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Harbin - Hengdaohezi - Jixi - Nancha - Xinglongzhen - Jiutai - Liaoyuan - Fushun - Nanpiao - Pingzhuang - Beijing - Kashgar - Urumqi - Sandaoling - Kunming - Yuexi

Welcome to my latest and most likely final (steam) trip to the great land of China. Steven Buljubasic of Sydney was again my travel companion and over four weeks we would cover a total of 18250 kilometers within China by twenty three trains and the rest by six internal flights. Regular readers of my drivel may recall in the summary of my last trip report a statement I made saying "I would be a lot easier on myself next time", but being the imbecile that I am, this was my most jam packed tour to date with an intricate web of trains and flights covering massive distances in mostly extreme temperatures.

Locations covered were Harbin, Hengdaohezi, Jixi (Chengzihe, Hengshan & Didao), Nancha, Xinglongzhen, Jiutai, Liaoyuan, Fushun, Nanpiao, Pingzhuang, Beijing, Kashgar, Urumqi, Sandaoling, Lanzhou, Kunming & Yuexi.

My very good friend from Hong Kong, Rick Wong, was invaluable in booking our rail tickets and went to extraodinary lengths to get our passports verified by China Rail - a process I had been through before but had to endure once again with a new China Rail account so Steve and I could travel together. Hotels were (mostly) booked via the Ctrip website. Our international flights were booked very early on thanks to the heavy discounting by airlines, but as the plan evolved over the three month planning period and changes to the China Rail timetable, it turned out we could have probably saved ourselves some time and domestic flights in the process.

Given the length of this report, I have split it into four sections. The first part contains Harbin, Hengdaohezi, Jixi, Nancha, Xinglongzhen and between. The other three parts are as follows:

Part 2 - covering Jiutai, Liaoyuan, Fushun, Nanpiao, Pingzhuang and between - click here

Part 3 - covering Beijing, Kashgar, Urumqi, Sandaoling and between - click here

Part 4 - covering Kunming, Yuexi and between - click here

While the report is littered with dumped and/or preserved steam locomotives, the operational steam locations visited can be found by clicking here for Jiutai, here for Pingzhuang and here for Sandaoling.

19 November 2016

My first day of annual leave began and I flew Qantas flight 408 from Melbourne up to Sydney to meet up with my best mate and travel companion, Steven Buljubasic, for our international flight to Shanghai. The international leg was with China Eastern, an airline I had been warned from flying with, however everything went well, despite a crappy set of ear phones for the in flight entertainment system. We arrived in Shanghai just after 7:30pm and I had hoped to have got Steve onto the last return Maglev service, however time ran out before we could retrieve our bags and organise a China SIM card. We checked into the overpriced, but perfectly located, Dazhong Airport Hotel which lies between the airport terminals, for our early morning flight from Shanghai to Harbin.

20 November 2016

Shanghai Airlines (flight MU7141) got us into Harbin right on time. Having the vantage of the window seat and beautifully clear skies, I was able to see much of the landscape north of Beijing was covered in snow. We had enjoyed a fairly nice temperature of 18C degrees in Shanghai, despite Steven's pocket thermometer showing 5C which was suspiciously the temperature it displayed in Sydney, but once the door opened we were slapped in the face with Heilongjiang's finest winter breeze of around -20C. Worse still, we were one of the cheaper flights which ferried people to the terminal via bus, rather than employing one of the many unused sky bridges directly into the terminal. Despite me quickly turning into a meat-popsicle, it did give me the opportunity to photograph some of the aircraft on the apron. Amazingly, our bags were amongst the first to roll out and after retrieving my new fancy Goretex jacket from my larger pack, we headed straight to the bus ticket office for a cheap ride to Harbin train station in the center of the city.

We had about 4 hours between our arrival at the train station and our evening train to Mudanjiang, so we deposited the larger bags in the left luggage area and headed out to the Songhua river, where I had visited the year before, for some lunch. The railway-themed beer garden which I stumbled across has been completely stripped out and all the equipment has been removed. The river itself was completely frozen over, common in winter of course, but I was surprised it had done so early in the season. I noted the new huge concrete viaduct which replaced the 100+ year old steel structure a couple of years back is now used by regular trains as well as the CRH.

