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Steam Snippets from Three 2002/2003 Winter Trips to China

by Bruce Evans


1.       Yuanbaoshan


Around half the coal for the power station comes from the mines at Pingzhuang. This is brought to the exchange yard by national railways DF4Bs and worked to the power station by the Yuanbaoshan JSs. Much of this coal arrives in block loads of around 35 wagons, some of which are old timber-sided C62Ms, a type not normally seen on the national railways lines any more. A block load was seen being worked from the exchange yard to the power station at around 9am on several days so this seems to be a regular working. This is probably the heaviest train that is run on the Yuanbaoshan system as the internal coal trains never seem to exceed around 17 wagons.


At least some coaling of the Yuanbaoshan JSs takes place at the mine loading point at Feng-shuigou. Several times the loco from the mixed and on one occasion another loco were seen first moving coal wagons clear then loading coal into the tender directly from the load-out.


On one day a long string of national railways gondolas was seen being loaded with coal (using front-end loaders) on one of the spurs that cross the road at Gongye.


2.       Zhengzhou


At the small industrial steam repair works at Zhengzhou in November, JS 8115 (ex-Tianjin Local Railway) was in a fresh coat of paint and had probably just been overhauled. JSs 6395, 6489 and 8076 were staged and appeared to be Zhengzhou Bureau locos waiting scrapping or sale. SY 1164, previously reported on the Luohe-Fuyang local railway was also at the works but looked dumped. QJ 2440 from the little-known coalmine system at Mixian was at the works for attention.


3.       Xingyang


A short steam-worked ng system exists at this town some 30km west of Zhengzhou. The line serves a number of brickworks located just north of the town and is used to transport clay from a deposit located on the side of a substantial erosion / stream gulley about 5km south-west of Xingyang. Three C2 0-8-0s were found, one derelict, one under repair and one in use. Four-wheel side-tip wagons are used to transport the clay.


The line can see up to 6 return workings per day but as with most of the remaining Chinese ng lines disruptions are very frequent. I have so far seen it working ‘normally’ only on one and a half days out of six days that I have been out to the line. Power failures, line subsidence at the pit and snow halting operations on the remaining days.


The area sees a similar level of pollution as Pingdingshan so coupled with the operating snags visiting for photography can be very hit-and-miss. The most notable feature on the line for photography is a brick-arch bridge spanning a gulley with fish-ponds at roughly half-way along the line.


The loco faces east and is thus chimney-first for loaded trains.


We were arrested at the little workshop for the line and spent 30 minutes at the Xingyang police station. Calls were made to the police head-quarters in Zhengzhou, and they seemed to want our films confiscated, but in the end we were allowed to go. The problem seemed to stem from our not having asked permission from the security head at the depot – he called the police!


This is an interesting and in some ways unique little line but it requires much patience and will probably appeal most to dedicated ng enthusiasts.


(At the next national railways station west of Xingyang, there are substantial aluminium and cement factories. A standard-gauge industrial line of around 15-20km extends south and then west from here, presumably serving limestone deposits. SY 1169 with side-tip wagons was seen on this line and a second SY, 1406, and GK1G diesel 6060, were seen at the factory yards adjacent to the station. There may be more locos here.) 


4.       Changzhi


Changzhi Iron and Steelworks


Changzhi Iron and Steelworks is located about 20km north-west of Changzhi and around 10km west of Changzhibei national railways station. The steelworks is relatively small and mainly produces reinforcing steel bars for concrete construction – it is prospering at the moment due to all the infrastructure work in China.


The works is served by a rail link to Changzhibei, the junction being to the north of Changzhibei station. There are around 14 steam locos, a mix of JS and SY, as well as a number of small diesels used in the works. It appears that the steelworks line may be linked by ownership with the local railway shown extending east from Changzhi, and the 14 steam locos may include those used on the local railway.


Raw material for the steelworks is hauled by a steelworks loco from Changzhibei to a mini-exchange yard close to the works. An impressive operation then takes place. The incoming train of ore, coke or other material is split and the sections taken one after the other about 15 minutes apart by single SY or by SY and banking SY up a very steep grade through the steelworks town for around a kilometer to the works itself. The Changgang Hotel is right next to this steep section and is a great place to be when the short trains – 6 to 10 wagons – are being worked up the bank. The workings unfortunately are tender-first (all locos face east) and the line is very closed-in by buildings, so photography is difficult. It may be possible to obtain reasonable going-away shots of the banked operation from the mini-exchange yard.


Locos seen in the vicinity of the steelworks include SYs 0289, 0324, 0536, 0886 and 0583 (in store at the mini-exchange yard) and JS 8356.


