Chinese Steam Trains Where East Meets West

US and Russian Locos Working In China

As we know, China has had a long history, with many countries invading it or seeking to influence its direction. The British and French had a fight over, after World War II, the Us supplied a few engines to help out following the Japanese invasion, and the the Russians made a contribution as well.

The result was the existence of US and Russian locos operating main line trains during my visit in 1985.

Without going into too much detail, It was very difficult travelling around the country at this time. In December 1984, individual visas were finally granted, with the proviso you could only visit certain cities. There were a second group you could visit if you had a permit. It was forbidden to go outside of city limits and taxi drivers were instructed not to take you. Add that to the surveillance and paranoia that existed, and it was always a challenge to take photos.

Not long after I entered the country, I was riding on a diesel hauled express and noticed a lot of steam hauled freights on the line. It was a brilliant sunny day, and the temptation was just too much, so we got off the train at an intermediate stop and I started down the tracks.

Double QJs speed past on a freight. Note Chinese official on his way to tell me to leave!
Double QJs speed past on a freight. Note Chinese official on his way to tell me to leave!

I managed two pictures before an official arrived waving hands in the air and indicating we had to go back and hop aboard the first train out of town.

That cramped my style somewhat, so I had to think of another way to get line side. I am not one to easily give up! Travelling to the far west of the country to Lanzhou, I teamed up with an Englishman I met at the hotel and we hired a rickshaw who was wiling to take us out of the city limits.

Well the trip was some 5 weeks, and near the end I finally found a few places to get some real photos. Near Hangzhou, a famous tourist destination, I found a KD7 chuffing down the line on a freight. Previously I had only see one of these shunting in Shanghai, and had given up hope of seeing on in revenue service. The KD7 is a US loco, acquired after WWII.

KD7 Shunting at Shanghai 1985

At this stage I had sent my partner off to Hong Kong to do some shopping, so I could be a bit more adventurous. Two things got in the way – the weather and the lack of time. I only had a few days left. After leaving the tourist place having got a couple of nice shots of KD7s, albeit in typical China dour weather, I gathered a permit to go to Henyang, mainly because I had seen plenty of steam action on the line from there to Guilin, and some nice scenery as well.

kd7 china steam train guangzhou
KD7 Working a freight near Guangzhou January 1985

I stayed in a small hotel, and one night there was a communist party banquet. This was the district committee which the central government kept well fed in return to spying on citizens. After they left, they invited me in to eat the scraps. What I got was the best meal I had in China! Steam boats, various peanut and snack dishes, etc.

Qj double heading an FD at Henyang

I stayed there for a few days, and at this stage had one day left before I had to head out. I did my usual and woke up at 4 am to clear skies. I grabbed my gear and headed off down the track for about 15 kms to where the scenery got nice, arriving there just on sunrise. For the next 4 hours, I was very busy with over a dozen steam movements.

The piece de resistance was an FD in full sun. These are Russian 2-10-2s, and they were withdrawn from service only a few months after my visit. I was very excited to get  a shot of one of these magnificent beasts. I managed a double with a QJ as well, but the lighting isn’t so great for that one.

FD on a freight between Henyang and Guilin Feb 1985

I will definitely post some more shots of my Chinese trip, including express passenger 4-6-0s and Pacifics, plus quite a few lineside shots.


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