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China - April 2012

by David Thomas

Luizhou, Guiyang, Lanba, Shibanxi, Mianzhu, Hanwang, Qinghua, Nanjing, Zhenjiang

This was a sightseeing trip with a limited amount of steam interest – in fact much more limited than expected - flying into Hong Kong and out of Shanghai. Before setting out I had written down the Chinese names of all places I was visiting, which helped a lot in getting round. As always, past trip reports, maps and info on SY-Country were essential aids.

Liuzhou – Taiyangcun cement works, Fri 6/4/2012
Bus 11 from opposite Liuzhou railway station and at the end of its route forward on bus 13 to Tanyingcun. This went along the main street, over the CNR and link line into the cement works and terminated at the works’ main entrance. Walked round to gain access via a headshunt at the far end. Here diesel GKD1A 0216 (2010), plus a second similar one, was shunting. SY 1623 was dumped near the servicing point, disused for at least a year. No sign of SY 1573, which had also been here.

Liuzhou power station, Fri 6/4/2012
A few years ago SYs operating to a power station in the northern suburbs had been seen from a route 18 bus. Alighting where the bus went over a level crossing, I soon came to a small shed that contained diesels DF5 1351 and DF5 1411. Definitely no SYs!

Guiyang cement works, Mon 9/4/2012
Two SYs, 0398 and 1482, had been reported here but out of use. The shed has been cleared and track for the connecting line to Guiyang Xi is lifted and there is no sign of the locos. The works still stands, but I did not check the narrow gauge electric line.

Guiyang Special Steel, Mon 9/4/2012
With time to kill, caught a bus to Guiyang Dong station. A line runs north from this to a number of sidings and was reported as having one diesel and one SY. There were two diesels, GK1C 0263 (orange) in use and 0264 (blue) on shed, both 2005. No sign of steam.

Lanba fiasco, Weds 11/4/2012
In 2009 Lanba coal mine had three SYs: 0953 active; 1367 stored ex-works and 0394 stored/dumped. I had used the daily trains to Lanba station, about 08.00 ex Liupanshui and 13.30 return, walking some 50 minutes to the mine. The outward train is now in the afternoon, so I decided to get there by bus. A request for a ticket at Liupanshui bus station produced an emphatic 'no way'. As I was doing 'what can I do now?' body language the clerk shouted to someone passing who turned out to be a bus assistant who led me to one and took 20 yn. Ten minutes later we were on our way. The bus stopped at a cross roads in the hills. Time to get out. The assistant called to a waiting motorcycle 'taxi'. Ever trusting, I hopped on the back and off we went. 4km later we were in a small village in the middle of nowhere. 10 yn please, and the motorcyclist zoomed off. Um… Initially I assumed this was close to Lanba mine and walked a bit further, seeing a small mine with an electric loco, but soon realised that this was the wrong place. By now I had attracted the attention of another motorcyclist who offered a lift. I asked for Lanba station, to at least get my bearings. Back to the road junction and a further 4 or so km in a different direction to the station. I now knew where I was, so asked to go on towards the coal mine. The motorcyclist was reluctant, and only took me part of the way. After I’d paid he produced a police badge and was obviously asking me what I was doing. Oh, oh. I was, of course, unable to reply, so just smiled, said OK, waved and started walking. Ten minutes later a police van came along and three uniformed policemen jumped out. I was by now only about 300 metres from a view of the mine. And that was as close as I got. After several minutes of being shouted at, and a firm grip on my arm, there was no option but to get into the van. I asked to go to Lanba station for the train to Liupanshui, but we went past that to a police station. Here I was taken to the boss and one of the police who had detained me got more and more agitated, literally jumping up and down and pointing at me as he shouted. Oh, dear. This was going to be tricky. After about 20 minutes a local teacher who claimed to speak English arrived. She had long conversations with the police but did not appear to understand my asking why I was being held and videoed and my passport copied, and could I now go. Eventually I tried appearing to get annoyed, which seemed to work. She said I could go to Liupanshui and needed to change bus on the way. Two of the policemen took me to the stop, hailed a lime green minibus, talked to the driver and slipped him 10 yn. Handshakes and smiles all round. The minibus terminated on the outskirts of Liupanshui at the terminus of route 3 town buses into the centre. The driver indicated I should not get out, but I did anyway. He ran across to a traffic policeman, pointing to me. I just walked past and got on a No.3. The minibus driver ran after me, also boarded it and was talking to both the driver and on his mobile phone as we set off. After a few stops he alighted – his own minibus was now a mile behind us. By now I expected to see a police car chase after us! Anyway, feeling very much a marked man, once in the town centre I alighted and briskly walked into an internet café, killing time here, in a restaurant and in a café until an overnight train to Zigong.

