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Steam in China - October 2004

by Andrew Fisher

Tongchuan West, Huangling, Pubai, Chengcheng, Hejin, Nanpiao, Pingzhuang, Meihekou, Yongcheng

Further to John Agnew's reports on the Tongchuan Western Division, there are more mines further North up the line. I visited these lines with my group on 21st October and found 4 mines with 3 steam locomotives. The mines are all on branches off the CNR line which runs from Yao Xian (between Xian and Tongchuan) to Diantou. There is an exchange yard at Tianjiazui on the CNR line.


A short distance north of Tianjiazui, the line to Chenjiashan branches off and goes over the very high viaduct mentioned by John. We photographed JS 5184 on this viaduct in the beautiful green setting with blue skies and much white exhaust. Quite a sight. The locals at Chenjiashan were all very friendly and there was no police problem for us. The recent deaths there are terribly sad.


A few miles further up the CNR is Yaoqu. There's a station here but we found no mine and no steam here. Perhaps we missed something.
However, beyond Yaoqu, there's another branch forking off to the north west to a mine at Xiashijie, where we found recently overhauled JS 8094.


Still further north up the CNR line is another branch which disappears through a tunnel to another mine at Jiaoping. The road route to the mine is considerably longer than the rail route but we eventually arrived there to find SY 0369 shunting. This too was in excellent condition and looked to have been overhauled in recent months.
Just beyond the tunnel to Jiaping, the CNR line itself disappears through a tunnel, but a branch off to the north goes to a fourth mine at Cuikwang. We found no steam here and CNR DF4-6539 was shunting the yard. It could be that this mine was normally served by one of the JS's that John saw a few weeks later.


As a point of interest, the CNR line continues north to Quianhezhen (km 73), not to Diantou as shown on the Nelles map. The CNR line through the Tongchuan Western Division was only followed by us as far as the mines at Jiaoping and Cuikwang. From here it disappeared into a tunnel and isn't easy to trace. Of course, on the Nelles the line is NOT shown running from Diantou to Huangling - but it definitely does! We approached Diantou from that direction and followed the line.

However, at Diantou there's a loco depot where we saw 7 QJ's (2314/oou,6504,6532,6652/oou,6694,6698 and 7160/rep.) which work the line from here to Huang Ling. This line isn't marked on the Nelles map.
Diantou also have 2 brand new DF4's (7708/7709) built at Dalian in August this year. Diantou had had them for two months and had never used them. However, they're building a new diesel depot and already have refuelling facilities in place. The depot manager told us that he expected to still have QJ's here for another two years.

In the area of Tongchuan, we visited 5 locations with steam, other than Tongchuan itself. I'll be posting another report very soon and a map of the Western Division lines will be available soon. We were told by a manager in the Tongchuan offices that the JF's were to come out of service on December 31st but that they would be transferred to the Western Division for further use there. I'm not sure I believe this though!


QJ's 6449,6871,6928,7021,7291(the Datong special) all working. 6429 repairs plus 2 steam cranes.

CHENGCHENG (not Changcheng as reported elsewhere)

There are two divisions here. Western Division is at Dongxi (this does NOT mean EastWest apparently!) station north of Chengcheng. Eastern Division is at Wangcun 14 km to the east of Chengcheng. Western Division has QJ's 7181,7182. Eastern Division has QJ's 3424, 6807. We were apparently the first foreigners to step foot in the place and were treated like dignitaries!


The usual 3 JF's steamable. We were told by a manager in the head office in the town (Mr.Wang Zhong Cheng) that he was contracted to use the JF's until 31st December. On being pressed about their future, he said they would NOT be scrapped like the last two, but would be transferred to the Western Division for further use! I take this with a pinch of salt. (I wonder if one could find its way to Tiefa for their specials!?) However, this did lead on to the discoveries to the west as follows:


At Chengcheng we were told about another, unreported, site of steam usage but had no time to venture further. Perhaps someone else can. The location is an alluminium works at Hejin where there are JS and SY apparently. Hejin is about 220 km to the north east of Tongchuan. There is a road and rail crossing of the Huang He (Yellow River) at Longmen (Dragon Gate) and Hejin is a short way further east. It's marked on the Nelles map of Northern China.


On our recent tour we visited Nanpiao expecting to see very little action after reading Florian Menius's report dated 23/9/04 in which he said that only 1 SY did line work and none on passenger. However, we experienced the highlight of our tour there!
On the operating side we saw good line action from SY's including one passenger working (this was in October). Admittedly there are BJ diesels a plenty but the SY's have by no means been retired.

Jinzhou Factory 701

On our penultimate day there, we called into the yard at Xiamiaozi to check if there were any impending trips and were shocked to see JS 8162 in there. To the best of my knowledge, there have never been reports of a JS at Nanpiao. The JS proceeded to couple itself to SY 1079 and the pair shot off along the CNR line (yes!) towards the south. The loco crew, when questioned, had told us they were from Jinzhou but I doubted there were any working steam at Jinzhou, so enquiries continued.
The manager of the yard at Xiamiaozi later told us that JS 8162 was based at "Factory 701", and I, of course, pressed him for more details. He reported that Factory 701 was now the steam repair depot for all of Shenyang and Heilongjiang regions (this I doubt) and that it was situated only 15km from Nanpiao. He gave us precise instructions including the village name in which it was located.

