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Steam in China – March 2007

Barry Buckfield, Brian Hawkins, Bram Stelling

Shibanxi, Chengdu, Pucheng, Yinghao, Xingyang, Zoucheng, February 7

Introduction

A spring tour to central China, flying KLM Amsterdam to Chengdu, (on a half empty Boeing 777), back via Beijing.  Once again the tour was superbly guided by Mike Ma.

Shibanxi    11–15 March

We spent five enjoyable days on this railway, stopping at the Tianpo hotel in Qianwei, getting a taxi each morning to Shixi for the 07.00 train, hauled by C2 10, following an excellent breakfast of dumplings on the platform before departure.

Throughout the five days, all traffic was in the hands of  07 and 10, with 07 working all the freight trains.  The morning coal train ran on four days, (12-15 March), but no afternoon coal train ran, however on two afternoons, 07 worked a special for Chinese tourists over the line.  Some of the passenger trains conveyed goods wagons of fertilizer, timber etc., which were worked back empty.

We gained permission from the company offices to visit the locomotive depot at Shixi, where 14 was present and 09, we were told, was undergoing overhaul in the locked workshops.

Of the five days spent on this delightful line, we had sun for one whole day and more than two half days, some morning mist, but no rain.  The colours at this time of the year with rich greens and golden yellows, made up for the lack of sunshine on the other days.  As we left Shixi to return to Chengdu at 16.30 on 15 March, the rain began to fall. 

Chengdu Area    16-17 March

Unable to get an overnight train to Xian, we planned to go by road.  However the road between Chengdu and Xian became impassable owing to bad weather and a serious bus accident, so we decided to fly to Xian on the afternoon of 17 March.  Therefore having some more time to spare, we decided to check out the locations north of Chengdu, reported by Duncan Cotterill in his January tour report.

On 16 March, a two and a half hour drive north, brought us to Jianyou, where we finally found our way to the stabling point of the steel plant in the city.  Present were SY’s 0256, 0671 and 1463, which were dead, but appeared serviceable.  Inside the maintenance building was 0378 undergoing attention and 0122 was dumped. 

Despite hearing a whistle from inside the works, we were unable to locate the locomotive, (which we now assume to be SY 1161).  However, we were told that a second SY was working in sidings at the power plant at the other end of town.  Upon our arrival, we came across SY 1133 performing some heavy  shunting, which proved quite photogenic through nearby trees with ducks, chickens and locals abound and the power station as a backdrop.    

We moved south to the town of Mianzhu, where from the bridge over the railway to Hanwang, we found elderly SY 0045 in steam in a yard below.  It was attached to some boxcars adjacent to a platform, from which bags of fertilizer was being unloaded.  We were told that 0045 will move the wagons back to the China Rail yard in about one hour, however, as time was pressing we moved on to Hanwang.

At Hanwang, we found the main entrance to the 309 fertilizer factory, but were unable to gain access, although we could hear the whistle of a locomotive within the complex.  However, a helpful employee, escorted us to the rear of the factory, where through a gate, we came across SY 1194 in a siding undergoing maintenance.  We assume that the whistle we heard was that of SY 0418 which must cover SY 1194 during maintenance.  (Not sure how SY 0045 at Mianzhu is covered for maintenance, does one of the SY’s from Hanwang cover this perhaps ?)

On 17th March, after battling through the Chengdu traffic once again, we came to the yard near to the level crossing of the now closed Chengdu Seemless Pipe Works.  Here we found SY 1523 in steam standing next to the yard control centre, but with nothing to do in the now almost empty yard.  In the adjacent closed pipe works, we saw SY 1613 in steam, which then moved off further inside the works.  We were not allowed into the works area, but were told that the remaining locomotives, (not sure how many), will be moved to the new works at Qingbaijiang from 25 March.  There was no sign of SY’s 2008 and 2010, which were reported as going to the nearby glassworks, however, the function of SY 1523 on this day, was to shunt the glassworks when required, we were told.

With a few hours still to spare before our flight to Xian, we headed north to Qingbaijiang to find where the SY’s from Chengdu had been transferred, but due to heavy traffic resulting in a lack of time in Qingbaijiang, we had to return to the airport.  Passing over the steelworks railway on the Expressway, we saw an SY in steam and perhaps three dead  SY on the eastern side.

Pucheng – Baishui    18 March

We left Xian by the new Expressway all the way to Pucheng in a little over 90 minutes.  This was to be a quick visit to see our first QJ in steam since Da-Gu in November 2005.  Arriving at Hanjing depot, we were not disappointed at the sight of QJ’s 7291 and 6871 both in steam, whilst 6928 was dead.  In a small walled and locked compound were dumped 6429 and one other QJ, (6449 or 7021).

As if this were not enough, 7291 left the depot after about 15 minutes to Hanjing station, where we enquired about its movements with the friendly engine crew.  Following some lively shunting in the adjacent yard, 7291 left light engine for Macunkuang to pick up a coal train to bring back to Hanjing, then ran light to Baishui returning on a long coal train at about 13.30, making a fine sight as it crossed the high viaduct at kilometre 32, chime whistle blowing, the scene bathed in the hazy afternoon sunshine.  We were told by staff at Hanjing that steam here will finish in about three months when another diesel is delivered.

Yinghao Coal Railway    19-20 March

Two excellent days spent here, the first with hazy sun, but day two provided us with a clear crisp morning followed by wall to wall sunshine all day long.

A visit to the depot at the end of the line at 08.00 found C2’s 08 and 09 in steam, with 06, 15 and 17 in the depot yard not in steam, with a fourth C2 under repair inside one of the buildings.

