Blossom Trees in Northern China

 China: 07.05. – 19.05.2008


Chilly mornings with white steam exhaust, pleasant temperatures in the afternoon, blossom trees and green meadows all make a much nicer time to visit the last strongholds of steam than the cold and white/grey/brown winter season. The long daylight hours make normally impossible pictures possible, especially the early morning trains which in all other seasons are hidden by the darkness.

We’ll probably see the three most important classes still in use: the narrow gauge class C2 in Huanan, the strikingly shaped 2-8-2 industrial class SY and the powerful class JS, another 2-8-2. All the visited lines offer almost unlimited photographic potential. Industrial backdrops as well as endless landscapes can be found and photographed or captured on video on this trip.

On our recent Sunflower Quickie trip to Huanan and Jixi all group members wanted to extend the stay in Huanan while cancelling one day in Jixi – so we changed hotels and stayed one more day on the fantastic mountain line. This time we have already planned an extended stay in Huanan, the last line in the world with steam hauled and steam banked narrow gauge trains. The little pass (the big one was Jingpeng) is well worth a long stay, although there could be anything from zero to four banked trains during daylight only (on average three). Spring green will be late in the mountains. In May we can expect the first green just showing, while in the lowland areas the first trees should be in blossom already. Farmers with horses and oxen carts will be out in the fields, so there is an additional potential for amazingly interesting shots. Farming around Huanan is similar to that which disappeared in central Europe over 100 years ago. It’s a journey through time!







Departure from Europe/America/Australia to China


Morning arrival in Beijing, connecting flight to Haerbin, charter bus to the station Haerbin, overnight train 4137, departure Hearbin 20.53 hrs


05.49 hrs arrival Jiamusi, charter bus to Huanan, linesiding along the fantastic line at Huanan, hotel in Huanan


Linesiding along the mountain section of the narrow gauge line at Huanan, we’ll spend the night in private houses around Lixin (if you want you can return to the hotel in Huanan)


Line siding in Huanan, hotel in Huanan


Morning linesiding along the section Huanan – Xiahuia. Around noon we’ll continue to Jixi. Linesiding along several mine systems around Jixi, hotel in Jixi


Visit to the coal mine systems around Jixi, hotel in Jixi


Morning visit to the coal mine systems around Jixi, late morning by charter bus to Mudanjiang, overnight train K266, departure 13.53 hrs


05.06 hrs arrival Jinzhou Nan, charter bus to Nanpiao, linesiding along the mine railway lines in the mountains of Nanpiao, hotel in Xiamiaozi


Line siding around Nanpiao, in the evening we’ll continue to Huludao (48 km) by charter bus, hotel in Huludao


Line siding along the lime stone railway at Huludao, hotel in Huludao


Another morning along the Huludao lime stone railway, late morning we’ll continue by charter bus to Xingcheng where we board the train 1468 (only “hardseater” available!), departure 13.21 hrs, arrival Beijing 18.45 hrs, hotel in Beijing


Return flight home


Line description


Once Huanan (C2) was the starting point of a large forestry railway system. This 762 mm narrow gauge railway survived because of the existence of some small coal mines 46 km east of Huanan. The remaining line climbs over a pass some 2 miles west of Lixin. From both sides there are steep gradients and sharp curves. The gradient against loaded coal trains is so steep, that every loaded train needs a banker at the rear end of the eight wagon trains. This operation is the last known regular banked narrow gauge steam train in the world!

We’ll spend much time here because it’s such a long way to get there, the scenery is very diverse and attractive, and only two to four pairs of trains run during daylight. The distance between Tuoyaozi and Lixin is approximately six miles. As there is no passable road we have either to walk or use the daily railcar. The use of local motorbikes is also possible but not really recommended. If you know the style of driving in China you can imagine what I mean. Either way, it’s everybody’s own decision. Walking some miles in a whole day is not that far on a beautiful spring day. Railcar or motorbike transport in Huanan is not included in the tour price. Unfortunately, the only accommodation possible in Lixin is in a filthy private house with no facilities at all. This is the place where the trains get their bankers on the rear. In addition there are wonderful photo positions close to Lixin. Because of this, it is worth spending one night in such poor surroundings, where the locals suffer the whole year. You can choose to spend the night in the good hotel in Huanan if you prefer, but you’ll very likely miss the possibility of getting a banked morning train. In addition, the experience of seeing and listening to a steam hauled and banked train in the moonlight when no other noise is disturbing the scenery is an incredible moment. Don’t miss it!


In case Huanan is having one of its occasional operating breaks, we have an alternative: Jixi (SY) and Tiefa (SY).

The coal mining system of Jixi is one of the steamiest places remaining in China. There are almost 20 class SY steam locomotives serving several different coal mines. Some of them have lines through rural countryside while others offer impressive industrial backdrops. The traffic is unpredictable, but there are some fixed points: the morning and the late afternoon shift change, when locomotives return to their home base. Thereafter trains are running in all directions, sometimes banked and, rarely, double headed and banked.


The first four diesels arrived in Jixi in mid-2007. After the dieselisation of Jixi-Hengshan there will remain Didao, Chengzihe and Lishu systems, each with many outstanding photographic opportunities.


Tiefa is only a reserve option if Huanan is not running. Tiefa has four locomotives in use for passenger and freight services. As their diesels are worn out and much more expensive than steam locomotives they have returned to steam for freight services. In Autumn 2007 about 40% of all passenger trains and some 20% of the freight trains were steam hauled. We’ll keep in touch with the railway authorities to get the latest information about movements by steam. So we’re able to make the most out of it. Beside the rather flat countryside there are superb shots possible at some stations and nice sections of the line, one of the best positions being a church at the end of one of the four lines. We’ll visit the depot (where heavy overhauls on steam locos are likely) and the stabling point in Diaobingshan, where the steam locos are served by a steam crane. Most of the locos are well kept, including the last built steam locomotive from October 1999, SY 1772, which is still very active.


