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Beijing - Hegang - Mudanjiang - Jixi - Meihekou

My third trip into China for more steam action. Places on the list were Hegang, Jixi, Mudanjiang & Meihekou. This was to be a relaxed trip spending a number of days at each location (with the exception of Mudanjiang) to get a good feel for the area as this was another independent trip, i.e. with no guides. A lot of preparation work was done prior to going, and as usual my thanks extend to the contributors on the qj-country.de website (now sy-country.co.uk).

I was only able to get time away from work during the Chinese New Year period, which always over complicates travel within China at the time, however against all advice, I decided it would be worth the trouble and asides from these difficulties, had a fantastic time.

This trip report contains only a sample of photographs from the trip, large scale images will be added at a later date. In the meantime, you are welcome to view videos of each location visited here in the video galleries.

05 February 2006

Departed Melbourne with Cathay Pacific, arriving at Beijing after a short stopover in Hong Kong just after 8pm. I made it to Beijing railway station to get a ticket for the 22:56 K19 service to Harbin, however the train was fully booked so settled for a soft sleeper bottom berth ticket (515Y) for the next morning on T157. The only observations I made since my last trip to Beijing some 6 years before were the lack of red taxis, replaced with a new army of new Hyundai Elantra's in 4 different color schemes which I guess signify either taxi company, regions in which they serve or both.

06 February 2006

Boarded T156, a train of nineteen class 25T coaches headed by an SS9G, departing at 8:15am. I like travelling long distances by train; it is a great way to view the country at a leisurely pace. Beds were very messy on boarding, but were changed about 10 minutes into the journey. My compartment was empty for the entire trip to Harbin. The new 25T coaches are quite comfortable. Soft sleeper berths now have private LCD televisions for each bunk. But as comfortable as they are, they do have a few problems. The first is the windows don’t open, and the ventilation system isn’t powerful enough to remove the cigarette smoke from wafting through the cabin, even when the doors are closed. Unfortunately the toilets facilities are still the usual hole in the floor style – and there are no grab handles. So good luck with that should you require it. Had lunch in the restaurant car, again a crazy amount of cigarette smoke in there than a forest fire and ashtrays on every table and a no smoking sign above my head. After taking 10 minutes to decide from the book style menu, the waitress quickly flipped the menu to the rear page where there was a hand written menu with only two meal choices; Congee or fish with vegetables and rice. I chose the latter but decided to take it back to the cabin where the smoke wasn’t as bad and spent more time removing sharp bones from the fish than actually eating.

A lot of traffic was seen from the window, no steam of course, but some gems including an NY7. This was my first viewing of the NY7’s and probably my last as there are now only 2 left on the China Rail roster. This one was waiting in a siding with a train loaded with new rails. I also sighted the Harbin Star d.m.u. set as it raced past my window. The line between Beijing and Qinhuangdao mainly uses SS1 electric for freight, although there were some DF4’s on freights and some battered looking SS3's. Passenger trains spotted were mainly DF4b hauled.

From Qinhuangdao to Jinzhou, freight were mainly DF8B with SS9’s on the passenger services, with only a few exceptions. Traffic was quite sparse between Jinzhou and Shenyang, but returned to the usual frequency after passing through the latter. Between Shenyang and Harbin, most traffic seen was SS4 double unit electrics on freight and DF4D on passenger. Arrived on time in Harbin at 730PM on time and had no problems getting a ticket for the 1392/1393 overnighter to Jiamusi. Soft sleeper tickets, again - lower berth cost 127Y. At Harbin, soft sleeper passengers are allowed to wait in the “Soldier’s Waiting Room” and bide the time for as long as you can stand, in plush leather chairs. Given the cold, it's no wonder it's called the soldiers room". The announcements and cigarette smoke is enough to give anyone permanent deafness or terminal lung cancer after spending any amount of time in there. Although the hall is amazingly quiet, the CNR announcer sees fit to scream into the microphone as load as possible, which is connected to the amplifier set at full volume. The train to Jiamusi was DF4D with green and gold 22 class cars. My compartment was empty again, and ageing but not too bad. Amazingly, the toilet was a sit down version - the only one I've ever seen in any train in China since!

