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Trip Report 14

  • Luopoling, Beijing

  • Hegang, Heilongjiang

  • Haolianghe, Heilongjiang

  • Huanan, Heilongjiang

  • Suifenhe, Heilongjiang

  • Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang

  • Muling, Heilongjiang

  • Baishan, Jilin

  • Nanjing, Jiangsu

  • Ma'anshan, Anhui

  • Sandaoling, Xinjiang

The latest expedition to China was completed in the month of October of 2018. This took some considerable planning and a number of locations were culled to accommodate travel arrangements or when we received news that certain railways had closed for the year.

The first week was spent in Beijing and the north east, revisiting Hegang after over a decade and a first time visit to the Haolianghe narrow gauge serving the large cement factory. A late addition to the itinerary was Huanan, one of the last steam narrow gauges to fall a few years ago with rumours to reopen for tourists. We also got to Suifenhe to see the last DF8 diesels and Russian cross border trains, plus a visit to the locomotive storage at Muling and topped it off with an unofficial visit to the Mudanjiang locomotive depot. The second week saw us in Baishan city in Jilin for the narrow gauge system and Nanjing and Ma'anshan - a repeat visit for myself and a first time for Steve. The last week was given to Sandaoling.

My best mate Steve from Sydney joined me for the entirety of the trip while we had a few guest visits during various parts of our tour. Baiyu Shang joined us for the day in Beijing on our arrival and again in Suifenhe and Mudanjiang. My other best mate from Hong Kong, Rickly Wong, joined us in Nanjing to further visit the area after our December 2017 trip here. Finally, my father would join us in Sandaoling to finally get a taste of Chinese steam.

We utilised the rail system quite extensively for the first half of our time, but unusually for me and at greater risk, we also had a five domestic flights in the second half to save time. I generally avoid airlines in China because of general late running and inefficient airport screening, particularly Beijing airport, however the times worked better for us in a number of instances and afforded us the opportunity to stay in hotels rather than in overnight trains. Rick Wong once again assisted with booking our train tickets, all flights were booked with Skyscanner and hotels with trip.com (formerly Ctrip).

08 & 09 October - Beijing

My first trip for 2018! Steve flew down from Sydney to Melbourne at the same time I did from Brisbane where we met up and headed back to my house. I had a quick repack and check of everything I would probably lose during the course of our journey, then we headed back to Melbourne airport to catch an evening flight direct to Beijing with Air China CA166. I was a little perturbed to be flying on yet another clapped out A330. While all my other friends are flying on the new A350's or 787's, the A330 is still the aircraft of choice for most Chinese carriers into Melbourne. On the plus side however, we had managed to get premium economy seats for the same price as regular economy which gave us a lot more leg room, a welcome aboard drink and a hot towel. Being just forward of the wing, or more specifically the engines, made for a quieter flight as well. The flight miraculously left on time and we arrived in Beijing airport the following morning just before 6am. In typical Beijing airport fashion however, the queue into immigration was horrendously long and the terminal was understaffed as usual. This saw us queue for almost two hours. Asides from finding great amusement in watching the futile efforts of some entitled Americans try to explain their way to the front of the queue to bemused Beijing airport staff, we had time to install our new Chinese SIM cards into the phones, always a head scratching activity. 

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Remains of a Japanese fort overlooking the rail 8th rail bridges from the south

Typical scenery of the Yanshan range. The village of Xiangyangkou is dead center on the banks of the river

We were slightly late getting out of the airport, but soon met up with our new friend Baiyu Shang and our driver from Wild Great Wall adventures, and before we knew it we were off to the Fengsha line. This first day was kept close to Beijing in case of flight cancellations or delays from Australia so anything we would we see would be a bonus. 

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A HXD2 with a long empty coal train crosses the southbound 8th bridge over the Yong ding river. Rail traffic is now predominantly in the hands of the modern HXD series electric locomotives 

Rather than head to Luopoling, as is our usual go to place location in Beijing, I suggested we head to the seventh bridges area instead. The drive was twice as long as usual, however having Baiyu inside the car to guide the driver certainly sped things along without me having to drag out maps. The seventh bridges can be found at coordinates 40°04'53.67"N 115°45'38.07"E, just south of of the village of Xiangyangkou. This part is really off the beaten track, although the drive out is pretty spectacular. Along the way we found countless spots where we could have quite easily jumped out, however with the long drive ahead and as we would soon discover, the long walk, it turned out to be a wise decision to carry on. Many years ago there was an option to catch a local morning and evening train which was popular with a number of fishermen, however it seems that these workings have been cut for some time.

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A loaded coal train behind a HXD2 double unit locomotive between tunnels

When we arrived at eighth bridges, the turn off to seventh bridges became a dirt road and was too unsuitable for our car to attempt, so we all bailed out with our equipment for the walk ahead while the driver went off to find some lunch. The walk to seventh bridges took about 45 minutes. A word to the wise who travel out here, don't bother trying to take shortcuts! If the climbing back up deceptively steep and unstable mountains doesn't kill you, the wretched shrubs with spikes the size of hypodermic needles suitable for horses will do the job for you. Despite frequently running out of breath and wondering why we didn't pack enough fluids, the view was spectacular and we saw a handful of trains as the line crossed under the road in a couple of spots, but usually not in a suitable spot for photography.

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HXD3D with a passenger train over the magnificent arched 7th bridge heading north towards Zhangjiakou

HXD3C leads a southbound passenger train hugs the Yongding river with rare double decker passenger cars

The walk seemed to go on forever until we came across a tunnel. On the other side of this a view that is possibly one of the best rail spot locations I have ever seen with the huge single arch concrete bridge crossing over the Yongding river. Almost immediately the whine of an SS4G grew louder before blasting out of the tunnel and onto the bridge heading west with a mixed freight train.

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A northbound freight train over the arched 7th bridge behind a SS4G double unit electric locomotive

The east bound line is mostly obstructed from any decent stand alone shots, but it is possible to get two trains in the one shot (we got close, but not quite). The sun was out for much of our time there, but occasionally it would cloud over just as a train was coming through and my camera was struggling with the constant lighting changes, but we still came away with some very good shots. The variety of motive power is becoming even more limited than my previous trip. Not a single diesel locomotive was seen and the only 'classic' motive power were the aging and vulnerable SS4G double unit electrics on the very occasional freight train. All other freight trains were in the hands of double unit HXD2 electric locomotives. Passenger traffic was all HXD3C and HXD3D. Sadly most of the passenger trains are now in the very standard green and gold livery, which I quite like, but does give even less variety of trains. Some notable exceptions were a train of double-decker passenger cars and a passenger train of 25G class carriages most in their original, although rapidly fading, light grey and red colour scheme later on in the day.

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The northbound 8th bridge and a HXD2 leading empty gondolas framed by the old window of  a Japanese fort

The walk back took a fraction longer because we were sticking to the roads this time. At one point a cloud passed in front of the sun, and despite being 15 degrees, started snowing for a few minutes! Rather than head immediately back to the van, we made to the old Japanese built fort which overlooks the 8th bridges. The fort was built during the Japanese occupation in preparations for a new railway line. Of course the war finished long before this was realised and the railway would not be completed for another decade and a further 20 years before the line was duplicated.

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A southbound freighter passes tunnels behind a HXD2 double unit electric locomotive

The view from the fort offers exceptional views of the east bound traffic, although being so exposed, winds are fierce and the ground is not particularly stable so one should take care when walking around here. A small number of trains were seen in the afternoon before we had to head back to the van.

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A southbound passenger train behind a HXD3C class locomotive with a train of fast disappearing red & white 25G cars 

We planned to head back to the first bridges for the final couple of hours available to us, but somehow all three of us fell asleep. Luckily the driver remained alert but had to backtrack when we went straight past our next stop. The first bridges are located just north of Mentogou and cross over the Yongding river. The Fengsha line has a double track viaduct and heads west where it splits to take advantage of the topography. The Mentogou branch line passes underneath on the western side. Nothing was seen on the branch line and I am wondering how much longer it will remain in operation. The curved viaduct that branches off north from the west is now out of active use but remains for emergency and military use. As it is an unused, it is unofficially accepted to walk on it, however one should be extra vigilant and keep off the tracks just in case a train appears. It does offer some fairly good views of the double track Fengsha viaduct, although strong sunlight is challenging in the afternoon.

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The 1st bridges of the Fengsha line

A HXD3D races north out of Beijing

Only a few trains were seen with types being the same as we had seen all day at the seventh bridges. We did enjoy a second double-decker train on the way back to the van to get us to the airport. Baiyu left us at Mentougou and would join us again a few days later at Mudanjiang. Despite leaving 3 hours for the flight we were caught in some very heavy traffic jams and only by God's grace we made our flight, using the priority check in gate and keeping arguments with Beijing airport security to a minimum when I would have two of my battery packs taken off me. A handy hint for travellers; ensure that your battery packs have the output value showing in volts as well as amps. Non-compliance will see them confiscated. I'm looking forward to seeing what they ban next year! In a pretty disturbing technological advance, before I even presented my passport or boarding pass to the security officer, my face appeared on the bench mounted computer screen and already identified me by my name and date of birth. Scary stuff...

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Only one service remains on the Fengsha line using double deck rolling stock, this now behind HXD3C locomotives

Our flight CA1693 to Jiamusi was a little late getting out of Beijing and oddly, they sent us to a gate to catch a bus. Nothing too unusual in that other than the bus took us to a skywalk at the other end of the terminal and we all had to trudge up a few flights of stairs to board the plane. Usually I would question the strategy behind this, however the glow of "Beijing Airport" on the large red neon sign pretty much answered that question. We landed in Jiamusi and after our check in baggage was checked by staff not even looking at the bags, we headed out to the taxi rank. Of course we were immediately swarmed upon and the first taxi driver bundled us into his taxi and set off mumbling "yi bai" (100) and hoping I didn't understand any Chinese. Immediately, I hit the proverbial roof and demanded he stop the taxi and let us out. He complied but tried to reduce his price down to 80, then 50. I declined his 'generous' offer and walked back to the taxi rank. This infuriated him as it sent him back to the rear of the taxi rank. We eventually took an offer of 30rmb with a different driver, still over priced, to our hotel, the Jinjiang Inn, in the centre of Jiamusi.