Both 08 and 09 were soon wheezing there way down to the marshalling sidings at Xiangyang-Chezhan on each morning, making up trains of nine or ten wagons of coal for the run down to Yinghao.  The normal pattern was for each engine to take alternate trains to Yinghao, whilst the other brought out three more loaded wagons at a time from the mine to make up the next train.

Yima Xianan Colliery    20 March

We left Yinghao at about 14.30 to drive on to Xingyang.  On the way we called into Yima Xianan Colliery, where we saw three dumped QJ’s, 7204, 2858 and 2298. The latter has not been reported here, however 2878 has. (Have we, or someone before us made a mistake in identification here ?)  We were told that steam finished here last year, there were no wagons in the extensive colliery yard, perhaps there is not much work left here.  There was no sign of any diesels.

Xingyang Clay Railway    21 March

C2 207 was in use being kept busy on regular clay trains comprising of 26 four- wheeled wagons.  We were told at the clay pit loading point that the day’s requirement was six trains of clay today.  207 appears to be in good order and the track here is far better than that at Yinghao.

Zoucheng (Yanzhou)    22-23 March

Many thanks to Michael Rhodes for his report on this location from his February visit.  We arranged to meet Mr Zhao from the Yankuang Coal Company transportation department at 07.00 at the Yankuang hotel on 22 March, who then  kindly escorted us for the two days of our visit.

We first went to the Datonzhung stabling point at 08.00 in the beautiful morning sunlight.  On our approach, we could see four QJ’s in steam being prepared.  Deban depot is was not, but even the spectacle of four QJ’s together at one stabling point in 2007 is a bonus.

Following the activity at the stabling point, at around 09.00, three QJ’s, 6811, 6814 and 7126, all departed light engine to various locations south of Datonzhung, whilst 7189 remained as spare engine.

Trying to locate the three QJ’s was difficult, the poor roads in the area were not direct, however 6814 returned from Nantun mine to pick up a rake of empties, which it took back to Nantun.  Later in the afternoon, 6811 headed a train of empty gondolas out of the power plant at Nantun and took them direct, by means of a spur, to Xinglong mine some 20 kilometres away.

We made our way to a level crossing at Baolian to await 6811’s inevitable return, (chimney first).  We were not disappointed, for at 15.45, 6811, double headed with 7126, (tender to tender), rattled through with a long loaded coal train.  We never ever dreamed of seeing a double headed QJ train after Ji-Tong, but here we were in March 2007 witnessing such an event !

Back at Datongzhung yard at around 16.45, 6811 and 7126 were back at the stabling point whilst 6814 arrived with a loaded train from Dongtun mine, before joining the other QJ’s.

As previously reported, to combat the theft of coal, loaded trains on this system carry upwards of 20 policemen each armed with a riot baton, some with dogs and all wearing protective headgear and carrying riot shields.  Security is tight with police questioning anyone looking out of place, (including gricers !), so a local guide is very essential here.

During a lull in activity around lunchtime, we made a visit to the main depot and workshops in Zoucheng, with the locomotive status as follows:-  Dumped QJ’s 3461, 3595, 6284, 6812, 6848, 6866, 6933 and 7123.  QJ 3538 was ex works, but not yet back in traffic as the cab windows still had protective covers fitted.  QJ 7190 was possibly serviceable, again protective covers were fitted over the cab windows.

Following our first day of sun, we awoke on 23rd March to a completely overcast sky and distant mist.  We arrived at Datonzhung stabling point, where a repeat of the previous days activities was taking place, albeit in poor photographic conditions.  The same three QJ’s departed the stabling point at 08.30, 7126 picking up a train of empties from the yard, before heading off to Xinglong mine, where, like the previous day, it will no doubt remain all day, presumably shunting.  6811 brought in some gondolas of locomotive coal, which was discharged at the stabling point, then headed off to Dongtun mine with empties.  6814 headed light engine in a southerly direction, but despite looking in at the nearest mines, we were unable to locate it.  It may have gone to Beishu or Tangain mines perhaps.

By lunchtime the mist had descended to a lower level and by 14.00, it began to rain, so we called it a day.  However, before departing, we went to the stabling point to gaze at 7189 one last time, reflecting on the fact that this will undoubtedly be the last QJ we would ever see in steam, after a long association with this mighty locomotive.  We walked away with some sadness.

To Yanzhou for hard class sleepers to Beijing.

February 7th Wagon Works    24 March

A quick visit first to the level crossing, soon established that a new orange diesel had now arrived.  However, SY 0732 soon appeared.  SY 0891 and JF 2446 are now both dumped and 0732 has limited time left.

We encountered the ‘jobsworth’ crossing keeper once again, (three times out of four visits), who told us that it was forbidden to photograph the engines, even from the public road.  If we refused to leave, he said he would phone his boss who would ask for the film from our cameras !

We did leave, only to photograph 0732 on the bridge over the dual carriageway well outside the works boundary.

Conclusion

An interesting tour, picking out some of the best of the remaining narrow gauge steam, plus a final opportunity to photograph QJ’s at work.  It’s a long way to go to see 16 locomotives in steam, (5 x C2, 5 x SY and 6 x QJ), but quality rather than quantity was the order of the day.  We were blessed with some exceptionally good weather for this part of China, which made for some good photography opportunities.  Time is fast running out for Chinese steam, perhaps one more tour will be it before it becomes too difficult to put together a feasible itinerary.

Barry Buckfield
31st March 2007
barrybuckfield@beeb.net

 

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