After lunch in the Pizza Hut restaurant, we returned towards Harbin railway station with an hour to kill and spent this time on the Jihong road bridge, just north of the railway station. A number of trains were seen from here with the regular DF4D, DF4DK, DF11G diesels and HXD3D electrics, including decorated HXD3D "Mao Ze Dong". I had initially wanted to head over to Harbin East, however the lack of time and the massive rebuilding of the station put that idea to bed until next time (which will no doubt be running overhead wires whenever that may be).

Our first train was K939 from Harbin to Mudanjiang in soft sleeper class, behind an unidentified DF11G double unit diesel. Mudanjiang was the closest large city for our first location, Hengdaohezi, a magical place I had visited in September the previous year. I had been made aware about a month from our departure that massive construction works had commenced to electrify all of Heilongjiang's major trunk lines with the Mudanjiang - Suifenhe (on the Russian border) already completed. The next logical step would be the Mudanjiang - Harbin section, although I was hoping the concrete masts wouldn't have been erected until after our visit this time. The trip was in darkness, thanks to the short winter days, however looking out of the window, we could make out the dreaded concrete masts had already been installed all the way from Harbin to Mudanjiang. Most of the freights seen passing by were led by the USA designed HXN5's, however closer towards Mudanjiang we spotted a number of original built DF8's. The few passenger trains seen were in the hands of DF4D's and DF11's. We checked into the Sunny Date International hotel, directly opposite the railway station for the next day's early morning local train to Hengdaohezi.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed in Harbin is as follows :

(diesel)
DF4D : 0428, (2 unidentified)
DF4DK : 3238
DF8 : (3 unidentified)
DF11G : (2 unidentified)

(electric)
HXD3D : 0596, 1893

(electric multiple unit)
CRH5A : 0121

21 November 2016

Our train from Mudanjiang K7112 was headed by DF4D 0115 and took less than an hour to reach Hengdaohezi arriving just after 8am. Mudanjiang railway station is currently undergoing a major rebuild at the time of our visit and both steam locomotives have been removed (hopefully temporarily) from the platforms. We spotted an SY steam locomotive in the depot as we left the city, which I presume was 0452 as it was mated to a JF style tender, although I was ultimately too far away to get a positive ID. The scenery between Mudanjiang and Hengdaohezi is truly breathtaking and very special in winter with huge mountains and smoking villages under a blanket of white powder. we were greeted to a completely transformed, yet equally pretty scene to what I remember from the previous year. From the train and with the sun finally making its appearance, we could see that despite all the concrete masts, no catenary wire had been installed, sparing us from the electric locomotives one final time. In addition, the poles hadn't been installed in station areas, yards and bridges yet and it appeared work had ceased for the winter.

Hengdaohezi station has also had a refurbishment with the entrance relocated to the front of the building rather than the side and a huge improvement in the interior with new glossy timber park style benches, new paint and large historical photographs of the town on the walls. We left our large bags here for the day for 10RMB and headed out to the roundhouse museum on the west end of town. Despite arriving much later in the day than my last visit, we decided to try the unofficial entrance via the maintenance rail yard.

The large Russian built warehouse adjacent to the roundhouse has been given a makeover with the concrete rendering painted in a rich yellow with white highlights. They've even taken the time to paint little details like the five point stars above the doors in bright red. Much work around the museum has also taken place since my last visit, including a large brick and wrought iron fence around the perimeter, thwarting our covert entrance. Nevertheless, a good view into the museum was possible through the fence and it was clear to see that every piece of rolling stock around the roundhouse had been pushed inside the for winter, asides from a very lonely looking QJ6924 which was too big for the building to accommodate. We could also see that the main entry gates leading into the museum were locked at the other side of the grounds, although as keen as Steve was to wrestle under the gates at the rail entrance, I decided that this was a silly thing to attempt given my age, weight and the fastly depleting remains of my dignity and somehow managed to convinced him to check back later and see if we could get in officially.

