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Steam in Guangxi Province - February 2008

by Peter Semmelroch

Yemao, Sancha, Guanglin

I’m living in Shanghai, China since January and as all Chinese have now the questionable pleasure of receiving 7 days off during Chinese New Year, this year from Feb 6th to 12th.
What to do with 7 free days in SY-country, when everybody discourages one from travelling during that time, not to speak from this year’s snow chaos in central and parts of southern China? OK, after serious consultations with my Chinese colleagues it should be no problem to travel during Chinese New Year and to find hotel accommodation during this time, you just should not travel before or after the holidays! In fact that proved to be true in the end, but the second question is where to go, as many smaller industrial complexes tend to shut down and traffic levels come close to zero in many places?
My answer: Go to GuangXi, which was always my favourite province in China, at least as long as JS ruled the secondary lines emerging from Hechi, Sancha and Laibin.

So here’s my report and to cut a long story short, the journey would have been a success, if only the weather would have been better, but during my whole stay in Guangxi there was no chance to see the sun, it was overcast throughout, with the exception of arrival day (6th of Feb) and departure day (12th of Feb) both maliciously being sunny…

6th of February, Wednesday (New Year’s Eve)

Flight from Shanghai to Guilin, overnight in Guilin, hotel for the night had been booked in advance via elong.

Luocheng and Yemao, 7th of February (Thursday)

Hired a taxi to YiZhou (the taxi that took me the day before from the airport to the hotel in Guilin), the driver quoted 900 Yuan but I bargained him down to 800 for the 270 km from Guilin to Yizhou. The whole way is an almost empty motorway; travelling time was less than 2.5 hours. It was no problem to find a hotel in Yizhou (directly at the station for Yuan 100/night, too expensive for the services they offered, there are certainly better options available in town). After settling down took a taxi in the city centre to Luocheng (approx. 55 km), taxi driver quoted 400 Yuan for the half day – it was 11.30 a.m. already).
Reached Luocheng at 12, the station was extinct, nobody there, not one wagon in the station, all rails rusty, certainly not used for several days already. I went to the loco shed some 500 m to the south. The shed was empty and also extinct, not one human being was around. JS 8374 was standing in derelict condition on one of the two tracks while in the locked shed was JS 8376 cold, I could only look at the loco from the front and the rear, and it looked quite good, so probably still serviceable (?), but locked away. I was a little bit shocked and my conclusion was: the line might be shut down. I was at a loss with the situation, and decided to go to Yemao to have a look at the operations there. Reached Yemao after an hour or so, taxi driver had in the meantime understood what I intended and tried to drive into the well-known factory in Yemao after questioning at Yemao station had yielded that the steam loco at Yemao was still active, but next visit to the station was due for 11pm only. Of course driving into the factory (what the hell do they produce there?) was not possible, but the guards at the railway crossing suggested to just walk right in along the tracks, which I would not have dared to, but taxi driver and one of the guards urged me into it, and so we went. What a surprise: After approx. 750m inside the factory we found SY1702 in ex-works condition, sitting around, doing nothing. The loco sported 1981 builder plates, not from Tangshan. Behind her in the shed was SY 0917, cold, probably not serviceable any more. (That loco was the working loco during my last visit there in 2004/11). Interestingly 1702 faced with the funnel towards Yemao, while 0917 faced with the tender towards Yemao. The famous shot with the pinnacle between the factory and Yemao would now be possible again with the loco funnel first! Nevertheless as no action was to take place anymore today I left somehow pleased with having seen a loco in steam, and to leave the factory again without any hassle.

Sancha, Chayezhan and Guanglin, 8th of February (Friday)

In the morning drove to Sancha, to see whether the train (mixed or freights only would still run). The train didn’t show up, but the crossing with the main road in Sancha was still manned and the rails were shiny, so had been used during the last day(s). At midday, the crossing guard left at 11.30 we left to drive to the other side of the river to the station called Chayezhan (Bernd Seiler’s excellent map) or Chayan (Dick Walker’s excellent report from 12/2004 refers).. This is a drive of over 1 hour from Sancha, but what can you do? In Chayezhan some 3 or 4 wagons were found, some of them loaded, but no loco. My guess was that a diesel of CNR might bring in the wagons and the SY reportedly in use in nearby Guanglin fertilizer works takes the wagons from Chayezhan to the works. We finally drove to the fertilizer works and entered (as done the day before in Yemao) along the rails until we found inside the factory at a stabling point SY 0371 in light steam. A guy just firing up the loco told us that due to Chinese new year the loco had not run for 3 days but would go back to work tomorrow.
We went home again to Yizhou to return the next morning.

