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Hegang - Haolianghe - Huanan - Suifenhe - Mudanjiang - Muling - Baishan - Nanjing - Ma'anshan - Sandaoling

This is part two of my 2018 trip to China and covers Suifenhe, Mudanjiang, Muling, Baishan City and between.

The other three parts are as follows:

Part 1 covers Beijing, Hegang, Haolianghe & Huanan - click here

Part 3 covers Nanjing & Ma'anshan - click here

Part 4 covers Sandaoling - click here

13 October 2018

Today was my first visit to the Chinese border city of Suifenhe to see some cross border freight trains into Russia. Baiyu had kindly arranged our train tickets for K7143 the night before and without much fuss we were on board in hard seat class. The train was only six carriages long with a HXD3D on the front. The line to Suifenhe is only a few years old, replacing the old much slower line with sharp curves including a number of horseshoe curves around Muling area. The new line is mostly elevated with very gentle curves giving and tunnels, allowing much higher speeds to run with the possibility of running CRH trains to Suifenhe in the future.

The new Muling station is interesting as it is some distance from the old one and to keep the city alive and serviced by rail, a spur line has been built from the old line. The passenger service is handled by a pair of GC220 rail cars on either end of a single YZ25B passenger car. All traffic seen was passenger trains in the hands of HXD3C and HXD3D locomotives, apart from a single freight train with a DF8 (#0097) at the helm. Baiyu predicted we should see this train work into Russia as it bore the Chinese national emblem on the front indicating it is used for cross border service, alas this would be the only time we saw this particular locomotive for the day.

At Suifenhe station we took a Taxi (or 'ixat' as the stencilled paint on the door identified itself as) to the large bridge spanning the northern end of the yard. The view here is quite good, but with all of the action looking into the sun, we moved towards the depot which was a quick two minute walk through a park popular with dog and deer walkers (yes, some of the locals have pet deer). The edge of the park overlooks part of the locomotive depot from an elevated position. Between the park and the depot we found plinthed SY steam locomotive #0590 looking a little haggard.

At the back of the depot were a number of stored SS4G electric locomotives looking a little pale and assumed to be just kept for long term storage. A pair of DF7C shunting diesels with blue and grey livery and China national emblems were seen, one which shunted out of the yard to be prepared for duty. A third DF7C in orange livery was also seen towards the back of the servicing sheds. The highlight for us however were the DF8 locomotives #112 and 113 respectively. Like the other locomotives working here, they also carry the same Chinese national emblem and are kept in unusually beautiful condition to keep up appearances with their less beauty-conscious neighbours. A Russian 3T310-M-K rolled past the depot as we were leaving, my first sighting of these triple unit beasts (apologies, my HTML doesn't allow for Russian characters, the second '3' is the letter of Cyrillic script pronounced 'z'), I will refer to these as Triple Bears from here on). Unlike the Chinese locomotives, the Russian's don't really seem to care so much about the appearance of their machines. Next spot was to the rail line running into Russia.

From the south end of the yard, the dual gauge track runs for about 6 kilometres before officially reaching the border. Unlike dual gauge systems I'm familiar with, this line doesn't share a common rail, with the broad gauge (1520mm) and standard gauge (1435mm) having their own two rails. The line is very curvaceous with three tunnels on the Chinese side and heavily forested hills on either side offering superb views of the rail line, although some proving a bit more challenging with the strong sunlight. More than satisfied with the views and photographs we were getting, we only made it to the first tunnel and I'm not sure I would advise anyone moving beyond this point.

Our first sighting was of a Russian triple bear heading back home with a train of empty timber flat cars. These girls were running very clean compared to the trains I had watched on Youtube of similar Russian locomotives belching out thick acrid clouds of black smoke. Almost all of the Russian freight trains bring timber into China from Siberia, and demand appears to be very high with an estimated ten to twelve trains each day.

Trains generally run to a ratio of 10 Russian : 1 Chinese, with some exceptions. Indeed the only Chinese train we would see that day was the passenger service running from Suifenhe to Grodekovo (Chinese Pinyin "Geluodiekewo"), also more commonly known now as Pogranichy. This service runs as service 401/401 and the 27 kilometres takes about an hour and a half. The service was led by a very shiny DF8 diesel #112 that we had seen in the locomotive depot a couple of hours prior.

When we reached the tunnel, we decided to aim for some elevated positions for the next few trains which turned out to be a very wise idea. Not only was the view excellent, but we were able to avoid the Chinese military patrols looking for illegal entry into China. Of course we were legally allowed to be there, but often the game of 20 questions would mean leaving the area and wasting a few hours explaining ourselves. I have another report of an American visitor who was given a hard time by these patrols.

The tunnel is approximately 200 meters in length and from our position above, it was only a couple of minutes to walk to the other side. We set up on the western side for a train of empties to head towards us, but as luck would have it we had a loaded train heading away from us into China instead. Despite the fairly short distance between either end of the tunnel, these trains creep up fairly quietly until it is too late to reposition, so there is much guessing and gambling as to which direction the next train would come. Having the locomotive frequencies on a secure channel rendered Baiyu's radio receiver useless here as well.

