FolkestoneJack's Tracks

London to Manzhouli

Posted in China, Manzhouli by folkestonejack on February 19, 2009

It was a strange feeling to step out of the Hainan airlines plane on the tarmac at Manzhouli airport after a sequence of flights that had taken me from London to Manzhouli via Paris and Beijing. Apart from the intense cold, the first thing to strike me was the contrast between the white landscape and the amazingly bright blue skies that lay overhead. The temperature was supposed to be -19 but was clearly alot colder.

I walked across the apron and into the terminal building to join the mad scramble for our baggage. After escaping I made my way out to the waiting minibuses. As long as there was daylight for photography our extra-ordinary tourist buses would not be seeking out our hotel – instead we headed straight out of Manzhouli on the highway, leaving behind the colourful turrets of the newly emerging city. Our destination – Zhalai Nuoer.

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Zhalai Nuoer

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 19, 2009

A brief and unexpected stop on the highway out of Manzhouli (courtesy of the local police in a pickup truck) was not enough to dampen the sense of excitement. After travelling across the world, we were almost there…

The minibus pulled up in what felt like a village in the middle of nowhere. We piled out, walking down an icy road to a chorus of barking dogs startled by the sudden arrival of a throng of westerners. Suddenly, an SY class steam locomotive thundered past on its way out of the nearby yard. Too quick for me to capture (though others did) but all the same it was an amazing first sight of Chinese steam for me. More to the point, this was the first time I had ever seen a steam locomotive in real everyday use. It was quite different to anything I had ever seen before.

After adjusting to the environment I scrambled up on the bank and marvelled at the sight of Dongfanghong and four SY class steam locomotives (plus one of two new diesels, heralding the impending demise of steam here). The crews were clearly proud of their new diesels and shunted up to us to showcase their new toy. I think I might be equally pleased, given the choice of the two to work with (no matter how much I love steam I think the practical comforts of the diesel locomotive would soon have won me over!). A little later we watched as one of the SYs hauled a string of wagons out of the yard – a perfect note on which to end the daylight hours!

It was now time to head to the comforts of our hotel in Zhalai Nuoer. It was only two years old but you would never have guessed that from the peeling wallpaper in the rooms (mine was carefully re-stuck to the walls with sticky tape!). Hot water was a limited luxury, available only at certain times and even then, only at a dribble! Still, the food served at the dinner table was incredibly tasty – once I had managed to adjust to chopsticks and the competition around the spinning table top!

Steamy sunrise

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 20, 2009

Awoke to find all the curtains in my room stuck to the windows by a layer of ice. It was the sort of morning that would normally make you want to retreat even further under the covers, assuming they were warm enough in the first place… all of which was soon cured by platefuls of hot dumplings at breakfast.

Our early morning start held the hope of a steam filled sunrise and we were not to be dissapointed. A call to the control office on the mine railway by our guide brought the unexpected news that a steam locomotive was due to make its way to Tiebei (a line that we understood to have been dieselised) at 7.15am, just after sunrise. We hurtled off in our minibus to get to a spot that our tour leader, Bernd Seiler of FarRail Tours, had picked out.

On arrival we walked along the line to a frozen pond with a partly submerged house. It would have made an incredible scene at any time of day but at sunrise it was truly stunning.

Across frozen ponds...

Across frozen ponds...

...for a steamy sunrise

...for a steamy sunrise

A morning in Zhalai Nuoer

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 20, 2009

The atmospheric stabling point at Zhalai Nuoer was the next sight on our itinerary. The icicles on one of the stationary locomotives here provided visible evidence of the cold – though, that was already all too apparent in other ways!

Frozen

After a spell at the stabling point we headed back out after the control office passed on a rather strange tip off of a diesel hauling four steam locomotives. This prompted the thought that the end of steam might have arrived sooner than anyone had imagined. We headed out to spot overlooking the line and instead saw two diesels hauling a coal train with a steam locomotive at the tail. It transpired that this strange sight was one of two tests today to see how the new diesels would cope with the normal load for a steam locomotive. Today the tests failed, but the writing was clearly on the wall for steam.

After the disconcerting sight of the test we headed back out to a farmstead on the line to Tiebei which provided an interesting contrast between agricultural and industrial China on the margins.

