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Steam in China - August 2004

by Dave Habraken

Tongchuan, Yinghao, Shibanxi, Weiyuan, Jinchengjiang, JiTong


From 3/8 until 5/8, I visited frustration-city, aka Tongchuan. And frustration, it was... The first day gave very grey weather caused by the high humidity but by choosing the correct photo locations (closer to the tracks to avoid unclear pictures) it gave a nice atmosphere after all. It seems pretty usual that each morning there is a loose engin, going to Wangshiwa to pull back filled coal wagons. There is a certain logic in this: more than once, railway employees told me they do this to avoid running uphill while the sun is burning them out so they run more trains uphill, starting at about 20:30... Of course, we photographers, are not to pleased with this development. Anyhow, after the first loose engin, 2 trains came up the hill. The first one with grey sky and the second one with the sun right shining into the lens (frustration-city, noooooo...) Personal minor event was my video camera to get broken without any obvious reason so the day after, I had to get to Xi'An to buy me a new one.

The second day, one engin left very early loose to Wangshiwa while the second engin would not leave before 11AM. So I made a quick leaving towards Xi'An to get rid of my money :-((

When we arrived, nothing had moved and after re-asking about traffic towards Wangshiwa, it became obvious that they wouldn't go at all as there were no empty wagons at Tongchuan...
So I went off to Meijiaping to visit the local workshop. Entrance was given without problems after me giving some double pictures to the guard and a local police-man who worked there. The police-man stayed with me the whole visit and was very interested in what I was doing, but happily, only in a positive way. He even gave me hints where to look :-)
Unfortunately, the workshop itself was not carrying out any overhauls to steam engins at the moment so I had to be satisfied with the derelict engins behind the shed. According to what the policemen said, they expect 2 new engins for overhaul this week... He did not understand my attempts to find out the location of these engins.

While driving to Meijiaping, I could see a steam engin at the cement work from a far distance, as Bruce Evans allready suspected. Only, it was no SY but a QJ. It's state was comparable with Dahuichang's SY0251...
When we returned from the workshop, I just had to give this engin a closer look. So my taxi driver asked directions to locals to find a steam engin in the neighbourhood. They pointed out to a nearby coal plant (east-side of the tracks, at the other side of the station if yuou look from the workshop). I had doubts, the QJ would be there as it was another company at least one kilometer away from the cement work. Asking at the gate for permission, up to 6 chefs had to see me before I could enter. It was quite funny to see them looking at each other who was going to take the final decision... Then, what I suspected became reality: it was another engine, being used in this factory: SY0363! This engine is at least used to pull coal from a loading point to the bunker but the chief who showed me the engine didn't understand my attempts to ask if it's used for other work too. The engine is good in the sun late in the afternoon. Work stops before 6PM but they searched the driver to make a quick photo-departure. I have to admitt: it's not JingPeng-quality but with Tongchuan being very quiet, it's a nice alternative to fill up the day. Maybe somebody else can investigate the using of the QJ at the cement plant?

The third day at Tongchuan, one of the engine was provided with coal with the steam crane. Very nice sight! Also seeing the inside of the crane was a nice experience as I had never seen this before. After this, the usual loose engine towards Wangshiwa got away and in the afternoon, the other engine then followed with a train. Of course with the sun shining in the lens but with some creativity, I managed to make a decent shot (at least, I hope so).

3 days at Tongchuan and a similar quantity of trains... But, I'm glad I visited Tongchuan as the local staff confirmed that by december of this year, it' over with the JF's...


After Tongchuan, I went to Yinghao. Hum, this was a pure delight in this time of the year with corn and sunflowers growing everywhere along the tracks! Of course, people were staring at me as if I was an alien. They're obviously not familiar yet with railway enthusiasts from the west :-) I will try to make a more detailed map when I'm back in Belgium but here are some highlights. I'll try not to give you the same info as Rob Dickinson allready did (by the way: thank you Rob and our Japanese collegues four your great info, it was very useful).

I think that's about it. Of course, there is much more investigation to perform on this nice line. It would be nice to hear your experiences of course as I'm going back to Yinghao this winter.


From 10/8/2004 until 13/8/2004, we were at Shibanxi with two persons and stayed with the friendly family at their guesthouse at Bagou. Before going to Shibanxi in the summer, I thought this was one of the most stupid ideas I'd ever had: it would be raining season so not a big chance for nice weather... But: as closure was threatening at the time I was making up my trip, I decided to go there anyway during this time of the year. I didn't regret this at all: on 3,5 days, only 2 trains didn't run in the sun!! On the evening of the 11th, we had a very hard thunderstorm but this resulted in a 99% blue sky the day after. I must admit, it was very hot, too hot sometimes, but looking at it afterwards, it was worth the trouble (only not again next week).

Locos in use were no.9 and no.14. On the 11th, loco 14 pulled a wagon with construction materials to buld a house until the tunnel after Mifungyan. No other freight trains noticed. One person at Huangcunjin asked us to pray that the mine would reopen again... No other gricers seen.

Weiyuan Coal Railway

On Aug 14th, I visited the Weiyuan Coal Railway in the hope to see some movements, being well aware of the bad news-report about track damage on Florian's website. It must have been my lucky day: only after one minute, loco 32 showed up with it's coal train running back to Huangchinggou. Of course, the famous bridge- shot was made, together with two other shots.
While directly after my arriving the train allready showed up, the manager of the line surely did not have the time to get me. My whole visit to this railway only lasted about 20 minutes... The perfect "hit and go" I suppose...


Hechi saw low traffic but we had quite some sunny weather with complete blue skys almost every afternoon.


On Aug 20th, we arrived at JingPeng: the third train we saw was a diesel double header running from Daban towards Haoluku ! Though I couldn't read the numbers (we had just checked in at the hotel and we were walking towards Liudigou), it was very clear it were two diesels in front of a freight train.
We might have one answer for this bad news: in about 3,5 hours, we saw 7 westbounders of which two with only one steam egin, although the trains they hauled were very heavy. Maybe, just maybe, there was a temporary lack of steam engins at Daban, which could explain this using of the diesels. Otherwise, it's the beginning of the end :-) Next day (Aug 21st), 2 diesels with a freight train passed Reshui at 06:00, also in the direction of Haoluku. They were observed again on their way back to Daban at JingPeng around 13:00. We saw them distance only but we have the impression, they didn't stop at JingPeng (no maintenance for diesels needed of course over there). At least one of the diesels was another one then the ones one day before: on Aug 20th, there were two green DF4's, on Aug 21st the train towards Daban was lead by a blue-white DF4D and a green DF4.

The dieselisation of the biggest steam show still left has begun!

Dave Habraken

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© 2004, Dave Habraken, email: davidoff5181@hotmail.com