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Steam in China, October - November 2008

by Dave Fielding

Part 2: Gongwusu, Baiyin, Sandaoling

Gongwusu, Nov 5th – Nov 6th

On the evening of Nov 4th, train 2635 arrived more or less on time at Wuhai, the city used as a base for visiting Gongwusu. Mike soon arranged a small "van bus" which we used for the following two days. But he hadn't booked accommodation for our stay, the Xing Yun Hotel (used by Duncan Cotterill on his March 2008 visit) didn't have rooms for a two night stay, two further hotels couldn't help us and we ended up staying for the night at the expensive multi-storey Blue Dream Hotel. Despite the late hour, I wasn't ready for an early night and went out with Mike for a meal. The manageress of the restaurant where we fed made it clear exactly what kind of a hotel we were staying at, the name says it all.

We checked out of the hotel next morning, and searched round for alternative rooms for the night. Mike tried a hotel visited the night before which now had vacancies but couldn't book foreigners, an echo of the "old" China. We finally ended up at the Xing Yun. No lift said Mike, but it didn't matter as we were on the ground floor. By 9:15 we were on the road to Gongwusu arriving around 10:10.Using Duncan's excellent map we soon had our bearings and found JS 6251 (no chimney cowling) in steam on a track in the Coal Railway washery yard. It was 11:00 before there was any action, when the JS propelled some loaded wagons along the connection to China Railway and reversed into the CR yard. Shortly after a CR DF4 arrived with a train of empties and the JS was soon propelling wagons back to the washery yard.

We then positioned ourselves on the branch to Mine no. 3, and at 12:30, JS 6251 appeared with a long train of empties, but with the weather so mild, it was making very little exhaust. Following this we decided to check the loco servicing point. Here we found two SY in steam and another SY derelict. SY 0934 appeared to be undergoing some kind of testing as it was being run up and down and sometimes did not get correctly into gear. It may have been that the other SY, 1315, had brought it to the servicing point from the loco depot and assisted 0934 in raising steam. Later a group of workmen appeared from the depot and observed the performance of 0934. 1315 did nothing more than move to a track where its fire was cleaned. The derelict SY 0360 was attached to a tender which was frame and bogies only. We didn't venture towards the wagon works which was probably the reason we didn't see the other derelict noted by Duncan on his visit, SY 1053. In the depot we found the other two JS, 6249 separated from its tender under repair in the workshop and 6250 on a road in the running shed with a crane on the second road.

In the meantime 6251 had returned from Mine no. 3. At 16:00, it pulled a train of loads from the washery yard along the connection to the CR. After this, it set off with just 2 wagons to Mine no. 3, returning at 17:10 with around 22 loads, arriving just after a CR DF4 brought in more empties to the CR yard. At 17:20 the JS left the washery yard heading south pushing 4 wagons. I thought this movement was towards the servicing point but investigation the next day suggested it might not have been. It was getting dark now and we set off back to Wuhai after an interesting day. I don't know why, but despite the weather being so mild, I had been wearing my long johns. One look at them back at the Hotel and I realised just how dirty a place Gongwusu was, the long johns were abandoned for the rest of the trip.

On our second day we left the Xing Yun at 8:15, reaching Gongwusu about 9:25, after 15 minutes shopping for snacks and fruit for the day on the way. JS 6251 was in the CR yard on a string of empties which it transferred to the coal railway yard. It then split the train and disappeared to the south with half the wagons. A DF4 departed from the CR yard on a train of loads and at 10:25 6251 returned from the south with loaded wagons. In the report of his visit, Duncan Cotterill wrote that coal from the opencast mines was taken out by road, but his map shows a line still in situ to a point between the New and Original opencast mines. Although I didn't follow this line, it must lead to a coal transfer point from road to rail. We hadn't appreciated this on our first day.

6251 collected more loaded wagons from the washery, transferred the loads to CR and returned with empties. In the mean time the rest of the group, who had anticipated an empty wagon working to Mine no. 3 and had staked out a phot spot returned to the yard. The arrival of more empties looked promising so we all returned to the level crossing to the New opencast mine. The level crossing keeper kept Mike informed, but then had to run back to lower the crossing barriers as the train approached at 13:40 after we'd been waiting around for some (lunch?) time.

