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Steam in China 2006

by John Agnew

Sandaoling, Baiyin, Lujiaxia, Shibanxi

Gidday folks, well we have just spent 5 great days at Sandaoling, plus 2 at Baiyin, and are now at liujiaxia (Lew-Jar-Cia) and are heading for Yinghao (2 OF US) and Xian to the Terracota Warriors (The Cultural remainder) then off to Shibanxi for the final week before jetting home via HKG.


We flew into Urumqi (Ula-muchi) via HKG then Train N950 at 23.58 to Hami arr about 08.00.Stayed at the Yin He Hotel at Sandaoling for the period.

We spent most of our time based at Xibolizhan Station at the west (TOP and farthest away) end of the pit where 90% of the action is. Here in the yard we had up to 9 parallel overburden trains lined up at one time awaiting entry to one of the 7 dumps. Magnificent.

We were advised by Train Control at Xi that in a 24 hour period 15-16 spoil trains would do up to 17 trips each !!! Plus 5 more Locos on Crane etc. trains including the 2 massive Plows in continuous use at the dumps. Thats over 260 steam trains in 24 hours. Thats some sort of record???

Also there is a daily workers train of 2 boxcars and a signal car which comes over the high direct bypass line from Dongbolizhan station to Xibolizhan for the 9 am shift change. It goes down into the pit at about 8.45 am and brings the old shift back to Xi, and then proceeds back to Dong acrross the high line. We rode this train on day 2 and got the feel of the place.

Next we had JS 8222 stop alongside us near Xi yard and the crew "Shanghai'd" us aboard and off we went down into the 9th and lowest level of the pit, on the overburden or western side. The coal seam is at the bottom on level 10 and exits via the eastern (Dong) end, but only 3-4 coal trains are in service at any one time, so the pickings at this side/end were spartan compared to the non stop action at Xibolizhan. We spent about 30 Minutes in the pit while a Huge electric dragline filled our 11 wagons with chunks of rocky overburden and slack coal.

Then our crew set the Loco alight and we charged up the many levels of the zig-zag and exited the pit about a Km below Xibolizhan yard. We got a green through Xi yard and roared up the bank en route to the only dump thats not numbered being simply named "Coal and mixed spoil" dump. Then both Paul Mahoney and I were given turms driving the JS, an exciting time for us both. On our return to Xi yard we rejoined our mates and took heaps more pictures of the actin from up the signal gantries which span the yard.

We were invited out to Dinner with our crew, and then the next day given another cab ride this time out onto the dumps inside the huge Plow being propelled by its grey dust covered JS. We videod all of this amongst the choking dust clouds kicked up by the Hydraulic plow, and watched the trucks about 90m below us sifting the slacker coal from the mixed overburden. The dump lines are perched along the man made spoil cliffs on all 7 dumps in this huge area.

There are also 2 further dumps back at Dongbolizhan running north from this station which we did not go over. I have the numbers of all of these dumps and will update my 2004 map and send to Florian for publication.

During our visit we were never asked for money apart from the 200 Y fee to get bour 5 man group into the workshops where 5 JS were being overhauled. We also saw and recorded the 14 Locos in the out of service compound. There were about 27 Locos in operation including the Transport sections 5 JS which can only join the coal mine lines via the workshop connection line. These Locos bring trains up from the CNR at Liushuquan and also shunt the 2 deep mines at Beiquan.

We again saw banking on the Main from Liushuquan, same as in 2004. Guess we were lucky. And 3 SY's 1593, 1718, 1720 were working, with 1304 in the compound. In 11/2004 none were working. Excellent pre DAWN shots are to be had from mid way along the Northern edge of the pit access road. The rising sun gives fantastic Arizona effects on the clay canyons on this side, with the pit itself being below these features.

Regretfully on 16 October we had to move on, and caught T194 from Hami at 20.26 to Lanzhou via the classic Wuwei loops, a great train ride.Drove to Baiyin and booked into the Classy Wangsheng Hotel. WOW !!


Tried to send this report from the small Wang ba in the Brothel at this large and classy hotel, but it appears to have failed so have sent it again tonight from Xian.

Wed 18 Oct Video'd the 7.35 passenger ex Baiyin at Sanyelian at 8 am and also got caught unawares as the 7.50 am Passenger for Shenbutong roared upgrade Smokebox first and crossed it as it was departing tender first back to Baiyin's temporary Pass stn at 8.15 am.

We then got a goods train from the top of the hill beside Sanyelian Stn and also the afternoon 3.15 pm pass for Shenbuton which arr at Sanyelian at 3.35 pm and Shenbuton at 3.45 pm. Saw all of the disused narrow gauge electric Locos and wagons at the disuesd deep pit at K? just above Shenbuton. Next day 18th Oct got SY 1013 on the uphill freight in the gorge section above Sanyelian, Wow! and the return working from our very high perch on a hill opposite.