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A look over the apron of Jiamusi airport with a pair of Air China Boeing 737-800's

Locomotives seen:

(electric)
SS4G : 7016
HXD2 : 1073, 1096, 1103, 1104, 1108, 1110, 1114, 1322, 1323, +2 unidentified unit
HXD3C : 0460, 0600, 0627, 0737, 0740, 0746
HXD3D : 0256, 0261

10 October - Hegang

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Our first train was K7165 from Jiamusi to Hegang in hard seat class (0807 - 0946). I had wanted to take 4071 which left about an hour earlier, however many trains had altered times or were simply cancelled due to the beginning of CRH services between Jiamusi and Harbin. Our train was hauled by DF4DK, which appear to be the sole type servicing passenger trains on the Hegang line. All freight trains seen were in the hands of HXN5 diesels, with the exception of one local working with an aging DF4C at the helm.

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We arrived on time in Hegang and walked to Jipei via the road bridge to the north of the station. Annoying green mesh barriers have been installed which impedes photography of the mainline and locomotive depot, which can be improved slightly with a telephoto zoom lens. The China Rail depot seemed rather devoid of locomotives compared to my previous visit with a solitary HXN5 diesel idling inside. The CNR yard next to the train station was rather full, mostly with empty grain hoppers waiting to be put into service for the upcoming corn season.

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Jipei yard, belonging to of the mine railway and opposite the CNR yard, was fairly quiet however. There is a great mix of hopper cars for coal service including self dump hoppers of ZF60 and KF60 classes, K13, M11 drop bottom gondolas and even some C62 and C63 hoppers, some of which have modified sloped floors to expedite the unloading of coal. The wagons are painted either yellow, orange or black and appear to be coloured according to wagon type (in most cases). Many of the special wagons including the small T class track testing wagon and a D class whale belly flat car were also found.

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Jipei locomotive depot holds a number of dumped EL2 electric locomotives, interestingly some are now painted in yellow or orange. The orange ones appear to be used for works trains only. A small number of EL2's in standard dark green livery were also seen here. The old six-axle steam crane is dumped, but still present and has been replaced by a huge 100 tonne 6-axle orange behemoth. There is also a smaller 4 axle diesel crane in use. Asides from the electric locomotives, there are at least five GKD1A Dalian built diesels used on the non-electrified lines. Most are in orange livery, but there is at least one painted in an attractive dark green livery. They all have 2007 build dates which coincides with the end of steam from Hegang not long after they were delivered.

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We walked to the east end of Jipei where EL2 2312 was seen at the helm of a long train of mixed hoppers and as it was shut down, continued on towards the washery. This place is a lot quieter than I remember. The winch system that was in operation has been removed and it seems that very little, if any work, is still carried out here. In the holding tracks amongst a number of old retired wagons, we found a very old and decaying passenger car type. It was devoid of markings. A Japanese website who specialises in passenger cars also is also unclear to its origins but has an identical car shown and estimates it to come from the 1930's era, possibly a similar type to the YZ81. Soon EL2 2303 presented itself although we were too slow to ask for a cab ride and it promptly departed towards Dalu and Fuli mine. After waiting around for 20 minutes or so, another EL2 2309 arrived. No time was wasted readying the translation for permission to climb aboard, which was granted, although he provided his own translation of "I can't keep you for too long as the train is under surveillance" and gestured to the camera on the cab ceiling.

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We ran to a small mine to the north of the Nanshan yard and coupled onto a rake of KF60 cars loaded with rocks which we brought back into Nanshan. From here we decided to offer to alight to save the driver from any problems. The driver then took a rake of empty KF 60 cars to the same mine.

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Our next location was the old storage yard and electric workshops just south of Nanshan yard. I had visited here in 2006 back in the glorious days of film which took some serious negotiating skills even with a few local rail fans from Shenyang! This time it was simply a question of saying hello and a rough translation of "can we photograph here". The guard at the entrance was very happy to oblige us and even happier to return to his soap opera.

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Little had changed inside the yard, with some narrow gauge passenger cars in exactly the same position as they were so many years ago and the old Japanese ED85 black electric locomotive (#1009) still present in a serious state of decay. Even more nice to see was the communist slogans above the rail entrance doors on the main shop building were still in place, after we were told in 2006 that these would soon be removed.

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Inside the workshops, we found a pair of EL2's undergoing a rebuild including the just overhauled 2318 with fresh paint and 2304 about to undergo the same treatment. On the third track was the beautiful sight of the larger and much rarer EL1 1516. There are signs that she hasn't run for some time and a number of parts are missing, however it is clear a lot of work has been recently completed and a return to work looks very promising.

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Satisfied with our photographs, we were then greeted by a few of the workers returning from lunch break and after a few pleasant exchanges, were told it was time for them to get back to work so we should leave.

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From here, we took a taxi to Dongshan mine, the still active large open cast pit. It appears to be no longer rail served with the tracks leading into the pit overgrown, although still present. All of the work seen was in the hands of trucks. This mine has now been in operation for 77 years and some seams of coal are visible towards the bottom of the pit.

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The same taxi driver was happy to stick around for no extra charge and then took us back to Jipei were we would attempt to enter the depot which many visitors have been refused entry before, including myself back in 2006.

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Almost immediately we were told that no entry was permitted however they had no problem with us setting up position at the entrance of the yard which turned out to be better anyway. Almost immediately the green GKD1A was powered up and three more orange GKD1A's appeared from the south, two with their respective crane trains. After a number of shunting moves, the larger 100 tonne crane was shunted into the eastern most track and lifted a large steel bunker out of the ground into a solitary KF60 hopper and replaced with another.

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Asides from all the action from the diesels, a few EL2's were also returning into Jipei, some returning to the depot and others heading back out to the mines with new trains.

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Clouds started to roll in, killing the superb weather and the temperature significantly dropped. With light fading we decided to wrap up for the day and head into the city for dinner before returning to Hegang railway station on train 4172 to Jiamusi. We had been running on fumes as dinner the previous night was slim pickings arriving so late and with no breakfast or lunch for the day, we found a local Dirty Bird (KFC) and Steve set to work demolishing a meal that would rival a Viking banquet. I was somewhat more restrained and limited myself to an 18 piece bucket with all the trimmings. I did learn a very valuable lesson the next day... avoid the corn at all costs.

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Our train was hauled by DF4DK 3164 and was unusual in having only 6 carriages comprising of three YZ25B, one RW25B and two YW25B hard sleeper cars. And so ended my return visit to this fascinating area. Not enough to explore the whole network, but very satisfied with what we had seen and experienced. Back at Jiamusi we saw a pair of new CRH5G high speed sets. These are stabled over night at the platforms as there is currently no dedicated CRH yard available.

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11 October - Haolianghe

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Inside Jiamusi Station

Carriages are now all fitted with CCTV cameras

Today was our visit to Haolianghe for narrow gauge cement line belonging to the Yichun North Cement Company. Our train K7064 was approximately ten minutes late out of Jiamusi, hauled behind DF4DK 3163. Once some quick photos were taken of our train departing Haolianghe, we exited the station building onto the main road. Haolianghe is very much under developed and decaying to an extent. As only one taxi was to be found as we walked towards the main road, we asked him to take us to the station of Liushu, a station half way up the line which we intended to walk back to the town for our evening train.

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DF4DK 3163 leading train K7064 out of Haolianghe 

Before heading to Liushu, our driver took us close to the narrow gauge entrance into the cement factory itself, however we were not allowed inside by the security guard. We then drove on to Liushu passing a train of empty hoppers heading to the mine at the end of the line at Kuangshan. When our taxi arrived at a rail bridge crossing the road between Jiugong and Liushu, we asked to be let out there. A few quick snaps were taken of the train crossing the bridge and we were about to begin the long walk back, until a mine worker, presumably fairly high up in the mine, stopped and offered us a ride all the way to Kuangshan in his new Toyota FJ Cruiser. We thought this would be a great idea, despite having no idea how we would get back to town, but decided we would figure that out as we went along. We set off tearing up the dusty road at an incredible rate of knots. I'd often thought what a moronic vehicle the Toyota FJ Cruiser was, however after experiencing ploughing into multiple potholes the size of a large animals at 80 kph and not feeling a thing, I now completely understand. Our new friend was delivering supplies to a new area of the mine under construction but pointed the way to go to see the trains, offering us the station at Kuangshan by heading straight on a level dirt road, or clambering up a mountain to the dedicated mine line.

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It took some time, but by hanging on to sapplings and tree branches where available, we finally scaled the incline and found a single ZL40-9 shut down at the crush plant converting basket ball sized rocks into tennis ball sized ones. These smaller rocks are then sent via conveyor to the loading silos which are then taken to the cement works 20 kilometres away by the railway. The quarry line appears to be exclusively operated by only this specific locomotive and runs engine first from to the loading point and pushes the wagons back to the quarry. The line does connect to the rest of the railway, however the section between the unloading point and the mainline is severely overgrown with trees now growing between the sleepers, dirt up to and above the rail head and very heavy rusting & corrosion. Presumably any maintenance for this locomotive would be carried out on site.

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The last station of Kuangshan has a multi-track yard with a loading point at the far end capable of loading two trains simultaneously. The loader comprises of eight massive concrete silos, four for each track. The loading process takes approximately 10 minutes to load the 12 hoppers, making two passes. As we arrived here, the train we had photographed on the way to the quarry had also just made it up the hill and was running around it's train of empties to push into the silos. Towards the end of the loading process, we had strategically positioned ourselves to where the locomotive would end up and ask if we could... perhaps, comes for a ride!

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60 tonne locomotive loading limestone at the loading point

The young driver was more than happy to have us on board and soon we were on our way. We didn't really know where we would alight the train, but ended up staying for most of the way back to the cement works. At the first station of Daqing, we were held to allow the passage of two trains. I would have liked to have gotten off at Jiugong station where there is a very beautiful bridge at one end of the very characteristic station and a seriously impressive tunnel entrance at the other, however we had a green light to pass straight through here. For visitors to the line, this should be one of the high priority spots for excellent photographs.

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The cab ride lasted almost two hours all up and was a really amazing experience. The crew was outstanding and told us we were always welcome to come back in the future. They dropped us off at a level crossing next to a small river just prior to the cement works. This area is extremely photogenic, not only with the river bridge, but also has a number of curves leading back towards to quarry. Add to this the stunning backdrop of mountains in full autumn colours and the sun in the perfect position in the afternoon and one can come away with some very satisfying photos.

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The railway is a well engineered mainline of 900mm gauge using concrete sleeper track. It is 22 kilometres in length and has 750 volt overhead wire installed for the electric locomotives. It is a single line operation with three intermediate stations which appear to serve no purpose other than to allow trains to cross each other in passing loops. A passenger train works twice daily for staff change, however we didn't see it in operation as we arrived a bit late for the morning run and left too early for the late afternoon train. It is usually hauled by a locomotive and a pair of very clapped out passenger cars.