Fortunately the next train was as we had hoped, with another Russian triple bear rounding the corner towards us with a very long train of empty timber wagons. A long wait ensued until the next train and I decided to set up on the eastern side of the tunnel for the next couple of trains while Steve and Baiyu remained on the western side and almost immediately a Russian maintenance railcar rounded the fabulous S bend in the track towards me in perfect light. This was surely the spot to be, so I remained here for the next freight train as well which took about 45 minutes. Steve and Baiyu had now set up the same side as I was and watching it slowly grumble around the curves towards the tunnel was an incredible sight. Each unit was working very hard to bring her 38 loaded timber wagons into China (a rough calculation of 3000 tonnes).

Being close to winter, the days are fairly short and sadly it was time to start the long walk back to civilization. Asides from the return working of the maintenance rail car, no trains were seen. We still had enough time to move on to the road overpass at the southern end of the yard where we enjoyed watching the Chinese DF7C shunting a train of Russian wagons working the hump yard. For those who are unfamiliar with hump yards, this is where the locomotive slowly pushes the train over a raised section in track which automatically uncouples the wagons which then slowly roll into which ever track is required.

There was also a pair of Russian triple bears on a couple of empty freight trains. We watched one of these put on a pretty dramatic departure out of yard before the light dropped off. We still had a couple of hours to wait for our train back to Mudanjiang so we attempted to eat at a highly recommended BBQ only to find it was closed until the time our train was due to depart. We took train 2728 back to Mudanjiang, the same service we would take the following evening from Mudanjiang to Shenyang. The locomotive on point was HXD3D 0500 which is replaced by a diesel at Mudanjiang. Not much was seen on the way back to Mudanjiang which fell into darkness and we again resorted back to Pizza hut for our evening chow.

Locomotives seen:

SY class : 0590 (preserved)
DF4D : 0516
DF4DK : 3092
DF7C : 5287, 5392, 5393, +1 unidentfied unit
DF8 : 0097, 0112, 0113
HXN5 : 0110
(diesel / Russian)
3T310M-K : 1239, 1347, 1424, 3395 +1 unidentified unit
Railcar : 241
HXD3C : 0278
HXD3CA : 6023
HXD3D : 0500
SS4G : +3 unidentified units
(maintenance equipment)
GC220 Railcar : 01199, 01200

14 October 2018

Today was to be spent in the Mudanjiang area beginning with a visit to the China Rail depot. Despite holding serious doubts that Baiyu would be able to get inside, he insisted he could quite easily get us inside. Before checking out of the hotel, we took a taxi to a point at the northern side of the depot and walked over a pedestrian bridge to gain access. There were no security checkpoints to be found, and the next thing we knew, we were standing at the rear side of the roundhouse.

Four preserved locomotives are situated here. SY 0967 in super-shine condition, DFH5 0203, DF8 0089 with decorations (added post-service) and SS4G 0171. The roller shutters were mostly closed in the roundhouse at the time. This section of the depot is soon to open to the public. Already lining one of the still active workshops are placards showing the history and different classes of China's locomotives and evolution of its railway. For some strange reason, they've thrown a few American locomotive types into the mix of it and a bust of George Stephenson has also been erected next to SY 0967. These shops appear to have a handful of diesel and electric locomotives at various stages of heavy rebuilds.

Adjacent to the southern edge of the depot is a large freight yard. We kept well away from the tracks here, but still one of the managers took exception to our presence and started to make a big fuss. It always helps in times like this to make a quick SD card swap in the camera, but this turned out to be unnecessary. Being Sunday, he soon discovered none of the superiors he called to report our serious crime was worthy of their time and Baiyu convinced him that we would be on our way.

The electric types are mostly now HXD3C and HXD3D, although a solitary SS9G was also found. I suspect these, like most other locomotives in the Shaoshan series, will be removed from service before too long.

Diesel locomotives are still fairly prevalent in the depot for now, particularly because a few of the lines have not yet being electrified. Strangely, although the line to Harbin has had the overhead wires installed for well over a year now, the line still remains 100% diesel (which explains the locomotive swap on our service). Diesel locomotives at the depot are These are mostly DF4D's and DF4DK's for passenger services and on very rare occasions, even DF4B (we would see one in the evening as we passed by on our train to Shenyang). DF11's can also be found here, but none were present during our visit.

HXN5's are the most popular freight diesels to be found in the depot, although DF8's that still work some of the lines in and out of Mudanjiang can also be seen. None of the DF8's were on site during our visit, however we would find a pair inside the fuelling point when we passed the depot in the evening on our train to Shenyang.

Mudanjiang uses a small fleet of DF5 locomotives as yard pilots to move dead engines around the depot and also for shunting passenger cars from Mudanjiang station into the servicing area. A total of five units were seen. A flat car was found laden with a number of DF5 roof panels with the rest of the locomotive inside another building receiving an engine rebuild.

At the fuelling point we found a mix of all the above locomtives as well as a semi-preserved N151 class diesel crane with a builders plate showing 1978. This was used when Mudanjiang depot was still a 100% steam depot and still retains its coal claw on the end of the boom.

It didn't take long before the railway police spotted us and the usual questions of where are you from, what are you doing, etc began. One of them asked to delete our photos and as minimal photos were on the 'new' SD card, very few of our photos were lost. We were of course asked to leave the area citing safety concerns and told us we were welcome to take photographs of the preserved locomotives at the back of the roundhouse which we had already done. We agreed to head over there anyway as this provided an excellent cover to check the inside of the roundhouse if possible.