A handful of trains on the mainline had passed us during out first attempt at the museum and we decided to go there next, heading south west towards a small level crossing. As we walked past the official gate of the museum, we noticed a new car park had been built and there was a path leading straight towards the roundhouse and we... helped ourselves, postponing our visit to the mainline. On closer inspection of QJ 6924, the relatively nice coat of paint is rapidly fading and there are numerous rust streaks and bubbles starting to appear. Many places on the boiler jacket are corroding and she's also sustained some nasty damage to her right hand side cylinder casing. In the roundhouse, we could make out through some small gaps in the doors, the three other steam locomotives; SY 0477, JF886 and JS 8116 and the green and gold YZ22 passenger car. More information on these locomotives can be found in my previous trip report by clicking here. We eventually met some of the friendly workers at the museum who were very happy with the large print I had made for them of their locomotives sitting around the turntable from 2015, but with little else to see or do, we soon made our way to the mainline.

On arrival at the level crossing, there was still no concrete masts, however a huge ugly grey sound-suppressing concrete wall has been put up around the bend between the crossing and the highway overpass, destroying a beautiful view of the old Russian style houses in the background. Unhappy with the location, we went further westwards along the mainline and arrived just in time for a HXN5 freight with a DF8 locomotive pushing on the rear. From the overpass, the poles begin and go west as far as the eye can see, making it much more difficult to get a good shot as trains run through the curves.

We discovered fairly soon that the first two concrete railway bridges west of the overpass were free of the concrete poles and we spent much of our time here, enjoying a number of hard working freight trains, light engine movements and passenger services. Operations have changed regarding the helper locomotives for freight trains heading to Harbin. With the exception of one, all west bound freights seen had a single header HXN5's on point. All these trains would stop at Hengdaohezi where one of the helper locomotives would couple on to the rear, rather than further back at Mudanjiang or Hailin. The time it took for the helper locomotive to return was the same as it was last year, indicating that they still detach at Yabuli. Three helper locomotives were seen, all DF8's and numbered 0125, 0133 and 0136. These changes are clearly more efficient, and while the DF8's are at least still working and as spectacular as ever, it is sad not to see them up front where they belong. East bound freights seen were single or double HXN5's with no banking locomotives. It is obvious that the DF8's will be retired very soon with the introduction of electric locomotives and the HXN5's will be pushed further out on the secondary lines. It will be a sad day when the hills fall silent.

Freight traffic comprises mainly of coal and containers. There were a number of grain hoppers seen, but certainly far less than what we saw in the other parts of Heilongjiang. There were also a few surprises including a flat car containing a pair of bogies refurbished for a DF7. Traffic levels seemed to be comparative to what I saw a year earlier.

Passenger trains are mostly hauled by DF4D and DF4DK, however occasionally a double unit DF11G will make an appearance. In an almost rare sight these days with the mass repainting program of passenger cars into green and gold, one of these trains had an entire length of 25T BSP class coaches in their original white and blue livery. Like the freights, the DF4 diesels can be heard approaching miles off and work very hard in and out of Hengdaohezi. After lunch at a local "self-service-create-your-own-noodle-dish" restaurant, we decided to finish the day off on the east side of town and found a very nice curve leading into the station with not a concrete pole in sight. Amazingly most of the freights seen during the late afternoon period were solely in the hands of DF8's either single or double heading - a sight I never thought I would witness again. A pair of passenger trains were also seen, again behind DF4D locomotives.

By 3:30pm, light was quickly fading behind the mountains and the temperature dropped considerably, although Steve's thermometer still arrogantly showed us 5C. I had sustained multiple bruises and strained some unmentionable tendons in unmentionable places from my constant falling over on the ice roads, rocks and paths, much to the delight of the locals. Steve appeared concerned at my clumsiness, I'm sure he was having a chuckle every now and again behind his iced-over balaclava.

Collecting our bags was an easy process and we only had half an hour to wait until K7173 arrived to take us on to Jixi in soft sleeper class, where we were able to thaw out and arrived on time. We stayed in the Jixi Power Hotel, a few blocks east of the railway station.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed in Hengdaohezi is as follows :

(steam)
JS : 8116
JF : 886
QJ : 6924
SY : 0452 (presumed), 0477

(diesel)
DF4D : 0040, 0155, 0365, 0382, 0431, 0505, 0508, 0536
DF4DK : 3160
DF7C : 5287
DF8 : 0107, 0115, 0125, 0133, 0136, 0138
HXN5 : 0064, 0103, 0120, 0122, 0125, 0163, 0172