07 February 2006

Arrived at Jiamusi just before 6am and attempted to buy tickets for a connecting service to Hegang, but the queues and general chaos were too bother with. Train 6543 would have been the ideal choice as it takes only an hour and a half and would have departed only 45 minutes after getting in. Imagined I wouldn't have even made it close to the counter before the train departed. Found a minibus rank outside and got a seat on the jam packed service for 13 yuan. Jiamusi was very cold at -15. I was sitting next to the driver and I wasn't able to see anything out of the windows more than a few meters ahead, no idea how the driver managed to get with all of us alive. The ticket collector lit up on the bus so I tried to open the window in protest, but the window handle was long gone. Great to be back. Got dropped off a stop before the Long Yun hotel, as recommended. Price for double is now 228Y for the double. I instead decided to splurge a little and take out one of the business suites which came with a PC & Internet. These rooms are listed at 448Y but had it negotiated down to 333Y. What a brilliant room! I was 14 stories up and overlooking the yards and station area, from where I could spot two SY’s immediately. My joy was short lived however as I was informed by one of the hotel staff that they had already booked this room and must move me into another one. She escorted me to a double which overlooked a concrete wall on the second floor and stank of old tobacco, but were promised a similar room later on.

Went for a walk following the road left out of the hotel until I crossed a road bridge. No steam visible from the loco yard, so took a taxi to the open cast pit, but unfortunately went to the one which had no rails, The one we went to was still in use, but no trains anymore and the last coal taken out by trucks. Having left the map in the hotel with the big bag, it was impossible to tell him where the other one was, so headed back towards the town. I crossed over the road bridge to the south of Hegang station where an SY was rolling into the steam shed. Got the taxi driver to take me to Nanshan. When I arrived, I saw SY 3014 under the conveyor. Security staff eyed me suspiciously, but as it goes in China, when in doubt - smile. He soon had me in the dispatch office with cups of tea all round. As usual, staff were extremely interested in Australia. Just like I did in Pingdingshan, I handed around some Australian railway photos which turned out to be very popular.

Only a few photos from this location due poor lighting conditions, and then headed towards the steam depot at the main yard. Before entering, asked first at the security booth at the entrance if I could go in and get photos of the engines, which they agreed to. Got photos of a LEW loco being sanded by an enormous hand shovel. 4 SY’s dumped against the wall as previously reported. SY 0555, 0683, 3023 and 3024. Soon after I was asked to leave the depot by another staff member, which turned out to be in my favour when an SY steamer pulled into Jipei station with another light simmering away next to the platform.

The staff at Jipei offered a cab ride in one of the LEW electrics, first to Fuli mine, then to the main yard with loads, and finally with empties to the open cast pit. On the way the engine had an electrical problem – or more accurately lack of it, but after half an hour of problem solving (with a hammer), we were underway again. This pit has really got to be seen to be believed, it's absolutely amazing. Darkness fell after we departed the pit with some loaded hoppers and the crew performed some smaller workings into some industrial sidings, before heading back to Jipei. From here I went back to the hotel. The staff informed me my luggage was already in the new room. It turned out to be pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the one I had originally been in. At least I had the Internet back, but the views weren’t as good anymore and there was that pungent waft of tobacco ever present. One of my smaller bags went missing during the move which I didn't notice until the following day, but luckily I had all the cameras with me and ended up losing some spare batteries and a tripod head.

08 February 2006

Woke up early and went straight to Jipei to get the passenger train coming in. Was a fantastic spectacle, especially as another steamer was running parallel to it with a few loaded hoppers. Unfortunately however, the sun was in the wrong place and the photos didn’t turn out very well. The nice staff at Jipei station once again asked me to come inside out of the cold and suggested some areas to visit, drawing maps and writing down the names of the places in Chinese to give to taxi drivers. I walked to Fuli mine again, taking some photos of the narrow gauge system and headed back again to Jipei where most of the action seemed to be happening. The only steam locomotive seen was the morning workers passenger service.

An LEW rolled into the yard and three young guys got out. They were from Shenyang and part of a local China Steam Locomotive enthusiast group. They spoke only a limited amount of English and told me they were heading up to the disused depot to get photos of the “Japanese steam train” and invited me to tag along, an offer I couldn't refuse! it took quite a bit of negotiation to get inside the depot, but the staff relented finally and I was free to move around the yard. The Japanese steam train turned out to be an ancient German electric engine (number 1009). The depot here hasn’t been used for some time and is now used to dump old rolling stock including locomotives, although some wagon maintenance is also done. Still quite a few staff around though. The main building is to be destroyed in the coming months. On the façade is a communist plaque with four boards above each of the large doors with four of Mao Zedong's rules written on them. These were purportedly put here when the man himself visited the area in the early 1970's. One of the staff told me China was trying to demolish as many of these types of buildings as possible. Many weird and wonderful pieces of rolling stock around here, worth a hunt around if you can get in.

