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Steam in China, 17- 29 February  2016

by Ian Hopkins

Fuxin, Pingzhuang and Sandaoling

Steve Szwejkowski and myself, guided by Mike Ma, visited these locations between Feb 17th and Feb 29th. We had a fantastic time and enjoyed fine weather and blue skies throughout, although during the last two days at Sandaoling it warmed up, the mountains disappeared and it was hazy. Sadly, on the day before we left Sandaoling, there was an explosion at Erjing mine, which left five miners buried, one of whom lost his life. Whilst, we all get so much enjoyment out watching these coal trains run around we don’t tend to recognise that those responsible for the spectacle often work in difficult, dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

19-21 February, Fuxin

Both opencast and Wulong spoil were busy with trains at regular intervals throughout the day, with approximately six workings to the former and eight to the latter in daylight. Wulong trains tended to work in pairs so there were frequently two locos on the top of the tip at the same time. Of the two lines in the opencast the outer one is for spoil and the inner seems to be for deliveries of coal. We only saw it used once by a shorter train of only 4 tippers. We only saw one coal train a day from Wulong on our second and third days, one steam and one diesel hauled at around 3.00 pm. We saw one train leave from the loading area at Ping’an mine. One day SY1397, tender first, took a train of empties from the main yard around the open cast to Sunjiawin mine. We were hoping for it to return with a load but after about 30 minutes it returned light engine and we saw it on spoil duties later in the day. The electric railway at this pit was in operation. The previously reported coal loading siding part way up Wulong tip was not in use and the rails were starting to rust. However, we found a coal delivery operation in the siding at Ping’an located between the line to the opencast and the curve that goes back to Wulong yard. This had two deliveries a day by train, one early in the morning and one around 1.00 pm. Approximately 7 to 10 loaded wagons were brought out from the main yard by an SY and then pushed into the siding. These were then emptied during the morning. Around noon the empties were picked up. This was sometimes by an empty spoil train from Wulong, which meant that the loco first ran round the train at Ping’an, pushed the tippers into the siding, hooked up to the empties and pulled the mixed rake back until the last wagon had cleared the last set of points. The empties were then pushed back round the curve to the main yard. This lunchtime operation was once carried out by the 4 tipper long train returning from the open cast. Although the Ping’an mine area suffers badly from poles and wires syndrome it is the busiest part of the system for steam. There is never long to wait before something happens. SYs seen in action. 1195, 1320, 1378, 1396, 1397, 1460, 1818.

Pingzhuang

SY1487 is now the only working loco. It runs a regular shuttle between the new mine and Gushan Erjing. It carries coal to Erjing and returns the empties. We spent the afternoon at Pingzhuang en route from Fuxin to Chifeng airport and saw one train of empties and the return working of around 15 tippers full of coal. The loco made a fine sight charging up the bank from Zhuangmeizhan towards the power station. It then returned light engine to the servicing point where its fire was dropped and the crew went home. The other recently operational locos are at the workshops and we were told that there is no intention to scrap them.

Sandaoling

One or two trains a day are running to Erjing mine. They leave Nanzhan at approximately 10.00 am and/or 2.00 pm with around 20 empties, wait for them to be filled and return between two and four hours later. We saw JS8314 and JS8366 on this turn. We also saw two other JS in the distance at Nanzhan. We didn’t see any trains to Yijing mine. One day we saw a diesel taking a train of empties down to China Rail, which seemed unusual as empties usually come the other way. The open cast was busy with the usual 5 locos in action, working 4 coal trains with the spare loco spending time shunting in the workshop area on some days. One day it spent the afternoon re-arranging the locos and various wagons in the dump. The following morning it assisted steam crane 64 as it took apart old tippers by the workshop. There didn’t seem to be much of a break in opencast operations during the day. Trains were loaded regularly on each of the three lines at the loading area up until sunset. As regards the blue loader, trains departed down the centre track past the shovel but sometimes on the third line if an empty train was waiting by the shovel to get to the blue loader. If both lines were busy then any arriving empty train was held outside the loading area just before the signalman’s hut. We didn’t see any trains being loaded on the old line to Xibolizhan but on Thursday 24th we did see no fewer than 7 trains of old spoil tippers and some vans, including one of the old passenger cars with stove, use this line to exit the pit. There were probably around 70 tippers in total. 6 of these trains had JS front and back and thus provided the unusual sight of trains of empty tippers being banked out of the pit. We assumed that as most of the loads could have been handled by a single engine, the banker was acting as a guard’s van! The JS went back down the pit light engine and on a couple of occasions as a pair coupled together. In the midst of this shuttle service coal trains were still operating. The redundant tippers were parked at Dongbolizhan and then moved down to the workshop area by the end of the day. The following day a JS hauled engineering train with steam crane 64, tool van and small bulldozer on a flat-bed went down the pit in the morning and came back in the evening without the bulldozer. We didn’t see where it went but surmised that it was maybe tidying up after the previous day’s mass exodus. We spent some time near the coal yard down towards Nanzhan, where due to the reversing movement into and out of the location, you get two shots for the price of one. This unloading point was not as busy as the washery but we noticed that the first train to leave from the Dongbolizhan start of day usually went down there. We decided to go down there on our last morning instead of dodging the weekenders at Dongbolizhan and were rewarded with sunrise and low sunlight shots of the train before the dust from the lorries started up. We were told that there was no night working on the open cast though on our last day we did see a very early train coming up from the pit before the start of operations at Dongbolizhan at 8.00 am. I’m not sure that I’d call this a shift change any more but rather the start of the working day. The light engine passenger train was running as normal. By contrast the new mine is working 8 hour shifts 24/7 and 50 wagon trains trundle along the new line morning and afternoon. So what of the future? You get a different story from whoever you talk to. These are the ones that we heard.

  • Central government wants steam working to end as soon as possible
  • The pit has three more years left and steam will continue until then in order to protect jobs
  • Steam will end next winter 2016/2017
  • Steam will last for two more winters
  • Who knows what the truth is? Probably no one, so go whilst you can. It is still a fantastic spectacle.

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    © 2016 Ian Hopkins