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Steam in China, 26 February - 4 March  2016

by Michael Reilly

Fuxin, Fushun, Jiutai, Dahuichang, Tianjin

This was a trip arranged on the back of a separate one to SE Asia. With ten days available, it was not feasible to visit all remaining steam locations so I opted to concentrate on the North East, reasoning this would enable me to see a good range of operations in the time available. The original plan was to visit Fuxin, Fushun, Jiutai and Wujiu. But one week before arrival, when I was already travelling, I got word that Wujiu had suspended operations for the Spring Festival and was not expected to restart until mid-March, so the Beijing area visits were a late substitute.

Fuxin, 25 - 28 February

I flew into Shenyang direct from Shenzhen (much cheaper and with more options than trying to fly from Hong Kong). There were only 40 minutes between my arrival and departure of the afternoon bus to Fuxin but this was still ample time. The bus was very comfortable with reclining armchair seats in 2+1 configuration. On arrival at Fuxin I first went to the station to buy rail tickets for the remainder of the trip, then to the Huamei hotel to check in (RMB 145/night including breakfast). I met Andrew Benton over breakfast the following morning and a group led by John Raby arrived on 27th. Although only week after Ian Hopkins' visit, operations had changed significantly. Wulong mine was not operating and over the three days only 5 SYs were seen in service - nos 1195, 1320, 1378, 1397 and 1818 - with only 4 in use on any one day. On 26th and 28th, 1397 was the loco on standby, on 27th it was 1195. 1460 was dead in the shed, 1396 was not seen. 0911 was also seen, with side rods removed, outside the works. We did not go inside the works but were told there were no overhauls taking place. Also in use were DF5Ds 0068 and 0080. The pattern of operations was for one of the two DF5s to bring in coal or spoil trains from Wangying mine, sometimes with coal and spoil together in a single train. Coal was presumably moved on to the power station. Dedicated spoil trains were in ten wagon consists. These were then split into 5 wagon rakes in the sidings before being worked up to Wulong tip by one of the SYs. Other than on the first day, when we saw a single working of empty coal gondolas out of the siding at Pingan, the only other steam operation was a daily morning and afternoon working of fly ash trains from the power station up to Wulong tip (there may also have been night time movements). There were no workings in or out of the big pit while we were there. Nonetheless, operations were intensive with two trains regularly to be seen at the top of Wulong tip and sometimes even three. At least three different sidings were in use here. Despite the intensity of operations, none of the loops between the main yard and Wulong appeared to be in use, so if trains had to cross midway a descending train would reverse into the Wulong mine approach to allow the ascending train to pass. On 28th I continued on to Shenyang by a packed train K7327 which was 40 minutes late into Shenyang. On the approach to the latter, QJ6770 can be clearly seen plinthed next to a block of apartments by the junction of the Fuxin line with the main line from the south. When making my original plans I had booked into the Rosedale Hotel by Shenyang North as this appeared to be most convenient. As things turned out, a hotel closer to Shenyang station would have been better but at CNY 230/night the Rosedale was clean, comfortable and good value although the area is a bit of a desert for good restaurants.

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SY1378 passes Wulong mine while returning from the tip with empties, 27 February

Fushun, 29 February

I went to Fushun on a day trip from Shenyang, travelling there on train D8135. When I had last used this, in May 2014, it was composed of standard CNR red and grey stock. It was now a CHR Harmony set, somewhat incongruous but very comfortable (and good value) for what is basically a commuter trip. It was barely one-fifth full. I was met at Fushun station by John Athersuch's driver Mr Lee and we went straight to Piao'ertun. Here SYs 1050 and 1633 were in steam, 1630 was dead looking dumped and a fourth, unidentified loco was in the shed which had been occupied by 1633 on my May 2014 visit, leaving one loco unaccounted for. Diesels GKDA0219 and 0408 were also on shed with their engines idling. 0219 came off shed at 0905, followed by 1633 at 0935. There then followed an hour of fairly intensive shunting activity the length of the line before both locos were back on shed by 1040 for the lunch break. A friendly crossing keeper said 1633 would be back in action around 1300 but rather than wait, I chose instead to spend the rest of the day observing operations on the mining railway. In the course of a few hours I saw at least 6 of the 1930s/1940s Japanese ED85s in use, undoubtedly the oldest locomotives in use in China if not in the world, 5 of the 1960s built Skoda 37Es and 5 of the 1970s Chinese built ZG 150s, all these locos being older than any of the steam locos in service in China! A steam crane was also seen from a distance on track laying work. The return train to Shenyang was again a Harmony high speed set.

