The International Steam Pages

The Yongchuan Coal Railway 2012

Wilson Lythgoe visited SW China as part of an extended trip. He writes:

One of the high points of my Chinese travels has always been their narrow gauge lines. Whether steam worked or not on most trips, and I’ve done a few now over the last ten years, I seem to have visited at least one narrow gauge line. This trip I visited three: Shibanxi, Jianghe and Yongchuan.

Under its new guise as a tourist railway Shibanxi was a big disappointment. Certainly the railways future now seems to be secure but at the expense of becoming a Disneyland in Sichuan. I doubt if I’ll visit again. 

The purpose of this ‘ramble’ though is to look at what I found at the Jianghe and Yongchuan Coal Railways: one diesel and the other electric operated. Both lines seem to have had very little attention from the rail fan community apart from the occasional visit by a tour. As tours have Chinese guides doing the necessary legwork and use taxis or chartered buses very little information seemed to be available as a ‘DIY’ guide for solo travellers. Hopefully I can correct this for Yongchuan but there is little need now for Jianghe as I discovered.

Yongchuan Coal Railway, 10th & 11th November 2012

After Shibanxi and Jianghe, Yongchuan was a real treat….so much so that after my two days I felt I could have easily spent another two but regrettably time was running out and I had a plane to catch back to Oz.

The Yongchuan Coal Railway line seems to operate as two separate sections. The first is from the Washery at Hongluchang, about half way along the line, to the China Rail interchange. Two locomotives run this service using three sets of bogie wagons. The first train goes to China Rail, unloads and then waits until the second train arrives. The first train then heads back to the washery where it leaves its empties, collects the third loaded set and goes to the interchange again. The empty set is then loaded for collection by the second loco after it arrives back with its empties after the two trains have again crossed at the interchange. This intensive service was repeated throughout the morning but, as I found out on my first day there, one engine finishes around noon and the second an hour later. I waited for two hours that afternoon, nothing happened, so walked to the shed at Hongluchang and found both locos tucked away for the day.

Between the Hongluchang and China Rail lies ‘Old’ Honglu. Here the train runs through the village giving some interesting photo opportunities although frequent heavy trucks on the narrow road alongside cause dust problems plus making it dangerous to stand on the road.

It takes under an hour to walk along the track from Old Honglu to Hongluchang with some scenic spots along the way.

A third locomotive shunts the washery yard making up loaded trains and positioning the empties underneath the loader: it too finished its working day at lunchtime and retired to the shed.

A fourth loco operates a shuttle service collecting unwashed coal from the mines on the section to the south of the washery. This loco worked all day using two sets of wagons: whilst one set was being unloaded the other is taken to a mine, quickly loaded then returned to the washery. The first mine is a twenty minute walk from the washery and there I photographed empties arriving at 2.17pm. By 2.45pm the train had been loaded, the loco had shunted the van to the other end and was now heading back to the washery. That’s a fast turnaround considering thirty nine four wheel wagons had just been filled!

Two points that intrigued were trains of washed coal in bogie wagons complete with a bogie guards van…..

….whilst the trains of unwashed coal used four wheel wagons and a four wheel van.

Another point of interest was when shunting the loco is always driven from the cab that is heading forwards. The driver never reverses his loco but climbs down from the cab and walks round the loco to what will be the forward cab each time a change of direction is needed. A little time consuming but it does increase the photo opportunities on an otherwise pretty slick operation.

I found all the railway folk friendly…..from the train crews to the coal loaders and unloaders…..lots of waves, smiles and coming over to see what I was getting up to. I really enjoyed my time here and felt it was great place to end my 2012 trip to China.

DIY Guide for Yongchuan…..

Yongchuan (永川) lies to the west of Chongqing: it’s about eighty kilometres by road and twice that by rail. Lonely Planet advises there are buses every twenty minutes from the Caiyuanba Bus Station, situated next to the Chongqing train station, taking ninety minutes. Taking the easiest option, the bus, there was certainly no waiting time once I had my ticket. Coming back though the bus terminated at a different bus station on the outskirts of Chongqing and from there I had to take a taxi.

