The International Steam Pages
Steam in West China, November 2004
John Agnew and Jeremy Wainright report on their long journey west from Beijing, click here for other recent discoveries.
This report was submitted to the Steam_in_China Newsgroup - try Steam_in_Chinaemail@example.com and has also appeared on Florian Menius's site (http://www.sy-country.co.uk). John has asked me to upload it to my site too for maximum publicity as it contains a lot of very useful information on relatively unexplored areas. Pictures to go with the report are on the QJ-country site and also on the Newsgroup site. There are also a number of maps which need editing.
On Sunday, 7 November, John Agnew's Anzac Railbash Group (JA, JW, Graeme Stanley and Paul Mahoney) visited this line, which joins the CNR Wulumuqi line at Shankou (1234 km on Quail line 40) and runs approximately 35 km south to a mineral complex at Yamansu. The outbound product (today, at least) was pelletised iron ore. Other mineral materials are processed at Yamansu but perhaps only incidentally to the pelletising process. One round trip was run Yamansu - Shankou - Yamansu by JS 5768 (Datong 1986), leaving around 1100, taking about an hour to get to Shankou, spending about an hour there (while a parade of CNR trains went by in each direction) and taking an hour or so to return. On the first day, operations were in the hands of JS 8028, which on the second day was in the locked loco shed with JS 8423 and JS 8152 (all Datong 1987). Outside the shed in derelict condition were JS 5760 and 5465, while remnants of JS 5179 could also be seen. The grade is against loaded trains leaving Yamansu for about 4 km, after which it appears that the grade is against trains coming from the interchange, probably loaded with coal. Although there is a triangle at Yamansu, there appears not to be at Shankou, and all locos face Yamansu. Running is quite spirited. The country is undulating desert.
Yamansu is about 160 km from Hami, the most convenient base. We used two taxis from Hami. The turn-off from National Route 312 is 91 km from Hami onto an unnumbered tarred road (with a few rough spots, but easily passable in an ordinary sedan car). This road passes under the CNR line just east of Tudun (one station west of Shankou) and leads straight to Yamansu, out of sight of the branch line until a level crossing about 4 km short of Yamansu. About 4 km south of Tudun, a branch road (also tarred) leading to Shankou makes a trailing junction with the road to Yamansu. It is not very obvious when heading south but is plain to see when heading north (31 km from the level crossing). Between the level crossing and Yamansu there is a junction with another road (tarred) heading north-east, which is of no use in chasing trains. It is not difficult to get from Yamansu or the level crossing to Shankou shooting at both places. About 11 km from the turn-off to Shankou in the direction of Yamansu, there is another road in toward the line, which is only about 800 m away, but this was not checked.
The departure from each terminus is pictorially attractive (even with tender-first running out of Yamansu) and the loco is worked quite hard. The gradient at the level crossing is against trains from Yamansu but trains from Shankou are worked spiritedly despite the downgrade.
We had excellent weather (the day was reminiscent of the high veldt of South Africa in the winter) and the few shots that we got were all good ones. Unlike the Sandaoling lines, the Tianshan mountains were too distant (on this day, at least) to show up clearly in photos.
(2nd November 2004) T69 to Hami - spectacular trip with amazing CNR engineering all the way, much track duplication in evidence and MAGIC scenery between Xian and Lanzhou. Many huge S viaducts etc on this 38 hour trip. Drove up Highway 312 in our minivan and booked into the coal company's only Binguan - a mistake, as poor old Ma Jun Ming got interrogated for 3 hours by the Jingcha and ended up filling out 20 forms - 4 for each of us. Better to stay in Hami and commute the 1 hour daily.
Found the open cast pit on the edge of town with its North and South side entry lines, and also the line to the 2 smaller Beiquan deep mines. Saw many JS without deflectors, at work in the pit. Coal trains are propelled out of the Northern side, and up the Eastern entry while overburden trains are pushed up the Southern side and out through the Western access. Both accesses are double tracked.
Nanquan staging yard and washery is SE of the pit while the 2 Beiquan mines are E-NE of the pit. The loco shed and workshops are on the Southern rim while another locked compound just south of them houses 'out of use' locos including an SY.
The C N R interchange at Liushiquan is several km (not 34, probably 8-9 km) southeast of here, down paved road #502. Trains of empties have an uphill slog to Nanquan and were banked in the rear by a second JS. Empties went downhill with a single loco tender first and picked up the banker at Liushiquan. There is plenty of scope for excellent video shots etc. on the return thrash. The road is good, and the snow capped Tianshan (heavenly mountains) provide an excellent backdrop.