The coal mines around Nanpiao (SY) are linked by two standard gauge lines. In Autumn 2007, steam was still in use on these lines. Two or three BJ class diesel (also quite rare now) disturb the SY action. However, there are still sufficient steam hauled trains to make some nice shots. Nanpiao is surrounded by very interesting mountainous countryside. There are steep gradients, two long bridges and sections of free line as well as industrial backdrops. The steam powered passenger trains in the early morning and in the late afternoon are especially interesting for photography. The company are wanting to purchase further diesel locomotives second hand so it may be possible that this nice system will be completely dieselised soon. So far they are sticking to their steam locos as they have insufficient funds to purchase new diesels. Meanwhile they have equipped all their locomotives with GPS, every locomotive and train can be followed on a big control panel in the control office.


We’ll experience spectacular climbs on the lime stone railway at Huludao (JS). Near the summit, trains are well below pedestrian speed or even stalling! In use are two locomotives of the strong JS class. These locomotives are without deflectors. Another highlight is the turntable at both ends of the line of which one is freely accessible to photographers. During daylight, there are several trains, one in the early morning (best for photography with the train coming out of the light), a pair around noon and one in the late evening, once again good for glint shots.

Huludao is expected to have more traffic in May 2008 than ever before. They have opened a new, large loading facility in Yangjiazhangzi. To handle all the additional traffic they have planned to purchase a diesel locomotive. So be prepared, there might be a disturbing noise on the line ...



Small Print

The tour was planned in Autumn 2007. Although it’s only a few months before we go to China it’s not certain that all lines will still have steam. In the unlikely case one line will be dieselised before we arrive, we will make different arrangements to see as much steam as possible.

We expect the lowest morning temperatures to be a little above zero degrees Centigrade (about 32 degrees F) in the far north while afternoon temperatures can still reach more than 25 degrees Centigrade (mid-to high 70s F). In Beijing temperatures may exceed even 30°C (86 degrees F).


The voltage in China is 220 Volts, 50 Hertz. Sometimes you need an adapter for the power outlets. China uses the European mobile phone (GSM) standard.

This tour is designed for both dedicated photographers and video filmmakers. Our philosophy is to provide opportunities to get that perfect sunrise shot rather than a time consuming 5-star breakfast buffet. On occasions lunch will be served as a packed meal. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

Hotels, charter buses and trains represent the standard of our host country, which may deviate from European and American expectations. While we will endeavour to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require an extra but worthwhile effort.


The hotels used will be of medium class, but in remote areas sometimes they are more basic. We offer a unique opportunity in Lixin: if you can stand the lack of comfort you can sleep in one of the private houses around there. To give such a room type a rating, we extended the category-system of how to rate a hotel’s service and comfort to the bottom end. Zero star would be too good. The accommodation in Lixin on the Huanan system is another matter. There are facilities outside but they can hardly be recommended. Better to go into the forest! If you ask somebody about washing your hands he would point to a bowl with some water in – sometimes used by several others before. If you want something clean to wash in, you have to ask for fresh water or do it as the locals do – go to the river! The accommodation and the bedding can hardly be described as clean. So you should bring a towel to put under your head or a light linen sleeping bag or sheet. With this equipment you can easily stand one night in circumstances that the locals have to use all their lives. The accommodation in Lixin is rated by us as three black holes. By the way, from four black holes onwards you would have to share your bed with small animals you might not appreciate. But for sure, this category is not on offer on FarRail trips. More seriously, it is very basic, but acceptable for most travellers and the rewards in being so close to the railway are wonderful. We’ll sleep on Kangs, these are sleeping platforms with a built in stove, so they are warm and quite comfortable. You’ll get some covers to put on the stove to soften it a bit. Most of the participants on other trips who have used this kind of a bed have been really surprised how well they slept! All who have spent a night in Lixin on past trips have rated this experience very highly. No one will remember another faceless three star hotel in a city, but when you’re staying in the total tranquillity of the forests around Lixin, sleeping on a well heated stove, and a train sets off to the summit, you can hear the two locomotives for almost half an hour, climbing up the hill. On a bright, starry night it’s a memorable experience. If you are uncomfortable with the private houses in Lixin we can arrange the hotel in Huanan for you instead (at no additional cost).


The train rides are booked in soft sleeper class (four berth compartments). As the reservation system in China is a typical quota system where the station of origin typically gets an allotment of 50% of the available tickets, it is not guaranteed that we can get soft sleeper tickets for all our rides. In such cases we’ll use hard sleeper class, which, however, is not as hard as the name suggests. Hard sleeper compartments are open and normally comprise six berths. Short daytime trains may have to be booked in hard seats (if available).

Hygienic and environmental standards in China do not conform to European or American expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable. Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in China falls short of EU/US safety standards.

Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.


Registration period expires December 30th, 2007

Later registrations will be accepted if flights and hotels are still avai-lable. If you’re not sure whether you can participate or not, please let us know your interest well in advance so that we can hold a place for you.




Blossom Trees in Northern China from 10 participants
07.05. – 19.05.2008 5 to 9 participants
  Single room surcharge

For land only bookings please deduct £445.

Minimum number of participants: 5
Maximum number of participants: 16

The price includes:

Not included are:

Above prices are based on specific bookings with the respective airlines, which have to be confirmed well in advance. Your early booking is hence essential.



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