Using the Sino Hotel website I had reserved a 178Y room at the Yongchuan Hotel. It turned out to be a good hotel in a quiet part of town with breakfast from 7.30. It’s within walking distance of the bus station but tucked away up a back street and hard to find if you’ve only just arrived in town so probably best to take a three wheeler taxi from the bus station. You can check the hotel out at link broken 5th April 2019, enter your destination as ‘Chongqing’ with the keywords ‘Yongchuan Hotel’.

A map of Yongchuan and area was in my hotel room. I borrowed it while there plus photographed relevant bits for later use. First a map of ‘central’ Yongchuan…….

On it is the railway station and just above that the bus station (red Mercedes-Benz symbol) for buses to and from Chongqing. Opposite the bus station is a blue champagne glass: that’s a three star hotel. The three star Yongchuan Hotel is shown as the champagne glass to the left and inside the u-bend of the river.

On my first day I used the 505 local bus from Yongchuan to its terminus and then caught a motorcycle taxi onwards to Honglu. The motorcycle taxi was a foolhardy exercise on my part considering the state of the road we travelled. During the day I saw country buses every ten to fifteen minutes pass by either going to or coming from Yongchuan. I caught one back that afternoon and from then on it was easy…….

To catch a country bus to the railway you need to get to a second bus station. That’s the one in the upper left hand corner of the map: it’s another red Mercedes symbol with a ‘25’ underneath it. The entrance is on Yuxidadao Zhongduan which is the road just above the bus station on the map.

Don’t try and enter the bus station from the other road….that’s an exit only. The bus station entrance is up a set of steps in the middle of a retail area. You can’t miss it. It takes 15 minutes to walk from one bus station to the other.

This map shows Yongchuan City as the red star centre right in the map……..

Honglu (红炉) bound buses follow the main road (coloured brown) heading left towards Shuangshiqiao (双石桥). This is a four lane road (two each way) now superseded by a motorway shown as a series of brown dashes on the map. Shortly after Shuangshiqiao you will see the railway station where the interchange is across the valley on your left. The road then passes under the China Rail main line and soon after the bus turns left onto a secondary road. The secondary road goes through a small village then crosses the ng and a CR siding by an overbridge. It then climbs away from the ng but after a few kilometres rejoins the ng and runs alongside it. The ng is shown on the map as the branch running southwest from Shuangshiqiao whilest China Rail continues to the west.

This ticket took me to ‘Old’ Honglu (marked on the map as Honglu): journey time just under an hour from Yongchuan. The first line of type reads Yongchuan, Honglu and the cost 5.5Y. Below that the date of travel, departure time, bus license plate number, seat number although you just sat anywhere, and bus station gate number.

You won’t miss your stop at Honglu (红炉) or Hongluchang (红炉场) as once the bus leaves the main road progress is fairly slow and you’ll soon have the railway in sight. Plus your ticket will probably have been checked by both the bus driver and his ticket seller to ensure your on the right bus so they’ll make sure you get off at the right place.

This sign is over the road at the entrance to the town where the washery is which leads me to believe the place is called Hongluchang. (On the map it is marked in bold as Hongluzhen). If nothing else it’s good, clear script for showing the ticket seller where you want to go.

To get back to Yongchuan just wave down any passing bus: it’s 6.5Y from Hongluchang and 7.5Y from the first mine south of Hongluchang. It takes just under an hour to get from Yongchuan to Honglu. The buses can be used to get between photo positions if you don’t fancy walking and most likely will take you to the end of the line.

I never made it to the interchange point but from what I could work out the easiest way to reach it will be by catching a Honglu bound bus. Get off the bus after the overbridge, find a path down to the ng and walk back…’s not as far as it looks on the map.

Hopefully all the above will be of use and make your journey easier……

Rob Dickinson