Fortunately I spotted an open door and when we popped our heads inside, one of the workers was very happy to give us a tour of the place! A pair of DF4D's were found inside undergoing work and a HXN5 had just arrived off the turntable to enter one of the stalls. The roundhouse uses two very small twin axle diesels as turntable pilots. There is just enough room on the table to accommodate one of these as well as a mainline sized Chinese diesel. I was unable to find class or number details of these tiny machines, however a factory plate shows they were built by a locomotive manufacturer in Harbin.

We finally saw the turntable in action when one of the DF4D's needed to be transferred to another stall in the roundhouse and once it was back in position, the worker told us we were welcome to jump up inside the cab. It is always nice to be on the footplate of one of these machines, which I fear will be retired all too soon.

Active roundhouses are becoming less common in China these days. Mudanjiang have not only held on to their one, but modernised it. The place is so clean, it looks like a hospital ward. Its purpose has now been transformed from a servicing point to an overhaul workshop and paint shop.

Having seen everything we could, we called time at the depot and left for the hotel to check out. We didn't have any firm plans for the rest of the day with a number of worthy options, but finally arranged a taxi to take us to old Muling, negotiating a price of 350rmb for a total of three and a half hours.

I had hoped to ride the railcar train to New Muling and back, however it didn't match up with our times. Still, this wasn't the main draw card for our visit. Our main aim was to see the huge lines of dumped locomotives stored opposite Muling station.

The compound comprises of five tracks with each one long enough to hold approximately twenty to twenty five locomotives. The front two tracks are completely full of retired diesel locomotives now in long term storage, but with electrification now rapidly taking over from the diesels, it is very unlikely that these machines will ever turn a wheel in revenue service again. The compound is well fenced off with multiple CCTV cameras as well as fence sensors to ward off any souvenir hunters. Without a drone, it is impossible to see exactly how many locomotives are stored here as they are very tightly packed together. The most recent Google Earth imagery only shows the first two tracks. However in its current state, I would guesstimate there are over a hundred locomotives already stored with enough room for perhaps ten more. The compound can be found on Google earth at 4431'27.22"N 13015'17.65"E.

The bulk of locomotives stored here are DF4B, DF4C, DF4D, DF4DK and DF8. Fewer numbers of DF5, DF7B, SS4G can be seen also. Asides from some of the DF8's, most locomotives have faded and heavily cracked paint and are looking generally worse for wear. Some of the notable examples at Muling are a pair of very rare Sifang built DF4C's in light blue livery. There are also a small handful of decorated locomotives including a DF5 which the familiar China national emblem indicating it is most likely a unit that worked at Suifenhe before the DF7C's took over. Another is DF4DK 3305.

At the end of each page I usually include a list of locomotives seen during the day, however given the sheer quantity of them all, I have created a separate list for the stored Muling locomotives below which are not included in the total list at the bottom of the page. The below list is far from complete and I have not included examples where I was unable to see the road number.

Traction type Class Road number Builder & Date Livery Other notes
Diesel DF4B 1772 Dalian Green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 1895 Dalian, 1990 Orange & Yellow
Diesel DF4B 2636 Dalian, 1999 Orange & Yellow
Diesel DF4B 2638 Dalian, 1999 Orange & Yellow
Diesel DF4B 2639 Dalian, 1999 Orange & Yellow
Diesel DF4B 3478 Ziyang, 1991 Dark green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 3512 Ziyang Dark green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 3946 Ziyang, 1994 Dark green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 6508 Datong, 1994 Dark green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 9278 Ziyang, 1996 Orange & yellow
Diesel DF4B 9279 Ziyang, 1996 Dark green & light blue
Diesel DF4B 9290 Ziyang, 1996 Orange & yellow
Diesel DF4C 2004 Sifang, 1998 Light blue & cream One of 6 units built at Sifang
Diesel DF4C 4398 Dalian Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 4414 Dalian Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 4450 Dalian Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 5071 Ziyang Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 5140 Ziyang Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 5200 Ziyang Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 5232 Ziyang Dark blue & yellow
Diesel DF4C 5289 Ziyang Light blue & cream
Diesel DF4C 5289 Ziyang Dark blue & yellow
Diesel DF4D 0016 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0019 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0024 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0036 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0064 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0079 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0132 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0134 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0142 Dalian, 1997 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0495 Dalian Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4D 0498 Dalian, 2000 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3030 Dalian, 2000 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3089 Dalian Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3250 Dalian Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3274 Dalian, 2003 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3297 Dalian, 2003 Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3305 Dalian, 2003 Maroon & cream Decorated, "Youth Civilization"
Diesel DF4DK 3312 Dalian Maroon & cream
Diesel DF4DK 3319 Dalian Maroon & cream
Diesel DF5 1058 Sifang Blue & white Decorated, Chinese national emblem
Diesel DF5 1106 Sifang Blue & white
Diesel DF5 1108 Sifang Blue & white
Diesel DF7B 3074 Beijing 27 Orange & white
Diesel DF8 0070 Qishuyan Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0100 Qishuyan Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0101 Qishuyan, 1994 Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0102 Qishuyan, 1994 Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0103 Qishuyan Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0108 Qishuyan Dark blue & white
Diesel DF8 0111 Qishuyan Dark blue & white
Electric SS4G 0739 Zhuzhou Light blue & cream
Electric SS4G 7232 Dalian Light blue & cream