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The railway uses two types of locomotives, a handful of 40 tonne Qinhuangdao built ZL40-9's and another unnamed class, simply referred to as '60 tonne electric locomotive' on the builders plates, made in Jiangsu. These 60 tonne locomotives are mostly 2010 built and are substantially longer than the more compact, yet chunky, ZL 40's. Both types are similar in appearance with a centre cab arrangement, but one spotting difference is the pantograph design with the ZL40's having a single diamond style version and the 60 tonne machines have two separate pantographs which operate depending on direction of travel. During the day a total of five locomotives were seen ranging in number between 01 and 08. I assume the locomotives we missed were working in cement plant or stored in the locomotive depot, also inside the cement plant perimeter.

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Wagons on mainline service are predominantly the fairly rare KF40 hydraulic self unloading hoppers to cart the stones to the cement works. These are modern wagons with build dates seen mostly in 2012. They are rated to carry a load of 40 tonnes and are quite large vehicles, almost the same in size and appearance of the standard gauge KF60. They are easily distinguishable from the smaller and more common KF20 type most of the narrow gauge lines I've visited use, having two large pneumatic pistons on each side as opposed to one. I don't recall having seen KF40's in operation anywhere else in China to date. The company also owns a number of the smaller KF20 wagons, however it appears these are now used for menial tasks such as storing various railway or mining equipment. All the KF20's found were painted yellow.

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We stayed in this area for approximately two hours, seeing six more trains in this time. The gap between trains is approximately half an hour, and during the waiting periods we were entertained by screaming eagles fighting over territory in much the same way Steve and I do over photo positions! Unfortunately as the sun was dropping, it was time to leave and we departed on foot for the long walk back to the railway station. We had budgeted two hours for the walk back along the main road, which was not unpleasant in the least with the sun setting behind the mountains and the temperature just perfect. As we approached the more industrial area of town, we were offered a lift by a very nice man in his new car who dropped us off at the railway station.

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The time saved here was enough gave us a last chance to capture some mainline action, seeing first a DF11G hauled train K1010. The DF5 diesel at the parcels siding that had been idling since we arrived in the morning also departed soon afterwards running light engine towards Nancha. Our train back to Jiamusi (K7063) behind DF4DK 3178 was running slightly behind schedule and arrived into Haolianghe long after the sun had set, but we still made it back with enough time for dinner.

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Haolianghe is certainly a real gem and we arrived here in the morning armed with little knowledge and even unsure our visit would be tolerated. We were truly blessed with superb weather and conditions, helpful and very kind people where ever we went, moderately high traffic levels, a long cab ride and scenery to die for. This will remain as one of the real highlights of my China travels in recent years.

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12 October - Huanan

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After only two days in a whirlwind tour of the Jiamusi area, it was time to head south to Mudanjiang. We had thoroughly enjoyed our two days here, but all good things must come to an end. I had originally planned to make this day a pure travel day with the early morning by the Songhua river to get some photos of the huge viaduct, before taking the afternoon train 4174. However, towards our departure date from Australia I instead decided it would be best to take an early morning train to Huanan and spend a few hours here to visit the old steam workshops, before joining 4174 in the early afternoon. This gave us a window of over five hours to explore the old Huanan narrow gauge line.

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Our train departed Jiamusi on time and behind a DF4D (number unseen). A very good amount of DF4DK's was seen at the Jiamusi roundhouse and all appear to be in very good condition. Some DF11's and DF11G's were also seen in the locomotive depot as well. Little else of interest was seen as we headed south. The trip took a little over an hour and after dumping our baggage at the station, took a taxi to the steam workshops.

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Huanan had a narrow gauge system which I often regret not visiting during steam days. At the time, I always had other places to visit and towards the end it became a bit off putting with certain visitor reports in its later life. It is a very large network which outlasted most of the other forestry railways by transporting coal in its later life. Much to our surprise, we found the narrow gauge is being reactivated for tourists, much like Shibanxi. Just west of the depot adjacent to the main road, a huge new station has been built. As far as we can tell, it is named "Huanan", which is somewhat confusing as there are another two other Huanan stations in Huanan. Obviously the standard gauge China Rail is one of them, but the original Huanan narrow gauge station is about a mile away from the new one. Three C2 steam locomotives have been preserved with number 43 on the forecourt with a new headboard and a pair of timber flat cars.

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A further two C2's have recently been preserved for display elsewhere. I am guessing these locomotives will be moved to a more prominent position, perhaps even further down the line, before too long.

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The workshops themselves held all the real treasures, however. We were told by the manager that we weren't allowed in the area, that is unless of course a large number of Yuan's happened to morph from our pockets to his. I suspect he was used to foreigners years ago who were happy to shell out exorbitant amounts of cash to ride the railcar. Thankfully he left fairly soon after and once out of sight, a worker whispered for us to come in for a look and see. The railway have restored two C2 steam locomotives to working condition, #11 and 41. They are in absolutely stunning condition, almost like new (possibly donning new exterior). They railway is in the finishing stages of completing a brand new diesel also. This is a small 4-axle diesel hydraulic. I was unable to gather much information about this machine, presumably it will be used during summer or in the event of a steam failure. There are also a brand new pair of passenger cars. Both have hardwood interiors and one is a semi observation car with no walls and a number of deckchairs. Hiding in the back of the shops we found a newer railcar.

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The railway has acquired a standard gauge maintenance vehicle which is on display opposite the workshops. With no relevance to the Huanan narrow gauge and so many other interesting pieces of equipment lying about the place, I'm not sure what prompted them to do this. The identification details have been sprayed over with black paint, but it looks like a standard crane version of the golden eagle rail car. Various pieces of rolling stock were found in the tracks leading to the workshops. An old passenger car and some freight wagons were seen in varying degrees of condition. Towards the mainline we found an old box car that has been converted to a storage shed and a pair of old rusty C2 tender shells which have been dumped next to the river.

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The line was opened the weekend after our visit, confirmed by a number of photos our friend in the workshops sent us via WeChat later on. Initially the line will operate to the first station where a large open air museum showcasing life during China's cultural revolution (only the good bits of course!). However work has already begun on the next portion of track.

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The museum is located immediately at the entrance of the original "Huanan" station building (sometimes referred to as "Huanan narrow gauge station") which has recently been restored. The museum appears to have used a number of existing old style brick houses. Exhibits demonstrate coal mining, farm life, military, Chairman Mao amongst others.

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We walked the line from the depot and half way own the main straight, a black VW Passat pulled over with three men. They were very friendly and offered to give us a tour of the museum. It turns out these were the museum managers, who were obviously quite keen to get the word out to the world that it was opening and would be the best thing since ground corn. With seemingly little else to do, we accepted their offer. I have no idea how Steve and I were able to squeeze our fat arses into the cramped car, but we found a way and off we went. They've done a reasonable job, however I suspect most of the foreigners coming to Huanan will be solely visiting for the railway.

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After we had seen everything, we were offered a ride back into the town however we still had a few hours to burn, so declined (I suspect Steve was a bit miffed at this as it turns out he's more allergic to walking than I am) and we continued on down the line towards the second station. About a kilometer down the line, we rounded a gentle right hand curve and found the new China Rail elevated mainline being built. We would later discover that this is not a CRH high speed line, but will simply replace the existing line between Jiamusi and Mudanjiang. This will be a great shame because the current line passes through some rather spectacular scenery south of Huanan, particularly at this time of the year.

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Only a little further on a long straight section of track faded into the distance. I noticed some recent wheel wear on the tracks and before long we saw a small box on the track way off in the distance. With my telephoto lens attached and through the heat haze, I could make out the familiar shape of a railcar. This was fantastic to see and Steve's mood improved a great extent. We decided rather than walk down to see it (well over a kilometre away), we would save our legs for another day and wait for it to come to us. I could make out workers surrounding it through the 400mm lens and before long it started moving towards us. This old banger would be well known to many Huanan visitors, possibly in slightly rougher condition..possibly not. Finding a working train on the Huanan line, even though not steam, was a brilliant conclusion to our time on the narrow gauge and we followed on foot back towards Huanan town. Right outside the original Huanan narrow gauge station lies a bus depot which is the end of route number 3. The cost to travel is 2 yuan. There was a part of me that just wanted to enjoy the walk, however I'm quite confident if I mentioned to Steve that we should just enjoy the next 4 kilometres on foot back to the CNR station to save the equivalent of 40 cents, I would have been punched hard in the face. The bus doesn't quite get to the railway station, but comes close, passing over the main level crossing just south of the CNR station by a couple of blocks.

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With a bit more time up our sleeve, we spent some time around the level crossing and soon had a HXN5 frieght train rolling through with a train of L17 grain hoppers. These wagons are heavily utilised at this time of the year as the corn crop is harvested. They are mostly running in the north eastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning and end up at Dalian port where it is exported all over the world. A little further south of the level crossing, the line splits and heads south east on a branch line that runs for some 30 kilometres to a cement plant. The rails had shiny heads indicating the line was still in use, however the look on Steve's face at this point in time meant certain death if I suggested we start off on a new hike. We found a small railcar in a shed close by and a team of workers preparing a section of track with new bolt holes. These guys were really nice and invited us to check out their railcar without us even having to ask. Just behind the shed we found a dumped YZ21 passenger car #22955 built in 1954 with a very decayed diesel railcar.

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It was time to head back to the train station for our train to Mudanjiang. This time I had arranged to travel in soft sleeper class as the journey exceeded three hours, my maximum tolerance in hard seat class. In an amazing stroke of luck, a number of windows were left open which allowed for some beautiful GoPro footage as the train snaked slowly around the sharp corners of the valley. I had completed this journey 12 years ago during winter which was pretty enough, but to see it in its full autumn splendour was absolutely fantastic. Our train was a very smoky DF4DK #3092. Once at Linkou, Baiyu joined our train for the next hour into Mudanjiang after spending some time in the Jixi area. The new Mudanjiang station has almost completed construction, nearly two years since we saw the project in its infancy during our winter 2016 trip. The exits are now being used, however the temporary station (former bus station) is still being used for departures. Once outside the station building, I heard a familiar roar and looked up to see a Chengdu J-7 fighter jet scream over head at a low altitude away from the airport. Great to be back! We checked into the dazzlingly crap Mudanjiang hotel, with its only redeeming feature being close to the train station for our early morning train to Suifenhe and turned in for the night. But not before once again gorging ourselves at the closest Pizza Hut. Of course.

