The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Twilight, 2004

Please see the June 2006 report and the June 2007 report for an update on the situation in Shibanxi.

Shibanxi Heaven - The best steam narrow gauge railway in the world on DVD when it was totally real (2004-2007).

Shibanxi Gold - The best steam narrow gauge railway in the world on DVD as it evolves into a sustainable operation (2008-2011).

For those of you who think I am going soft in my old age, let me reassure you that I still totally despise the 'new China': 

Nevertheless, 2004 is proving to be a very special year for me personally (if you can't wait to find out why then look at the last picture). For all the right reasons, I shall be out of the UK for most of the year, money is extremely tight and I shall be travelling 'economy class'. Similar visitors to Shibanxi (I am sufficiently confident to be making my own arrangements to return) may like to note that from near Chengdu main railway station, (right hand side coming out), there are buses 28 and 52 to the Shiyang bus station on the southern edge of the city. From here there are buses to Qianwei every hour or so for Y45, the 180km journey takes about 3 hours. Walk back north about 500m from your arrival point to the local bus station where you can board a bus to Shixi to enter 'old China'..... (There is a ferry some way before Qianwei which offers a time saving short cut.)

I went to Shibanxi in November 2003, with the railway facing the constant threat of closure. By March 2004, the mine at the top of the line had been abandoned leaving only passenger traffic and local freight. I was determined to make another extended visit especially as my Chinese partner Yuehong is a professional video photographer and we hoped to make a proper record of the railway and the nearby small scale coal mines, but most of all a way of life which is vanishing fast. We were accompanied by Ding Feng Yuan who with her husband Zhao Gang (see link broken 5th April 2019)  are two of the foremost Chinese steam railway photographers. What follows is once again very much a personal view rather than a 'gricing report' in the conventional sense.

Again we stayed in a family guest house in Bagou station (there are other cheaper alternatives here too) and spent nine days observing the trains and wandering through both town and countryside where we were made most welcome everywhere we went. There were several other visiting independent travellers who were a joy to meet including Jun Shirakawa whom I had previously met in Java and Cambodia. The only downside were the constant stream of groups of insensitive Japanese visitors (this seriously understates my opinion of them) who delighted in chartering a toy train to fill their photographic albums and the CCTV crew who would not know a real documentary film if it was stuck in their face. As a result we spent the middle of most days exploring the hills around Bagou making appropriate offerings in the hope they would all go away:

So I had no option but to make a pig of myself for the next 9 days...

The railway as always was its usual charming self:  

In Bagou, the lucky inhabitants have an outside toilet (the rest have none): 

If you look beyond the trains there are a million photographic opportunities here, these samples can only begin to convey the atmosphere:

In nine mainly miserable and damp days, we had three sunny mornings, one of which extended to the afternoon: 

There may be no more traffic from the coal mine but reports that there are no freight trains are inaccurate. Coal is now brought up for the bath house in Bagou:

And from time to time other trains, especially those carrying bricks are run:

Finally my own personal idea of heaven. Exact details are best left to the imagination...

The next two pictures were contributed by Ding Feng Yuan, which will give you an idea of why she was such excellent company:

Everyone knows that the sun rarely shines in Sichuan. When it does, you just have to go out and make the most of it....   

Rob Dickinson