Our taxi got us back in time for dinner in Mudanjiang before we had to part ways with Baiyu again. Collecting our stored bags from the hotel, we headed off to Mudanjiang railway station. As we had soft sleeper tickets, we were able to use the soft seat lounge and at boarding time were escorted out to be let on the platform before the lesser-heeled travellers. Many of these said passengers did overtake us however as we got distracted by the C2 steam locomotive which has once again been placed on platform 1. Quite shockingly, it looks like she's had a serious accident while being put in position with evidence of a crane malfunction. As sad as it is, it must have been quite an event to witness! The front end has sustained serious damage to the pilot and coupler which is now bent at an almost 90 angle facing upwards. There is also a sizable amount of dirt caked one from where the impact was and some telltale frayed and snapped steel cables attached to the front of the locomotive. Its general condition has severely deteriorated from all those years ago when I saw her in the same spot, with sizeable holes completely rusted through the boiler jacket. Some of her fake adornments that were added post-service are missing or damaged.

1997 Dalian built DF4D 0131 was the locomotive at the front of our train to Shenyang, taking over from a HXD3CA that brought the same train in from Mudanjiang. Station staff were happy enough for me to watch the locomotives change over and couple up. Unfortunately I lost track of time a bit and forgot about poor Steve half way back down the train waiting with all of our luggage. Just before our train left Mudanjiang station, we were passed by a pair of DF11 locomotives in push-pull formation with three test carriages.

Locomotives seen:

(762mm) C2 class : No # (preserved)
SY class : 0976 (preserved)
DF4B : 6486
DF4D : 0131, 0158, 0261, 0354, 0386, 0503, 0516, 0536, 0539
DF4DK : 3235
DF5 : 1269, 1330, 1515, 1738, +1 unidentifid unit (disassembled)
DF7C : 5287
DF8 : 0089 (preserved), 0134
DF11 : 2 unidentified units
DFH5 : 0203 (preserved)
HXN5 : 0072, 0101, 0106, 0122, 0164, 0181, 0507
HXD3C : 0036, 0143, 0154, 0276, 0376, 0453, 0454, +1 unidentified unit
HXD3CA : 6016, 6017, 6103, 6104, 6106, 6112
HXD3D : 0418, 0430, 0432, 0501
SS4G : 0171 (preserved)
SS9G : 0126
(Maintenance Equipment)
GC220 Railcar : 01033, 01199, 01200, 01323
N151 Crane : ND892

15 October 2018

Today was a full travel day to Baishan City for the narrow gauge iron ore railway. The most convenient option for getting to this relatively secluded corner of the world was via train. Flight options were explored, with two airports serving Tonghua and Changbaishan, however either would require transfers that would cost at least 3 to 4 hours of local trains, buses, taxis or a combination of all three to arrive, not to mention the added questionable punctuality of the serving airlines and the questionable reliability of some of the aircraft types used.

We arrived in Shenyang from Mudanjiang on time and had couple of hours wait for our train , K7397, to take us to Baishan. My camera bag suffered a malfunction with a damaged zip and during the security screening, my laptop and travel folder slipped out of the side pocket unnoticed. Fortunately I discovered this shortly after sitting down and after a brief trouser pooping moment, headed back to the security area. The staff directed me to the information booth in the centre of the station to handle "my complaint". I approached a young lady behind the desk and explained that my bag zipper had been damaged. She immediately understood and passed me a needle and thread before returning to her soap opera. While appreciative of her gesture, I further explained my computer and folder were missing. Miraculously, she immediately presented me with my belongings which had been handed in and I was able to enjoy the rest of the day without Steve and his judgemental comments about me losing things (an unfortunate side effect of travelling with him over the years).

Little has changed in Shenyang since my last visit here, with a variety of passenger locomotive types seen in the depot south of the station. The major classes seen were HXD3D and HXD3C. A number of DF11's, DF4D, DF4DK, SS9G and even original SS9's were seen also. Only one freight train was seen between Shenyang and Fushun, a HXD3B with a train of large JSQ6 automobile carriers.

K7512 runs on the Shen-Ji line between Shenyang and Meihekou, the Mei-Ji line between Meihekou and Tonghua and the Ya-Da line to Baishan. Desides stopping at the major cities of Fushun, Meihekou & Tonghua, there was also a small handful of minor stations and some passing loops on the majority single line track. This was a day trip and as the duration was over eight hours, I decided soft sleeper class would be in order. Being a day trip, acquiring tickets for this service was very easy, indeed, only seven people were in the carriage, however the conductor insisted on cramming us into the first two compartments, even telling off one of our roommates for attempting to set up residence in another compartment.

At Fushun we passed by Daguantun station where I could see all the old passenger trains lined up under a canopy, which I have previously documented in my September 2015 and November 2016 trip reports. They had been stored in the storage yard behind the power station since their withdrawal ~ 2009 when the mine passenger trains had ceased operation, but have recently been transferred here owing the large landslide which claimed a section of the line leading into the open cast pit (and still threatens further damage as the city gradually sinks).

