Construction of the section between Tangshan and Tianjin began in 1881 as the Kaiping Tramway. This section is the second-oldest railway in China and the oldest still in use. (The oldest railway in China was the Woosung Railway in Shanghai, built in 1876 but dismantled and removed to Taiwan the next year.) Later this section was extended west to Beijing and east to Shanhaiguan. It was further extended to the east and reached Mukden (modern Shenyang) in Fengtian province (modern Liaoning) by 1912.
The railroad operated under or was known by several names, including:
the Imperial Railroad of North China,
the Guanneiwai Tielu (lit. "Shanhaiguan Inner & Outer Railway"),
The section from Shenyang to Harbin used to be a part of the South Manchuria branch of the Chinese Eastern Railway built by the Russian Empire from 1898 to 1902. Later, the section from Changchun to Shenyang became part of the Japanese South Manchuria Railway. There used to be no linking line between the Jingfeng Railway and the South Manchuria Railway. A bridge was built for the South Manchuria Railway to cross the Jingfeng Railway. The Huanggutun Incident took place on June 4, 1928 right at this bridge, several kilometers east of the Huanggutun railway station on Jingfeng railway. During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (1931–1945), the Jingfeng railway and the south Manchuria railway was connected together. After 1949, the Jingfeng Railway and the Shenyang to Harbin section of the south Manchuria railway were altogether named as Jingha Railway.