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Railways in China - December 2005

Pucheng, Daba-Guyaozi, Baiyin, Yaojie, Liujiaxia, Sandaoling

by Peter Semmelroch


From 31.12.-12.1. I joined a globe steam tour but it was rather like a private tour with only 3-4 participants me included. Groupleader was Ironman Jan Schirling who will certainly publish a seperate detailed report on QJ-country with loco lists of the industrial systems visited.

28.12.2005 flight Frankfurt-Beijing, arrival on the 29th and connecting flight to Xian with AirChina, overnight in Xian.


was visited on the 30.-31.12.2005. Pucheng is 2 hours drive by car from Xian city center.

The PuBai local railway owns 7 locomotives:
DF4B 9571 working
QJ 6429 working
QJ 6449 stored in open roofed compound, covered in plastic, not serviceable
QJ 6871 working
QJ 6928 cold in shop, serviceable
QJ 7021 working
QJ 7291 derelict in open roofed compound

The center of the line is in Hanjing, there is also the depot. Visits are possible without any problems. All locos face uphill towards Baishui.
At the entrance of the depot (from the station Hanjing) there is a guardhouse where every loco movement into and out of the depot is registered in a book. So you can easily check when which loco left or returned to the depot. I checked the last 20 days and it turned out that
1) The diesel is used daily so it is the first choice to use this machine
2) On about 10 days only one QJ was used additionally to the diesel
3) On about 5 days all steamed QJs were used additionally to the diesel, the rest of the days 2 QJ.
Conclusion: Traffic is very unpredictable.

On the 30th the diesel was working in the morning to the Baishui area and at noon hauled a loaded coal train to Pucheng. No steam movement at all in the morning. At 13.00 (7021) and 15.00 (6429) two QJs left the depot and both ran light engine to the Pucheng direction. At 16.20 the QJs left Shitan doubleheading a load of empties up the very steep grade. A fine sight to see a QJ doubleheader after the end on Jitong again. The diesel didnīt return from Pucheng until I left at 17.00. It is thought that the QJs are not allowed to enter Puchng station anymore but take over the empty trains in Pucheng Bei and if load requires a second QJ is attached at Shitan (or already Pucheng Bei) for the steep grade to Hanjing. On the 31st in the morning the diesel and a QJ had already left the depot when I arrived. The QJ and DF4 were said to be in the Pucheng area, but I could not confirm this. I waited at the big bridge and tunnel short to Baishui and a QJ with empties arrived at 12.00 uphill to Baishui. At 13.00 I got another QJ downhill tender first with a loaded coal train at the level crossing between Hanjing and Shitan, when I was already leaving the line for Xian to meet the globe steam tour group.

The line is very scenic between Hanjing and Baishui, but traffic levels are unpredictable and rather low. But where else can you get double-headed QJ freights today in China? The weather was unfortunately very bad with clouds and thick fog and almost constant light snowing on both days.

From 30.-31.12. I stayed overnight at Weinan, which cannot be recommended as it is about 1.5 hours drive from Pucheng! In the afternoon of 31.12. overnight train Xian-Qingtongxia.

Daba-Guyaozi 1.-2.1.06

The DaGu railway owns 11 locomotives:
DF4DD 0052 line work
DF4DD 0053 stabled in Daba (pilot)
QJ 1465 dumped in Guyaozi
QJ 6545 dumped in Guyaozi
QJ 6832 dumped in Guyaozi
QJ 7036 not seen, but claimed to be cold, serviceable in shed 2 in Guyaozi depot
QJ 7061 cold, serviceable in shed 1 in Guyaozi
QJ 7194 line work
QJ 7195 Guyaozi pilot
QJ 7200 line work
QJ 7205 line work

The depot is in Guyaozi at the end point of the "main" line from Daba (CNR connection). Visitors are not really welcome but on Sunday it was possible to make a short visit.