A steam hauled freight train passes a farmstead on the line to Tiebei

A steam hauled freight train passes a farmstead on the line to Tiebei

If the future was to be found in shiny orange diesels then the past was equally evident on the streets of Zhalai Nuoer, that is, if the number of horse drawn coal carts around was anything to go by. At one location on a street corner we came across a row of such carts which made an impression on two minibus loads of foreigners. I’m sure the locals thought us all quite bonkers as we descended en masse for a photoshoot…

Street scene in Zhalai Nuoer

Street scene in Zhalai Nuoer

A spot near the washery at Dongfanghong was the final glamorous location for the morning. The washery made an impressive backdrop and after a few shots of the SY at the heart of this industrial site we gathered on a frozen pond to capture the beast in full flight. However, the expected departure never materialised – the injector had frozen and no amount of steam could clear that.

SY at Dongfanghong

SY at Dongfanghong on 20th February 2009

I was a bit nervous about standing on a frozen pond until it was pointed out to me that the ice was at least a metre thick and unlikely to melt until May! It was a strange experience nevertheless and one that I never felt entirely comfortable with, like walking on thick glass with a polished surface ready to catch out the unwary.

As mornings go, it was remarkable – so many steam locomotives in such a short space of time and there was a gritty sense of reality to the experience that you just never see on a preserved line or railtour. Remarkable as this morning was, it was nothing compared to the afternoon’s pilgrimage to the open cast coal mine at Zhalai Nuoer (also known as Jalainur). After all, it was photographs of this steam paradise that had lured me here in the first place…

Steam paradise: The open cast mine at Zhalai Nuoer

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 20, 2009

Now, it has to be said that my idea of paradise is slightly skewed. For some people it is a tropical beach in the Bahamas, whilst for others it is the cultural hub of Rome. For me, it is an open cast coal mine in Inner Mongolia with temperatures hovering around -31. And here I was, in paradise.

Our minibus driver took us to a viewpoint overlooking the pit, dropping us off around about 1.30pm. The view was simply stunning. The vast pit was cut with level after level with at least a dozen SY class steam locomotives working and on top of that the levels were punctuated by the most dramatic icy waterfalls. I spent a while trying to get some shots to capture the magnificence of this, before accepting that no photograph could ever do this justice.

SYs in paradise

SYs in paradise

I spent a while admiring the sights before me and then started my walk down from the viewpoint… taking the road past the huge excavators down to the bottom, dodging the occasional coal lorry along the way.

The bottom of the pit

The bottom of the pit

After reaching the bottom, the only way next was back up the other side – level by level – taking the narrow workers paths and handcut earth steps. All the while steam locomotives worked around us and you hardly knew which way to look next. Some tailmen (sitting on the end of the wagons) waved and drivers smiled at our somewhat strange enthusiasm for the spectacle that lay at the heart of their day to day existence. The warmth of the welcome was quite astonishing and humbling.

It was perhaps not the best afternoon for photography with the poor light and falling snow but that didn’t matter in the face of such an incredible experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Now all I needed was to regain full sensitivity in my fingers, but that was just a minor detail…

Better prepared…

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 21, 2009

The scout motto is ‘be prepared’ and it was something I repeated often enough as a kid. I guess it must have got lodged in my head as I am often ridiculously over-prepared (to the great amusement of my friends) but I got completely caught out yesterday.

On my first full day in Zhalai Nuoer I completely underestimated the environment I was heading into and the cumulative effect of the cold seeping in through my layers. Today I took no such chances and dressed for the cold – thermal socks, two pairs of trousers, t-shirt, sweatshirt, jumper, coat, scarf, thermal gloves and a balaclava.

Another sunrise, another frozen pond and yet another strange combination – a diesel hauled freight with a steam locomotive at the tail. A little consternation. However, luck was on our side today and before the glow of the sun diminished we got our steam propelled freight train.

Steam at sunrise

Steam at sunrise

Signs of the end

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 21, 2009

Although we all knew that the end of steam could not be far away it was easy to believe for a moment that this was not the case, given the level of activity we could see in and around the open cast mine (if you could forget about a diesel or two). After all, yesterday I had seen more steam locomotives in action on one day, in one place, than at any other time in my life. However, today we saw more tangible signs of the end.

First, we visited the depot to see what was going on. Nothing. There is no longer a saturday shift here. We wandered round the empty buildings and admired the two lonely SYs inside. A boiler lay abandoned in the snow nearby. The silence was ominous in a place that had all the signs of being a hive of activity not so very long ago.