When I asked to be taken to the steelworks ‘jiwuduan’ I was taken back to the eastern side of Changzhi to the depot that is clearly the one Berndt Seiler previously visited. I was assured this was the steelworks depot. Locos seen here included derelict old JF 116, dumped JSs 5570 and 6102, SYs 0464 and 1051 and JSs 6219, 6226 and 8121. Nearby there was a yard with derelict semaphore signals and a set of old passenger coaches in a secure enclosure.


The local railway, or ex-local railway, appears to connect to the national railways at the south end of Changzhibei station and not further south as shown on some maps. The national railways loco depot is located between the national railways line and what appeared to me to be the local railway line.


I was not able to do any further research so could not ascertain traffic levels on the eastern line (what I had thought was the local railway). A mid-2002 Chinese website photo showed an SY+JS double-header on a train waiting to depart south from Changzhibei station. The steelworks staff indicated that some of the ore for the works comes from the eastern line.


Changcun Coal Mine


Approximately 10km west of Changzhi steelworks is a large coalmine opened in the early 1990s. The mine is connected to Changzhibei station by an east-west line located a short distance north of the steelworks line. The mine has 4 QJs, 2098, 2227, 2229 and 2265, all in working order, but only two in use at any one time. The locos all face east. Although the mine produces a relatively high amount of coal, the flat grades mean only a few long trains need to be run.


I did not check the track arrangements at the north end of Changzhibei station but assume the QJs work through to the station. I did see DF7/7B hauled coal trains arriving at Changzhibei from the north but assumed these were from other mines – there is a large coalmine area north of Changzhibei.


Changzhibei Power Station


In addition to the steelworks and the coalmine, there is a large power station located south-east of the steelworks. This also has a dedicated line, I assume from the northern end of Changzhibei station. An empty train was seen going east behind steam but it was not possible to identify the loco. The power station probably has its own locos but presumably the line could also be worked by the Changcun mine locos if this is where the coal for the power station comes from.


My stay at Changzhibei was limited to two days and unfortunately was immediately after the very heavy snowfalls that occurred shortly before Christmas. The roads around Changzhi were dangerous and I saw chains being used on vehicles for the first time ever in China. The conditions greatly restricted travel. While I do not think Changzhi will provide great steam photographic potential, I think it could be a location for folks who enjoy seeing some interesting operations and who enjoy working out how all the operations fit together. The east line (the local railway?) warrants further research to see if there are any particularly interesting workings and to confirm whether the local railway and steelworks lines are now combined.


While at Changzhi I was told that the Shanxi Fertilizer Plant at Lucheng, one station out on the Handan line, has SYs.


The electrified national railways line between Changzhi and Yueshan to the south, passes through impressive mountainous terrain making for enjoyable daytime train travel. The line is busy with most trains either hauled by one or two early SS4 electrics. No steam was seen along the line.


5.       Yangquan


Yangquan is a small city in the mountains between Shijiazhuang and Taiyuan. There are many coalmines in the area and maps show several lines leading north and south from the city and from the first railway station (Baiyangshu), east of Yangquan.


This visit proved to be something of a wild goose chase with only a single steam loco, SY 1189, being seen. This brought a loaded coal train down to the yards at Baiyangshu from the line that extends south from Baiyangshu.


All other coal train workings seen on the various non-national railways lines, and there were quite a few, were DF7/7B hauled. Again because of the dreadful road conditions following the heavy snow I did not venture up the minor roads into the mountains to check out each mine but judging by the length of time the diesels were away and from some comments by locals it seems unlikely that there is steam at the mines themselves.     


The Yangquan-Shexian JV railway officially opened in October, 2002, but there was no sign of traffic or locos for this line. The heavy snow may have impacted this operation at the time.


6.       Local Railway at Gaobeidian


The standard-gauge local railway at this town leaves the national railway lines at the south end of Gaobeidian station. Around 5pm on 21 December while passing through on a train an SY-hauled freight was seen heading out on this line. To research the operation a little further I returned to Gaobeidian a few days later, traveling out from Beijing.


After leaving the national railways alignment the local railway curves around to a north-westerly direction before taking a more direct westerly path. About 3km from the junction with the national railways is a yard with several industries in the vicinity. At the eastern end of this yard is a spur leading to a small walled-in loco depot adjacent to the main running line. SY 0164 was simmering within this depot. This loco was previously reported at the Fengtai railway concrete works up to a few years ago and it is pleasing to see it has found a new home. I could not find anyone to check the full loco situation on the line but a local railway list I have shows it as having two locos. During a spell of about 6 hours of observation no trains were seen though and the previously seen 5pm working was not repeated.

Bruce Evans

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© 2003, Bruce Evans