China steam - January 2008 - filling some gaps and visiting a few old friends


A dash across rather of lot of China with Dave Hill, Andy Fewster and Tom Kitching; all ably guided by Mike Ma. When planning this trip it was apparent that the distances between steam locations were getting so great that internal flights were the best way to save time and maximise photographic potential. All flights and trains ran to time and were also full.

Pingdingshan 9-12/1/08

Three of us flew Beijing 8/1/08 courtesy of KLM and after meeting up with Mike and Andy it was off to Pingdingshan on train K279 with arrival at 06.22. The coal railway has changed a lot since we were last here in 2006. All the crossings in the city to the east of the local station have been replaced by road underpasses and the road is now a six lane racetrack. Gone are the opportunities for atmospheric photographs with a background of ancient keepers' huts and people queueing at the barriers. Gone too are many of the steam trains and finding the remaining ones can be a frustrating business. Outside the shed the work to double of the line westwards continues and again the crossing atmosphere is no longer there. Early morning action is still to be found on shed and with the JS taking empties away from the yard, but then what?

There was steam at Mine 12 but we were refused access and so resorted to viewing the passenger passing the ponds near Mine 8. Then a drive towards Baofeng, calling at a number of mines on the way. Steam was on the passenger on the western branch and at Baofeng it appears that some traffic is handed over from diesel to steam for the empties to be tripped out to the mines and quarries to the west and the fulls returned. There also appears to be a standby locomotive positioned here. On the 10th a trip to Yuzhou in almost complete darkness at midday found four QJs in steam but with little to do other than shunt the empties brought in by diesel. QJ6450 has taken a full train to Pingdingshan on the 9th and returned light engine in the evening. We explored the roads west of Baofeng on the 11th as the snow began to fall. There are some excellent locations for photography if only you can find some trains and some light. We settled for the long bank before the limeworks at Mo Liang Miao and were rewarded by one steam hauled coal empties and the afternoon passenger. We were also asked to move away whilst a blast took place in one of the many quarries in the area.

Locos seen in steam:
JS 5644, 6225, 6253, 8030, 8031, 8054, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8122,  8338, 8421
QJ 6450, 6650, 6690, 7186
Workshops: SY1687
Dumped: JS 6429 SY1209

Sandaoling 13-16/1/08

Overnight snow in Pingdingshan heralded the beginning of the freezing weather that was to badly affect central and southern China in the second half of January. The roads were coated in a thick layer of ice and the motorway was closed. Luckily our driver knew the way to Zhengzhou airport via the old roads and we somehow managed to make check-in for our flight to Urumchi with about ten minutes to spare. From Urumchi the double deck night train whisked us to Hami where our minibus and driver were waiting. It appears that visiting Sandaoling is like the old days as we found ourselves with a multiplicity of people who had to accompany us. There was the driver, compulsory local guide and the representative of the mining company who was there to ensure we didn’t do anything silly. This may have added to the cost of the visit but it did ensure that we were able to see everything we wanted and experienced no problems from security. We were checked out more than once whilst around the pit and I would have expected any unauthorised visitors to be quickly subject to arrest and removal from the area.

I had wanted to visit Sandaoling from the moment I learned about the mine and the steam action there. It may be a long journey to get there but the experience was great. Four days was the minimum time required to see everything we wanted. The weather remained sunny apart from one afternoon before it snowed, and the steam action was extensive and spectacular. The photographic opportunites here are endless with both the opencast mine and the deep mine lines and line to the CNR interchange. Banked trains of empties ran on two mornings around sunrise and a single loco sufficed on a third morning. Sunset shots on the tips were almost overwhelmed by the weight of traffic and a on the edge of the pit picnic in temperatures well below freezing caused great amusement to our minders who kept peering over the edge to check that we really were still there.

The workshops and running shed were visited and it was very encouraging to see one locomotive completely stripped for a complete overhaul and rebuild. It was suggested by the mine representative that steam would not be replaced by diesel, rather that the railway could be replaced by lorries in a few years.

We stayed at the modern hotel in Sandaoling owned by the mine company. It was warm and comfortable and everything worked.

Locos seen in steam:
JS 6204, 6205, 6206, 6208, 6223, 6261, 6430, 6436, 8040, 8053, 8055, 8076, 8167, 8173, 8188, 8189, 8193, 8194, 8195, 8197, 8221, 8222, 8314, 8358, 8366, 8368, 8384
SY 1304, 1718, 1729
Workshops: SY 1720 2 unidentified JS

Jalainur 18-20/1/08

The long journey from Sandaoling to Jalainur involved the overnight train to Urumchi and flight to Beijing. After a short night in a hotel near the airport we took the recently introduced Hainan Airlines flight direct to Manzhouli where the new terminal buildings are not yet in use. The plane was full and the two hour flight compares well with the previous options via Hailaer or Harbin. We were at the Jalainur Pit by lunchtime, having dropped our bags at the hotel in Manzhouli. I was told by a Japanese enthusiast that we met there that a new hotel has opened in Jalainur but did not see it myself.

Action on the deep mines railway was heavier than I have previously seen. Some trains were banked, indeed some were so long that it was impossible to capture both locomotives in one photograph. In the opencast pit the picture was less encouraging with large numbers of spoil wagons laid up and traffic to the tips at a low level. Coal movements appeared to be at a high level and in the afternoons there seemed to be an increase in spoil traffic. There were also a number of lorry movements within the pit. The passenger train was topped and tailed with SYs each morning as it left the pit.

