Sunflower Quickie 2008: Huanan, Jixi & Nanpiao


Unfortunately Huanan will stop all traffic during the Olympic Games and Paraolympics. So we need to cancel this trip, no other choice.

China: 28.8. – 8.9.2008

Late summer in China: sunflowers are in full flower, fields are harvested, in the mountains of Huanan the first signs of Autumn colours appear, chilly mornings with good steam effects and pleasant warm afternoons. The long days make it possible to get many more shots and videos than in the winter season.

We’ll see two types of locomotives: the narrow gauge class C2 and the interestingly shaped industrial Mikado class SY. Most lines offer excellent photographic potential and are well worth a visit – at any time of the year.

An outstanding narrow gauge line will give us some calm days. Huanan is the last remaining narrow gauge line in the forests of Manchuria which is still steam operated. An extraordinary feature is that they have banked trains (trains with a pusher engine) from Lixin up to the summit. This spectacle is unique in the world now, as there is no other narrow gauge line that has regular, steam banked trains.







Departure from Düsseldorf to China (Air Berlin)


Morning arrival in Beijing, connecting flight CA 1611 to Haerbin 16.05 - 17.45 hrs, charter bus to the railway station, overnight train 4137, departure Haerbin 20.53 hrs


05.49 hrs arrival Jiamusi, charter bus to Huanan, Line siding Huanan – Lixin (class C2), hotel Huanan


Line siding Huanan – Lixin, overnight in private houses in Lixin (category three black holes) Hotel in Huanan for those who can’t stand a night without facilities, see small print


Line siding around Lixin, overnight in private houses in Lixin, see small print


Line siding Lixin – Tuoyaozi, hotel in Huanan


Line siding Huanan – Tuoyaozi, evening by charter bus to Jixi, hotel Jixi


Linesiding and visits to stabling points in the mine system of Jixi (class SY), hotel in Jixi


Morning linesiding and visits to stabling points in the mine system of Jixi, early afternoon by charter bus to Mudanjiang, overnight train 1452/1449, departure Mudanjiang 16.19 hrs


06.44 hrs arrival Jinzhou Nan, charter bus to Nanpiao (class SY), line siding along the coal mine lines, Hotel Xiamiaozi


Line siding around Nanpiao, evening by charter bus to Jinzhou Nan, train D12, departure 19.42 hrs, arrival Beijing 22.37 hrs, charter bus to our hotel in Beijing


return flight from Beijing, arrival Europe in the same evening


Line description


Once Huanan was the starting point of a large forestry railway system. This 762 mm narrow gauge railway survived because of the existence of a coal mine 46 km east of Huanan. The remaining line climbs over a pass 2.5 km 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!

Huanan, © Darryl Bond

We’ll spend three days 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 summer 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 two nights 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 case Huanan is having one of its occasional operating breaks, we have an alternative: Jixi.

Jixi Chengzihe, photo: Darryl Bond Jixi Chengzihe, photo: Darryl Bond

The coal mining system of Jixi is one of the steamiest places remaining in China. There are some 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 five 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. Beside the four diesels in Hengshan are still three steam locomotives active.


The coal mines around Nanpiao are linked by two standard gauge lines. In Winter 2008, steam was still in use on these lines. Two to four BJ class diesel (also quite rare now) disturb the SY action. However, there are still sufficient steam hauled trains to make some exceptional nice shots. Nanpiao is surrounded by scenic 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.


Small Print

The tour was planned in February 2008. Although it’s only a few months before we’ll 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. Alcoholic beverages (including beer) 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 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 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 at 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 March 30th, 2008

Later registrations will be accepted if flights and hotels are still available. 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.




China Sunflower Quickie from 9 participants £1,890
28.08. – 08.09.2008 4 to 8 participants £1,960
  Single room surcharge £110

For land only bookings please deduct £540.

Minimum number of participants:        4
Maximum number of participants:     14

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.




Pictures: Darryl Bond and Bernd Seiler (most of them: September 2007)


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