(electric)
SS4G : 7234 (Mudanjiang)

(maintenance)
Rail crane : 317-0186, 01034, 01036
Rail car : 235

22 November 2016

We started the day with a visit to the Chengzihe mining network, which was probably the busiest of the three systems ten years ago. We summoned a very nice taxi driver who took us to the level crossing at the triangle near the Beichang washery just in time to see DF4B 7333 disappearing into the distance towards Chengzihe mine. Rather than follow it, we went to the washery itself where I was confident we would also see a number of trains shuffling rakes of hoppers around sidings and the famous scene of carts being filled with coal, with their horses breathing huge plumes of steam into the freezing air.

On the contrary, the washery itself was very quiet with only a couple of self dump hoppers in one of the sidings and no locomotives. The horse drawn coal carts were nowhere to be seen either. Still, satisfied with the light and confident something would eventually turn up, we waited about 20 minutes and were greeted with light engine EL2 electric #6398 which disappeared into one of the tracks and emerged a few minutes later with eight loaded K70 coal hoppers. Happy with what we had seen and with little else happening, we made our way to Chengzihe mine, finding another pair of light engine movements with DF4B 7333 running west towards the CNR mainline and an EL-2 heading to Chengzihe. As we approached the level crossing at the west end of Chengzihe yard, a 2010 built ZG150-1500 electric locomotive #402 in a striking dark blue, white and red livery with special brass plates (added 2013) mounted on the cab sides rolled towards us from the depot and after a quick inspection by the crew, headed back towards Jixi CNR. It's quite impressive that this locomotive type has enjoyed such a long production run. All of Chengzihe's ZG150-1500's appear to be in this livery and are adorned with the XEMC mining logos. Other locomotives seen here were EL-2 #6401 and an un-numbered railcar. It's unclear why there were so many light engine movements and so few trains, but it is very obvious that coal production is severely down.

At the locomotive depot past Beichang, we found in one of the sidings EL-2 6395 and ZG150-1500 #403. Brown rust on the wheel rims indicated these two hadn't been moved for some time. Behind these locomotives and inside the shed, we found another ZG150-1500 also numbered #402 like the one at Chengzihe, but with no cab side brass plates indicating there's some number swapping shenanigans going on. We also found three hi-rail trucks in a locked fenced compound and some interesting wagons in the yard including a homemade snow plough.

To finish our time in Chengzihe, we went back to the triangle and waited for one more train, which arrived sooner than we thought in the form of DF4B 7333 with a sizeable train of C type hoppers. We then caught a taxi back into the city for lunch.

After lunch we decided to try our luck at the mining locomotive depot adjacent to the CNR mainline. This was a place that I had tried and failed to enter ten years ago due to some very serious security types, so we weren't holding out much hope for getting in. We hailed down a taxi driver and showed him a translation for the depot, however he took us to the wagon workshop instead on the other side of the line. It didn't take too long however to guide him via a nice colour print of the area courtesy of Google maps. Once at the gates, the driver told us to wait in the car and left briefly to sign in at the security office, then simply drove us through the gate! Almost immediately inside the depot we found plinthed SY0038 complete with all her number plates and Tangshan builders plates showing a build date of March 1967 under a blue steel roof. In the yard we found two sidings with five dumped SY's in each. All are in extremely poor condition. None have any builders plates or number plates still attached, but we could make out the numbers on all of them. Special locomotive 1544 still wears her big red smoke box mounted banner, but the brass characters are long gone.

Diesel GKD1A #0232 appears to be the pilot for the yard and we found her transferring DF10D #0157 between sheds, in the process of receiving a major rebuild.

