a very early winter this year, however someone forgot to tell Nanjing and I had brilliant sunshine and a very pleasant 16°C. And yes, without Steve here to bring me his infamous barrage of 5°C live weather updates every hour, I actually had to get myself a working thermometer this year. I arrived at Nanjing South railway station with plenty of time to get some dinner despite the China Eastern factor and boarded train G7593. The sun had set well before departure time, however through the darkness I could see a handful of ND5's at Wuhu including the earlier phase 1 model, which was rumoured to have been fully retired prior to my arrival. Little else of interest was seen and the quiet and quick journey was over very soon. While I admire China's brilliant CRH network, I still prefer the older and slower local trains! My taxi driver to the hotel was very happy for me to hire him the next morning to take me to the Digang narrow gauge line.
|12 December 2017|
My driver picked me up at the hotel, even making his way up to my room unannounced after I slept in. I guess finding me wouldn't have been too difficult as there weren't too many foreigners staying there that night. The car ride from Fanchang to the iron mine at Taochong was about 25 minutes. It was still dark in Taochong when we arrived, however I got out briefly to take a few photos of the loading point. No trains were seen. Ten minutes later we arrived at Digang and entered the unloading point at the wharf a good half hour before rail operations were due to commence.
The narrow gauge line runs for nine kilometers in length from the quarry in Taochong ( 31°06'31.31"N 118°04'46.31"E ) and the wharf in Digang ( 31°07'27.32"N 118°00'08.34"E ) and is unique to China with the unusual track gauge of 1067mm. A small yard lies just outside the wharf compound. The line is owned by MaSteel, like most other Iron mines, steel mills and associated infrastructure in the area. They operate a small fleet of three JMY380FD diesel hydraulic locomotives, two in solid yellow livery and a third locomotive in a very attractive dark red and cream livery. They are numbered 1, 2 & 3. Asides from a pair of flat cars, the rolling stock fleet is exclusively made up of some 130 rapid discharge twin axle hopper cars. There appears to be two distinct types, one with leaf spring suspension and the other with coil springs. At the wharf, around a dozen of these were dumped (some on their sides or upside down), some with extensive damage indicating some sort of mishap.
The line has some very good photographic potential with a number of lakes, micro-farms, old style villages and of course the industrial backdrops at Taochong. The sun is in a great position in the morning, at least at this time of the year. It also parallels a major road (X042 / 042 Country Road) giving good access for most of the length, with some very interesting scenes that I was unable to cover/wait for a train during the time I had. It also seems to be quite a busy operation, which is interesting considering that the steel industry is not particularly strong at the moment. Perhaps quality and location to the mill is a factor in its current successful state. As good as this line is however, it is not without its challenges, with a very limited window of operation being from 0700-1030 on workdays.
When we arrived at the Digang wharf, I found #1 locked inside the large white concrete rolling stock maintenance facility and #3 in a smaller brick shed. #2 was not seen until a little later when she returned to the dock with a loaded train from Taochong. With little going on, I spent some time exploring the dock, loading facilities and observing some of the many cargo ships moving up and down the Yangtze river. Digang has two piers, although it seems the southernmost one is now out of use and used to moor boats rather than its intended purpose as a loading point.
Access inside the wharf was freely given with nobody caring about my presence. Some of the very friendly workers even offered to bring # 3 out of the shed which I happily accepted. A very impressive performance with huge clouds of diesel billowing out of the shed depot. After she had warmed up a bit, she was slowly brought out of the shed where I was given a tour of the cab and engine room. Eventually, she would become the yard pilot moving rakes of wagons in the holding yard just outside the docks.
Number 1 rolled out of the shed but was not seen doing anything during my time here. I decided to head back to Taochong to watch the last train depart, which it did at very short notice giving me very limited time to set up the camera.
Every day the line sees between three and four return trains from the mine. The short operating window may deter some visitors from visiting, nevertheless such railways are becoming rare in China and this one gets bonus points for an unusual gauge, a cargo other than coal, friendly staff and the maritime theme all in one! The way I planned my visit by arriving the previous night and then spending the rest of the day in a new location worked very well for me.
After the last movement of the day, my driver took me back to Fanchang West station where I still had an hour before my train to Dangtu. I used this time to attempt my first CRH photography, which is much more challenging than one may think! Although being very close by to the station, my vantage point had some limitations and in many cases, a train would fly past before I had time to even lift the camera! Three types of CRH were seen, CRH2A, CRH380A and CRH380D.
