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Steam in China - February, March 2011

by Rick Coles

Fuxin, Beipiao, Yuanbaoshan, Hongmiao, Pingzhuang, Baiyin, Sandaoling

I have just returned from just under three weeks in China (February 22nd to March 5th) with my UK mates Ian Hopkins and Steve Szwejkowski with Mike Ma as our every reliable and truly excellent guide. We visited Fuxin, Beipiao, Yuanbaoshan, Hongmiao, Pingzhuang, Baiyin and Sandaoling. It was a great trip and confirmed that China is still very, very worthwhile visiting in 2011.

Fuxin

We spent two days and a third morning at Fuxin which gave us time for exploring a little away from the centre of activities around the Wulong area. On all three mornings, there was the usual shift change line up of between four and six SY class and between one and all three of the DF5D Class diesels at Wulong yard. It seemed that six SY Class were the normal compliment in daily active use with another three in steam at the stabling point behind Wulong yard and SY 1359 doing its stationary boiler duty (it is connected by steam pipe to an adjacent small factory and has an electrical cable into its cab from a nearby power pole) near the main road level crossing beside the power station. However, the actual six engines in use varied from day to day.

One loco mainly shuttles spoil from Wulong mine to the big tip on the hill overlooking the mine. This was SY 1818 during our visit. It doesn't always come down to the Wulong yard line up at shift change.

One SY works coal from Wulong mine to either the power station or to Wulong yard for China Rail or to the China Rail connection itself.

A third seems to go out to xinqiu mine and then shuttles spoil to a tip above a housing "estate" at the Gaode end of the former open cut pit. Perhaps, this is a remnant of the pit's spoil dump. The branch line up to the dump is steep and the loco could only take four wagons at a time. We are guessing a bit but is seems that it works a train from xinqiu to sidings on the main line at Gaode, splits it in two and then works the two halves separately to the dump. We didn't see the train actually come from xinqiu Mine but did see the loco bring empties from the dump to the siding, swap them for four loaded wagons and push them up to the tip.

A fourth works spoil (quite sandy looking and fine) from "somewhere" (possible xinqiu mine or maybe one of the mines east of Wulong) to the spoil dump above Wulong mine. This train doesn't appear as often as the shuttle run from Wulong mine but several trips a day were run.

A fifth loco seems to be involved in working coal from Xinqiu to the power station or to Wulong yard and/or the China Rail connection.

The sixth seems a bit of a Jack of All Trades. On the second day, this sixth loco (SY 1396 on this occasion) worked a load of black crushed rock up to a siding near the "control hut" below the actual spoil dump above Wulong Mine. This train was longer than usual and was pushed by its own engine and the Wulong Mine spoil engine (SY 1818) as a "double-pusher" movement from the junction between Pingan and Wulong Mines up to the siding. Sadly, we saw the movement from afar and couldn't photograph it but it looked spectacular! It spent a little time at the siding dumping the contents of its train on the ground and the rock was then picked up by front end loader, loaded into a truck and added to huge piles adjacent to the spoil dump railway line. It seemed it would take a couple of days to dispose of a single train load in this way and we only saw one such movement. However, at one point on day 2 there were three SY worked trains on the dump area above Wulong mine - SY 1818 with the Wulong Mine spoil shuttle, SY 1210 with the "other mine" spoil train and SY 1396 dumping its "crushed rock" train in the siding. On the next day, SY 0941 was the "roustabout" loco and took SY 1320's tender off to the "shed" to be filled with coal and water and then shunted the freshly overhauled loco out of the workshops.

We did visit the stabling point near Taiping and it is clearly not in use, very dilapidated with very rusty tracks. The only occupants were dumped SY 0541 and a very derelict YJ 403.

Beipiao

As we were driving from Fuxin to the Pinzhuang area and had never visited Beipiao we dropped in for a couple of hours en route. We were very lucky as SY 1004 returned light to the washery just as we arrived and SY 1451 was doing some shunting. SY 1004 then worked a short coal train out to a factory at Taiji so our couple of hours visit was well rewarded.

