The International Steam Pages
Nanpiao Mining Railway, December 2003
Louis Cerny discovered this system north-west of Jinzhou in south-west Liaoning in August 2003, since when several visitors have been here, most notably Roger Blundell and Heinrich Hubbert (separately in September and October 2003) and a group (which was made unwelcome by the political police) in October 2003. If you are familiar with the other reports of the system you may want to check my summary. It was an excellent trip but I had to work harder than expected for my pictures. As in all my reports since July 2002, I have used digital images from my 'toy' camera, I have more or less given up scanning slides for the internet - it is too much bother and the digital images can go straight into the report when it is uploaded.
With every likelihood of enthusiastic reports leading to what is best described as 'overexposure' (and this report I fancy will only fuel that enthusiasm, although I saw not a single other gricer during my stay), not to mention the arrival of second hand diesels, I took advantage of an excellent deal on British Airways to spend eight days here. The worst of the outbound journey on 1st December was the huge queue at London Heathrow's Terminal 4 check in, however the flight itself was perfectly acceptable (although it did run out of Fuller's London Pride). I took the airport bus to Beijing station and quickly bought myself a hard sleeper ticket on K265 at 14.10 which dropped me off at Jinzhou (Nan) at 20.18. Fortunately, the friendly Chinese on the train had alerted me to the fact that this would have better been called 'Jinzhou Road' as it was at least 10km from town. (Many of the better trains seem to skirt the main station.) This was no great problem as I shared a taxi with one of them into town where I was dropped at the Golden Autumn Hotel, a little up-market for me at Y180 but very pleasant after 28 hours of travelling from home, only one third of which was actually spent flying.
Next morning dawned bright (crisp rather than cold) and after a taxi ride to the station, there was no problem buying a ticket and taking 6762, 07.30 to Nanpiao, (see page 197 of the October 2003 TT) , where I checked in at the hotel just west of the station. As reported by others earlier, the facilities here are run down but quite adequate. A warm room (207, as occupied by Heinrich Hubbert I was told), comfortable bed, hot shower, western toilet and a desk to work at in the evening were all I needed, the best feature was a small balcony on which to store my case of beer to keep it cold. Overall it was without doubt better accommodation than Tuoyaozi (Huanan) or even Bagou (Shibanxi), but hardly up to tour group requirements (thank goodness, I might add ungraciously). Before visiting the area I consulted 'Google', suffice to say that entering 'Nanpiao' threw up several links which possibly explained why certain Chinese policemen consider this a sensitive area...
Here is a digitised map of the system (based on Louis Cerny's original map) drawn while I licked my wounds (see below), note the Sanjiazi line actually runs roughly north-east to south-west beyond station 1, it is therefore good for photography all day (I also think the distances are an overestimate unless I am an Olympic quality walker):
The station names of which not all are on the map are given below. Those with proper coal mines are indicated with "@", those known to have electric railways are shown with "%":
I did not see a timetable, but the key passenger train times below are based on those given by Roger Blundell (these are essentially the daylight trains only, there are some more night time trains as well), they may run a little early or late... Note that although the district is called Nanpiao, the township is properly called Hungjia. I was also told that the eastern terminus is actually Linghe and that Banjita (quoted in earlier reports) is some distance further away. This information came from an English speaking employee of the mining company.
To help set the scene at Xiamiaozi, this is SY 0366 leaving on the afternoon Sanjiazi train (towards the end of my stay). The loco stabling point and offices are on the right, the exchange sidings are behind the loco and the CNR passenger trains leave from somewhere near the gantry. The control cabin is out of the picture on the right:
My first day was intended to be a soft landing, in practice it was extremely hard as, jet lagged and tired, I eventually managed to deposit myself horizontally on the track north of Xiamiaozi while desperately trying to relocate as the side-by-side afternoon departure became anything but that. Perhaps because my number one camera died in the process (laugh like a drain Mr. Bean!) my first impression of the railway was that it was one to be savoured rather than photographed. Previously in perfect light, I had failed to take a single steam picture of note as I tried to find any kind of angle in the area near Xiamiaozi, the light being extremely unkind for conventional photography for miles around by the time I got there at 10.00. However, as such systems go, the electrified 600mm gauge mine railway from Zaojiatun with 3 active locomotives (out of 6) was quite photogenic as was the very small push system of the same gauge on the other side of the valley. I retired bloodied (but unbowed) via the Internet cafe and the restaurant (next one along from Roger Blundell's fish restaurant) where Heinrich was well remembered, this time Ameling was not there to record the gore. Neither apparently was the expected small group of gricers possibly accompanied by Mrs. Dung Beetle who had given me a unique experience at Betai in February 2003. This was a shame as I was looking forward to giving her a hard time. The grocery shop near the main hotel in Nanpiao has now got used to gricers and their ways, so pot noodles and bottles of beer appeared almost as soon as I walked through the door.
