China Nov 2004

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Mongolia? Tibet? Siberia? Help! I'm lost already
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The impressive Beijing Railway Museum. The guy on the right is Chairman Mao himself.
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The steam powered narrow gauge Dahuichang Limestone Railway proved a neat diversion to fill out Saturday afternoon before our overnight train was to depart to places unknown. Here one of two wee locos in steam cuts off a train, letting gravity take the limestone hopers into the tippler building.
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Here, number 1 heads up the line with empties. In addition to the two working locos, another two rest in the brick shed behind the tracks here 
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And number 2/3 (3 with 2's tender) heads downhill with loads. If anyone finds a 1.4x teleconverter at this spot, its mine.
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The same train sans teleconverter
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Both locos are visible here passing with loaded and empty trains. The line is double tracked to make things easier

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Cruising downhill. The hoppers have no brakes so its all up to the loco
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Empties working up towards the road crossing
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Another downhill at the same spot. We struck plenty of trains in our fairly short visit 
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A nice little scene at the road crossing
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And again. The two barrier arms are linked by wire so that when the crossing keeper...

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...raises or lowers one, the other side moves also. This guy had a fairly busy afternoon, but didn't have much to do between trains but be amused by the weirdos with cameras. And there were plenty of them around with a couple of minibuses showing up as well as our tour.

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Steaming toward the crossing
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Some locals watching a guy with a crash helmet and a parachute repeatedly throwing himself off a very small hill and then walking up to the top again.
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Back towards the tippler building
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A minor problem with the tippler sees a little congestion back at base. The light-starved photographers rejoice of course 
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#1 steaming off uphill with another round of empties
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Number 3/2 waits for a string of wagons to be unloaded
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And finally heads off again as the sun sets

More info on this railway might be found here if the intraweb hasn't broken itself: Dahuichang 

After a meal, we headed to one of the Beijing stations and waited outside in a long line for the station doors to open. In quite a bizarre ritual, women in uniforms with small megaphones herded people this way and that in what appeared to be a random fashion. Anyway, eventually we got onboard our 'soft sleeper' to Chifeng. 
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Sunday morning finds us tired after an all night train ride but raring to go (comfortable train though). A few directional issues meant it took a while to find the line, but the weather was pretty average anyway. The first train seen was an eastbound single header with QJ 6998 on the pointy end, seen here passing Xiakengzi villiage
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We booted up the brickworks valley and a brief but steep climb bought us to tunnel 2, and from here the train is seen crossing the ErDi viaduct. The weather has miraculously cleared as an added bonus.
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And popping out of tunnel 2. The steamers on the line are all QJ 2-10-2s bought second hand from the now-dieselised government railway (the JiTong railway is pseudo private enterprise). The last QJ was built in 1988 - far newer than the green DF4 diesels that are replacing them!

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At SanDi (can't you seeee, I'm in mis-er-eee) on the other side of the hill, a train with a mix of diesel and steam (0582+6981) heads around the lower horseshoe
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And crosses our single header at SanDi loop
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As the light was fading, we headed to the inside of the famous SiMingYi curved viaduct to see if we could pop off a nice sunset silhouette. As you can see, we did, but a light diesel wasn't what we'd hoped for! Steam trails in the shadows hint at action to some.
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As the light faded, a double QJ train steamed uphill behind SiMingYi village, before looping over the road in a 180 degree horseshoe and heading left...
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...and crossing the bridge which is part of another 180 degree horseshoe which brings things it back to the direction they stared on. These double QJ trains are, like , you know, way cool, dude. 

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The next morning we were up early, but there were no trains on the radar, so we headed north of Jingpeng on the new 2-lanes-each-way motorway. Upon seeing steam in the distance, an emergency 7 point U-ey was executed, followed by some 'wrong line running' (on the wrong side of the dual carriageway due to the median strip) to find a suitable spot. Luckily the few cars around (there may have been more donkey carts) didn't seem to find this behavior out of the ordinary in the least.
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The same train crossing the Jingpeng bridge. All the viaducts on the line that I saw are of a similar concrete design. This is 6981 again with another QJ
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Jingpeng is a water stop that usually holds trains up for 20-30 minutes before they begin climbing the western slope of Jingpeng Pass. Here the train is seen climbing between Jingpeng and the Biligou bridge

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The Billygoat bridge. Quite a scramble up steep and rocky hillside from the valley floor to get up here. I was not a mountain goat in a previous life.
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A grab silhouette shot of the same train through the bus window while we scoot ahead of it at the SiMingYi curved bridge
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Approaching the summit at Shangdian, the train passes one of a decent number of manned road crossings on the line
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Each crossing has a little brick hut which is conveniently not shown here. Yes, this a dreadful way-to-wide shot taken pointing up, in a hurry, without too much thought. Still, we didn't come all this way to stand around humming the SanDi song. Don't you hate it when songs pop into your head to roost?
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At Shangdian, diesel 0490 heads downhill after crossing the previous train. The original stations from the 1996 opening are semaphores, the more recent ones have colour light signals
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The same train near Xiakengzi while one horsepower ignores it
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QJs 6996 and 7137 enter the Brickworks valley between Hadashan and ErDi
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QJ 6996 puts on a show
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More shots for the lazy photographer

