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Pingdingshan

Pingdingshan is a large coal mining city of over five million inhabitants in Henan province, central China. The name translates as 'Flat Top Mountain', a distinct land mark to the north of the city. As a note to prospective visitors to Pingdingshan, this trip report relates to our visit in February 2005 and given China's rapid development, the information enclosed may be out of date.

The Pingdingshan mining railway is a separate entity to China Rail and at the time served 13 coal mines. The mining railway connected at Pingdingshan East to the east of the system and Baofeng to the west. Asides from the coal, which made up the bulk of the traffic, there was occasional mixed freight trains which served a few industries (notably oil tankers) and a pair of passenger trains for mine workers and the locals which worked the railway's mainline.

Pingdingshan was one of the great remaining steam centers remaining after year 2000, with the very enticing credentials of having the three major classes of steam working side by side (QJ, JS & SY), the last place to simultaneously employ all three types. The bulk of the fleet were the mid sized JS class 2-8-2's which were used on most of the coal trains from the mines to the yards as well as passenger trains. The light SY 2-8-2's were mostly used on the passenger trains and the heavy QJ 2-10-2's were used on the coal trains, with one - a now rare 8 wheel tender version - was used as a yard pilot in the locomotive depot and was occasionally deployed on maintenance/breakdown trains. A handful of QJ's were also used on some branch lines in the area, notably to the steelworks to the south of the city. In addition to the steam locomotive fleet, a pair of diesels were constantly in use, a GKD3B industrial Co-Co unit and a brand spanking new DF10D. This was clearly a sign of things to come in the very near future. (Since the end of steam, the Pingdingshan railway has a fleet comprising mostly of DF7G and DF10 diesels).

If you would like to see some video footage from this trip, please visit the Pingdingshan video gallery.

16 February 2005

My visit to Pingdingshan originated from Hong Kong, like most of our trips to China to visit family and friends. Rather than take the train, I elected to take a flight from Shenzhen to Zhenghou followed by a bus ride down to Pingdingshan as I anticipated it would be a great deal easier booking a flight than taking a train during new year season also. Although the flight was scheduled for a midday departure, I raced out of bed at and took a short KCR trip from the apartment in Fanling to Lo Wu border station just after 6am just to be extra sure I would leave enough time. Despite the rumours that customs was usually a chaotic affair, it took us less than 15 minutes to cross over due to customs officials sitting in the corner of a room having a good chat with all the X-ray equipment turned off.

Due to the 20kgs of luggage strapped to my back, I took the easy way out and hailed a taxi to get me to the airport. A pretty hefty sum of 150 yuan, however the drive was less than 20 minutes, something that would have taken twice as long to achieve on any other mode of transport. The traffic police weren't concerned when we overtook them at 150kph on the expressway.

It turned out I may as well of left Hong Kong at midday, due to the helpful message of the helpful message of "This flight has been delayed due to aircraft delay" which was repeated in 2 minute intervals over the next 4 hours. As frustrating as this was, it proved to be the correct choice as we learned later the Jing-Gua ng line was blocked due to severe icing on the overhead wires leaving a blockage that lasted for nearly 2 days. It was also nice to do some plane spotting from the boarding gate area and was able to see anything from the small A319's to the huge 747's, including some of the more exotic types like 757's and MD82's, an uncommon sight in Australia. Hainan Airlines flight 7067 took me to Zhengzhou some 5 and a half hours late in a new Boeing 737-800. Despite watching many of the aircraft take off like jet fighters at an almost impossible angle, our flight was quite pleasant. I felt sorry for the poor hostie who had to give all the announcements in English, due to my presence, which she clearly struggled with. Mid flight we were informed that they would shortly begin serving us our "luxuries". This consisted of a kit-kat chocolate biscuit and a paper cup the size of a shot glass. A flight attendant then walked the aisle with a 2 litre bottle of Pepsi. Thankfully when she got to me at the rear of the aircraft, most of the turbulence was flattening out. I asked the attendant for the bottle label so I could cut certain bits out for my model layout back home (which took some serious translation skills), however the staff took the initiative to throw the old bottle away and present me with an unopened 2 litre bottle of Pepsi on landing that was presented to us in such a way, it would have been most impolite to refuse.

