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Steam in China - March 2008

by Ameling Algra

Shibanxi, Sandaoling and Xingyang

Though Chinese steam is coming to an end, I decided to go on my 25th trip in March 2008. My initial goal was to see the Shibanxi trains with yellow flowers – a long standing wish. I also used this trip to visit the brickworks railway in Xingyang- been there often but not often with working trains! And to go to one of the remoter steam locations, the Sandaoling open cast mine.
As always, the reports on sy-country were very useful; not so much for the well known locations (8th visit to Shibanxi, 4th to Xingyang), but for my ‘’new’’ destination Sandaoling. The maps of Mr Wu, John Agnew and Bernd Seiler, along with the detailed travel info from Florian Menius and Roger Blundell, made going into an unknown area very easy.


Wednesday March 5/Thursday March 6
Fly KLM from Amsterdam to Chengdu. Plane touches ground in Chengdu March 6 at 13.17 ; eighteen minutes later at 13.35 I was outside the airport, having gone through immigration, got my luggage, changed money and bought two airline tickets (Chengdu-Ürümqi and Ürümqi-Zhengzhou).
I intended to stay overnight in Chengdu & go to Qianwei the following day – no need to hurry. But as I slept very well on the only half full plane & things went so swiftly, I decided to go to Shi Zhan bus station and on to Qianwei the same afternoon. Got into the Bai He hotel in Qianwei at 5 PM, standard room for 80 Yuan – and to bed after a marvellous dinner for 15 Yuan; the restaurant is the main reason to stay in this hotel.

Friday March 7
Decided to go to the end of the line, to check out the best flower positions. The change of timetable about a year ago makes it necessary to use a taxi to get to the 6AM train; 30 Yuan. As the train left Bagou, there was just enough light to video it – another disadvantage of the new timetable, though it does make sense from a local point of view. Loco nr 9 lost all its attributes.
Coal train after the first passenger, with loco nr 10 and SY-tender. Tourist coach on the second & third passenger and a tourist special after the second passenger. A lot of building at Huancunjing (museum under construction). Concrete blocks around this station make it photographically difficult. The platform at Bagou has been ‘’improved’’ as well.
Was charged 25 Yuan for the ride, the return on the third passenger cost 15 Yuan.

Saturday March 8
Very foggy so found no taxi driver willing to take me to Shibanxi. Took the first bus at 6.15 to Yuejin instead. Went to the local bus station where they told me the bus does no longer run from there but from the main bus station. Service very much improved: a modern bus every ten minutes, and 3.5 Yuan (was 5 Yuan). The buses are marked ‘’ 三井 ‘’ (third mine / SanJing as Yuejing is locally known).
No coal train today but a three coach passenger and no tourist coaches on the regular passengers.
I inspected the new apartment building overlooking the station, hoping there would be a decent hotel in it. What I thought might be a hotel turned out to be a hospital. Later I heard there is a hotel in the building....
Nice pictures of the train in the snow on the notice board near the station.

Sunday March 9
As I left the hotel, the rain started pouring down & I could not find a taxi so went back to the hotel. At about 8 AM the prospect of staying in the hotel room was less inviting than at 5 AM, and the weather was better, so I took a bus to SanJing for the second passenger & the yellow flowers around Mifeng.
I was lucky: not only could I video the departure of the second passenger (with tourist coach), but also the freight seemed to have waited till the weather cleared up and ran shortly after the second passenger. No European gricers seen, many Chinese and Japanese. Helpful Chinese gricers helped me up on a slippery path for a good position for the freight – slipping among the yellow flowers.

Walked to Caiziba for the third passenger which was over half an hour late but had two engines: loco 10 as helper. Nice departure in sun – with tourist coach....

Monday March 10
I decided to take the first bus out again and then walk to Mifeng from SanJing. It is possible to reach Mifeng before the return of the first passenger and the up freight that usually seems to cross the passenger there. One freight running.

Tuesday March 11
Same program, different positions. No double header this time, two freights, and no tourist coach on the passenger trains.

Was Shibanxi worthwhile?
As mentioned, it was my 8th visit. Looking back at my video, I am certainly happy I went. The weather was poor, and the tourist coaches are on most regular passengers, but I got my first beautiful yellow flower shots.
Actually, I find the ‘’new’’ timetable a bigger nuisance than the tourist coaches. It is impossible to reach the first passenger by public transport, the first train runs in the dark most of the year, and the gap between the second and third passenger is now very long.

Wednesday March 12
Raining (again) so decided to go to Chengdu by bus. Stay in the Traffic Hotel 160 Yuan and a good meal at McDonalds. Could not find the book store I was looking for but maybe I confused the city centre of Chengdu with Harbin or Zhengzhou – these centres all look the same....

