Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Where to start in Beijing?

The stars of the show- the mighty DF4 diesels are the most prolific across China and quite literally helped to build this country. The sound of these locos pulling their 18 coaches away from the station is something to savour!

An SS9 loco with stock to match leaving Beijing Station
If you have the 'train bug' (and lets be honest- you probably wouldn't be reading this page if you didn't) and you are anything like me then upon arriving in a new city your attention probably turns quite quickly to 'where are the trains?'
In an unfamiliar country this can often be quite daunting- especially if 'trainspotting' 'railfanning' or whatever it is called is not really the normal. There may not be many sources of information and the railway may not be easily accessible. That is if there is even anything worth seeing!?

CRH5A High speed trains were the only high speed 
multiple units seen to be using the station on my visit. 
Most high speed services serve Beijing South station.
Beijing is one of those cities- a huge metropolis which surely must be full of trains- yet they are often hidden away, and unlike most European cities simply turning up at the main station and wandering down the the platforms for a look is certainly not an option (Large stations in China operate more like airports allowing boarding to the platform only shortly before the train is due).

As well as hauling trains there are a large number of light 
engine movements to and from the nearby stabling point.
Trains are big in China. Until the turn of the millennium this was the last country in the world to use regular steam on a large scale for mainline operations (China is still the biggest user of industrial steam though this is in now in terminal decline and only exists in a number of locations- see my China Steam reports). The railways were at the heart of the economic boom in China and provide an essential means of transport for it's billions of citizens- the fast majority of whom are still extremely poor.

While they do not have quite the same pedigree as the 
DF4's the DF11's are no less smart and impressive when 
hauling their heavy trains out of Beijing.
Beijing has a number of stations- many international passengers are likely to end up at Beijing South (the main station for high speed services across the country), while those taking the train to the Great Wall at Badaling will travel from Beijing North Station. It is however Beijing Station, the only one located within the inner ring road and historic boundary of the city walls which provides the most variety or trains- and the best place for viewing them!

There are many variations of livery on the huge DF4 fleet- wearing a different shade of blue to the other locos we have seen, DF4 4405 approaches journey's end.
The oldest looking locos we saw on our visit were the SS8's 
though older locos are known to visit the station. Indeed 
the author departed behind an SS3 just two years earlier!
Beijing Station was historically located just inside of the great city walls which once dominated this city- and in a twist of fate it is directly due to the station that the only remaining section of city wall (now open as a museum) overlooks the lines leading into it.
The government of Beijing realised in the 1950's that the city walls were a major hindrance to traffic and movement within the city and began demolishing the outer walls. By the 1960's the need for a mass transit system was mounting which would require mass clearance above ground in order to construct the cut-and-cover tunnels. The resultant decision was instead to raise the inner city walls as a route for the first underground line in the city. Only the far south-east corner of the walls were saved where the line deviated from this line to serve Beijing Station.

Another passenger DF4 heads away from Beijing Station.
Between 2001 and 2003 this section was restored and opened to the public (for a small fee when the ticket office is open) as the 'Ming City Wall Relics Park'. Apart from providing a very interesting insight into the history of the fortifications- it is also an idea platform for viewing trains running into and out of Beijing Station- well worth the admission fee if anyone asks for it!
The newer HXd locos are not quite as inspiring as their
older friends.
Aside from the high speed trains almost all trains in China are formed of traditional locos and coaches (the train to Badaling being one notable exception). There are many classes of both diesel and electric locomotive- plenty of which can be seen around Beijing Station. The most impressive trains are certainly those which are still diesel hauled (despite the fact that almost all routes out of Beijing are electrified) where DF4 and DF11 locomotives haul rakes of 18 coaches out of the station a couple of times each hour. 

There are several classes of electric loco as well from the modern HXd locos to the older classes such as the SS8's. Older classes too can appear and it is certainly not impossible to see the original green DF4 diesel locos here- an impressive sight if you are lucky enough to catch one! There are several different liveries of stock to be seen also- including the old green coaches (with coal burning samovars). 
All in all this is an excellent location where half a day can easily be wasted away. The line runs almost exactly east-west here so the sun is well positioned for most of the day- assuming you are lucky enough to have picked a clear Beijing day without the cities famous smog!

SS9 0111 heads into Beijing as it passes a classmate on the station throat. In the distance can be seen the large loco stabling point from where locos regularly shuttle into the station.

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