4 locos are daily used in line work betweed Guyaozi and Daba, 3 QJs and 1 DF4DD. Therefore 75% of all trains are still steam. Traffic levels are higher than two years ago because the new mine is working and more coal has to be transported nowadays. Usually you can expect 3 downhill and 3 uphill trains per day. All trains run funnel first, there are triangles in Daba and Guyaozi. A problem is that if the Diesel hauls a load of empties from Daba it rans through to the new mine, so no loco change in Guyaozi to the steam pilot occurs. The same happens in the opposite direction: The diesel runs light engine to the new mine returning with a loaded coal train and hauling it through to Daba. The old mine is served by the Daba pilot though, but empty trains to this mine are pushed uphill to the mine and loaded trains return tender first to Guyaozi. Traffic on the main line is not only coal but also tankers to and from the petrochemical plant at Guyaozi. The second DF4DD is stationed in Daba. Reason is that the DaGu line performs also the shunting duties in Daba station, and the QJs are not allowed to enter the CNR tracks of Daba station anymore. So in this rare case the CNR steam ban is positive for the steam photographer because one diesel is not used in line service any more (at least at the moment or until more diesels arrive).

On the 1st of January there were two uphill and one downhill steam train during daylight and no diesel trains, two further downhill trains ran short before sunrise (one diesel and one steam). It was perfect to start 2006 with an uphill QJ-freight in perfect clear, sunny morning conditions at -13°C! On the 2nd there were three uphill and three downhill trains during daylight (1 pair was the diesel), unfortunately weather conditions had turned to overcast.

The line is scenic in the gorge and desert sections north of Lingwu and although 2 diesels have arrived in 2005, as only one is used in line service, steam traffic levels are higher than in 2003 because of the new coal mine! The line can therefore still be recommended for a visit, it is the only line left in China where you can see QJs in a main-line like environment.

From 1.1-2.1 we stayed in a good hotel in Lingwu, in the evening of 2.1. overnight train to BayinXi.

Baiyin Copper Smelter & Coal Railway 3.1.-4.1.06

The Baiyin railway system was a very positive surprise. The system can be divided into two parts, the industrial complex in and around the city of Baiyin with a copper smelter and a zink-lead smelter as well as several other industrial sites, and the "local" line section from the station called LiuGongLi (= kilometer 6) to Shenbutong and Sanyelian.

The depot is in BayinGongsi next to the main yard of the industrial railway. For visiting (restricted area in Florianīs map) you need a official permit from the railway which was obtained through CITS. With this permit (I think it was 100Yuan per person per day) you can venture through the whole industrial area, which is heavily guarded by a lot of police/security watchtowers, as well as up to Sanyelian and Shenbutong mine (you need to pass a police control point as well up there) without any problems. It makes really sense to obtain this permit though when visiting.

Five working SY were noted on both days, one of them only in far distance in the southern part of the industrial complex:
SY 0965
SY 1047
SY 1581
SY 2008
one unidentified SY

The loco shed contined two further SY in workable condition, one of them was in light steam:
SY 1067
SY 1583
The workshop shed as well as the 3 fenced yards with dumped/derelict steam locos were not investigated, several derelict SY and JS were visible, only JS 8021 (derelict) could be identified from outside.

The industrial complex offers a lot of shunting activities as well as trips to the different factories, but is not really interesting from a photographerīs point of view. The "local" line from Liugongli to Sanyelian and Shenbutong is in contrast quite scenic, especially the narrow gorge section between Sanyelian and Shenbutong mine offers excellent photographic potential. The steeply graded line is in a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains and offers by far the best scenery for SY powered trains I know of in China (after dieselisation of the Haishiwan gorgre of course...). The line is double track from Liugongli, the right track is going to Sanyelian station at the 3rd smelter, the other track to Shenbutong mine with a second station at Sanyelian and at Shenbutong on the way. (For this section see Michael Rhodes map on qj-country). Traffic levels on the local line are as follows:

4 pair of passenger trains run daily 2 in the morning one to Sanyelian, one to Shenbutong and two likewise in the afternoon. The morning passengers are in December/January too early for photography, but should be o.K. in October or early March. (Of course the snow covered mountains will be gone by then). Trains consist of 7 green YZ22 coches each and are a really fine sight uphill. The Shenbutong passengers are always funnel first uphill, while the Sanyelian passenger can also be tender first uphill. There are also two pair of freights daily, one load of empties to Shenbutong mine, returning loaded tender first, which runs in best morning light after the first pair of passengers, and at about 13.00-14.00 a train serving the sidings at Liugongli and then up to Sanyelian to bring coke to the 3rd smelter. This train is tender first uphill and was banked by a second SY uphill on 3.1. So traffic levels are fairly reasonable and the noon break on the local line can be used to visit the industrial complex.