Our last hour or so of daylight, we had the driver take us to the east throat of Jixi West rail yard and entrance to the China Rail workshops. We found DF5 1269 shunting and a couple of freight trains heading in and out of Jixi, surprisingly all worked by the vulnerable DF8's. The locomotive yard had a number of HXN5's and DF8's. There are also three SS4G double unit electric locomotives, which for an unelectrified line can only mean that Jixi is scheduled to be upgraded shortly. We found no evidence of construction for the overhead on this line however. Impressed with our drivers understanding of what we were doing and his very useful ability in getting us into places we shouldn't go, we decided to hire him for the next day at an agreed price of 300 yuan.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed in Chengzihe and Jixi is as follows :

(steam)
SY : 0038 (plinthed), 0804, 0863, 0951, 1058, 1340 (tender 1545), 1437, 1544, 1545 (tender 1340), 1554, 1861

(diesel)
DF4B : 7333
DF5 : 1269
DF8 : 0134, (2 unidentified)
DF10D : 0157
GKD1A : 0232
HXN5 : 0118

(electric)
SS4G : 0171, (2 unidentified)
EL2 : 6395, 6398, 6399, 6401
ZG150-1500 : 402 (x 2), 403

23 November 2016

Bright eyed and bushy-tailed on a very chilly morning (allegedly 5C), we checked out of the Power Hotel, loaded our large bags into the taxi and set off with our driver towards the China Rail locomotive depot that we had visited the night before. We were quite interested to find the decorated and preserved steam locomotive QJ6800 "Iron Bull" which was here for many years and now with our seemingly invincible driver, thought we may stand half a chance to get into the CNR depot. At the security office and with Rick Wong on the phone, we sadly discovered 6800 is no longer housed at Jixi and has been moved a couple of hundred kilometres west of Harbin, presumably with the huge steam collection at Da'an. We spent about half an hour at the depot entrance to see what would come about on the mainline. This turned out to be very little and we only had a HXN5 leave the depot and depart with a train towards Linkou in the distance, although a significantly higher amount of locomotives had appeared in the yard overnight including more DF8's and passenger DF4D/DK types.

We decided to set off for the Hengshan mining system, confident that we would find much more traffic than what we did on the Chengzihe system the day before. On the way we found a very recently plinthed (ex-Chengzihe) SY 1369 sitting beside the main road (206 Provincial Road), just outside the gate of the Tsingtao beer headquarters. She appears to be in excellent condition, despite her missing Tangshan plates. Although not visible on the most recent Google Earth satellite image, she can be found at co-ordinates 4515'20.63"N 13055'51.40"E

We soon arrived in Hengshan and I guided the driver towards the Hengshan depot thanks again to some very nice satellite images I had prepared. The final stretch however was down an extremely steep, narrow and snowed/iced over dirt track with huge ditches and holes on either side. Despite my pleas not to attempt it, he assured me he'd make it through. I can honestly say the next three minutes of my life were the most bottom clenching I've ever experienced with horrendous metal scraping noises down the door panels and underframe, however with a big smile on his face, he somehow managed to emerge at the entrance of the depot (with an equally larger sealed road leading back towards the "side street" we had come from!). He decided he would have a sleep in the car, obviously to replenish his super human powers, while we explored the Hengshan depot.

We were made very welcome by the depot manager who was very happy for us to wander around and thanked him with some railway photo handouts. Henghsan depot is home to three GKD1A diesels and a pair of rail cars, #01 and 02. In the shed we found #0233 idling away. Rail car #02 (built April 1979) was also in the depot and made a few shunting moves with a flat car and home-made tank car mounted on the bed. The crew of GKD1A were happy to have us on board their locomotive out of the biting 5C cold into their much warmer 5C cab during refuelling. I was becoming suspicious of Steve's thermometer at about this time. After refuelling was completed from an underground tank, she headed out of the yard.

Two ex-Hengshan loco's # 1095 and 1344 are rotting away in a siding next to the work shop, never to run again. Many minor components from both locomotives have been stripped but are more or less complete. I remember watching #1095 working very hard with massive trains of coal for the CNR exchange at Hengshan ten years prior (some of my videos of this engine can be found on Youtube) and was surprised to see the yellow detail paint around the wheel centers and mounting brackets still visible, a Hengshan specific characteristic. There is also a workers box car lying on its side and an old YZ97 passenger devoid of bogies & interior and also inexplicably cut in two pieces.

We walked to Hengshan CNR yard and found 2005 built DF5 #2057 with short hood and a more striking blue livery than the more common DF5, idling away and a very long rake of loaded C type hoppers. We made it just in time to see GKD1A 0233 depart out of the yard towards Erdaohezi and we decided to rouse our driver and head off in the same direction.

