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Shanghai - Yanzhou - Xingyang - Yima - Yinghao - Hekou-nan - Liujiaxia - Baoji - Shibanxi

Due to my belief that this was to be my final steam trip to China, something that has so far remained true, I decided to go for quantity over quality and cram in as many locations as possible into the two weeks available to me. I ultimately visited seven steam centers, six of which were still in operation, capturing QJ, JS, SY and C2 class steam locomotives. On top of this I managed a couple of days of modern mainline photography. In order to cover almost 4000 kilometers in this time, I took overnight trains where possible.

The weather this time was mostly warm - very warm with a couple of days of (very) heavy rain as I moved west. The main problem with travelling at this time of the year is pollution. Much of this is not from factories (or steam engines!), but rather from farmers burning their fields and harvested plants ready for next season. I was hoping this would lift the further west I went, but to no avail.

This trip report contains only a sample of photographs from the trip, for a full selection of expandable pictures, visit the photograph galleries and check also the video galleries for relevant footage.

15 September 2006

Flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai with Dragon Air lasted about 2 hours and we landed around 4pm at Shanghai Pudong International airport. Although this was my second trip to Shanghai, it was my first time to fly in.

I was hoping to be able to get to the Shanghai railway museum, but at the information desk at the Maglev railway, a pamphlet showed the closing time as 4pm. Flying into Shanghai however, did give me the opportunity to take the new Maglev train. This system is truly a magnificent engineering feat by both German and Chinese engineers and definitely worth travelling on if you get the chance. Our top speed was 431 kph and the journey - all 30 kilometers and 40 Yuan (approx $US5) of it - was over in less than 7 and a half minutes. The Chinese are very proud of this, and rightly so. The most amazing aspect of all of this is that while China operates the fastest commercial train in the world, it is also still commercially using steam trains! The Maglev runs from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road - it's only stop - on the outskirts of Shanghai. The Maglev station connects with the Shanghai metro network (green line) and from here I made my way immediately to Shanghai railway station.

I managed to secure a soft sleeper ticket for 238 yuan on train 1228 which departed just before midnight and would arrive at just after 130PM the next day. An hour before boarding, I asked a number of employees ranging from Station master to gate keeper to take photos on the platform and was finally let in by a nice platform cleaner and with the tripod and the magic of digital photography, came away with some fairly good night scenes. Our train was SS9G hauled (DF4DK from Xuzhou).

16 September 2006

Nothing of interest seen during the night but when I woke up at Bengbu at about 730am, the following locomotives were seen in the following sections;

To - Bengbu
Freight locomotives predominantly ND5 with the odd SS4G and DF8B
Passenger locomotives DF11G, DF11 and DF4DK

Bengbu - Suizhou
Freight locomotives ND5, early SS4G (dark blue/white)
Passenger locomotives DF11, DF4D/K

Suizhou - Xuzhou
Freight locomotives DF4C, ND5 (mostly double headers)
Passenger locomotives DF4D, DF11, DF4B, DF11G

Xuzhou - Yanzhou
Freight locomotives ND5, SS4G, DF4C
Passenger locomotives DF4D/K, DF4B
Xuzhou passenger station is using a DF7 for it's shunting operations in a rare red/silver color scheme.

The train to Yanzhou arrived on time and spent a few minutes photographing this busy section of line before leaving the platform. The staff here were polite, but intent in moving me on pretty quickly before the next passenger train got in. I took a taxi to the Guang Tong Da Sha hotel, double room for 160Y. After checking in, I decided to spend the remaining daylight on the Zou Xian system and the next day at Yanzhou. I took a taxi from Yanzhou to Zou Xian CNR station for 20Y, and from there to Da Dong Zhang (the main yard on the Zou Xian system) via motorbike taxi, thinking it would be best for a Zou Xian local to locate the areas I wanted to go. This almost proved my undoing after being sideswiped by a truck. Of course being China, both drivers kept going as if nothing had happened. From the trike I passed a depot from where I saw a pair of QJ's with metal boards welded over the windows.