Some trains, on arrival at Nanquan, reverse east- north-east towards the twin deep mines at Beiquan. They head directly towards the Tianshan, before turning westwards to parallel them. At the first mine the lead JS takes half of the empties further on to the 2nd deep mine. The banking JS propels its gondolas under the loading shutes at the first mine and when ready heads back to Nanquan. The second train follows about a half an hour later, or when filled.
We could only spend 2 days at this busy line as we intended finding the mystery line 100 km east at Yamansu, see above and could only get train tickets back to Lanzhou on day 3, or else 7/8 days later, such was the demand for seats. We could only buy seats at the central booking agency in Hami NOT at the station! Here we queued with hundreds of others until it opened at 10 am. Then we were herded like sheep by 2 security guards who kept the melee in check. Many people who became unruly were evicted.
I would love to revisit this line such was its potential. You need 4/5 days to do it justice.
Liujiaxia was as reported recently by Florian Menius, except that JS 8227 no longer masquerades as 8226. Both were seen working on both days of our visit. He was right. This line's got potential plus! In fact it's great. Just wish we had spent more time here. But those Ozzies cracked a mean pace, so we moved on.
We arrived at Lanzhou after an amazing train trip on T269 from Hami at 01.40 a.m. via Jiayuguan at the western end of the Great Wall. We saw lots of railway Construction on a GRAND scale en route with duplication going on and with the opposing line in many places taking a completely different but more direct route. "Mountains and Rivers make way" seems to be the slogan. At Wuwei Nan km 282 Quail line 40, electric traction replaced diesel, and I got some great video from the train on the Loops at Anyuan (Tianzhu) km 200. We finally arrived at Lanzhou at 19.35 and rented a 16 seat minibus for a blood curdling crazy ride over the mountain expressway through the road tunnel and down into Liujiaxia to be deposited at our hotel by about 10.30 pm. Chinese drivers are worse than Brazilian ones, as no form of road code exists with them. The winner takes all. Treble passing on blind bends is the norm. Thankfully we survived a few close encounters.
Next day 9 Nov we drove about 3 km out to the depot at Gucheng. Here JS8227 was shunting. Then at 11.05 it took its 1 coach school train into town smokebox first, and returned at 11.48 tender first. We found out that we had missed the first school shuttle at 07.05/07.48 as they do 2 return trips daily. The city station is slap bang in the middle of the local Market arcade and pedlars sit astride the tracks and only move briefly when the Loco arrives. Great video etc!
Then back at Gucheng sister loco JS8226 with a huge red star atop the smokebox was getting ready to head for town with 2 coaches and a converted boxcar, in use as a baggage van. So we chased this in as well and got shots of it rounding the only major bend, and with the Yellow River in the background about midway into town. There is a high roadside bluff here which provides an excellent viewing platform. The train then departed Liujiaxia at about 13.30 tender first for Gucheng where it picked up its 8-9 wagons and became the daily "mixed" for Hekounan on the CNR. main line to Lanzhou. We boarded it here for the ride through the Huanghe (Yellow River) gorge. I rode in the boxcar by myself and was able to open the iron barred sliding gates which served as doors, and video at will. At Dachuan station I was joined by a local farmer with a sheep over his shoulder. This was duly tied up and provided sound effects as it sought to escape once we resumed our journey.
The trip through the gorge proceeded, and I noted the only road visible was one on the far bank which did not follow us for long. After passing through
At Yanguoxia we waited for a crossing with K533 the Xining HST styled, diesel unit express to pass, before we could access CNR metals. Upon reaching Bapanxia (Ba Pan Gorge) the second last station, at 16.30, we alighted and were met by our minivan which then took us across the river bridge here, for the slow trip through Bapanchun (Ba Pan Village) opposite, and then up a windy back road to the steep paved highway heading southwest through a series of hairpin bends shown on Florian's map. At the top of one of these bends we pulled off the road for a bird's eye view across Bapanchun and the river towards Bapanxia and the line. Here we observed several diesel trains but it got too dark for us to await the return steam working to Liujiaxia (smokebox first-dammit). So we recrossed the river and proceeded across the alpine gorge back to the road tunnel and then down the toll road to Liujiaxia.