We positioned ourselves at the top of the steep hill at the now abandoned Zhongxin mine. Almost immediately, another light blue GKD1A approached from Xiao-Hengshan before heading back the same way. There was no visible number on the front however, being obscured by a large brass decorative plate mounted to the front handrails, but was presumably one of the other Hengshan GKD1A's, #0106 or #0107.

Asides from this brief moment, the only other "train" we saw was railcar #01 heading back to Hengshan full of workers who were surprised, yet very happy to see a pair of morons standing at the top of the hill with all our cameras set up in the freezing cold. From where we were, we could see in the distance a pair of DF8's with a massive train of empty coal wagons on the CNR rolling into Hengshan. Finally my 100-400mm lens was able to earn its keep and showed these were #0122 & 0134, which we had seen earlier in the morning at the CNR depot. After fruitlessly waiting for more trains, we gave up and decided to return to Hengshan. I was hoping to see the DF8's return to Jixi with a loaded coal train at the horseshoe curve, but the walk back to the taxi was too far and we missed it by a few minutes.

With such a disappointing lack of trains in Hengshan, we decided half heartedly to try our luck at Didao instead, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of strange driving behaviours, severely overloaded trucks and the odd accident along the way.

Our driver got us to Didao in record time and with no directions required. We immediately caught two locomotives in the washery shunting trains back and forth - GKD1A 0231, in identical light blue livery to the other Jixi GKD1A's, and DF4B 1964.

It was nice to see the self dumping hoppers, some with the timber guard hut on the ends still in service after all this time. A number of interesting wagons were found including timber sided C62 hoppers and even a caboose similar to the ones found in Fuxin.

SY's 0407 and 1213 were seen dumped in a siding near the washery. We stayed here for a couple of hours taking in all the action of the shunts, before DF4B 1964 disappeared to Lijing and GKD1A 0231 disappeared towards the mainline. Despite Didao easily being busier than the other parts of Jixi, it is very clear there is a massive decline in coal traffic which only confirms the huge slow down in China's economy.

We asked our driver to take us back to the very upmarket Wanda Shopping mall back in Jixi where we would call it a day and get some dinner before boarding our first challenging rail journey for our next location, Nancha. On the drive back into town, he picked up another passenger heading for Jixi and stopped in the middle of the expressway to have his photo taken with us. I have his details handy if anyone is thinking about paying Jixi a visit, but sadly with the railways in the state that they are, I doubt there will be many visitors. Despite this, we thoroughly enjoyed Jixi. This was one of the rare places in the China where we had experienced only very friendly and helpful people wherever we went. Train K7156 was our overnight train, in soft sleeper class of course, to Harbin and as we would be up at 2am for a connecting 3am service to Nancha, I slept early and saw nothing enroute. Our lead locomotive was a DF4D, number unseen.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed in Jixi, Hengshan and Didao is as follows :

(steam)
SY : 0407 & 1213 (Didao), 1095 & 1344 (Hengshan), 1369 (preserved)

(diesel)
DF4B : 1964
DF4D : 0070
DF5 : 2057
DF8 : 0078, 0122, 0134
GKD1A : 0231, 0233 (1 unidentified)
HXN5 : 0119

(electric)
SS4G 0171 (2 unidentified) EL2 6395, 6398, 6399, 6401
ZG150-1500 402 (x2), 403

(maintenance)
Railcar : 01, 02

24 November 2016

After a very uncomfortable night in an overheated train, I was already awake when the conductor came to exchange our hard tickets back for the paper ones. My thrashing about through the night had also dislodged the sheets on the mattress and I discovered I had been sleeping on a pile of vinyl type China Rail destination boards for train K7156! Our train arrived at Harbin on time and within 20 minutes of disembarking, we were back in the waiting room for train K339 up to Nancha. Surprisingly, temperature on this train was much more pleasant (5C according to Steve's thermometer) and I fell asleep again very quickly, waking up just before Langjiang. I'm glad I had my camera ready to shoot from the window, as just out of Langjiang station, Steve spotted a narrow gauge C2 steam locomotive with a pair of bright orange passenger cars, a timber loaded flat car and a caboose in tow. The paint on the locomotive and rolling stock seems to be very fresh and it appears to have been placed here very recently as it is clearly not there on the latest satellite image on Google Earth dated September 2014. It can be found at co-ordinates 4657'24.73"N 12852'38.26"E.

