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China Railtour 2004, part 2

JingPeng Steam Swan song

At the start of the 21st Century, China is the almost last country in the world where steam engines are used on normal, everyday trains. Mostly, they run on branch lines serving mines or quarries, but there was one main line, from Tongliao to Jining in Inner Mongolia, where almost all the normal, long distance freight trains were steam-hauled. Not any longer, sadly. By April 2005, steam had gone from the JingPeng Pass. That’s why GW Travel organised The China JingPeng Orient Express in October and November 2004, and why Steam Age Pictures had to be on it – before it was too late!

Steam enthusiasts can be thankful that the central section was the last to lose steam, for it includes the JingPeng pass, the most attractive, and the most dramatic, section of the line. Travelling west from Daban, the line climbs steeply to the summit of the pass at Shangdian, drops just as rapidly to the town of JingPeng, then climbs again to Haoluku. On the west side of the pass, the line climbs 223 metres in 25 km, whilst on the eastern side it gains 479 metres in 57 km. The ruling gradient is 1-in-87! Freight trains were usually around 2000 tonnes, and, normally, two massive QJ 2-10-2 class locos are used on each one. They slogged along at about 20 mph and, because the line loops back and forth across the valleys to gain height, there are hilltops where you could stand and watch one train for 30 minutes or more.

After visiting several colliery lines (see China Railtour 2004, part 1), we arrived at the JingPeng pass on 1st Nov. to spend three days amongst the dramatic mountain scenery. Each morning, our sleeping-car train dropped us off at JingPeng or Shangdian stations, then went on to Daban for servicing, returning at sunset to collect us. We spent the day driving from one stunning location to the next, photographing everything we could. This program is arranged more or less in chronological order, so sometimes you will see the same train at several places, and sometimes you will see a succession of trains pass the same spot. The captions refer to the places on this map.  You can tell whether a train is heading east or west by how hard it is working!


Click the thumbnails to see a larger version; all are JPEG files, between about 8 and 20 kB. All pictures taken from the video footage.
Monday 1st Nov. started dull, grey and wet, but we didn’t mind since it had snowed overnight, and it also meant we could try different angles that wouldn’t have worked in sunshine. And anyway, it brightened up in the afternoon.

Tuesday 2nd was the best day – brilliant sunshine, lot of snow at the top of the pass still, lots of trains, and almost all of them steam hauled.

Wednesday 3rd was still sunny, but there was a cold wind, fewer trains, more diesels, and a creeping sadness because this was our last day on the pass, and the last time we’d see “real” steam…

Running time: 1 hr 20 mins.
Available in PAL or NTSC format

While I was busy with the video camera, Corinne Henman took some excellent still photos.

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this page updated 18/07/2005