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Steam in China

Shibanxi, JiTong

by Mungo Stacy


Some trip reports begin with details of flights and prices. Unfortunately I cannot do the same, as this trip actually began back in August when my contract in Hong Kong finished and my wife and I set off to do some travelling around southeast Asia. A couple of months later we found ourselves in China and I recollected that a friend had been on some steam tours here, so I wondered if I would be going anywhere near any steam trains.

As may be gathered, I had not done much in the way of planning before setting off. So, a big thank you to the various people who have put details on the internet, especialy those who also included the Chinese characters for the place names. We managed to get to two railways, using public transport and our own initiative.


First, after returning from the climb up the Emei Shan holy mountain in Sichuan province, I discovered that the railway at Shibanxi could be squeezed in along with a visit to the Leshan giant buddha, before we returned to Chengdu. We showed the characters for Qianwei and then Shibanxi to the various bus conductors and after a few changes of bus, were kicked out at a junction in Qianwei. To my surprise there was actually a sign in English and Chinese, pointing to 'Narrow Guage Steam Railway, 12km'.

We arrived at Shixi station with an hour to spare before the 14.00 departure (trains still run at 07.00, 10.30, 14.00 and 17.30), and were cooked up a smashing four-dish dinner for a mere 25Y on the platform. We stayed overnight at the top end of the line, at Bagou, in the place with red window frames just down from the station. No difficulty in finding it - the train guard pointed out an old crone at the station who took us down to her daughter who ran the guesthouse. However, I forgot the first rule of bargaining (start at a lower price than you want to end up with) so got beds for 30Y apiece. You could probably get them for 15 or 20 if you tried. They have a hot shower, and cooked us up a great dinner which came to 30Y including two beers. The hills and terraces around Bagou are well worth a walk - no roads, only a few horse-tracks. We returned to Shixi on the first train of the morning (approx. 8.30 departure from the top end). The passenger train crossed a freight at the switchback station on both days, and there was plenty of coal traffic on the electric section.


Our second railway was up at Jitong. I had more difficulty making a case for this one being on the way to anywhere you might visit as a tourist! With the end of steam now nigh, it is debatable how worthwhile it is to write up any notes of the visit, but I will do anyway...

We stayed at the Daban railway hotel (100Y for a double room). No (running) hot water, but I wanted to catch the morning passenger train at 04.34. From the bedroom window I saw a steam-hauled freight leaving Daban station westbound for Linxi (16 October, about 20.30). Freight was mainly diesel hauled, just one steam in each direction on 15 and 16 October. Plenty of activity on the lineside, though - at least one group from the UK and another from Germany.

Now back in Beijing, about to continue the travelling by taking the Trans-siberian railway to Moscow.

Mungo Stacy

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2005, Mungo Stacy: e-mail: mungostacy@hotmail.com