So, I never found if there is still a SY at Lanba coal mine. A crowd of local people had gathered when I was stopped by the police and might now report any solo westerner in the area. It is possible to get there by catching town bus 3 (not the air-conditioned outer suburb posh 3) and then a lime green minibus, then walking the last bit, but maybe not advisable!

Getting to Shixi, Fri & Sat 13 & 14/4/2012
After visiting Zigong's salt works and dinosaur museum I caught a bus to Leshan. We stopped at a road junction in the outskirts of Leshan. It was going elsewhere. As so often happens, a young lady on the bus spoke English. She pointed to a stop for a bus into town. It was the terminus of route 6 and the driver indicated it went near the bus station – which turned out to be the correct one for Qianwei, with a bus in 45 minutes. Arriving in Qianwei long distance bus station (we did stop first outside the local one, but I didn't realise) at 19.30, I decided to stay there rather than try going on to Sanjing and got a cycle taxi to BaiHe hotel, recommended in previous reports. The man in charge was adamant that I could not stay and directed me to the nearby TianBou. Maybe the BaiHe only takes foreigners if accompanied by a Chinese guide. The TianBou was fine, except that they only do evening meals for groups, not individuals.

Next morning caught a No 5 (not 3) green bus from across the road, opposite the local bus station, for the 45 minute journey to Sanjing and booked into the accommodation – hardly a hotel – above the local medical centre. There has been some recent new building work, so it might be worth updating previous directions. The road leading from the river bridge to the railway level crossing and onward to a new visitor centre opposite the station has three blocks of flats built of grey brick and the bus terminates, hidden, between them. Going on, uphill, the next block is in orange-red brick. Turn left alongside this, past shops (all being refurbished) and up steps ahead, to a 'ground level' facing a line of shops/eating places backing onto the railway. Enter the orange-red block, already at level 3 and go up a level. An un-numbered door, which would be 408, faces the stairs. It has a sign above it and a large picture of a Shixi train alongside. This is the 'hotel' office. Rooms were 160 yn (avoided, as next to the un-carpeted concrete staircase) or 180 yn. No food; the eating places outside were operational from 07.00 til 21.00. The office is not open until about 07.30 or after 21.00. To get here from the station, take the platform gate marked exit, go left over the road crossing and immediately turn right down about 10 steps alongside the railway and above a pedestrian square with a metal sculpture similar to a coal mine headstocks, past a line of shops (these too were being fitted out) and the red/orange block is ahead on the left.

Shixi, Sat 14/4/2012
Two 4 coach tourist train sets were in use, leaving Sanjing at 09.00, 11.00, 13.00 and 15.00, running empty to and from Shixi. The regular trains were just 4 normal coaches (one bogie), with an extra 4 wheel coach being added at Sanjing to the very, very crowded 14.00 from Shixi. The tourist centre opposite Sanjing station advertises a fare of 180 yn, presumably for a one way tourist train ride, the coal mine museum and then return by bus, river and bus.

Shixi, Sun 15/4/2012
Again there were two tourist train sets, at 09.00, 11.00 and 13.30 (ish) from Sanjing. There was also a freight, c. 14.30 from Shixi, 5 trucks carrying sand and aggregate to Bagou station for the building work there. The loco returned attached to the 15.15 from Huangcun.

