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

This is part four of my winter 2016 trip to China and covers Lanzhou, Kunming, Yuexi 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 3 - covering Beijing, Kashgar, Urumqi, Sandaoling and between - click here

11 December 2016

K544 was a very long, tiresome journey in overheated cars made worse by the sun blazing into the windows and a good supply of screaming children and crying babies. I began to wonder how much worse it would have been travelling in hard seat class on Z106. Surprisingly, very few trains were seen from when I finally woke up at 10:30 until we arrived at Lanzhou. Only two CRH5G units overtook us at the very long wait at stations and two local trains in the opposite direction. The scenery however was as fantastic as ever with snow capped mountains on both sides of the train for much of the way into Lanzhou.

Once at Lanzhou we had a quick late lunch and then took a taxi to the airport for flight MU5093 to Lanzhou. Security was a real pain here, with long queues, incompetent staff and an overzealous baggage scanner who had never seen a teapot before. But we made, it and once in Kunming, took a taxi to the hotel I stayed at earlier in the year near Kunming North Railway station. I had booked this one for five nights, even though we would only stay there for three as it was very cheap, clean and secure and a good place to keep our larger bags for our excursion to Yuexi a couple of days later.

A list of the locomotives seen and/or photographed between Hami & Lanzhou is as follows :

HXD1D : (2 unidentified) HXD3D : 0033

(electric multiple unit)
CRH5G : 5213 (1 unidentified)

JW4G : 1633051, 1633066

12 December 2016

Our first day in the very pleasant Kunming. The sun had the entire sky to itself, and the temperature a perfect 15C. After a later than usual wake up, we went to Kunming North railway station and had a quick stroll onto the platform. The Vietnamese passenger cars in the siding to the east of the station have disappeared since my April visit. The rolling stock in the depot looked almost identical with the Burmese 2-6-4T steam locomotive and steam crane in the same spot. The only change was a few more passenger cars. We then visited the cafe on the station and had some extremely overpriced drinks before entering the station for a ride, after long last, on the Kunming meter gauge passenger train to Shizui.

The timetable is exactly the same as it was on my last visit, although this time trains were actually running, a copy of which (at time of writing) can be found by clicking here. We got to the waiting room about 20 minutes before boarding train 8863 to Shizui and were amongst the first passengers there. It gradually filled up, mostly with grandparents and grandchildren. The locomotive was DFH21 093, a 1984 Sifang built diesel hydraulic and the train comprised of four YZM1 passenger cars (meter gauge hard seat). These passenger cars are painted in the very attractive white, blue a red color scheme as found on the (original livery) standard gauge 25K class cars. Each has a seating capacity of 58 people and the green vinyl wrapped chairs are arranged in a 2+2 club seating arrangement with small tables between each set of chairs.

The ride out was a wonderful experience! Tickets are purchased on the train and are all hand written. The cost from Kunming North to Shizui being only 2RMB and to Wangjaying in the opposite direction, 4RMB. The conductor unusually encouraged me to open the window for better photos, there was no smoking on board and the DFH21 blew the airhorn very liberally. At the every level crossing, young children were waving at the train - not something I've seen before in all of my trips in China. Near Mayuan market, a fight broke out between a woman cutting an apple and the conductor, who presumably lost it after seeing a passenger had brought a knife onto the train. It went on for well over 15 minutes and it's unclear who won the stoush, but it did put the conductor into a very foul mood for the rest of the journey.

At Shizui we watched the locomotive detach and reverse around its train of passenger cars to form train 8862 back to Kunming North. Rather than ride it back, we decided to take a taxi and beat it to Mayuan to watch it pass through the market. It took nearly 20 minutes to find a taxi on the main road and despite the driver's best efforts, we missed the train by about 30 seconds at Mayuan thanks to the traffic and the bad luck of catching every red light on the way.

Rather than try and find chase it further, we went to the large copper smelter complex north of the city and got dropped off at the level crossing on Puji Road. Just prior to commencing our trip to Kunming, I had learned the tragic news that the DF locomotive in Yuexi, the last operational diesel of this time had retired. However the one belonging to the Yunnan Copper Co. in Kunming have brought theirs back to life and treated it to a full overhaul! It is now expected to provide at least five years of service to the factory, so if there is another trip to China for me in the future, this will definitely be a priority.

We didn't find the DF in the shed, which was a positive sign as we approached the small yard, but found red/grey DF7G 0091 by her lonesome shut down. The other DF7G, 0086, in the lovely cookies and cream livery, was seen in the distance. On enquiring with one of the rail workers where the DF was, he pointed further down the yard and we found her underneath the overpass of the G5 Jingkun Expressway, also shut down. DF7G 0086 was quite busy in the yard, but stayed mostly at the eastern end away from us.

