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

This is part three of my winter 2016 trip to China and covers Beijing, Kashgar, Urumqi, Sandaoling and between.

The other three parts are as follows:

Part 1 - covering Harbin, Hengdaohezi, Jixi, Nancha, Xinglongzhen and between - click here

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

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

01 December 2016

I woke up just before 8am out of Miyun North railway station and still two hours out of Beijing. Some very interesting locomotives were found between here and Beijing including DF7 and DF7B shunters. The final examples of both of these types are slated for retirement from China Rail in 2017. Many passenger trains are hauled by ageing light blue DF4C's and even a light blue DF4D was seen hauling K7711 to Chengde. DF4B's are still working local freights, although one of the modern HXN3's was seen encroaching on Beijing's territory, hopefully not a sign of things to come. The real highlight was DF4B 1757 in light blue & cream colors with her huge "Worker Pioneer" brass emblem on the front working in the freight yard opposite Shuangqiao station.

On arrival at Beijing East, we tried in vain to get a taxi driver to take us to our hotel opposite Beijing railway station. After enduring two overnight trains, overloaded with baggage, overheating under all the jackets and silly taxi drivers quoting obscene prices for a two kilometer journey (prices starting at 200 yuan), my temper finally broke after some chuckle head in a Hyundai drove into my suitcase. After a short, yet oddly satisfying verbal tirade, we left the station area completely and finally got a taxi on the main road to take us to the hotel for just under 20 yuan by the meter.

I had hoped to get to the aviation museum on Beijing's northern outskirts, but approaching midday by the time we checked into the Howard Paragon hotel, neither of us could really be bothered and decided instead to get some lunch and then have an easy day on the Dongnan Jiaolou (or South East tower) which overlooks the approach into Beijing railway station, only a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

At the tower I met fellow Australian Brian Wallace, founder of the art gallery located inside the tower who was very happy to show us around and allow me onto the top floor of the museum to overlook the rail lines. The gallery itself has some amazing works of art on display and for sale, although loaded to the hilt with railway souvenirs and a fast declining bank roll, I was in no position to buy one!

The most notable change to all the trains coming in and out since my last visit in September 2015 was the drastic reduction in the amount of diesels. Only a very small handful of DF4C, DF7C and DF7G were found in nearly three hours, with the majority of trains departing and arriving with HXD3C and HXD3D electric locomotives. SS8's and SS9G's were also out in force. The SS8's seem to have all been repainted with the lower portion now in a very good looking metallic blue colour, similar to their rarer SS9 cousins. CRH5A's & 5G's were also frequent, as they were on my last visit here.

To top the day off, we spent some time on the pedestrian bridge south east of the south east tower where some fantastic shots were to be had of a couple of DF4C led trains (most likely shunts from the yard) into Beijing. We also headed to the rail bridges east of the station as per my last visit in September 2015, however the sun being in a very different position at this time of year produced unsatisfactory results and we only lasted a train or too before retiring to the hotel for our morning flight to Kashgar via Urumqi.

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

DF4B : 1757 "Worker Pioneer", 9240
DF4C : 0016, 2001, 4247, 4257, 5291
DF4D : 0123, 4206
DF7 : 0162
DF7B : 3020, 3068
DF7C : 5514, 5526
DF7G : 5014
HXN3 : 0110, 0124

HXD3C : 0111, 0116, 0282, 0367, 0394, 0459, 0591, 0598, 0663, 0732, 0748, 1001
HXD3D : 0057, 0137, 0146, 0185, 0197, 0233, 0325, 0436, 0444, 0466, 0472, 0473, 8008
SS4G : 6145
SS8 : 0051, 0053, 0073, 0078, 0123
SS9G : 0070, 0088, 0112, 0144, 0156, 0161

(electric multiple unit)
CHR5A : 5012, 5055, 5082, 5088, 5089, 5139
CRH5G : 5154, 5171, 5172, 5175, 5188

