The International Steam Pages
Steam in China March 1999
Trevor Heath sampled Standard Gauge Steam between March 13th to 24th 1999:
"I followed the well-trodden path from Beijing, Fuxin, Reshui, Baotou, and back to Beijing in a hastily arranged trip on my own with help from CLSLPA. I realize this is "another" report from familiar places but feel there is new information and, as I have little interest in photography and no interest in electric or diesels, I hope to offer a different prospective on what was seen and done.
Flew Vancouver BC, Beijing direct for $700 (USD). Of note for US/Canadian residents, the only hassle in the international travel arrangements was obtaining a visa application form which, in the end I discovered could be obtained by automatic fax back from the embassy in Washington DC without the need for humans to answer the phone!
Coal mine traffic. I was told that there were 14 SY here. I saw 13 in a 24-hour period. Others have reported up to 35. Seen 0076, 0126, 0205, 0391, 0849, 0911, 1089, 1210, 1319, 1320*, 1378, 1395, 1397. *"supershine" A very busy place with the SY's being very highly utilized. One trip I took we went mine, weighbridge, transfer sidings, empties, PowerStation, mine with no rest at all.
I was able to ride 1320 to the mine and drive it back. At one point running at 80% throttle and 30% cut off!
Jinzou local passengers are still QJ hauled but I did not observe any "spirited driving". On the day I rode the train, QJ 6480 ran south and QJ 6675 north. I did not see any QJ freights on the main line and no steam heading north at all. SY 0035/0850 were at the Aiyouing mine south of Fuxin
Fuxin depot held about 40 QJ of which 10 or so were in steam and 6 JS of which 2 were in steam. I was able to view the roundhouse, which was full of locos in fine condition. There were about 5 green DF4 on shed, which makes one wonder why they were using QJ on the Jinzou passengers. However, I spoke to a regional traffic inspector who stated that they would continue for the time being with steam and that an October deadline for the elimination of steam would be "impossible to meet"
Highlights for me were the drive of SY 1320 and the sight of a QJ, JS and SY lined up on parallel tracks at the exchange sidings.
I was able to make 3 eastbound climbs from Jing Ping to Reshui and 1 from Jing ping to Linxi and 2 east bound one from Linxi and one from Reshui both to Jing Ping. It was interesting to compare the different performance of the locomotives on the 4 eastbound climbs. The 3 climbs with regular crews, they all traded water level for boiler pressure with similar cutoff and throttle settings. On one run we arrived at the summit with no water in the glass! Crews on this line are very young; the youngest driver I met was 26. The average age would be about 30 for a driver, 25 for a first fireman and 20 for a second fireman. Two of the climbs involved locomotives on which the coal pusher did not work which is a serious hardship for the 2 fireman one of which has to spend the whole climb on the back of the coal tender raking coal forward by hand. On 2 climbs the driver had to help fire. There is an amazing amount of foot traffic in the line, track workers (3 groups between Jing Ping and Reshui); shepherds, coal finders, plus others I have no idea what they were doing. Because of the many curves the driver is blind on the right hand bends and requires the "resting" fireman to watch the road. Additionally, the crew is required to visually, (with fingers) and audibly call the home and distant signals for the passing loops. The footplate on this line is a busy place! My last run was from Jing Ping to Linxi I climbed into the cab at Jing Ping to be greeted by the crew. However, I was then to meet the head driver from Darban depot. A well-dressed guy aged 48, he stated that I would not be able to make the run for "safety reasons". My taxi driver got involved and basically told the head driver that I could drive his loco better than him! Well that was taken as a challenge! We left Jing Ping with the head driver at the throttle, full pressure and a full glass of water. This guy was good! Setting the throttle at about 80% open and driving on the Johnson bar, continually adjusting the cut off while using a little of the load shift mechanism to control wheel slippage. We arrived at the summit with a ¾ glass of water and to prevent the safety valves lifting the injector was engaged! The head driver then handed the controls to the regular driver quite a show.
Highlights here? Of course, the final run in the cab but also watching a late westbound passenger hammering across the back of Reshui in the dark with the fire dancing off the smoke trail an awesome site! And, watching the west bound sleeper pull into Reshui station the night I left for Baotou via Benhong.
Of note at Benhong was the siting of 2 previously unreported "supershine" locomotives 6304 and 6579.
Visited the steelworks loco repair depot. Saw a SY under full repair (boiler off) another outside getting a coat of paint. Standing outside there are 8 YJ 131, 151, 167, 179, 220, 232, 254, 315. I was told there were 2 still working in the steelworks complex. Additionally there are 2 Darlan built JS 58003 and 58004 (1959) that are to be scrapped. They said they were going to keep the YJ! On a storage line behind a building there were 5 tank engines 3 ET (0-8-0) 5328, 5332, 5333 and 2 XK (0-6-0) 5902, 5903 which they also said would be scrapped.
Baotou West depot showed to me that steam here has only weeks to go. The wheel lathe and jacks are dumped outside the repair shop, the repair shop itself has been gutted for use to repair diesels, the sight of 1988 built JS on the scrap line and about 20 blue and cream DF4 sitting around the yard. I purchased the Headlight, Whistle and Builders plates from QJ 2916. The next day while riding the loop train I observed the same loco being cut up.
In fact except for traffic between the yards I did not see a QJ working at all and observed a Linhe passenger train stopping at Baotou West station behind a green DF4.
The scrap line still contains 1 FD, 1 DK and 1 JF, the SL pacific has gone.
Baotou East depot still has about 4-6 JS in steam at anyone time including supershine 8279. The depot is derelict containing JF 1812 in a similar condition. All the JS in steam were built in Datong between 1986 and 1988
I travelled on the 3:16 p.m. Baotou loop train on two consecutive days behind JS 8279. The whole journey takes 2 ½ hours and costs 1.8Y (about 22 cents US). This really is an excellent ride, the first half-hour a steady climb and with the train loaded to 13-passenger cars. Hard work for a JS.
Highlights here? The Baotou loop train ride and, watching a deflector less QJ/JS combination lift a heavy freight out of the east yard after the almost simultaneous departure of a loop train and the departure of a QJ powered tank train to the local chemical works.
There will of course be steam in China for many years to come but on China Rail? With the number of diesels sitting around doing nothing I wonder if it will even last until October. I was told there are axle loading issues on some branch lines (to Houba for example) which may leave pockets of steam until that issue is resolved. The bigger question is though who is going to overhaul them? I read that Changchun is down to 1000 employees with mass layoffs. The Ji Tong and San Mao lines, I'm told they buy QJ's in overhauled condition for 90 to 100,000 Y (about $11,500 USD). The supply is going to dry up real quickly and without overhaul and repair facilities that, will be the end unless Daban for example increases it overhaul capability and becomes autonomous."