From the airport, I took a bus from the airport to the Civil Aviation hotel close to Central Zhengzhou, then a local bus closer into town. By the time I arrived it was already 6pm and not wanting to arrive late in Pingdingshan decided to stay the night and make an early start to Pingdingshan. I was recommended by some locals to stay in a new hotel called "Home Inn" (telephone: 0371 620 5888) and told it should cost around 150 yuan per night. Price for the double was closer to 300 yuan, but it was quite nice as far as Chinese hotels go with clean rooms. The staff were extremely welcoming and refused tips. The hotel staff do not speak English. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was surprisingly excellent despite costing little more than $3US.

17 February 2005

The temperature was very cold for February, at around -10C when I woke at 6am. Skipped breakfast, and took a taxi to the bus station opposite Zhengzhou central station. (The bus station sell tickets on the corner of the block opposite). Buying tickets anywhere in China is basically every man for himself. After a friendly game of push and shove, managed to wrangle a tickets for the 730am express service to Pingdingshan, then walked into the main bus departure haul to see some pretty graphic posters of some unfortunate souls who had been killed by explosions, which I believe was a warning on taking dangerous goods on the bus. I was directed to place the the bags on the X-ray conveyor belt while all the staff were fast asleep in the screening room, giving that extra sense of security. The bus was cramped and freezing cold due to a broken heater, not to mention the cigarettes that were lit up one after the other despite the no-smoking signs and many cigarette stops along the way. The bus was delayed at a toll booth on the freeway while the driver filled out paper work and chatted to the highway police, all whilst leaving the door open. Nothing was seen on the narrow gauge railway when we passed over at Xuchang.

We arrived at the "Old Pingdingshan Bus Terminal" some three and a half hours later. I hailed a taxi to take us to the Jin Xiu hotel - the one recommended by most rail fans to Pingdingshan, although the driver insisted he take us to the Shen Ma as it was nicer. Not being able to justify the triple cost of it over the Jin Xiu, I started to walk across to the Jin Xiu when the driver once again insisted that he would drive us there, as he received a kickback from the hotel for any delivered guests. The double room was 148 yuan for the first night and 128 for consecutive nights (Shen Ma was 500 p/n). Father Christmas decorations were still adorning the foyer of the hotel.

After checking in at around midday, I went for a walk to locate the railway which was found with relative ease after heading towards the constant steam whistles! Many of the locals were extremely curious and very friendly after giving them a smile. I only saw one negative incident in the whole of PDS where one of the locals tried to impress the foreigner by hurling a brick at a stray dog. There are many tiny huts lining either side of the railway here where the poorest people live, which I learned why shortly after, although I won't mention this on the internet. Despite being in their situation they seemed to be a lot more relaxed and happier than most of the other parts of China we have visited.

Snow had started falling and was quite heavy by the end of the day. By walking directly north from Jin Xiu, I arrived at a level crossing adjacent to Zhongxin (aka Central) station with JS 8054 idling outside the level crossing hut. There were two sets of passenger cars, both modified YZ22's, some of which with the end doors sealed off and a central door/s installed, much like the earlier YZ31 type. One set was painted in a red/white/orange color scheme like the 25G class passenger cars, and one in the standard green/gold. There were also steel screens installed over the windows, whether this is for security or safety is unclear, however I presume the latter as many of the stops are directly inside the mines. 8054 was in charge of the Baofeng passenger service. I was surprised to see a JS on pax service, as I always thought this was strictly an SY service. It departed about an hour after I arrived with 7 red/white/orange hard seaters. On the other platform was a string of green/gold hard seaters with SY 1002 on the PDS Dong service, tender first. After spending some time here, I walked east along the line and came to Shenxi yard, encountering JS 8338 with a long train of empties heading to one of the mines.