Even though she had a fine layer of dust, her new coat of paint was gleaming in the sunlight and it appears to be a very professional job - not just slapped on with a paint brush like many of the 'overhauls' I've seen in the past! She is now possibly one of, if not the oldest, mainline diesel still in opeartion in China, built in Qishuyan in 1972 (The Dalian DF 1885 at Yuexi was built in 1970). If you would like to see one of these beauties in factory fresh condition, book your air tickets now!

We stayed around the western throat of the yard on the chance that she would be called into service, getting sunburnt in the process. Eventually a crew did walk up and it was on! The driver climbed onboard while the assistant made a walk around, and the gorgeous DF2026 roared into life with the typical DF style eruption of diesel smoke. After revving the pants off her to clean out the cobwebs, the locomotive, with an already attached train of wagons blew the horn and reversed towards the factory.

I followed it back to the level crossing for the return working while Steve stayed in the yard. She returned some 10 minutes later light engine. By the time I made it back the locomotive, Steve had already sweet talked his way onto the cab and we were given a full tour of the engine room, cab and all the cabinets. Interestingly this one didn't have the 50 fire extinguishers strapped to the side of the walls like the Yuexi machine did, with only four seen. Soon the crew said they had to move off, but rather than asking us to get off, told us to bring the video cameras on board as well.

And so it was, that we became the honorary guests of DF 2026 for the next two and a half hours, shunting cars within the heavily restricted copper smelter! We made nine shunts in total before returning to the yard with a train of hoppers. We thanked the crew for their hospitality and ran in front of the locomotive to watch it pass under the high pressure washer apparatus to clean out some empty wagons she had brought out of the factory.

Exhausted, dehydrated and with a whopping great headache and mild sunstroke we ended our time at the copper plant soon after the DF shut down and took a taxi back to the hotel, still quite stunned at what happened. The DF is rotated with the other locomotives for work so there was a chance that it may not have been working on our visit, let alone actually have a run about in one!

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

DF : 2026
DF7G : 0086, 0091 DFH21 : 093

13 December 2016

Today we woke up much earlier, so we could get the early morning narrow gauge train from Kunming North to Wangjaying (service 8861), departing at 0730. Wangjaying is on the western end of the passenger network. This service was fairly empty with mainly workers commuting between the few stations. The locomotive on passenger duties today was DFH21 098 (with Sifang plates dating 1979 - a bit odd as yesterday's locomotive #093 had plates showing 1984!). During the journey we passed through the huge standard gauge rail yard where we found a number of electric locomotives. Towards Wangjiaying on the standard gauge track we passed a massive China Rail crane (NS-1600-20) which we would also find later in the day doing work near the standard/narrow gauge exchange sidings. The only other interesting thing seen was a green/gold passenger car TKH25B car (#099689).

After a bit over an hour we crawled into Wangjiaying and with only a few engines in the yard and all shut down, we waited for the passenger train to depart with train 8862 back to Kunming North. The staff at Wangjiaying are quite used to photographers and werevery pleasant and tolerant of our presence.

Just before the passenger train departed, rail crews started up the other diesels in the yard. Seen were two other DFH21's (093 and 077) and a larger and more modern DF21 (0011). #093 which was the passenger locomotive yesterday was today Wangjiaying's yard pilot and was kept busy for much of the early morning.

After 093 had finished assembling a train of wagons, DFH21 077 fired up and set back on the train with DF21 0011 soon joining her. This could only mean a train was about to depart for Kaiyuan, so I took a chance and set off up the mainline, having to walk through some major track works taking place at the eastern most part of the yard and picking up some strange looks along the way as I clambered through with cameras, bags and a tripod.

My gamble had paid off, however there was very little time to find a better location than what I had at a level crossing. Nevertheless, the approach up the grade was very impressive with both locomotives working hard, despite being only 15 wagons long. By the time I got back to Steve, 093 had disappeared somewhere and with nothing else happening we headed back to Kunming for a tour of the museum using a local bus and subway, in much the same fashion as I did earlier on in the year.

From the subway, we went straight to the museum and having not learned our lesson, went back to the station cafe for some very expensive and very out of date ice cream. The museum is still as good as ever (you can find a more in depth review on my previous trip report by clicking here (scroll down to April 20). Nothing much has changed, however they have finally cleaned the thick coating of dust from the rolling stock roofs. There also appears to be some heavy construction outside for a possible extension.

