The International Steam Pages

The Mojiang Coal Railway

Wilson Lythgoe reports on his visit to the Mojiang Coal Railway, Shawan, Sichuan Province in March 2011.

With less and less steam in China I find I'm taking more of an interest in some of the other 'quaint' railway operations. The Mojiang Coal Railway was certainly one of these when I visited it on the last day of March this year. Narrow gauge: electric: a passenger service: it had all the makings of an interesting place but there was one snag...... recently the railway had developed a reputation of being less than friendly to "foreign friends". Emails to the author of a recent report on SY Country revealed his party, accompanied by a Chinese guide, had difficulties getting a hotel in town and after being allowed onto the railway had later been asked to leave by security.

I arrived at Shawan, by train, late afternoon and took a taxi to a hotel where I too was refused a bed. Next I was taken to the three star Tian Quan Hu Hotel where for 160Y a night I got a well appointed, but slightly shabby room. The starting price was twice that but I think I was being pushed in the direction of a suite! Still a good bed, plenty of hot water, no road noise and that Chinese highlight: a good buffet breakfast.

Next morning I took another taxi to the railway. The driver drove straight through the security gate at the entrance to the village/industrial complex and took me right up to the railway and its passenger platform. I got out and trying to keep a low profile headed immediately for the tunnel immediately beyond the station.

Within half an hour two trains arrived: the first a coal train, the only one I saw that day, and the second a passenger service. So far people had been quite friendly, lots of waves and hello's but I was not acknowledged at all by the driver of the passenger. (In fact he ignored me all day!) Soon after security arrived and I was 'waved' away. I went to follow the locals walking through the tunnel and motioned to ask if this was OK......the guy had no problem with this, he just seemed to want me off his patch so into the tunnel I went. The rest of the day was spent just beyond the tunnel, where the line splits into two branches: one going the three kilometres to Laokuang and the other twelve kilometres to Xiangjangzhan.

One of the line's 'railcars' moves onto the Laokuang line with a 'Ways & Works' train. The ducks in the foreground were a source of amusement all day at one stage causing a train to stop and the driver to climb down to chase them off the tracks where they were attempting to sleep. The people behind the train are motorbike drivers waiting to be hired by locals who have walked through the tunnel.

A lady of the land keeps an eye on me as a freight rolls by.

The lunchtime passenger to Laokuang crosses the river, just after the junction, on a substantial looking bridge.

The railcar on a freight again: this time it looks like supplies for the mine.

The after school passenger train taking the kids home........a noisy, friendly bunch! A few years ago this train would load to 12 coaches but the new concrete road to Laokuang seems to have taken a lot of the passenger traffic. Judging by the lack of coal trains and the number of big blue trucks seen transporting coal I reckon most of the lines traffic has moved to road now.

After that it was back through the tunnel, past the station, down into the village and out through the security gates to wait for a bus back to Shawan. It had cost 20Y (metered) to get there in a taxi and 1Y to get back on the bus! Well worth a day's visit.

Rob Dickinson