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Steam in China, November 2012

by Trevor Maxted

Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Fuxin, Sandaoling, Baiyin

Another trip to China arranged through our good friend Jun, and with him as our ever helpful guide.
Flights with Lufthansa from Heathrow to Beijing via Frankfurt at a very reasonable fare of just shy of £440 return. It was decided to go direct by road from Beijing airport to the hotel in Pingzhuang, an anticipated five hours on the expressways. All started OK until just south of Chengde when it was decided by the authorities that the expressway was in a dangerous state due to snow and ice and we were diverted to 'B' roads which to us was even more dangerous! If we had five or less people in our bus we would have been permitted to stay on the expressway, the six of us meant we were 'at risk' so we had no choice. The alternative route added another five hours to the journey, we left Beijing airport at about 10:30, arriving in Pingzhuang at about 20:30!

12/13th November were spent between Pingzhuang and Yuanbaoshan. I cannot add much to Duncan Cotterill's report of the former except to add on that on our two days traffic was very light, we think due to ice and snow. At Yuanbaoshan JS 6245 was in steam and used on the usual passenger trains which ran as a mixed on the afternoon of the 13th, it was passenger only on the afternoon of the 12th and morning of the 13th.

SY 1017 at Pingzhuang Gushan Erjing mine (13/11/2012)
 

JS 6245 with morning passenger near Fengshuigou, Yuanbaoshan (13/11/2012)
 

JS 6245 PM passenger/mixed near Fengshuigou, Yuanbaoshan (13/11/2012)
 

An uneventful drive on the afternoon of the 13th to Fuxin, about 3 hours, all expressways open once outside Inner Mongolia province.

14/15th November was spent at Fuxin, my first visit since well before the big pit closed (though lorries still bring coal out of the hole!). Again much as per Duncan's superb report and we had good weather until the afternoon of the 15th. Access to the crew change area is not allowed without quite expensive permission but seems that up to about 8am, when I assume the head man arrives, a couple of shots are possible! I thought Fuxin still well worth the effort.

SY 1359 at Fuxin on ash tipping train (14/11/2012)
 

Second shot of SY 1359 on ash tipping train (14/11/2012)
 

SYs 1359, 1397 & 1460 Fuxin shift change (14/11/2012)
 

SY 1460 descending from Fuxin tip (15/11/2012)
 

A late afternoon drive to a central Shenyang hotel for one night took around two and a half hours. The following day, 16th, and it dawned wet and drizzly which turned readily to steady snow once out of the city en-route to Shenyang airport. After our plane was de-iced and cleared of snow we had a relaxed flight to Lanzhou with China Southern. The plan was to catch train T295 16:01 train to Hami (Kumul) but this train no longer calls there due to the massive reconstruction works in connection with the new high speed Lanzhou to Ürümqi line. It does, we were told, stop in the adjacent loop line at Hami Nan station to change crew! So we had to alight at the previous station, Liuyuan, at 03:40 and take a bus from there to Hami, about three hours and 250km, where we changed to our 'runabout' vehicle for Sandaoling. Our bus from Liuyuan was the same vehicle that had taken Bernd's group in the opposite direction the previous day and was on it's way back from Dunhuang. Trains on this route are mostly running late, more than 90 minutes being common, and this was the case with T295 on this journey. Getting reservations on any trains in the area was almost impossible unless the train originated at point of embarkation. In the opposite direction, from Ürümqi, most trains had a minimum journey fare applicable, for example a ticket from Ürümqi to say Shanghai needed to be purchased even if only going to Hami! Even then getting any ticket was difficult, it seems that at this period there is a large eastbound migration event.

17-24th,Sandaoling. Again much as Duncan's report. We had a 'minder' shadow us some of the time to make sure we went nowhere out of bounds. One change is there is now not a coaling facility at east (Dongbolizhan) station and loco's have to go to the west (Xibolizhan) station area instead. They stay on their trains and this opens up other opportunities at the west station when they depart, of course normally running chimney first. It seems to take slightly longer than when the trains used east station and of course means the east 'station' area is quieter now.
There were generally only two trains on the coal circuit and mornings seemed quiet, often nothing out of the loader before 11:30. We were informed that a shortage of wagons from China Rail was one of the reasons and we witnessed some coal trains being unloaded near the loco works area instead of the washery. These trains run via east station but it's very difficult to perdict when this might happen. The west side was reasonably busy though perhaps a little quieter than my previous trip in January 2011.

JS 8089 Sandaoling: at dusk leaving the loader in east pit (19/11/2012)
 

JS 8089 running from Sandaoling east to east pit (21/11/2012)
 

JS 8089 propelling to spoil tip 5, line 7, Sandaoling west (22/11/2012)
 

JS 8195 with loaded coal through east pit Sandaoling (23/11/2012)
 

We had to leave on Saturday 24th soon after first light to drive to Dunhuang, 500km and all but about the last 80km on expressways, to get a train to Lanzhou as no other services had tickets etc. from anywhere nearer to Hami. As the weather was not great we lost very little and the drive across the Gobi desert was not uninteresting. From Dunhuang we caught train K9668 at 18:58 to Lanzhou arriving there not long after 10:00 on the 25th. A drive from Lanzhou to Baiyin and the next two+ days were spent on the Baiyin railway.

25-27th at Baiyin. Reports had indicated that the Shenbutong freight had reverted to steam for a period before our visit and this, plus the travel problems getting away from Hami, triggered another Baiyin visit. Alas, the freight was once again diesel and two SYs, 1013 & 1581, were in use shunting/tripping/all passenger trains with SY 1470 in light steam reserve loco. In the workshop SY 1583 was stripped down but no work appeared to be taking place on it. Cold in the depot were SY 1047 & 2008 with SY 0612 dumped at the rear of the shed, an area that had been cleared of all the junk that was there previously. Missing from our previous visit was SY 0965. There was an air of decline as far as steam was concerned though the two in traffic loco's were kept busy. SY 1067 was also present dumped beside the workshops, thought to be at Baiyin for repair/overhaul. Only the usual two diesels present.

SY 1013 near Baiyin Gongshi with trip freight from Sanyelian (26/11/2012)
 

SY 1581 drifting down the gorge near Sanyelian with the 09:10 passenger ex Shenbutong to Baiyin (26/11/2012)
 

SY 1583 a stalled overhaul at Baiyin workshops? (26/11/2012)
 

We left Baiyin PM on the 27th for our flight at 15:15 from Lanzhou to Beijing, flying home the following day. Another really worthwhile and enjoyable trip that I thought might easily be our last but I now feel there is probably one more trip to come at least!

Trevor Maxted

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