The main yard at Daguantun station was mostly devoid of freight wagons which was to be expected. Latest reports have it that the mine no longer digs out coal, at least on a large scale, but instead they have been charged to fill the gigantic hole. Trains are expected to run for the next 15 -20 years to achieve this. Ben Kletzer also reports the reactivation of the beautiful articulated EL1 class electric locomotives to assist with this, with some 20 units back in operation after long term storage. None were seen as we passed through, although we did see the mine's dark green DF5 diesel locomotive (#1065) waiting for a signal with a short train of hoppers.

The scenery between Fushun and Meihekou was very pretty with colourful autumn trees in the hills and farmers busily harvesting their fields of corn and wheat. We arrived here only days before the farmers start burning their fields, so enjoyed clear skies yet again. Also noted were the large amounts of work horses, a practice that is getting harder to find in China with machines rapidly taking their place. A number of railway infrastructure and rolling stock relics were found including a very old railcar, very similar to the one I found working in Jiutai a couple of years back. Old bridge ruins and water towers were left in-situ.

Meihekou has had a massive decline since the closure of the nearby deep coal mines. The yard that was a hive of activity in my 2006 trip was completely deserted. A DF5 shunter was seen passing through slowly for a small rake of hoppers into a factory and a solitary HXN3 passed through with a freight train, however it seems that Meihekou has also lost its status as a major rail intersection.

The locomotive depot had only a handful of locomotives, predominantly passenger locomotives. QJ6730 was seen through the train window as we passed through, seemingly also still in good condition as she was 12 years prior. Our locomotive DF11 0088 detached from our train here to change ends before continuing the journey to Baishan. Little was seen here as I faded in and out of consciousness with my body catching up on missed sleep from the past few days, waking up just before Tonghua. Tonghua, like Meihekou, appeared very quiet, with only a couple of DF5's shunting locomotives moving passenger cars in and out of the station. The steelworks in the sunset looked fairly active and a pair of bright red & yellow industrial locomotives were seen at the interchange area of the steelworks at Tonghua East. I believe these are modern versions of either GKD3C or GKD5C (try as I might to get the small lettering on the side cabs, my camera was now operating at very high ISO settings in the rapidly diminishing light!).

The sun set between Tonghua and Baishan, however I can see why this place was such a high priority place for photographers to visit this place during the days of high-deflector JS steam locomotives, something else to add to my ever growing list of regrets. The endless valleys and fantastic autumn colours would make for some very nice photographs even today and if there were higher traffic levels, I may even consider it for a future visit. We stayed at the brand new upmarket Baishan China hotel positioned between the CNR station and the narrow gauge mining railway, the purpose of our visit here.

Mainline freight traffic was predominantly HXN3 with the occasional appearance of a HXN5. A single DF4C was also seen. Between Shenyang and Meihekou passenger trains were all in the hands of either DF4 or DF11's. Two DF4D's seen of note were 0215, a former decorated locomotive now stripped of her bling and a decorated DF4D in Meihekou depot, although number unseen. DF11 and DF11G's were the only passenger types seen on the section between Meihekou and Baishan city, presumably the DF11G's also run all the way to Shenyang.

Locomotives seen:

QJ class : 6730 (preserved, Meihekou), 6757 (preserved, Shenyang)
DF4C : 0204, 0373
DF4D : 0129, 0215, 0304, 0437, +2 unidentified units
DF4DK : 3097
DF5 : 1065, 1195, 1283, 1695, 1967, 1998, +2 unidentified units
DF11 : 0064, 0070, 0088, 0141, 0200, +1 unidentified unit
DF11G : 0036/0037, 0113/0114, 0121/0122, 0153/0154, 0207/0208, 0217/0218, +1 unidentified unit
GK1C : 0549
HXN3 : 0151, 162, 0229, 0283, 0287, 0294, +3 unidentified units
HXN5 : 0373, +2 unidentified units
ED85 : 4, 5
SS9 : 0028, 0043
SS9G : 0091, 0119, 0121, 0209, +2 unidentified units
HXD3B : 0272
HXD3C : 0114, 0184, 0, +1 unidentified unit
HXD3D : 0007, 0192, 0195, 0207, 0220, 0228, 0663, 1921, 8003, 8016, 8035
(maintenance equipment)
GQ16-5 rail crane : 02257, +1

16 October 2018

Our first morning on the Baishan narrow gauge line. The Baishan narrow gauge line is of 762mm gauge with overhead wires to power the electric locomotives. The line is a U shape with the unloading point and iron processing plant in the centre at the southern most point of the line at Ya Feng. Both the western and eastern lines are approximately 10 kilometres in length each. A standard gauge line (diesel powered locomotives) connects at Ya Feng where the processed iron ore is taken to the main China Rail yard at Baishan city for the steelworks at Tonghua.

We decided to explore the western most line on our first day starting at far end at Jingxia mine near the town of Banshi with the aim of walking the line back to the unloading point at the depot. The drive was only fifteen minutes to Banshi and we alighted soon after passing over the level crossing. A large gate with a number of iron ore hoppers straddles the main road in Baishan. We soon met a couple of friendly station staff at the end of the line who informed us the first train wouldn't arrive until about 9am.

