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We used Swissair via Zurich outbound, the flight is scheduled in to Beijing at 0515 and was some 20 minutes early which I'm told is a regular occurrence. As an aside, for anyone going to Hami (for Sandaoling) this would make a useful arrival to catch the direct Air China T/Th/SuO flight at 0730. We were through immigration etc by 0530 as the airport was very quiet. The only snag to utilising this travel option is that I don't think Swissair fly daily to Beijing in the winter timetable, a Sa/M/W departure from Europe is of course required.
We met our good friend and guide Jun at the airport and drove directly to Pingzhuang on the Expressways, a journey of about five hours, arriving around 1300. The plan was to spend around three and a half days at Pingzhuang but this was extended by a day due to poor weather. China is having one of its warmest winters on record, as has been reported previously, and pollution seems to be worse than normal this year, not aided by the continual letting off of fireworks as this was Lantern Festival time!
Three SY were in use each day during our visit with no sign at all of the 'new' diesels, no doubt they were in the depot somewhere. It seems the mine at Wujia is closed at present, perhaps the output is made up by the new mine above the old opencast pits mentioned in Duncan's report. Traffic seemed buoyant and about as expected and SYs 1025, 1027, 1441 & 1764 were seen in use over our four day visit.
SY 1017 at Zhuangmei washery being serviced on 13/02/2014.
SY 1764 arriving at Zhuangmei light engine from the north for the morning shift change, 13/02/2014.
SY 1017 & SY 1441 at Zhuangmei during morning shift change, 16/02/2014.
SY 1764 crossing the bridge at Pingzhuang Nan with coal empties, 14/02/2014.
We departed from Pingzhuang at sunset on the Sunday evening for the three hour drive to Fuxin.
The next part of the plan was for six nights stay to be split between Fuxin (4) and Diaobingshan (2).
Fuxin was very much as per recent reports with some seven SY in daily use. The morning shift change at Wulong yard now looks like it takes place further away from Pingan road crossing making the picture of foreground interest with background steam loco's a little less interesting than before. Wulong mine crossing is now perhaps a good alternative for this type of shot? The ash tipping trains were being emptied on the highest of the three tip roads and the load dropped no more than a few feet, this being aided by a digger so zero ash cloud, just a dusty non camera friendly atmosphere. The ash really needs to be dropped from a great height to produce the spectacular sights seen in the past. A very negative aspect of all this is that there is even more thick dust nearly everywhere in the tipping areas, it's filthy up there. In places the ash dust is at least 3 inches deep. Add to this a strong wind and it's not a particularly friendly environment either! This trip was the first where I've actually had to WASH my boots in the evenings! SYs noted in traffic were 1195, 1210, 1319, 1359, 1378, 1395, 1396, 1397 & 1460.
SY 1397 shunting at Wulong Colliery, 17/02/2014.
SY 1319 shunting over Pingan crossing, 19/02/2014.
SY 1396 coming off the power station branch with empty coal wagons, 19/02/2014.
SY 1397 at Wulong Colliery preparing to depart, 19/02/2014.
On the Wednesday evening we drove to Tiefa (Diaobingshan) for two nights there and steam on the Faku branch passenger trains. This is, of course, now by arrangement outside of the 'booked' Wednesday and Saturday trains. It would seem the SY is used for either shunting/trip work duties or the passenger trains but this will end soon, or should have ended by 28/02, when the Tiefa system will finish all their passenger train operations. This is dependant on the delivery of 5-6 new buses so this final date could be extended. SY 1770 was the only loco in steam, SY 1772 being the other serviceable loco but was inside the depot with KD6 487. Local management said one SY will still be kept in steam for driver traction knowledge, film work and standby etc after the passenger trains cease to run.
We had two nice days with the Faku branch trains, varying the chimney first running direction on each day. The weather was typical of that we'd experienced elsewhere with a fair amount of the seemingly ever present pollution and resultant hazy light. Diaobingshan station looks a sorry state now with an air of impending total closure.
SY 1770 passing near Zhaozhengwopu with the 0640 Diaobingshan to Dongguantun on 20/02/2014.
SY 1770 near Hanjiagou with the 1406 Diaobingshan to Dongguantun, 20/02/2014.
SY 1770 runs tender first in to a setting sun near Zhaozhengwopu with the 1617 Dongguantun to Diaobingshan, 20/02/2014.
SY 1770 soon after departure from Liangjia with the 1617 Dongguantun to Diaobingshan, 21/02/2014.
On Friday evening a return to Fuxin for one more night and photography the following day up to around 1330. We departed by road for Jinzhou shortly before 1330 on 22/02 for train D16, 1557 departure to Beijing. This promptly broke down two stops out of Jinzhou, at Shanhaiguan. Eventually, after about two hours, Beijing passengers were transferred to another train. This left from an adjacent platform and I literally had to hold open the carriage doors for fellow travellers to board as they wanted to dispatch the train before people had a chance to transfer from the failed train, still a lot to learn about customer service I feel! All this meant a later arrival into a horribly polluted Beijing but at least we made it.
On Sunday 23/02 we arrived at Capitol Airport at 0910 for LH721 to London via Frankfurt, scheduled 1130 departure. 'Delayed' was the ominous sign next to the flight number and a long queue to get to a service desk. Only four such desks were open for passengers for an A380 plane load, surely Lufthansa can do better than that?! After three hours in the queue I eventually reached a desk to find the inbound flight had broken down and was not expected at the earliest until 0700 the following day. I was put on a flight with Air China (1330 departure) via Paris CDG and arrived in London at 2030 with an Air France connection for the last leg. Of course, my baggage didn't make it despite CDG having three hours to make the switch! It was important for me to get home Sunday evening as I had a wedding anniversary trip to St Ives (Cornwall) booked for Monday 24th for four nights so it was an anxious day. As for Air China for International flights, it's not the best but I was just pleased to get home.
On a negative note it seems obtaining visas are once again becoming an issue and, with the problems in Xinjiang province, it might become even more problematic to go to the far west.
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© 2014 Trevor Maxted