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Steam in China 2006

by Barry Buckfield/Norman Spalding/Brian Hawkins

Hegang, Huanan, Jixi, Nanpiao, Jinzhou 701, Huladao, February 7th, Buddha Valley

Hegang - 8th to 10th October

Over the three days we were at Hegang, we saw 10 SY's in steam, eight it seems is the number required for traffic each day. The passenger service on the line from Jepei to Junli was in the charge of SY 1498 on each day. This loco turns each day so alternate days are chimney first from Jepei. The short passenger service between Jepei and Xingshan was electric hauled on 8th and 9th October, (although on the 8th trains 24, 25 and 26 were cancelled), but on the 10th, the 06.40 Jepei to Xingshan and the 07.20 Xingshan to Jepei were hauled by SY 0905. The passenger service to Shanzhuang had been suspended. All the SY's working were kept busy on shunts, short trips to local coal mines, spoil tipping on the Xingshan line and works trains, however, not all the longer distance coal trains are electric. On 9th October, we saw SY 1685 depart from Junli with a loaded coal train at 17.00. The Junli passenger trains put up a good performance, especially out of Fuli on the run back to Jepei. We were unable to get permission to enter the shed at Hegang, however, SY's 0555, 0683 and 3023 were noted dumped. SY 3014 was in the workshops, while SY's 0642, 0685 and 1484 were not seen, but may have been in the shed. It is presumed that SY 's 0354, 0472, 0561 and 3024 had been scrapped. Most of the locos on this system appeared to be grubby. While in Hegang, we hired a mini-cab and driver for two and a half days for 200 Yuan per day. The driver was excellent and knew his way around all the railway system and coal mine areas well. His name is Li Ruihua and can be contacted on telephone number (0086) 13115683678.

Huanan - 10th October

We arrived at Huanan at mid afternoon in the pouring rain. At the shed, C2's 011 and 043 were in steam and we were told that C2 168 was on its way to Huanan with the last coal train 'for several days' owing to the breakdown of the mechanical loader in the coal transit yard with China Rail in Huanan. We went out and chased C2 168 in towards Hunan as best we could in the appalling light.

Jixi - 11th to 13th October

Over the three days, we saw an amazing 24 SY's in use on this vast 100% steam system. At Didao, SY's 0950, 1205 and 1446 were all kept busy when we visited on 11th October, with SY 0407 also in steam, but did not move, presumably this was the spare loco. The fabulous Chengzihe system uses seven SY's each day, including the elderly SY 0237. Other SY's at work here during our visit were 0590, 0733, 0863 1018, 1058, 1351, 1437 and 1544. Over at the Hengshan system, another seven SY's are at work daily, we saw 0341, 0746, 0804, 0898, 1095, 1340 and 1369. A regular working is at around 08.30 to 09.00, when a load of empties is taken up the bank from Hengshan to Zhongxin. On 12th October, this was in the charge of SY 0804, but on 13th October, it was double headed with SY's 1369 and 0804, (with snow on the ground too!) Back at the maintenance shops in Jixi, SY's 0477 and 1545 were under overhaul, utilising the equipment moved in from Mudanjiang Works, while in the six berth servicing shed, now roofless with a new roof under construction, two SY's were being serviced. We were told that two new diesels are expected in 2007, but steam repairs would continue for five years. Over at Donghaikuang Mine, SY's 0639 and 1344 were the working locos, albeit in a snowstorm on 12th October. At the Lishu system on 13th October, SY's 0951 and 1118 were the working locos at Xifeng. During mid afternoon, SY 0951 took a loaded coal train out to Lishuzhen to the China Rail exchange yard beyond the local station. The only loco not seen on this visit to the Jixi systems, was SY 1213.

Meihekou - 14th to 15th October

Three SY's were in daily use on this busy little railway, 0791,decorated 1216 and 1564. Decorated 1217 and 1662 were in the shed, 1445 dumped. All passenger workings were in the charge of the sole diesel on this system. Good photo opportunities for an SY on spoil tipping just to the north of Sanjing Mine on the east side behind some rural housing in the late afternoon, backed by green trees on the hills and an array of local coal pickers in the foreground.

Nanpiao - 16th to 18th October

Arrived here in thunder and rain. Four SY's working on 16th October, 0366, 0754, 0973 and 1299 with just one of the diesels active. By the middle of the second day, a second diesel came into use replacing SY 0754 in traffic resulting in the daylight passenger trains on the Lingwe line being diesel. The third diesel was in the maintenance shed looking neglected. There is a lot of activity on this delightful railway and we agree with Roger Blundell's comments about its charm. The loco off both the morning and afternoon passenger arrivals at Sanjiazi, works loaded coal wagons back to Weizgou Mine at Daguopu and returns with empties to Sanjiazi, before the return passenger workings. Back at Xiamiaozi on 17th October, we were surprised to see ex-works and repainted SY 1386 standing in the China Rail yard! The loco had apparently been tripped down from the Jinzhou 701 locomotive factory, following overhaul, to be put into a coal train for its transit back to Lingyuan steelworks. The condition of the locos at Nanpiao was not as bad as had been described in previous reports. Mechanically they are sound and perform well on some heavy work and are no dirtier than the locos we saw at Hegang or Jixi for instance. SY 1092 was noted in steam outside the maintenance shed in a positively clean condition following maintenance. SY 1478 was also dumped at this facility, being replaced by a diesel loco of the same age! Both the new hotels at Huangjia and across the river at Xiamiaozi on the road to Shaguotun were very full, with only standard rooms left available, with no bathroom or toilet en suite.