At Shenxi we were invited into the yard building by the very cheery station master, Mr. Wang Hong Bin. He speaks a tiny bit of English, but not enough for a conversation. I was able to get a little information however, the most important being he was adamant that steam would remain for the next 3-5 years on the system, a prophecy that ultimately came true. As well as this, he mentioned he had not seen any foreigners there since last October, saying most go in the summer. He also said most of the groups didn't seem to take much interest in the staff, which I believe is a great shame, although understandable with the language barrier. I gave him and a few of the other present staff some photos of my last trip to Jing Peng in 2000, which were greatly appreciated and were very keen to have them autographed!

First engine to roll into the yard was QJ 2035. I was ushered into the cab by Mr Wang with Vinci and we stayed inside for a few minutes while the engine shunted some cars. QJ 2035 appears to be in very good condition despite its age. There were 8 people in the cab! Talk about crowded. Plenty of trains at Shenxi in the afternoon, mostly tender first with loaded trains from the mines.

I was then offered to join the crew of 8421 on a run to Mine 4 and back, this was even more cramped that the QJ with 7 people in a smaller cab. Extremely loud, dirty and yet one of the best railway moments yet experienced. The train returned with a massive loaded train after dark, the driver stopping in the middle of a level crossing at the throat of Shenxi yard to let me off creating a traffic jam which I compounded by hailing a taxi driver in the opposite lane. Oops!

Had dinner at Jin Xiu restaurant for the first and last time. Very expensive comparatively and generally substandard. Blaring Chinese pop music and the freezing conditions made for a less than enjoyable culinary experience. After 15 trains, 2 cab rides and just seeing 3 classes of steam in the first day was more than I could have asked for.

18 February 2005

Woke up at 6am to no hot water. I believe it gets turned on sometime around 7-8am. I recommend visitors for an early start to stay here to shower the night before! I asked a taxi driver downstairs if he knew where Tianzhuang yard was, showing him on a map - he readily agreed and nodded profusely. However after driving around most of Pingdingshan, probably in the hope I told him where it was, it became apparent he hadn't a clue where it was and even had the audacity to tell me I didn't know where I wanted to go! He phoned a lot of other drivers who didn't know either. By some stroke of luck, he managed to drop me off at the level crossing just west of Shenxi, where I stayed for the morning photographing trains coming from Tianzhuang, giving up on the parade until the next day. The snowfall had stopped but there was still a good amount on the ground. This was a particularly cold morning again, so good exhausts, but offset by overcast sky. JS 8031 and JS 6429 were the first locomotives seen, each with very impressive trains of empty hoppers heading towards Shenxi yard. After these two, I walked to the platform at Tianzhuang and photographed the following; JS 8065 arrived light departed with empties, JS 6253 + QJ 7186 light, seperated and departed with empties and GKD3B 0003 also with empties. Loaded arrivals were JS 6253 and JS 6429.

I spent much of the morning here and then took a taxi back to the hotel around 11am before heading back to Zhongxin. JS 8054 was once again on passenger duty and SY1002 on the same train as well. I took the JS to Baofeng and spent a little time there. The cost for the trip was 3 yuan each. Incredibly cheap for such an opportunity to travel behind one of the last steam hauled passenger services in China. The train departed at 1:30 pm departure and a bit over an hour later, arrived at Baofeng. The windows were incredibly dirty nothing could be seen out of them along the way, however it was still nice being in the passenger car just behind the engine with the end door left open! An interesting sign in the car stated 10 conditions of passage - no littering, spitting, smoking, standing on seats, etc - none of which were adhered to apart from 'no urinating', thankfully!