Dead or alive

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 21, 2009

After leaving the silence of the depot, we headed to the desolate landscape of the loco dump at Zhalai Nuoer. As if this wasn’t already melancholy enough, a biting wind added to the effect as we wandered amongst the lines of locomotives and carriages.

The loco dump at Zhalai Nuoer

The loco dump at Zhalai Nuoer

It was something of a relief to return to the realm of living SYs at Dongfanghong a little later and watch a SY hauled freight depart from across a frozen pond. Time might be running out, but there was life yet…

Across another frozen pond

Across another frozen pond

Staying alive

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 21, 2009

A second afternoon at the pit under much better light gave us every opportunity to improve on our efforts from yesterday. This time the buses parked up at the top of the pit on the same side that the locomotives were working, not too far from one of the routes taken by the workers to get down to the mine.

Finding the way down was sometimes harder than it seemed as some of the levels were completely iced over. On one occasion I happily followed some guys along one such level but it was just too slippery for me. I slipped over and found myself sliding towards the edge until I could use the weight of my rucksack to bring my glide to a stop. I decided to carefully retreat and stay alive!

Perfectly blue sky

Perfectly blue sky

I found another way down and explored the middle tier of levels. It seemed quieter than yesterday but then again there seemed to be more locomotives working at the lowest levels where we hadn’t seen any previously.

On one level there were alot of track workers who I initially assumed were fixing the track but a couple of the guys pointed out that they were actually laying small cylindrical charges of dynamite (worringly, I had missed this slightly crucial detail!). As none of us had heard any explosions yet it seemed prudent not to head back that way anytime soon…

Later, when a group of us were heading back, we found ourselves waved back by a worker holding a red flag. We could see then that the locomotives on each level had been halted by more men with red flags. Moments later there was an immense cracking sound as an explosion echoed around the mine. A cloud of grey dust climbed into the air and then the silence was broken by a sudden return to activity around the mine as locomotives started moving again and workers moved forward into the area recently dynamited.

Aftermath of an explosion

Aftermath of an explosion

I had a truly remarkable day in the pit and I’m fairly sure its one that will still raise a grin from me when I’m old and grey. It was a day of incredible highs punctuated by some rather scary moments without detracting from the whole experience. I managed to fall over about five times (including once on the final climb back up to the buses) so I ended the day with rather sore knees and ankles. The finest moment came at the end as we watched the sun set over the pit – a more glorious sight you couldn’t imagine.

Sunset at Zhalai Nuoer

Sunset at Zhalai Nuoer

After a long day I quickly dozed off on returning to the hotel, almost missing dinner. Having said that, I think the sight of sweet potato in toffee with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top is one sight I could easily have missed without any regrets!

Farewell to Zhalai Nuoer

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 22, 2009

Our final day in Zhalai Nuoer opened with a spectacular sunrise at the stabling point, with the silhouette of SY 1618 against the pink sky making quite a sight to remember.

Sunrise at the stabling point

Sunrise at the stabling point

After the sunrise we headed up to the far side of the pit to photograph a spoil train against the backdrop of the pit. Reaching this viewpoint was an eye opener in its own right with an interesting drive across bumpy dirt tracks that rarely would have seen anything other than heavy lorries and the occasional worker’s motorbike.

A crane in the strange moonscape of Zhalai Nuoer

A crane in the strange moonscape of Zhalai Nuoer

Finally, we made a last visit to the pit – just an hour and a half spent wandering around the upper levels and around the coal unloading plant. It was a little trickier to reach today as there was a channel of water to cross and some of the ice was breaking underfoot. A few workers were using picks to break through the ice and direct the water away through a narrow channel. I guess that this helps explain the amazing ice waterfalls you could see in the pit which just add to the alien feel of the whole place.

SY 0959

SY 0959

After our final view of Zhalai Nuoer we headed back by minibus to the airport at Manzhouli, catching a brief glimpse of the Russian border on the way. Farewell Zhalai Nuoer.

More photos from my three days at Zhalai Nuoer:
Gallery: Zhalai Nuoer

Manzhouli to Baiyin

Posted in Baiyin, China by folkestonejack on February 23, 2009

An afternoon flight brought us back to Beijing where we had sufficient time for a meal in a noodle restaurant whilst waiting for our flight to Lanzhou. The flight was horribly turbulent, especially the last hour – the worst I have experienced in all my years of flying. Our late departure (the flight was delayed by 30 minutes) meant that we didn’t reach Lanzhou until 12.20am.

