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Steam in Western China, February/March 2009

by Ole Jensen

Shankou, Sandaoling, Baiyin, Yaojie, Gongwusu, Baimasi, Xingyang, Yuzhou, Xinyai, Laiwu Dong, Zoucheng

We, Bo Lindhardtsen and I, made a final trip to so see the last steam in China and landed February 21st in a bitter cold Ürümqi. From here we travelled in a double deck sleeper in N882 to Hami, arriving there early next morning.

Shankou – Yamansu (22/2):

We have decided to give it a chance to see steam on the Shankou to Yamansu-branch out in the desert, so we travelled the only eastbound train that’s stopping in Shankou, the 7554. In Shankou we made some pictures of diesel-trains, but the local policeman didn’t like this, so he took us in for a “chat”. Nothing happened, just the usual waste of precious time … Being “free” again, we walked about 7 km’s along the deserted line until we found a good position seeing the railway bridge over the wadi out in the distance. A bit strange, deserted place in the middle of nowhere. At 17 in the afternoon finally a train showed up. It was JS 8028 hauling 19 loaded cars up the incline, working hard tender first, making nice sound too! This gave us a little hope for more trains, but none showed up during daylight except for JS 8028 working light back to Yamansu. On Google Earth we have seen a crossing station midway on the line, perhaps indicating more traffic, but no, not today … From Shankou by the only westbound stopping train 7553 back to Hami and our hotel just across the square in front of the railway station.

Sandaoling (23-25/2):

Travelled train 7551 and arrived in Liushuquan at 9:30. No steam could be seen in the yard here, so we made our way following the line towards Sandaoling, which could be seen far away thanks to the bright weather conditions, which also allowed us to enjoy the Tien Shan Mountains out there. Two engines, JS 8314 and 8366 came coupled together at 17:40. A fine sight when the two engines top and tailed a long row of empties towards Sandaoling about an hour later, making wonderful exhaust in the blue sky. Not much traffic to be observed this Monday, but at 15:15 JS 8314 came rolling along with 45 wagons filled with coal, no exhaust, the train just rolling along. At 16:00 JS 8314 passed us light engine, back to Sandaoling. We walked the entire way to Sandaoling and that’s all we met on our way during 9 hours! Entering the town we saw JS 6204 with a train from Erjing. In Sandaoling we were installed at the Jinjun Judian hotel in the town-centre, in a rather filthy room which had seen better days for certain!

Spend our next day walking to Xibolizhan and back. Here much traffic to and from the pit. Many JS-engines working on the usual spoil trains. We watched the good-looking SY 1304 on workings to and from Xibolizhan. At sunset we observed an SY in the east end of the mine with a tank car, wonder what that might have been doing in the pit? 25/2 we watched steam workings east of Nanzhan to Erjing mine and Liushuquan. These were not as frequent as we hoped for, no trains at all on the line to CR in the hours between 8 and 14! At 9 in the morning there were 5 JS and SY 1729 present at Nanzhan depot and at 10:50 SY 1729 worked 20 empties up the hill towards Erjing offering a fine view. She came back 4 hours later. The factory east of Nanzhan was served by JS 6208 midday, when 3 boxcars were propelled through the northern gate. At 2PM JS 8366 worked light to Liushuquan and arrived again 3 hours later, hauling 32 empties into Nanzhan.

Working steam observed in Sandaoling: JS 6204, 6205, 6206, 6208, 6224, 6261, 6430, 6436, 8027, 8055, 8081, 8167, 8173, 8188, 8190, 8193, 8194, 8197, 8314, 8358 and 8366. SY 1304 and 1729.

Baiyin (27-28/2):

Here we used Jojo from the local CITS-office as a guide. I think visitors should know her prices: 400 CNY for one day and one person, as well as 200 CNY to CITS and 150 CNY for the photo permit. But thanks to her we were given access almost everywhere in the depot and in the works (which are closed in the weekends). In the works we found SY 1097 from Yaojie undergoing overhaul. In the shed SY 0612 and 2008 were found, both in cold condition. In the compound behind the depot were JS 8021, SY 0135 and 0139 and in the back of the workshops SY 0150, 0965 and 1470, all these locos cold.

In steam we found SY 1581 being coaled, and 1013 and 1583 shunting in the Gongsi Yard. 1581 hauled the passenger trains both days we were present. Saturday SY 0819 also showed up at the depot, but looking a bit run down.

Yaojie (1/3):

Based in Haishiwan we thought it would be interesting whether this system still was steam or not, so we joined the bus at 7 in the morning in Haishiwan and drove up through the gorge in the snowy weather. Saw a truck that had crashed into some large rocks at the roadside due to brakes failure, I suppose. In Yaojie the bus took a large bend to the north-east because of pipe-workings in the town, but suddenly we crossed the railway, and off we were. We walked on the tracks on the way to the station just as the locals do, but were here asked to leave at once in a rather unfriendly way. Just managed to see SY 0990 standing in front of the shed, cold. In the south-end were another SY, out of use. We knew that if any steam came, it would come from the north, so we walked in this direction. We haven’t walked far, until we heard a whistle and soon SY 1402 came rolling down at 10 o’clock. Picked up ten wagons with coal in Yaojie and steamed up the valley some 25 minutes later. Unfortunately we had a train to Lanzhou to catch in Haishiwan, so we did not see any more steam in Yaojie.