I was quite disappointed with Baofeng, a fairly uninteresting and with a biting wind and no shelter. Photographed many green DF4b departures from the CNR yards and a few passengers with DF4b and DF4d. There was a couple of DF7's shunting around the yard also, but didn't manage to get any photos of either as they were too far away or ran behind a string of box cars just next to the mine railway. The old station building appears to have been converted into a block of residential flats. The mining Rwy side of Baofeng looks to be very poor. Didn't check the other side or explore the area too much as I didn't know when the return service was due in. At the north end of the station along the platform and a bit beyond, I found two SY tenders stacked on top of each other and welded together as one big water tank with a pipe which ran into a hut. A little further on in one of the spur tracks was a Plasser car and a green/gold SY track testing passenger car.

Last train I saw come into Baofeng was JS 8068 with a loaded train of coal hoppers from the north of Baofeng. It uncoupled from the train and returned north again light. DF10D 0060 arrived to take these loaded cars back to Shenxi. 8054 returned with the pax just before 6pm. The windows in my passenger car were slightly cleaner this time, still unsuitable for photography, but quite a few trains were seen running on the CNR network, mainly trains with oil pots. We also passed a few JS on the way back.

19 February 2005

Visited locomotive depot for the first time after yet another idiot taxi driver who didn't know where it was, but was all too happy to bundle me into his cab. After a few wrong turns and his obvious lack on knowledge as to the whereabouts of the yard, I asked him to drop me off at the level crossing which happened to be the line to one of the mines and only a few hundred feet from the engine depot. Still dark on arrival so first went to the depot, after asking permission to enter the yard. I woke up the worker in the hut at the entrance of the yard who was happy for me to go in. Took some tripod shots of the JS in the yard prepping for the day, unfortunately none turned out satisfactorily. In the depot in steam were JS 8031, 5644 and 6225. I didn't hang around to long, instead headed off to Tianzhuang in readiness for the loco parade. I waited a little at the level crossing to get a few of the engines leaving the depot, before heading to the platform and given a royal welcome from all the employees who insisted I come in and keep warm. I brought some Australian railway photos out and was immediately mobbed. Many trains came into the yard, but the parade was delayed until about 10am, at which time it wasn't much of an event with many of the engines coming out some time apart and leaving before the next one came rolling out of the depot. The sun rose not long after and had a very sunny clear day (despite the relentless freezing wind), the same weather would last for the remainder of my time here.

In the signal box was a 12 year old boy who was quite badly injured after running away (possibly kicked out) from his home some thousand kilometers away in Hebei province after hitching a ride on a freight train and jumping off. Police were called, but didn't take much interest. In the yard was JS 6429, 8031, 8062, 8037, 8030, 6253, 8057, 8065, 8421 and 8338; QJ 7186, and both the diesels GKD3B 0003 and DF10D 0060. After a few hours went back to the engine depot, saw 5644 which was still in steam but hadn't moved after some 6 hours. 6225 was also there still.

At a service track next to the shop was a line of dumped locomotives and QJ' 6813 and 6690 cold in the tracks nearby awaiting overhauls. All the dumped engines were in an advanced stage of decomposition - the worst being the SY. It seems that 0758's tender has been swapped with 1687's. the tender body of the original 1687 is turned on its side with what appears to be some pretty nasty damage to the corner of the tank, and there is a second 1687 tender in the yard which looks like it has been very freshly painted.

SY 1687 itself is in the shops undergoing some major work. We found this after going to the main shop building just as QJ 6450 with 8 wheel tender emerged pulling out the massive Z601 steam crane - having just removed the cab of 1687. The whole engine (1687) is almost unidentifiable apart from the smoke box door which was propped up against the wall.

Apart from SY 1687 in the shop, there was also SY 1209 with third driving wheel and all running gear removed and JS 8122 undergoing some apparently minor repairs. As the workers for packing up for the day and not wanting to overstay my welcome, I headed out - just in time for a pair of JS's returning for rewatering.