We had two days with mainly overcast skies and only a little sun with morning temperatures around -15°C and the whole area was snow-covered. The line is certainly worth a second vist, especially when the two morning passengers run in daylight, and is due to excellent scenery and action number one on my list of lines to revisit!

We stayed in a very good hotel in Bayin city from 3.1.-4.1. and used our minibus to Liujiaxia on the evening of the 4th, which is about a 3 hours drive. From 4.1.-5.1. we used a hotel in Liujiaxia directly on the HuangHe banks.

Liujiaxia 5.1.06

The Liujiaxia-HekouNan-railway owns 4 JS class locomotives. JS 8223, 8226, 8227 and 8352. 8226 and 8352 are disguised as 8223 and 8227 as well, so that there are two JS 8223 and two JS 8227 on the system. All 4 JS are still servicable, two were working, one was in light steam and one cold inside the two sheds in Gucheng depot. One of the JS had been recntly overhauled at Tianshui works (in 7/2005). Unfortunately through the disguise I got the numbers mixed up... The railway is quite charming with a real branch line atmosphere and certainly worth a visit. The timetable of the pasenger trains between Gucheng and Liujiaxia as published in Bernd Seilerīs report is unchanged. Inbetween the trains some shunting happens in Gucheng. The daily train to Hekou Nan which is now only steam to Shangxuan because the steam locos are not allowed onto CNR tracks anymore was banked presumably to the first bridge over the HuangHe, the banker returned light engine through the gorge shortly after the train had passed. The return train leaves Shangxuan at 18.00 or 18.30 (I forgot the exact timing) which is in Januay of course after sunset, but might give the chance to photograph the train in the narrow HuangHe gorge funnel first in spring or autumn. A CNR DF5 takes over the cargo vans of the mixed train in Shangxuan and transfers them to HekouNan. The passenger cars donīt go to HekouNan any more, the passengers have to change at Shangxuan to a bus service instead, that has been introduced since the train does not go to HekouNan anymore! There is not much more to add to prevoius reports.

In the evening we went by bus to Haishiwan (almost 2 hours drive from Liujiaxia), where several good hotels are available.

Haishiwan-Yaojie, Yaojie-Nanlingcheng 6.1.-7.1.06

The Haishiwan-Yaojie-line with its famous gorge section is dieselised. The diesel loco DF7G 5163 (Beijing 7th February loco works, 2005) is doing all train work between Yaojie yard and Haishiwan CNR. At least this was the case on the 6th and 7th and was confirmed to me to be the case from "now" on. Shunting in Haishiwan station is performed by a CNR DF5.

3 SYs were still in steam at Yaojie yard, 0362, 0990 and 1103, one is used for shunting and trips to the two local mines in Yaojie, one is reserve for this job (the loco changes daily on the 6th it was 1103 on 7th it was 0362) and 0990 was standby reserve for the diesel. I didnīt check out the depot, but probably more SYs will be serviceble cold inside the shed. So steam trains through the gorge section seem now only possible when the diesel fails. Of course this was a big disappointment for us.

The Yaojie-Nanlingcheng line sees nowadays only traffic between the Yaojie yard and the aluminium factory yard as well as from the aluminium factory yard to the power station near the aluminium factory (see Louis Cernyīs excellent map). The second big factory which is located at the end of the line in Nanlingcheng and which is said to own the line from Yaojie to Nanlingcheng is bankrupt and there is no regular traffic anymore on this section. So only the least scenic and least photogenic section of the Haishiwan-Nanlingcheng line sees stil regular steam hauled trains.

Neverheless there are some photo spots, especially the big river bridge north of Yaojie with the Yaojie power plant as background and the smaller bridge on the line from the aluminium plant yard to the power station about 2 km north, and the departure of loaded trains northwards from Yaojie yard is also impressive. There were 3 uphill trains from Yaojie on both days, mainly doubleheaded by SY which is of course quite rare in China nowadays and offers a fine sight. The downhill trains from the aluminium factory yard to Yaojie are tender first, and only one train ran in that direction each day, the locos coming down light engine in the other cases. Additionally there are several daily return trips from the aluminium factory yard to the adjacent power station crossing a nice, small bridge.
The following three SY were seen in traffic on that section: SY 0150, 1097 and 1321.

