The International Steam Pages
Green Beer and Peaches - The Yinghao Coal Railway
This is the first part of my report of a June 2004 visit to Yinghao; this narrow gauge railway was first reported by Toshiaki Tsujimoto and Sen Chokuto in May 2004. If you are one of those sad people whose interest does not extend beyond photographing steam locomotives (click here if this applies) then you will not need to see the other parts - no doubt you will also be the kind of person who would never try green beer. Get a life......
The Yinghao Coal Railway is situated in the north-west of Henan between Yima and Sanmenxia. I spent several delightful days here with my partner Yuehong in early June 2004. The operational cycle is described in pictures below, you will need to refer to this map to follow it..
Getting to Yinghao is extremely easy, if a little time consuming. The current CNR timetable shows new overnight trains between Beijing Xi and Luoyang, K269/270, with brand new stock which appear to be only comfortably loaded - a hard sleeper is just under Y200 each way. Of course there are other suitable trains (1363/4, K117/8) but these are more difficult to get berths on. Local buses to Sanmenxia (70km) leave frequently from the bus station next to the railway station in Luoyang, at Y12 they are extremely cheap, but they do take nearly 3 hours, in both directions we were decanted to another bus en route. Coming down the hill into Yinghao, on the right hand side, there is a perfectly adequate hotel (en suite rooms for Y40, no shower, but there is a superb bath house less than 5 minutes walk away), there is even another smaller place to stay on the opposite side of the road. One of the revelations of China 2004 has been the ease with which Yuehong and I have been able to travel together openly and this was no exception. I can safely say that I was the first Westerner to ever visit Yinghao and the people were overwhelmingly friendly and helpful once they had got over the shock of seeing us. We were even pushed out of a quagmire road in a three wheeler by two policeman... Photographically, Yinghao is no Shibanxi, but to China lovers it is an essential experience as the other pages I have uploaded will show. Riding the trains to explore the system initially was no problem at all.
The railway transfer shed at Yinghao is easy to find, you just follow any of the tracks up the hill to the left in the area of the church. The way the railway operates, it is difficult to get information in Yinghao because loaded trains spend almost no time discharging coal before departing up the line again and staff there seem to have no idea when trains will arrive. Basically, the railway operates three shifts a day (midnight - 08.00, 08.00 - 16.00, 16.00 - midnight) and around the time of the shift changes, both locomotives retire to the depot at Huangmen, there being no other traffic on this section as the mine there is closed. During the shifts, one of the locomotives will make up to three return journeys with 8-10 loaded coal wagons from Xiangyang to Yinghao and back, turning on the triangle at each end. Meanwhile the other one will shuttle smaller numbers of wagons on the steep section between Xiangyang and the active mine at Liangwa. There are occasional microbuses along the road, we regularly used 3-wheelers to get around which are obviously cheaper than chartering a microbus which would be perfectly easy..
We had almost unbroken hot Summer sunshine during our visit, but the high midday sun adversely affected the photographic results as you will see. Also there were long periods without trains and I have to say that the alternative attractions of cold beers at Y2 each and Chinese lessons from Yuehong meant that I missed a number of photographic possibilities, fortunately the weather held up and in the end I got a reasonable coverage of the line. Early mornings were best photographically of course, but I know from painful experience in this part of China that coming here in the Winter is not the answer.
At the end of the trip we broke our journey in Luoyang to visit the World Heritage Site at Longmen (Dragon's Gate) where the walls of the gorge are covered in statues of the Buddha and cave temples dating back nearly 1500 years. I can safely say it made a bigger impression on me than the Terracotta Warriors I had seen near Xian in March.
This is the depot at Huangmen, the line originally ran on to another coal mine, presumably the track bed for that is on the left below. Of the other C2s here, five are totally derelict, two more are dismantled, #13 looks to be a 'runner', two other quite good locomotives are outside the shed and another is inside. With #3 and #15 active, no less than thirteen steam locomotives are on the books. Staff said that most were built at Shijiazhuang, at least one somewhere in the north east. None has any plates and I really have no interest in 'number grabbing' anyway!
#15 is the current locomotive assigned to working the branch from Liangwa to Xiangyang, seen here waiting to take a load up.
The climb is steep, no more than four coal wagons can be taken at one time:
#3 is the current 'line locomotive', seen at Houying.
Both locomotives will often be seen together at Xiangyang, here #3 is ready to leave for Yinghao, having tripped down to Liangwa presumably to take water.
Now #3 leaves Xiangyang and is about to enter the line's tunnel:
On a later occasion it is seen drifting downhill out of the tunnel:
Eventually #3 arrives in Yinghao, leaving the first coal wagon to be discharged.
The wagon bodies are tipped, the coal falls through the grate and then travels on an underground conveyor to the main line sidings some 500m away.
After the locomotive is turned, the wagons are pushed slowly through the shed:
Finally the train is ready to depart back up the hill. Arrival to departure will have taken barely half an hour.
After half an hour or so, at Houying, the fire is raked out and the crew take a break. Here Yuehong captures a polite refusal to be photographed! The challenge in this village is to find the cold beer shop... When we did find it, the locals insisted on us taking lunch with them. The daytime conditions were such that I could easily consume half a dozen bottles before needing to have a pee.
By now nearly all the work is done and it is only some ten minutes to Xiangyang. #3 leaves Houying - the area on the right is bright because it is being used to dry grain.
#3 then approaches the summit tunnel:
Whereupon #15 is ready to propel down the empties from Xiangyang to restart the cycle:
At Tiemen, some 46km west of Luoyang, our bus crossed another working narrow gauge line. We had no time to investigate but staff at Yinghao said they did not think it was steam operated. Visitors with their own transport may care to check this out.
West of Yima we saw JS 8125 shunting across the main road, while at the power station south of the main line east of Luoyang, JS 8132 was also seen at work.