Jinzhou 701 - 18th October

We were very pleased to be able to arrange a rare conducted tour of this rather intriguing and mysterious locomotive works, being told that we were only the third group of visitors permitted to visit this facility. The works is located in a mountainous area between Jinzhou and Nanpiao, tucked into a remote valley, accessible only through a rural village, capable of only allowing passage for small vehicles. At the lower part of the valley, the works offices are situated, with some storage sidings adjacent. The works is positioned at a higher level of the valley, hidden from view from the lower level, rail access is by means of a steep incline from the lower level, again hidden from view. The facility consists of a brick repair shop located against the sheer face of the mountain, together with various out-buildings. Adjacent to the workshop is a siding, which enters the mountainside through a decorated portal. The line inside the mountain is in total darkness for the first 100 metres or so, then opens out a little and can be seen extending to about half a kilometre in total length, with side tunnels leading into busy well equipped machine and fitting shops and stores. The whole interior is gloomy and has only minimal lighting, but the main tunnel is equipped with overhead cranes and lifting jacks etc. Towards the end of the tunnel, we came across SY 1415 being overhauled in the gloomy surroundings. This whole uncanny and forbidding facility resembled a set for a James Bond film! Although we did manage a few photographs in and around the works, it was not really encouraged, however our guides were friendly, but protective about their business, which must now have a fairly limited market. Also present outside the works were three ex-JiTong QJ's, awaiting possible overhaul and export to the USA. Recent reports that the works will close in December were confirmed as unfounded.

Locomotives present:-
SY 0881 Overhaul From Fushun Special Steel
SY 1050 Overhaul (in steam) From Fushun Old Steelworks
SY 1362 Overhaul From Tonghua Steelworks
SY 1415 Overhaul From Huludao
JS 8162 Works Pilot (in steam)
QJ 6998 Stored
QJ 7002 Stored
QJ 7040 Stored

Huludao - 18th October

Our afternoon visit saw JS 6307 work an empty train to Yangjiazhangzi at 13.00, returning back at 16.00, while JS 6243 was shunting at Huludao. The turnround at Yangjiazhangzi was rapid once the wagons were loaded at the quarry. The loco turned on the turntable and once back on its train, departed immediately back to Huladao. JS 8207 was in the shed at Huludao. There was no sign of SY 0513 while SY 1415 is under overhaul at Jinzhou 701 works.

February 7th Wagon Works, Beijing - 19th October

A morning visit here, after paying the exorbitant fee, found SY 0732 and JF 2446 working. The SY was busy shunting the wagon works, then departed eastwards, (presumably to the China Rail interchange yard about 1 kilometre east), with a rake of at least 50 brand new blue liveried coal wagons. Later the JF headed off to the wagon shops where it could be heard carrying out some serious shunting. SY 0891 appears dumped, but could still possibly still act as spare loco. A new diesel is expected in 2007 we were told.

Buddha Valley Railway - 20th October

To get to Futuya to see this little railway, it takes a five hour journey, by road or rail, from Beijing, through some fantastic scenery. There is no hotel in Futuya, so we stayed in a basic hotel in Laiyuan. Upon arrival at the Railway's base, we were told that no trains had operated for several days, due to no wagons being delivered from China Rail. However, SY 999 was in steam. This loco had not been reported here so discovering its real identity under the grime was difficult, however the number on the plate of the air tank indicated it was either 0920 or 0929, (can anyone confirm this identity?). Also present was SY 666 (0878), which was dumped and SY 888 (0459), which may be capable of steaming. The external condition of all three locos was disgusting, covered in thick grime, even over the wheels and motion, they clearly had received no care for a considerable time. Although this railway is only 4 kilometres long, it offers considerable photogenic possibilities, with two large viaducts, tunnel and the line clinging to a ledge on the side of a mountain. Unfortunately there are few trains and the locos are dirty, as well as needing a long journey to get to this isolated steam line.

Conclusion

Another worthwhile visit for us all, despite some inclement weather at times, including rain and some snow. Once again we enjoyed the excellent services of our guide, Mike Ma, with Yilan Zhang covering for the final three days.

Barry Buckfield
29th October 2006

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2006 Barry Buckfield ( barrybuckfield@beeb.net )