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Steam in China - 2005

Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Ji-Tong, Nanpiao, Huludao, Dahuichang, Pingdingshan

by Paul Molyneux-Berry

These are some brief notes of my second visit to China in September 2005, arranged through Andy Fisher and Dandan. I hope they are useful to someone out there!


The system was generally operating as previously reported, operated entirely by SYs and the steeple-cab electrics. Coal, overburden and works traffic seemed quite busy, with about 8 steam locos on duty in and around the big hole including blasting, track-laying, ballasting and moving plant. At least 2 locos were working trips to the deep mines and CNR exchange yard. SY1083/4 have large smoke deflectors and a cowl from chimney to dome, like on a JS or QJ. I would be interested to know if the cowl is purely cosmetic, or whether these SYs have been modified with an external main steam pipe. SY1085 has the normal appearance.
Steam locos seen in service: SY 0400, 0517, 0766, 0798, 0942, 0943, 1083, 1085, 1441, 1487, 1764, plus a few more.


The system was generally operating as previously reported, operated entirely by JSs with smoke deflectors. Traffic was comparatively busy, with 3 trips up the branch past the cement works in one day. JS8246 with high deflectors has hauled all the passenger trains I have seen on my two visits to the system. Both the power station diesels (GKD1 4008/9) were seen in action. The 600mm gauge electric railway at Fengshuigou is most amusing; it features a section with no overhead where it crosses a yard, which means the locos have to take a run-up and coast across. DF4s were seen working the CNR lines at both ends of the system: green 1365 at the south end and blue 4006 at the north.
Steam locos seen in service: JS 6544, 8218, 8246, 8250,
Steam locos apparently complete but not in steam: JS 6245, 6246, 8418, 8249(in back of shed)


Generally working as expected, with traffic busy. On the day of our arrival almost all trains were single-headed QJ's. On the other days, most trains were double-headed QJ's, with the occasional single DF4 instead. There was at least one westbound light engine movement of a pair of QJs. Some locos were in poor condition and created major hold-ups when working single headed. 6878 was particularly bad. The passenger timetable over the steam section is now as follows:


These times are from the official timetable card given to me at Chabuga. However, the Eastbound steam-hauled passenger (6051) was over an hour late on both occasions we saw it.
Steam locos seen in service: QJ 6878, 6891, 6991, 6984, 6988, 6998, 7012, 7037, 7030, 7038, 7048, 7063, 7040, 7049, 7081, 7104, 7105, 7119, 7143, 7163, DF4 0444, 0539


My first visit to this system and I thought it was excellent. 3 BJ diesels and 4 SY's were in use and the lines seemed busy. The SY's saw service on passenger and freight trains on both branches of the system, as well as shunting at the mines. Some photo opportunities were hampered by the fields being full of maize, but the pole routes are not as prohibitive to photography as some contributors have described. At least 3 of the mines have narrow-gauge electric railways, each with their own amusing peculiarities:

At Quipigou there is a line across a road and into a compound with the standard gauge line. This section of the line seems to be mostly used for pit-props. The wire is strung alongside the track on wooden poles, and electric contact is made by a man standing on the loco holding a stick with a piece of metal taped to the end. This would seem a little unsafe if it was raining! At Zaojiatun, the narrow-gauge line brings coal to the standard-gauge. The track layout appears to be the classic model-railway 'dog-bone', and is intensively operated. The wagons have drop-bottoms and the entire train passes through an unloader where it is carried on angled rollers that support the sides of the loco and wagons while the bottoms of the wagons (including the wheels) drop out. At Sanjiazi, the electric railway runs through the street, and crosses it at a section where the wires are raised to clear the road vehicles, and hence are out of reach of the (wooden) bow-collector. This section has to be rushed in the uphill direction. Here it is also possible to view the top of the main incline down into the mine. The railway seems to be mostly used for spoil, and manriders also work on the underground incline section at shift-change. The electric railways are great fun, as are the 'Indiana Jones' style hand-pushed mine railways which dot the landscape and can provide foreground or background interest in photos. Another mine has an extensive section of the village sunken due to mine subsidence, and now mostly underwater. A DF4 was seen at Xiamiamozi with CNR exchange traffic.

