Farewell, QJ!

China: 12.11. - 24.11.2006

An early morning, QJ 6429 thunder trough a station along the line Pucheng - Baishui.

The mighty QJ, a class with some 4,700 locomotives on China's railways, was once omnipresent. Now only about two dozens of these massive 2-10-2 coal burners remain in service. When the last QJ will have hauled the last train, it will not just be the end of another class of steam locomotives. It will be much more - the end of last large steam main line locomotive in the world. Despite some erratic shunting operations of a few Garratts in Zimbabwe, there will be no big steam locomotive left in regular service anywhere in the world. In addition, the last lines the QJs are serving are really interesting. On two lines, firemen - and there are two on each loco - are happy to see a red signal to get the opportunity to stop to bring up the steam pressure. All remaining lines with QJs already have diesels in service or have ordered them. The clock is ticking and the endgame has already started! This next winter is almost surely the last one for these giants on rails. Get off the sofa, this will be one of your last chances! And forget about charter trains with QJs after it's over! This will neither be authentic, nor will you be happy about the prices. The JiTong line showed what they are thinking about for a charter steam train - far from being authentic and with prices that hit the sky.

Don't miss your last chance to see these last really big steam locomotives hard at work! There won't be another opportunity like this ever again.


Date Itinerary
12.11. Departure from Europe to China
13.11. Morning arrival in Beijing, afternoon domestic flight to Yinchuan, hotel Lingwu
14.11. Charter bus for linesiding along the desert line Daba - Guyaozi, hotel Lingwu
15.11. Charter bus for linesiding along the desert line Daba - Guyaozi, hotel Lingwu
16.11. Charter bus for linesiding along the desert line Daba - Guyaozi, hotel Lingwu
17.11. Charter bus for linesiding along the desert line Daba - Guyaozi, overnight train K 359 to Lintong, departure Yinchuan 20.38 hrs
18.11. 11.01 hrs arrival Lintong, charter bus to Pucheng, visit to the depot in Hanjing and linesiding, Hotel Pucheng
19.11. Charter bus for linesiding along the railway line Pucheng - Baishui. Evening continue from Weinan by train T140/137, departure 19.33 hrs, arrival Sanmenxia Xi 21.51 hrs, hotel in Sanmenxia
20.11. Today we'll visit the coal mine of Shisi, which is still using one QJ. We have requested the use of the QJ in front of regular trains - but confirmation is expected to be given not earlier than October. Evening by charter bus to Pingdingshan, hotel Pingdingshan
21.11. Visit to the depot of Pingdingshan and charter bus for line siding on the QJ-operated line to Yüzhou, hotel Pingdingshan
22.11. Charter bus for line siding on the line to Yüzhou and other lines of the mine railway system of Pingdingshan, hotel Pingdingshan
23.11. Charter bus for line siding on the line to Yüzhou. In the evening we'll continue by charter bus to Zhengzhou, overnight train K180, departure 22.16 hrs
24.11. Arrival in Beijing 06.04 hrs, charter bus to a hotel for having a shower and a breakfast, return flight to Europe, arrival in the same evening


Line description

It's amazing that amongst the last QJ-operated lines are such highlights as the desert line between Daba and Guyaozi. The line starts in Daba in the flat valley of the Yellow River in the heartland of China. After passing the Yellow River over an impressive, very long (concrete) bridge the gradient starts. Especially beyond Lingwu the line gets really steep and scenic. Desert sands and large sand dunes are sometimes close to the tracks and form interesting foregrounds and backgrounds. Heavy trains sometimes are forced to stop in the middle of the gradient beyond one of the bridges to raise steam pressure. It's a line in a great countryside. We'll stay there for several days to make sure that we'll get most of the exciting photo positions. The line purchased two diesels in 2005, but beside the diesel trains there are one to three uphill steam trains per day.

Some shots from the line Daba - Guyaozi:

Dab - Guyaozi: Through the desert

Backlight for the last giants on rails

On the line from Pucheng to Baishui QJs are still in a struggle with the steep gradients, causing small earthquakes with their passing. Beside one diesel, three QJs are responsible for the coal trains. The traffic is somewhat unpredictable, so we need some patience to get the results we want. In many places the line is very beautiful, but several sections are through industrial areas where heavy pollution from chimneys of limestone factories can sometimes be a problem.