Yuanbaoshan

We visited Yuanbaoshan on a lovely sunny day. JS 6245 was the active loco and it worked the morning mixed out to the mine at Fengshuigou giving us no less than four lovely morning shots of the train of a long string of coal hoppers and six passenger cars. To our delight, after arriving at the mine, stabling the passenger cars and shunting its hoppers under the loader, it ran straight back to Yuanbaoshan light and picked up more wagons which it worked back to Fengshuigou giving us another fine chance. After shunting these new wagons, it then attached the now loaded wagons from the mixed to the passenger cars and worked a mixed back to Yuanbaoshan. It was a really great morning.

We were also lucky enough to see narrow gauge electric loco No.1 work wagons from a compound behind the washery into the mine area itself. The overhead wiring is very low (a tall person could reach up and touch it if they were mad enough) and where it crosses access roads there is no wire and the driver simply pulls down the loco's collector and coasts across the gap.

An inspection by some "heavies" precluded an inspection of the loco depot and we decided on a quick visit to Hongmiao (see below). We were back in time to photograph the afternoon mixed before heading back to Pingzhuang.

For those whose interests, like mine, extend beyond steam, the diesels at Yuanbaoshan were all orange DF12 Class units, 0105, 0106 and 0107 being noted.

Hongmiao

This little system (a loader at the end of about a 2-3 km branch from the China Rail sidings) would hardly be worth a visit on its own but it makes a nice fill in during a day at Yuanbaoshan. SY 1418 was the only loco in steam (Ian felt he could see the line's other SY in a locked shed). We watched it make one tender first trip with loads to China Rail straight after lunch.

Pingzhuang

After photographing the afternoon mixed at Yuanbaoshan we headed back to Pingzhuang and the washery yard at Zhuangmei. However, it was busy with SY 1425 seemingly ready to work a load of empties to China Rail at Pingzhuang Nan (in true Pingzhuang style it sat there, made several appearances of being ready to leave immediately but didn't leave before bad light stopped play!). However, in the meantime SY 1017 went light down to Pingzhuang Nan and returned with empties from China Rail and SY 1025 shunted spoil from the washery out into the open cut mine spoil dump area and returned with empties.

Nevertheless, it meant that we had photographed working steam on three different systems in the one day - not bad for 2011!

Next morning the "deep mine" engines (decorated SY 0400, SY 1017, SY 1025 and SY 1425) were all present for the morning shift change line up. SY 1425 went light out to Wufeng on the line to China Rail, picked up some empty wagons that had been left there and worked them out to Wujia Mine. We didn't see it again. SY 0400 and SY 1017 spent the day on working to and from China Rail with both engines working loaded trips in the morning returning light and then a second set of loaded trips in the afternoon. We didn't see SY 1052 after the morning line up and guessed it worked in the Gushan mines area to the east which we didn't have time to visit.

We did, however, sneak a look at the pit area. SY 1025 and SY 1764 were the two pit steam locos and when we arrived they were stabled in a servicing area behind the old electric workshops (which appear derelict) and the brewery. SY 1764 had spent the entire morning with a spreader on the spoil dump which we could see in the distance from the Wufeng area. This area was unwired and we saw no other activity so it was a bit of a mystery but is presumably one of the dumps for the open cut. In the afternoon SY 1025 was noted emerging from the pit with what may have been a loco coal train. We were able to capture some of the EL2 Class bogie electrics at work on coal trains and sighted one articulated EL1 Class loco from a distance, stabled on sidings on the edge of the pit itself. Late in the afternoon a dust storm blew up so we gave the game away.

Baiyin

It had been our intention to drive to Chifeng Airport, fly to Beijing and catch a connecting flight to Lanzhou. Snow mucked these plans up a treat as Air China had cancelled the once-a-day flight from Beijing to Chifeng and back. So after some mucking around looking for suitable alternatives our mini-bus driver took us all the way to Beijing which took most of the day! We took an evening flight to Lanzhou and got into our hotel in Baiyin after midnight.

However, when we headed up the valley next morning everything was covered in snow and we got pics of SY 1047 on the Sanyelian and SY 1583 on the Shenbutong passengers in the snow. It didn't last long and was gone by the time we returned for the afternoon passenger runs.

