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Steam in China, October 2007

by Tobias Schmidt & Jörg Ortlepp

Zoucheng Steelworks, Zoucheng Yankuang, Sishui, Xuzou, Xingyang, Yinghao, Pingdingshan, Huludao, Qinhuangdao

Note:

This report was originally submitted in German so I have attempted to translate it into English. To obtain the original German click here.

Any correction or improvement to the translation is welcome. Thanks to Adrian Freeman for his translation of "Drücken wir der Strecke die Daumen!" at the end of the Yinghao section of the original report.

Dave Fielding

Zoucheng Steelworks (16.-17.10.2007)

Whoever wishes to experience the complete decline of the QJ class must fear neither the cost nor difficulty of a visit to the connecting line of the Zoucheng Steelworks. There shunts, or more correctly stands, QJ 7072 (high deflectors). During our visit, the loco was in service, technically and visually in excellent condition, but at all events, shunted few wagons during the day on the short works tracks. Accordingly the photographic potential depends on the activity on the connecting line. The loco stands with smoke box facing north east, so that early morning gives the best possibility for portrait shots. Daily around 7.00 the loco moves a few metres forward for the firebox to be cleared of ash and keeping the ash clearer employed. The works tracks are freely accessible and are situated in the north west of the built up area of Zoucheng. The steel works itself creates in the night an unusual uproar-like noise scene which can hardly be avoided, particularly when one is staying directly adjacent! When the loco will work, is only known shortly in advance, no definite information about approaching movements is available. The water supply of the QJ is from a glorified garden hose. Coal is apparently from a wheeled loader. Already nostalgia starts, when one sees, where the former backbone of the CNR has landed at the end of its days.

Zoucheng Yankuang Coal System (16.10.2007)

Here also the final hours of the last heavy workings of class QJ have struck. Indeed the Yankuang Coal Railway system around Zoucheng offered only few photo positions, however the over 3000 tons heavy coal trains at least may be counted as fitting haulage tasks for the remaining QJ. In service stood QJ 7189 (freshly heavy overhauled) and 7126 (high smoke deflectors). Which coal mine is the next destination is found out by the staff just immediately after instruction from the control office. Therefore it is advisable to keep a good view of the lines branching from the main goods yard of Dadongzhang. In the time from 7.00-8.00 the locos are serviced. The future of the QJ on this system can one meanwhile describe as extremely unclear. After only recently withdrawing further locos, so must the magnificence of steam slowly draw to a close. We found the recently in steam QJ 6814 already in the well known QJ scrap row and the just overhauled QJ 3538 at least preserved out of service in the main depot in Zoucheng. Bernd Seiler reported even of approaching heavy overhauls. Amazingly were extensive modernisation and renovation works in the servicing point at Dadongzhang, in China an unfailing indication of the end of steam. Nevertheless many questions remain open. Why modernise a servicing point that one really does not require for diesels? Why still send QJ for repair, but at the same time store locos freshly overhauled and those with current availability? Does steam operation return in winter when country wide more coal is required and needed? Questions upon questions whose answers, in a land such as China, which is mostly beyond every logic, must remain open.

Daewoo Cement Works Sishui (16.10.2007)

Here also there are surprising similarities to the QJ example of Zoucheng Steelworks described above. The cement works is able to afford the luxury of a working QJ whose task consists of shunting the few wagons within the works, rather than using the brand new diesel loco. During our visit there was not a single goods wagon visible in the tidy but sterile works yard. QJ 7129 (high smoke deflectors, "Daewoo" on the front plate) left a very good technical and visual impression. Visitors at the main gate of the cement works will find a very friendly reception. One should immediately ask for the manager of the works railway, Mr Ye-Long Jiang, who gladly meets the quite exotic seeming wishes of railway friends. With our arrival however surprise was shown, as to why the old QJ suddenly encounters international attention, whilst a relatively modern cement plant interests nobody. Here also the future of the steam loco is uncertain, since it is actually completely redundant and does not help the world wide concern Daewoo to create a modern image. The best time for photos is 14.00-16.00. The cement works is at the south west end of Sishui. As there are several cement works there, drive from direction Qufu from west to east through the entire city and then follow the visible signs (missing(?) at the entrance) to the Daewoo Cement works. On the firm's premises there is a further unknown, but stored out of use QJ. A little detail in passing, which you may well suspect; here also the water for the long tender is taken with a glorified garden hose! It seems quite an anachronism that the QJ at the end of its days must develop a special proximity to short track connections, wheeled loaders and garden hoses.