The drive to Da Dong Zhang took about 15 minutes, which seemed a much longer time than usual due to the very bumpy road. The driver found the yard with no problems at all. Behind a string of C62 hoppers I could see the wheels of a QJ. I decided to go to the office first to make my presence known, rather to be thrown out of the area. This is an extremely sensitive place and was initially told we were not allowed to take photos, however after some tea and some Aussie train photos I was given 20 minutes to take pictures of the trains with the condition that we show our photos after I had taken them, and then asked to leave the area and not return. I met the top manager of the yard and his deputy. They are nice folk, but firm. The depot was off limits and any photos of the yard building or anything that shows the location were not permitted. Pre-organising a visit may be an option, although I wasn't able to get a phone number. Of course I could have probably spent time on the line and not bother with the depot or yards and would probably run into no obstacles.

In steam, but idle in the yard, were QJ's 6814 and 7189. After taking many photos and giving out some coins to the very friendly crews, I went back to the yard depot to show the officials the photos I took and have another chat just as 7190 rolled into the yard with 70 loaded hoppers. The manager told me to quickly take some photos of it as it was the last working of the day, unfortunately being in the tower, the train was slightly obscured by coal hoppers in the yard.

The manager organised a cab ride back into Zouxian aboard light engine DF4DD 1020 and was taken to the depot where I had seen the boarded up QJ's. I thought there were only a couple, but this place is huge and is full of treasures! There are no less than 11 QJ's stored here in various degrees of decay. The best part is that these engines are TOTALLY complete. Nothing is missing, running gear - even builders plates. Even though dumped engines are usually kept for cannibalising the rest of the fleet, it doesn't seem to be the case for the locomotives on the Zouxian system. I've learned since they are being kept as part of the strategic reserve, so at least scrapping at this stage doesn't look to be on the cards. A worker mentioned that some of the engines had been in the compound for at least three years, however there were some recent additions, notably 7126 overhauled March of the same year. In the depot was:

QJ 7123, 6782, 6812, 6866, 6848, 6248, 7191, 7126, 6933 plus two unidentified
GK diesel (number not seen)
YZ31 #002 passenger car

Unfortunately, the locomotives on the Yanzhou system were now working in Zouxian, with their original locomotives now in this depot. I was told that steam would be finished here in the next couple of months with the pending arrival of more new DF7 and DF4DD locomotives. (subnote : this didn't occur until 2011) Darkness fell rather quickly and I headed back to the hotel.

17 September 2006

Rather than waste time hunting for steam around Yanzhou, I headed back to Zou Xian on the mainline - giving the depot and yard a wide berth of course - and tried to get some steam movements on the line somewhere. There is a fabulous concrete viaduct that must go for 3 or 4 kilometers in length - long enough that it was almost impossible to see the end of because of all the burn offs in the area. I spent a few hours there and eventually saw a DF4C with a mixed freight and a light engine DF8B, but no steam, so I gave up and spent an hour on the CNR mainline (Jin-Pu line) photographing ND5's, DF4B's (many of which are in green/gold colors) SS4G's, DF4D's, DF11's and DF11G's. This section really has a fabulous array of engines and train types to photograph. But the area is quite flat and the pollution makes it a challenge to shoot anything remotely aesthetically pleasing. Returned to Yanzhou, checked out of hotel and went to Yanzhou station. Hard sleeper tickets to Zhengzhou were easy to get for Service 2515 (103 Yuan). Departing at 4:37PM, it seemed I was wasting time with a day time service, but I couldn't see myself getting any more steam on film without breaking our promise to the management and heading back to the depot. The CNR staff were quite accommodating in minding my bags while another one escorted me onto the platform to take photos. The highlight of the time we spent on the platform was an excursion train from Qiqihar to Heze, hauled by an ND5 (ph2) surely a very rare sight. My train to Zhengzhou was a

The train to Zhengzhou was hauled by an orange DF4B with green/gold 22 class passenger cars. Most of the traffic seen en-route was also at the helm of DF4B's - both freight and passenger, although I did see a very early SS1 in green/yellow livery. I arrived very late evening and after failing to find the hotel I stayed at in 2005 during my Pingdingshan trip, checked into the Feng Yuan Business hotel as recommended by a taxi driver. These rooms had a PC with Internet in the room, which sort of justified the 338 Yuan for the night.