We went back to the hotel and repacked our small bags for our overnight service to Yuexi, train K166 behind the very beautiful SS7C electric locomotive #0039. A number of electric locomotives were seen in the locomotive depot as we departed and in the first hour or so in, a few electric hauled freight trains were seen behind the double unit SS4G's and SS3BG's respectively.

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

DF7G : 0052
DF21 : 0011
DFH21 : 077, 093, 098

HXD3C : 0652, 0869
HXD3D : 0565, 0401, 116, 0125, 0561, 0384
SS7C : 0039, 0128, 0160 (solid yellow livery)
SS3BG : 6123 (1 unidentified)
SS4G : (1 unidentified)

JW-3 : 3224
GQ16-5 : 3260

14 December 2016

We arrived early morning in Yuexi after a sub-standard sleep on the train. Our plan was to start on the eastern side of Yuexi for some mainline action on the multi-level tracks and we set off in the darkness using the torch on Steve's mobile phone to avoid potholes, missing manhole covers and random piles of human excrement. I had not visited this part of the line before, however with relative ease I was able to get to the rear of the cement works after a good half an hour walk. From here we saw a freight train cross the river, although still far too dark to make out what it was despite the first light from the rising sun starting to appear behind the mountains.

This is where the fun ended. We missed the tunnel portal where the mainline travels underneath the cement works, and spent a couple of failed attempts locating the railway, first through a village and then in the wrong direction. Eventually we followed the main road where we finally found the railway down an incredibly steep embankment. From the main road, a freight train passed (pictured above) before a track gang started up a number of track machines. We agreed a potentially premature death scaling down this mountain was more palatable than enduring another few kilometres of inner thigh chafing, so descend we did and with five minutes we were in a very quaint little village on the upper level of the railway.

We waited for well over an hour in some very photogenic spots, however not a single train was to be found. After aiming my telephoto lens at the track gang, it was becoming obvious there was simply too much equipment lying on the mainline for it to be moved quickly out of the way and we guessed (correctly) that the line was suspended for maintenance work. Next to the railway line is a large concrete monument dedicated to the workers who died during construction of the railway. Behind the monument are a large number of graves, nearly all dated October 1970, indicating there was most likely a large accident. Some of the engraved characters appear to have been recently repainted in red, but for the most part the entire cemetery is severely neglected and seriously disrespected as evidenced by the huge amount of human turds behind the monument.

We decided the best course of action would be to return to the cement works to see if the DF was still around, and rather than scale back up the mountain or go through the cement works, we took the short cut via the 670 meter tunnel, once again employing Steve's phone for the flashlight.

DF 1885 was thankfully still in the sidings, as was its replacement; DF5 #1213. I had learned of the retirement some months before arriving after a major failure had rendered it useless and there were no facilities or parts to repair it. The wonderful driver I met earlier this year didn't recognise me with my hugely overgrown beard, until I presented him with a large photograph I had taken of us both standing in front of the DF. He was overjoyed with his gift and he had no problems accepting our request to start the old girl up.

With just enough time to set up our equipment, we heard the starter whine for a few seconds, then a slight burble before an apocalyptic roar and an accompanying cloud of smoke that would put Krakatoa's 1883 eruption to shame. The driver revved it and let it idle for a few minutes before shutting it down with an eerie silence once again filling the valley. After numerous cups of tea in the crew house with the other workers, it was time to say our goodbyes and head off to the station.

As we were leaving the cement works, a railcar rolled into a siding which we correctly guessed indicated a resumption of mainline services. By the time we walked to the east end of the platform of Yuexi railway station, a solitary double-unit SS4G 0248 emerged from the tunnel with a train of box cars and empty flat cars which stopped at Yuexi station for another opposing freight train with a heavier double header freight behind SS4G 6006 and SS3 4005.

From the station we walked westwards towards the spectacular Tienma viaduct, via the main road. Freight traffic had returned to normal frequency with a train in each direction every 20-30 minutes or so. All freight trains seen in either direction were double headed and led by an SS4G/SS3 combination, much less variety than my previous trip, but very enjoyable nonetheless. A large high speed rail car with a pair of flat cars with mounted cranes also crossed the bridge later in the afternoon.

