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25th Extreme Steam Trip to China, Mar / Apr 2007

by Michael Rhodes

Shibanxi, Jixi, Hegang, Jalainur

The participants were Michael Rhodes, Vernon Murphy, Nick Dodson, Bob Avery and Adrian Roberts.


BA039 London to Beijing


1245 Beijing to Chengdu flight (Sichuan Airlines) and then by road to Qianwe and the usual Tianbo hotel.

23rd to 25th March

Three days of the wonderful Shibanxi system.
It has been reported to death but on this our third visit it was noticeable:-

1. The large number of Chinese tourists. There is an excellent book produced by the Leshan tourist board (20 RMB) and souvenirs are available at Shibanxi and Yuejin. The best of these is a 1958 shot of the mine at Huangcun.

2. The passenger schedule is supplemented by a coal train each morning to Huangcun and also one day of our visit there was a special charter.

3. The farmer's wife at Zaziba can be persuaded to cook the most exquisite lunch for a very small consideration – just walk uphill from the Zaziba stop and her farm is the first on the right with a whet stone on the right of the entrance to her front yard/threshing floor.

Coal coming out of Huangcun mine as a Japanese photo charter runs round in the station at Huangcun


Afternoon passenger restarts from Zaziba (Caiziba) -as we drink a cleansing ale in the farmer's house there!


The morning passenger returns, seen in Yuejin town


0800 flight Chengdu to Harbin with Sichuan Airlines, stopping in Jinan on the way. Then the 7 hour road trip to Jixi where we stayed in the newly opened Longchen Garden Hotel (well placed for runs to Didao and Hengshan).

Jixi mining area
27th – 28th March

Again this system has been reported in detail. We felt the top four photo spots were:-

1. Morning on Hengshan Bank
2. Morning shift change at Dongchang pit
3. Afternoon coal returning from Erdaohezi
4. Afternoon between Didao washery and Didao CNR (nice spot to observe CNR as well)

Locos observed were
Chengzihe system – SY0590, 0733, 0863, 0898, 1018, 1058, 1344, 1544
Hengshan system – SY0341, 0344, 0746, 1095, 1340
Didao system – 0441, 0950, 1205, 1213

Dawn and shift change at Dongchang mine


40 empties storm the bank at Hengshan (top and tailed)


Coal returning from Zhengzin mine (Hengshan system)


Perfect reflection at Didao

Hegang mining railway
29th to 30th March

It had snowed overnight in Jixi and was a dull morning so we drove to Hegang, arriving at 1300. Before I report on what we saw and where, I am including a couple of tables and a map photocopied from the official history of the Hegang mining railway (published by the mine company in 1985). Hegang is a complicated system and it takes a careful combination of the maps drawn by David Kitching, Adrian Freeman and Rob Dickinson to understand the routes – I was going to draw a definitive map, but I see that Duncan has produced a superb overview of the system which was posted just hours ago! I can never compete with that so I shall just include some official info on the system which has never been available before.

Official map of Hegang mine railway - 1985

Table 1 – locomotive fleet – 1985
Steam Locomotives
JF – 624, 649, 650, 651, 652, 782, 1105, 1870, 3941, 3942
YJ – 317
PL2 – 14
SY – 0354, 0635, 0799, 1030
KD – 3, 18, 19, 22, 51, 501, 512, 519, 540, 801, 815, 823, 1033
MT – 5, 6
DB - 508

Electric Locomotives
ED45 – 4501 – 4509
ED85 – 1004, 1009, 1010, 1119, 1120, 1126, 1127, 1128, 1129
Chinese 80t loco – 049, 058, 060, 063, 064, 067, 068, 078
Chinese 150t loco – 9348, 9349
EL2 100 – 1405, 1406, 1408, 1411, 1412
EL1 08 – 1501, 1502, 1503
EL1 23 – 2501, 2502, 2503

Table 2
Official statistics of Hegang Mining Railway – Selected Highlights 1949 to 1983
  1949 1960 1970 1983
Tons coal produced/yr 1,760,000 11,630,000 8,000,000 14,010,000
Total coal transported/yr 1,620,000 12,000,000 11,270,000 18,840,000
Tons coal carried on rail/yr 1,040,000 7,260,000 7,710,000 14,130,000
Passengers carried/yr 68,000 280,000 649,000 1,061,000
Route length (km) 130 170 157 195
Staff 784 3050 2577 3054
Note – output of coal is less than the tonnage carried by road and rail because of the need to carry coal from pits to washery and then to either the power station or China Rail