Having had my fill of Chinese food for the time being, I tried to find a western food outlet for lunch and eventually found one close to the big roundabout in the center of town. A large red sign with those famous golden arches... but oddly called “McTouch”. If McDonald's are worried about the competition here, they shouldn't be.. a bowl of instant noodles would have been more satisfying. I was amazed to find a department store in Hegang with an array of tripods! Disappointed at the lack of steam locomotives, decided to check out a day early and move on to the next destination. Having been ambushed by the local taxi drivers out side the front of the hotel, thought I would entertain a quote for Jiamusi. They're all mates and just as crooked as each other, one finally getting the deal, but upon arriving in Jiamusi had increased his price to nearly double. This reduced when I walked around to the front of the taxi to photograph the plate and proceed to write some details in my notebook. The fair came down a bit, but not by much. Lesson learned. Stayed overnight in Jiamusi at the Chengda hotel for 100Y, reasonable accommodation and pretty good value. Went to Jiamusi to buy tickets for Jixi on the next days' service - train 6412. Only hard seat class available with a train change necessary at Linkou.

09 February 2006

Boarded 6412 with no problems. Platform supervisor allowed me onto the platform to photograph the DF4D assigned to the job (like all the other locomotives out of Jiamusi). Once onboard I was able to upgrade to sleeper class as the hard seat area was a bit too overcrowded for my liking with all of the luggage I had with me. The upgrade cost a further 110 yuan. Something I noticed along the route from Jiamusi – Linkou, was just how many old cabooses there are rusting away. I saw about 6 of these in various sidings along the line. Has anybody noticed that these are becoming rarer to find now than steam locomotives themselves? Quite a few freight trains passed us or were seen waiting in loops, the predominant cargo being grain (or corn?) with early DF8’s or DF4b. This was a very beautiful journey throughout, which got even better as our train entered the highlands, and as it would be dark when the train I arrived, I decided to change the ticket to stay on the train to Mudanjiang, where I might at least be able to see the some steam around the power station before it got fully dark. The extra leg cost another 7 yuan.

Sure enough, I spotted the two brilliant high deflector QJ's with 8 wheel tenders towards the north end of Mudanjiang power station next to each other. The train rolled into Mudanjiang station where I saw a plinthed C2 on the platform closest to the terminus. A policeman who saw me taking photos pointed out another steam locomotive plinthed on the farthest platform. It became apparent that it would be too dark to get the QJ’s before it was dark, so I got checked into the Mudanjiang Hotel (120Y double) and went for a quick walk around Mudanjiang city.

10 February 2006

Next morning headed off to Baodagou, two stations north of Mudanjiang and right at the foot of the power station. Passenger trains do not serve Baodagou so road transport is the only option. Not wanting to spend half the day learning about the Mudanjiang bus timetable, took a taxi instead, which was a quick run with a friendly, albeit maniacal, driver. There is a smallish freight yard here which is predominantly for the coal hoppers constantly dragged in and out of the power station, although a pair of waiting freight trains were also here on my arrival. MiG fighter jets were flying overhead in 5 minutes intervals for training exercises.

The first steam sighting happened almost immediately upon arriving at a make shift pedestrian crossing all the lines, just outside the gates of the power station. QJ 1675 came storming of the power station grounds, switched tracks and headed back in. This locomotive, and sister 1830, are in remarkably good condition for their age, however are awaiting the delivery of a diesel in the coming weeks which will spell the end for both of them. This will be a very sad occasion being that they are most likely the oldest QJ's in operation (both with 1972 plates). The JS, which was reported recently, was nowhere to be seen during my stay here, so I'm not sure if she's already gone or was working somewhere else around Mudanjiang.

I never attempted to enter the power station yard itself, as entry into such industries are generally forbidden and I didn't want to risk being removed from where I was. Most of the workings between the two locomotives were outside the yard anyhow and there was the added bonus of being able to photograph the CNR mainline workings with early DF8's, unique to this part of the country. Most CNR mainline trains consisted of double headed DF8's, with some occasional single and triple header workings.