We attempted to wait for the passenger train K118 which last year was hauled by an SS7C, but we gave up after the local elementary school had finished for the day and we were surrounded by hoards of screaming children practicing their basic English language skills which they had picked up in school. I was able to give some photos of some young children I had taken on my previous trip which were very gratefully received. Forgetting we were waiting for K118, we returned to Yuexi for a quick two minute noodle meal. The convenience store owner was more than happy to give us some hot water and a couple of tiny stools to eat. Just as we were finishing, a train raced towards us - K118. In one saving grace, this service was behind one of the modern and far less charismatic HXD3C's. A bit of a shock, but not unexpected with the HXD units soon to take over work from the ageing ShaoShan electrics on both freight and passenger services.

Darkness fell fairly quickly and we waited at the station (with me typing this trip report!) for train K145 back to Kunming. It was about 15 minutes behind schedule and led by SS7C 0137. Once on board, I immediately enquired about some dinner, but were told the food cart had sold out and we should hurry to go to the dining car before it closed. A policeman in the dining car was very helpful in organising us a meal of Chengdu Dan Dan (hot chilli noodle dish with pork) which was surprisingly very good. We then retreated to our sleeper car for the night.

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

DF : 1885
DF5 : 1213

HXD3C : 0173
SS3 : 4005, 4369, 5118, 5142
SS4G : 0066, 0107, 0247, 0248, 0289, 0298, 0314, 6006, 6034
SS3 : 4008, 4017, 4330, 4354, 4530
SS7C : 0153, 0137

JW-2 : 1404189
GCY-1000 : 14227

15 December 2016

Our overnight trip back to Kunming was quite pleasant. The heaters weren't maxed out like they had been on most of the other over night trains we had been on. The big discovery being a small locomotive storage yard at Dushupu containing the prototypes of the improved SS7E class, #6001 and 6002, still in their white and (faded) blue livery. These two locomotives were originally based in Zhengzhou for trial and then sent to Kunming for the city train before being retired in 2012. Also in the yard were a number of clearly dumped DF4C and SS3 locomotives - the latter which is said to be fully retired from China Rail rosters by the end of next year. Our train passed a number of SS3 and SS3BG twin units on freight trains and SS7C's and HXD3D's on the passenger trains. For the last ten minutes of the trip we had the pleasure of paralleling a double header SS3 mixed freight through Kunming.

This was a very easy day, especially for Steve who decided to take a nap through much of the morning! Knowing I would regret not getting a few more photos of the meter gauge, I went to the watch the Shizui - Kunming north service cross the Panlong river, quite close to Kunming North railway station. Although bright, the overcast conditions were very hard to set the light metering so I opted to take video instead which turned out to be a good choice. Right on schedule, DFH21 074 slowly crossed the steel viaduct, with the driver hanging off the horn for most of the time it was within my viewfinder!

After I returned to the hotel, we both headed out for some late lunch and then set out again to the meter gauge to watch the Wangjiaying service. Steve set up at the level crossing adjacent to the depot entrance on Chuanjin road while I headed up further towards the Xinxing road crossing, getting some fairly good shots for one final time.

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

DF4C 5323, 5324, 5325
DF5 1404, 1662, 1665
DF8B 5253
DFH21 074, 098

SS3 0314, 4384, 4397, 4486, 4524, 5036, 8024
SS3B 6001
SS7C 0064, 0127
SS7E 6001, 6002
HXD3C 0653, 572, 0850
HXD3D 0129, 0132, 0476, 0565

16 December 2016

Today was a travel day back to Australia - four flights in 24 hours for me and three for Steve. First up Kunming - Xian on MU2182, followed by Xian - Shanghai on MU2236. This flight was held at Xi'an for 90 minutes for late arriving passengers, which reduced our transit time severely in Shanghai for our flight home. To further add to the distress, the transfer gate had closed so we had to exit the terminal and go through security and passport control again. After 60 minutes we had moved forward about 20 people in the queue with at least another 200 to go. We were denied access to the priority processing lane, but were not the only ones. The entire hall was packed with thousands of passengers very anxious to get through with only five passport officers on hand. By the time we had gone through security, our flight was 5 minutes from our scheduled take-off time, but clearly none of the flights were going anywhere with such a huge amount of passengers to be processed. A pathetic effort for such a large airport and a very poor attitude from China Eastern Airlines put a dampener on the flight back to Sydney. We landed back in Sydney, with Steve declaring he would never fly with China Eastern again, or transit via Shanghai again, or probably not even return to China again! (Although we all know that means he would happily return tomorrow). I still had to get a flight back to Melbourne with Qantas who, in stark contrast to China Eastern, were very polite and professional as usual.


Harbin - Very cold! Most trains seen in the city area were electric units. The red HXD3D's look brilliant in the snow, but I would need to research the city more before considering another trip here.