After retrieving our luggage we trooped out to the waiting minibuses for the drive to Baiyin which took a couple of hours. I finally closed the door on my hotel room at 2.30am. I got to bed at 3am with a slight sinking feeling, knowing that we had an early start ahead of us…

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The delights of Baiyin

Posted in Baiyin, China by folkestonejack on February 23, 2009

After struggling out of bed in the early morning light I psyched myself up for a full day at Baiyin – not that I needed much encouragement once we got out to the line I realised just how amazing this little stretch of line was. The first passenger and freight services we saw wowed me completely, whilst a perfectly timed delivery of meat filled dumplings revived the other parts of me!

We headed back, catching the SY as it rolled back down through the line at a level crossing (as captured in a short youtube clip at http://www.youtube.com/FolkestoneJack#p/u/24/ILAlp7FHPb0). After the road re-opened we travelled on to the depot and marshalling yards at Baiyin.

In the marshalling yard we found two SYs awaiting action whilst in the depot we found two SYs under cover, another outside and one undergoing an overhaul (not an SY used by the company at Baiyin but from another company which no longer has a workshop). The highlight for me though came a little later, as we walked back across the suspension footbridge to our minibuses, when a SY suddenly appeared hauling bright yellow petro-chemical tankers. A wonderful fusion of worlds – which I was, for once, in time to capture on film.

SY and petro-chemical tankers at Baiyin

SY and petro-chemical tankers at Baiyin

After this sight we headed back out to the line, taking up a hillside viewpoint for one train and then on to the smelting plant at Sanyelian where we watched the afternoon passenger service depart at 4.50pm to take the workers on their commute home.

The commute Baiyin style

The commute Baiyin style

In the evening we headed out to an unlikely restaurant in a backstreet that didn’t seem to promise much but delivered incredibly tasty food. It was a good lesson in the perils of making hasty judgments. At the end of the meal all the staff came out onto the street and waved us a goodbye – a friendlier place I can’t imagine. A long but superbly reward day which I would eagerly repeat anytime, never mind the lack of sleep…

The moment I discovered I am not a mountain goat…

Posted in Baiyin, China by folkestonejack on February 24, 2009

There are many ways to spend time but three hours perched on a hillside in Baiyin waiting for a freight train is probably up there with the strangest of them! I had a good chat with Bob while we waited and a quick scan around the surrounding hillsides revealed the perches chosen by other members of the group.

It was an interesting spot amongst the landscape of Baiyin with a cave dwellers property (complete with yapping dog) and disused smelter in the foreground. In the far distance the industrial backdrop of chimneys poked above the hilltops. After a few hours your mind plays many tricks and the thump of the local industry starts to sound like an approaching steam locomotive, or worse, you can hear the slip of a locomotive in the vicinity of Sanyelian before realising it isn’t the freight train you were expecting… this time we were lucky and it eventually materialised at 1.30pm.

A long awaited freight train at Baiyin

A long awaited freight train at Baiyin

You might have thought that this would be enough of hillside scrambling but more was to follow in the afternoon. I soon discovered that I was no mountain goat as I scrambled up the steep hillside to reach a vantage point that had seemed a good idea from the ground. Peter encouraged me as I struggled up the final few metres (when we reached this incredible viewpoint we found Bernd already at the top, having taken a much easier route up!). It was certainly worth it for the view it gave us.

A view like this makes all the effort worthwhile

A view like this makes all the effort worthwhile

I walked back down the line to the smelter and saw the arrival of a banked freight (2 SYs). The efficient operation was quite a sight – the banker dropped off the back quite quickly then the remaining SY shunted the wagons in and out of the buildings before departing itself. After watching the afternoon passenger trains we took the bus on to the mine station in Baiyin itself (a separate station to the mainline station on the China Rail network). This was an exercise in itself as the bus driver got lost and eventually had to persuade an obliging taxi driver to lead the way…

The crossing at Baiyin mine station

The crossing at Baiyin mine station

In many respects this station gave me the first real taste of China beyond the industrial confines as we watched people crossing the line in front of the station, kids playing and people going about their daily business. An absolute joy.

Snow in Baiyin

Posted in Baiyin, China by folkestonejack on February 25, 2009

Awoke to find light snow in Baiyin (a relatively unusual occurence in these parts, as the arid landscape confirms) but this had dissapointingly not made its way to the upper reaches of the line when we got there. And then with perfect timing, a blizzard arrived along with the freight train – making for a wonderful opportunity to capture the combination of steam and snow.