In the evening of the 7th we went by minibus back to Lanzhou (about 2 hours drive) and used the overnight train to Jiayuguan.

Jiyayuguan Steelworks 8.1.06

The steelwork visit in Jiayuguan was organized through CITS, and proved to be very successful, as we could really venture everywhere inside the big complex, without anyone accompanying us.

The steelworks uses today manly diesel locos, about 15-20 GK1C were seen together with one GK1B and 1TH diesel locomotive. Nevertheless 5 SYs are still seviceable, 3 to 4 are used at any time:
SY 1334 working
SY 1335 in the workshops, undergoing minor repairs
SY 1532 standby in the depot area, in steam
SY 1624 working
SY 1625 working
This should be the complete steam roster.

SY 0253 was in the scrapyard next to blast furnace group 1 in the process of being cut up, the next loco there already awaiting scrapping was JS 8192. In the workshops area were the remains of 2 further cut up steamers, probably JS as well as derelict JS 8220, certainly also for destined for scrap. Also present outside the workshops were dumped JS 8349 and JS 8351, but looking complete, and presumably still kept for reserve, albeit certainly no more serviceable at the moment. On the other side of the steelworks two further dumped SY were noted, but I didnīt get the loco numbers.

1 SY is still used at blast furnace group 1, while 2 usually trip iron slag trains to the slag dumps approx. 2 km outside the main works area. The steelwork is very photogenic, with three blast furnace groups with two furnaces each. Although groups 2 and 3 are only served by diesels the steelworks layout makes them a perfect background for the steam loco depot, as well as for the slag-tipping trains. I can highly recommend a visit from a photographerīs point of view, but dieselisation should be completed in 2006 already, so go now.

The whole day was sunny and clear at -22°C in the morning. In the evening we took again an overnight train, this time to Hami.

Sandaoling Coal Mining 9.-10.1.2006

The Sandaoling Coal Mine system is some 1.5 hours drive from Hami station. Therefore it makes sense to stay in Sandaoling itself which offers at least one basic hotel.

The system offers fantastic action. We had only 2 days which is by far not enough to see everything, at least 4 days should be spent there to see everything, two days inside the open cast mine + depot, one at the northern and one at the southern end, one day around Xibolizhan and the dumps, and one at the deep mines and covering the trains to CNR Liushuguan station. Photographic potential is almost unlimited, especially in winter when temperatures are around -25°C and 30cm of snow are combined with clear-blue, cloudless skies. The fact that most - not all - coal trains and all ump trains are pushed is not really a problem. The scenery inside the mine is great because of the canyon-like colour of the mineīs walls in red and yellow, the burning coal dumps near Xibolizhan give a hell-like atmosphere and the line to Liushuguan CNR, which is not scenic, offers at least great steam and action with their 60+ -car trains, hauled and banked by 2 JS. I didnīt record loco numbers here, the 2 SY mentioned before were on work-trains inside the mine, all other action was JS with at least 20-25 machines in steam. Of course I will go there again, and certainly it will be in January, when the landscape should usually be snow-covered, at least locals confirmed that it snows three to four times a year.

From Sandaoling we went to Hami by minibus where we took an overnight train to Urumqi. Arrival in Urumqi was on the next morning. The steelworks in Urumqi was visited by Jan only, there is no more active steam, only one SY is plinthed at a small museum inside the steelworks.

From Urumqi back to Beijing and back to Frankfurt on the next day, all with Air China.


China is still worth a visit for steam, all visited lines can still be recommended, with Bayin and Hami taking the lead. Probably these two will still offer steam next winter.

In the end I want to thank especially those persons who take the time and provide the invaluable and excellent maps to many of the visited systems, especially Florian Menius (Liujiaxia, Bayin), Louis Cerny (Haishiwan), Bernd Seiler (Sandaoling, PuBai) and Michael Rhodes (Bayin). Without these maps our trip would never have been so successful!

Peter Semmelroch

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Đ 2006 Peter Semmelroch