Winter Spectacle – Extended Visit to the Last Strongholds of Steam

China 02.01. - 22.01.2009

Zhalai Nuoer sunset

Another tour where we need to admit: it will be the last of it’s kind. This tour can never be repeated, steam is vanishing from the rails. This is Zhalai Nuoer’s last full winter season before the open cast mine is scheduled to be closed. It’s also very likely that this will be Nanpiao’s last winter season, diesels will take over in Fuxin, and Huanan depending on the construction of a short road to Hongguang only. It is time to say good bye, it’s time for a farewell tour.

You’ll experience:

The scenery on these lines is quite varied. The deep open cast mine of Zhalai Nuoer offers spectacular climbs on steep gradients, Huanan is situated in a rural, beautiful mountain area while Jixi offers industrial backdrops as well as hilly countryside, heavy trains, dense traffic and scenic lines.

Of course, this might not be the last winter tour ever, but the variety of locations will no longer be available. This tour will be exclusively for 15 participants only. Due to the limited group size and the long distance trains and domestic flights it can’t be a cheapie, but it will be an unbeatable last big winter spectacle.

Huanan - banked steam trains






Departure to China


Morning arrival in Beijing, connecting flight to Haerbin CA1611 dep. 16.30 hrs, arrival 17.55 hrs, charter bus to Haerbin railway station, overnight train 4137, dep. 20.53 hrs


05.49 hrs arrival Jiamusi, by charter bus to Huanan, line siding on the section Huanan – Tuoyaozi, hotel Huanan


Line siding Huanan – Lixin (C2), overnight in private houses in Lixin (category three black holes)


Line siding Huanan – Lixin, overnight in private houses in Lixin


Line siding Huanan – Lixin, evening by charter bus to Jixi, Hotel in Jixi


Linesiding around Jixi (SY), Hotel in Jixi


Linesiding and visits to stabling points in the mine system of Jixi, hotel Jixi


Visit to the coal mine lines around Jixi, overnight train N76, dep. 21.20 hrs


Arrival Haerbin 05.58 hrs, charter bus to the airport and flight ZH 9627 to Shenyang 08.00 – 09.00 hrs, continue by charter bus to Nanpiao, afternoon linesiding around Nanpiao, hotel Xiamiaozi


Line siding around Nanpiao (SY), hotel in Xiamiaozi


Line siding around Nanpiao, late afternoon continue by charter bus to Fuxin (5 hours), hotel Fuxin


Visit to the stabling points of Fuxin (SY), linesiding around Fuxin, hotel in Fuxin


Linesiding around Fuxin, hotel in Fuxin


Early morning linesiding around Fuxin, morning return by charter bus to Shenyang, overnight train 2623 from Shenyang Bei, departure 13.44 hrs


09.59 arrival Zhalai Nuoer Xi, linesiding around Zhalai Nuoer (SY), Hotel in Zhalai Nuoer


Visit to the open cast mine in Zhalai Nuoer, hotel in Zhalai Nuoer


Visit to the open cast mine in Zhalai Nuoer, hotel in Zhalai Nuoer


Visit to the open cast mine in Zhalai Nuoer, hotel in Manzhouli


Flight HU 7116 Manzhouli – Beijing 10.50 – 13.00 hrs, hotel in Beijing


Return flight from Beijing, arrival Europe the same evening


Zhalai Nuoer last sunlight

Line description

Zhalai Nuoer (SY) is near Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia province, close to the Russian border. The long journey to get there will be rewarded by plenty of steam action. In addition there are several railway lines serving underground mines as well, all served by steam. About 20 steam locomotives work during the winter season from a total of 50 . Trains are continuously coming and going and steep gradients leading down to the bottom of the mine. The SY’s have to work hard to pull their load to the top level of the mine. Sometimes you can observe three or even four trains moving in and out of the mine simultaneously! We will visit the two depots as well. In the open cast pit is a small stabling point. Last but not least there is also a passenger service in the morning and the late afternoon. The passenger trains are unusually short, consisting of only one or two coaches. They can be pulled, pushed or even pulled and banked. The coal reserves are declining and so it is planned to close the open cast pit in 2010. So the winter of 2008/9 might be the last full mining season.

Zhalai Nuoer icy pit

Zhalai Nuoer has been taken over by a new company which announced several restrictions for visitors. The permit for visiting the open cast pit is relatively sure (April 2008), but visits are limited to daylight hours and to some parts of the mine only. Its likely that security will be always around our group – and sometimes hinder us in taking the shots we want.

Once, Huanan (C2) 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 three 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 wagons. This operation is the last known regularly banked narrow gauge steam train in the world and gives you the chance to take some outstanding photographs and video sequences.