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Locomotives seen:

(steam)
(762mm) C2 class 011, 041, 043 (preserved), 168 (preserved), +1 unidentified unit (preserved)
(diesel)
(762mm) Diesel locomotive : unidentified class/road #, under construction
(762mm) Diesel railcars : unidentified classes/road #'s
DF4D : 1 unidentified
DF4DK : 3021, 3086, 3092, 3119, 3160, 3162, 3182, 3235, 3238, 3239, 3246
DF5 : 2006
DF11 : 0038, 0342
DF11G : 0055/0056, 0205/0206
HXN5 : 0102, 0192, 0240
(maintenance)
GC-220 : 01137, +1
Diesel railcar : unidentified classes, 003, +1 unidentified unit
Diesel rail crane : 16 tonne, unidentified class/ road #
Tamper : 01618
DC-32K : 01566
DWL-48 : 01547, +1 unidentified unit

13 October - Suifenhe

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:

(steam)
SY class : 0590 (preserved)
(diesel)
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
(electric)
HXD3C : 0278
HXD3CA : 6023
HXD3D : 0500
SS4G : +3 unidentified units
(maintenance equipment)
GC220 Railcar : 01199, 01200

14 October - Mudanjiang & Muling

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 44°31'27.22"N 130°15'17.65"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:

(steam)
(762mm) C2 class : No # (preserved)
SY class : 0976 (preserved)
(diesel)
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
(electric)
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 - Baishan

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:

(steam)
QJ class : 6730 (preserved, Meihekou), 6757 (preserved, Shenyang)
(diesel)
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
(electric)
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 - Baishan

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:

(steam)
(762mm) C2 class : 654 (preserved)
(diesel)
(762mm) Unidentified railcar : 2 unidentified units
(762mm) JMD88 : 1 unidentified unit
(electric)
(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 - Nanjing

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:

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

18 October - Nanjing

We had a pretty average night sleep onboard our train 2728 from Mudanjiang thanks to the snoring from our elderly roommates, but arrived on time, just before 6am. Unfortunately, I hadn't quite had calculated the timing for our flight to Nanjing particularly well. I must have misread the times when I booked it after a long shift at work at some obscure hour of the morning. At least that's what I put it down to, contrary to Steve's opinion that I was just a moron. Usually I leave two hours for the flight check-in and security clearance, however we had two hours to throw in the 50 kilometre taxi ride as well as this. Rather than long winded negotiations with the taxi drivers all screaming for our business, we negotiated with one as we walked to his taxi telling him we would we pay him 250rmb, on the proviso that he red-lined his Hyundai the entire way. He did an admirable job of this, taking about 45 minutes all up and our stress levels started to dip somewhat, thinking we actually had a chance to get on the flight. That was until we walked inside the terminal. I had underestimated how busy Shenyang airport actually was, with queues lining up almost out the main doors. We somehow got permission to use the priority check-in lane. This still took over 20 minutes and we hadn't even begun the security check yet with some 20 lanes absolutely packed, including the late arrival one. The queues here were typically shambolic and it took some pushing and shoving to retain out place in the line, but we made it to the gate with less than ten minutes to spare.

We were amongst the last passengers to board our flight, China Southern CZ6451 to Nanjing and pushed back from the gate right on time at ten minutes past eight. We must have been a very low priority flight as it took nearly an hour until wheels up time, with other planes given priority over ours. Having a window seat and being on the left hand side of the aircraft put me in a prime spot for one last look of the huge open cast pit at Fushun. The flight to Nanjing was fairly smooth and we were given excellent views of the city and Ma'anshan iron ore mine as we approached Lukou Airport. Well I did, anyway. Steve had fallen asleep again. Baggage collection and the following subway ride were quick, having had the practice late last year. I chose our hotel, the Mingfa International, due to its centralised location for all the places we would visit during the next few days. It is located one subway station north of Nanjing South railway station, with one of the exits leading straight to the entrance. We were given a very nice room with views of Nanjing South railway station where we could see the CRH trains arriving and departing.

As we only had the afternoon for train spotting, after the hotel check in we headed off to the subway station of Youfangqiao for my favourite spot on the Qinhuai river. Nothing much has changed since my previous visit, asides from the number of passenger trains using this line has increased dramatically. We saw a total of six passenger trains in only a few hours compared to two from December in the same timeframe. I am not sure if traffic was being diverted through here on a temporary basis or the increase is an effect of the recent timetable change. All trains apart from one were DF11 hauled, the other a DF4DK.

Freight traffic was an even split of phase 1 and phase 2 ND5 locomotives, many looking fairly battered, but sounding as magical as always using plenty of air horn approaching the level crossing and passing over the bridge.

The light was particularly strong here in the afternoon and, try as we did, many of the photo positions I had achieved good photos from the last visit, were proving to be much more challenging this time around. Steve fared better, balancing himself on the top of two upright sleepers by using some serious ventriloquist and balancing skills that even Cirque de Soleil would have been proud of. I am too fat and uncoordinated to have considered such madness, so chose more conventional photographic positions. On the ground, for example. We had also lost access (although we tried) along the northern most river bank, as it has been closed off due to damage from construction works that were underway since last year.

After the bridge and level crossing area, we headed south through a local market to get some photos of trains crossing the small bridge over Qinhong road. Here we experienced another dose of police (in)security. Within minutes of us arriving, a police car that had obviously been sent for us stopped in the middle of the road and we were quizzed by the constabulary about the purpose of our visit, where we were from, what we had for breakfast, etc. CCTV usage has exploded in recent months, as the country is introducing its new social rating system using facial recognition to scan people's movements. We would encounter more harassment over the next few days, but still nothing compared to when we would arrive in Xinjiang.

We stayed only for a couple of trains before the sun slipped behind the buildings and headed back to the hotel for dinner and an early night to make up for the previous night's lack of sleep. There would be a big day ahead tomorrow!

Locomotives seen:

(diesel)
DF4DK : 3128
DF11: 0107, 0309, 0340, 0384, 0411
ND5 ph1 : 0105, 0182, 0190
ND5 ph2 : 0297, 0322
(electric multiple unit)
CRH2 : + 2 unidentified units
CRH380A : +1 unidentified unit
CRH380CL : +1 unidentified unit
CR400BF : + 3 unidentified units

19 October - Nanjing

Today we were to visit the narrow gauge lines to visit on the eastern outskirts on Nanjing. An in depth visit is quite challenging to achieve in a single day, however I was confident we could get a lot out of our visit with my previous experience in the area. We decided to visit the electrified 900mm gauge line as I had done in December, only this time head south instead of north from our starting point of Xianlinhu subway station at the end of the purple line. We also thought it best to employ the same tactic as we did in Baishan by starting out at the end of the line and walking back. The decision to focus more on the 900mm gauge line was also based on news received prior to our departure from Australia, that the 762mm gauge diesel line was still operating, but only at night thanks to council requirements.

After scrounging around looking for refreshments for the day, we eventually gave up and located a lone private taxi sitting underneath the narrow gauge bridge. We eventually negotiated a price of 75 yuan, which was interesting because our driver had no idea where he was actually going. I had quite clear maps and was happy to guide him, however he decided it would be best to consult with every single stranger we drove past as to where we should go. Eventually we made it to a place between the two mines of Cishan and Hushan and once we caught sight of the preserved JM80 diesel locomotive underneath the CRH tracks, we alighted ( located at 32°05'17.52"N 119°00'58.14"E ). The locomotive seems to have been placed here on the edge of a railway park for kids. There are a number of fairly recently constructed buildings and play equipment around the place, although I'm unsure if it has already been met with commercial failure as it looks like it has been abandoned for some time. It is very easy to climb aboard the locomotive as the cab is wide open. Naturally most of the fittings have been stripped out, although some broken gauges remain. The passenger car is completely bare inside. Both pieces of rolling stock have no identification markings or plates.

In the small village just north of here, we finally found a convenience store with cold drinks before heading east towards the 900mm gauge. We waited around at the small concrete bridge that crosses the Yihong river just prior to the level crossing, however after twenty minutes of nothing, decided to carry on towards the mine instead. While we were waiting, we did hear some train horns in the distance, which turned out to be coming from the 762mm gauge line instead, much to our surprise.

Once we reached the level crossing, we found a preserved ZL20 locomotive in poor condition as part of the entrance gate of Hushan mine. This can be found at coordinates 32°05'20.91"N 119°01'24.64"E , although it isn't shown on the latest Google Earth imagery just yet, indicating it has probably been moved fairly recently (last reported in the locomotive depot dump track in 2016). Unlike the other two yellow ZL20's used by the railway on push pull trains at the northern end of the line, this unit is painted green.

The locomotive depot can be found at coordinates 32°05'03.80"N 119°01'53.45"E and is within a fenced area that also includes the loading point at the far west and a small yard. A handful of locomotives were found in the depot including a third diesel I had missed on my previous visit and a pair of ZL40-9/750 centre cab electric locomotives receiving attention. A pair of dumped locomotives were found outside the front of the loader but we were not permitted to get close to establish their identities. From a distance, they looked like the articulated ZL20 set and a ZL40, both mostly just the empty shells with all the guts removed. The loader itself is a fairly small concrete and sheet tin structure. It is fed with small rocks from the crush plant via conveyor. The larger rocks are moved to the crush plant using trucks.

Two passenger cars were found, one of which is used for a workers train that runs twice daily. It operates as a single carriage train behind either a diesel of electric locomotive. Reports I've read in recent times have seen both types used and there doesn't seem to be a strictly rostered locomotive for the job. The other passenger car is well past its prime and has not seen service for a few years at least. Recently CCTV has been installed and while the crew were friendly, it was quite obvious that some were a bit nervous about our presence. A manager allowed us to stay to watch a train being loaded before offering to drive us to where ever we wanted to go. He certainly wasn't malicious about asking us to move on and I believe he understood the purpose of our visit as a number of railway enthusiasts have been through here in recent years. I simply suspect they are worried about competition from the neighbouring mine. We declined his offer so we could walk the line north instead.

During my last visit, diesel number 11, a GKD5C, was reported as dumped (2016), however she was very much alive this time and seen a number of times on the mainline. Number GKD5B 13 was on yard pilot duty, but shut down soon after we arrived. Diesel GKD5C 12 has suffered a bit of an accident on one side with the impact narrowly missing the Dalian builders plate, but has still managed to pry it half off the locomotive. Three locomotives are dumped in the depot, a pair of JMY380 (or similar, some of the rarer gauges are given slightly different classification) diesels and a ZL40 are dumped just prior to the loader. Unfortunately we were not allowed to check them for further information. In stark contrast to my previous visit, only two electric locomotives were found in line service. Unless the other ZL40's I had previously seen last year were stored at the northern end of the line (from Xianlinhu to Qixia, it is possible they have been retired or sold. There are rumours floating that this line will close from next year as developers move in and try to 'beautify' the area so perhaps, they are just liquidating some assets and found it was cheaper to bring the third diesel back online. Despite the other two diesels running in conjunction with the electrics, we would encounter them more than the latter while out on the mainline.

