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Steam in China, November 2012

by Ian Hopkins

Baiyin, Sandaoling, Fuxin, Bajiaotai, Sishui

Nov 3rd Nov 18th

The group met at Beijing airport on Sunday morning Nov 4th; Ian Hopkins and Bram Stelling via Amsterdam and Steve Szwejkowski and Nick Cotton via Frankfurt. We were met by Mike Ma and Vincent Sun, an old school friend of Mike's, who Mike had talked into joining us to experience some gricing. We took the afternoon flight to Lanzhou and on by road to Baiyin.

Baiyin

BNMC now has 6 serviceable SYs: 1013, 1047, 1470, 1581, 1583 and 2008 (0701). It is planned to replace them with diesels sometime in spring 2013. However, this will be dependent to some extent on the timing of the flotation of BNMC on the Chinese Stock Exchange. Apparently, some funds from the flotation have been earmarked for diesels.

1583 was in the workshop minus wheels, which had been freshly turned and 2008 was cold in the shed but we saw the other SYs in action. The workshop was deserted however with no staff present and no work being done and we couldn't get a clear answer as to why. It's to be hoped that 1583 gets its wheels back before too long. Some drivers were away being trained to drive diesels.

A major reason for the timing of the trip was to see the morning passenger to Shenbutong in daylight and 1047 did itself proud each morning with the usual photogenic thrash up the mountain, although only with 5 coaches. Tuesday Nov 6th was the most interesting day. After 1047 had worked the return passenger, 1581 appeared with a rake of empties for the Shenbutong mine. However, at around lunchtime we saw 1047 leave the shed in a hurry and race off up the mountain. 1581 had failed at the top and came back very slowly light engine with the fireman perched on the tender peering over the side. Tender axle boxes maybe? 1047 appeared shortly afterwards with 1581's loaded wagons. This activity meant that 1047 was too late to take the afternoon passenger and 1470 substituted. Returning down the mountain we discovered by chance 1047 on the Sanyelian passenger. We surmised that the regular diesel had been given 1581's afternoon duties.

By Wednesday everything was back to normal and 1581 appeared again on the empties to Shenbutong. This seems to be a regular turn at the moment as is two locos shunting Baiyin Gongsi yard and the adjacent factories throughout the day.

It is possible to ride the passenger trains, which we all did at least once, and it's free! We had an interesting and busy visit and Baiyin should remain a very worthwhile destination this winter.

Sandaoling

We left Baiyin to catch train T296 from Lanzhou to Hami. However, this is no longer an easy journey. Hami station was closed on Nov 1st for two years for a complete redevelopment. A temporary station will be used but neither T296 nor T295, back to Lanzhou will stop there. We had to leave the train at Li Yuan (Dunhuang) in the middle of the night and endure a hairy 5 hour, 220 mile journey on the expressway to get to Sandaoling. We also had to do the same when we returned. Tickets of any kind between Urumqi and Lanzhou are very difficult to find with nothing available at short notice. We had decided to avoid Urumqi in case of fog but this back fired on us. If anyone is thinking of doing this trip in the future I would fly Lanzhou to Urumqi or vice-versa and take the overnight Hami train and risk the fog. If anyone has already made arrangements they should double check them. T295 was also 2 hours late arriving in Lanzhou, which foiled our plans for a quick visit to Baiyin to see the afternoon passenger.

However, Sandaoling was as steamy as ever and very busy. The weather was for the most part clear with a low of -10C and snow on the mountains. Three coal trains were working from the loader, 4 JS working Nanzhan and the deep mines plus 2 diesels and lots of spoil trains. The spoil trains seem to run mainly from the higher levels and trucks are now in use on the floor of the pit right up to the Xibolizhan end. We also saw a diesel heading up to the deep mines with empties and a JS at the rear but not working.

Deep mines JS 8053, 8314, 8358, 8366

Coal JS 8081, 8190, 8225

Spoil JS 6209, 8027, 8040, 8076, 8077, 8078, 8089, 8173, 8190, 8195, 8368

Shift change train JS 8040, 8081, 8190

Spreader JS 6224

Trackwork SY 1304

Works JS 8080, 8194 (having its boiler lifted back on to its frames when we visited)

We still couldn't get a clear picture of the future here but given the state of the locos and their activity levels something has got to give.

Whilst we were there Bernd Seiler of FarRail arrived to make last minute arrangements for his tour group. Rumour has it that he tried to arrange a charter from China rail to Nanzhan with JS front and back on the empties just like the good old days. He was apparently unsuccessful but I'd be interested to hear if he managed to make it happen.

Fuxin

We said goodbye to Vincent in Lanzhou and then caught an evening flight from Lanzhou to Shenyang, overnight at the Shenyang airport hotel then by road to Fuxin.

We spent the afternoon on Wulong tip. SY 1396 spent some time on the top line waiting to unload and then when it reversed and started to unload managed to derail itself via the trailing bogie. SY 1210 came up and unloaded on the lower line against the backdrop of the ever growing Fuxin skyline. When we had to leave as darkness fell, a bulldozer appeared and was about to try and re-rail 1396. Good sunset photos up there.

Besides running up and down Wulong tip we spent some time at the power station end of Wulong yard. It can be very busy at times with shunting, locos going to and from the shed plus spoil and coal trains. One afternoon around 2.30 we saw 6 different SYs in a 30 minute period. We saw 10 SYs working; 0770, 1210, 1310, 1319, 1320, 1359, 1395 (with Zhu De headboard), 1396 and 1397 and 1460.

Bajiaotai

We stopped here briefly on the way to Jinzhou. Security is ferocious and as soon as we stuck our noses out of the van at the level crossing we had a lot of shouting and waving coming in our direction. However, we went round to the offices and Mike talked security into letting us inside the gates for a few minutes.

The timing was perfect as we saw JS 6211 head out of the yard for China Rail with about 40 coal empties. On the shed were JS 8116 dead and an immaculate JS 6244, which looked ex-works. Best looking JS I've seen in 20 years.

Sishui

By overnight train to Jinan and onwards by bullet train to Qufu East and road to Sishui to see QJ 7129. A sentimental journey really, but there she was in steam in the yard covered in cement dust. She is used daily with around 8.00 to 9.00 am the best time. We went in the back way via the yard having been refused official permission as it was a Saturday. This is easy to do if you have transport and the yard is easy to see from adjacent fields.

We then headed back to Beijing by bullet train and then back home

All in all a great trip with 36 locos seen in steam, with lots of action in cold and sometimes snowy conditions.

Finally I leave you with our best Chinese English translation courtesy of the Zhonglin International Hotel in Fuxin.

"If you bake head, please use in the cupboard blue pillowcases".

Apparently, this means that if you dye your hair then use the blue pillowcases so as not to stain the white ones. So those of you who indulge in this practice have been warned.

Ian Hopkins

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2012 Ian Hopkins