Next morning we got both school trains on film and the mixed departing through the market at Liujiaxia, and then drove up to the dam lookout just out of town to capture the views over the river. At 2pm we hightailed it for Hekounan this time over the main road to Lanzhou and then west via Xincheng. At Hekounan we crossed the Yellow River and immediately turned left and drove the paved road through a succession of villages until we came to where it winds its way up into the hills (Florian's map). So this time we accessed the hilltop vantage point above Bapanchun much easier and quicker than the previous day. We captured the Xining bound HST train K533 at 16.15 and several CNR freights before JS 8226 arrived tender first with the mixed, but the haze had come back with a vengeance and visibility was impaired. From here we had another hectic drive through Lanzhou's rush hour to catch our overnight train to Xian arriving about 06.00 and view the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, before driving NW around 10 am in search of Yaoqu and Chenjiashan.
Florian has an excellent map of the Liujiaxia railway, and we are grateful to him for being able to see it in all its glory, despite the mainly tender first running in daylight. It's one you really need a week to do properly, not just 2 hectic days. Thank god for the minivan and the crazy Chinese driving.
Meijiaping workshops is now out of bounds to ALL visitors! We were denied access, too as previous gricers had climbed over the walls to photograph the derelict QJ in the rear yard. We did find out that JS 8094 was about to be outshopped and probably sent to Yaoqu.
Tongchuan Coal Administrations Western Division - Yaoqu
From Meijiaping, we drove NW until we reached an intersection at Tianjiazui (Quail Km 35 on line 24D). Here we turned right immediately under a very high viaduct (which turned out to be on the first km of the 'new' line to Chenjiashan mine).
Some 15 km further on we reached Yaoqu where a 2-3 km line veers off up a valley to the large mine and its huge attendant dormitory town. Sitting in the CNR station we found JS 6025 (1961) about to be towed off to Meijiaping shop for an overhaul.
We drove up the valley and under an impressive 26 span bridge into the mines loading bins. Here we found JS 8094 Datong 1987 masquerading as 5094. All of the 8's had been repainted as 5's, but the rods gave the game away. Don't know why they did thus?
This mine was also out of bounds but we were allowed to film outside its perimeters. I climbed high up a hill opposite and was surprised to see an elaborate narrow gauge electric operation bringing the coal from deep mines to the bins. I saw at least 4 yellow electrics in operation in the distance and got them on film and video. (naughty!) There is a very large town hidden in behind the large bin area but the only access to it was via the coalmine HQ yard.
The top end of the line has been relocated from a much smaller bridge to the larger edifice. There are excellent photographic opportunities as there are green field lower down the valley. On our first day here it snowed heavily and we got some nice results from atop a smaller 'cliffside' at the entrance to the bins, looking down onto the viaduct. Nice pics here. We saw 3 return workings and stayed the night down at Yaoqu town's only Ludian 2 km back down the main road towards Yao Xian. Nice food here also.
Our return on the next day was marred by a lack of trains, despite the brilliant sunlight.
We accessed Yaoqu/Chenjiashan from Tongchuan. We made several runs, taking just over an hour via Yao Xian and the hilly coal road (paved). It's quicker up the northern expressway from Tongchuan and then veer off NW at Jinsuoguan and then via Xingshuping (paved roads).
Tongchuan Coal Administrations Western Division - Chenjiashan
This is another new JS operation at Chenjiashan, 25 km south of there. JS 5184 is the sole loco on the lovely 8 km Tianjiazui - Chenjiashan line with 3 large viaducts.
On the drive down you pass several large viaducts on the C.N.R. line (Quail 24D) and eventually drive under a high viaduct 100 metres before the T junction at Tianjiazui (km 35). The station and yard are hidden up on a high ledge about 1 km south (turn left) towards Yao Xian, where line 24D splits off from the Xian -Tongchuan line (Quail 24C).
From here the mine line runs back over the high road viaduct, due north along some 8 very scenic km to the Chenjiashan Mine. The viaduct is actually on the start of the mine branch as the C.N.R. main line north, splits off at the yard throat, and heads for Yaoqu km 49 and Quianhezhen km 71 .
The elevated line winds its way along the lower slopes of a long valley, across a couple of decent sized viaducts, and runs behind a series of large fish breeding ponds, which allow for some attractive silhouette photography until it reaches the small yard and loading bins behind the township of Chenjiashan. Uphill empty wagon trains run smokebox first and the opposing grade thus ensures plenty of good old thrash. We were able to get about 3 video shots off while chasing each train. The sole loco is currently JS 5184/1961. Information given to an American visitor in August was that 2 locos are used, but of course that info covered both lines, here and Yaoqu. An early am and late pm. return working were observed during our visits here, and this enabled us to hike back up the road and phot the Yaoqu turns during the middle of the day.