We again checked out the servicing point where no locos were present. In the workshop/running shed area, SY 0934 was in light steam on the road leading to the workshop, inside the running shed JS 6250 was now on the same road as the crane and SY 1315, not in steam, on the other road.

We set off back to the washery from where 6251 departed light engine to the opencast loading point and returned with a loaded train. At 15:45 it propelled empties to the loading point later returning light engine. As final action 6251 took 6 tar tankers in the direction of the servicing point and then attached them to a string of tankers on the "third side" of the triangle, before continuing for servicing.

Loco status with works plate data where noted:-

JS 6249 In workshop under repair
JS 6250 In running shed, not in steam
JS 6251 Working
SY 0360 Derelict at servicing point
SY 0934Tangshan 1/1975In steam
SY 1053 Not seen (derelict beside wagon repair shop)
SY 1315Tangshan 8/1984In steam first day, then running shed, not in steam

JS 6251 prepares to move loaded coal wagons from the washery to the CR yard.

JS 6251 on a train of empty wagons for mine no. 3 approaches the level crossing to the new opencast mine.

JS 6251 with a train of coal from a loading point between the two opencast mines,
the right hand track leads to the loco servicing point.

SY 1315 and SY 0934 in steam at the loco servicing point.

Although Gongwusu is basically a one loco operation, without a great length of track, there is a variety of operations and a visit is worthwhile. It must rank as one of the filthiest locations for steam in China, the road operated opencast mines taking most of the blame. Maybe it was where our bus was parked, but on one occasion it was infested by scores of flies.
We set off back to Wuhai for an evening meal and to board train 2635 for the overnight journey in a soft class sleeper to Baiyin.

Baiyin, Nov 7th – Nov 8th

Train 2635 gives an arrival at Baiyin Xi by 6:00, where we boarded our bus to check into our hotel for a quick shower to remove the remnants of Gongwusu dirt. Sustained by a breakfast of dumplings, we headed for the line between Sanyelian and Shenbutong, just before Dengchanggou halt. The Shenbutong passenger, loaded to 7 coaches, hauled by SY 0612 appeared at 8:23, the gorge still being in shadow. It returned, calling at the halt at 9:15, when the light was brighter. The empty tipper train of 14 wagons for the copper mine struggled past at 10:15 with SY 1583 being worked hard.
We then visited Gongsi yard where there were far more yellow tank cars than seen on previous visits. Looking at the rust on some of the tracks on which they were standing they couldn't have moved for many months. We visited the depot workshop and were very disappointed to find it occupied by DFH5 0117 (Ziyang 1979) which is understood to belong to Baiyin 805 Military Factory. The only loco in the running shed was SY 0965 having minor repairs to its motion. In the shed yard was SY 2008 not in steam and, just leaving, SY 1581. In the compound next to the shed yard, along with some coaches, were SY 0819 out of use, JS 8021 derelict and 2 other unidentified SYs, also derelict. On the track at the back of the running shed alongside the workshop were stored SY 0150 and SY 1097, both from the Nanlingcheng Railway, with between them SY 1470, a long time Baiyin favourite with its cab side decorations.

From the suspension footbridge, we watched SY 0612 enter the workshop to pull out DFH5 0117, leave it in the yard, run round and then move it to the running shed yard. At 12:00 SY 1047 arrived light engine from the Sanyelian direction. It was confirmed for us that the lunch time school trains no longer run. By the way, I noted that the permit card displayed behind our bus windscreen pictured SY 1605, as far as I know a loco unconnected with Baiyin.

Mike had been told a steam loco repair would start in the workshop the following week. Walking through the running shed yard we noted two workers in the adjacent compound checking out SY 0819, and my first reaction was that the gate must be open and I could check the identities of the two derelict SYs. However I was mistaken, the two men hadn't had a key to unlock the compound gates, one was slim enough to squeeze through the gap between the gates and the other climbed over. One carried papers on which he'd been writing notes and the other a rusty looking air horn removed from the loco. Of course the air horn could have been removed for repair and fitting to another loco, but it has since been reported that SY 0819 has entered the workshop. It will be interesting to see if it works again considering the imminent dieselisation. Mike was informed that 7 diesels are on order for the second half of 2009, with maybe three in the first batch. Subsequent reports suggest the diesels will arrive in April 2009.