Baiyin was a revelation. With diesels added to the roster since my last visit in April 2009, we wondered about the level of steam activity. However, we need not have been concerned. The only real casualty was the once-a-day steam freight to Shenbutong after the morning passenger which had gone diesel. All the passenger services to both Sanyelian and Shenbutong were steam, there was a lot more steam shunting around the Gongsi area and some of the Sanyelian freight working was still steam (some had gone diesel). These latter trains were a lot more substantial than in 2009 and included yellow tank wagons which loaded (I presume sulphuric acid) from a very extensive tank and gantry complex beside Sanyelian platform which was under construction in 2009. Overall, the impression was that the diesels had taken up most of the expansion in business since 2009 and there was still plenty of work for steam.

Five locos were active. SY 1047 and SY 1583 were the passenger engines but both did some shunting around the Gongsi area during the middle of the day and SY 1047 worked one daytime freight out to Sanyelian and back on at least two of the three days we were there. SY 0965 was the slag dump engine. SY 2008 and SY 1013 were the other two active engines. One sat all day in loco as spare and the other was shunting generally in the Gongsi area often gone from sight for long periods.

SY 1581 was undergoing tone up in the workshops and was being steamed on our last morning. SY 1470 was undergoing heavy repair. SY 0612 and SY 0819 were both out of use in the compound behind the workshops nearest the pedestrian bridge. SY 0612 will clearly never work again but SY 0819 may have been awaiting workshops attention or, equally, may have been dumped - it was hard to tell. In the compound at the factory end of the workshops very, very derelict long-time residents SY 0135, SY 0139 and JS 8021 were noted.

One interesting and most welcome development was that on the second and third mornings (but not the first morning) of our visit, the early Sanyelian passengers were worked by SY 1047 smoke box first. No reason for this could be determined and the 2-8-2 was turned on a "triangle" of trackage in the factory area after servicing in the loco depot and before taking up its late morning shunting duties. All afternoon Sanyelian passenger workings that we saw were worked by SY 1047 tender first as usual.

For the record, Baiyin's three diesels noted were blue GKD1A 0206, maroon and beige DF7G 5183 and orange GK1C 0427. The DF7G worked the Shenbutong freights which are now more than twice as long as in steam days.

Sandaoling

Sandaoling was its usual steamy self but we just missed the really cold weather. Maximums of -16 DegC had been recorded the week before our arrival but we encountered maximum temperatures up to + 7 DegC.

Nothing much has changed since previous reports. The spoil trains were busy as usual. As recent visitors have reported three engines now work the coal trains from the pit - JS 8081, JS 8173 and JS 8368 in our case - all hauling chimney first. All coal was also being loaded from the new blue loader area. Indeed, it seemed that Sandaoling may have a seam fire in the coal seam at the western end of the pit and certainly, no coal trains were loaded in that area during our visit. All this meant that the eastern end of the pit was busier than we had encountered before.

Only two 6000 series JS Class were noted at work. JS 6261 was on a spoil train and JS 6224 on the spoil dump spreader. SY 1720 and SY 1304 were both noted on work trains in the pit and spoil dump area. Two JS Class that were in the dump in November 2009 were back in service - JS 8080 and JS 8225.

JS 8053, JS 8314, JS 8366 and SY 1729 were the Nanzhan engines and all were noted on working to and from the "deep" mines. One interesting development was that on our second day, SY 1729 spent all day in the yard at Erjing Mine while its train was loaded from coal at grass (i.e. a coal stockpile) using a front-end loader. We managed one of the spectacular banked empty workings from Nanzhan yard with JS 8053 and JS 8314 fore and aft.

However, a note about security. We found that the area around the new blue coal loader in the pit is now totally out-of-bounds. Security came very quickly when we popped in and kicked us out. Apparently, since January (when Mike last visited Sandaoling and there was no problem) one member of a visiting group of Western railfans took some pics of a departing coal train while he was standing between the tracks as the train came towards him and did not move until the train was so close that the driver had no choice but to stop. The crew complained to management who were understandably angry and their initial reaction was to ban all foreign visits to the company's property.

Things have calmed down a bit but it is fair to say that it has damaged relations between railfans and the Sandaoling management. There is now a new list of rules for visits which were really nothing more than safety common sense, however, photography between running lines at say Xibolizhan or Dongbolizhan is no longer OK - photos need to be taken from one side of the yard or the other.

That said, we had no problems if we went straight across the yard when no trains were moving and the crews and workers could not have been more friendly. But if you're an independent traveller planning to wander around the pit, be aware and be sensible.

Rick Coles

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2011 Rick Coles