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We're all waiting for trains. 
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6998 and an anonymous QJ steam up through Xiakengzi
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And up towards SiMingYi viaduct
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Three levels of the Z shaped track loop-de-loop are visible here with SiMingYi village in the background
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The viaduct
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And again, just to exercise the shutter finger
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This may or may not be the same train at some other spot. Just superb record keeping...
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Back at Jingpeng, we have the opportunity to watch the next eastbound  train being watered and checked over

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Somebody grab me that plate:

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A set of diesels emerge as we wait up at tunnel 4
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Crossing in the distance at Hadashan
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Finally, 7143 and friend appear
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A little snow
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Tuesday morning sunrise sees us at ErDi along with several sets of other nutters for this early eastbound

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After ErDi, we head back to SiMingYi for the next eastbound

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Here you can see the rest of our team. I'd invested in too much altitude and stayed on to explore the line to Hadashan

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Nice spot for an afternoon downhill
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A downhill mixed power train at tunnel 1
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Taken from up near Hadashan, a pair of QJs cross the road at SiMingYi village
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One of the signature shots on the JiTong line is this one of the curved viaduct
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Steaming up to Hadashan
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The other signature shot, taken just after the one above, with the SiMingYi viaduct in the background
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Entering Hadashan station for a crossing with a diesel hauled train. 
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The diesels avoid some of the fluffy obstacles on the line
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The herder comes up to see me as I head downhill to meet up with our group.
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Alas no women drivers to try the 'hey baby, nice ass' line on
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Mixed power behind SiMingYi
Scenes from an Inner Mongolian Village
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With no sign of the bus, I hitch a lift with a local up to the summit using the universal language of money. Coincidentally, our group is up there waiting for this single. Not a terrible shot given the weather, which had dulled down considerably.
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A brief break in the clouds back up at SiMingYi
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The big wait at the crossing keepers hut just west of Liudigou. The pig below does his best to keep warm in his little home in the hill.
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Of course the train is held up by those damned diesels and it eventually starts uphill again. These two shots were taken at high ISO well after sundown, but turned out reasonably well.
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With the sun disposed of, its back to Jingpeng for a few night shots
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Lighting here provides by a passing diesel. A quick hand over the lens prevents it appearing in the pic.

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The instant feedback of digital certainly is a boon when clicking at night. And I don't mean David Boon.

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After the cloud of the previous afternoon, Wednesday morning's sun is a a pleasant surprise, even if it comes with a biting wind. Most of our group head up the brickworks valley to repeat the ErDi bridge shot taken yesterday in better light. I want to try something different, chancing a glinter at tunnel 2...
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Across the valley
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Crazy wind probably not dong much for those on the far side of this ErDi shot. This is probably my favourite shot from the trip, and as luck would have it, was just popped off as card fodder
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And this is the planned but less spectacular shot of the train emerging from tunnel 2. The colder it is, the more white steam/smoke mix
Next up, the group does some climbing for the signature Hadashan shots. Instead, I attempt freezing my nuts off above SiMingYi village. Man that's a cold wind. Luckily, it lets up for a few minutes, allowing me to take a picture that isn't just steam blowing towards the camera at warp speed.

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I'm guessing the wind isn't doing much for the Hadashaner's piccies right now

After thawing out in the bus, it was back to Biligou bridge. The first shot of dancing smoke trails was taken as the train approached the bridge, the other two are the S curved cutting just beyond it. Not a bad spot if I might say so myself!
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Nice plates, baby

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Cliche shot #10
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As the train headed up towards the summit station of Shangdian, it slowed considerably, giving us plenty of time to scramble up for some shots of the signals

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Our last assignment was near Luidigou. I walked about 4 kms down the line and waited in the -6 deg C temp with a heinous wind chill. And waited. The sun dropped sown, the shadows grew longer and longer. Flares and sideburns went out of fashion. (Damn). Just as I was ready to call it a day, a train came from the wrong direction followed by the smoke trails of this one in the distance

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The second train, seen climbing up the lower level and approaching the SanDi horseshoe
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Running through SanDi
And approaching Liudigou

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But wait, there's more... a night visit to the Daban shed, where they'll try to sell you anything that isn't bolted down. QJ tender headlight anyone? Loco in the pic above is blowing out sparks 

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The best of the night shots are courtesy of Richard Reiff's open flash technique and generous provision of flashbulbs.

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And that, as they say, is a wrap. At 4am the next morning a pair of crazed locals took turns at driving me to an early grave for 12 hours back to Beijing airport. It would appear you don't need to have a driving license in China, just a license to operate a horn. 

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'Flaps up':

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