Shixi, Mon 16/4/2012
Caught the 06.15 from Sanjing to Bagou to spend a night there, having collected my returned cash deposit from the 'hotel' the previous evening. The bogie coach was loaded with packages at Sanjing. At Bagou I made my way to accommodation recommended by Rob Dickinson, the TianYa guest house, arriving some 20 minutes before the owner opened the roll shutters. A decent bed, hot shower and WC for 60 yn, though without kettle, toilet paper or towel. Walked the track to Huangcun village. What a change compared to when I was last here in 2003. The village is very dead, in spite of the new coal mine shaft and museum; tourists clearly do not linger. Up to where the mine drams are tipped into the hoppers, but there was no-one about, although the mine entrance gate was open and air compressors working. A pile of new, heavier duty, rails was adjacent to the top of the short incline between the Shixi line and the mine dramway, so it seems that investment is continuing. With little coal in the hoppers, I correctly guessed that there would not be any coal train today. There was just one tourist train of 3 coaches, c.13.00 from Sanjing.

Shixi, Tues 17/4/2012
Heard was a freight at Bagou at about 07.00, delivering bricks for the new station, then a train of coal empties at about 09.30, including 3 wagons carrying wood for pit props. It returned loaded at about 10.00. However, by the time I got there. 10.30, the area around the mine was again deserted.
A one coach tourist train ran, c.13.00 from Sanjing, returning empty. The 14.00 regular passenger was half an hour late. To maximise photography I returned on the evening train to Sanjing and again booked into the 'hotel'.

Shixi, Weds 18/4/2012
Some pleasant linesiding. At 08.50 loco 7 passed light towards Shixi, presumably having taken more building material to Bagou. The 09.30 from Shixi had 3 four wheelers plus 2 tourist coaches, returning without one of the 4 wheelers, local passengers being crammed into the remaining two. Again a tourist train at about 13.00, but no coal trains by 15.00.

Shixi, Summary
For the 5 days here the weather was dry, sometimes sunny, but often dull and overcast. I enjoyed walking the track and got some reasonable photo spots. Lots of weekend tourist trains but only one coal train in 5 days. Maybe the new rails and pit props mean the mine was being extended or modernised. Locos in use were 7, 8, 10 and 14 and electric loco 1. 8 and 14 had smokebox plaques. Regular trains were often 5 to 30 minutes late and under-provided with coaches for the numbers of passengers.

Bagou had several students photographing everything and everyone, rather intrusively I thought, but maybe that is already normal. Some 3 wheeler motorcycle trucks have managed to get into the town via the new road and a steep concreted branch of that road reaches the being-rebuilt station. It can only be a short time before trains cease to carry packages, pigs, etc.

Sanjing to Chengdu, Weds 18/4/2012
Bus at 15.30 from Sanjing to Qianwei then the last Chengdu bus of the day at 16.50 (previous 16.00; next 09.00), arriving as expected at ShiYangChang bus station. Town bus 10 from here to Chengdu railway station, taking 55 minutes. Its terminus is a bit of spare land and not the nearby proper local bus station. To find it, turn left when leaving Chengdu station, along the frontage, then diagonally to the far corner of the ticket office facing the station square. Route 10's terminus is a few yards further, on the right. Stayed at the nearby triangular shaped Grand Hotel – its shape meaning it is impossible to escape traffic noise.

