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Steam in China - JUNE 18 to JULY 6 2004

by Warwick Mead

Tiefa, Baiyin

I was in China during late June and early July 2004. After arriving in Dalian and spending a few days there checking out the extensive electric tram system and a brief visit to Anshan, where we were told all steam is finished and the trams are now gone, we were given this picture of an old German loco now preserved at the steelworks and said to be the only one of its type left in China.

XK51 at Anshan


I caught trains to Tieling, as I wanted to visit Tiefa on Saturday, June the 19th. There is no connecting passenger train from Tieling anymore. I was told it had been discontinued 1 year ago. We stayed in a great new 4 star hotel across from the station, which turned out to be the best hotel we stayed in China. The lack of connecting trains meant hiring a taxi, which we managed to do for 300 Yuan for the day.
At Tiefa we found the steam locos operating in the extensive rail yards there as well as the out of service engines. My translator questioned the loco crew of the midday workers train and was told that a better place to see steam trains was DiaoBingShan, a nearby city. The crew told us to go there around 2 PM, as there would be many trains. This was proved to be the case. In the space of 2 hours we saw and photographed 3 steam hauled passenger trains, 2 of which terminated and 2 steam hauled freight trains. There is also a steam coal grab in steam at the station to coal locos. An overhead bridge at the station gives access to the platforms as well as providing a great vantage point for photos.

Diaobingshan station

The population and rail staff was all friendly and at no time wanted "permits" or money to take photos. The locos I saw in steam in Tiefa were 0665, 1749, 1751, 1770, 1771, and 1772. There are also at least 5 dumped locos at Daqing.

We next traveled from Shenyang to Beijing on the day train, but no steam locos were seen during this journey. At Beijing we trekked out to DaHuiChang and saw the 2'gauge limestone train, thanks to the directions given on this website.
From Beijing we caught the overnight sleeping train to LANZHOU but if we had more time, would have split the journey and stayed in XIAN to sightsee this ancient walled city. The line from Bao Ji and on to Yuanlong is truly amazing as it travels through the yellow river valley for 120 km or so. Instead of double track, there is a line on both sides of the river, with the remains of an abandoned right of way also visible. Even though there is no steam here, the engineering of this section is a marvel.


Our destination was Baiyin but due to time constraints traveled by car to Baiyin. I had bee told that there were no steam trains in this part of China, information proven incorrect! Certainly the railway yards at the station on the Baiyin-Changzhen is dieselised, the station for CNR trains is Baiyin Shi ("City"). There is a platform and 8 roads of sidings in front with a diesel shunting loco.
To the right of the main platform, down a small embankment is another platform, a low level structure made of granite stones, 10 cars long, and accessible by a road that ends there. A 6 storey-housing block runs the length of the platform. This insignificant looking place is where the steam hauled workers trains that serve the industrial plants arrive and depart, but the locos and cars are kept at a location away from the main line.

SY1470 with the 7:30 am workers train

Baiyin Shi Station Layout

I am fortunate to have Chinese relatives who took us there at 7.30AM to travel on the worker's train. This 10-car passenger was hauled by loco 1470 and the return journey brought us back at around 11AM (the train waits 1 hour at the terminus.)

The train leaves the main line and travels about 2km to what they called the "Transport Department" (Baiyin GongSi) which is a much larger rail siding and depot complex that serves the city's main industrial factory. It has it's own station, marshalling yards with a steam loco working there and the depot that houses the steam locos as well as 2 compounds of out of service locos. A suspension bridge crosses the tracks midway and although it is a great vantage point, shakes whenever a person walks across and will disrupt photography. This whole area is not accessible without walking along the railway line, and I was told I was the first westerner to visit the area.

Baiyin Area Map

Baiyin City Map

The workers train goes from here along a branch line that climbs into the hills behind the city, through 1 short tunnel to service 2 more stations at factories. The train was crowded with few spare seats and some security police patrolled through but caused me no problems.

Baiyin Gongsi Railway Yard

Loco 1470 runs around train at end of branch

Baiyin had the cleanest air I encountered on the trip and consequently I was able to photograph in glorious sunlight. The following day I was taken to the "transport department" around 2PM. I photographed a freight arriving. The loco shunted in the yard. Soon the afternoon run of the worker's train arrived at the station, departing a few minutes later. After being given a tour of the station I was fortunate to be given a cab ride as the shunter traversed the yard and hooked on to another set of passenger cars. Time constraints again meant I could only photograph the departure of this train in another direction on an unknown line to an unknown destination. I have so far not been able to get a map of these railways and have drawn the maps here from my photos.

Out of service locos in Compound 2 at Baiyin

Locomotives I photographed in Baiyin were 0612, 0701, 0819, 1047,1470 and 1581. Because of time constraints I was unable to record the numbers of all the engines there, particularly the out of service ones but I was told there are 30 steam engines in Baiyin. The locomotives in use are all well maintained and seem in excellent condition. Steam will continue to be used on these trains for some years to come due to economics in the area.

The lines around Baiyin are to me more interesting than the flat open fields of Tiefa. The trains work up grades to climb the hills on the branch line I traveled on, and the curves give great photo opportunities from the train, There is a road that follows the branch, which gives more opportunities for photography here. There are more steam serviced lines in the city than I had time to explore.
Having made the contacts with a semi retired executive of the smelter I am planning another trip in late 2005. Certainly I was shown more of this city's rail system by the contacts I made than I could have found by myself without the local knowledge. I believe this goodwill can be built on to hopefully lay the groundwork for keeping steam trains alive in Baiyin.

I urge anyone contemplating visiting the railways at Baiyin is welcome to contact me, Warwick Mead, at email: wwattle@tpg.com.au. There are several options being investigated including guided enthusiast visits, hiring a special steam train from Lanzhou to Baiyin for enthusiasts and even buying a loco and cars to be available for rail tours in the region.

The only other steam we saw was from the train at XUANHUA, about 4 hours from Beijing, where 2 steam locos were seen in steam.

Warwick Mead

Baiyin (additions by Bernd Seiler)

The Baiyin Coal Railway basically has got two main operations:
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© 2004, Warwick Mead , email: wwattle@tpg.com.au