Snow in Baiyin

Snow in Baiyin

The rest of the day had its moments, particularly as we explored the area around the depot in Baiyin and stumbled on the walled compound of JS class locomotives (a type I have not seen in steam). We took our lunch in a small restaurant at the entrance to the depot before making our way back out to the line in the afternoon. A loco turned up at the same time as yesterday but not banked this time. Never mind, it was worth a try!

Mural of factory workers in Baiyin

Mural of factory workers in Baiyin

At the end of our final day in Baiyin we headed out by bus, bound for Lanzhou. We arrived in early evening and enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant before heading to the station where the delights of a soft sleeper compartment on train K120 awaited us. It would be my first experience of a sleeper train in China…

More photos:
Gallery: Baiyin

Train K120 Lanzhou-Xi’an

Posted in China, Lanzhou by folkestonejack on February 25, 2009

After arriving at Lanzhou station we made our way through the obligatory security checks and then up to the soft sleeper waiting room, where we had quite a bit of time to kill before our train was ready to board. Only when our train had arrived were we allowed out onto the dark platforms and into our carriage.

The dark platform at Lanzhou

The dark platform at Lanzhou

Train K120

Train K120

The paper tickets we held were exchanged on board for plastic tokens (the paper tickets would be returned in the morning on our arrival in Xi’an). A slightly alien experience, but fine nevertheless.

The compartments contained four beds and seemed quite comfortable. I found myself a spot on a top bunk and settled in for the night, listening to the tales of my fellow travellers. I had been quite nervous about this aspect of the trip, not knowing what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. It was probably just as well, as there was another sleeper yet to come…

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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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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!

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

Pucheng

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

After our day in Chenghe we drove on to Pucheng where we checked in to the King Long Hot Spring Hotel. It was only a one star hotel but the rooms were surprisingly ok (if you ignored the smell of smoke, bloodstains on the sheets and the rather grubby looking thin grey towels*). The hot spring must also have been absent during our visit as I could manage to get the merest trickle of hot water. Actually, I really didn’t mind – at the end of a long day all I really wanted was somewhere I could get a good night’s sleep – and in spite of what I have said, it was better than I had imagined!

*It has to be added that on checking out a day later the hotel queried a missing towel. I have to say that all the hotels I’ve ever stayed in, this would not be the place I would be looking for a souvenir!

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Meijiaping

Posted in China, Meijiaping by folkestonejack on February 27, 2009

A long drive (about two and a half hours) brought us to the cement works at Meijiaping where we would find our second QJ. QJ 2698 is relatively unusual in not having deflectors. It was last overhauled in November 2007 and, as things stand, will not be replaced by a diesel before 2012. It may even end up as one of the last survivors…

Although we didn’t get to see much in the way of movement we did get to witness QJ 2698 run light engine to the station and then return with some wagons/tanks. It felt good to see a QJ working a real movement and not just a charter arranged for our benefit.

QJ 2698 at Meijiaping [1]

QJ 2698 at Meijiaping [2]

The nearby coke works also has JS and SY class locomotives but we didn’t get to see these (though the JS could certainly be heard shunting). It was understood that these would be replaced by diesels this year.

More photos:
Gallery: Chenghe and Meijiaping

Xi’an-Beijing-London

Posted in Beijing, China, Xi'an by folkestonejack on February 28, 2009

After leaving Meijiaping behind we drove back to the congestion of Xi’an where we boarded a hard sleeper for Beijing departing at 18:10.

As we hadn’t eaten that day we had a very pleasant evening meal in the restaurant car, washed down by some good beer. This all helped ensure a good night’s sleep and I awoke an hour before we were due to arrive in Beijing. Unfortunately our train was an hour late, so we got to see a bit more of the countryside than we expected.

Some aspects of the journey seemed quite familiar, but others were anything but – such as the woman walking up and down the carriages selling a selection of porn. I can’t quite see that catching on with the operators of the Caledonian Sleeper or the Cornish Night Riviera in the UK!

Our train eventually made it in to Beijing and with time cut somewhat shorter than expected we had something of a dash to the airport rather. After all the usual checks I was able to board my Air France flight home via Paris and settled in for the duration. Late in the evening I eventually made it back to Heathrow and then on to Selhurst. Home at last!