Something else that has changed since my previous visit, the trains are now substantially longer. All trains found were running with a very impressive twenty wagons. Most of the older locomotives, both electric and diesel, were being operated with the engine compartment panels wide open to improve cooling.

From the depot area, we headed north, enjoying a train movement every 20 minutes or so. Trains move quite fast on this line, however they can be heard approaching from a fair distance away due to their size. The drivers are pretty friendly guys and would wave as they passed by. Our hike lasted for about three kilometres, before we took our first break on the small bridge that crosses the 762mm gauge line at coordinates 32°06'04.29"N 119°00'28.45"E.

We had a pair of trains pass us at this point, one in each direction and one of each motive power type. As soon as the second train thundered past, I suggested to Steve that, as we've seen so many trains so far, maybe we should tackle the 762mm gauge line instead, even though we probably wouldn't find any working trains. Immediately a shrill horn blared out close by, far too soon to have come from the 900mm gauge line after the last train. We barely had time to set up as a JMY380 class diesel hydraulic emerged from the thick vegetation below us on the 762mm gauge line and slowly trundled towards Hushan mine with seven KF20 hoppers. Jackpot!

This sighting immediately made up our decision to follow the 762mm line back towards civilization and would prove to be an unimaginable Utopia. The clearing of vegetation on the line has not been a high priority and the passing of trains has formed a superb leafy tunnel for almost two kilometres in length. On a sunny day, there is still enough light to break through the trees to illuminate the front of the train for brief moments. This is one of two famous tree tunnels in the area, but not the most famous one. That honour belongs to a standard gauge branch line which can be found just to the west of Zhengfangzhonglu subway station on the airport line.

During our time walking back towards Baohua village where we would get a taxi or bus back to Xianlinhu, we experienced three south bound trains in succession heading to the mine with empties followed by the three loaded workings coming back. This all occurred within the space of maybe an hour and as such, many of my shots turned out the same, but I think the results were well worth it. Given the nature of the line, we found it impossible to get any side shots of the trains as they passed by. We did find some very nice alternative locations, however this was long after we emerged from the 'tunnel'.

After the last of the three trains had run past us, a number of wedding photographed descended onto the tracks setting up stepladders and props for that 'perfect shot'. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they had just missed all of the trains and they may as well go home. I suspect the wedding photography companies are well in tune to the railway schedule because the teams seemed a bit too coordinated to set up on a lucky guess that there would be no more trains. After finding a break between shoots of one of the couples, we continued north as far as Xianlin Avenue.

Once we arrived at the first major level crossing here, Steve made it very clear that there would be no more exploring or hiking, just a taxi or bus back to Xianlinhu for Pizza hut before the subway ride home. While I was keen to continue on for a few more kilometres to see Baohua village where the train runs through a huge intersection, I think he made the right call as there was most likely not going to be any more trains on this line until nightfall. From what we have surmised, there are at least two operating times, the first in the morning between 8 and 10am and the second between 2 and 4pm. It is quite feasible that there is also a third run during the hours of darkness, which would go along with previous visitor reports and local government requirements. From the succession of horns we heard during the morning whilst on the 900mm gauge, we also believe that all trains head from the processing plant to the mine in succession, before returning back. There are no passing loops on this line which would help to explain this operating method. We never got to Hushan itself, however there is a 600mm narrow gauge that works inside the mine.

Locomotives seen:

(diesel)
(762mm) CZ80 : no number (preserved)
(762mm) JMY380 : 4, 6, 7
(900mm) GKD5B : 11, 12
(900mm) GKD5C : 13
(electric)
(900mm) ZL20 : no number (preserved)
(900mm) ZL40-9 : 08, 10, 15, 16
(electric multiple unit)
CRH2 : +1 unidentified unit
CRH380BL +1 unidentified unit
CRH380CL +3 unidentified units
CRH400BF +4 unidentified units

20 October - Nanjing

Today we headed off to Ma'anshan to visit the iron mine in the morning and the mainline & steelworks in the later part of the day. Rickly Wong had also arrived the previous night to accompany us for a couple of days. For extra convenience, we took a DiDi car (Chinese Uber) from the hotel to Nanjing South railway station rather than the subway. This saved about 15 minutes and with the spare time and after going through the very tightly secured station building, went upstairs to Starbucks while we waited for our train. The Starbucks booth had fourteen CCTV cameras covering every possible angle. Fourteen! Ironically, Steve was banned from taking photos! We took train G7073 from Nanjing South to Ma'anshan East railway station and were all let on to the platform after the train had arrived on the platform. We had enough to make it up to the front for a quick photo of the train, a CRH380D. Our unit had experienced a bird strike with a large blood stain on the nose and components of bird lodged into the vent just below the headlight. Despite the carnage, the train was on time and one of the passengers was clearly overjoyed by this.

Another Didi car was taken to the iron ore mine where we spent the next thirty minutes or so walking around the rolling stock workshops. Nothing has really changed in the past eight months and I won't dwell on the specific locomotives inside, you can read my previous trip report here for further information. ZG80-1500 #813 was inside and a ZG150-1500 was inside the shops getting a rebuild. We were quickly told not to photograph this particular locomotive.

We then walked up to the 47 station, which can be considered the main terminal area of the mine railway. Five ZG150-1500's were found in the locomotive depot, most in superb condition with seemingly fresh paint on most units. The main yard at 47 station had a further six locomotives shut down, four ZG150's and two ZG80's. Trains were actually working this time, although at a slightly reduced rate than usual being a Saturday. At the yard, the crew of #1516 granted us permission to climb inside their cab where we chatted with the crew. With Rick's ability to speak Mandarin, we could ask some rather specific questions rather than our usual childish gibberish. We learned that MaSteel is no longer hiring drivers and the mine railway is expected to close next year to be replaced by a conveyor belt system which is currently being planned with the help of a German company. This is a great shame to lose such an extensive network where a fleet of thirty locomotives will be lost, however, this is all about money at the end of the day.

We saw three trains on the quick walk up to the open cast pit via the railway tracks. On the way we stopped at the maintenance yard to find the line's only diesel shut down inside, together with the three diesel cranes. The gates leading into here were locked but we were able to fit the camera lens through the gate to confirm nothing was happening.

The open cast mine is rapidly filling with water. It is up about five levels since my previous visit and at the current rate should be completely full by the end of the year. This isn't from rain, but is being pumped in by a few points around the pit.

Anything of value has now been removed from the pit including the old rails. The track bed at the east end of the yard can still be seen zig-zagging down inside, but some of it is now covered over to the north with spoil now being dumped by rail from the top level. The iron mine's railway is fairly complex with an active railway line where ever you look. From the top of the pit, we could see three active lines, one heading to the new mines at the north, the spoil track and the far east and another line leading to the older spoil dumps at the south. We usually had a train in sight and when we didn't, we were treated with low flying aircraft just under the flight path leading into Nanjing Lukou airport.

We decided to head to the southernmost line from the pit towards the old spoil dumps are. There are a pair of railway bridges that cross over this line coming from 47 station and head to the spoil dumps. At the foot of the southernmost bridge is a level crossing where we met a nice old lady who has lived in the level crossing hut for the past six years - on call, 24 hours a day for every day of the year! She also discussed the imminent demise of the railway at length and had no idea what she would do after it closes. We were able to get a couple of photos from this spot, however being a Saturday, there were some extended waiting periods.

The crossing keeper was happy to tell us when a train was coming, however her sense of timing was a little off and we would sometimes wait for up to thirty minutes before it actually arrived! One shot we were very keen to achieve was from the top of one of the bridges looking over the level crossing and old concrete level crossing hut, but after waiting over twenty minutes for its return, decided it best to head back to Ma'anshan to enjoy some mainline and industrial diesels of the steelworks.

As we left, the railway all of a sudden got busy again! We found four trains from our point back to the workshops. One should take care walking the line around here as many of the wagons are overloaded with huge rocks, some perched fairly precariously over the edge. Rather than wait for a taxi or bus, we got another Didi car back to Ma'anshan and got dropped off at the level crossing just south of Ma'anshan railway station.

There have been a few changes to this place since my visit, mostly having a negative impact. The dirt road that runs parallel to the railway has a new high fence made out of concrete sleepers completely blocking the view of the mainline. The new pedestrian bridge that was under construction in December has now been completed and the old track-level pedestrian crossing removed. This does offer some new views of the mainline, however for photography, one must use a telephoto zoom lens to burn through the green wire mesh panels installed over the tracks. A DF7C was found shunting hoppers and blocking the level crossing for extended periods as usual. A second DF7C was seen in the northern end of the yard but didn't seem to do much during our time.

After watching a few trains from the bridge, we tried our luck on the steelworks tracks than run parallel to Ma'anshan for a short while, however we had very little luck here. In fact, we would only see a single GK1E #3241 with half a dozen C type wagons heading north in our entire time in the area. We decided to revert back to the bridge with little going on, which just so happened to be an exceptionally good decision.

We had ND5 0077 arrive from Nanjing into the yard with a long mixed freight train, joining 0191 that had just attached ot a train of C class gondolas. As soon as 0077 cleared the mainline, we heard another southbound ND5 that appeared into view a couple of minutes later. He passed through Ma'anshan at a great rate of knots. All three of us positioned our cameras and fired away on rapid shutter mode. Getting three ND5's in a single frame is quite difficult these days. Rick got off a few shots as well, before his fancy Sony camera decided it just couldn't be bothered anymore and shut down, literally one second before the approaching locomotive had a bit of a cough and let out a huge plume of black smoke accompanied by a gorgeous meter high flame out of the exhaust. Steve and I managed to score the million dollar shot. Rick was left feeling suicidal and we did our best to comfort him during his time of need by mentioning how good our shots were for the next couple of days. Apparently we're bastards.

A few other trains were seen passing through Ma'anshan, although Rick didn't seem to have an appetite for trains anymore, probably because he will never be able to get the flame shot again. Ever. A few DF11's were seen and a couple of ND5's also, all of which were the earlier phase 1 machines.