Anyway we found it hard to find the best spots as this was my first visit, Vernon was last here in 2000 and Adrian had been here for just an hour in October 2006. In the end we felt the best pictures were at:-

1. The climb from Fuli to Dalu, especially in the early morning
2.The crossing at Nanshan where one can catch electric and steam on the colliery railway and diesels on CNR
3.Jipei main yard
4.Near Cokeworks Junction on the power station line

One definitely needs more time to do this extensive system justice BUT during our 2 days there we observed:-
SY0498, 0635, 0799, 0905, 1498, 3013, 3014
Electrics – 1422, 1501, 2302, 2303, 2306, 2307, 2310
CNR – DF5 1511, 1513, DF4 2002, 3314, 5196, 7128

The morning passenger climbs from Fuli towards Jipei


All roads are full at Fuli station with 2 steam and 2 electric

At lunch time on 30th March we set off on a 6 hour drive to Harbin. The Chinese unease with driving was eloquently demonstrated as we trundled along the dual carriageway at 60 kph all because the driver had been caught for speeding by a radar trap. He hadn't noticed the police with a radar gun and was shocked to get the fine sent to his home in Harbin. The result was an almost supernatural fear of the police who he thought were everywhere! Eventually we tried to explain that he could go at least at the speed limit of 80-100 kph! We eventually got to Harbin to join the 2000 sleeper to Jalainur. As usual we were suffocated by overheating and were glad to get off into a crisp sunny morning at Jalainur.

Jailainur opencast pit and deep mines
31st March - 1st April

Like Duncan we found almost no coal working in the opencast and even the spoil trains were less numerous than at the time of our last visit in 2000. This was compensated by quite a lot of traffic to the deep mines. One interesting sequence of negotiations surrounded our attempts to visit the line to Linquan deep mine. Initially we were told there was “no traffic to the mine”. We then pointed out that we had seen three trains from the lip of the opencast, clearly going to the mine. Next we were told the road to the mine was poor and our bus would be unable to reach the mine! The road turned out to be well paved and blessed with fancy street lights all the way to the mine. Interestingly the power station near the mine does not appear to have a rail connection suggesting it might use other fuel sources, could this be why access to these deep mines is so difficult?

During our 2 day visit we observed the following locomotives

Opencast pit – SY0642, 0682, 0794, 0959, 1119, 1240, 1257, 1285, 1286, 1303, 1376, 1496, 1600, 1650, 1663, 1678, 1689
Jalainur South Station – SY1257, 1303, 1496, 1650, 3005
Deep mine lines and CNR exchange – SY0924, 1126, 1416, 1424, 1448, 1618, 1654, 1688
Workshops – 1371, 1690 (in bits)

Busy scene in the evening as 3 coal trains unload at the bottom of the opencast - the evening passenger is seen far above


Hydraulic leveller in action in the opencast


Empties from the CNR exchange, head for the deep mines


Jalainur from the air - the big pit and environs captured from the 1100 Manzhouli to Beijing (before a cloud got in the way!) - note the connection between Jalainur south station and Lingyuan pit and also note the rail connection to the power station (is it real or a diversion??)

We had a lazy morning taking a few pictures around Manzhouli, before visiting the Russian border to photograph JF1861 (plinthed) and an early MIG fighter also plinthed. We then flew with Hainan Airlines on the 1100 to Beijing. Here we visited the Railway bookshop (waste of time as there were only 3 books in English and training manuals for Chinese locos in Chinese do nothing for me!). We then retired for a celebratory supper, this being our quarter century and probably Vernon's last gricing (gunzelling) trip.

Home on BA038, another trip over. The company and food were superb. The steam action was better than anticipated, but it is clear that things are winding down even at these superb locations. With diesels expected this year at Jixi and Hegang, Jalainur running out of coal and Shibanxi basically a tourist railway, things look bleak for steam in 2008.

Finally - the team - picture at Mifeng reversing loop on the Shibanxi system - also title "beer for breakfast" - from left to right - Adrian Roberts, Alan Fengwang, Michael Rhodes, Vernon Murphy, Bob Avery, Nick Dodson


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© 2007 Michael Rhodes