I boarded train G7134 to Dangtu East for some mainline photography arriving at just after midday. As we slowly passed through Wuhu Railway station, a green DF4B paralleled ours. this would be the only DF4B I would find on this journey. At least fifteen DF4D diesels sere seen stored in three tracks at Wuhu locomotive depot. All have fading paint and rust is starting to show through. With retirements en-masse in the north east of the country, the DF4D is clearly a very threatened species. Also in the depot I saw three JS steam locomotives which have been stored here for many years. A number of other diesels were seen here including some stored DF4B's and ND5's in the main holding roads. Wuhu yard just north of the depot uses early build orange DF7C's and HXN5B's as pilots. After the depot, the high speed line peeled away from the CNR lines and little else was seen on the quick trip to Dangtu. I took a taxi and asked to be dropped at Dangtu CNR station ( 31°33'34.64"N 118°28'32.24"E ), about 5 kilometers to the west, but alighted at the level crossing just south of the station (much easier than trying to explain some obscure part of a freeway overpass!). Further south of the level crossing, the freeway and railway cross the Guxi river. The freeway bridge is considerably taller than the rail bridge, providing an excellent vantage point. The only disadvantage for me on this day was the very strong sunlight, favouring only south bound trains, however this improved as the sun passed over the line.
Within two minutes I had a DF4D leading K34 followed shortly after by DF11 with train K162, both running north towards Nanjing. While not the ND5's I was hoping to see, it was certainly a good start! I then moved to the far end of the bridge hoping to catch a south bound service, and before long, not only was I blessed with a south bound service ND5 freight, but at the helm was one of the early phase 1's (#0034) in its striking turquoise and gold livery running long hood forward with a train of containerised coal from Ma'anshan.
I spent the next three and a half hours in the vicinity, spending time under the freeway pass, on the opposite side and at a level crossing further south of the bridge. In this time I was able to record a total thirteen trains with an even mix of traffic direction. A total of nine ND5's with seven being the phase 1 model and two being the dark green phase 2.
When I packed up to leave, I thought it best to take a taxi to Dangtu bus station for my short trip to Ma'anshan and reached into my pocket to ensure I had enough change for the taxi. Uh oh... A quick check of my bag followed by a complete strip down of my luggage confirmed my wallet was missing. I kept a very minimal amount of cash in there, however it did contain my Australian drivers license, an integral part for my upcoming two weeks in Taiwan which I required for a car rental. I did a quick retrace of my steps to the level crossing, but no luck and decided it best to take a taxi back to Dangtu East railway station instead to see if perhaps I had dropped it in the taxi and it had been returned to the local police station. (But not before making a quick dash to Dangtu CNR station to watch a DF11 race through with train K101!)
No luck at the railway station, nor from the very empathetic lady taxi driver who took my phone number and radioed around the taxi driver network. A young lady told me I should call the emergency number 110 which I did, however with no one speaking English on the other end, I hung up and resigned to my fate that it was gone. A few minutes later, my phone rang with a man who spoke very broken English and asked if I would like my wallet back. He asked me to wait where I was and I assumed this was a taxi driver who had got my phone number from the earlier call out. However ten minutes later, a motorcade of police motorbikes and a police car all with flashing lights approached the station and a young policeman asked me to get in the back seat. I told him, no thank you, I was waiting for my wallet from a taxi driver. He told me they have my wallet at the police station and as we were driving back towards the police station told me I was very smart to call the emergency line. The operator called the local police station to my location and it was quite easy to track down possibly Dangtu's only foreign visitor! They had been looking for me for most of the day in all the parks and tourist attractions (not many!), but of course hadn't thought to check under any freeway underpasses. After taking a number of photographs of me accepting my wallet from 'Frank' the policeman and then on video with me praising the efforts of the local police etc, they put me in a share taxi to Ma'anshan claiming that the last bus had already left Dangtu for Ma'anshan. I suspect that this was a porky pie due to the size of the city, but presumed they just didn't want any further trouble from me! Ultimately this turned out to be a fantastic way to get to Ma'anshan as it was quicker and cost only 15rmb! I was delivered to Jinjiang Inn on Jiefang Road in Ma'anshan and had a relatively early night, too exhausted to find anything for dinner.
|13 December 2017|
Today was my first day in Ma'anshan (translates as Horse Saddle Mountain), a large city south of Nanjing on the Bank of the Yangtze river. The Ningwu railway runs through the center of the city with the huge MaSteel steelworks taking up most of the western side (China's eighth largest). The iron mines lie approximately 10 kilometers south east with a single track line (diesel) connecting them to the steelworks. The steelworks itself has a huge diesel powered rail network from the smelters to the mills and dozens of sidings to ancillary industries, however steel is a cut throat industry and is usually a taboo place for foreigners with cameras, however innocent their intentions may be. The mines however generally have a less strict security protocol and I decided to spend my first say exploring these.