Chayezhan, Sancha and Luocheng, 9th of February (Saturday)

Drove from Yizhou directly to Chayezhan. (Very easy via the motorway, 31 km from Yizhou city to Guanglin/Liutang exit then 4 km to Chayan/Chayezhan, where the sugar producing factory is situated which can easily be detected from a far distance). Surprisingly over 30 wagons were in the station, together with JS 8284 parked on one of the roads in light steam! Where had it been the previous days??? Soon the action started. SY 0371 arrive at about 8.30 am, taking water in Chayezhan then shunting together 36 wagons (C62-style) all loaded with a kind of stone flint (no coal!) and leaving at about 9.30 tender first with the whole load into the long 0.3% grade towards the Guanglin fertilizer factory (I mean almost 3000 tons gross…) giving a somehow surreal spectacle after two days of non-action.
After some questioning in the station, it was clear that from the 6 wagons left in the station five were bound for Luocheng and one for Sancha. So we drove to Sancha (of course not crossing the river this time) and indeed at about 11 a.m the JS showed up with one loaded wagon across the famous bridge (possibly the best photo spot for steam in China in 2008) and returned with another loaded coach at 11.30. We made it back to Chayezhan where JS 8284 shunted together all remaining wagons and left at about 1 pm for Luocheng. We also made it towards Luocheng via Liutang (a reasonable road is available, unfortunately wide away from the railway) and arrived there after a good hour, but still before the goods train That showed up with still all 6 wagons about 30 minutes later, it was clear telling by the roads that it was the first train to reach Luocheng for several days. The loco shunted around the 6 wagons one was loaded with coal for the coal bunker to coal the loco itself!, so obviously there is no more traffic beyond Luocheng with the coal mines at Qiaerzhan finally closed, and then went into the depot to rest for the rest of the day.

Chayezhan, Sancha and Luocheng, 10th of February (Sunday)

Again Chayezhan in the morning, new wagons had arrived suggesting that during the night both the SY of Guangling fertilizer factory as well as JS 8284 of Sancha-Luocheng local railway had been working to Chayezhan, respective Sancha. Looked for a photo position where the new-built CNR-line Liuzhou-western Guangxi crosses the Sancha-Luocheng-line (approx 1.5 km south of Chayezhan station). At about 8 am a steam train reached Chayezhan from the north, at about 8.30 SY 0371 appeared from the south with four empty wagons to bring into Cayezhan. SY 0371 returned light engine about 45 minutes later and another 30 minutes later JS8284 went to Sancha, hauling 41 (!) empty wagons (C62-style) to Sancha CNR-station. Went to Sancha river bridge, where around 11 am JS 8284 went back again to Chayezhan with 3 new wagons. We went directly to Luocheng to phot the train in the fantastic landscape before Luocheng, but the train never arrived. We gave up after 3 pm went back to Yizhou.

Chayezhan, 11th of February (Monday)

Again to Chayezhan in the morning, SY arrived at 8 am already with a load of 3 empties only. The same wagons the JS had hauled the day before from Sancha. That’s why it never reached Luocheng! SY returned already to Guangling fertilizer factory 30 minutes later with four wagons (P62-style). After this nothing, by 2 pm no JS had shown up. I had to leave to Guilin (again 800 Yuan, 230 km from Liutang interchange).

12th of February (Tuesday)

Sunny! Flight back from Guilin to SH.


Yemao Nylon Works (according to Duncan’s appreciated homepage) still use steam and seemingly plan to do so in the future. They have SY 1702 in ex-works condition available which faces in the right direction and leaves the factory to enter Yemao station (approx. 2 km) about 2-3 times in 24 hours. A very good photo spot is available, you just have to be a little patient to get a master shot (weather permitting….). SY 0917 is cold/dumped inside the factory shed.
SY 0371 is the only available working loco. The loco ventures out of the factory usually twice a day; one time in the morning between 7.30 and 9.00 a.m. to enter CHAYEZHAN to exchange wagons there, the second time is not known, but presumably in late afternoon or early evening. The line from Guangling factory to Chayezhan station is approx. 3-4 km long and extremely scenic to the Guangling end with fantastic photo spots for the trains from Guangling to Chayezhan with rivers and pinnacles in the fore- and background albeit downhill funnel first.
LUOCHENG-SANCHA local railway:
3 JS are still around, 8374 dumped and certainly no more serviceable, JS 8376 locked in the shed looking reasonably well and JS 8284 working.
The truth is that Sancha is served at least once a day but that can also be the night shift only. The loco stables at Chayezhan then, when there is no need to go to Luocheng anymore. During my 5 days there only 6 wagons had to be transferred to Luocheng, one more was waiting on the 11th. The line to Luocheng is extremely scenic, but with one train only and that not running daily… (Might be a candidate for a charter special, Bernd???)
The new line from Liuzhou to western Guangxi is close to finish construction. It crosses the Sancha-Luocheng railway approximately 1.5 km south of Chayezhan and 2.5 km north of the Sancha river bridge. A connection from the new line into Chayezhan station has already been built. That may mean the end of the famous Sancha river bridge soon, Chayezhan may be served through the new railway line, the SY of the fertilizer factory doing the rest. JS 8284 (last overhaul in 2004 Liuzhou works as with JS 8376, see my 2004 report) might not be useable for long anymore (Where has Yemao’s SY 1702 been overhauled recently?), so what will happen to this fantastic railroad in the future?
I assume a closure north of Chayezhan might be imminent.

Peter Semmelroch, 12.2.08

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© 2008 Peter Semmelroch