After lunch and topping up film supplies in the city, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the West end of Shenxi yard, capturing some awesome departures. Massive trains of empties departing in the sun with very high crisp exhausts. We were at the point in the line where the track separates into 3. This is also where the shacks along the railway line start and we had many friendly locals come out with their children after we were spotted by one who told everyone else "a foreigner and his wife just walked outside our house!" They really are very friendly, however they seemed to have no concept of silence while the video camera was rolling despite my pleas. I still came away with some very nice departures with beautiful audio and at least the chatter was in Chinese, giving a more authentic sound! I then went to Shenxi station and met the other friendly station master who invited me inside for some tea. Mr Wang was off until Monday. Managed to get the workers to provide written directions for the taxi drivers!

20 February 2005

Went back to Tianzhuang yard again for the parade and amazingly had a a taxi driver who got me there first time! The parade was delayed again! Locos were fairly spasmodic from the depot, eventually getting JS 8338, 8065, 8057, 8421, 6429, 8030, 8062 6253 and 8054, QJ 2035, 6650 and 7186 and the two diesels but still not the great line up of engines with no more than 2 or three engines out at once.

Not complaining however; it was still a fantastic spectacle. Staff told me to try again tomorrow. I missed an amazing non-coal freight coming into Tianzhuang from Pingdingshan Dong, led by a pair of full deflector QJ's. View was blocked by the masses of coal hoppers in the yard and by the time I ran down to the other end of the yard, it was too late to get any photos. They both uncoupled and ran back east light.

Spent a couple of hours around Tianzhuang yard again then walked up to the mine between Shenxi and Tianzhuang yards, getting 8338 pulling up a train of empties, and pulling back loaded ones to the yard. Exhaust was great coming up the bank, however due to the sun light from behind the train, the photos were rather unsuccessful. Many trains coming in and out of Tianzhuang with coal trains, mainly JS but QJ7186 also. I wanted to get back to the depot again, but the gates were locked.

After lunch I headed off to Pingdingshan (Dong) East, where the mining railway meets with the mining network. Found it impossible to get onto the station itself to take photos, so walked a short distance down line coming to a level crossing and set up there. First train through was DF4b 2460 on the CNR network with 17 passenger cars. The engine uncoupled at the station for electric loco replacement, then rolled into a siding just before the crossing. The driver was a senior driver, in typical Pingdingshan fashion, was all to happy to have me clamber up in the cab. He asked me if I wanted a ride back to Tianzhuang, but I declined, wanting to stay in the area to see what else came along. After descending and getting photos of DF7 3099 shunting in the yard, 2460's driver started up a conversation and invited me into his cab, having just shut the locomotive down. He then flagged down the DF7 which had a sizeable crew and they happily had me on board to be shown how they shunted massive string of empty hoppers into different yard tracks. The staff were very excited by having a foreigner on board but were as frustrated as I was at not being able to communicate well. Saw many trains over the afternoon. Had yet another cab ride in JS 8338 when it came into the yard with a coal train from the PDS Rwy up and down the yard a few times and even had a go at firing it for a few minutes. 8338 appeared to have a different cab layout to the other JS's I had been on - having a dual passenger seat arrangement.

The other trains seen were SS3 0496, 0054 and 0046, DF4b 2387 and 6497; SS8 0021 and 0025; JS 8030, 6253 and 6429. We stayed here until mid morning. There was also a small orange industrial diesel down line doing some shunting. Got a photo, but too far away to know what number/type it was. I would have preferred to stay here for the rest of the day, had I known that the afternoon was to be fairly dull in terms of trains when I went back to the center of the PDS system after lunch. I walked up to mines 2 and 4 - one hell of a hike, getting only 3 trains in as many hours. JS 6253, GKD3B 0003 and JS 6429.

21 February 2005

Took a taxi to Tianzhuang again - discovering I was now on the Pingdingshan taxi driver's network of idiots! Conversation in Chinese over CB - "...do you know a Tianzhuang yard? (reply from another taxi) "...Is it a white man ? *laughing in background*". After two disappointing days for the parade I decided to stay at the west end of the yard to get all the action I was missing the previous two days, only to find out it was actually happening!!! Still, got many great shots and video footage coming in and out of the yard and depot.