This was well over an hour away, which gave us enough time to visit the 600mm gauge railway at the top of the mine, although work hadn't begun there either. We were able to access the mine very easily by locating a stair case up the mine mountain from the mainline. The mine uses the 600mm gauge railway to extract iron ore from a series of shafts. These trains bring spoil and rocks to the surface which are dumped. Iron ore extracted from the mine is loaded directly onto the 762mm gauge railway from a loading point from inside the mountain.

The 600mm uses quite a large fleet of 7 tonne electric locomotives, many of which appear to have been converted or are in the process of being converted to battery power. Possibly cheaper to run and maintain and certainly safer with the very low hanging overhead, which for the time being at least, is still in place. The locomotives have a model number of 7T, no doubt being in reference to their weight and all are painted green. They are built by the Qinhuangdao Tiantuo Electric Locomotive company and from the units seen, build dates range from 2006 - 2012. A total of eight units were seen in various condition with a few derelict or stripped units outside the locomotive shops. Road numbers were seen up to 15, presumably more were inside the shed, however as work for the day hadn't started, we were unable to confirm this. Interestingly, two number 10's were found.

The railway uses a large number of sturdy side-tip twin axle hoppers. All the wagons are numbered with the highest being 93. A few other different wagons types were seen without markings.

As time approached for the first train back on the 762mm railway, we headed back down the mainline towards the large level crossing we had driven over in the taxi. This section of the line runs through the middle of Banshi town with shanties on either side of the track. One striking feature was how many public toilets have been built along the line, most being only 100 meters or so apart! A very nice elderly couple who lived alongside the track insisted we join them in their house where we were offered chairs, cigarettes and fresh grapes they were growing for our long walk - very tasty!

When we got to the level crossing, we found a supermarket where we decided to buy some refreshments for the long walk ahead. As soon as we left the supermarket, the first train led by ZL40-7 class #1011, immediately appeared with quite a horn show. With no time to set up, we could only get a couple of very limited photos as it passed by with eight KF20 hydraulic dump hoppers. Rather than follow it, we passed over the level crossing to the first passing loop called Banshi station. Where we waited for the return journey.

The train didn't arrive for a good 45 minutes and we were soon joined by a couple of curious locals, one of whom asked if we would like visit a new museum nearing completion only a hundred meters away. Not wanting to miss the train, we agreed after the train returned from the mine. Soon enough, 1011 came through with its train of loaded wagons and very slowly rolled through Banshi station, passing over a weigh bridge for each wagon to have its weight recorded, before picking up speed for the unloading point at Ya Feng. Mr. Wen then escorted us to the museum. While not yet open to the public, he called up the manager for a special one off visit for the two Australian dignitaries. The museum has quite a number of good exhibits of mining equipment and the iron ore extracting process. A large section covers Chairman Mao's visit to the area and includes a series of maps, one showing the entire mine railway system including historical tracks. Mr. Wen then asked us if we would like to visit the Baishan ice rink in the evening after our long walk. With little else to do in the evening in Baishan and with Steve's interest peaking with his love for ice hockey, we agreed to meet at the hotel in the evening.

Rather than walk the next 5 kilometres to the next station, we took a bus to a point in the road parallel to Jinying station and within less than a minute, #1011 once again came along with another train of empty wagons for the mine. We were able to get some longer distant shots and then walked the line to over the river to an iron truss bridge. The bridge is a bit unusual being a single span and appears to have had a more permanent tunnel for road vehicles to pass underneath with the earth being built up to track level. I am unsure why the bridge wasn't removed during this process, but it was good enough for our photos nonetheless for the return working.

The train came returned about half an hour later and with no roads, we had little choice but to continue on down the track another two and a half kilometres until we got to the unloading point. On the way we came across a great little horseshoe curve, although somewhat obstructed by buildings to make to most of any panoramic shots, so we decided to keep walking to the unloading point with 1011 making another run to the mines as we approached. We didn't spend too much time as the depot which lies just to the east of the unloading point came into view and we decided to spend some time here instead where all the action was happening. A number of reports to this area report the managers as being nervous, but fortunately none were present during our visit and our presence was tolerated by all of the staff, although we were warned by one that the managers may be watching and we should be quick. To this effect, we didn't attempt to enter the actual locomotive workshops and spent a seemingly rushed half an hour taking what photographs we could of all the locomotives and shunting movements we could see.

The depot is located at XuanKuang station. It contains a large workshop with three tracks leading in and large enough to accommodate fifteen locomotives. Adjacent to the shop is an open/covered area with three tracks which is used as long term storage. At present it houses a handful of dumped locomotives, a flat car mounted crane and various wagons. There is a small shed which can house a pair of small rail cars.

To move the iron ore trains, Baishan uses a fleet of box cab electrics built by Qinhuangdao Tiantuo Electric Locomotive Company. The most numerous class seen in use was the ZL40-7. Two other similar locomotive types work alongside them. I am unsure if these two locomotives of different classification are under trial or if the ZL40-7 has been superseded. At first I was very confused by the numbering system given to locomotives with numbers ranging from 0806 to 9507! After examining the builders plate photographs I got, it is a pretty straight forward system where the first two digits are the year the railway took delivery and the last two are the fleet number. Railcars are not numbered.

