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27th Extreme Steam Team Visit to China, 3rd - 16th December 2008

by Michael Rhodes

Panzhihua, Tiefa, Jixi and Jalainur

Michael Rhodes, Vernon Murphy & Steve Le Cheminant, accompanied by Alan Fengwang


This trip was initially conceived to fill in a few locations and also see some of the last QJs in Shandong province BUT as our plans evolved, so steam disappeared on an almost weekly basis! We had plans to revisit the Zoucheng and Laiwu areas, but steam finished at Laiwu Dong in August/September 2008 and the QJ working at Xintai was sparse and unpredictable. The coke factory at Yanzhou had QJs but all reports suggested access was difficult and the main colliery system there was down to just 2 operational QJs (as compared to 4 plus when we visited just over a year ago).

As regards the southern locations, the Sancha - Luocheng line dieselised on October 9th, Jiangyou was initially reported as dieselised, but after further enquiries direct with the steelworks railway department we were informed they have 3 operational SYs, just one of which runs once a day between the steelworks and the power plant – the other two are “stopped in the shed”. It seemed a heck of a trek for just one SY per day. Finally after lengthy negotiations we did manage to get permits to visit Panzhihua, but this was not easy and involved compulsory residence in the steelworks hotel and quite restricted access compared to steelworks visits of old.

So after all that we settled on a programme taking in Panzhihua, Tiefa, Jixi and Zhalainur. We had very much wanted to revisit Huanan but phone calls to the railway control room during our visit suggested there were no trains during our time in China because there was “no coal”.

Panzhihua, 5th - 6th December

BA039 to Beijing. CA422 1330 Beijing to Chengdu (Boeing 757). K117, 1810 Chengdu to Panzhihua. Arrived Panzhihua 0615 on 5th December and after breakfast in the steelworks hotel we went off to the works.

The steelworks here dates from 1970 and has three operational blast furnaces. Furnace 1 opened in 1970, furnaces 2 & 3 opened in 1971 and 1973 and are both now closed and replaced by more modern high capacity furnaces. Furnace 4 opened in 1989 and has a capacity of 1300 cubic metres and furnace 3(new) opened in 2005 with a capacity of 2000 cubic metres. The plant produces 5 million tonnes of steel a year and is the second largest producer of vanadium steel in the world. The company has recently purchased steel making facilities in Chengdu and this increases its output to 7 million tonnes per annum.
Our visit was actually great fun – we were given fetching yellow hard hats and taken to the railway linking the furnaces where there are several good vantage points. Thanks to a helpful guide we were also allowed to visit both the loco servicing depot at the eastern end of the complex (complete with operational turntable) and also the workshops which are now 100% kitted out to handle the large diesel fleet. It is clear that there is no major repair facility for steam here any more and the likelihood of steam lasting much more than another 12 months is tiny. They were commissioning some new 2008 plate orange GK diesels during our visit to add to the sizeable diesel fleet, so my guess is 6-9 months before this steam fleet is retired.

There are 8 active SYs, 4 operate between the furnaces and slag tips, 2 extra locos operate on the night shift according to the shed master and the final two SYs were in the workshops; one as a shunting pilot and the other receiving minor repairs.
Active or potentially active SYs were as follows:- 0320, 0482, 0562, 0624, 0694, 0830, 0831, 1297, 1646. Withdrawn or being cut up were:- 0170, 0172, 0174, 0399, 0621, 0828

We spent a second morning at the works and then transferred to Panzhihua CNR for N772, the 15.38 to Chengdu. After arriving at Chengdu at 0530 on 7th we went to the airport and took CA4185, the 0830 to Shenyang. From there we transferred by road to Tiefa.

Tiefa, 7th - 9th December

This time was spent on the Tiefa system which is basically a museum line now. I say this because the steam museum here has a 30 year lease which started back in 1998 and is marketing the system as a 220km museum line with steam. The museum itself at Daqing is really very well put together and last year had 3000 visitors (there were several Japanese and Chinese there the day we visited). Basically there are 3 SYs in steam (1770, 1771 & 1772) – they do not work the Faku branch at all and generally handle 2 of the other 3 passenger routes in combination with an aged BJ diesel (Daqing, Daming & Wangqian). They are allowed to haul empties (which we saw twice), but not loaded coal(according to the museum staff). Also here was SY 0448 from Beitai Steelworks being completely rebuilt.

Then by road to Shenyang Bei and took K2017, 1838 to Mudanjiang where we arrived at 0710 on 10th.

Jixi, 10th - 12th December

We spent most of our time on the Didao system which was fairly busy, although like all colliery systems one day may be frantic and the next very quiet.
Popped in to check out on Chengzihe etc and noted the track works mentioned by Duncan. Also inspected the 8 Henningsdorf electrics.

On 12-13th December, took N4, 1329, Mudanjiang to Harbin, then N91 1954, Harbin to Jalainur at 0845.

Jalainur, 13th - 15th December

This was spent on the absolutely wonderful Zhalainur system. Recent reports byJeff Cartledge document the changes here very well and also provide an excellent record of the loco fleet. I shall not repeat this but would refer the reader back to his 10th December report. As we travelled north-west we were warned the temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade so it was with some trepidation we alighted at Zhalainur to find it was a positively balmy minus 25!

Hopefully the attached pictures will add some idea of the changes mentioned by Jeff Cartledge in his report. Our information was that there are already 2 diesels at Zhalainur and the deep mine systems will be dieselised by the summer. I guess this is not surprising in that it won’t take more than 6 engines to eradicated steam. It also seems inevitable as the exchange sidings have been so extensively remodelled and enlarged, clearly with longer trains and diesels in mind. Certainly output from the deep mines is much greater than on our previous visits. As regards the opencast, much coal is already being removed by lorry and I would suspect it is only a matter of time before the loader in the base of the pit becomes surplus to requirements. For the time being however, the site of 21 locomotives within a single opencast mine has to be one of the wonders of the modern world.

On 15th December, after a fantastic morning at Zhalainur, we flew on HU7116, 1600, Manzhouli to Beijing. Overnight in the Holiday Inn and then home on BA038.
Things really are changing fast in China but it was amazing to photograph and enjoy so much steam action as we enter 2009!!

Michael Rhodes

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