Xuzhou (17.10.2007)

During the train being set back, we could make out a locomotive in steam as well as an out of use JS in the steelworks area here.

Xingyang Clay railway (18.-19.10.2007)

And it still runs! So can be the motto of this infrequently operating narrow gauge line. Clearly the recent very mild and dry weather had a positive effect on the clay quality, which has led to a busy mining activity. In service was C2 07. It dealt with the well known complete traffic on the line from the brick works yard to the clay loading point. Operations begin from around 7.30. About every 30-40 minutes there is a train movement. Midday break is 12.00-13.30. The photographic potential is limited to only between the brick works yard and the bridge over the fish ponds. All further well known photo locations in the direction of the clay loading point are completely overgrown. The trains continue to carry three "brake ladies". The railway changes meanwhile more and more to a rubbish tip for the local residents. The background smell of the domestic rubbish deposited on the track, mixed with the waste water from countless houses along the route, is in the truest sense of the word "breathtaking". Also here the future of the railway remains in the stars. The brickyards are considered outdated and the C2 are frequently defective.

Yinghao (19.10.2007)

Here the opposite is the case, they run no more. Whether however action returns in the cold season, remains in the stars and could not be determined. Also the reason for the shutdown can only be a matter of speculation. Possibilities range from a general change to road haulage, a closure of the pit to not passing the complete range of the coal mines safety check. On our visit the system appeared quite miserable. All rails were rusty and partly as rubbish tip and for other storage misused. The railway probably finished operating at the end of August, beginning of September. On Thursday 25 October 2007 however a special train should operate for American railway friends. We cross our fingers for the line!

Pingdingshan (20.-23.10.2007)

Pingdingshan can still belong to the last great steam locomotive centres for the railway friend in China. So far the steady dieselisation has altered nothing. Still JS minute by minute haul the heaviest trains through the city and to the coal mines. But, this paradise is seriously endangered. At the latest 2009 should be the end of the splendour. By then there will be sufficient diesel locos to bid the steamers farewell in the blast furnace. In this the financing of diesel operations is evidently no problem, the coal mines are very productive and currently the output is to be further increased. Rather it is a question of obtaining new diesels, which can scarcely be supplied at an agreed time by China's overloaded locomotive works. In the past there were enough examples where very suddenly 10 to 15 new diesels appeared and had meant a sudden end of the glory of steam. In this respect it is highest time to pay a visit to the system, especially against the background, that here also a modernisation of the complete steam facility is already underway. Currently this results that at the well known shift change between 7.00 and 8.00, due to the lack of available tracks, only some of the steam locos come to be serviced. Recently the depot area itself cannot be entered. There is no apparent reason as at the time there were the same guards on duty. The passenger trains ran as usual, during the report period with SY 1209 and SY 1687. The evening trains were seen with JS. Dieselised lines don't exist! The locos are allocated, steam and diesel, at short notice as required. Alongside the seven diesels available, there are still around 15 steam locos in service. So it is possible as previously, to experience steam working on all lines. The role of the QJ in Pingdingshan remains unclear. During our visit we saw only QJ 6690 which had the role of the "yard dog" and did not move a metre from the depot area. To all our surprise it was then however abruptly completely repainted! The complete coal mine system including the railway is being modernised. Everywhere new coal bunkers were being built and existing ones extended. Various coal mines were currently being provided with new coats of paint. Stupidly blue had been decided as the standard colour, which meanwhile puts the search for photo subjects in the mines to a hard test. The station building in Zhongxin, in the centre of Pingdingshan, is meanwhile newly rebuilt in a typical size for China that diametrically opposes the traffic that exists. But the quite ostentatious building is locked and in the evening completely unlit! Furthermore, in the last two years were almost all level crossings replaced with bridges! At the same time many old housing developments in the inner city area of Pingdingshan were simply flattened. Currently mega large flats arise on the outskirts of the town, into which the former residents of the "flattened" are then to move. Thus many typical pictures in the city area, for example below mine 2, are no longer possible. At the moment a gigantic housing development program seems underway in China, since this observation accompanied us during the entire trip. On the western section, traffic was as usual, which made possible for us the photography of the temple-like station in the best light. Especially the section lying south west from Baofeng offers the greatest photo potential with long upward gradients and beautiful scenes of small industry. There the best light is in the afternoon. Wealthy Pingdingshan is presently in an unparalleled wave of modernisation, which apparently omits no sphere. Thus visit as fast as possible the intensive steam operation, before the steam whistles in the city there finally grow silent!