The mining network has its own standard gauge electric railway system which serves three open cast mines, a spoil dump and a large cement works also owned by MaSteel and used as an internal supply. Their main fleet of locomotives comprises of some twenty ZG150-1500 articulated electric locomotives built by Xiangtan locomotive works. These have obviously been a very successful locomotive with build dates spanning 1975 to 2013. Road numbers are in the 15** range and are in exceptionally good condition. All operational units found are in the standard industrial livery of dark green and black, although one unit is painted in dark green and grey and bears XEMC logos. I have found photos online of these locomotives in pale blue livery and the the fresh paint on most units is indicative of a recent change. Unit 1516 is a decorated locomotive with a brass plaque on one side, the other side appears to have gone missing.
They also have a small amount of ZG80-1500 locomotives, the only location I have found these. These are built by Xiangtan Locomotive Factory. I found two in operational condition and a third one derelict in the locomotive yard with numbers 801, 806 and 810 indicating they had at least ten of these units at one stage. Only one had a builders plate with a visible date stamp of 1983. These are a four axle design with hinged bogies and are used mainly for maintenance trains and the passenger service.
Asides from the electric locomotives, they also own a small GKD5BG #0001 diesel locomotive in dark green livery, a Gold Eagle diesel in grey livery, a GC220-II railcar in light blue livery and three N151 class diesel rail cranes.
My journey here started with a very polite yet utterly confused lady taxi driver - my translations of "Iron mine" and "big iron mine" not helping her in the slightest. In the end I was able to navigate us to the area with the help of my printed Google Earth satellite images and soon we arrived at 69 station (and yes, that is the name of the station, not what some of you may be thinking!).
At the small platform was a pair of 25B hard seat coaches, numbers 001 & 004 built in 2009 by Nanjing Puzhen CSR. These cars have had some modifications with each end fitted with a roof mounted locomotive headlight and an observation window to assist with push services. The passenger usually runs from Huagoushan station near the CNR mainline and stops at 69 and 47 stations (approximately 10 kilometers) behind a diesel. However more recently, it has run as a shuttle service only between 47 and 69 stations using a ZG80-1500 electric locomotive and only once in the afternoon.
The rolling stock works lies between 69 station and 47 station. Access is via a switchback siding. There are approximately 10 tracks with most leading into massive concrete structures. Stored outside are three electric locomotives; a four axle ZG80-500 (#801), six axle ZG150-1500 (#1502) and an extremely rare ZG80-1500-S, a behemoth with eight axles. This was the only one remaining on site. It is numbered 1603 with a build date of October 1985. I found ZG150-1500 1517 (09/2012) receiving a battery bank transplant in the shops and asides from stored KF-60 class hydraulic dump wagons and another pair of YZ25B passenger cars (002 & 003), not much else of interest.
Further up the line is 47 station, where most lines converge from the mines, dump and factories. This is where my heart sank a bit seeing large scale track works and I would soon learn that the entire railway operation had a week long shut down for major rail works from the foreman. On the plus side, I was relieved I had only given this area one day to explore rather than the two I thought I would need! At 47 station, I found a line up of six ZG-150-1500's and another two parked with trains of hoppers. Another seven ZG150-1500's were seen stabled in the locomotive depot just off to the west of 47 station.
As the overhead power had been shut off also for some maintenance works, only the two diesels and the railcar were seen in operation. The Dalian built GKD5BG built by Dalian Locomotive Works was kept busy running a single rapid discharge ballast hopper from a large mound of ballast to the throat of the yard at 47 station. The driver was happy for me to join him for a run and even provided me with lunch, asking the meals courier for an extra serve of chicken, vegetables and rice. The other small Harbin built diesel (no other identifying marks) was used to help lift some worn and damaged rails.