Gongwusu (2/3):

Arriving early morning to Wuhai, we immediately took the bus to Gongwusu, being here at 9. Here JS 6249 were shunting in the snow to and fro the CR-yard with coal wagons. The JS disappeared finally half an hour later with 14 empties to Mine 3; the scene almost looking like a Christmas card. Thanks to the map by Duncan Cotterill we found the workshops, obviously build for something bigger than it is today … The people here were very friendly and we were given access without any problems. Inside the shops were JS 6250 and 6251 both undergoing some minor repairs; SY 0934 stood in the shed too. At the loco service-point were SY 0360 with its tender-frame as well as SY 1315, cold.

Baimasi (3/3):

Observed a JS and a QJ (I think it was) at a power plant south of the mainline towards Zhengzhou in Baimasi 10 km’s east of Luoyang. Both locos were coaled and looked serviceable, but cold. Does anyone know the identity of these two engines?

(My suggestion: Duncan Cotterill's entry for Henan, Yanshi Power Station lists JS 8132 and QJ 7179. Yanshi is next station east from Baimasi, so I guess it's the same location. D.F.)

Xingyang (4/3):

Having problems in finding this nice little system, but finally made it thanks to local help. It’s placed 0.6 km south-west of the mainline freight-station between Luoyang and Zhengzhou. Loco 207 was in charge here working 26 small wagons filled with sand for the brickworks. In the shed another loco was spotted, but not identified as no access possible.

Yuzhou (4/3):

We hired a taxi to bring us to Yuzhou, hoping for a QJ here. After some difficulties by finding the railway station in Yuzhou, we finally arrived at the narrow gauge line. Just in time for a westbound fright with engine 3816 roaring through the small station with semaphores. To the north-west we could see the bridge, where the line from Pingdingshan is crossing the narrow gauge line. Following this line we found what we were looking for. At the “station”, being a total mess of coal, coal dust and water, we saw a steam locomotive, no, two steam engines standing in the little station in the foggy weather. Walking a bit further, two more engines were seen behind the others. Four steam engines here were certainly more than we have hoped for! These were JS 8030 and 8122 as well as QJ 6650 and 6690 (coupled together), all in steam, but doing nothing. I didn’t know the JS could be seen in Yuzhou. But then this fellow came, asking for a permit … Well, we didn’t have any so we had to leave. Walked out towards the bridge again, waiting for steam till darkness (and rain) came, but of course, nothing showed up on the line towards Pingdingshan …

Xintai (5/3):

In Xintai we didn’t really know where to search for steam; first we thought the line making a bend south-east of the station was steam and walked along this, without finding anything. Nothing had moved on the rusty tracks here for a while, we could easily see. On the station they told us that steam was used on a line some 28 km west of Xintai from Guli and 12 km to the north-east. But our investigations just showed rusty tracks again and we saw no QJs here.

Laiwu Dong (6/3):

Two QJ spotted behind the mighty walls surrounding the works 1.5 km west of the station. It turned out to be QJ 7032 and 6868, both with coal in their tenders and fitted with high deflectors. A steam-crane coupled with a QJ-tender numbered 2150 stood in there as well. No further steam could be seen from the outside.

Zoucheng (7/3):

Hired a cab here, hoping to find some steam in the area. Thanks to a local map we found QJ 7072, looking a bit deserted outside a big plant in the eastern part of Zoucheng. The engine hasn’t been running for quite a while, but still looking intact. Driving to the north-west we suddenly spotted a QJ working tender first on a long coal train heading for the mine at Zhongxindian. Of course the train disappeared into the closed mine area when we arrived there, but after a while it shunted some wagons and came outside the closed area. It was QJ 7190 looking great with large deflectors. At 12:30 QJ 7190 made a fine sight in the sunny weather working chimney first with 40 KF18-wagons moving in a western direction. No more steam was seen on this system, just a lot of DF4DDs, many standing in the depot.

In the evening we travelled the D32 from Yanzhou to Beijing Nan in the CRH-train. Travelled the 650 km’s in exactly four hours; maximum speed observed was 243 km per hour. A very comfortable journey in this train!

In the year 2009 it’s getting more and more complicated to get access to the last steam engines in China, people are now asking for permits or even money. Back in 2003 we just travelled around having absolutely no problems in taking pictures; nowadays we were met by demands for permits, or just a simple “No!” when asking somebody. It’s simply not so funny anymore. But still: Where on earth can you see steam on daily duties these days … ‘Cause China is still offering a lot of steam adventure today, but it’s running out very fast!

Ole Jensen

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