FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Farewell to QJ 7181

Posted in Chenghe, China by folkestonejack on February 26, 2009

At the end of the day QJ 7181 was positioned outside the station at Chenghe for some final shots and a few locals came out to witness the final moments of life. After our charter the fire will be dropped – this QJ will never steam again. It is highly likely that it will be scrapped.

Farewell to QJ 7181

QJ 7181 at a stand at the end of our photo charter at Chenghe on 26th February 2009

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In search of the last QJs

Posted in Chenghe, China by folkestonejack on February 26, 2009

As much as I would like to have seen a QJ in full flight on the Ji-Tong Railway that time has now passed and there are few opportunities to see the class anywhere in China. The appeal of this trip had been the chance to seek out the last remaining QJs in operation. Originally the plan had been to go to Zoucheng but this unravelled when the lines decided to reduce their operations to match a drop in demand for their coal.

Our tour leader Bernd Seiler arranged a substitute QJ charter at Chenghe for which I was most grateful, fearing that the QJ would remain forever beyond my reach. I’d be the first to admit that the QJ at Chenghe was a sad sight and in many respects it was just as well I hadn’t seen them at their peak. I’m sure that this was a shadow of their performance on heavy freight trains across Inner Mongolia, but having never seen a QJ I was happy to take anything…

QJ 7181 had been repaired overnight, noticeably with an unconventional use of a glove! Even with these efforts, the brake system was not working as it should so a DF4 was added to the tail of the consist of wagons.

As the locomotive would be in steam for a final time a local television station came out to film our visit and photographers from the mine joined the group to record the final rites. After the usual pleasantries we all crowded into a small railcar and headed out to Podicun viaduct around 11.30am in the midst of a heavy blizzard! We made the best of the conditions to take shots of the QJ at various positions until about 3.30pm. It was, shall we say, challenging.

Apart from the poor weather, it was also incredibly muddy – by the end of the day everyone seemed to have their own garden attached to their feet – which made it all the more embarrassing when we decamped to a nice clean hotel restaurant for a meal at the end of the day!

Arrival in Xi’an

Posted in Chenghe, China, Xi'an by folkestonejack on February 26, 2009

Arrived at Xi’an in the early morning and managed to navigate my way through the mass of people coming off the train, up the ramp and out through the ticket checks. After untangling myself from the crowds I joined the others in the rather damp square outside the station. The turreted walls of the city would have presented a much more atmospheric sight in any other conditions, but not today. Instead, it was the delicious taste of warm dumplings that provided the greatest satisfaction (I have to admit that the greatest surprise of this trip has been how much I have loved the food).

Although Xi’an had some amazing sights to tempt tourists, not least the terracotta warriors, this was just a staging post on our journey to Chenghe where we would be joining a QJ-hauled charter train on the loess mountain line Podicun viaduct – Chenghe. This was a late substitute for the planned visit to Zoucheng and something of a disappointment for man on the trip, but for me it was to be the first and quite possibly only chance to see a QJ albeit in far from ideal conditions. In a world of ifs and buts, missing the QJs on the Ji-Tong Railway is a big if only for me. I have to temper that by saying that I am nevertheless most grateful for what I have had the opportunity to see on this trip.

Anyway, we found our two buses and began an epic journey to Chenghe. One bus was driven at incredible speed with absolute recklessness in the icy conditions whilst the other was driven slowly with absolute caution. No middle ground at all! The experience was just a little unnerving, not least when we approached the scene of an accident or check on the expressway (a lorry stopped with a police car). It looked too tight. Bernd shouted ‘stop’ and in reaction the driver put his foot hard on the accelerator! Collison narrowly averted, we headed onwards and eventually reached the right expressway exit.

Needless to say, the disparity in driving styles resulted in the buses losing sight of each other and some fairly stressed conversations by mobile between the two buses. The other minibus arrived at the expressway exit about 45 minutes later and we formed a convoy for the final kilometres to the railway. It was a relief to make it.

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