Due to time constraints, I was unable to compile a complete list of motive power. We also didn't attempt to enter the locomotive shops, however the list below is fairly complete. A locomotive not seen on our trip, but in another trip report is ZL40-7 #1010. By process of elimination, the partially identified ZL40 in the list should be 9405, however I cannot say with certainty. There is also a slight anomaly with two #3's with one of the ZL20's and one of the ZL40's. ZL20 #9203 was certainly in use up until only a few years ago, the same time as ZL40 #9403 was in use. Possibly 9403 is a renumbered unit or perhaps no one really cared that there were two #3's in use at the same time!

Road number Class Traction type Builder & build date Status Other notes
0806 Unknown Electric Lanzhou, 06/2008 Dumped White, orange
0909 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 2009 In operation White, orange
1011 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 10/2010 In operation White, orange
1213 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 10/2012 In operation White, orange
1516 ZLBP-300 Electric Qinhuangdao, 01/2015 In operation White, orange
1617 Unknown Electric Qinhuangdao, 2016 In operation White, orange
9201 ZL20-7 Electric Changzhou, 1992 Dumped Blue, white, orange
9202 ZL20-7 Electric Changzhou, 1992 Dumped Blue, white, orange
9203 ZL20-7 Electric Changzhou, 1992 Dumped at Shangqing mine Blue, white, orange
9402 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1994 Operational, under rebuild White, orange
9403 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1994 Operational, snow plough fitted White, orange
9404 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1994 Dumped White, orange
94** ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1994 Operational, under rebuild White, orange
9506 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1995 Operational White, orange
9507 ZL40-7 Electric Qinhuangdao, 1995 Operational, under rebuild White, orange

From my observations there appear to be approximately twenty active units. The west line used only one locomotive for the entire day making at least six return trains. The east line uses two locomotives per day on the mainline and appears to be much busier than the west line. A third unit works trains from Shangqing mine to Shangqing station with the sole responsibility of moving loaded wagons into the yard and taking empties to the mine. The depot has a pilot locomotive which seems to be kept busy moving locomotives around the depot. One unit has a new huge snow plough fitted to the pilot, ready for the upcoming winter.

The railway also owns three ZL20 electrics. Many Chinese rail fans will be familiar of this type, being a centre cab twin axle unit found in commonly visited areas such as Shibanxi, Rongshan and Nanjing. They are in extremely rough condition and don't appear to be used for a number of years. They still wear the former mine railway livery, albeit very faded and rusted. There is a also another stored machine which was being trialled when Duncan Cotterill visited in 2008. It looks similar to the current box cab locomotives, but with a rough resemblance to a miniature SS1 mainline electric locomotive. It doesn't appear to have been successful with the railway clearly opting for the ZL40's and ZLBP-300's.

At the entrance to the depot is a preserved C2 class steam locomotive. What a sight it must have been to have seen these little critters operating back all those years ago! motive is #654 and still wears her Shijiazhuang factory plates, although the date stamp invisible now thanks to the many coats of paint she's received over the years. If the numbering system applies to this locomotive as well, I assume she is a 1965 built machine. It appeared as if she had been repainted that very day with her glossy black and red paint glistening in the sun shine.

From the mine we walked back to the main road passing by the massive (now abandoned) power station before finding a taxi to get us to Baishan for dinner and then back to the hotel for a cleanup and change of clothes before Mr. Wen picked us up at the hotel in his car and took us to the ice rink on the eastern outskirts of town. We were quite taken back when we arrived at the sheer size of this place. The ice rink is brand new and is used to train speed skaters for competition, including the Olympic winter games. According to Steve, who is an ex-ice hockey player, the ice flooring was nigh on perfect as was the entire setup. It turns out that Mr. Wen is one of the teachers and a now retired competitive speed skater. We spent the evening with some of the Olympic hopefuls, some as young as five years old who could race down the ice at incredible speeds. Steve and myself were offered to have a go and Steve happily accepted completing a few circuits at a much reduced pace as the smaller kids, granted very different skates than what he used. Having no desire to compliment my ice skating skills as demonstrated in Hengdaohezi a couple of years prior (you can read all about that in the November 2016 trip report) and knowing there were many days ahead with lots of walking involved, I decided it would be better to avoid a broken coccyx and remain in my loafers.

Locomotives seen:

(762mm) C2 class : 654 (preserved)
(762mm) Unidentified railcar : 2 unidentified units
(762mm) JMD88 : 1 unidentified unit
(600mm) 7T : 5, 7, 9, 10, 10, 13, 15, +1 unidentified unit
(762mm) ZL20 : 9201, 9202, 9203
(762mm) ZL40-7/750 : 1011, 1213, 9402, 9403, 9404, 9506, 9507 +1
(762mm) ZLBP-300 : 1516
(762mm) Unidentified class : 0806 (Lanzhou built)

17 October 2018

Our second day on the Baishan narrow gauge and time to tackle the eastern line. As there were no major villages to assist the taxi driver, we had to direct him to the mine with my map. It was all going well until the road simply stopped with large concrete bollards in the way. In the distance I could make out Qianjin station up the side of the mountain and soon declared "that will do" and we proceeded on foot. Between the small road we were dropped off on and the narrow gauge we were blocked by a new fenced highway under construction with fences either side. The quickest and by far the most perilous choice was to cross a fast moving river at a construction site via a pair of slippery loosely fixed logs, something only a mad man would consider crossing. I went first. At the other side of the river we found an underpass under the freeway, then through a quarry before scrambling up the ballast mountain. Eventually we arrived on the horseshoe curve before Qianjin station, and we had time to rest for a while and consider some of the life choices we had made.

