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Steam in China, February 2007

by Michael Rhodes

Zoucheng(Yanzhou), Yinghao


This was an impromptu trip Ė basically Vernon and I had booked on the steam charters on Nevada Northern and Heber Valley BUT due to an administrative error we didnít actually have a place on the photo charters. Add to this the threatened BA strike (which threw up seats from London to Beijing for airmiles travellers), and we decided to make the best of a bad job and spend 5 days in China.

1-2 Feb 2007

BA039 (90 mins late) to Beijing and then met by Alan from the Chengde travel agency (see http://www.jun-railjourney.com/main/index.asp ) and Mr.Ma the driver from Chengde. Arriving at 1230 on 2nd Feb in Beijing we headed off to Zoucheng by road Ė 670 kms, covered in just over 7 hours. We stayed in the Yankuang Hotel (owned by the Yankuang Coal Company). Rooms were excellent and food was good too. One bonus of travelling with Junís agency, is that he is friendly with a Mr.Zhao. This gentleman works for the Yankuang Coal Company and is also a member of the Shandong Photographic Society (he uses a NikonD50 & F90). Mr.Zhao was crucial to our visit as there are big security worries around the main railyard in Datongzhang and access to the steam workings here has been difficult (several groups have been turned away in the last 12 months).

It is much better to visit over a weekend when the bosses are not at work and it is crucial to have a local guide who is well known amongst the railway staff. Given that the coal trains through Datongzhang yard have up to 20 riot police in full body armour, all equipped with guns, one needs a local guide! Vernon and I were told to pretend we were local English teachers from Qufu if we ran into any trouble Ė as it happened we did not and spent a very enjoyable weekend on the system.

3 Feb

The day was clear with dawn temperatures of minus 5 degrees and noon up to 14 degrees. Mr.Zhao (I cannot emphasise what a help he was), suggested a 6am arrival at the steam depot for night shots and shift change and then some shots of the three working QJs which all do at least one out and back working per 12 hours. After the night shots there was a hiatus, so I busied myself getting details of the locos and workings of the Yankuang Coal Company.

Yankuang Coal Company

The railway was opened in 1978 and currently handles 30 million tonnes of coal per annum. We were told that things were a bit quiet at the time of our visit as it was under 2 weeks before Chinese New Year and the bosses didnít want any accidents!! Apparently the record output of the coalfield is 50 million tonnes in a year. I suspect the workings here were first reported on the internet several years ago by either Derek Jenkins or the IRS under the heading Zouxian.

Now for the locos:-
17 QJs, 4 running on coal lines, 2 in the chemical plant ad the rest on the shed in Zoucheng.
8 DF4, arrived between 2004 and 2006

Active on the Yankuang Coal system:- QJ 6811, 6814 (spare in steam), 7126, 7189
Active on the International Coal Corp Chemical Factory:- QJ6933, 7188
Spare on shed but refurbished:- QJ 3538 (just overhauled in Laiwu works in Shandong 300km away), 6812
Derelict on shed:- QJ3461, 3595, 6284, 6782, 6848, 6866, 6933, 7123, 7190

Trains on this system are up to 70 coal wagons long, weighing in at over 4000 tonnes and it must have been amazing when 100% steam. It seems that now the QJs just service the nearest three mines, but they still handle 40-50 wagon trains. This is undoubtedly the QJís last stand, with daily heavy freights. Now that DaGu has dieselised, Pucheng is reduced to short trip freights and Pingdingshan uses its QJs very little, this is the best place to see the mighty QJ in action. Jitong it ainít BUT QJs still haul 2500 tonne trains in 2007 here.

4 Feb

After an excellent breakfast of shredded pork pancakes purchased from a street vendor near the entrance to the Yankuang Coal Company compound, we photographed trains at Nantun mine and Dongtan mine. Security was especially tight at Dongtan mine where there had been an accident just weeks earlier.

At lunchtime we set off to Zhengzhou where we stayed in the Jianguo Hotel (excellent food and free in room internet connections!). As usual we got lost approaching Zhengzhou and spent over an hour trying to find our hotel Ė in the end Alan hired a taxi which we followed in the bus!! Reading road signs seems to be a problem, reading maps out of the question and sat nav is a pipe dream!!

5 Feb and 6 Feb

We left Zhengzhou early to arrive at Yinghao in time for shift change. We were treated to the sight of newly painted No.17 drifting from the shed to the main yard and then 3 locos in steam in the main yard. Rumours of the demise of Yinghao are definitely premature!! In steam were Nos. 6, 8 and 17. In addition repairable on shed were Nos.3, 5, 9 and 15. I suspect there are quite some months of life left in this wonderful railway, especially as the new mine on the system is no nearer being completed than it was back in 2004 when we last visited.

The attached pictures give a flavour of our visit.

By 10am on 6th we decided to head for Zhengzhou airport where we caught CZ3177 back to Beijing. Arrival was in time for a quick visit to the free market to buy jeans, socks and shirts! A curry in the Holiday Inn in the evening of 6th Feb, and then home on BA038 on 7th Feb.

The Yankuang Coal Company is the last stand for the mighty QJs and looks set to continue for some months as they have spare locomotives which have been through the workshops within the last few months. Yinghao is very busy and is predicted to work through the Chinese New Year because of the demand for coal Ė it might be an alternative destination for those frustrated by the lengthy closure at Huanan over Chinese New Year.

© 2007 Michael Rhodes

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