The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Gold, 2008

This brief report updates our June 2007 visit. Yuehong and I went to Shibanxi at short notice for a brief stay between 12th and 15th March 2008. On offer was a consultation/filming contract, alas it turned out on arrival that this involved working with CCTV, a devil there is not a long enough spoon in the world for us to sup with. When we quit, we had just a day and a half of photographic opportunity with most of our equipment in Beijing. Bear this in mind when reading what follows.

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).

Normally it snows here once every ten years or so, but the abnormal weather patterns that struck central and southern China brought three falls on 22nd, 28th and 30th January 2008; in each case it was all gone within a few hours but the effect on the local banana and bamboo plants will be felt for a long time to come. As a result, the early March yellow flower spectacle was a little late. The railway planned a festival with invited guests and media on 15th March, we only observed the first of two special trains (with 4 tourist coaches) as we left. 

We arrived just after a dull period with rain, had two days of half good weather and then escaped a soaking on the day of our departure. This gives an idea of 'Shibanxi Gold'. Firstly, a morning departure from Bagou with just a hint of yellow:

Most of the yellow flower cover was poorly placed for photography. However, leaving Mifeng was glorious: 

In the 9 months since we were last here, there have been changes, that's not surprising in China, but compared to most places less than might be expected. Tourist facilities have been improved to match increased numbers but mainly in the provision of toilets. There are also unmistakable signs of new and wider mud tracks which will become roads in due course, not least next to Bagou station. At the top of the line at Huangcun, construction of the Sichuan provincial mining museum has made photography almost impossible. 

As for the railway operation, the inappropriately decorated #9 has returned to 'normal' condition and the Pengzhou tender is transferred from loco to loco as required, we saw it on #14 (here) and #9. #10 was also in use:

Coal trains were run at least daily on average and there are six tourist coaches (of two designs) which now stay on the rails when going round corners. No more are planned yet, there is no siding space for them and three of the old coaches have been parked in the loop at Bagou. The new coaches are still attached 'as required', maybe we were lucky during our midweek visit but we only saw one on the day of our arrival:

We visited the main workshop north of Shixi station, a newly rebuilt facility which builds skips for outside mines as well as providing facilities for the company's mine and railway. This is a spare pair of cylinders sent for machining: 

For some months the steam service has been, somewhat precariously, in the hands of just three locomotives. Now a fourth (#7?) is being reassembled at the south workshops after a lengthy overhaul (it was in pieces in June 2007):

I was particularly interested in the two ex-Pengzhou locomotives (I have deliberately over-exposed these pictures to show more details):

Basically they are both still in 'as withdrawn' condition and they will be overhauled as time allows. There are obvious external differences from the original Shibanxi locomotives including the provision of air brakes and generator. The pictures below show parts of the motions. One issue which may or may not be significant is the addition of replaceable soft cast iron plates inside the driving wheels of Shibanxi locomotives compared to standard C2 practice; this avoids damage to wheels or frames when rounding corners. I didn't have time to check, but from these pictures (and the angle of mounting of the steam pipes) the Pengzhou locomotives may have a slightly longer wheel base.:

This is 14 with Pengzhou tender:

I am no engineer, but, if the new arrivals are indeed longer (and hence probably heavier), I for one won't be holding my breath waiting for them to appear on the line.

Rob Dickinson