Huludao (24.-25.10.2007)

The usual traffic runs here. A train about 7.30 to Yangjiazhangzi and 11.00 back, the next pair of trains 13.00 from Huludao and 16.00 back. The 11.00 train and 13.00 train are best for light. JS 8207 was busy with the limestone trains and SY 1419 dealt with shunting the Huludao cement works. The new loading point in Yangjiazhangzi is complete, but not yet connected. Meanwhile the line is very overgrown with weeds, but due to the extreme gradients offers a feast for eyes and ears, especially for those recording on video. During our visit, the JS always had difficulty to reach the summit of the line, however did not come to a standstill. Because of the thick mist, operation on Thursday, 25th October 2007 was halted for a short time, but after a delay restarted again. As quickly as the mist came, just as quickly it was dissolved as the sun returned, so that we still took very fine pictures. Both the JS and the SY in the works were decorated. However the reason for this was unclear to us. The JS arrived in Yangjiazhangzi with the empty train and then immediately pushed them along the connecting line to the loading point. Loading lasted around 30 minutes. The train returns along the connection to the station and waits there for departure time. The locomotive is turned just before the departure. The smog situation in the region brought problems in October. Industry and cement works result in extreme fine dust pollution, which to some extent can be affected by proximity to the sea. As the wind came from the direction of the China Sea, there was a quick build up of a thick mist. Conversely by winds from inland, the scene darkened partly so strongly that despite sun shine, all was covered in a milky grey. The wind direction can relatively quickly change in the course of the day!

Qinhuangdao (26.10.2007)

During our return journey from Huludao to Beijing, somewhere in Qinhuangdao the level crossing barriers fell. An initial abstract suggestion about an approaching steam locomotive was promptly replaced with an SY thundering past. Because of the surprise it was not possible to identify the number. Qinhuangdao appears to have an extensive industrial network which possibly even has a docks connection. Who knows anything? Is there even the possibility of steam in the docks? Various reports indicated the withdrawal of steam several years ago, which probably cannot be true. Or is the former Local Railway separate from the industrial railway there?

Conclusion

Steam operation in China is finally on its last trains. The QJ is only a shadow of itself and meanwhile also the JS class says quietly farewell from scheduled operation. In foreseeable time therefore, there will only be significant numbers of SY in the steel works and on industrial rails. Sadly visiting steam centres becomes ever more difficult. Due to the great distances and often only scattered locomotives, expenditure grows out of proportion to what it brings. However, those staying steadfast, will be rewarded with a phenomenon that world wide scarcely exists - scheduled steam! It is still not too late although the great time of the steam locomotive in China is over. For the first time, on this trip we were confronted with two extreme bad happenings, that as relatively experienced China travellers, we hadn't seen before. Firstly was the otherwise real latent smog. Only in October of this year was it as strong and bad as never before! Whether in Beijing, Xingyang, Huludao or Pingdingshan, everywhere an extensive extreme and unfavorable increase was noticed. The second phenomenon was the strong autumn mist, which for a time brought the complete transport system to a standstill and driving a car along the coast to a game of patience. So the Beijing-Shenyang motorway was completely closed, so that at first we did not get further. Only with some trouble could we reach Beijing just in time.

Tobias Schmidt, Aschersleben

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© 2007 Tobias Schmidt