Mianzhu and Hanwang. Thurs 19/4/2012
From the long distance bus station in a side street near Chengdu station to Mianzhu. (From the station exit, go ahead to the far side of the station square and turn right along the main road, passing the local bus station. Look down the first or second turning further on, on the right; the entrance to the bus station is an alleyway next to the vehicle exit). It took almost 3 hours to Mianzhu bus station, on a by-pass well outside the town. Taxi to the railway station. The sulphuric acid works are to the north, off the station loop, with a headshunt parallel to the CNR line. There is just a wide loading bay with sheds and liquids loading nozzles, a line along each side and run round loops. The loco shed is at the end of one of the loops. As I arrived, SY 1198 shuffled into the head shunt and back into the works to move a tanker wagon a few feet. I followed it through the open gate; security personnel waved me in. The second SY, 1656, dead, had been used within the past week.
With no further sign of activity I returned to the bus station via local bus route 1, which took ages. To find that buses to Hanwang go from the town centre. So back, this time on route 8, to its terminus in a bus park, presumably once the bus station. The conductor waved down a departing Hanwang bus which went a few hundred metres to the centre of town and stopped for 10 minutes by the road side at what must be its official starting point, though not an obvious bus stop. Approaching Hanwang there are several new estates of flats, rehousing residents since the 2008 earthquake. The bus terminated near one block, well short of the (original) town centre and railway station, so it was a 3 wheeler taxi for the last kilometre and a bit.
Walking out onto the station tracks, I could see a SY, 0418, in light steam in a siding to the right. To the left was the line to the fertilizer works, reversing in a headshunt before it curves through almost 180 degrees and drops to reach the gates about a kilometre away. SY 1194 was inside, also in steam; again, nothing happening. Back to Mianzhu and the bus station before a bus to Chengdu (perhaps the last of the day) at 17.30. Arrived in the dark at an unfamiliar out of town bus station.....

Near Wanyuan, Fri 20/4/2012
Travelling from Chengdu to Nanjing, some 12 minutes before arriving in Wanyuan there was an in-use foundry/small steelworks on the right side of the line, at a lower level. A solitary SY stood in sidings here. There were no wagons and I could not see if the loco was in use. The location was probably Qinghua, 7 km before Wanyuan, where 2 SYs have previously been noted.
As an aside, the line from Wanyuan to Baisha appeared to be disused.
(Note: This section of the report was originally headed "Near Dazhou". David later informed me he had got the station incorrect. It should be Wanyuan not Dazhou. D.F.)

Nanjing, Steelworks near Xiaoang or Yougangqiao metro stations, Sat 21/4/2012
SYs were reported in 2007. Found the works and walked all the way round the perimeter wall. From the state of the link from CNR and the works itself I guess the site has been closed for at least one, possibly two, years. Although a loco shed was not seen, I assume there are no locos left.

Nanjing Pukou/Bei station shed, Sat 21/4/2012
When I last visited in 2008 there were 8 JS dumped in the open and 4 more inside a locked shed. Now the locked shed is empty and only 4 of the rusty dumped JS remained in the open.

Zhenjiang Coke Plant, Sun 22/4/2012
Some years ago a report mentioned a line between the CNR and a riverside coke plant operated by SYs 1279 and 1638. The line looks to have been lifted at least 2 years ago. I did not go to the works.

Zhenjiang Limestone railway, Sun 22/4/2012
I knew there was no live steam here, but caught a 22 bus out to Shima to see what was left. Just two derelict water cranes. Diesel DF10D 0128 arrived light engine and went to the shed. And that was it.

Getting home
The Finnair flight from Shanghai sat at the loading point until 70 minutes after departure time and lost more time on the way to Helsinki. I noticed that cabin crew had to jerk several seats into the upright position after passengers’ buttons failed to work. The food was barely edible. The plane then ‘failed’ on Helsinki’s main runway and had to be dragged to the terminal. My 95 minutes connection to London had, of course, gone, but there was another Finnair flight some 70 minutes after I got to the front of the queue at the transfer desk. Staff there booked me onto a flight an extra hour and a half later, saying there was insufficient time to get baggage onto the earlier one. When I protested they just told me to fill in a form if I wished to complain. The later flight then departed Helsinki 20 minutes late and was half an hour late into Heathrow. At least my bag was on it and I was less inconvenienced than the poor passenger who still had to get to Manchester. Finnair is no longer my carrier of choice for China!


Members should contact me off-topic at my e-mail if interested in what I saw of trams in Hong Kong New Territories and Shanghai film studios; the short monorail tourist tram in Zhanjiajie National Park; Zigong salt works; 1920’s defensive concrete houses near Kaiping; the old pottery kiln at Foshan; brick/pottery kilns near Jinxi (Shanghai) and covered wooden bridges near Sanjiang/Huaihua.

David Thomas

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© 2012 David Thomas