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Steam in China

WESTERN CHINA - NOVEMBER 2005

by DAVE WHITFIELD

 

This trip was organised by Duncan Cotterill through Sun Xiao Lan of the Lianoning Steam Loco. Photographic Assocn. at Shenyang. It covered the period 11th. to 27th. November 2005. These notes are intended to give an overall impression of the lines visited rather than a comprehensive report, which Duncan will no doubt produce on his own web site. They are written from a still photographer’s viewpoint. It is quite possible that those producing videos or preferring to ride trains may have a different opinion.

Logistics

We flew from Beijing to Urumqi. The flight was delayed for over an hour. We then boarded the overnight train to Hami (for Sandaoling) which arrived at 0710 the next morning. Some people choose to stay at Hami rather than Sandaoling. I find this rather puzzling. There is a perfectly acceptable hotel in Sandaoling (the Huanyingguanlin) and this saves over an hour’s travelling time everyday.
From Hami we took an overnight train to Lanzhou via the impressive pass at Tianzhu. We finally flew back from Lanzhou to Beijing, the flight being delayed 5 hours !

Shankou-Yamansu

This is in the middle of nowhere. There is now a security barrier on the road just before the factory. It is doubtful if you would get in here without permission. Having said that, I can’t think of any particular reason why you would want to do so unless you wanted to “grice” the shed. The “factory” is not a particularly photogenic location. When we were there, no trains were running !
All locos are chimney first out of Shankou. You probably could get a reasonable shot of a return working to Yamansu somewhere in the desert but that’s about it, a one-shotter.

Recommended? - Don’t bother.

Sandaoling

There is no doubt, this is an impressive and extensive operation.
We had mixed weather. It was never really cold, chilly at times but nowhere near the severe winter temperatures of the north. I didn’t use my thermals and sometimes it was so warm that it affected the “clag”. This was particularly noticeable on the workings from the CNR interchange to the main complex at Sandaoling/Nanzhan. Once both locos got into their stride there was little or no smoke either from the train engine or the banker.
The Tianshan Mountains are impressive but they were never really crystal clear, being always affected by haze to varying degrees.
A session at first light at Xibolizhan “station” could certainly be productive with spoil trains side by side, either waiting to go to the opencast pit or to the tips. Coal goes out the other end and this operation appears to be less busy than the spoil tipping.
During the whole of the time we were there, only two chimney first workings were seen, everything was either pushed or pulled. I have not been to Jalainur but from photographs, the light here appears to be different. At Sandaoling it appears much softer and you do not get the intensity and contrast that the intense cold can bring in the North.
The workings from the two deep mines are not very exciting, indeed most of them are downhill. You can work in the snow-capped mountains into these pictures but this does not compensate for the lack of action (despite the engines being chimney first). The exit from Yijing mine is a bit tame and locos only work a very short distance uphill before shutting off. The most impressive action seen away from the opencast pit was a train working away from the washery to Dongbolizhan. This was banked and both locos were worked hard. Something for future visitors to definitely look out for.

Recommended? - If you don’t mind tender first workings, this is the place for you.

Haishiwan - Yaojie

Again we had mixed weather here. In addition, there was a lot of pollution which made a grim place even grimmer. The big cement works at the exit to the gorge could be a real problem. Sometimes in the early morning it could be really cold, thermals were required.
It has to be said that the gorge and the three river bridges at Haishiwan are impressive and have great potential for photography. Whether you can get a train at the right time in winter with the right conditions must be in considerable doubt. Half the workings in the gorge will be tender first (from Haishiwan) and we had some light engine movements to contend with as well.
The northern line is not very exciting and lightly trafficked (expect a train in the morning and afternoon) but the river crossing near the Power Station is well worth a picture. Staff at Yaojie were friendly and provided reliable information on the sparse service.

Recommended? - If you are prepared to gamble on getting workings at the right time in the right light, it’s possibly worth a go.

Liujiaxia

We had poor weather here (cold and grey), so comments are a bit skewed as a result. There were few trains and we did not see any trip workings to local factories around Gucheng. The total action consisted of the one-coach school trains (short workings) and the afternoon mixed up the line. Some of the former will be in the dark in the winter. The reports of “street running” are somewhat exaggerated and are not very exciting, although shots of the market stalls can be worked into pictures close to the terminus.
The line after Dachuan is pleasant but access is very difficult after the Ferry Station near the tunnel. Some shots from the other side of the river at the ferry are nice but note that on the occasions we saw the train, it did NOT clag once it got into its stride after Dachuan station. Once past the tunnel, it did start to do a bit of work but it’s usually a light train well within the capabilities of a JS. We never saw the train being banked as reported by some visitors.

Recommended? - A nice area but not for steam, it’s too thin on the ground.

Baiyin

This is a heavily industrialised area and consequently badly polluted, which affected visibility the whole of the time we were here. On the day we left, there was some clarity and we were astounded to be able to see the surrounding hills. The weather was cold, particularly first thing when it was well below zero.
The hilly area around Sanyelian and Shenbutong is nice but affected by the ever-present pollution problems. The two early morning passenger trains ran just too early for the light at this time of year and the empties to the mine at the top of the branch only ran twice during our stay. There was really only one train to phot on this line in the afternoon as the second passenger ran just that bit too late for any decent light.
There were some trip workings from Gongshi Yard to nearby factories and some shunting but you will have to pay extra (100Y/person/day) to gain access, as the yard and the shed are in a restricted area. We also had to pay to go up the branch beyond Shanyelian as this too was considered off limits. It would not be advisable to do any of this without permission as there are police/security posts just about everywhere.
Sometime during the day an engine usually worked up to the Smelter at Sanyelian and did some shunting but this was difficult for the light. Often the engine worked up or back light. The passenger trains to Shenbutong were always chimney first but the shorter workings to Sanyelian varied.

Recommended? - It’s probably not worth the bother but if you do go, don’t forget a respirator and some spare 100Y notes.

DAVE WHITFIELD


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© 2005, Dave Whitfield: e-mail: whitties@nascr.net