We all decided it would be best to change our train tickets from D5608 high speed train back from Ma'anshan East station to a more leisurely regular train from Ma'anshan. Rick kindly queued up for us to do this while we re-checked our flame grilled ND5 shots once again. He still wasn't interested in trains at this point. We got hard seat tickets on train K1192 and boarded shortly thereafter. As we departed Ma'anshan, Steve and Rick were able to finally see a pair of the massive 350 tonne Dalian built slag wagons on an adjacent track to the north of the yard as well as a couple of other steel trains, although Steve's camera was packed away and Rick's was... ... well let's not discuss Rick's camera. We arrived at Nanjing station after dark and found a number of DF11's, including #0372 on a train of very rare RZ25T BSP carriages, now all in dark green livery, although already peeling with traces of blue paint seen on the window edges. I wonder if China rail have a warranty for all this paint? It's only a few years old at best and already peeling off. Steve enjoyed his first time at the same BBQ restaurant in the 1912 district that Rick and I enjoyed last year. Outside the restaurant we found the live steam tracks that had recently been installed and reported by Raicho Yang a couple of months ago, although no trains were seen running. We made sure Rick's window was secured and removed all sharp objects from his room before turning down for the night.

Locomotives seen:

(diesel)
DF7C : 5370, 5372
DF11 : 0146, 0372, 0382, 0384, 0408
GK1E : 3241
GKD5BG : 0001
ND5 ph1 : 0077, 0190, 0191
(electric)
ZG80-1500 : 806, 810, 813, +1 unidentified unit
ZG150-1500 : 1502, 1503, 1504, 1505, 1506, 1507, 1508, 1511, 1512, 1513, 1515, 1516, 1517, + 4 unidentified units
ZG150-1500-S : 1603
(electric multiple unit)
CRH2 : +1 unidentified unit
CRH380BL : +1 unidentified unit
CRH380D: 1574
(maintenance equipment)
Railcar : +2 unidentified class/numbers

21 October - Sandaoling

Today was our last day in Nanjing and being Sunday, decided the best thing to do would be to visit some mainline areas. We started in Guxiong, by taxing a DiDi car from the hotel and he dropped us off at a small warehouse adjacent to the station. No trains were in the passing loop and the yard was fairly empty asides from a box car being loaded up with a forklift. However we didn't have long to wait before K156 from Kunming sailed through.

Soon we were approached by a very grumpy man who told Rick he shouldn't have brought foreigners to this place. Rick sensed trouble and suggested we move away from here. As we did so, we noticed a policeman standing next to the track and Rick asked him if we could get some photos of trains here. The young policeman was quite nice, but said we should return after midday. We then noticed police lining the rail tracks every 100 yards or so. We surmised that this could only mean a special military, government or prisoner train would be coming through shortly.

We stayed well away from the tracks, finding a spot with a view of a small bridge just north of Guxiong station, with our cameras well out of sight. This special service seemed to hold up traffic on the rest of the line for some time, but gave us plenty of notice that it was on the way with the driver blasting her air horns almost constantly. The train was a double header ND5, both phase 2 machines and had a long train of hard seat passenger cars. There was a policeman standing in the ends of each carriage and all the windows were covered with curtains. No destination boards were seen on any of the carriages and we guess this service was most likely a prisoner run, as soldier trains I've seen are not usually this secretive or attract such a large police presence. After it passed, the police lining the railway eventually disappeared into minivans and it was pretty clear we were free to resume our harmless hobby.

We did wait for a few more trains around and with the police now gone, I could attach my larger telephoto lens for improved shots and Rick could install a new battery without looking like he was fiddling with himself. Just for a laugh, we asked Rick if he had seen the flames coming from the ND5's on the special train which was met with a look disdain and bemusement.

The first train to arrive was a very slow moving and long end leading ND5 ph2 locomotive (#0260) with a C type gondola and a pair of test cars which appeared from the branch line that joins the mainline just north of Guxiong. The test cars were a six-axle TKH25G (Tezhongkeche, or 'special carriage' and TKF25B (Tezhongfadianche, or 'special generator car') type. Back at Guxiong station, we could also see a GK1 #0100 locomotive. This had arrived from the south and we headed further up north, guessing incorrectly it would run to the mines just north of Guxiong, as it bore the same livery of the DF10DDB we had seen on the previous visit. It never arrived of course and disappeared back south.

Rather than waste any more time on the level crossing where we were, we went north towards Youfanqiao where the railway crosses the Qinhuai New River, via a DiDi car of course. Naturally, as soon as we got in the car, a ph1 ND5 shot through with a mixed freight. At Youfanqiao, there is a pedestrian bridge some 450 metres away from the rail line which gives a nice panoramic view of the trains. From the bridge we noted only a few trains and also far less barge traffic moving up and down the river. I quite like these huge vessels in my photos as they can really add to the photo when one slowly passes under the rail bridge.

Ph. 1 ND5 0105 came through first, heading south with a mixed freight. Again we had another long wait so decided we should have some lunch. Modern China no longer means leaving your favourite photography spot to perform such a menial task, instead Rick brought up the McDonald's delivery service on his phone and within 10 minutes, a scooter with a heat box on the back arrived with our piping hot food. It was fresher than what we get back in Australia, oddly enough, and the delivery charge was only 3 yuan. Even after having lunch on the bridge, there were still no trains and we decided to move on to our next location. We narrowly missed catching an ND5 in the process, another south bound train of box cars, led by ph. 2 ND5 #0232.

The final hours of the day were to be at Nanjing North, also known as Pukou. I had visited here last year, although it would be Rick and Steve's first time. On the way to Zhongshan ferry terminal, our car passed by the new tram system. This is one of two new tram lines in Nanjing and are quite interesting using new technology. The 'Hexi' trams are built by Bombardier and are equipped with fast charging lithium-ion batteries which are charged dynamically when accelerating and via the overhead power supply which is only fitted at the stations. Charge time is only 46 seconds.

We were just in time for our ferry and were amongst the last to board. Most seats on the upper deck were already full, as was the lower deck with about a hundred scooters and motorbikes. Nothing much has changed since my previous visit, however it was a lot busier this time, largely because it was a Sunday. Now throngs of young people visit to take photos, particularly in the area to the north of the station in the still active freight yards. No trains were seen to be working however, asides from some rail cars in the distance.

From here we went up to the old ferry bridge. This has seen a lot of work recently and looks like it is about to receive the same large makeover as the section on the east bank of the Yangtze. Already a park has appeared right out the front of the ferry bridge and piece of track, some 100 yards in length has been installed ready to receive some rolling stock. On the other side of the river there is already an SY steam locomotive 0985 and a couple of old passenger cars. We were able to see a few trains crossing the Yangtze river rail/road bridge which has almost completed its restoration back to its former glory.

Our time in Nanjing was at an end and we headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and then call on a Didi car to the airport for our respective flights. From here, Steve and I would be taking an evening flight to Xian airport to meet up with my father for Sandaoling and Rick would be heading back to Shenzhen to begin his work week the next day. Both our flights departed on time. At Xi'an we had initially booked into a hotel within terminal 2 where our flight would arrive and our morning flight to Hami would also originate from, however this was cancelled as the hotel is closed as construction works begin on the Xi'an airport subway line. This saw us staying in the appalling Traveller Star Leisure hotel in terminal 3. At least it was just a few minutes' walk away from T2, but I can state without hesitation there wasn't any leisure involved. We only had about four hours sleep here as we checked in at around midnight and had to be up just after 4am for our flight to Hami.

Locomotives seen:

(diesel)
DF4DK : 3130
GK1 : 0100
ND5 ph1 : 0082, 0105, +2 unidentified units
ND5 ph2 : 0232, 0260, 0348, 0385,
(electric)
HXD2B : +1 unidentified unit
HXD3C : 0830
(maintenance equipment)
GC220 : +4 unidentified units
Railcar/crane : +2 unidentified units

22 October - Sandaoling

After a completely inadequate sleep in one of the worst hotels I've ever stayed at, we made our flight to Hami on Tianjin Airlines flight GS7651. Steve and I had taken this flight a few years before and nothing has really changed, apart from the hostesses look much nicer in their new uniforms rather than the grey tracksuits they used to don. Tianjin Airlines takes the passengers out to the aircraft, an Embraer E190, by bus. Our flight was very full and we hardly had any space for our hand carry luggage, but eventually found a spot after rearranging some other passenger's belongings in a more efficient arrangement. The flight was fairly long lasting some three hours, but was quite pleasant especially flying over the mountain range leading into Hami. For those taking this flight, the view is much better by taking a window seat on the right hand side of the aircraft.

Mr. Zhang picked us up at the airport, but had to wait nearly an hour while the police filled out a bunch of paperwork specifically for us. We finally headed off to Sandaoling, but returned to the airport to pickup Mr. Zhang's alcohol that he had forgotten at the security checkpoint. Bottles of liquid are now no longer allowed to be taken inside the airport terminal building. At the toll booth half way along the freeway, a policeman saw us and asked Mr. Zhang to pull over for an inspection, and he complied... for a few seconds, then decided he'd had enough and just drove off. Not much was seen along the way, asides from the fantastic clear view of the Altai Shan mountains. We saw our first steam train in the distance heading to Erkuang as we approached the Sandaoling turn off.

We were quite surprised at what has happened to Sandaoling in the space of 12 months. The town looks like it is preparing for a full scale invasion. Armed checkpoints are in place on every road leading into the town and nearly every single building is fenced off with barbed wire on the perimeters and roofs. Petrol stations are very tightly controlled where bus passengers must alight outside the station before the driver and his vehicle is checked before being allowed inside. Armed guards with assault rifles are also positioned here. Much of the local population is now fenced off with two-metre high steel fencing with key card access to get inside. This is not the Sandaoling I remember. Various news stories can be found online regarding the situation in Xinjiang and I was not sure what to believe prior to visiting, but it is quite obvious what is going on here and it's just so sad.

We quickly checked into the hotel, the Jia He Xiang Wu Binguan, which used to be our favourite hotel in Sandaoling, but it really is getting run down now. We took two rooms, Steve had his own for a reprieve of our snoring. Like every other building in Sandaoling, a new security check is now at the base of the hotel with a full body metal detector and conveyor belt with an X-ray. The entrance is locked at all times except to let people in and out. Our security guard was a very friendly chap who could probably do with a bit more training on how to use his equipment!

We quickly set up our day packs and headed off to the mainline to make the most of the rest of the day, starting out at Kengkongzhan on the famous curve leading out of the pit. We quickly had a train depart the blue loader towards us, dad's first sighting of real steam since his British Rail days back in the late 1960's.

Steve parted ways from us and headed off towards the unloading area, while dad and I went off into the opposite direction to the blue loader. Despite being my fifth trip here, this was my first time to this part of the mine (asides from being on the footplate a few times of course). We enjoyed a number of trains along the way. The big electric excavators are now all out of service. One is parked up close to the blue loader and all the others which worked in the pit or on the spoil dumps are now lined up on the hill between the blue loader and Xibolizhan.