Then got the 4 ,15 pm pass ex Sanyelian and drove back to Baiyin. Thursday 19th got a repeat of wednesdays action and at 11 am pulled the plug and drove to Liujiaxia on the northwestern motorway thus avoiding Lanzhou's traffic and pollution.


Arrived Thursday 19 October and drove straight accross the moutain road to Shanquan where as steam now terminates at there (spelt Shangxuan by the residents), JS 8223 arrived on the mixto at 3.30pm and shunted the factories at Yanguoxia, 1.5 Kms back along the line- accross the Yellow river rail Bridge. So we headed for the mountain tops behind Yanguoxia and waited for the 6. 30 pm departure of the mixed back to Liujiaxia.

Regretfully by 6. 45 pm when it arrived, it was too dark for most of the cameras but I did get a nice mood video of it crossing the smaller tributary above Yanguoxia and entering the tunnel. Dont know why the departure remains so late given the train goes back virtually empty.

We then tried to negotiate with the Manager at Gucheng to see if when the loco did its shunting at Yanguoxia the next day, if it could take the pass cars as well up to the tunnel, thats an extra 1 km. And then return back down the hill to Shangquan terminus. he said OK for 30,000 Yuan. After somw haggling it came dowm to 6000 Yuan but our max was 2000 Yuan so we parted company!

Next day we video'd the Mixed departing the markets at 1.30 pm and rode it from Gucheng at 2.15 pm arr at Shangquan 3.30pm. This time the 10 wagon load was banked by fake JS 8227 with its large red star above the smokebox door. Here we were invited in to tea by a lady with a 6 year old delightful walled house right next to where the Loco sits, when it arrives. Wer had a great time with her and the neighbours so look out for them and mention the Xinxilan and Odalia group when you visit please.

Soon after we hit the road and drove back to our leaky cold water only, Power Station Hotel which has gone downhill fast since our 2004 trip - NOT recommended. Next mornibg 21 Oct we pulled the plug on LJ and headed for Lanzhou and boarded the Lhasa-Beijing Super train for Xian........ Spent 5 hours in the dining car enjoyung the route.

22 Oct Big macs at McDonalds Xian for my son Glen, then off to the Buried army for a quick shuftee. 23rd dep Xian on K5 for Chengdu over the "Moutains and Rivers make way" route. 600 tunnels and 600 bridges between Baoji and Kunming. Regrefully much of it in darkness. 24th Tian Bo Hotel Qianwei (for Shibanxi) Pouring rain so we rode the whole line to get orientated. Got invited into a special orchestra performance for retired people in the hall at Bai Gou, and we all ended up singing Auld lang Syne for them with the orchestra as well as doing a few dances and an impromptu Haka. That brought the house down and We had a ball. "Mayhem and Havoc" is our catchword. And word spread fast - we are now greeted all along the line by the Locals who witnessed it all. Sandaoling all over again!!!! We are having great fun with the Chinese kids and Grandparents. But must get back to the trains.

25/26 Oct Brilliant weather and we are walking the line in sections daily and getting the next train at selected locations. This is a GREAT Railway. So far we have reached the summit at Xianrenjiao. Met the lines President today and he took us on a workshops tour and is arranging for a poster of Rich Reiff a Yank Railfan mate from my Sth American days to be obtained for us. Rich was here in April and his mug shot has ended up in posters all along the line. so he'll receive this in due course.

When we were at out big party at Bai Gou the first day, we met the little old lady that charges high rates at her Ludian. We told her that we only pay 20 Yuan per person (100 Y for our group) and both of her daughters took our side in the discussion. We explained that she is "notorius" and needs to get with it. The end result is that we are camping there this weekend at our 20 Y rate P P. So future gricers can now stop here using the "Kiwi rate" (XinXilan rate)

Dont be afraid to challenge her as the 2 daughters, the toothless skinny bird and the red/blonde haired one, will come to your assistance. They want more customers. We tried the beds and did a full inspection. We had Zebedee our dynamo guide do all of the translation for us. So she is now up with the play, but use a guide if you dont speak the lingo.

Also sampled the food in the "Dickinson Cafe" and proclaimed it "perfectly adequate" (Unlike the Yinghao Hilton, its actually first class, but you know Rob and his weird scale.)

Did I say this is an amazing line and that we are only doing 7 days here? You need 14+ its that good. 3 Locos in steam plus 2 electrics. Anyway must quit before I lose all of this as usually happens, more soon, regards John A and the gang.

John Agnew

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2006 John Agnew