02 - 06 December 2016

This four day period was a break from railway photography and a visit to probably the most incredible city I've yet visited, Kashgar, China's western most city with the closest borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan some 90 and 160kms away respectively. I won't dwell on this part of the trip, suffice to say if you can make it here, just go. Xinjiang already had my vote for having the best food on the planet, but Kashgar went one step further. All the people we met were extremely sociable, very friendly with a great sense of humour and very happy to have their photographs taken. This as well as the the amazing livestock market, traditional music stores, coppersmiths, night markets, the beautiful old city and the insane Sunday bazaar made me wish I spent even more time here. And here's some sacrilege, for the first time it felt like we weren't in China at all! I will post a link to some photograph galleries for those interested sometime in the near future, but for now... back to the trains.

After finally passing the multiple security checks and singled out because we were the only foreigners around and being suspected of carrying some of the famous (and now illegal) Kashgar knives, Our train, T9518, departed on time just after 530pm. The train was headed by a DF11 (number not seen) and consisted of 25K class rolling stock, all of which had been repainted in the now common green and gold colour scheme, apart from a solitary soft sleeper car which we just so happened to be travelling in, which for now has retained it's wonderful white, blue & red colours. The interior of the car we were in was comparatively very clean to all the other trains we had been on this trip and had some nice local Urumqi bureau features such as lace curtains with camels embroidered into them (which were of course thrown up onto the upper bunk to remove reflections on the windows as we were taking photos). The onboard meals were also excellent. Infact, we both agreed the only negative on the entire trip was a fellow travellers socks which were putrid beyond words.

Only a couple of trains were seen on the way with freights exclusively in the hands of DF8B's and passenger trains running in the opposite direction behind DF11's. Kashgar's yard pilot is DF4B 9136 (Ziyang 1995) in dark green/light green livery. There was only a couple of hours of daylight and the scenery was quite enjoyable with very dramatic mountains in the background.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed in Kashgar and surrounding areas is as follows :

DF4B : 9136
DF8B : 5082, 5384
DF11 : 0184, 0205

07 December 2016

We arrived at Urumqi South (the old Urumqi station) on time at 09:48 and left our bags in the China Rail left luggage facility, a strange underground cellar which required walking down six flights of stairs and resembled a World War 2 underground bomb shelter. Although we had tickets to stay onboard until the new Urumqi station, it would have taken an hour to travel only six kilometres and as our evening train to Hami originated from Urumqi Nan, it made more sense to leave our large bags here. We then went straight off to Urumqi West (locally known as WuXi) railway station, about 20 kilometres north west by taxi. The driver was a nice fellow and drove like a complete maniac, which was quite amusing at times. On arrival, we found the unusual high headlight SY 1453 looking very sad for herself, corroding and faded paint all round. Tacky LED strip lighting has been attached to nearly all her detail parts, along handrails, around the boiler bands, etc, but thankfully weren't turned on during the day.

Our first major area for railway photography, which ultimately turned into the only one, was only two blocks west of Wuxi station, where a massive pedestrian bridge with no fences in the way crosses the tracks between the locomotive depot and Wuxi yard. Traffic levels are extremely high with not only the main yard, but a handful of smaller yards, countless industries, mainline west heading to two border crossing with Kazakhstan, mainline east to Fukang (east of Urumqi), the passenger car yards, maintenance facilities and branch line to Urumqi steel works. It was actually quite difficult to know what to photograph at any one time!

The locomotive depot had a constant stream of locomotives entering and departing. A huge number of locomotives are stored, serviced and repaired here and most are electric. Electrification is relatively new to Urumqi and was completed around 2014. SS4G's and HXD1C's appear to be the freight locomotive of choice for Urumqi bureau, but there is also a very good number of DF8B's still used for the non-electrified lines to Kashgar and Fukang. Passenger locomotives tended to leave as single light engine, but locomotives returning to the depot often came back double or triple header. The rather attractive HXD1D's and HXD3C's being the most common types found as well as DF11's for the non-electrified lines. The depot also had a pair of DF7C's including one with an unusual solid orange livery including the roof which was being used presumably for crew training, making dozens of runs up and down the same very short line in the depot.