When we arrived, the first train was loaded slowly by a front end loader rather than the blue loader itself, creating huge clouds of coal dust. A bulldozer was also seen pushing a massive pile of coal closer to the train line and the huge conveyor system was also in operation, forming a new coal mountain next to the blue loader. This was generating massive amounts of coal dust, but we fortunately had a light breeze blowing this away from us.

The crew were happy for us to jump aboard for a while before they had their lunch break and dad got a chance to sit in the driver's seat for a few photos. We alighted towards the end of the loading where the train would sit for about half an hour for the crews' lunch break. While waiting for the departure we found a total of four locomotive tenders in the area, including an old JF type. Some paint remnants on the back were visible, but not enough to get a positive ID on it. We found other remnants of old KF60 hoppers with the floors and side walls creatively being used as retaining walls.

Rather than wait for a the chance at a cab ride, we began the slow walk back to Kengkongzhan where we would run into Steve again after his long walk. We noted on the way that the three small concrete huts which were always visible when taking photos in this area have been demolished.

Three JS steam locomotives were seen during our time here. One of the drivers we spoke to earlier indicated this had recently been reduced from four units, although unclear as to whether that was due to repairs or just low demand. Asides from lunch break, the trains were generally very busy right up until after we left. We had fantastic sunlight and the climate was perfect for walking at about 15 degrees.

We had some great news during the day, that our Uyghur friends who operate a restaurant has returned to Sandaoling and was open for business. As usual, we were treated as family and was great to see dad treated to some real hospitality! We of course had to explain to the road block that we were going to be eating there and they could try and stop us at their own peril! These guys make incredible food. Their restaurant is now completely renovated although they are of course being careful with a new state sponsored CCTV camera system installed inside.

During dinner we were approached by a pair of policeman, one who was brandishing a Norinco assault rifle. I was not particularly pleased with this with my face half full of lamb kebabs and explained I was having dinner and our passports were back at the hotel. They seemed satisfied with that answer and left. We were full very quickly, but still our hosts brought more food to the table. I asked Steve to translate on his phone app that if I ate anymore, I would explode - but quickly retracted that given we were where we were. At the hotel, there were of course problems with our hotel registration papers where the hotel staff tried to fill in details of our passports. It became more complicated by filling in details where we had been, more so because dad had not been with us for the rest of the journey and would be departing on a different flight to us at the conclusion of the tour. Eventually this was sorted out after a couple of hours and exhausted from the long walk and lack of sleep, fell asleep almost instantly.

Locomotives seen:

(steam)
JS class : 8167, 8195, 8197

23 October - Sandaoling

We started the day at Dongbolizhan, arriving just in time for shift change before sunrise. JS8167 and 8195 were both here and spent around an hour or so preparing for the day's work ahead.

JS8197 ran light engine as the workers train for the level crossings inside the pit, before returning as we left. We walked to our usual position between the level crossing and Kengkongzhan where we were able to watch the trains working very hard to push their wagons up the deceptively steep bank before dropping down into the pit towards the loader. We were able to get some gorgeous morning photos from here, despite the Altai Shan ranges in the background already fading away because of the haze and waited until all three trains had departed Dongbolizhan. After the first loaded working, we moved off for the unloading point. A couple of trains were seen during the walk and again we came away with some very decent, although steam free, photos.

Once at the unloading point one of the crews allowed us on board during the unloading process, however they were quite nervous after seeing Mr. Zhang who had dropped us off at Dongbolizhan, who is one of the mine managers and didn't feel comfortable giving us a ride into the pit.

As a cab ride could potentially lead to someone's job loss, we alighted and moved on to the dump compound. This place is still filled with locomotives and other rolling stock and machinery. The biggest upset, especially for Steve, was to see his pet locomotive 8081 in terrible condition at the front of the gates. A number of components and panels have been stripped off and heavy rust has started to take over. One of the SY's has been positioned towards the front of the yard. Most of the other locomotives we documented in the last visit here were still present, with a couple of exceptions. We did not attempt to enter the yard as a police officer was inside and didn't appear to be interested in talking at all, although he kept a very close eye on us! As we walked away, a number of dogs at the front of the yard became very vocal, and not in their usual racist way (dog's in China seem to be able to sense foreigners and bark like crazy!), as we nearly stood in their meal. This happened to be a freshly killed dog and had about ten dogs ripping the carcass to pieces. It would seem food is exceptionally scarce here now.

From here we made off to the depot area. We found the two spreaders have now had their builders plates stripped off. I am unsure if a treasure hunter has been around, or if the workers have removed them to prevent them from being stolen. There are burn marks from an acetylene torch on all the corners. A number of KF60 hoppers have also been recently overhauled with fresh paint applied, even sporting new white-painted tyre edges.

We casually walked to the depot shed and a worker invited us inside to look at the locomotives under overhaul. We were quite surprised at how active the sheds are.

Most of the locomotives of the deep mine were inside. JS8366 was receiving an inspection. 8314 is about to return to service and has a brand new coat of paint, including fresh painted red stars on the chimney cowling. 8173 was also present, but no work was being done to her at the time. All these three locomotives were cold in the front shop.

Behind these three were another two locomotives. 8080 is about to receive a heavy overhaul and will return to service for winter. 8225 is currently stored in the back of the shops and work will begin her soon.

In the other workshop, JS8190 is currently undergoing a major overhaul. The entire locomotive is stripped right back, missing her wheels, smoke box, tubes - you name it. All of her components were neatly arranged on the floor for inspection and repairs where required, ready for reassembly. Her tender is also undergoing the same treatment and will return to service also in time for winter.

We left the depot building and a manager spotted us and told us we needed to pay extra to see inside the locomotive depot. Lucky for us he assumed we hadn't been inside yet. We pleaded ignorance and also told him we didn't bring money with us, but we would come back tomorrow for a visit instead. He was happy enough with this and we started our long walk back to Kengkongzhan.

We had arrived at the right time with trains constantly on the move from our vantage point between Kengkongzhan and the northern edge of the pit. The lack of steam was certainly being made up for with the crisp exhaust note ricocheting off the walls of the pit. For the first time we also noticed a lot more green around the mine with lots of fresh grass and trees. I suspect this will all be gone very soon with the impending winter weather conditions.

Mr. Zhang picked us up for the hotel as darkness fell and we headed back to prepare for dinner again. We were again very well fed and while the owner had to work, a group of men at another table insisted we join them for dinner. We had already eaten of course and soon it turned into shots of Chinese liquor with a 52% alcohol content. I can proudly say that all the alcohol I've ever consumed in my 38 years could fit into a single cup, however things were about to change. I downed two shots of this rocket fuel and only have a full stomach to thank, that I didn't end up severely pissed.

This did certainly improve the mood of the table greatly and soon our hosts had the guitar out. One of the guys was a very talented player and much to my delight began to serenade my dad about the 'lovely and precious Hami melons'. He then asked me to have a shot on the guitar, but he may as well have asked me to do a hand stand. Thankfully he relieved me of the guitar and started on another song, that became simply irresistible for one of the other men, who began to convulse before busting our some epic dance moves in the middle of the restaurant. As I was on camera duty, it was up to Steve to join them where he let his groove out as best he could. He did an admirable job, but needs more cowbell.

Sadly the time flew as it always does when you're having so much fun and we had to leave back to the hotel. Not because we wanted to, but because there is now a curfew in Sandaoling for our safety. Even though we are now considered family to the restaurant owners, we couldn't believe that they had also gave us gifts, including one for dad after only knowing him for two days. We were each given a pure jade pendant or necklace to take home, plus extras for members of our families. This level of hospitality and friendship was very unexpected. We have promised to return some day to see them again, but I do wonder if we will even be able to return here if China imposes restrictions to foreign visitors to Xinjiang in the near future.

Locomotives seen:

(steam)
JS : 8080, 8167, 8173, 8190, 8195, 8197, 8225, 8314, 8366
JS (dumped) : 8081, 8384, +16 unidentified units
SY (dumped) : +2 dumped units
(diesel)
DF8B : 0248

24 October - Sandaoling

I had a rather unfortunate late start today. It would appear that I am simply not trained to consume alcohol and while I don't have the experience of being drunk or hung over, I presume something was triggered from the previous night's dinner and I woke up extremely nauseous. Steve and dad went off in the morning with Mr. Zhang and I arranged for Mr. Zhang to collect me a few hours later. Steve was finally able to get a crew to take dad for a lengthy cab ride from the unloading point to the blue loader and then back up to Kengkongzhan, where I would meet up with them later. This is an experience that is never to be forgotten and it was impossible to keep the smile of dad's face for the rest of the day.

When I was eventually able to get out of the hotel without the will to chunder, I was dropped off by Mr. Zhang at Kenkongzhan, which I figured would be a more central spot to find the other two. Unfortunately being in Xinjiang, my sim card no longer worked. I went off to the edge of the pit and waited for the first train, which just happened to have Steve and dad on board. Steve wanted to visit Xibolizhan again, for reasons I find hard to explain, so we summoned Mr. Zhang on Steve's still working phone. He was also a little puzzled as to why we wanted to see this place, but took us anyway.

Steve had wanted to check out what had changed in the pit from the Xibolizhan end. Dad has a great love for mountains and as we had a day where these were very clear, I decided it would be best for me to take him for a hike up the new diesel line instead, agreeing to meet back in a couple of hours. This was one of clearest days I can remember in my history here and the Altai Shan range was simply stunning. We walked quite a distance up the line here, noticing that there appears to have been a slight realignment of the track.

In Xibolizhan itself, little has changed since our last visit asides from the new security measures being installed at the old Xibolizhan station building. Why terrorists would want to get inside here is completely beyond me. The pit itself at the western end has changed significantly with more spoil being dumped in numerous spots, from the south on a much larger scale.

Steve discovered all track from within the pit had been removed, asides from a single line from Xibolizhan that was the upper most spoil extraction track back when spoil trains were running. He was able to get close up to all of the huge electric excavators. All but one of these huge machines are type WK-4A and he saw numbers 407, 414, 416, 417, 418, 419, 422, 424 and 425. The landscape in the pit has dramatically changed with massive piles of spoil making the shape of the old pit almost unrecognizable and he spent some time at the top edge of the pit taking it all in. That was until a colossal explosion detonated about 500 metres away from where he was standing a few levels below. The shockwave was enough to knock him on to his knees and he hightailed it back to Xibolizhan very quickly. One should not descend into this part of the pit as blasting is still been performed and there are no audible or visual warnings given of an impending detonation. I don't expect many visitors will visit this side of the pit anyway.