Locos recorded were JS 8338, 8054, 8062, 8031, 6429, 8421, QJ2035 and the two diesels. At the depot, I was amazed to find two SY's in steam, being 1002 and 1209 which only the day before had been in the main shop missing its driving wheel and all its running gear! Put on a great show steaming out of the depot.

I went to Shenxi after this to bid farewell to Mr. Wang and invited him to come out for dinner with me that evening after he finished work. Then headed off to Central station along the line from Shenxi, stopping twice for two groups of track gangs along the way. Again very friendly and all wanted their photos taken with me!

As soon as we made it to Central The lady station master Li Wen Li took us inside and talked to us with great interest for a couple of hours. She was most interested in Australian life and explained the hardships of living in China. I showed particular interest in the uniforms hanging up on the wall with all the brass badges and buttons and she started taking off her uniform and told me to take it back to Australia. I initially refused but when she brought out a spare, I couldn't refuse such a souvenir! After a few more minutes, I ended up with two epaulettes, a few duty badges and a couple of China Rail hats. I got many photos of trains going through the station and had enough time to visit mine 7 on foot and a passenger train heading for Baofeng. I left Central at about 1pm, stopping 1/2 hour down line and got the JS on the passenger train.

Arrived at mine 7 and got some pics of a JS shunting wagons there. Some friendly locals, one in particular who was a trainee worker at mine 4. I asked his position there and he said "everything". Just before leaving mine 7, the camera slipped out of my hands, snapping the two plastic lugs that hold the back panel in place. The film was exposed slightly so quickly closed it and rewound the film. Very fortunately only one photo was damaged to exposure, the rest were perfect. Camera fixed after one of the lads found the two black plastic lugs in the middle of a black coal path. How he did, I will never know. Took them back to the hotel and super glued them back on, worked a treat. Then went back to central to talk to Mrs Li again, photographing many of the trains that went through at the same time.

I made it back to Shenxi only a minute past our 730 meeting time. He had just left! Fortunately another worker phoned him and we met up down the road and had a superb quality meal at a restaurant called Dao Fu Weng - a restaurant famous in PDS for Tofu. I'm not a lover of Tofu by any means, but some of this stuff was incredible and I highly recommend it. As a general rule for a good restaurant, eat at very busy restaurants.

22 February 2005

The next morning I headed back to Zhengzhou by bus, not seeing any rail until arriving back. I got the bus to drop me at Zhenzhou South and saw DF7 0003 and 0006 shunting long strings of passenger cars into the station. There were also and many SS4 hauled trains slightly visible over the wall, but never found a place to photograph them until we took a taxi to Zhengzhou North. Here we were stopped by a policeman for taking photos and he escorted us to the police station on the platform to ask for formal permission. He refused the request and asked for all the film in my cameras, plus what was in my pack, but I managed to talk my way out of that barely. After a stern chat, he saw me out and told me to immediately return to the hotel which put a very sombre mood over the rest of the day. I did manage to score a few nice shots of the passing mainline trains prior to this, but I would not recommend anyone take any photos from around here. Returned to Shenzhen the next day.

Summary

This trip remains as my favourite trip to China out of all. A great amount of trains, a variety of motive power and friendly crews all contributed to a very rewarding week. It was so good in fact, I could hardly believe I didn't see any other rail fans taking it all in, I guess everyone else was busy catching the last remnants of steam on the Ji-Tong line. While Jing Peng in 2000 was superb, I think this trip was a much greater success, even though bad lighting conditions made many of the photos much lower quality. I could have easily spent another week here to explore the rest of the system, however I am still grateful for the time I had here.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us get there via emails and previous trip reports. Especially Dave Habreken, Robin Gibbons, Michael Rhodes and Florian Menius

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