The main yard is serviced by brand new high horsepower HXN5B locomotives in a very striking red and yellow colour scheme. They are an interesting looking machine, but may require a few more years of seeing them to win me over! They were kept very busy shunting on the hump yard, a fascinating thing to watch in action. The passenger yard has long strings of passenger cars delivered from the passenger car yards to the station using a DF12 and DF7G. The maintenance facility was quiet and had a range of track machines, heavy duty cranes and orange paint passenger cars for the breakdown and works trains. A DF4B (number unsighted) appears to be allocated to this train.

The branch line from the main yard to Urumqi steelworks is the southern most track under the pedestrian bridge. We saw three huge trains of C type hoppers in our time here solely in the hands of a pair of DF12 high horsepower industrial diesels with one on each end. I have always been fond of the DF12's, the last in the Dong Feng series and rarely seen in my travels. Here I was able to get some great shots of them including plenty of close ups. Both of these DF12's on the steelworks trains are numbered 0092 & 0093 with the factory plates showing a build date of 2003.

The mainlines heading west towards Kazakhstan are kept busy with a range of freight trains. Passenger trains seen use a separate set of tracks closer to Wuxi station side to avoid the congestion of the freight lines. We saw nearly two dozen trains in both directions, but only the west bound trains can be seen clearly and unobstructed from the bridge, with the east bound lines running around the other side of the depot.

Most of these trains were using SS4G's or HXD1C's. There was a diverse range of freight types seen moving through, most likely for export. One particularly interesting car seen was a generator car usually found in the centre of a five-car set of refrigerator vans. This time it was spliced in the middle of a rake of flat cars (for refrigerator containers?). A lucky find on one of the passenger trains was an exceptionally rare double-deck passenger car in white blue and red livery with ribbed sides.

The smaller yard lies adjacent to the locomotive depot between the branch line to the Urumqi steel works and the line to Kazakhstan and comprises of sixteen tracks. It primarily serves a large chemical plant. A HXN5B shunting locomotive was kept busy shunting cars around these tracks for most of the day. Before we knew it, we had spent so much time here we wouldn't have enough time for a visit to the Yamalikeshan Forest Park, which lies between Urumqi and Urumqi South railway stations and has both the standard and high speed rail lines passing through it. Our train to Hami was to depart Urumqi South at 445pm from Urumqi South and there was barely time to get lunch before the departure. But again, passing through multiple security checks, we made it on board just in time and had a nice smooth run to Hami in first class. Once at Hami, we were again held up by security as we didn't have a scannable Chinese ID card. After being held up for about 10 minutes, we had photocopies of our passports made and then released. Sandaoling Mine manager met us at the gates and quickly whisked us to Sandaoling in the same litte red Nissan Tiida we had been taken around on most of our previous trips. We were taken to the Jia He Wu Xiang Binguan on Renmin East Road which was our favoured accommodation being close to the better Uygher restaurants than the others and we arranged to be picked up at 7am for our first day in Sandaoling.

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

SY : 1453 (preserved)

DF4B : 7270 (1 unidentified)
DF4DK : 3252
DF7C : 5174, 5476 (orange roof)
DF7G : 5113
DF8B : 0088, 5029, 5046, 5048, 5104, 5250, 5287, 5503, 5545, 5588, 5590
DF11 : 0220, 0230, 0244, 0257, 0259, 0361
DF12 : 0054, 0092, 0093
HXN5B : 0182, 0183, 0184, 0186, 0187

HXD1C : 0318, 0346, 0472, 0474, 0493, 0684, 0760, 0763, 6186, 6188, 6211, 6213, 6226, 6227, 6240, 6340, 6343, 6362
HXD1D : 0060, 0086, 0102, 0257, 0354, 0361, 0408, 0449, 0450, 0596, 0612
HXD3C : 0914, 0924
HXD3CA : 6037, 6042
SS4G : 0062, 0296, 0324, 0366, 0432, 0554, 0558, 0590, 0563, 0566, 0569, 0590