A grubby SY 0366 poses tantalisingly at Xiamiaozi
This is Zaojiatun mine shunt (SY 0973), like so many SY systems, Nanpiao has great light for tender first workings for most of the day where most of the trains run.
On day 2, someone forgot to tell the sun to get up. I took the early 06.25 train to Sanjiazi, crowded as related by Roger Blundell and a snip at Y1.5 each way (the locals all seemed to have season tickets). I quickly bashed seven of the push/cable systems (there must be at least as many more in the area) before the train went back, all were 2 trainer lengths' gauge (ie about 600mm), their condition varied from brand new to worked out, they were large and small and I got thrown out of only one. I didn't have enough time to find one of the main mine's electric locos but I did watch the locals on the push system at the mine end making a real mess of handling empty skips down a steep slope (fastest 600mm gauge train I have ever seen with predictable consequences). With the light pretty dire I opted to rest my wounded body and wait for some more sun another day. By the time the afternoon train arrived in Hungjia it was even gloomier and there was snow in the air. I watched it from the hotel roof which was as far as I felt like going.
Day 3 saw a couple of centimetres of snow on the ground which had arrived overnight and more was following. I took the 06.50 to Linghe, checked out the mine's narrow gauge system and rode back. I have enough pictures of steam trains not to need to inflict these conditions on myself any more than is absolutely necessary: This is SY 0366 at Linghe, say no more..
Day 4 was what Peter Breeze (whom I had expected to see here) would call 'quite good'. At 05.30 the stars were visible and I travelled up to Sanjiazi on the 06.25 again. Of course, the sun came over the few remaining clouds five minutes after we got to the top. SY 0973 as expected then tripped back to the mine by station 5, alas the smokebox first return was blighted by leaking steam (the second picture of the same loco was taken on the same working three days later, on this occasion the loco returned light engine!):
I then waited above station 6 for the passenger to return. By now I was wondering if I would ever see a decent train smokebox first... Fortunately I did not have too long to wait.
I could have taken a bus back to Xiamiaozi but since it was a beautiful day (away from the biting wind) and with nothing (I thought) but beer on offer, I decided to walk. Of course, SY 0366 came past smokebox first drifting downhill and I eventually pitched up at Xiamiaozi just before 13.00 whereupon SY 0973 left immediately on a freight for the Linghe line:
I was feeling pretty thirsty after my three hours or so walk so I went off across the river to entertain the local kids while sinking a couple of beers - the people here are so nice I had trouble paying for them. All too soon it was time for the afternoon passenger trains. First 1017 arrived from Hungjia.
After a brisk walk to the far end of the station, the side-by-side departure again failed to materialise, so first 1299 (Linghe) and then 1017 (which for some reason swapped to the Sanjiazi train, in the background below, it performed equally well) left in perfect afternoon light. Such a quadruple success meant I would have to look elsewhere for more pictures during the rest of my stay, the opportunities around Xiamiaozi are really quite limited. The only downside was the sight of the blue BJ monster 3241 ticking over on a long set of empties in the yard :
Day 5 was glorious again, Xiamiaozi first thing offering excellent photographic opportunities:
The morning then turned misty but after photographing the first freight to Zaojiatun, I walked up beyond the new power station for a Sanjiazi line train which eventually showed up a little later than usual by which time the mist had cleared.
It was a 'no-brainer' to come back and go a little further up for the afternoon passenger, at just Y5 for my own 3-wheeler each way to Hungjia and back there was no point staying up here and freezing between trains!
On day 6, the sun was still working hard for me, it was time to check out the big bridge near Linghe so I took the 06.50 train. When I got off at station 5, having been here in the gloom three days earlier, I got a bit of a surprise as compared to the original map which implied the bridge ran south-west to north-east towards Linghe, it actually runs east-west (ie 135 º rotated!). This means it can be photographed almost all day, although the only trains which will have the loco working on it are the return passengers as they have to stop at the station just before. I was not convinced that the afternoon passenger would get here before the light failed so I contented myself with a couple of nice tender first shots, SYs 0973 on the passenger and 1478 on a later freight:
I took a bus back to Hungjia which at Y2 was just a little bit more expensive than the train. I redrew the map, waited for the afternoon session and then made my way to just above station 2 on the Sanjiazi line. By now it was just like making love with the favourite girlfriend, knowing already exactly where and when to find the 'G spot'. After this, I more or less parked the cameras, lay back and relaxed for the last two days (the first sunny when I went out, the second cloudy when I stayed in - it seems I had been tolerably lucky with the weather cycle here...).
