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Steam in China, May 2007

by Bernd Seiler

Beipiao

After some reports about a new steam location in Beipiao we visited this place in May 2007. The information gathered by phone was discouraging, after a request in 2004 which said all diesel we could not find anyone who was able to locate steam in Beiiao. Japanese rail enthusiasts reported about six SY and on JF in here, but no numbers and no details have been given (at least not in a language I could read). David Fielding went here in Spring 2007 and gave some very helpful hints. We have been able to find many additional details of the operation and the network.

The line is some 30 km long and serves three working coal mines. Obviously the heydays of the coal production passed by some years ago. Coal mines have been closed or reduced their production dramatically. The power plant in Beipiao is not served by rail any more.

The mines are (from north-east to south-west):

Sanbao

Guangshan (Beipiao)

Yijing

Taiji Da Kuang

Sanjing

Sijing

These names indicate that there are at least two more mines: Taiji Xiao Kuang and Erjing. The mine Yijing is (almost?) closed, Sijing has little production only and Sanjing is abandoned. The main production comes from Guanshan, where a mine and the washery is situated directly at the end of the China Railway station Beipiao. Much of the coal is handed over to China Railways. We also saw a coal train from Guanshan towards Yijing. Questions where this coal is going to couldn't be answered by the people we asked or got lost in translation.

Sijing is not connected to the standard gauge network, instead there is a some two km long electric narrow gauge line from Sijing downhill to two bridges and than turning in a 90 degrees curve into an unloading station in Sanjing. They have at least two electric mine locos in service, the yellow one was numbered no. 3 while the green ones number couldn't be sorted out. The electric narrow gauge line has some nice photographic potential. The management of the narrow gauge line don't appreciate photographers.

There are two operational centres: Guanshan (Beipiao) and Yijing, where the stabling point and the works are situated. All locomotives facing south-west. Most of the time you can find one locomotive in Guanshan, shunting wagons or just sitting next to the mine whit its crew waiting for instructions. There are many light engine movements and short trains, sometimes they even push trains. However, sometimes you'll find good looking trains, but this needs patience. It's almost impossible to find out their schedule more than two hours in advance. Mines calling the central control office in Yijing when they have a demand for empty wagons or wagons are loaded and then the control office will give order to the crews to handle these trains. When you ask the control office they tell you ask the mines, when you go to the mines they'll tell you we'll know it when the train is loaded. This can take minutes or hours . However, there are some hints how the traffic can be. In average there is one train a day from Guanshan to Sanjing, often with three interesting looking self-discharging wagons.

From Guanshan to Taiji there are some two to five trains in 24 hours while the line from Guanshan to Sanbao sees about three trains a day, mostly two during daylight and one in the night. Between Beipiao/Guanshan and Yijing are the most movements, in average five pairs of trains per day.

The 10 km long line from Sanbao to Guanshan starts almost flat and has a gradient towards Guanshan before Zhongxing Zhuanchang, the cement works just beside the railway. Beyond the station the track falls steep down towards Guangshan. The steepest gradient we saw was 1,62 % between Guanshan and Zhongxing Zhuanchang, so tender first empty trains have to work hard towards Zhongxin Zhuanchang. From Guanshan to Yijing the line continues to fall; tender first operations are interesting although we haven't seen a heavy train in this direction, only short trains which made the gradients without problems. From Yijing to Taiji a minor gradient against chimney first trains towards Taiji, but this part is not really photogenic. Between Taiji and Sanjing (km 20) trains have to climb up in both directions, the summit is close to Sanjing.

The depot is situated in Yijing. There are many dumped wagons which remind me to the wagons on the Xingyang narrow gauge line. These wagons, most of them with traditional bearings and some with spiked wheels are delivered by the USA based company Western Wheeled Scraper Co., Aurora, Illinois.

We have seen the following locomotives:

JF 886 cold in the shed, needs repair

SY 0183 dumped in a compound beside the shed (built 1/1970)

SY 0387 in service

SY 1004 cold in the shed

SY 1091 in service

SY 1196 overhaul (got new boiler pipes)

SY 1451 test run after repair (last overhaul 11/2006)

SY 1550 in service

JS 6241 dumped in a compound beside the shed (built 1983)

In the shed we got different information about the JF. Some told us the loco was used last time five years ago while others stated the loco serviceable and just needs some repairs. We found the loco in more or less good shape, but minus air pump in the wagon works behind a wagon under heavy overhaul. The future of steam is uncertain. The decision when to buy the first diesel loco is not made by the railway, it will come either from the local government or from the provincial government. At the moment they continue to overhaul their steam locomotives. As far as we have seen they need three locomotives only. They have five serviceable locomotives and soon a sixth one. In my opinion it makes no sense to repair the JF.

To give the system I'd say it's not on my list of favourite places to go to. I would rate it below Tiefa or Meihekou, considering all passengers in Meihekou are diesel hauled otherwise Meihekou is playing in another league). There are some reasonable good shots possible but the unpredictable train operation and the objections some local people have (police as well as railway workers fear we just came to show to the rest of the world how under-developed China is) doesn't bring Beipiao on the list of to-dos. At least as long as the JF is not in service - if they would use their JF things would change, of course.

Bernd Seiler (from Steam_in_China message 6657)

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2007 Bernd Seiler