Operationally speaking, this is quite an uninteresting place. The two steamers shunt coal cars from the yard at Baodagou into the power station, a total distance of two kilometers. Sometimes both locomotives operate in push-pull formation on a single rake of cars, but this is the exception to the rule. Of the 8 trains in about 6 hours being taken in, with the same amount brought out, only one of the loaded rakes being in push-pull formation.

On the other side of the rails lies the Mudanjiang Coal and Coke plant, was a cold (possibly dumped) SY 2-8-2. I headed off to the security gate of the factory, but was initially denied entry. They then changed their minds, but on approaching the locomotive, was once again called back and told the chief of security had over ruled them, but had allowed photos to be taken through the fence. The builder’s plates from this locomotive are missing. Security also mentioned there was another steam locomotive in the plant somewhere that was still used but currently not working. They were unsure as to where it was, but next to SY 0967 there is a small concrete shed with track running into it that is the perfect size for an SY. Windows were too dirty to see into.

The weather was perfect for steam photos in Mudanjiang. It was about minus 20C, but no wind and good sunlight. I stayed here most of the day as I believed it would be the last time I set eyes on a working QJ again. When packing it up the gear, a woman with two children in tow walked past me. The young lad made faces at me behind his mothers back. Too bad he didn't notice the two foot deep ditch in front of him and he disappeared, much to the delight of his older sister. I headed back to the hotel to check out, then went over to the station to get a ticket to Jixi. I tried to get onto the platform to photograph the other plinthed locomotive here, SY 0452 with a JF style tender. I'm not sure what the story is behind this engine, but it clearly has an incorrect tender and is highly decorated with a large brass plaque on the front and brass boiler bands. The tender has number 2002 on the rear, but it looks non-standard and may be the year it was plinthed. A gate guard finally got me through the gates.

I boarded an evening train to Jixi, arriving just after 8pm. The two QJ's were still moving about the power station as our train passed, so this maybe a 24-hour operation. Upgraded onboard to hard sleeper and made friends with a CNR worker who worked in the financial department. He was very helpful in giving me information on how to negotiate taxis in Jixi, good hotels and restaurants.

Unfortunately when I arrived at Jixi, the recommended hotel (Jing Long) was fully booked. I tried another but staff there told me there was no hot water. Third time lucky, got a room on level 4 of the Jixi Fandian for 120Y. There is no elevator, trudging up four storeys with 4 bags weighing close to 25 kg and feeling the onset of a flu, not a nice end to the day, but still had QJ’s ringing in my ears.

11 February 2006

Staff forgot wake up call, bless 'em. No hot water and a terrible nights sleep and an equally bad breakfast. Checked out immediately and went to a hotel fairly close to Beichang and Dongchang on the Chengzihe system. This is located on the main road between Beichang and Jixi, after the river. The hotel name is Jing Fu, a five-story job with a pink and white façade. Double is 180Y but worth the extra cost. This hotel wasn’t overly good either, but at least there was hot water. Taxis in Jixi have no meters so it is up to the individual to negotiate. Generally short trips cost 5Y. From the Jing Fu to the Jixi railway station, cost should be 5Y, but most will say 15 and fall back to 10. There are plenty of taxis so don’t be afraid to try to barter for a fare.

I quickly made my way to Chengzihe and took loads of photographs from around here. Some good video too, but a lot ruined due to the cheap tripod I bought in Hegang. There is a lot of traffic from Dongchang. I made friends with the staff at the level crossing who were very happy to accommodate us and store the cameras, while I braved the cold with a now very sore throat and a camera. I was invited onto the cab of SY 0863 in the servicing track. Was fantastic to be up in the cab of a steamer again. I gave them some Aussie coins as a thankyou which were greatly received.

After lunch, I headed off for the engine works to try and spot a QJ the staff at the level crossing had told me about. Unfortunately due to lantern festival, the depot was closed for the three days I was in the Jixi area. I walked back down to the main road, stopping off at a level crossing where, once again, was asked to come inside for a cup of tea. Plenty of trains here, DF5, DF4D and DF8’s but no steam. Staff said the QJ hadn’t come out of the depot for over a week. But before then on busy days it would shunt out once or twice. I'm not sure if they didn't know the difference of an SY or a QJ, and there may well have been no operating QJ's in the Jixi area by the time I visited.