We set up our cameras in the hopes of catching a south bound train, but were surprised with a north bound working of empty wagons instead behind ZLBP-300 #1516. Determined to get the south bound working with a much better view of the curve and to make the most of the remaining autumn colours that were fast disappearing, we waited where we were and within minutes ZL40-7 0909 came trundling through with a fully loaded 14 car train of rocks. We gradually made our way up to Qianjin station. The old spoil track has been ripped up completely with stored sections of rail awaiting collection. This would have been a pretty busy system when these trains were operating in conjunction with the ore trains.

After a couple of trains in this area, we learned that Qianjin station, being the midway point on the eastern line, saw the north bound trains stop and wait for the south bound working and decided to try our luck at getting on board one of these fascinating locomotives. Steve is now a professional at working his way inside and before we knew it, we were in the cab of #1516 where photos were immediately out and friends were made. I mentioned that I am an electric train driver back in Australia and soon we were given a full tour of the locomotive, given access to the engine room and all the electrical cabinets. Each locomotive has a pair of longitudinally floor mounted electric motors which are connected to the bogies via a drive shaft to each bogie. Our machine, while fairly old fashioned looking was only 3 years old. The surprisingly spacious engine room was in very clean condition with plenty of room to move between the two cabs.

We were then put in the driver's seat for some photos and thought to maybe.. perhaps... is there a chance they could take us up to Shangqing mine. The crew were more than happy to accept our request and as soon as 0909 passed by with her south bound train, off we went. What happened next, was the stuff of fairy tales. Whilst rumbling up the hill, our driver stood up and with both hands gestured me to jump in the seat and for the next half an hour, I was moving the wagons up to the mine. These locomotives are rated at 20kph with a maximum of 28kph, which sounds slow I know, but was more than adequate for my first attempt! The driver was seemingly so happy with my drive on the way up with good control of speed, the air brake, calling out each signal we approached, and using the horn to warn track workers and peasants on the line giving me a thumbs up on regular intervals. We stopped at a passing loop between Qianjin and Shangqing stations to pick up lunch for the crew, before moving off again towards to mine. Once at the mine, I relinquished control to the real driver and we uncoupled from our wagons and set down on a set of fully loaded wagons.

We saw #9203 in very poor condition dumped at Shangqing station occupying one of the tracks with some equally shoddy condition wagons. This locomotive was used to bring the loaded wagons out of the mine to the yard at Shangqing station. This work is now in the hands of a very similar style locomotive to the ZL40's, #1617. It is possible that this is an improved version of the ZL40-7, but we were unable to get close enough to ascertain this. We were too busy driving! Once coupled up to the train, and clearly trusting his new apprentice, I was once again invited into the seat for the journey down. This was certainly more challenging on the return journey all downhill with 14 overloaded KF20 hoppers all on the airbrake! Thankfully it only got away from me for a moment once, but was soon back under control and another unforgettable experience over the next half an hour while poor Steve had control of multiple cameras to record the event (thanks Steve!). We passed 0909 making another trip up to the mines with both crews laughing as we passed with them asking how much our driver was paying me to be at the controls! On approach to Shengli station, I once again relinquished control aware that managers may be in the unloading area. This turned out to be not such a bad idea as we soon experienced a power outage that lasted some twenty minutes or so. Once we were on the move again, we were asked to duck down out of site as we approached Xuankuang station where the top brass may spot us. Once at the unloading point, we alighted from the locomotive saying goodbye and thanks to our new friends and watched as the first wagon was unloaded. It didn't take long before the yard master told us we should leave the area before we were seen, which we agreed. Watching hoppers being unloaded could not compete with what had transpired over the past couple of hours and we headed out of the mine the same way we did the day before.

When we approached the old power station, we decided to follow the standard gauge tracks towards the new power station in the hopes of seeing the very rare TH class that was purported to have been operating a few years ago. While we didn't find this elusive diesel, we were lucky to find an orange GK1 class industrial diesel at the ore loader. The crew didn't care about our presence but closed the window on the locomotive when they saw us approach. Oh well, you can't win them all!

We were lucky to find a taxi so quickly and zipped off into the centre of town at our favourite western restaurant - Pizza hut, which in China is considered first class dining (and it is VERY good after a hard day driving trains!). Then back to the hotel to collect our baggage, waiting in the warm lobby for a couple of hours before taking a taxi to the train station for our over night train to Fushun on K7512 behind a DF4D.

Locomotives seen:

(762mm) C2 class : 654 (preserved)
DF4D : + 1 unidentified unit
GK1 : 0094
(762mm) ZL20 : 9203
(762mm) ZL40-7/750 : 0909,
(762mm) ZLBP-300 : 1516 (762mm) Unidentified class : 1617

Continued in part three - Click here!

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