Locos seen in steam:
SY 0471, 0867, 0924, 0958, 0959, 1041, 1126, 1193, 1257, 1284, 1285, 1374, 1376, 1416, 1448, 1450, 1601, 1663, 1678, 1681, 1688, 3005

From Manzhouli we caught Train 1302 in the early afternoon for the long ride to Jinzhou where it had recently been rerouted into the central station rather than Jinzhou South. A very comfortable and clean train with a self service buffet arrangement in the restaurant car. The result was inevitably a chaotic scramble for food with large numbers of people bumping into each other. A narrow gauge line with diesel hauled limestone train was seen soon after leaving Hailaer and steam was seen in the distance as we passed the exchange sidings at Dayan. We also noted that the depot/workshop at Dahushan still hard a yard full of derelict QJs.

Nanpiao 21-22/1/08

Arrived at Jinzhou around 12.20 and minibus straight to Nanpiao and the hotel to the west of Xiamiaozi overlooking the Sanjaizi branch. Not the best hotel and seemingly lacking in door locks and organisation. Ton the line three steam locomotives were in use and two diesels in sporadic action. Both passenger trains were steam hauled on the afternoon of 21st but only one on the 22nd to Linghai in the morning and Sanjiazi in the afternoon. During the night at least three heavy steam hauled trains went up the branch towards Sanjiazi.  We tried a different photo spot on a hill above Fulongshan and were rewarded by a downhill loaded coal train and the afternoon uphill passenger in reasonable light.

Locos seen in steam:
SY 0366, 1092, 1299

Beipiao 23/1/08

Stayed overnight in a new hotel at Chaoyang which is conveniently situated about 45 minutes from Beipiao and an hour and a half from Nanpiao. The visit to Beipiao was made in the knowledge that trains were hard to find and this proved to be true. On arrival three locomotives were seen at Guangshan Mine and coaling point but two these disappeared towards Yijing leaving 1091 shunting the nearby washery. After negotiations at the railway offices we were accompanied back to Yijing by the head of security for the railway and given access to the building in which was stored JF 886. The locomotive is in good condition and has been repaired since Berndt Seiler’s visit in 2007 and the air pump is back on the locomotive. The injectors were missing and we were told that they had been removed to avoid theft. It was clear that the locomotive was considered to be a bit of a pet and the local manager said that it had last been used in May 2007. We were also told that it would only be used if traffic levels increased as it was not as powerful as the SYs.

Back outside we saw one train heading towards Guangshan and one locomotive shunting and tipping spoil. Later we visiting Guangshan washery to watch the shunting and were approached by a number of local people who were concerned that we might be there to report on environmental concerns. It was deemed best to leave at this point and investigate the line to Sanbao. The scenery is not particularly inspiring on this section although there are a number of uphill stretches where loaded trains would be chimney first. Sanbao mine looks derelict but here were loaded wagons awaiting collection. We waited in the icy wind for a long time but no locomotive came and we finally decided to start the drive to Pingzhuang in daylight.

Locos seen in steam:
SY 0387, 1091, 1550
Stored in locked shed JF886

Pingzhuang 24/1/08

And so to Pingzhuang which was another location that had never before made it to the top of my 'to do' list. The weather was bright and cold and the deep mine system yielded three locos in steam on the line and another three at the workshops. Morning line-up at the washery included the deflector SY 1083 which later took a long full train to the interchange at Pingzhuang Nan and brought back a similar number of empties. The bridge between Wufeng and the interchange made for an excellent photo just minutes before the sun moved too far round. The workshops were undertaking light repairs to SY1052 and SY1487 appeared to have been fitted with the cab off 0766. Its own cab was lying outside. We were advised that steam may last up to five years but ominously the heavy repair shop was empty. The stored JS were for sale to anyone who could make the right offer. A look at the northern section gave an opportunity to see SY 0400 passing Bushan No.1 Mine with a load of fulls. Access to the opencast pit was not permitted but we did see a number of SYs working there and in the yard adjacent to the washery.

Locos seen in steam:
SY 0400, 0942, 1017, 1052, 1083, 1487
JS 6246, 6544, 8216, 8218, 8246

Home via Chifeng and the still incomplete rebuilt station. We were chased out of the soft class waiting room by a very irate lady who then banged her head on the roller shutter door on the way out. Apparently the welcome sign was purely decorative and although complete and fitted out it could not be used. Back to Beijing Bei on a very rattly sleeper and the traditional long march to find that the taxis were being booked by the police for daring to stop to pick up people off the train. Luckily KLM were on time and the flights home no more of an ordeal than usual.

Overall a very successful trip which was made so much easier by having Mike Ma there to arrange the relevant permits accommodation and transport. He has contacts in all the right places and this certainly helped to save time and avoid the frustrations that can occur when chasing steam. Sandaoling was just great and the perfect weather helped make it even better. Jalainur is still so atmospheric even though it was often in the -30s C. Pindingshan is worth visiting whilst they still have plenty of steam in use, but you need to be patient and persistent if you want to get something apart from the usual shed and yard shots. As for the other places Nanpiao requires patience but can still deliver good action as can Pingzhuang which exceeded expectations. Beipiao is for the completist unless they get the JF steaming, and then it would be well worth a visit.

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© David Kitching 2008

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