Thursday March 13
Sunny weather – of no use as I had to take a flight to Ürümqi. Cost just over 1000 Yuan, bought on arrival March 6. Quite a distance – almost half way between Amsterdam and Chengdu! Went by airport bus to the centre (10 Yuan) and then by taxi to the railway station (6 Yuan). As it had not been a very busy day, I decided to take the overnight to Hami – 148 Yuan soft sleeper leaving at 23.35 and arriving at 8AM. Long but reasonably comfortable wait at the soft sleeper waiting room. Then on the train to find it is a double decker sleeper. The soft sleepers are quite cramped into the double decker, no room for any luggage. Lucky the Chinese travel light!


Friday March 14
Arrival in Hami on time (8 AM); to the bus station where a minibus to Sandaoling was about to leave. Easy to recognise: San (three, in the name again). At 10 AM I was in the YinHe hotel, good room for 120 Yuan. After breakfast and some rest went out to the open cast mine, the west side. Took a taxi which demanded 20Yuan for the trip Way too much but as I did not like an almost violent argument in the middle of nowhere, I paid. Hope I did not spoil it for future visitors. Did my thing in the open cast mine there, indeed very busy. And got a free ride into town.
A warning about the hotel: till 2AM there was load karaoke going on (as well as the next night). To keep me from sleeping, you need more than just loud karaoke but I think some of you might find this disturbing so might prefer the other good hotel in town (YinHu?)

Saturday March 15
Off to the west side again, to see the passenger. No taxi willing to drive me there – they pointed out there was a free workmen’s bus at 8.30 (leaving across the street from the bus terminal). This worked fine. Passenger SY, as were all ‘’extra’’ trains with steam cranes and the like. No SY seen on regular coal or waste trains.
Got a free ride from inside the pit to town again, and then spent the afternoon at the eastern end. Somewhat less busy but also OK.

Sunday March 16
To the west end with the workman’s bus again. Spent the whole day in the pit walking from west to east.

Monday March 17
To Nanzhan or Nanchan by taxi. Saw a train at the level crossing from a distance (no banker), but then no activity at all till 10 AM. Returned to the hotel and then to the bus terminal for the 12.00 bus to Ürümqi (ticket bought March 15 at the terminal). Comfortable ride of almost 8 hours, through desert and mountains, 80 Yuan. There is also an overnight sleeper bus. Went by taxi to the Kongque Dasha near the China Southern booking office, hoping the airport bus would start from there – it does not. But the hotel is good, for 148 Yuan a night. Breakfast from 8AM and checkout time is 2 PM ‘’Beijing time’’....

About Sandaoling:
I am glad I went there. It is far out but the level of activity makes it very interesting. But – if one has to choose between the two open cast mines, I think Jalai Nur has more photographic potential than Sandaoling and has more interesting surroundings as well.
I was never disturbed by any official – no film taken, no fine of RMB2000 either, like mentioned in previous reports. So – maybe I was lucky. Or they relaxed their attitude. Or maybe they just bother groups with guides and are not interested in solo travellers with communication problems. Or this is just one of the stories invented by guides to prove their necessity.

Tuesday March 18
By taxi to the airport (28 Yuan). Through security, which was strict but efficient. Luggage unpacked and controlled, had to take my shoes off. Then nice flight in sunshine to Zhengzhou (ticket was just under Y1000), saw Sandaoling from the air, a fine sight. Airport bus to airline booking office, then taxi to Tian E Binguan (above bus station, Y100) in Zhengzhou. As I knew from last year, the taxi drivers at the airport bus stop are a greedy lot asking 70 Yuan for the trip. So I walked out and found one using the meter (7 yuan). Bought D1 class train ticket for D train to Beijing on Thursday.


Wednesday March 19
To the brickworks railway – everything went wrong. Took bus 1 from the hotel. After a long ride without a bus station in view, I decided they must have changed its route so got off and took a taxi to the Xi bus station. This turned out to be a different bus station from the one I used before. Got a ticket to Xingyang though, for a bus an hour later. This bus needed 45 minutes to leave the bus station, lost another 15 minutes for petrol and 30 minutes at road works. And threw me out way outside Xingyang. There was a local bus number 2 standing, so I asked & was invited in. A long ride through modern Xingyang and then suddenly the bus driver told me to get off. Why?? I got off and found a stop of bus 5, the bus going to the narrow gauge line. She had probably guessed where I wanted to go! In the end I reached the narrow gauge line at noon – but soon I forgot all about these troubles as the train was running up and down. Went to the main road near the bridge when the light started to fail at 5 PM. To the traffic circle where a bus to Zhengzhou picked me up and brought me to the small bus station from where buses to Xingyang depart, the one I knew from previous trips. And, bus 1 still runs along it – total return journey time about one hour. So, for future visitors, the advice is still: take bus 1 from the railway station. Some time after it goes underneath the railway line, the bus turns right. Then it goes straight on for quite a while, turns left at a shopping mall with Macdonalds. Then another long straight & you see a small bus station at the left side, next to a market. Immediately afterwards, the bus turns left again.

Thursday March 20
A comfortable ride on D134, then on to Rob and Yuehong Dickinson for a pleasant afternoon evening and night.

Friday March 21
KLM to Amsterdam

Ameling Algra

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© 2008 Ameling Algra