The depot is in Hanjing where we'll make a visit. Beyond Hanjing the line passes over a high combined steel girder/concrete bridge, runs trough some deep cuttings and reaches a second large bridge. After this long bridge it enters a tunnel. Just at the tunnel the gradient starts again. Some branch lines are served by steam as well, but most of them are of minor interest. All locos face towards Baishui. There can be some interesting shunting and switching operations as well.

Some pictures from the line Pucheng - Baishui:

Bridge near Hanjing

Concrete viaduct before Baishui

The coal mine of Shisi is using just one out of four available QJs. This loco is under steam for spare in case the recently purchased diesel has a failure. In addition the QJ has to handle the shunting operation in the mine. This is not really exciting, you may say, and you're right. But, we have started very promising negotiations with the authorities of the mine. We want to change the diesel for steam on a regular mine train. The line is some 17 km long and starts with a very scenic part just after it leaves the mine's yard. The small town of Shisi is left behind over a bridge which directly leads into a tunnel. In a nice hilly surrounding several good positions can be find. So our aim is to haul a pair of regular coal trains by steam. In addition we asked for a few stops on the line to give us the opportunity for some more pictures. The management will give us their final decision not before October. The main reason is that no one knows what will happen to the mine by the end of the year. Last year the Chinese government closed several hundred mines due to safety problems and will not let them reopen before these flaws have been fixed. This could happen again this autumn, they said. Because of this they are not sure whether production will run normally. So Shisi is a big question mark. Just in case our plans don't work out, we have another line in mind, which is using two QJs. However, Shisi has the more interesting landscape, so we'll try everything to get a steam hauled train there.

Electric heater in the signal box of Shisi, outside shunts QJ 7204.

Despite its five diesel locomotives, Pingdingshan is still a stronghold of steam locomotives, and a fascinating place to visit. On the flat line to Yüzhou the mine's railway still uses three deflectorless QJs. Their sister locos with smoke deflectors are almost unemployed now after the diesels took over their jobs, hauling coal trains to the mines around Pingdingshan. Anyhow, in winter 2006 two QJs have been under steam for spares in case of trouble with one of the new diesels. All together we found five QJs under steam. The situation should be unchanged this autumn, according to the shed master.

The line to Yüzhou leads through fields and passes by small villages. One of the best positions is a long bridge over a river. We added this line to the itinerary because it is the last chance to see deflectorless QJs in service. There are also around 20 other active steam locomotives in Pingdingshan, mostly class JS 2-8-2 (they look like small QJs) and a few SY 2-8-2s. These locomotives, sometimes working as double headers, serve several different lines in an industrial, sometimes rural, and hilly countryside. There are some passenger trains in the schedule, so there is quite a lot to see and to do in this fascinating area.

The headlight of the deflectorless QJ fingers in the night, January 2006


Small Print

The hotels used will be of medium class, and in remote areas they are sometimes basic. 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 seater class. Hygienic and environmental standards in China often do no conform to European or North American expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable.

Single rooms are not available on train rides.

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

In Northern China you should be prepared to find temperatures well below zero. On the Daba - Guyaozi line we expect minus ten degrees at times, in Pucheng, Shisi and Pingdingshan expect around plus five to zero (around 40 F). But it can be minus twenty degrees Centigrade as well, you never know. In April 2006 we had a sunny afternoon with 28 degrees centigrade, while the next morning welcomed us with minus two °C and snow!

It may be that some of the lines will be closed before we're able to go there or they may have shut down the operation temporarily. In this case we'll go to another line if possible. It would be better if you already EXPECT that one line may not running steam any more. We stay in permanent contact with the lines and will know such an unpleasant fact in advance, and will do our best to come up with a worthwhile and interesting alternative.

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 are not included in the tour price.

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.

On this trip we'll cover huge distances. Beside the international flight we'll travel some 4,000 Kilometres in China. So carrying a good book with you might not be a bad idea. It is a great time to read about China's history and development.

Registration period ends: 20.8.2006

Later registrations will be accepted if flights and hotels are still available. If you're not sure whether you can participate or not, please advise us of your interest well in advance so that we can hold your place.

Pingdingshan: the sun of the gatekeeper, in the background a deflectorless QJ



Farewell QJ! from 10 participants 2.250 Euro £1,650
12.11. - 24.11.2006 5 to 9 participants 2.590 Euro £1,900
  Single room supplement 220 Euro £162

Minimum number of participants: 5
Maximum number of participants: 25

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. In times of oil prices which are hitting the sky, prices for air tickets are changing on a daily basis – and only in one direction. Your early booking is hence essential and much appreciated.


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