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SY1633 at Fushun Special Steelworks, 29 February

Jiutai and Changchun, 1-2 March

I travelled from Shenyang to Changchun by train D8089. This was lightly loaded leaving Shenyang but from Siping Dong was packed with not even spare standing room as far as Changchun where again John Athersuch's driver, this time Mr Ma, met me to take me to Jiutai. There are also frequent buses between Jiutai and Changchun which would offer a cheaper way of getting there. At the mine I found SY1407 in steam and Japanese enthusiast Harada Keisuke. The mine was not working, however, and apart from the daily shunt of around 100 metres for servicing purposes, the loco crew were not expecting to handle a train for another 5 days or so, so I returned to Changchun. 1524mm gauge Baldwin 2-8-0 16117 of 1898 can be seen here on display outside the museum of Japanese occupation (there is no need to pay the hefty RMB 80 entrance fee to the adjacent Puppet Emperor's Palace to see it). It is a short walk from Weihuanggong station on the LRT network. Fron Changchun I flew to Beijing, reaching the airport by high speed train. At RMB10.5 (1st class) for a 10 minute journey compared to around RMB150 for a 45 minute trip by taxi, this is by far the quickest and cheapest way of getting to the airport, as the crowds of people on the train doing so testified. On the short journey, a small mine with a working ng line could be seen on the north side of the line.

Dahuichang and Tianjin, 3-4 March

With time to spare in Beijing, I went to Dahuichang on 3 March to see the dumped C2s previously reported by Peter Haworth. Dahuichang is easy to get to by public transport. From the western terminus of Beijing Subway Line 14 at Zhangguozhuang, take bus no 574 to the terminus (7 stops). This is the same bus stop as for the 356 and 385 buses shown on Rob Dickinson's map, from where the railway bridge is clearly visible. The bus fare from Zhangguozhuang is RMB2, buses run every 10-15 minutes and the journey takes about 20 minutes. Probably because it was winter, the undergrowth was less intrusive than when Peter Haworth visited. Most of the track in the yard area remains visible although it soon disappears under a rubble tip. Within the shed itself, one loco, marked no 3 on the front, can be seen by peering through a hole in the door or through part of a window, with the other loco visible behind. Elsewhere this would seem to have obvious potential for a small museum or preservation operation. On 4 March I went by bus to Tianjin, by sheer good luck arriving just in time to see the daily train. This entire operation looks steadily more incongruous. Redevelopment of the surrounding area continues apace, SY1007 now looks well and truly dumped and with big patches of rust on both tender and boiler cladding, working loco 1524 is in scarcely better condition. It gives every sign of being on its last legs. Then again, on my second visit to the line, the crew said they expected it close within 18 months and that was 4 years ago.

So over 8 days I saw 9 locos in steam, 7 in use. While this is still more than can be seen anywhere else in the world (other than on tourist lines) it is modest even by recent Chinese standards. The economy is clearly growing more slowly and the coal industry in particular seems to be feeling the pinch. So we may finally be entering the end game for working Chinese steam (but how many times before has that been said?)

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C2 no 3 seen through a hole in the door, Dahuichang, 3 March

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SY1524 returns light engine to the depot from Beichen Road, Tianjin 4 March

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2016 Michael Reilly