18 September 2006

Had an early start for my first Chinese narrow gauge system! I was naturally very excited. I found the busses without too much trouble, first enquiring at the depot opposite Zhengzhou railway station, who directed me to Zhengzhou West (bus) station. To get there, take I took bus number 7 (1 Yuan) and then a midi-bus to Xingyang. The metro bus stops are on the main roads that lead away from the station. If you are facing the train station, Bus 7 leaves from the stops on the street to the left. After enduring heavy passive smoking for 40 minutes, I was dropped off at the main road at Xingyang. A trike taxi took me to the brickworks plant and I found the manager at the plant quite receptive after explaining what I was doing there in the area. He explained the functions of the plant and wanted me to come for tea, but after hearing a whistle in the distance, politely declined and headed up the tracks to the service depot. A worker told me I had just missed the train to the loading point, but would be back in an hour. I quickly headed off down the line to try and capture the train at the sensational brick arched viaduct which crosses over the lakes. The sun came out for what would be the only time for the next 10 days, a couple of minutes before C2 207 roared over the viaduct with a long train of clay hoppers. I was able to get some of my best video ever here, plus some pretty decent photos.

I followed the train back to the locomotive service area to find 207 taking on water and coal, interesting to say the least. 207's tender had a few rather large holes and it was leaking water probably as quickly as it was being filled! The fireman told me she would be overhauled soon and 07 would take over. For the rest of the day I followed the train up and down the line, witnessing six trains including some amazing 'fly shunt' workings at one of the brickworks, whereby after the wagons have been unloaded, the train reverses a few hundred meters down the mainline, then returns bringing the train to speed and disconnects from the wagons and flies into the siding, while a switchman diverts the cars down the mainline. There is just enough speed for the last cars to roll past. The engine then reverses out of the siding, couples onto the rear of the train and takes them back to the loading point. Stayed overnight back in Zhengzhou, as very few trains stop at Xingyang station.

19 September 2006

Took train 1353 to Yima, departing at 7am. As this was only a 2 hour journey, I braved hard seat, but unable to endure the cigarettes, retreated to the dining car and ordered a drink. The diner had no customers, but loads of police and China Rail crew. The motive power on the line from Zhengzhou - Yima is mainly SS4G's, 6K's (after Luoyang) on the freight with SS7D's and DF4D's on passenger work.

Arriving at Yima station, I spotted the rusty hulk of JS 5937. Once outside the station, I was offered a taxi for 50 Yuan to the old depot, a ridiculously high fee for a 5 minutes walk. Other taxi drivers came over and started to try and barter a fare, but I walked off towards the depot. Asides from 5937, there was also a pair of old steam cranes - one which had 1969 builders plates, is a 601 class, a large 6 axle job, the same as the one I saw at Hegang back in February, the other a Z151- and rakes of KF60 self dump hoppers, all in less than perfect condition.

The sheds which house the stored engines look like one, but are actually two separate sheds. The main one holds 5 locomotives, SY 1419, JS 8276, 8087, 8092 and high deflector 6215 without tender. At the rear of shops sit JS 6061 and SY 1435. Another JS (8275) sits in the other shed with some KF60 hoppers. There was a skeleton crew on site, for reasons unknown to me, but he was happy for me to go in and take as many photos as I liked. The manager was keen on developing the abandoned mine into a tourist railway, telling me all about the charms of the area, however a big abandoned coal pit with a huge pollution factor, didn't really make sense.

The guys at Yima took me out for lunch and saw me on the right bus to Yinghao. I had to switch busses closer to Yima city and then it took about 3 hours from there due to a large traffic jam at a level crossing around Mianchi. A large overloaded truck with sacks of corn had attempted to over take a car on the crossing and got stuck, while another side of the crossing was undergoing road works. The bus driver switched off the engine, but still pumped his horn for no apparent reason. We must have been at least a hundred vehicles away from the crossing! The bus dropped me off out the front of the biggest binguan in Yinghao eventually. Unfortunately the best binguan here was easily the worst place I had ever stayed in, 80yuan per night. After checking in there, I went for a quick walk to check out the system before dark fell. I covered the section of line between the level crossing on the main road to Mianche and the drop off point at the southern end of the system. No trains were seen so stocked up on some fresh fruit and headed back.

