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Steam in China, October 2011

by Ameling Algra

Shibanxi

I spent 9 days in Shibanxi in October.

Railway operation

All passenger trains seen had one or two tourist coaches (the ugly ones, one with Leicester plate). No tourist specials were seen.

Two coal trains a day seemed to be the norm. One day there was only one train, on three days there were three. The first coal train usually ran just after the first passenger, crossing in Jiaoba. One day it left before the first passenger, that was a day with three coal trains. On the other day with three coal trains it left as usual after the first passenger. Crossings happened regularly at Jiaoba and Yuejin, I never saw a crossing in Mifeng.

Locos seen in use (two a day): numbers 7, 8 and 9. All with Pengzhou tenders, number 8 is clearly a Pengzhou engine and painted yellow with a "national mining museum" sticker on the smoke box door. Hope you appreciate it!

On many trips locos took coal at Sanjin mine. Sometimes even on both legs of a return trip. Do Pengzhou tenders carry more water but less coal?

Yuejin is now worked by colour light signals all day on the other stations the colour light signals are still only used at night.

A return Shixi-Bagou is now 50 Yuan.

Scenery etcetera

All houses on the line have been painted, looking very nice. The ugly concrete shed that spoiled the curve near Mifeng is not that ugly anymore.

Yuejin has a brand new station building, and a (nicely done) new platform.

There is not much evidence of road connection to Bagou yet. There is a big empty parking space some way out of town, but no buses were seen there during my visit. The road only seems to be used to go to a scenic spot about 8 km from Bagou, using open electric buses. But that may change soon, though authorities seem to intend to keep Bagou car-free. Bagou itself has not changed in appearance but is certainly being cleaned up and turned into a nice open air museum. The market has moved, and is now a street down from its former place.

How to get around

In my August 2006 report (china484.htm) is some info for the first time visitor. Most of it is still valid today.

Best option of course is to stay along the line. There are reasonable guesthouses in Bagou and Mifeng (the pharmacist), and one belonging to the mine in Sanjin. If, like me, you cannot survive with Asian toilets (or French toilets, as we call them in Holland), there is still no other option but to stay in nearby Qianwei. For hotels in Qianwei, see my August 2006 report. This time I stayed at the Tian Bo for 180 Yuan a night. They have a big new annexe so probably always enough rooms. The price includes fast internet (and breakfast that is served too late).

The main drawback of staying in Qianwei is that the first passenger leaves 6AM and the first buses from Qianwei at 6.15. So if you want to be on the first train, you have to take a taxi, 30 Yuan. On top of that there is the hefty train fare to pay. Some days I took the 6.15 bus (the 6.00 train is in darkness anyway) and walked from Sanjin to Mifeng, usually arriving around Mifeng in time for the return passenger. I find Sanjin nice for video as well, with large mines as a backdrop, locos taking coal, etcetera. The bus service from Qianwei to Sanjin via Shixi is very much improved since 2006: buses every ten minutes or so, fare 4,5 Yuan to Sanjin and 3,5 Yuan to Shixi. The buses start near the main bus station, but do pop into the local bus station next to the Tian Bo on their way to Sanjin.

How to get there

KLM flies two or three times a week from Amsterdam to Chengdu, very convenient at least for me. As they fly with "mixed" 747s, they have a surplus of business class seating, improving the chances of being upgraded.

Chengdu airport is getting cramped, a new airport is under construction. But still very efficient service: 10 minutes after touch down I was on the bus into the city.

From Chengdu airpot to Qianwei the easiest way is probably to take the airport bus into town, alight at the end (Minshan hotel). For 500 Yuan a night you can take a room there & get over your jet lag. Or go across the main street (you can use the metro underpass to get across the street) to a bus stop for many buses including 78 and 61 to Shi Yang Chang Zhan, the bus station for Qianwei. All in all, it takes less than an hour to get there from the airport. In the near future, Chengdu's first metro line will connect airport and Shi Yang Chang Zhan so that hour will be reduced to ten minutes or so.

At Shi Yang Chang Zhan, go to the interlocal bus building and buy a ticket to Qianwei 犍为县 . At least four buses an hour during daylight. The bus takes only one hour and 50 minutes these days, all over the highway, non stop, no cruising for passengers.

Is it still worthwhile?

That is of course personal. It is getting more and more like a tourist railway. But I still liked being there and will certainly go at least once more.

Ameling Algra

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2011 Ameling Algra