Hengdaohezi - Fantastic to see it as busy as ever with the ageing DF8's being flogged to within an inch of their lives. The overhead wires will soon kill this place photographically which is a massive shame.

Jixi - My second visit here, 10 years since last time when coal was king and steam was plentiful. Now coal is dying, steam is dead and the diesels were few.

Nancha - Excellent diesel action, but very few trains and crazy cold.

Xinglongzhen - Narrow gauge has apparently closed. All the rolling stock is still lying about and the track (as far as I could see) is still intact. The mainline, which is set to be electrified very soon, is very busy with a good variety of diesel hauled trains.

Jiutai - Jiutai's SY usually sees work only once or twice a week so it's always a very big gamble on whether or not it will be working. Understandably, few visitors make the trip out here as a result and fewer still spend any great amount of time. However with erratic workings in Pingzhuang and the recent closures of mines and accidents, Jiutai may soon become a much more attractive location. There is still no word on when/if the mine will close, but there was a shut down (and rumours of closure) a few weeks prior to our arrival.

Liaoyuan - An interesting network and something new for me. If you like industrial diesels, then this place is worth visiting and a day is ample. Steam finished in 2003, but a few old relics remain in the depot. On a side note, the close-by Meihekou coal mine railway is rumoured to close soon with many of the mines exhausting their coal reserves. Most of the DFH5's are already out of use here - *from a Chinese contact, 01/01/2017

Fushun - I think I could quite easily spend a week in Fushun. After two trips here (albeit with limited time on both occasions) I feel I have barely scratched the surface of this massive operation. While coal is still being extracted from the west pit, the company is now also filling it up with spoil, although perhaps far too little too late to save the rest of the city from sinking in. There is a lot of action in the east pit and the lines up to the spoil dumps and I wonder if it will still be working when I get back to China in a few years from now. The variety of motive power and the attraction of mining railways (as well as a very slight amount of steam trains at the old Fushun Steelworks to boot) amazes me why so few people give it even a second glance.

Nanpiao - A bit quieter than last year, but still some good trains to be found. Unfortunately the BJ class diesel wasn't in action, but it was encouraging to see another undergoing a rebuild for a return to service. More time on the narrow gauge was very rewarding and the ride in the dilapidated railcar #101 was a fantastic experience!

Pingzhuang - A big disappointment and hard to believe that we got more action in Jiutai! This location is well known for being hit and miss. This was our second visit here and both times have failed to impress.

Beijing - Excellent in the afternoon light on the south east tower and the pedestrian bridge opposite. The biggest change was the very notable lack of diesel locomotives.

Kashgar - An amazing city, but perhaps not the best place for railway photography. If you're looking for a break from the trains and somewhere unlike anywhere else in China, this is the place for you.

Urumqi - A huge amount of trains were seen and the views from our spot between the depot and the yard were better than expected. The DF12's serving the steelworks were a very big bonus, but we are a few years too late to see the area without all those pesky overhead lines in the way!

Sandaoling - Just an amazing place, now the largest commercial steam operation and it's all coming to an end far too soon (most reports/rumours are closure in May, although two locomotive crews suggested February). We were blessed with extremely good weather for the last two days and were able to see the mountains very clearly for the first time in four visits. I was amazed to be able to find new photographic spots here also, especially considering how much the network has shrunk since my first visit. This really is your last chance for a visit before the greatest steam show remaining on earth comes to an abrupt and undignified end.

Kunming - Finally I was able to experience the meter gauge passenger trains and was not disappointed. What a fantastic little railway! The best news of course for us was from the standard gauge industrial lines with the DF being brought back to life and is expected to serve another five years for the factory complex. The crew were exceptionally kind to allow us ride the rails with them for the day.

Yuexi - Mainline traffic was far more disappointing than my trip earlier on in the year where I thought I was in paradise. The scenery is as superb as ever, but overcast for our visit this time round. Track works suspended mainline operations for much of the day and one of the SS7C led passenger trains is now in the hands of the modern HXD3C's - an imminent sign of things to come. Although not unexpected, the DF is now out of action permanently but my friends at the depot were very nice to at least start it up, perhaps for the final time.

Summary - Impossible to put into words the four weeks we had touring this amazing country. We were truly blessed with what we were able to photograph and to have everything, for the most part, run as smoothly as it did. My railway days in China are now officially at an end, at least for the (very distant) foreseeable future, although I will remain active in the modelling scene. Great thanks to our families and friends for your support over the years and to the people and railways of the great People's Republic of China.

Return to part one here

Return to part two here

Return to part three here

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