20 September 2006

Got up at 5am and 'checked out' after a terrible nights sleep. Left the bags downstairs minus the cameras and started the long walk up line to Xiangyang. Caught an unnumbered C2 with a rake of loaded coal hoppers near Huoyan. Just before the tunnel at Xiangyang, I can across a snake cut into thirds across the track. I waited at the foot of the tunnel for the return working, which eventually came after building up enough steam at the bottom of the bank which I could barely see through the haze. A very short walk past the tunnel into the small yards at Xiangyang presented a second locomotive, #06. This is not a number I've seen reported on this line before so may have been a recent rebuild? The unnumbered loco was nowhere to be seen for the time being. I got some interesting footage of an irate driver navigating his locomotive through a flock of sheep and an equally irate shepherd trying to move them off the tracks. The other locomotive returned from Liangjiawajing mine with a short loaded train of coal hoppers after a short while and stayed around while the two engines shuffled cars around the yard and stayed until one of the trains left again for Yinghao, and the other returned to the depot. The workmanship displayed was very efficient and the workers were obviously very experienced. One thing that amazed me was the speed in which these engines can change direction! One thing I noticed that I've not seen in previous reports is that most of the rolling stock now has a disclaimer painted on each car/loco. It basically translates as, "If you climb on the train, you do so at your own risk". The locomotives are in a very poor state, held on by some sort of Yinghao sorcery.

I decided that the very heavy pollution and seeing as much as I did, was time to change plans and head off to Xian a day early. Took a bus back to Yima (only an hour and a bit this time) and got on train L429 - a seasonal service - to Xian for 25Y, upgrading to soft sleeper in an attempt to avoid the cigarettes. SS6 0015 was locomotive. The line between Yima and Xian is very beautiful with huge sandstone cliffs jutting out from every side of the line. Lots of man made caves are cut into these. There are many huge viaducts and tunnels along this line almost like a model railway. Motive power seen on this section of line included 6k, SS3 and SS3BG & SS6 on freight services and 6k, DF4B, SS6 & SS7D/E on passenger services.

I arrived at about 6PM and called a contact Xian local Mr. Zhao - a fellow rail nut - whose contact details were given to me by my friend Henry Tang in Hong Kong. He recommended a good hotel to stay at called the Melody Hotel. A great location, situated a kilometer or two south west of the CNR train station and overlooking the famous bell and drum tower. Many old style buildings are here for those who need a break from trains and roach infested binguans! The McDonalds was a welcome sight also, after living off bananas and candy for the past 36 hours.

21 September 2006

Mr. Zhao met at the hotel in the morning and showed me photos of an SY only two stations away at Sanmincun that he took from his train window that morning, although he advised me not to bother because the town has been shut off from outsiders following a spate of accidents. However he did mention it was sometimes possible to see steam locomotive overhauls at Tianshui, so that was my next stop. Decided to spend the day visiting the very famous terracotta warriors and emperor Qin's tomb.

After spending the day on the tourist trail, headed back to Xian railway station and got a ticket for Xian the following day, hard seats available for 48 Yuan. With China's National day and mid autumn festival fast approaching, tickets were becoming scarce. Unfortunately, the next train out of Xian was an afternoon service the following day.

22 September 2006

Spent the morning taking in the local sites and a spot of shopping in central Xian, before heading to the station. Spent an hour in an Internet cafe built into one of the watchtowers along the city walls. Our train was delayed and I started to realize it would be getting quite dark by the time we got to Tianshui so we upgraded to Lanzhou with the intent of returning to Tianshui in a few days time on the way back through on the way to Chengdu. The onboard tickets were very nice painted metal tags with the China Rail logos. The scenery on the Xian - Lanzhou line is very beautiful with amazingly long viaducts, plenty of tunnels, rivers and traffic levels appear to be quite high.

Arrived at Lanzhou a bit after 10pm and went straight to the hotel recommended by Mr. Zhao only to go through an experience I had never been through before. I was rejected a room as I could not fill out the hotel form in Chinese, and having no Chinese name was told it would be illegal for me to stay. Tried a second hotel close by, a very large one called JJJ, thinking that this was a much more upmarket hotel I should avoid the same problems, but got the same explanation. Eventually got to one called the Hua Chen - which has a chain of hotels all over China. This place had some of the best examples of poor English I have EVER seen!