On arrival at Nancha station, we took a taxi and checked into the Yichun Home Xin Hotel in the north east of the city. This is located very close to the first level crossing from Nancha on the branch line that heads north from the mainline towards Yichun and Wuyiling, the focus of our time in Nancha. The climb out of Nancha is very steep and was a favourite of photographers in the steam days when it was common to find two or three massive QJ steam locomotives slog it out. We would have to be satisfied with the diesels obviously, but were hoping that the DF4B and DF4C's would still be in use before the imminent arrival of the HXN5's (a side effect of the electrification program sweeping Heilongjiang).

On the walk up to the good photographic areas, we encountered DF4D 0423 with train K7126 and a large train of 25G stock, the same service we would take tomorrow morning to Xinglongzhen. We walked up the line about two kilometers before finding a very nice section of curvacious track and decided to climb a steep hill to try and get a good vantage point. I was still recovering from a number of ailments from my repeated falling over in the ice back in Hengdaohezi and Jixi and this hike nearly proved to be my undoing. Of course when we reached the summit of the hill, all the good views were obscured by all the leafless trees. We tried to set up in multiple locations here, but still unsatisfied with it all, eventually headed back down the mountain which was more perilous than the journey up.

When we finally found a decent position on the other side of the rails, we waited almost an hour for the first train to come racing up the hill - train# K7127 comprising of DF4DK 3182 and five hard seat 25B coaches. While not the huge freight train we were hoping for, it did allow us to make some adjustments. Only fifteen minutes later, we were surprised by local train 6274 with three YZ25B hard seat coaches and a XL25B baggage car and were just in time to grab the camera for some shots as it raced downhill into Nancha.

Twenty minutes after 6274 disappeared, the big moment arrived. The monumental roar of three diesels under full power resonated through the valley. The three locomotives rounded past the first bend to reveal a DF4C, HXN5, DF4C combination pulling twenty nine box cars, hoppers and tank cars. She went past us a lot faster than I had imagined, but I believe many of her wagons were empty. The noise of these beasts is really fantastic. It was sad not to see a DF4B or two in the mix, but we were not unhappy with what we got.

The two lead locomotives of the freight (DF4C 5306 and HXN5 0179) disconnected at the next station of Liushu a few kilometres up the line and less than twenty minutes later rolled back into Nancha waiting for the next freight to assist, something that wouldn't happen for the rest of the day. In fact the only other train we would see while up in the hills was a north bound DF4C (5006) running light engine towards Yichun. Perhaps the previous freight had got stuck after all!

By now the freezing wind had started to pick up and despite being only 5C, ice was starting to build up on my glasses & neck scarf and my drinks had literally frozen solid in under two hours. Steve then brought out a second thermometer which more accurately registered -37C. After waiting around for nearly an hour with no sign of any trains in either direction, we decided to call it quits and head back into town. When we were almost back, we heard an approaching north bound train and got K7125 with DF4D 0480 leading an eleven car train of 25G class passenger cars in green and gold, except for an unusual CA25G dining car which had ribbed sides and an air conditioning unit, presumably a rebuilt CA23 car and bearing the G stock paint scheme of red, orange and pale grey.

Back in Nancha, we attempted to find an entrance into the CNR locomotive depot, but the high brick walls on this place were quite effective at keeping us out. We found the same helper locomotives we saw working earlier at the throat of the depot, still idling and no crew to be found anywhere. The light faded fast and exhausted from the freezing cold and the long walk, we retreated back to the hotel.

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

(steam)
C2 : (narrow gauge; number not seen; @ Langjiang)

(diesel)
DF4C : 5006, 5306, 5135
DF4D : 0423, 0480
DF4DK : 3092, 3182
DF11G : (no# - lead unit)
HXN5 : 0179

25 November 2016

After a bit of a sleep in, we checked out of our quirky hotel and got to the train station by taxi. DF4D 0117 was the motive power for our train (K7126) to Xinglongzhen. This time I had opted to travel hard seat class, being just over three hours. Xinglongzhen was a bit of a bonus day for us and was a place I had long wanted to visit, even though we weren't expecting to find it operating. We weren't losing any time by visiting there and the four hours we had was ample. A good mix of diesel motive power was seen along the way from modern HXN5's to clapped out DF4C's on freights and the usual DF4D/DF4DK's and DF11/DF11G's working the pax.