Huanan - Lixin at sunset

Because it’s a long way to get there, the scenery is so spectacular and there are only two to four pairs of trains running during daylight, we will spend a reasonable amount of time here. The distance between Tuoyaozi and Lixin is approximately nine kilometres. As there is no passable road we either have to walk or use the daily railcar. The railcar driver will ask you for extraordinarily high prices, usually twenty times the normal fare. As we do not want to support racist prices we will not offer this service. However, if you would like to use the railcar you can take it on your own. The use of local motorbikes is also possible but not recommended, especially when there is snow on the rough path along the railway track. If you know the style of driving in China you can imagine what I mean! Anyhow, it’s everybody’s own decision. Walking nine or ten kilometres in a whole day is not that far. In the winter time walking is the best thing you can do to cope with the freezing cold. Another option to avoid the walk is to charter a horse cart. Be assured, your feet will be frozen when you arrive in Lixin ... If you are uncomfortable with the private houses in Lixin please allow others to book this tour. This time we’ll not arrange a stay in the hotel in Huanan.

Huanan speherd

There is a possibility that the Huanan system might be closed during our visit. If this proves to be the case, there is nothing we can do about it, not even charter a train. The railway staff will have been sent home so the only thing we can do in this situation is to extend our visit to Jixi.

The coal mine system of Jixi (SY) is one of the steamiest places remaining in China. Even though they got their first batch of diesel locomotives in mid 2007 they still have some 20 steam locos of class SY in use. They serve several different coal mine systems. 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 long trains are banked.


Each system has its own, different pattern of operation. In Jixi it is still possible to take pictures with traditional Hutongs alongside the railway line. We’ll also visit the remote locations of Donghaikuang and Lishu.

Nanpiao's three-wheeler

The coal mines around Nanpiao (SY) are linked by two standard gauge lines. In 2008, steam was still in use on these lines. Two to four BJ class diesels (also quite rare now) disturb the SY action. However, there are still sufficient steam hauled trains to make some nice shots. Nanpiao is surrounded by very interesting 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 the diesels. However, it might be possible that all services have been taken over by diesels before we arrive. In this case we’ll probably replace Nanpiao with Tiefa.

Fuxin has an operation of some 15 SY’s, but several diesels have arrived already. There are shots with mine backdrops possible. The daily line up at the shift change, is a sight in itself. Many of the small houses along the lines have been demolished and replaced by modern buildings now but there are still positions left which are worth pointing the camera at. Several places are quite busy while others see only one train per day.

Fuxin power plant


Small Print

In Zhalai Nuoer we expect morning temperatures around minus 30 degrees Centigrade. The cold is dry and there is often no wind, so it’s not really difficult to stand the climate. Further to the south, in Beijing, temperatures can be around zero to minus ten degrees in January. You need very good winter clothes as well as good batteries for your camera. We recommend that you take Lithium batteries or Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries. You can recharge batteries in all the hotels (and, in Lixin, even in private houses). Sometimes an adapter is necessary (always for UK visitors). On overnight trains there are only occasional working outlets available. The mobile phone service is compatible with the European standard. The coverage in China is amazingly good.

The hotels used will be of medium class. The night train rides are booked in soft sleeper class (closed four berth compartments). As the reservation system in China is a typical quota system where the station of origin typically gets an allotment of more than 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 expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable.

Fuxin shop

Single rooms are not available on train rides, nor in the private houses at Lixin.

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 a hotel’s service and comfort to the bottom end. Zero stars 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 to go into the forest! If you ask somebody about washing your hands he would point to a bowl with some water in – 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 out and use some snow! 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 we rate 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, such a 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 bed have been really surprised how well they slept!

Zhalai Nuoer - a steam crane

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, after you’ve stayed in the total tranquillity of the forests around Lixin, sleeping on a well heated stove, and listening to a train setting off to the summit. You hear the two locomotives for almost half an hour, climbing up the hill. On a bright, starlit night it’s a memorable experience. If you are uncomfortable with the private houses in Lixin you should not book this tour.

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, some photo positions may require an extra but worthwhile effort. This is especially the case in Huanan, where there is no road access to the line. From Tuoyaozi to Lixin it’s about six miles to walk. But what better can you do the whole day than walking when it’s freezing cold outside?

Zhalai Nuoer the big hole

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 take a time consuming 5-star breakfast buffet. On occasions lunch will be served as a packed meal. In the evening we’ll have time for meals which are usually sumptuous. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the tour price.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in China fall short of EU or 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 ends September 10th 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 announce your interest well in advance so that we can hold your place.



Winter Spectacle  10 to 15 participants
02.01.2009 to 22.01.2009 Single room supplement

Minimum number of participants: 8
Maximum number of participants: 15

Without flight to Beijing (land only): Please subtract £410 from the tour price.

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.

Huanan, summit at dusk


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