23 September 2006

Went to Hekou-nan in the morning, taking three different busses for a combined journey of about an hour and a half. Would have probably been quicker to go by train, but 4 yuan was a very cheap fare. Although steam ended here a few months ago, I still wanted to check out the area and get in a spot of modern motive power on film. Quite a few different locomotive types pass through Hekou-nan. The freight locomotives are primarily SS3 and SS3B, however a number of DF4B's and a few SS1's came through also. The Hekou-nan depot shunter is an early DF5. Most of the freight at this station is oil tankers. Long strings of these are constantly being pulled in and out of the station. I also saw my first military train. Passenger trains seen included DF4B - including decorated 1105, DF4DK, SS7D, SS7E and the NZJ2.

I hired a trike to take me down to former steam hauled areas between Hekou-nan and Liujiaxia, getting as far as Xigousi. I got on video some very nice footage of a DF4B with a short mixed freight heading for tunnel north of Xigousi and curving its way through the gorge. What a sight this must have been during days of steam! This section of the line had seemingly very little traffic and headed back to Hekou. The train back to Lanzhou had only four hard seat carriages and was double headed with anSS7E and an SS1. The station master here is a grumpy woman who ordered me away from the platform edge, however with such a rare consist and seeing as she took no interest at the huge crowd of passengers on the platform, I neglected to comply and ended up getting some very nice photos of a very rare train.

24 September 2006

Another early morning start for Liujiaxia, which was apparently still under steam. I took bus from Lanzhou railway station to West station (bus) to get a connecting service to Liujiaxia. Here I was initially harassed by some moron who tried to sell me a ticket for 80Y, which included travel insurance. After asking for proof of insurance, the price quickly dropped to 50 yuan, then 30. Having read through such scams in this area, I photographed him and told him I would take the matter to the police. He quickly disappeared and purchased a ticket from the office for 12 Yuan.

Arrived just in time to video and photograph the amazing JS 8223 with two YZ 22's and an old P50 boxcar, pulling into the street market station, where vegetables and fish were promptly removed from the tracks as the train approached. Unfortunately this was the only train for the rest of the day in daylight hours. it was to return at 730pm. I walked up to Gucheng (depot) and saw 8227 idling on the service track. The other two engines are in separate sheds. One of these engines carries a duplicate 8223 board - it has white on red side number boards. The manager on duty at the engine shed was very receptive and explained why this was done. I guess one way to summarise what he said, would be to save on insurance costs! The Liujiaxia steam engines are lovely machines and are all in very good condition. The 8223 I saw running has brass boiler bands and a cast brass China Rail emblem on the front-end cowling surrounding the chimney. JS 8227 sports a very large red star. Liujiaxia must be one of the very last places in China to see semaphore signals. Missed the last bus back to Lanzhou (which departs at 6PM) and negotiated a taxi back for 100 Yuan, which judging from other's trip reports, is not a bad price at all.

25 September 2006

Today I headed off to the Yaojie industrial line, taking train train N901 to Haishiwan, departing Lanzhou at 630AM for 10 Yuan, which took around 2 hours. Hired a trike taxi to Yaojie from here for 15 Yuan, getting dropped off on the bridge over the rail yard. The trip there paralleled the rail line, with this section now being diesel hauled and the sheer scale of the gorge is something that has to be seen to be appreciated. Steam hauled trains through the valley would have been a fantastic spectacle! At the yard was SY 1713 on standby and a brand new DF7G. A local told me this engine was what ousted the steam from the gorge section. It was amusing listening to him tell me how wonderful it was over the high pollution steam train. Of course the power station belching thick clouds of coal smoke had nothing to do with the state of the atmosphere! The air is heavily polluted from the power station and the other factories along the line. I managed to catch 6 train movements in 5 hours, all with SY 633 on point taking gondolas to the factories and heading back to the depot light. Caught a bus back to Lanzhou direct from Yaojie that cost 10 Yuan and about 3 hours duration.