We dumped our bags at a convenience store for a couple of hours while we went to explore the narrow gauge, taking a taxi the long way around and got dropped off at the level crossing adjacent to the People's Square. We could see from here the now preserved C2 0-8-0 steam locomotive with a brand new coat of paint. It has also been renumbered to 065 (the original '189' clearly visible through the new paint!). She appears to be in excellent condition and is still fully equipped with all builders plates, forrestry logos, steam gauges, etc.

The sidings to the south of the People's Square are packed with disused wagons from the larger gondolas, to the tiny log wheel sets, many of which were stacked on top of each other. While they don't appear to have been used for a long time with thick dark brown rust built up on the wheels, the numbers on most wagons are clearly visible. I would estimate that at least 250 wagons are stored here, which would have to account for the bulk of the Xinglongzhen roster. The large crane in the unloading yard to the south is also starting to decay with snapped/frayed cables, broken windows on the control unit and faded paint/severe rust. There were three severely decrepit passenger cars missing just about every conceivable component from the complete window assemblies, wheel sets and interiors and a few other larger freight wagons pushed into an industrial siding to the south west.

Closest to the level crossing, a large rail car #075 appears to have been set up as a beer garden/cafe area. The paint is fading fast and rust appears to have taken over much of her. There is also a large gash on the front corner.

At the locomotive depot, we found three of the very unique Mudanjiang class narrow gauge diesels in front of the main shops building, all in a state of decay. Numbers recorded were 41, 43 and 48. We also found a small yellow rail car in seemingly quite good condition asides from the typical missing paint exposing rust on the body work and some slight damage to one of the pilots. A pair of rail cranes were also present S08-01 & S08-02 and the smallest rail car I have ever seen locked in a fenced compound. We couldn't see anything inside the main workshops (all locked), so presumably the other C2 steam locomotive, railcars and Mudanjiang class narrow gauge locomotives are stored inside for the winter (or indefinitely).

Some very friendly workers in one of the office rooms invited us in and were delighted to have their photographs taken with us on Steve's Polaroid camera, many whom had never seen an image evolve right in front of their eyes. They were equally very happy with some photos of Australian trains I gave them and very happy to learn I was a train driver with the appallingly spoken phrase "Woh sh yiger hwotse xiji". With Steve's translator program and asked multiple ways, the answer was the same - the railway has closed. The workers are uncertain of whether or not it will reopen again, but in today's world, that seems very unlikely. One of the workers gave me a couple of gifts as we were leaving - a China Rail three colour torch and a pair of marshalling flags.

The rest of the time in Xinglongzhen prior to catching our train to Changchun was spent on the large pedestrian bridge that straddles the mainline. We enjoyed a large number of trains including passenger, courier and freight services. A pair of HXN5's were shunting grain hoppers out of the grain silos to the north of the station into the small yard on the other side of the mainline which seemed to be a rather complicated procedure due to the high volume of traffic. Freights were all handled by HXN5's and were mostly huge trains of grain hoppers. The bridge has wire mesh on both sides, but a telescopic lens cuts right through this and we got some very nice photographs in the sunset.

Our train was K930, a five hour soft sleeper journey south to Changchun, which departed slightly late out of Xinglongzhen and arrived even later into Changchun, dashing our hopes for a hot meal before our early morning train to Jiutai. As per usual, the south exit was blocked off at Changchun, creating a very drawn out procedure getting to the south side of the station.

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

(diesel)
DF4C : 5136, 5138
DF4D : 0117 (lead power), 0423
DF4DK : 3016, 3246, 3247
DF5 : 1590, 1800, 1801, 1803 +3
DF11 : ??
DF11G : 0213/0214, 0209/0210
HXN5 : 0008, 0231, 0154, 0155, 0067, 0236, 0269, 0128, 0267 + 2
Rail car : 01072 + 2
(narrow gauge)
(steam) C2 class 065
(diesel) Large rail car #075
(diesel) Small rail car #??
(diesel) Mudanjiang class 41, 43, 48
(diesel) Rail crane S08-01, S08-02


Continued in part two - Click here!


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