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Steam in China, December 2006 - January 2007

by Adrian Freeman

Shibanxi, Huangjinggou, Yinghao, Pingdingshan, Xingyang, Jixi, Hegang, Nanpiao

A short report of my findings on a two week China trip:

China December 2006 – January 2007 by Adrian Freeman


All steam locations I visited are well documented and their operations were generally as described as in other reports, so I offer only a few notes and snippets below. My first week was spent with the excellent guide Zebedee followed by three weeks with friends Don White and Charlie Petty.


Shibanxi 12-15.12.06

This line and the activities around it remain as charming as ever. A midweek visit made to reduce the likelihood of encountering tourists; instead there were two Chinese film crews present for some of the time. Since my last visit, the train conductors now wear their orange and grey uniforms with American style baseball caps. Sadly these unattractive outfits wreck many a station shot, especially at Bagou where the crews mill around on the platform whilst passengers and goods are loaded or unloaded from the train.


Now that the coal mine at Huangcunjin has been rehashed and reopened, coal trains run on most days. The same coal drop is used down to the (main) narrow gauge line but the mixed gauge mine line now runs in a different direction from the old line and enters the hill through a new adit. The distance from the coal drop to the adit is about a third that of the old system but this operation is nevertheless well worth a visit. The old weighbridge has been pulled down (someone probably leant on the building). Apparently the coal is now weighed when it arrives at the power station rather than at the point of despatch, meaning that losses en-route are not paid for. Everyone at the mine was friendly and I was able to photograph the operation freely although offering cigarettes around may have smoothed things a little.


December is bamboo and timber season. Loads of bamboo were being brought to Jiaoba and Xianrenjiao stations and a few trackside points in between by human, and logs by horse. The bamboo appeared to have priority and was loaded into wagons bogie wagons as well as four-wheelers after weighing.


Although the hotels in Qianwei may be more comfortable, staying in Granny’s guest house at Bagou was much more enjoyable experience. A hot shower is available and although there is no heating (room temperature dropped to 5C on the clear night), the beds have electric blankets. Excellent evening meals were also provided.


I was struck immediately on arrival back in Shixi and the taxi journey to Weiyuan by one of the greatest charms of this line – I hadn’t seen or heard any cars or lorries for four days – wonderful!


Weiyuan Coal Railway (Huangjinggou) 16.12.06

Recent reports suggest that there is only one return working to the washery per day, but I was in luck and two return workings ran. If this happens at this time of year, the first would normally be in darkness but again I was fortunate – problems with the engine meant that the first outbound coal train crossed the viaduct at about 08:00, just as it was getting light. The down side of that was that the ‘classic’ photo of train going through the market from the balcony of an adjacent building was difficult as the sun was over the hills and straight into the lens.


Yinghao 18.12.06

We took a taxi to the junction at Xiangyang, where C2 no. 6 appeared from the engine shed and was coaled from an adjacent wagon. The line to the mine didn’t look well used and on investigation, we found lorries being loaded from the hopper that the wagons were loaded from, and a level crossing nearby with half a metre of dirt piled up over the tracks to smooth the way for lorries. Clearly there had been no traffic for several days. No. 6 soon returned to the shed, where another engine was having some welding done to it. A new mine nearby –as mentioned in other reports - appeared to be complete and without rail connection. Whether this line will reopen is unknown.


Pingdingshan 19-22.12.06

My previous visits here were prior to the arrival of any diesels. Although steam still outnumbers them, they are having quite an impact on parts of the system – particularly the long trains of empties from Pingdingshan Dong to Tianzhuang yard and trains up to mines 2, 4 and 6. Three different QJ were seen light around Tianzhuang yard going to/from the line to mines 10 & 12, but we didn’t see them haul anything. All engines ran with their headlights on throughout the day, a welcome change from the usual Chinese practise of only turning them on when it is pitch black.


The line between the main yards at Tianzhuang and Shenxi is being double-tracked. There is also major road construction ongoing around Pingdingshan. Road underpasses and flyovers are being constructed to cross the lines to mine 1, 2, 4 and 6 just up from Shenxi yard. The level crossing east of Zhonxin station is changing and all buildings from there to Zhongxin along the south side of the line have been demolished. At Zhonxin, the old station building has been replaced by a large new structure.


Xingyang 23.12.06

We knew the likely result of this visit but being nearby decided to call in just in case. Of course, it was shut. Overnighted in a hotel at Zhengzhou over the road from the station. The name on the entrance was the Lan Yu hotel. We were led to our room up a lift, along corridors linking various buildings together and when we went out via the nearest lift, it was through the doors of the Tian E Binguan. The bathroom consumables showed a different hotel name again. Along the main street at Xingyang, numerous outlets were selling electric bicycles, which seem to be catching on fast.


Jixi 25-30.12.06

Generally as reported elsewhere. It took us four days to get a photo of a train at the attractive Qikeng mine on the Lishu system due to the variation in train times or on one day, cancellation.

At Baichang washery on the Chengzihe system, it wasn’t possible to include horse and carts from the ‘gloop factory’ with SY in photos due to the wall of gloop/coal slurry/spoil that had been deposited between the running lines and the settling beds.


Hegang 31.12.06 – 03.01.07

No snow made parts of this system rather unattractive and still conditions resulted in exceptional levels of smog particularly between Nanshan and Dalu. The passenger timetable is basically the same as it has been for the last few years. All engines seen faced north all the time – perhaps the first morning passenger from Junli doesn’t travel via Junde in winter. The line that goes through the mine at Dalu and proceeds to a further mine and tip is being electrified. New concrete posts were in place along this line. There are large numbers of new standard coal wagons and hopper wagons running around on this system and the mines at Dalu and Fuli have been enlarged. Coal scavenging and theft, which has always been rife on this system, was particularly bad at Fuli where there seemed to be someone permanently in one of the wagons under the loader shovelling coal out of it onto the ground, where it was quickly bagged and wheeled away on bicycles.


Nanpiao 04-06.01.07

My last visit here was two years ago, when the passenger duties were entirely diesel. This time, they were half steam with SY1092 (which has unfortunately lost its smokebox decoration) doing most of the honours. The early morning departure to Sanjiazi and the afternoon departure to Linghe were always steam during our visit. SY0366, 0754, 0973 and 1092 in use in addition to the three BJ diesels.

We stayed in the old hotel at Huangjia, which has been renovated and is somewhat smarter, but considerably more expensive than it was at 160 Yuan for a twin room. After a couple of days and fancying a hot shower, I complained about the absence of hot water and a little later was given a note stating:


Because today is not sun!

So you don’t use it!

So you can’t wash with hot water!

You can eat the fruit!


It had been a sunny day, but at least we got a bowl of fruit out of it.



Exceptionally mild weather and an absence of snow meant that the North-East was rather less attractive than it could have been. On the plus side it was generally sunny and still.

There are now security cameras at Nanpiao and Pingdingshan! Also speed cameras on the main road from Jiamusi as it nears Hegang.

Unusually for China, three evening/overnight CNR trains we caught were an hour or so late. What is happening to the system?


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2007 Adrian Freeman