(electric multiple unit)
CRH2G : 2422

08 December 2016

Our first morning in Sandaoling was spent in Dongbolizhen, where the crew change took place every morning. Four locomotives were in steam on our arrival and it was very busy with 20 - 30 photographers. Bernd Seiler's group was by far the largest and it was quite a job keeping out of everyone's way. I had anticipated large crowds after speaking with Trevor in Pingzhuang, however and I was happy just to experience the spectacle one final time with any good photos being a bonus.

The worker's 'train' in the form of light engine JS8190 was the first train to depart followed gradually by the other three trains into the pit behind JS's, 8225, 8167 and 8081. JS8190 was the last coal train to depart after returning to Dongbolizhen to collect her wagons.

After catching her near the level crossing, Steve and I headed towards the unloading point near Nanzhen. I decided to hold back at the rail overpass while Steve carried on to the unloading point, but I didn't hang around long as one of the deep mine locomotives, JS8053, pushed some empty hoppers into a small coal loading point between the dump compound and the locomotive depot. I made it just in time to watch her depart light engine back to Nanzhen, before returning to my position near the road bridge catching 8190 racing towards the unloading spot. I decided to take a gamble and head to the new unloading point where the steamers run through the locomotive depot and further south. A great deal of coal dust was pouring out of the coking plant, but I found a pretty good spot climbing up the first level of spoil and didn't have to wait too long before JS8167 arrived with a train of coal, coasting to the end of the line, then pushing the train backwards into the unloading siding. The locomotives work very hard pushing the heavy train in, and again pulling the empty cars back out again.

After here, I headed to the depot for some photos of the machinery and rolling stock in the sidings. I didn't find any steam locomotives outside any of the buildings and headed back to the line for the Nanzhen unloading point and then onto one of the abandoned blocks of flats where a few other photographers had gathered. I stayed for a couple of trains and left to meet back up with Steve in at Kengkongzhen, but not before I noticed on the roof of another building a water tank converted from a fuel pod from a Shenyang J-6 fighter jet (Chinese built version of the Mig-19).

We stayed at Kengkongzhen until Mr. Zhang picked us up a couple of hours later and enjoyed four trains in each direction. Although slightly hazy, it was quite cold and the steam effects were magnificent. All steam locomotives were running chimney first. Steve had somehow scored a cab ride in my absence from the unloading point and after the fantastic day we both had, wondered if the three days we had here would be sufficient. It's still hard to believe that the greatest steam show will all be over in a matter of months, such a tragedy. Below is a small selection of photos from the afternoon.

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

JS : 6223 (dumped), 8053, 8081, 8176, 8190, 8225
JF : 567 (disassembled tender only)

09 December 2016

Once again we spent the morning in Dongbolizhen and after some very pleasing photos were taken of the usual line up, Steve and I were amongst the first to leave for the embankment near the level crossing. We managed to catch the second train out with JS8190 putting on an incredible show with a boiler blow down, wheel slip and an unforgettable sound with an incredibly crisp exhaust note.

Hoping to improve on the results I got at the new offloading point, I decided to head back here. The sky was much clearer and finally after four trips here, the Altai Shan ranges in the background could be very clearly seen. Better still, the wind had settled down and although the coking plant was still kicking up an obnoxious cloud of black dust, the slight westerly breeze was thankfully keeping it at bay.

This 'new' offloading point was kept even busier than the usual offloading point near Nanzhen and I enjoyed five arrivals and unloadings. Steve stayed around the depot area for the first of the arrivals before moving on the the depot and I moved up to the highest level, beyond the new line to the deep mine. The first steam engine to appear was JS8081 which clearly had some problems and remained in the depot for much of the morning.