The following day we abandoned Nanpiao and went in search of Factory 701. It took us about two or three hours to find it but find it we did!
We located the exact spot we had been told and, as we approached, we decided we'd been misled. It was a rural setting with nothing in sight - certainly no steam repair depot. However, we persevered and climbed up to the line. Lo and behold, a branch disappearing off into the hillside! It seemed to literally run straight into the hill. There was a rough track running alongside so we continued to bounce down it in our bus. After about 300 metres we came across an office building and what appeared to be a large turning triangle with branches disappearing into tunnels in the hillside. SY1079 was sitting there in all its glory!
We spoke to an old man sweeping up leaves, who told us without lifting his head that the reapir depot was in the tunnels and that the locos were in there, and yes, of course we could go and look.

Without further invitation I set off with camera in hand. Inside the first tunnel was an inspection pit and a water crane. I ventured as far as I could by taking digital flash photos and viewing the result on the screen - then, if it was safe I walked on into the darkness. The tunnel just went on and on! After a minute or so I was brought to a halt by much loud shouting and screaming from the tunnel mouth and my team shouted that I should get back quickly. We were surrounded by very irate management who looked very embarrassed and were a little unsure what to do. They proceeded to explain that this location was "Top Secret" and that if there was ever a war and the west knew where it was, it would be bombed!
With rapid hand shaking and patting of backs, we explained that we weren't interested in state secrets and just liked steam engines. We were told we should leave immediately and take no pictures. This we did. For the rest of our tour whenever we heard any police speaking we asked our guide, Dandan (better known as Jessie to some of you) if they were mentioning Factory 701. We escaped arrest and it did give us some amusement over the following days. Later, we bumped into Mike Ma at Pingdingshan and he told us that Factory 701 is a military arsenal used as a repair depot in peace time. He said that, to the best of his knowledge, no other enthusiast, Chinese or otherwise, has ever stepped foot in the tunnels there.


Not much to report here, other than SY 0798 was hauled off to the CNR interchange in a very rusty state - presumably for scrap. Sadly, it appears that JS 1001 will be following it soon, as it was parked up without rods. On the plus side, the hauling was done by SY 0766 which was newly overhauled (dated 2004/09). As already reported, the KD6 number 487 has left here for Tiefa.


On a recent brief visit to Meihekou SY's 0791/1217/1564 and 1662 were seen operating freight and passenger.


I noticed recently that the CNR shed on the line out of Wuhu in the direction of Ma'anshan has a stock of about 10 JS in varying degrees of dilapidation.


I visited this railway, originally reported by T.Tsujimoto in June and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone else travelling in the area.

The coal railway leaves the CNR Qing-Fu or Sui-Fu Line at Qingtan. This line is on page 6 of Quail and runs north east from Fuyang (near the word "Anhui"). Qingtan is incorrectly shown on Quail and on the Nelles Central China map as Qingtuan but the station is clearly labelled as Qingtan and it's known by that name locally. The railway runs north west for about 25km from the main line and crosses the road from Guoyang to Linhuan at the village of Shigongshan (or just Shigong) by a bridge with inclines on both approaches. It's destination is Yongcheng, a medium sized town on the road from Suzhou to Shangqiu.

Yongcheng is a peculiar town, split into two parts. The new town has an excellent hotel (Yongxia Hotel also known as the Yong Mei Hotel) with very good rooms for 203 yuan. The hotel in the old town (Zhong Shan Hotel) is absolutely appalling - worse even than the Nanpiao Hilton!! In fact you're best not venturing into the old town at all. The mine is central in the old town but the depot and yard are nearby the new town.

The line approaches Yongcheng by a long straight on an embankment and arrives at the junction reported by T.Tsujimoto as Jipei. I was unable to confirm this name. The loco depot is right by this junction and the exchange yard immediately beyond. I'll be producing a map in due course. The depot has 4 resplendent QJ's all kept in superb condition. They were 3439, 3550 on line work; 3552 undergoing repairs; and 3000 dead but nevertheless in super condition. They also have JS 8363 which shuttles wagons to and from the various mines but does no distance work to the CNR. The JS also takes spoil to the nearby tip using the usual side tippers.

Trains to and from the CNR are of an enormous length. I saw one QJ handle 75 bogie wagons with ease uphill (empties). On the day I was there, I was lucky enough to witness the very first service up a newly opened branch to a brand new power station (Yu Dong). QJ 3550 was bedecked with flags and banners and hauled a train of 24 brand new bogie hoppers up the line to an opening ceremony being performed by local dignitaries. All the staff were very welcoming and, with some initial reluctance, they even agreed to hold the special train for 5 minutes so I could get two different shots of it! I call that co-operation.

Locos come off the depot at about 9am and the first departure for the CNR leaves about 10am, returning about 5 hours later.

Andrew Fisher

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© 2004, Andrew Fisher