I walked to the huge open cast pit where I found a newly built observation deck overlooking the massive hole. It appears the mine have turned this pit into an attraction for the public of Ma'anshan. Trains no longer serve this open cast pit since it flooded a few years back with the tracks zigzagging halfway down looking a little worse for wear. And so with very little happening in terms of working trains, I decided to head back ot Ma'anshan city to use my remaining daylight photographing trains on the mainline where I had some great success the day before.
Getting back to the city was a bit of a process, taking an electric cart to a bus station and then waiting about 20 minutes for a bus to get me back to Ma'anshan railway station. I focused on a small area to the north of here which involved another long walk. Railway photography in the large cities is becoming more challenging with high fences obscuring all of the good vantage points and overgrowth ruining the rest so finding an acceptable photo location was a bit of a task. I spent about 20 minutes on the rail bridge at Jiefang Road which crosses over the China Rail mainline, finding a break in the fence that the locals used. While here, I saw one freight train behind an ND5, a DF7C shunting in the China Rail yard opposite Ma'anshan staiton and my first GK1E's which made a brief appearance out of the steelworks with a long train of N10 class flat cars with very heavy coil steel loads. I was however being limited here to south bound trains only, and even then my telephoto lens had to be in exactly the right position to photograph through the high mesh fence.
I decided to head north from here to remove one of the next day's goals and eventually found access to the mainline just off North Jiangdong Road, although this required walking through a large communal farm navigating through a mine field of human excrement and avoiding aggressive and racist small dogs.
The light was fading fast, as it does in winter time, however in just twenty minutes I had three south bound freight trains led by ND5 phase 1's. The second train had a surprise addition of decorated locomotive DF4DK 3309. Unfortunately it was the second locomotive in the consist hiding the massive plaques on either end. This was the first time I had ever seen a DF4DK on a freight service and was possibly being transferred. When the light dipped to unacceptable levels I headed back to the Jinjiang Inn for dinner and a well deserved rest, having walked just over 15 kilometers.
|14 December 2017|
Today was my first full day of mainline railway photography and was overcast with drizzle and less than ideal light levels, a rare experience for me in my travels. I had marked well over a dozen vantage points on my maps spanning about seven kilometers from Ma'anshan railway station ( 31°42'34.69"N 118°29'48.92"E ) to Caishi station ( 31°39'24.96"N 118°28'01.03"E ), mostly on the mainline and a couple of other public access areas of the large steelworks. This didn't exactly go to plan, partially due to the weather and also being unable to tear myself away from a great spot I found near the steelworks, more on that later.
I started at the level crossing on Hubei West Road just south of the station and a fifteen minute walk from the hotel . As I arrived, a DF7C was shunting an enormous train of X type flat cars with containers loaded with coal, a somewhat unconventional method of transporting such a cargo, but one that appears to be growing in popularity in China. The train moved very slowly across the crossing, before stopping and pushing back into a different road into Ma'anshan yard. This was a good ten minute exercise with huge amounts of traffic building up. As I was so engrossed in snapping away, I ended up on the wrong side of the road once the gates open and played the ultimate game of Frogger trying to get to the other side. On the north side of the level crossing, a dirt road runs parallel to the mainline with no obstructions such as fences or vegetation, alas traffic levels were quite low with only the DF7C shunting, a light engine ND5 arriving from the Nanjing direction and a pair of railcars on a short maintenance train.
Getting more frustrated from hearing all the horns in the distance from the steelworks and the drizzle increasing to light rain and mist, I decided to try my luck on some of the steelworks level crossings, a few which lie underneath a raised section of multilane highway G205. Even if the traffic levels didn't improve, at least I could remain dry for a while! The first level crossing I came across has three tracks leading out of the steelworks into the Ma'anshan yard which acts as an exchange yard between China Rail and further down, the smelters, ore yards and the power station. These tracks are very busy with a train passing through every 10 - 15 minutes or so. Next to the level crossing is a small locomotive depot with a plinthed SY steam engine, one of the earliest built SY's I've seen so far. 0054 looks to be in reasonable condition, despite a couple of plants growing out of her air pumps! On a side note, there are a few other SY's plinthed around Ma'anshan city which I had no time to visit, however I can provide details to those interested.