After about 30 minutes, I’d seen enough diesels so I thanked them and left for center of Jixi. I negotiated a taxi to Didao system for 25Y. Taxi driver was very friendly and after a few exchanges, was soon pointing out interesting pieces of Japanese built railway related architecture. He pulled over when a DF8 freight approached and helped with camera equipment. An absolute hero of a taxi driver, unfortunately a bit of a rarity. I would have happily hired him for the rest of the time in Jixi, however he left pretty quickly after dropping me off at the CNR interchange and had no number plates on his car.

SY 0950 (build date 1975) was waiting with a 10 car empty at the CNR interchange. This engine was in a rather sorry state. The connecting rods are orange from rust and there are large rust patches on the smoke box door and lamp visor missing giving it a slight Russian appearance, and as usual covered in filth. I suspect this will be the first engine to go from this place. Waited for its spectacular departure with the driver giving her plenty of steam, wheel slip, whistles and worn bushes clanking away. The sun was quickly fading by the time she disappeared and I took a bus back to the hotel for 3 Yuan.

12 February 2006

Woke early at 530 am and left for Dongchang again for the engine line up. Plenty of steam! 6 engines at once. One engine on this system is now dumped according to staff, I believe 1437. 1018 was receiving an overhaul during my stay. 0863 also came out briefly, but was quickly retired when the pilot fell onto the tracks, making one hell of a noise. For some reason the driver stopped it in the middle of the level crossing to inspect the damage, much to the displeasure of the waiting motorists. A few taxi drivers got out of their cars and started dishing out abuse to the crew before long and the engine retired back to the servicing siding.

Went to Didao at about 10am after the line up was over and the trains dispersed. Got some beautiful shots that morning. There were three steamers outside Didao washery. One loco left shortly after to the tip, but a forth engine showed up soon after. I stayed at the pedestrian crossing in between the washery and a small steep siding. 1437 did a run up and pushed 6 loaded KF60 self dumping hoppers up the short steep hill. The end KD60 had a dog box on the end complete with enclosed cab, headlight and air horns! Some good pictures were achieved here, although there was one worker who was determined to walk in front of as many of my shots as possible show off in front of the other workers.

I was starting to get exhausted and although I was starting to recover, decided to go and book tickets for train N68 the next day back to Mudanjiang, a day service with no sleeper cars.

13 February 2006

There was still 5 hours before the train left, so decided to spend the half day on the Hengshan system. Got a taxi to the CNR interchange of the Hengshan system and headed up to where the steam was almost straight away. Hengshan yard was filled with large rakes of brand new blue C70 hoppers, which apart from the color, look identical to the C64. A year 2005 built DF5 (#2056) works the CNR exchange yard. Oddly enough, there is a pot plant in the cab!

Four steamers were in the assembly yard. I liked the Hengshan engines. Some features are painted yellow, like pilot wheel centers, air reservoir straps etc and early style tender trucks. The special loco 1095 was the only one doing any real work at the time. It pulled in a large rake of empties from the interchange, and then pushed them into another track and quickly hitched onto a loaded train of at least 30 cars and took them to the interchange in spectacular fashion. Video and still photography was not particularly successful here due to the darkened overcast skies and subsequent snow shower.

Back at Jixi, I encountered the first real problem boarding the train. Due to the train having no seating allocation, a massive crush prevailed as the huge crowd all tried to get through the single turnstile at the same time, a very dangerous situation to be in. Arrived back at 330pm and saw, for the final time, my beloved pair of QJ’s as the passed passed the power station.

At Mudanjiang, there were no connecting trains to Meihekou, my next port of call, for the rest of the day. The only option (apart from sleeper bus – no thank you) was to get a train 2052 to Shenyang the following day. This was the only train to Shenyang until the following day. Booked soft sleeper tickets for 515Y and stayed at the Golden Dome international hotel. This was a VERY nice hotel, albeit pricey @ 340Y per night. There was very heavy snowfall during the night.

14 February 2006

Departed at 10:19 am for Shenyang. The line to Harbin is very scenic. Lots of mountains, curves, tunnels etc. Of particular note on the Bin-Sui line is a station called Heng Zhou De He (marked Heng Dao He Zi on my quail map). Next to the station is an old locomotive depot, complete with a huge roundhouse! It looks like it has been out of use for many years and I have since had this confirmed as being built by the Russians, not the Japanese. As I was on the move I couldn’t see much, but there may be some very interesting artefacts around the compound. Also at a station called Shanzhi is an impressive foot bridge that spans the three platforms and is constructed from old rails stamped "1921 Tennessee, USA."