We didn't see any trains pass through in our time in Xibolizhan which was a real shame because a photo with the mountains in the background would have been stunning. Naturally, a DF8 hauled train would appear as soon as we drove off however!

Mr. Zhang took us to Nanzhan to see what we could find in the deep mines, dropping us off at the level crossing on the road that leads back towards Hami. We didn't bother looking for the disused SY steam locomotive in the factory here as it was reported to have been sent on a truck to Urumqi last year.

Erkuang off in the distance didn't appear to have any other working steam locomotives in the area so we didn't bother exploring further. Since our visit, I have noticed on Google Earth what appear to be a series of new railway lines under construction. I would be interested to see if anyone can confirm this. One line appears to be heading to a small coal mine north of Erkuang, and others extend east towards the mainline. I wonder if this is an effort to bypass the current operation into Nanzhan altogether.

Although we were hopeful of getting a steam train heading towards Erkuang to once again see how hard the locomotives work, as well as the liberal use of their proper steam whistle, we only saw a single light engine movement heading back to Nanzhan with JS 8089. I expect this locomotive is on loan to the deep mine railway while most of their fleet is in the workshops.

Our final location of the day was to the unloading point of the pit railway on the other side of Nanzhan where we saw a few trains before the sun set. It was getting quite cold and I declined to join Steve on the bank of Kengkongzhan for the night spark show. Steve saw only one train here, but was pretty underwhelming. Apparently this needs to be prearranged with the drivers of the locomotive to fire the engine during the run up the bank. He stayed for only one train before also succumbing to the cold and heading back to the hotel.

Locomotives seen:

(steam)
JS : 8089, 8167, 8195, 8197
(diesel)
DF8B : 0247, 0248, 0249

25 October - Sandaoling

Our final day in Sandaoling, and China for that matter. We essentially only had half a day in Sandaoling as we needed to return to Hami for our afternoon flight to Beijing. We arrived at Dongbolizhan in the morning, but left immediately for the view point just past the level crossing, watching a few trains depart Dongbolizhan for the pit to load up. Steve and I headed to the unloading point to try for a cab ride, while dad stayed around the Kengkongzhan area and explored the apartment buildings overlooking the long curve into Nanzhan and the southern lip of the pit before meeting up with us again in Kengkongzhan.

Fortunately a cab ride was quite easy to obtain once we arrived at Nanzhan, apparently a lot easier to achieve with only one or two people. We departed for the loader as soon as unloading was complete, but had to wait in the passing loop just prior to the unloading point for another train to pass by. The engine worked very hard to get her wagons moving and lurched about all over the place as we descended into the pit. Being on the footplate on one of these beasts is almost indescribable. The heat, the smell of coal smoke & hot grease, the noises and the vibration through the floor creates an atmosphere like no other.

We got out of the locomotive at the bottom of the pit at the blue loader and on the long walk back, recorded a number of trains working the line.

Our final hours were spent on the bank of Kengkongzhan to savour a couple of final trains storm out of the pit and I once again realized that this may be my final time in Sandaoling. I will very much miss these times that we've had here when it is all over.

Speaking of being all over, Mr. Zhang did mention that steam will last until 2022 now. I am not sure how accurate this is, or if he indeed knows himself, however the amount of steam locomotives found in the workshops to be brought back into service may support his claim. That's pretty good going if it does, considering the railway has been under threat for a number of years already as they explore different ways to bring the coal out of the mines. However, for those planning a visit, the sooner the better as the situation can change very quickly. At the airport, we parted ways with dad who would stay in Hami overnight to take a flight back the next morning to Xi'an.

We checked in and experienced unprecedented levels of airport security. Items in my check-in luggage that had been cleared in all the other airports we had been through in the past week, now had to travel in my carry-on luggage instead. My bag was already rather heavy at this point with the camera equipment, and for those flying in, the staff are ruthless when it comes to measuring the size and weight of carry-on baggage at the security clearance area. Anyone seen with a small suitcase type pack was measured up and a number of passengers were forced to check in these bags. As our camera bags were backpack style, we very carefully turned our bodies to hide them as we passed through which did the trick. On the other side of the desk, every single component was stripped out of our bags, with individual cameras and lenses scanned through the X-ray machine once again. Steve had to be reminded to stop acting the goat as we were felt up by the security guards. While admittedly they were getting very liberal with their fingers, there is a time and a place to let out suggestive groans and giggles.

The flight was not so bad back to Beijing on Air China CA1230. There was only one final hurdle left.. Beijing airport. This remains in my experience the most appalling airport in the entire world. Maybe they were getting used to us by now, but the entire process of passing through check-in, immigration, security and a final Pizza Hut actually went quite smoothly before we boarded CA165 to Sydney. Unfortunately, this was back in peasant class, but at least it was an overnighter. Steve would head home from here and I would catch a domestic flight to Melbourne instead. Qantas were even nice enough to bump me up two flights early.

Locomotives seen:

(steam)
JS : 8167, 8195, 8197

Summary

Beijing - We visited the Fengsha line to the west of Beijing. This was my third visit and we made it to 1st, 7th and 8th bridges along the line. The Fengsha line a stunning railway that should be visited at least once. There are plenty of good spots along the line as it weaves through the valleys and mountains on the way to Zhengjiakou. I had spent my time in Luopoling on both my previous visits and it was great to see some new parts on this line. The only negative, although slight, was the limited types of trains we saw. The walk to 7th bridges along the dirt road is also tough going, particularly for middle aged overweight men like myself. However, the rewards are great and I would happily visit here again.

Hegang - A great place for lovers of classic electric traction. The system remains fairly active as I remember it, however it is a vast network. Unless you have private transport, I would recommend at least a few days here to be able to visit all of the good spots. The use of taxis may help to an extent, however many of the good locations are right out in the country side where it may take some time for a return run.

Haolianghe - An absolute delight to visit here. Autumn seems to have been an extremely good time to visit for good photographic results. We experienced great weather, plenty of trains and friendly & helpful staff where ever we went. If I return to China, it will surely be on the list for a return visit.

Suifenhe - A great place to see Russian and Chinese trains cross the border. This can of course be done in Manzhouli as well, however the scenery makes this place the better out of the two. Traffic is moderate and there are some lengthy time gaps between trains, however it is certainly worth the effort.

Mudanjiang - What a great place to visit, if a little unorthodox. The public are generally forbidden from entering China Rail locomotive depots, less so foreigners. We would not have attempted entry into a place like this without someone like Baiyu and we really appreciate his efforts to help us get here.

Muling - Quite a beautiful little town which now serves as a storage area for retired locomotives until the decision is made to either scrap them or bring them back into service. I suspect the latter will be the ultimate decision made. Access into the yard is not possible, unless you were to have a very special contact within China Rail, but it is a very impressive sight to see. The old Muling railway station is gorgeous with old style architecture. The use of the rail car train makes access easy from the new Muling station and may be enough of an interest in itself for a visit.

Baishan - What a gorgeous part of the world! Baishan, or Hunjiang as it used to be called, was famous back in steam days for the Tonghua based high deflector JS steam locomotives. The main drawcard however is the narrow gauge. Due to its isolation from the rest of the country, it is seldom visited by rail enthusiasts these days which is a great shame. Official permission to visit the mine is suggested, especially for large groups and may be obtained after negotiations by management. We stayed under the radar as much as possible and were left alone, however this cannot be guaranteed. The railway itself is very picturesque in autumn and is busy enough. The train crews are fantastic and were very accommodating to us. It is now one of my favourite locations in China. Other things in the area of interest may be the industrial line (although few workings during the day) that crosses the river between China Rail and the power station and ore loader. Currently a GK1 diesel is used and there may be a TH class still around, although we couldn't confirm this.

Nanjing - This is a massive city with a lot going on, particularly in railway terms. It is now the last area to find the American ND5 diesel locomotives in service and their existence is still under threat. There are four narrow gauges in the area, one 100kms south which I visited in 2017 at Digang, another one north of Nanjing that operates more on a tourist based service nowadays, although it may possibly still see some service to the steelworks during the day. The two competing narrow gauge lines to the east are certainly the most appealing for a visit and I can now confirm both are operating. The 900mm gauge line uses diesel and electric traction and the reported closed 762mm gauge line operates a handful of JMY380 class diesel hydraulics. Both lines are well worth visiting, the 762mm gauge line is by far the most impressive, although has limited workings. Both lines are under threat of closure and if you want to see them, you should make plans as soon as possible.

Ma'anshan - Ma'anshan's iron mine railway will close shortly in 2019. They currently operate around thirty electric locomotives of two classes shifting spoil and iron ore. Being so close to a major city also makes it quite attractive in itself. The steelworks railway will remain, although this is largely off limits to foreigners due to the cut-throat nature of the steel industry.

The mainline here is also OK, although the views are now more limited. There may be other locations along the mainline in the Ma'anshan region that warrant exploring, particularly around Caishi just to the south.

Sandaoling - Not cold enough for steam effects, but we had seen this before on previous visits. Our visit was more to enjoy the experience rather than treat it as a hardcore photography quest.

We also had the added bonus of having the entire place to ourselves, which is a bonus in recent years from what we've experienced. I had the pleasure of getting my father to join us this time to experience his first taste of mainline steam since his youth in British rail days some 50 years ago and was great for him to experience. He was fortunate to experience everything Sandaoling has to offer, including a visit to the workshops and a ride on the footplate, all location points visited and the local hospitality from our friends.

I would highly recommend that people do not visit Sandaoling as a solo traveller unless they are part of a large group or have direct contact with one of the mine managers who can arrange things and make the journey in and out a bit smoother. I can provide contact details for Mr. Zhang (Chinese language only) on request for those interested.

General - China has always progressed fast, but alarmingly in the space of less than a year. While this has without question been one of the more successful trips I've made to China, the general mood is quite ugly, particularly in Nanjing but especially in Xinjiang. It is very obvious that foreigners are not wanted in Xinjiang province any longer and I certainly won't be attempting a revisit anytime soon.

All of our hotels, food, train tickets (13 trains including some soft sleeper overnighters), local travel expenses and domestic airfares (five flights) , cost us around 8000rmb for the three weeks making it exceptional value, especially as 2000 of that was the price for the permits in Sandaoling alone over the 4 days. However it should be noted that Steve and I also have a lot of experience travelling in China now and a first time visitor may feel a lot of secure in a group tour, where they can travel at a much more relaxed pace than we do and forego the very extensive planning and research phase associated. If anyone would like further information about the places we've visited or about travelling in China in general is welcome to make contact.

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