26 September 2006

Collected bags from the hotel and caught overnight K228 service to Baoji where I again caught up with Mr. Zhao. He escorted me up to Qinling, two stations south of Baoji on the mainline to Chengdu. This section of line is stunningly beautiful and remains China's steepest mainline (I think I recall a 3.3 percent grade. It was completed in the 1950's and was electrified from the outset using imported electrics and later SS1's. Unfortunately when I arrived, it was raining very heavily so our stay was rather short and visibility of the railway from our vantage point on the main road soon became impossible when the clouds rolled in. Early SS4's and SS4G's are used to pull and/or bank trains up the mountain. It is apparently possible to see as many as FIVE SS4G double units on a single train! I saw three trains, the first an SS4G leading SS6 with a 20 car passenger train. The second was a freight with early built SS4 at the helm and banked by another SS4 AND an SS4G! The last train I saw was a triple-header SS4G, SS4 and SS6 on a passenger. In good weather, this is definitely an electric traction paradise! We took a bus back to Baoji when the rain became too heavy, and spent the afternoon in a tea-house close to the station.

The train schedule ultimately didn't allow for a visit to Tianshui and took 2119 to Chengdu from Baoji, hard sleeper for 100 Yuan. This was an interesting trip where a brawl erupted in our carriage when a passenger couldn't find his pillow and took one from another bed. The passenger on that bed broke out into an apocalyptic rage and when the conductor arrived, antagonised both of them further. Eventually half of the carriage was screaming at each other. When another conductor arrived with a new pillow, the fight erupted again for some reason. The whole episode lasted some 2 hours.

27 September 2006

Arrived at Chengdu at about 930. After two consecutive overnight trips - i.e. no shower for 2 days, rather than spend time in Chengdu I caught a bus to Qianwei almost immediately. I was again subject to some clown who tried to rip me off to the tune of 300 Yuan to get there, and he quickly vanished when I aimed the camera at his face and mentioned the word "police". We got bus 28 from the bus depot next to the train station (just on the right as you walk out) for the entire route, taking over an hour and 2 Yuan. This bus goes to a huge long distance bus terminus and from here, took the bus to Qianwei for 45 Yuan, another 3 hour journey.

Once again I had a rather good time on the bus. The seat next to me was broken and would fall onto the passengers behind with the slightest provocation. Naturally, by chance it was occupied by very obese man who asked me to sit there (from what I gathered from his gestures). I got off the bus outside the Tianbo hotel arriving at about 2pm. Checked in - and had a shower, something I'd never appreciated so much in my life before!

28 September 2006

I had two full days to explore this amazing place. And it is just that - amazing. Once out of Qianwei and into Shixi, the whole world transforms almost into a paradise like place. Before getting onto the train, the police officer asked me to sign in, noticing many famous names in the ledger! Then took the next train up to Caiziba.

The tickets for foreigners is 3Y per station, while the locals enjoy a much cheaper price. The conductors are very vigilant in ensuring they charge as much as possible. From the four trips I took over the 2 days, there was never a time where I wasn't asked for more money by the conductors because I hadn't paid enough, such is the curse for having white skin and a large nose. All this aside, was a magical journey curving around the mountains, with very rattly carriages, livestock and a very hard working C2 pulling up the seven car train up a grade. An off duty policeman pointed out some good places on my map to watch the trains and take photos.

After arriving at Caiziba, I stayed around the horseshoe curve for a few hours, seeing two trains - a loaded coal train and the return passenger service - then headed down line the next passenger service and an empty coal train. Next photo stop was at the tunnel in between Caiziba and Mifengyan. Although I could rave about how beautiful the scenery is on the whole line, for photographs, this tunnel really takes the cake. There are huge imposing cliffs all around it. After the next train came through, I hurried back to Mifengyan to catch the return service to Shixi.

Once aboard, I was in the company of many of the guests of East Europe Rail Tours group led by Jim Colley. Got some great photographs of unloading pigs at Yuejin before rolling back into Shixi, as expected this is an interesting sight (and sound) to say the least! On arrival at Shixi, I stayed around the station for some time videoing the switching movements. A very fulfilling day with saw three steamers in action. One of the electrics was also working coal trains from Shixi to Yuejin. Returned to Qianwei by share taxi for 5 Yuan. Back at the hotel, I spent some time talking to a few of the East Europe Rail Tours group. This was the first time I had actually run into any gricers in China. Had a nice hot pot dinner fairly close to the hotel.

29 September 2006

Woke up bright and early and was kindly offered a lift to Shixi by Jim in their swish bus, which was very gratefully received. Caught the first train up to Jaoba and made it to the horseshoe bend just in time to record the return passenger and a coal train engine first. The sun still wasn't showing its face - but being in Sichuan, I guess I was blessed that it wasn't belting down with rain! From here I walked back to Caiziba, quite a decent hike, which requires passing through a couple of tunnels - one on a slight curve. I arrived at Xianrenjiao, where I bumped into the same police officer the day before and had a drink with him until the next passenger train arrived and witnessed my first 'loading of the pigs', definitely something that would give every animal rights group palpitations.