The second level crossing is far less busy where I found a GK1E shunting C type hopper wagons into a coal yard before shutting down for lunch hour. After spending some time in the mess hall with the locomotive crew giving them some photographs of Australian trains, I headed back to the first level crossing where I was greeted by a couple of passing trains including a GK1 with a massive 16 axle hot metal cars and a small wagon used as a heat insulator between them and the locomotive. By now the level crossing workers were giving me a bit of a stare down and soon got the universally recognised 'buzz off' hand signal. While packing up my tripod, a large truck parked right in front of the level crossing keepers hut, giving me enough time to disappear down a path adjacent to the rail line away from the steel works and towards China Rail. This area is now mostly made up of vegetable patches and micro-farming and I now had a great spot of three lines busy lines from the steelworks with long gentle curves and a one minute walk back to the China Rail mainline where I was earlier. These farms are where the old Ma'anshan locomotive depot used to lie, with plenty of clues to serving as a reminder, with the old water tower and (most of the) turning triangle still in place. I stayed primarily along the steelworks tracks as there was plenty of time to get to the mainline as required with plenty of warning given from the ND5's Leslie 3 chime Supertyfon air horns.
MaSteel's locomotive fleet comprises of a number of industrial and powerful shunting diesels. They currently employ large numbers of GK1, GK1E, GKD1, DF7C and the entire class of DFH7 (four units). From my observations, the GK1 class are the oldest with build dates from 1995 - 2000. They are all in green & yellow or green & white livery and appear very close to the more common DFH5 class. The GK1 locomotives I saw were used on mixed trains of coal, box cars and were the exlcusive type to be used in molten steel service. The GK1E are the more common type seen in the small part of the works that I saw. These very good looking and powerful 1000kw locomotives are built by Beijing February 7 works and there are two batches; a more rounded version very similar in shape to the early DF7C locomotives with build dates of 2005 and numbered in the 32** & 33** number series and a more modern version with sharper angles in the 34** number series. Their DF7C's are later builds with a lower short hood and in the industrial blue, yellow and grey livery. All have various detail differences such as body work, headlight style, etc. They are certainly the class in the most shabby condition. All are in the 56** & 57** number range with one of them, 5699, being a decorated locomotive with a pair of brass plates on each side of the cab.
The rain started to ease off by this stage and I was busy running between the steel lines and China Rail being greatly rewarded by a huge amount of trains on both sides. Nearly every train out of the steelworks was of a locomotive or wagon type I had never seen.
Traffic levels had recovered to a very high level by mid afternoon with no less than ten freight trains, all but one behind phase 1 ND5's and the other with a phase two type. Most of these were mixed freight, however one was hauling a long train of welded rail and some work cars. The majority of these ND5 freighters were working very hard through Ma'anshan with some putting on an amazing smoke and horn show as they thundered through. There was also a healthy amount of passenger trains mostly behind DF11's or DF4D/DK.
I headed to Ma'anshan railway station for my next and final train of my trip, K906 to Nanjing. I had Rick book me in hard seat class for the hour and a half journey. A handful of trains were seen in the darkness at Guxiong while waiting for two trains heading in the opposite direction, a DF4D with a passenger service and a ph2 ND5.
I checked into the White Palace hotel next to the China Rail mainline, a little over a kilometer west of Nanjing railway station. I decided to try out my new translation when checking in for "a good view of the railway line". The young girl quickly nodded and sent me up to the 18th floor, two from the top. To a railway enthusiast, the view was nothing short of spectacular with a long stretch of line disappearing into the distance with the very edge of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge just visible some four kilometers away. Unfortunately the angle of my room blocked the view of Nanjing railway station, however I certainly wasn't being short changed. Not only did I have a terrific aerial view of one of the busiest trunk routes in China from Shanghai to Bengbu, I also had CRH tracks leading into the storage yards, the lines leading into the locomotive depot and passenger car servicing yards and a handful rail served industries to boot. The window was fitted with two windows, one which opened up the whole way and the outer window which would only open up to 6 inches with a pesky little aluminium bar which prevented it opening up the full way. Thankfully, the handy man had attached this obstruction with a loose single Phillips-head screw and within seconds, I had increased the value of my leased real estate a hundred fold. Most freight trains seen were HXD2B electric locomotives, with the exception of a single ND5 ph1 with a container train. Passenger traffic was much more varied behind SS9G, HXD1D, HXD3C and HXD3D electrics or DF11 diesels as well as a good variety of CRH high speed sets.
Continued in part two - Click here!
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