Just before I was about to leave this incredible location, a light engine arrived at the siding I saw being re-laid in my last visit in November 2014. I was quite some distance off from seeing it depart, but walked over anyway. A good decision as it turned out because a second JS locomotive arrived and coupled to the first. The departure was epic with both engines working very hard and slipping to wrestle her loaded 13 hoppers back to Nanzhen.

Out of breath, I hobbled back to pick up my video camera from me earlier vantage point just in time for another arrival as well as diesel DF8B from the deep mines with a massive train heading into Nanzhen. This diesel train stopped short of the yard for some time and in the beautiful afternoon light, I was able to get some very interesting shots before heading back to the depot to catch up with Steve. JS8081 had finished her repairs and after (naturally) picking up Steve, steamed off into the distance for a run to the blue loaded.

I walked back to the depot catching the return working of JS8190 from the new unloading point against a perfect mountain backdrop rolling into Dongbolizhen. From the depot I walked directly to Dongbolizhen and found 8190 having some repairs made to one of her cab ladders. While the welder was at work, the loco crew changed the brake shoes on the tender with new ones, quite an interesting sight to see!

Finally back at Kengkongzhen, I nearly didn't recognise Steve who's face was absolutely covered in soot. He was very lucky to get not only another cab ride, but a drive in his prize locomotive - JS8081 - from the blue loader all the way out of the pit! A couple of departures later, Mr. Zhang arrived and got us back into town for dinner.

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

JS : 6204, 8053, 8081, 8176, 8190, 8197, 8225, 8314, 8384 (dumped)

DF8B : 0247

10 December 2016

Another spectacular morning in Dongbolizhen with the usual four locomotives undergoing the daily preparation and crew swap. The morning was as frigid as ever which provided excellent steam effects and the scattered cloud coverage provided some very beautiful photographs.

I then headed to the rail diverge, but frustrated by the moronic behaviour of a certain individual, I headed in the opposite direction from the crowd and went straight to the pedestrian crossing near the abandoned apartments for the first morning train to the unloading point near Nanzhen. This was the clearest day we had experienced in Sandaoling and the Altai mountains once again provided us with some amazing photographs.

Mr. Zhang met us back at Dongbolizhen and took us to Xibolizhen to see how much it had changed since our late 2014 visit. A new huge spoil dump is now in place between Xibolizhen station and the road leading back to town. A large concrete pad has been laid in the middle of the yard, but most of the points are still in place. The water towers that used to fill the steam locomotives have found a new lease on life, filling tanker trucks for dust suppression. The 'main line' to the new deep mine is still shiny, but no diesels were seen and with that, we went back to the steam trains.

Rather than move to the deep mine system, I spent the last couple of hours on the loop near the depot, enjoying a few trains with the mountains in the background. The last working steam locomotive we saw was JS8167 heading away from the new unloading point back to Dongbolizhen. Without doubt the last working Chinese steam locomotive I will ever witness. We returned to Sandaoling for a wash up, pack up and fill up at our friend's house for lunch before hitting the highway back to Hami.

Mr. Zhang got us back to Hami train station about an hour before our train T296 was due to depart for Lanzhou. Once through the initial security, the ticket checker took our tickets and then went into a mini-meltdown. With no idea what she was talking about, another staff member came over and told us our train had been cancelled. Great! Many of the other trains had sold out and our options were limited to taking Z106 which would leave two hours later, but arrive at the same time and would allow us to continue on with the planned day we had in Lanzhou, or K544 which left one hour later, but would arrive just before 4pm, but still enough time to get to Lanzhou airport for our flight to Kunming. While we were both keen to take Z106, there was only one hard seat ticket and one hard sleeper ticket left. Not being Polish, we decided to abandon our Lanzhou day and take K544, where at least we would arrive at Lanzhou rested.

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

JS : 8081, 8176, 8190, 8225

DF8B : 0247

HXD3C : 0913
HXD3D : 0318

Continued in part four - Click here!

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