Walked from Xianrenjiao back toward Shixi, I photographed a mixed passenger/freight, followed by a 3 car coal train and I lamented a double header return, but alas - not that lucky. Caught the next train back into Yuejin for some video of the final passenger departure of the day where the tracks run above a market and then walked back to Shixi along the line - a half hour walk. It was already dark on my arrival and got a handful of night photos, which proved to be very difficult given the speed of the shunting movements. No more busses at that time back to Qianwei, so I had caught a taxi who tried to rip me off. The driver fumbled under the dash and fairly soon the meter was ticking over a lot faster than usual. When I questioned him he wasn't impressed and when I arrived, I photographed his license plate and him, then offered him the fare he asked for, some 80 yuan (for a five minute ride to Qianwei, this was horrendously overpriced). He asked me not to tell the police and reduced his fare to 10 yuan if I said nothing. His license plate is L 60783.

30 September 2006

I spent our final morning at Shixi and then to the bus station where I took a bus via Leshan to see the impressive huge outdoor Buddha cut out of the cliff face. It faces Mount Emei, at the point where three rivers converge. It is about 220 feet tall from memory and is over 1200 years old. The place was packed with Chinese tourists, being a Saturday and also the day before China National day. Stayed overnight in Chengdu and caught morning flight back to Hong Kong with Dragon Air.

Summary

Yanzhou/Zou Xian - Seems to be one of the lesser visited areas compared to many of the other remaining steam lines in China. Quite surprising as this is one of the last QJ operations. This may however be due to the isolation from other steam areas and/or it's uninteresting environment. Of course the chance to see working QJ's was too much for me to pass up, especially with the realization that the QJ's will most likely be the first of the classes of steam to become extinct. I had seen the QJ's at Pingdingshan back in 2005, but as I wanted to see a new area, a return visit there was passed.

Xingyang - a very unpredictable line, closed for much of the year, or not working for whatever reason. I was lucky to catch it in full swing on a beautiful, albeit hot and muggy, day. The only locomotive seen was 207 and it was used almost constantly. Sunlight, black smoke (substitutes for the lack of steam effects in the winter), loads of trains and being a small compact line, meaning easy to walk, made this an extremely worthwhile place to visit!

Yima - This place is dead, however if you're like me and enjoy sheds with stored engines - dead or alive, this place is a cracker. The main shed with five engines housed inside is surreal. The roof on the shed collapsed in the winter after my visit due heavy snow fall, but it appears this has been rebuilt and a couple of locomotives have been plinthed at the station at Yima.

Yinghao - Many enthusiasts hail this line as being one of the best narrow gauges with very characteristic C2 0-8-0's. While this is why I visited the area, the heavy pollution, poor accommodation and food choices and some very slight hostility from crews and locals meant I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Yima. The line is threatened however and the trains themselves are worth the visit alone.

Liujiaxia - Has some very good photographic potential with excellent scenery and very handsome JS's, but as my visit was on a Sunday, there was very little traffic. Steam will apparently cease very soon, possibly the entire railway.

Yaojie - As Liujiaxia. Some incredible scenery and photo opportunities. Traffic seems to vary according to reports from others and my own observations. I saw 3 trains in 5 hours and the same amount of light workings. If I could spend another day or so at any of the locations I visited this time around, it would surely be this one, as I only saw a very small slice of the pie.

Shibanxi - This place is absolutely amazing, for the time being at least. Gorgeous scenery and heaps of trains make it highly enjoyable. I would have enjoyed a week here to explore the entire line and its surrounds. There are some aspects of this line I do not like, namely the Chinese style of preservation, however I'm very thankful I saw it in its more or less original state than what I've seen in recent reports since.

This was a reasonably difficult trip, but considering what I was able to achieve, I'm certainly not unhappy with the outcome! I've not yet returned for a steam trip (2013) but I'm hoping there will be remnants left in 2014 when I visit again. Either way, I'm certain it will be nothing like I experienced this time round.

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