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Steam in China Feb / Mar 2007

by Dave Fielding

Part 1: Sandaoling

This is the first of three reports of a three week visit. For the first two weeks I joined a group tour organised by Travel Bureau Railtours of Wombourne, UK with Chinese tour guide Lu Yong of Harbin. Rather than returning from Fuxin to Beijing with the group, I decided to extend my stay, visiting or revisiting various locations between Fuxin and Chengde with Jun of CFITS, Chengde as my guide.

On joining the Travel Bureau group in Beijing on 25th Feb, I was presented with a revised Itinerary, which in effect meant that the tour would arrive for the first visit (at Sandaoling) half a day later and that the rest of the tour would then run a day later. This meant contacting Jun to meet me a day later at Fuxin and reducing my time with him by one day. The reason for the change was that, because it was so soon after the Chinese New Year holiday, CNR would not allow bookings to be made for groups, only for individuals. Thus, after our flight from Beijing to Lanzhou the next day, we were unable to travel on the intended overnight train from Lanzhou to Hami. The alternative was to travel by bus. We spent a lot of time hanging about at Lanzhou bus station, unsure which was our bus and when it would depart, finally leaving at 20:45 after spending 20 minutes at the exit to the bus station.

The bus was a normal coach, not a sleeper bus as indicated in the revised itinerary, but the journey was comfortable enough. At 11:30 next day we were dropped off at a roundabout with a large petrol station on the fringe of Hami. The local guide soon appeared and we boarded an Iveco bus, arriving at Sandaoling around 13:00.

Sandaoling (27th Feb - 1st Mar)

I had visited Sandaoling previously in December 2005, but on that occasion it was not as busy as expected. I was interested to see how much activity there was this time. To get a feel of the situation we first visited Xibolizhan where we found 11 spoil trains each with a JS attached in light steam. One of these was JS 8188, recently ex-works, with an overhaul date on the tender underframe of 2007 2 10. Proceeding to Dongbolizhan we found a line up of 5xJS and 3xSY all in light steam, together with a JS on a train of 11 side tippers which on the following two days was noted bringing coal out of the pit. Clearly parts of the operation were still on holiday and not working. However, at Nanzhan there was action, with trains of coal being brought out of the pit, and on the deep mine side, 4xJS working including a loaded train from a mine and a SY on side tippers.

On our first full day we again initially visited Xibolizhan. The staff passenger arrived headed by SY 1593 chimney first, then quickly departed propelling its train of two converted box cars and "caboose", the latter fitted with "semaphore signals" to assist in the control of propelled working, hardly necessary for such a short train. Several spoil trains departed for the pit, with JS 8189, seen the previous day at Dongbolizhan, arriving to pick up a train of side tipplers, to form a further spoil train. During this action SY 1593 reappeared with its train and rapidly departed again. We then went down by bus into the west end of the pit to get a closer view of activities there. Our guides left us, departing in the bus, but subsequently an official in a hard hat took exception to our wandering about and also by hand signals indicated that I should remove my red anorak. Fortunately the weather wasn't "brass monkeys" but relatively mild.

We then moved over to the deep mine operations at Nanzhan, observing JS 8081 arriving on a short train of 17 empty wagons from the CNR connection at Liushuquan. JS 8027 and SY 1718 on a train of side tippers were also present. We continued to Mine 2 (Erjing) where JS 8358 was on a train being loaded. JS 8366 passed with a rain of loads from Mine 1 (Yijing). We watched JS 8358 depart with its train for Nanzhan. We hadn't yet checked the locomotives hauling the coal trains from the opencast workings and in less than an hour noted JS 6205, 8076 and 8368 on these workings.

We ended the day with a visit to the running shed and workshop. In the shed were JS 8314, in steam, for minor attention as it was seen at work next day, JS 6223 also in steam and JS 6436 with its wheels removed. In the workshop, JS 6261 was having a major overhaul including boiler retubing. Finally, at nearby Dongbolizhan, SY 1729 was noted on a train of side tippers.

JS 6261 in the workshop

On our second day, we again started observations at Xibolizhan. We just missed the first arrival/departure of the staff passenger, today hauled by a tender first JS, identified on its return working as JS 6430. Today 7xJS were waiting on spoil trains, with JS 6210 on the flanger. SY 1718 was on a permanent way train near the spoil tips. Two further JS were noted on loaded spoil trains from the pit. We then got word that a long train of banked empty wagons was due to depart Liushuquan for Nanzhan. So we headed off there noting JS 8027 arriving at Liushuquan light engine. However it was around an hour and a half before the train left with JS 8027 leading and JS 8081 on the back, but with around 65 wagons it was quite a sight heading over the barren landscape.

After this we moved to a position overlooking the east of the pit where coal trains can be observed being propelled out. Locomotives noted today on these workings were JS 6204, 6205 and 8221. It was possible to get good pictures of these trains, with a background of the sandy coloured side of the pit, but it was a little late in the day for best light on the trains themselves which curve round to climb out in a southerly direction. Whilst at this location, we noted the working of a train on the long siding in the direction of the built up area of Sandaoling. It was a train of side tippers loaded with coal propelled by chimney first JS 6205 assisted by JS 6430, the two JS coupled tender to tender. The wagons were soon emptied and the train returned.

After this the compound was checked where 15 out of service locomotives were noted (details below). For the final part of the visit we moved to the north west edge of the pit and, in the late afternoon light, just observing from a distance the various workings in and out of spoil trains and coal trains, one of the latter unusually hauled by a SY. It was a fitting end to an excellent visit. The revised itinerary had worked to the group's advantage. Instead of being here two days with only one day of full operation, we had been here for two and a half days, and seen two days' full operation.

At the western end of the pit, a JS descends with an empty spoil train ...

... and having reversed, the train is propelled to be reloaded

During the visit we saw the following 48 locos, of which 31 were working:

JS 5455(with tender of 5473)*, 6203*, 6204, 6205, 6206*, 6208, 6209*, 6210, 6213* (loco and tender separate), 6223, 6224*, 6259, 6261&, 6430, 6436@, 8027, 8040, 8053, 8055, 8076, 8077*, 8078, 8080*, 8081, 8089, 8167, 8173, 8188, 8189, 8190*, 8193, 8194*, 8195, 8197*, 8221, 8222, 8225*, 8314%, 8358, 8366, 8368, 8384*
SY 0082*(1968/7, dumped), 1304*(1984/7, ex-works but deteriorating), 1593(1987/11), 1718(1991/12), 1720, 1729(1992/9)

* out of use in compound
& workshop, major overhaul including boiler retubing
@ depot, wheels out
% depot, in steam, minor repairs, later seen working
The majority of previous reports identify SY 0082 as SY 0092.
For the SY, the numbers in brackets indicate the year and month on the Tangshan builder's plate carried.

SY 1729 appears to be a new arrival at Sandaoling. According to page 86 of the Industrial Railway Society Handbook "Industrial Locomotives of the People's Republic of China", this locomotive (along with SY 1728) had its allocation, prior to dispatch from Tangshan, ascertained as being Xinjiang Cement Plant, Ürümqi. The information originated from Continental Railway Journal 93, Spring 1993.

For those interested in co-ordinates for Google Earth, 43°07'38.19"N and 92°34'49.35"E, brings you a spoil train at the eastern end of the yard at Xibolizhan. Moving eastwards reveal at least one change to Bernd Seiler's map. The siding to the built up area of Sandaoling connects in a southerly direction to the line carrying coal trains out of the pit and then turns through 180° to approach the town.

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© 2007 Dave Fielding