15 February 2006

Arrived late in Shenyang just after midnight and had just enough time to make N175 to Meihekou. Soft sleeper ticket was easy to acquire, cost 127Y. Train was DF4B hauled and arrived at 5am and immediately bought a ticket to Beijing on service 2538 for the 18/19th. Sleepers tickets were not available plenty of hard seats so took one of those for 98 yuan. Checked into the Meihekou Binguan, reputed to be the best hotel in Meihekou. I would hate to see the worst! Lots of fittings broken/missing and/or placarded with “temporary unability”. Due to lack of sleep on the train, had a quick nap then took share taxi to Yijing (Mine 1) on the mining railway network. The taxi driver was most interested in why I had come all the way from Australia to such a place, explaining he had seen many foreigners in the area, but had never known why. Once past the city, the landscape, while very flat was very pretty with a fresh blanket of snow.

The first train I saw was the morning passenger train from mine 4. I was hoping to see an SY at the helm and was worried this was a permanent change. I needn’t have worried though, as there was plenty of steam, and the diesel retired to the workshops for the next two days for an inspection! Passenger train times have changed again. They are all 5 – 10 minutes earlier than previously reported – i.e., 210pm service is now 2pm and so forth. Got lots of photos of SY 1662 outside the conveyor and was invited onto the footplate. Heading over the engine depot, noting an old Manchurian green passenger car now used as a bike shed just outside.

At the depot I soon met a few workers who were quite friendly, and after a few minutes I was surrounded by a crowd of drivers all simultaneously yelling "hello". I brought out a small pouch of Australian coins I brought, which quickly disappeared and was very quickly led inside the engine shed. The shops here are quite small, big large enough to hold 4 SY locomotives on the two tracks. It is not particularly well lit, but the sunlight through the what windows were there made for some incredibly nice photos, most requiring a 2-3 second exposure. In the shed was SY #1216 awaiting transfer to Jinzhou for a full overhaul, and # 1564 in for a whistle repair. As most of the action was happening around mine 1, I stayed around there and in the engine depot for the rest of the day. Much of the machinery in the shed is Japanese. SY 1445 outside is dumped and being cannibalised for the rest of the fleet. Some staff mentioned it would be sent to Jinzhou for overhaul at the same time as 1216 , but the depot manager confirmed it was indeed, a donor engine.

Found a brilliant restaurant in the village surrounding Yijing, a Korean grille place. To get there, walk over the road bridge and head eastwards. It is on the same road about 2-3 minute walk. The sign above the door has a picture of a Korean girl in a black and white striped kimono. Share taxi back to Meihekou at the end of the day for only 5 Yuan.

16 February 2006

Despite leaving the hotel at 6am, still managed to miss the engine line up outside the depot. I spent the morning at Yijing and Erjing (mine 2), but only after walking up line towards Sijing (mine 4) to photograph the return working of the steam passenger with super shine engine 1564. 1564 returned to Yijing light engine later on for some reason.

At Erjing there were 2 trains, one was pulling hoppers through the conveyor, the other was passing through. The narrow gauge electrics at Erjing are quite extensive. Outside one of the narrow gauge workshops are about 15 mine wagons – all bent and twisted. Most of these were much larger than the regular 4 wheel carts used on the narrow gauges. This was not a particular friendly area, although I met no hostilities, most people were very suspicious of us.

Revisited the engine shed where I was made very welcome again. The diesel was inside now and had bits and pieces strewn all over the floor with one worker constantly swearing at it. Walked to the mainline again and got the passenger coming down the mainline. The gradients are quite impressive on the kilometre or two of this straight section, particularly when looking down a telephoto zoom lens. Spent the rest of the afternoon at the depot manager's flat with his family and enjoyed a superb hot pot dinner.

17 February 2006

The coldest day on this trip was today, with my poor thermometer reaching -38C. Satisfied with shots around the shed and Yijing, I went to the bridge before the CNR/Meihekou Coal Railway interchange at Heishantou, just in time for a tender first train with 45 empties heading back to the mine. Not to long after Meihekou's tiny railcar passed over, followed by SY 1217 with another 45 loaded hoppers. Although this train was equally long and much heavier, not much steam as it is all downhill into Heishantou, however as it approached the end of the bridge, the driver opened the throttle hard and serenity was instantly destroyed the crisp chuff and clanking from worn bushes.