Locos seen working were: SY 0366, 0754, 0973, 1092, BJ 3132, 3241, 3248


The afternoon train was cancelled on the day of our visit, owing to track work. We found the morning train ready to depart from Yangjiazhangzi about 10am, waiting for the track workers to clear the line. We had missed our only chance to see the loco (JS 6307) on the turntable, but some big smiles and a handful of foreign copper coins persuaded the crew to put the loco back on the turntable and spin it 360 degrees for us. At the limestone railway yard in Huludao, an SY was in steam. The road crossing the yard now has gates across the tracks, which are closed except when shunting is in progress. Security is tight and it is not possible to walk into the yard. With little to watch in the afternoon, we went exploring around Huludao. Having driven around the Ammonia plant, we enquired at the back gate whether they had steam locos. They said no - but told us to go to the cement factory for steam locos. The rumours of steam at the ammonia plant are therefore probably not (or no longer) true. We drove to the port area and explored the railways in the locality. We did not see any steam locos at the port or the zinc smelter, although we saw extensive railway networks.


An added extra to our trip, and arranged at short notice, for 100 Yuan a head, plus an extra charge for a the rather early start we needed to fit our itinerary. Demonstration trains were run over a short section of the line with one loco (loco 1, tender 3). Adhesion conditions were very poor owing to the damp morning and vegetation growth over the rails. The crew were very friendly and cooperative, and many of us had a chance to drive. The other locos were in the shed including no.2 freshly overhauled and offered for sale.


We spent 3 enjoyable days here, exploring the system. On the first day it rained for most of the day, leaving us sun and clear skies for the remaining two days of our visit. Both the rain and sun made for some nice photo opportunities. We made a lot of friends among the railway staff, but especially among the works staff and shunters, who were delighted that I had taken lots of photos from my previous visit to give to them. Attached is a map I have drawn of the central spine of the system, based on my own observations from the trains, the roads and on foot. I hope this is a useful and accurate addition to the published information. Plenty of JS's and a few QJ's were seen working, but SY's are now thin on the ground - we only saw 1687 on one passenger turn, and 1209 ran light a little following minor works attention. Locos working included:
JS 5644, 6225, 6253, 6429, 8030, 8031, 8054, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8068, 8120, 8122, 8338
QJ 2035, 6450, 6650 (in works yard), 6690 (at Tianzhuang), 7186
SY 1209, 1687

Three new diesels have arrived on the coal railway. DF7G 5121 in standard red/gold livery was in traffic during our visit, while orange DF10Ds 0087/0088 were newly arrived at the works, but not yet in service. DF10D 0043 was seen at PDS dong exchange yard, but is apparently not part of the coal railway's fleet. Also, two small b-b diesels were in use at the coke works near PDS Dong, one yellow, one (older) in green, number 065 and marked 'Taihang' on the ends. I have no idea what class either of these locos are. The two new DF10Ds are expected to replace 3 steam locos. However, JS8421 was undergoing major overhaul for a further 3 years work, which indicates that steam may continue at PDS for a few years yet. At PDS Dong, a JS was seen running light engine through one of the CNR platform tracks, which had been occupied a few minutes earlier by a long-distance passenger train. I don't know if this is unusual. There are narrow-gauge electric mine railways at at least 3 of the mines, as shown on the map. These were all working during our visits. Small groups of 'big-noses' were tolerated walking around the mine areas, but bigger groups were actively discouraged by security, although we had no serious trouble. Mines 5 and 7 both have a footbridge across the railway yard connecting the trackside to the mine area, which provides an interesting vantage point for photographs.

Paul Molyneux-Berry

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© 2005, Paul Molyneux-Berry molatmolmanor@yahoo.co.uk