China steam - December 2008

Steam after the Olympics


Another dash across rather of lot of China with Dave Hill, Andy Fewster and Alan Murray-Rust; once again ably guided by Mike Ma. The fall in the value of the pound made this significantly more expensive that previous trips, particularly when we took five internal flights in order to get around quickly. The convenience of the flights was such that we were able to see steam every day even though we had to jump from Jixi to Baotou and then on to Shibanxi. A few years ago I would never have believed that it would be possible spend a day on the lineside in Jixi, overnight in Beijing, and be in Baotou steelworks by ten o'clock the next morning.

Finnair flew us from Manchester and London via Helsinki to arrive in Beijing on December 2nd. An afternoon flight to Harbin and then on to train N75 overnight to Jixi.

Jixi 3-7/12/08


Mike had arranged for our minibus to meet the train at Didao station and this enabled us to be at the Didao washery as the sun rose. Didao was busier than on our last visit and all five locomotives were seen in action when we returned on the 7th. We even managed to catch two trains down towards the exchange sidings just before leaving.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 0407 0950 1205 1213 1446



Lots of action here and the morning line-up at Donchang was as good as ever with seven locomotives present on one morning. Traffic was heavy and we saw a double headed departure with full wagons for the CNR interchange. The spoil line towards Zhengyang did not appear to have any traffic and the spoil trains towards Jixi were sparse. Coal traffic out was, however, much greater than two years ago. Beichang washery was as photogenic as ever with the horse carts well in evidence and one afternoon there were three trains at the hoppers all facing out chimney first.

The line to Zhengyang and on to Xinghua saw several trains a day including the spoil traffic to the tip at the summit betweenthe two mines. We also saw spoil trains working onto a tip at the dead end beyond Xinghua mine. Loaded trains out of Xinghua were heavy and one departure was banked up to the summit with the banking locomotive dropping off just before the cabin and returning to Xinghua light engine. The staff in the cabin at Zhengyang were very helpful in keeping us advised of movements and this enabled us to get in position at the right time. It was very cold on some days with a strong wing causing the steam to blow down badly on occasions.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 0341 0590 0863 1058 1340 1351 1369 1437 1544



Two locomotives in the yard but the crew on 0746 spent their time sleeping in the cab. After an extended loading and shunting session we were able to photograph 0639 with a heavy train as it passed Xinglongsandhui in mid afternoon with just enough steam showing to make a reasonable picture.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 0639 0746



I had expected to find no action here but we actually managed to find plenty. Although we saw to diesels in the yard at the bottom of the bank we saw no diesel movements at all. Xiao Hengshan (Lijing) mine was busy with steam on the spoil tipping and also moving coal out and working up and down Hengshan bank. SY 1018 looked rather odd with the top half of its chimney missing.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 0804 1018 1344



Another place where the action exceeded expectations. We spent most of December 5th on this system where the morning spent near the old reversing point at Sijing saw a loaded train down from Pinggang followed by empties back up. A move to Pinggang mine then yielded 1118 shunting the loading hoppers and then collectED a rake of spoil wagons for Xinfeng. It eventually returned pushing the loaded spoil train right through the colliery and out the other side to a spoil tip some way beyond. soon 0477 appeared light engine to fill its tender under the hoppers. Loading coal was taking a long time and we left for Hengshan before the afternoon fulls departed.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 0477 1118


Baotou 8/12/08

Oh dear, not the most successful visit. Having flown from Mudanjiang with an overnight stop in Beijing we had high hopes of a good day at the steelworks. The depot produced SY 1431 as spare loco and another SY shunting just up the line towards the furnaces. Inside the workshop were 1677 in steam under light repair and 1748 for a washout. 1723 in the yard has severe collision damage on the right side. En route to the slag tips we saw 1727 shunting near the new furnace and on the tip was 1731 with a train of solid slag. At this point security stepped in and examined our permit which had been obtained from the steelworks owned travel agency in Baotou. They appeared satisfied but returned a short while later and told us to accompany them to their office where Mike and our driver spent the next two and a half hours on the phone to the travel agency and talking to the security boss who advised that as far as he was concerned no visits were to be allowed after 1st December. We were then asked to leave and did so rather sadly as this was our last chance to capture the slag tipping with steam.

Locos seen in steam:

SY 1431 1677 1727 1731 and two others unidentified
Washout SY1748
Dumped with collision damage on right side SY1723


Shibanxi 9-14/12/08

After the disappointment at the steelworks we flew from Baotou direct to Chengdu for a fast car transfer to Shibanxi whence we caught the evening train up to Mifengyan where we based ourselves at the Doctor's hostel. We were well looked after here and the food in particular was excellent. When the doctor was bitten on his hand by a dog on the day his wife had travelled away on school business Mike Ma stepped in to produce a range of tasty dishes which were equally as good as those provided by the Doctor's wife. The man has hidden talents! From the Wednesday we had the company of Dick Walker who was travelling independently.

The line was operating as normal with a range of freight trains in addition to the passenger service. The coal train did not run on one day but there was also a log train which carried away a large stack of timber that had been brought down to Mifenyang by the packhorses. Although the weather was fairly warm and exhaust minimal for much of the time, we did get a bit of sunshine on two of the days and it remained dry throughout. It was a pleasure to walk along this line to pick photospots and partake of a beer or a bite to eat at the many little shops to be found along the way. The people were extremely friendly and helpful and I was completely taken by the whole experience. Three locomotives were seen in steam: Nos 7, 9 and 10.


Home via a flight from Chengdu to Beijing where for the first time ever I was able to spend a little time in the city rather than the usual dash through. The flights home via Helsinki were relaxed due to the sensible leg room on the new Airbus A340 and the slightly shorter journey from Beijing via this route.

Another successful trip, apart from Baotou, and thanks, as always, to Mike Ma for his efforts to make everything happen when it should. As for other gricers, we saw three at Jixi plus two young Chinese couples photographing at Beichang and Dick Walker at Shibanxi. It's still well worth visiting China for steam even if it is quite a bit more expensive than it used to be.

Thanks to David Hill for supplying some of the images used in this report.

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© David Kitching 2008

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