Steamy Ice-Quickie

China 05.01.2008 - 16.01.2008

Zhalai Nuer

Mountain-high steam exhaust in the crystal clear winter air - this is only now possible in China. We’ll visit some of the highlights of the far north: Zhalai Nuer, with more than 20 steam locos in service, Huanan, the last narrow gauge line of its kind with banked steam trains, and Jixi, a mine system with still some 15 SY in service.

The scenery of these lines is quite varied. The deep open cast mine of Zhalai Nuer 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.



Date Itinerary


Departure to China


Morning arrival in Beijing, visit to the railway museum in Beijing, connecting flight to Hailaer CA1135, departure 17.10 hrs, arrival 19.10 hrs, continue by charter bus to Manzhouli, hotel in Manzhouli


Visit to the open cast mine at Zhalai Nuer (SY), hotel Manzhouli


Visit to the open cast mine at Zhalai Nuer (SY), overnight train N58/60 to Haerbin, departure Zhalai Nuer 20.15 hrs


12.31 hrs arrival Haerbin Dong, transfer to Haerbin station, continue by train N3 to Mudanjiang, departure 14 hrs, arrival Mudanjiang 18.32 hrs, continue by charter bus to Jixi, hotel Jixi


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


Linesiding and visits to stabling points in the mine system of Jixi, evening continue by charter bus to Huanan, hotel Huanan


Line siding Huanan – Lixin, overnight in private houses in Lixin (category three black holes) Hotel Huanan for those who can’t stand a night without facilities, see small print


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


Morning visit to Jixi, afternoon continue to Mudanjiang, overnight train 1452/1449 Mudanjiang dep. 16.19 hrs
15.01. 07.19 hrs arrival Hiludao Bei, visit to the limestone railway Huludao (JS), evening continue by charter bus to Jinzhou Nan, high speed train D8 to Beijing, dep. 18.52 hrs, arrival 21.37 hrs, hotel in Beijing


Return flight from Beijing, arrival Europe in the same evening


Line description

Zhalai Nuer

Zhalai Nuer 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 out of a total of 50 work during the winter season. Trains are continuously coming and going and steep gradients lead down to the bottom of the mine. The SYs 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. The coal reserves are declining and so it is planned to close the open cast pit in a few years.


Once, Huanan 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 2.5 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 for taking some outstanding photographs and video sequences.

Because it's a long way to get there, there is plenty of scenery and 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. Several times we saw the track gang’s trackmotor (speeder) running just behind a freight train. This would be another option to avoid long walks The use of local motorbikes is also possible but not recommended, especially when there is snow on the rough roads. 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.

If you are uncomfortable with the private houses in Lixin we can arrange the hotel in Huanan for you instead. In this case you may have to give the early morning train up to the summit a miss.

Huanan stops the rail service several times during the year. However, the risk is minor because they’ll pile up coal to cover the long break during the Chinese new year holidays at the end of January.


The coal mine system of Jixi is one of the steamiest places remaining in China. Even after they got the first batch of diesel locomotives mid 2007 they have still some 20 steam locos of class SY in use. They are serving 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.


Small Print

In Zhalai Nuer 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. 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.

Zhalai Nuer

The hotels used will be of medium class. The night 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 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.

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 hotel’s service and comfort to the bottom end. Zero star 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 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 is rated 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!


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, but when you’re staying in the total tranquillity of the forests around Lixin, sleeping on a well heated stove, and a train sets off to the summit, you can 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 we can arrange the hotel in Huanan for you instead (at no additional cost).

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 nine kilometres to walk. But what better can you do the whole day than walking when it’s freezing cold outside?

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. 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 2007

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.



Steamy Ice Quickie 05.01.2008 to 16.01.2008 £1,495
Single room supplement £130

Minimum number of participants 5
Maximum number of participants: 22

Without flight to Beijing (land only): Please subtract 350 Euro 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.



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