I returned to Yijing for a final time to farewell my new friends at the depot and thank them for their hospitality and once again asked to come inside for a final cup of tea. SY 0791 was now inside, simmering away, and had dropped its fire for a routine inspection. One of the workers standing on the roof gestured for me to join him, providing a very interesting perspective!

One of the senior staff workers at the engine shed took me for a tour of the narrow gauge around Yijing. From the NG line that runs directly behind the engine shed is a fantastic vantage point for video or photographing the passenger service departing Yijing station, although the overhead wires do hang rather low. After getting this train on film, I was then led to Yijing mine conveyor itself where I was able to film coal being loaded into the hoppers. The cars here are dragged through very slowly via a winch system on remote control. We ascended the massive tower to the fourth floor where the large bins are filled from the conveyor that runs to the top floor and was about to get to the top floor, when stopped by the mine supervisor citing safety reasons.

18 February 2006

Again down to Heishantou bridge where I was able to get another two trains. Trains rarely work this line after midday. To throw a spanner in the works, I developed a bad case of food poisoning, although not painful, meant I had to stay close to a lavatory and elected to visit the CNR mainline around Meihekou city photographing diesel freights. Mainline freight trains are predominantly handled by DF4C diesels. There are a handful of early DF5's acting as yard pilots and industrial shunters, one of which is in a unique blue/green and white color. One of the DF5 drivers stopped in front of me and told me to head down to the depot to see the QJ. A QJ? And so it was! Decorated 6730. It is plinthed in the diesel locomotive facility. Access here is extremely difficult, and I was barely able to talk my way through.

The sun setting so made my way to Meihekou train station for the run back to Beijing. The station was packed with people, and another there was yet again another crush at the station. Once onboard, found the train had been severely overbooked and there was standing room only. Was unsuccessful in upgrading to sleeper class, even the restaurant car was packed out. An hour into the journey, I got a tap on the shoulder and the conductor quietly mentioned I could go to sleeper class carriage if I paid for it, but would have no access to a bed. Not enjoying the prospect of standing for another 14 hours, thought this would be a very worthwhile investment, knowing the sleeper cars have fold down chairs. Definitely not a comfortable 14 hour ride, especially with explosive diarrhoea, but I arrived unscathed!

19 February 2006

Not too much of interest on the daylight hours on the way back. SS1’s were nice to see in abundance again, and lots of SS4’s also. At the Beijing locomotive depot were strings of SS9G’s, DF11G’s plus a green DF11Z, both NY7’s, and about 8 BJ class – double and single variants. Immediately to the airport for Cathay Pacific for a few nights in Hong Kong before returning to Australia.

Summary

Hegang – I found Hegang to be a fairly good city to get around in, although photogenically very difficult as the sun was never in the right position for good photos. All steam locomotives face north, except one. Staff said 10 SY’s and over 20 electrics work the system, however the steam was almost an exception to the EL1 & EL2 electric locomotives seen, and management made it very clear they want to electrify the rest of the fleet as soon as possible.

Mudanjiang - Despite the monotony of it all, I thoroughly enjoyed Mudanjiang. The city is reasonably well planned and has lots of cheap shopping and food choices. A hair cut for 4 yuan which took about 40 minutes including a wash was is extremely cheap, even by Chinese standards. On the railway side of things, the mainline action is brilliant. Single, double and triple heading DF8's with huge coal trains, DF4B's on mixed freights and countless passenger trains (mainly DF4DK). The QJ's of course made it for me, however if it's a variety of steam you're after, then there are probably better alternatives available.

Jixi - This place is bursting with steam, for now. The first rumours of electrification have come to surface, so it probably won't be long until it's all gone. The city itself is quite dirty and seemed to be falling apart in many areas. In all honesty though, I have enjoyed other locations a lot more, however this is probably due to me surviving the flu. There would be a lot of potential for this line with more time and I would have liked to have visited the other system. (Time of (re)writing April 2013 - steam is over)

Meihekou - A delightful network, very easy to get around and railway personnel that make walking up and down the line very enjoyable. Dieselisation is imminent so recommend potential visitors to come as soon as possible. The next diesel will arrive in the next few months and the staff believe it won't last past 2007. With 1216 out of action and the diesel too, traffic was very high on the system and engines were never lying idle for more than a couple of minutes. Meihekou was easily the most successful area I had visited on this trip.

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