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Steam in China, Nov 9th - Dec 1st

by Wolfgang Klein

Sandaoling and Jixi

Peter Semmelroch and I were talking about another trip to China since last spring. The first plan was to go to the JiTong to have a look at GWTravel's QJ-Show, pay Yuanbaoshan and Pingzhuang a quick visit and then move on to Sandaoling, but the itinerary changed almost daily during the last month before we set off:
First GWTravel had to abandon their JiTong-plans, so we wanted to go to Nanpiao as a substitute. Then Nanpiao was reported to be dieselised but for one, obviously very weak SY, so Zhalai Nuer was the option to go for. And then the news for Zhalai Nuer changed from day to day, so we finally decided to go to Jixi instead.

The Sandaoling part of the journey was organized via CITS. CITS Beijing gave me Mr Wang Wanping from CITS Xinjiang as a contact person, but two emails to him remained unanswered, so CITS Beijing had to act itself with only two weeks to spare. Their Mr Zhong Xin proved to be quite competent and even managed to arrange soft sleeper tickets from Urumqi to Hami on very short notice, because two days before our departure the only daily Urumqi-Hami flight was altered, so that we were to miss it (if you are searching train connections, please note that Hami is Kumul for CNR).
Arriving in Urumqi, we were met by Mr Wang Wanping, who provided us with the train tickets and whom we payed the money. (Please note as well, that you might not be able to use foreign mobile phones in Xinjiang at the moment – the “riot province” has cut off all the connections at least to Germany. You can not dial or receive national or international calls or messages, and “of course” there is no internet as well – that is why my emails to Mr Wang Wanping remained unanswered!)

So far the not so good news – but there are better news as well:
Mr Fu, the officer of the Sandaoling Coal Mine Company caring for us gricers, stated that “Koenig Dampf” will reign a few more months. The information Peter and I got from him was that there is a commitee of the railway touring China trying to find suitable and affordable Diesels for the Nanzhan – Liushuquan services at the moment and that they have not found the right locos up to now (Nov 22nd).

And what a fascinating operation that is at the moment!
    -     trains with 55 loaded wagons, equalizing with their two locos to about 5000 tons, being heaved out of Nanzhan,
    -     trains with 70 empties, pushed and pulled by JS working flat out against the gradient from Liushuquan,
    -     three spoil trains are thundering back from the spoil heaps,
    -     simultaneously your ears are attacked by two other JS in full flight coming from the pit …
… definitely the place to be visited, before the show is over!

A few more notes which might be useful:
    -     All the coal trains use the rails on the “sunny side” of the pit to Kengkongzhan, so the track from Dongbolizhan to Xibolizhan is used only by the works “passenger” train at 8:30 am/8:30 pm, and by very few spoil trains, as Duncan Cotterill told me when we met in Beijing incidentially (at the airport loo …) at the end of our trips.
    -     Organizing the trip via CITS was definitely not the cheapest option, but it proved to be very conveniend for us. Mrs Nu Er is an experencied guide, and she worked very long hours for us. The 4WD car we had was very useful as well, even though the driver simply ate about 100 cigarettes a day.
    -     Where neither Nu Er nor Mr Fu could help was with the very unfreindly receiption we received at Nanzhan. As already reported elsewhere, the “Transport and Selling Department” is a company on its own, where your paid-for permit is not valid. Nanzhan was, after 39 hours of travelling, the first place we visited (for the shift change), and not much more than 39 seconds later we were quite harshely sent off. It is possible to take a few quick shots as long as they are not shunting or planning to do a shunt, but they do not like people walking in the yard as long as any loco might be moved in the next few minutes. All other places on the railway were very welcoming.
    -     Trains to the two deep mines in Beiquan ran combined, topped and tailed on three days, and pushed (only to the intermediate mine) on the last day. We saw every possible combination – SY in front, JS in front, two JS. The loaded returns came always with one engine only, as soon as the loading process was finished.
    -     SY 1729 was never used on the trains to CNR.
    -     We could not find a rhythm with the Liushuquan trains, which interested us the most: they ran twice before the morning shift change (returning at dawn), once after; we had days with two and other days with one train in daylight, one train was single headed, all others pushed and pulled. Twice a pair of JS went down light engine; it all depends when CNR delivers the empties.
    -     In the works we found 8366, completely stripped down (with a nice chalked sketch of a dog and a cock on the cab) under heavy overhaul, and 6224 obviously receiving an accident repair (cab severly damaged/renewed).
    -     We did some night shots during the shift change at Dongbolizhan, which worked out very nice. We met Ron Olsen and Hans Schaefer there, the latter after sharing a firing turn with one of the regulars, the former doing flashlight pictures in Winston Link/Axel Zwingenberger style.

Sandaoling conclusion:
Despite two days which were weatherwise not superperfect, it was absulutely worth coming. We planned a relaxed, unstrenious trip – and ended up being shoved around between the various locations by the sheer amount of traffic, it was simply great.


SY 1729 + JS 6208 on the way to Beiquan, with the Tian Shan as a backdrop


JS 8053 and 8358 returning from Lishuquan with 70 empties


JS 8053 to Beiquan


JS 8189 (right) and 6224

After four full days, we moved on via Hami/Uruqi/Beijing to Jixi in the evening of Nov 24th.

Much has been written about Jixi, and I do not have a lot to add: We have in our three days and one morning only been to Chengzihe and (one afternoon) to Donghaikuang, and found the services as described in other reports, with the odd train missing, depending on the wagon situation at CNR. We tried to concentrate on the bridge leading to Jixi Xi, and were rewarded one morning with a full and an empty train – a bit late for the perfect picture, but still very good. Very nice was a train from the mine on the far side of the river in the sunset, and a lovely rural shot with cattle in Xinglongwudni/Donhaikuang system. Peter has written a more detailed report (china589.htm).


SY 1018 in Xinglongwudni/Donghaikuang


Early morning with an unknown SY (loaded train from Nancheng to Jixi Xi)


Sunset with an unknown SY (loaded train from the unnamed mine opposite the river)

More of my pictures (though not yet from this trip) can be found at: http://www.fotocommunity.de/pc/pc/mypics/655230
Comments are welcome!

Wolfgang Klein

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© 2009 Wolfgang Klein