Upon entering Chenjiashan township with its bustling riverside market, we were apprehended by a Jingcha and asked to report to the Police Station. Mike Ma, and I duly presented ourselves, and again my business card written in Chinese characters, and my "Railmaster Exports" Model Railway Catalogue proved invaluable, as they broke the ice with the 3 young detectives who interviewed us. Not so fortunate was the wizened very old chinaman hunched on a wooden stool alongside me. When I got the chance for a covert glance, I saw that he was handcuffed and in leg irons. I'll never forget the look of absolute dejection on his face, the poor old soul. We dared not enquire about his predicament. After we politely declined offers of cigarettes from them, we were allowed to go on our way. They were just doing their job.
A few days after our last visit to the line, the mine suffered its tragic underground explosion with subsequent loss of many lives. No doubt you will have seen the details in the world press. We can heartily recommend a visit to these lines but it would be prudent to stay out of Chenjiashan town itself, for now. The sole Ludian at Yaoqu is "perfectly adequate- plus" on the Dickinson scale, with good food AND electric blankets! We asked and received extra thick duvets to pad up the hard beds. And the outside brick bog was OK as well - not smelly. One of the better ones in my travels. And the local kids and the street market were a ton of fun. I bought my grand daughter a pair of beautifully embroidered jeans here for just 50 yuan (US $6), a steal.
If you intend to visit it do so soon: a diesel shed is nearing completion and 2 brand-new DF4 locos have already been delivered, with 2 more expected.
Trains run smokebox-first downhill with loaded trains from Diantou and tender-first with the empties. Scenery is very good, without being as mind-boggling as the Wangshiwa line.
We found no evidence of a connection with the Mei-Qi line (Quail 24D), which seems to have been suggested by an apparent error in the Nelles Northern China map. Local enquiries corroborated this observation. The line between the town at Diantou and the mine was not explored because of security considerations - the mines are said to be worked in part by prison labour,
Locos: QJ (in traffic) 6532, 6652, 6698 + one other
At the time of our visit, there were up to 4 return workings a day.
Access to Diantou is by 2 toll roads after the southern exit at Huangling from the motorway from Tongchuan - the 'quick' way (right-hand branch) and the lineside way (left-hand).
The Yulong binguan in Diantou (about 160 yuan) was well appointed and very comfortable - on a par with the Red Rose Hotel in Tongchuan (but without an in-house restaurant).
(19th November 2004), arriving the previous evening and leaving for Jingpeng about 1530. Shooting commenced just after 0800 at the discharge point in Yinghao town (which is found more easily by referring to the text of Rob Dickinson's description than by looking for the conveyor shown on his map, because the conveyor is underground).
An empty train was standing ready to depart in the run-around track. On the arrival of a full train, the loco of the full detached from its train and banked the empty out of the shed and onto the main line before going to the turning facility and then returning to attach to the other end of its train. Once its wagons were empty, it departed from the unloading track.
Soon thereafter, it caught up with the first train near Houying and ran a short distance behind it (and both trains were able to be photographed broadside on in convoy) to the junction at Xiangyang, where a third loco appeared from the depot at Huangmeng. After some shunting, both road locos departed to Huangmeng for servicing and crew changes (a bit late, it seems) and the third loco set off for the mine at Liangwa. The locos involved appeared to be 013, 014 and 003 (but there was some confusion about this, engendered by loco/tender mismatches).
As well as seeing a number of mainline runs, we were also treated to two instances of double-heading from the mine to the junction, one of the road locos going to the mine some time after the branch line loco had gone there.
Another interesting feature of the line (but not particularly photographically rewarding) is the bridge over the new expressway We were received very cordially at Huangmeng and given entree to the workshops, where 017 was under heavy repair. Not all of the locos seen are accounted for in this report.
Approaching Yinghao by road in a hired vehicle, the nearest exits from the Sanmenxia-Luoyang Expressway are at Guanyintang (to the west) and Mianchi (to the east). The accommodation at Yinghao described by Rob as 'perfectly adequate' was rated by our accommodation committee as basic. (It depends on how much broken toilet seats and the lack of heating matter to you.) The more fastidious may prefer the offerings in Mianchi, about 12 km away.
Despite disagreeing with Rob on the hotel, our group fully endorses his enthusiasm for this great little line.