The journey home was straightforward. I took the evening train to Jinzhou where I quickly bought a very cheap unallocated hard seat ticket on train 1468 for the next day as nothing better was available (the booking clerk spoke good English). I then crashed out at minimal cost somewhere in the basement/bowels of the station, eventually upgrading to hard sleeper very easily as the train was full. As planned, another fantastic highlight of the trip was meeting up and staying with some of the Chinese enthusiasts whom I had met at Weihe in March 2003. For all the right reasons it was an occasion to remember, suffice to say I didn't get much sleep!
Nanpiao has got to have to some of the nicest people in China. Everyone was extremely friendly (even the odd policeman I met), I was not overcharged once, rather the opposite, it was sometimes difficult to pay. And eventually, I think they got used to my being around and got back to watching the train go by and not me. My thanks go out to them for their part in making the stay so pleasant. The cost of living here is very low - it has to be as it is a depressed area with low wage levels (for those who have a job). It is an easy place for a visitor to live in, even if like me, you do not speak Chinese. I might almost talk of it in the same breath as I do Situbondo on my favourite island of Java which is rare praise indeed, although Nanpiao still lacks one or two attractions.
This was a very cheap 12 day trip from the UK. GBP £400 got me there (flight, visa and buses to the airport), local costs were barely GBP £150, the only significant items being trains to/from Beijing and the hotel in Jinzhou. Plenty of good fresh air, exercise, food and beer, adequate accommodation and no need for expensive all-day taxis which would have been 200% of my daily budget. If this sounds impractical for your personal circumstances, it may just be time you rethought your lifestyle, there is no point in coming to Nanpiao for one or two days even with a guide who knows the system (not that there are any of them yet) because it may well be cloudy, there is at least one diesel and there are not that many trains, half of them tender first.... Four or five sunny days on the lineside should be enough, I had five out of eight and only one of these was 'wasted' as I sorted the system out. Of course unlike most visitors, I can take my 'work' with me for the 'off' days, in this case being on my own and with no nightlife in town, my Java sugar mill stationary steam engine CD-ROM made startling progress!
I believe my first impressions were correct, this is a quite busy system best enjoyed at leisure (this is 2003 after all, and there is so little real steam action of this quality around) rather than one which is likely to produce a portfolio of outstanding pictures in double quick time. Avoiding the short mid-winter days would improve matters as the morning (and to a lesser extent afternoon) passenger trains really run a bit too too early (and a bit too too late) in December. The Sanjiazi line is probably the more attractive and the sun angles are better but it is quite lightly trafficked. The angles on the busier Linghe line can be tricky and many of the trains go no further than Zaojiatun. While there was a coal train on the Sanjiazi line every morning I was in a place to see one, I would hesitate to put a time to it. There is some purely internal traffic, but the running of empties will depend mainly on China Rail's delivery of them to Xiamiaozi.
I saw six of the seven SYs reported here at work, 0366, 0638, 0973, 1017, 1299 and 1478. Just 1092 was not seen (I did not visit the shed), but diesel 3241 was also out and about on passenger and freight (the long term repairs reported elsewhere on the internet lasted just a few days).
There has been mining here for 100 years, but there is a brand new power station nearly ready to be commissioned between stations 1 and 2 on the Sanjiazi line, which suggests coal reserves are by no means exhausted... I am not clear where the system's own wagons deposit all their coal, some was seen being unloaded at Zaojiatun and Xiamiaozi, no doubt one of the innumerable tour groups who will be visiting here will get an official briefing.
Everyone asks, "Is it better than Tiefa?". The quick and easy answer is that "It is different". If you (like me) prefer quality to quantity and the 'old China' to the 'new China' then the considered answer is obviously "Yes". My eight days here flew by, but I cannot conceive of wanting to spend eight days in Tiefa. As I know from my two days there when it was less well known than Nanpiao is now, you can see an awful lot more trains in Tiefa with the sun shining on the smokebox door....