We stayed around Gongsi yard. Action noted included at 14:00, SY 1047 arrived from Sanyelian with yellow tankers, at 14:30 SY 1583 and SY 1581 top and tailed wagons towards Sanyelian then SY 0612 emerged tender first from the smelter to the east with 10 wagons and 8 tankers. In the distance a SY could be seen on the slag working, pushing a "guard's van" and 2 slag ladle tippers, pulling a flat wagon with low sides. It returned after 15 minutes. SY 1581 and SY 1047 went on shed and at 15:55 SY 1583 returned from Sanyelian with wagons and tankers. After this diesel GK1C 0427 arrived in the yard with 3 wagons and 5 tankers. At 16:30 SY 1047 left from the sidings with empty coaches which we followed to Sanyelian, where it formed the well loaded 16:50 back to Baiyin. At 17:30, back at Gongsi, SY 0612 arrived on the passenger from Shenbutong. Just one night's hotel here; I didn't care much for the evening meal taken in a restaurant near the hotel, nothing wrong with the omelette but I didn't like the taste of the oil used to cook the other dishes.

Next morning we set out to the same spot between Sanyelian and Shenbutong. Mike, driver and bus departed as Mike was to leave us and catch a train (or bus?) to Lanzhou to meet John, Kevin and Ewen, taking them to Shibanxi (flight Lanzhou-Chengdu). The weather was cloudy but some of us did attempt phots when SY 0612, again, appeared on the passenger. SY 0612 returned on the downhill passenger, but without the empty tipper train appearing by 11:30, we packed up and boarded our bus which had returned in the mean time. Passing Sanyelian we noted SY 1013, not seen previously, shunting wagons into the factory.

Locos seen with works plate data where noted:-

JS 8021

 Derelict in compound next to shed yard

SY 0150

 Nanlingcheng Railway, stored alongside workshop

SY 0612


SY 0819

 Stored in compound next to shed yard

SY 0965

Tangshan 3/1975Running shed, minor repairs

SY 1013


SY 1047


SY 1097

 Nanlingcheng Railway, stored alongside workshop

SY 1470

 Stored alongside workshop

SY 1581


SY 1583


SY 2008 (0701)

Tangshan 8/1973Running shed yard, not in steam
Unidentified were 2 derelict SY in the compound next to the running shed yard and we did not visit the yard where 3 other derelict JS are stored.

SY 1583 approaches Dengchanggou halt at walking pace on empty tippers for the copper mine.

SY 0612 departs Gongsi yard on the afternoon passenger to Shenbutong.

There is now an Expressway from Baiyin to Lanzhou, and at 13:30 we arrived at Lanzhou to be met by Tao. He had been the Sandaoling guide for John, Kevin and Ewen, who were now flying to Chengdu with Mike. As we joined our train T295 to Hami, we noted a well filled Beijing to Lhasa train at an adjacent platform. During our journey we took our evening meal in the restaurant car, as ever the "No smoking" signs remain purely for decoration.

Sandaoling, Nov 9th – Nov 12th

At 6:30 we were away from Hami in our bus, as usual accompanied by Mrs Gou as local guide. This was David Gorton's second visit to Sandaoling and at his suggestion, because he felt he hadn't previously given sufficient attention to the connection to CR at Liushuquan, we started each day by checking out the CR yard for a working back.

As we had travelled so far west, it was still dark as we arrived Liushuquan just as:
7:45, loaded train arrived in the yard.
8:25, second loaded train arrived.
9:55, 53 empties top and tailed by JS 6208 and JS 6204 departs.

We noted that at the east end of Nanzhan yard a new siding was being constructed alongside the lines to CR and the deep mines. By a reversal the siding would provide access to a new line being built on a low embankment running west and some way south of Nanzhan yard. This new line would then connect to existing track south of the loco storage compound and depot/workshop.

On the second day, it was pitch black as we left the hotel at 7:35 for the CR yard. Most of our time this day was spent making observations of workings on the CR connection and the branch to the two deep mines.
8:30, daylight and plumes of steam at both ends of the yard indicated a train preparing to depart.
8:40, JS 8366 and JS 8314 depart with 54 empties (37 C63As followed by 17 C62BKs, a slightly different wagon type, shorter but higher sided)
9:35, JS 6208 on 20 loaded wagons from the deep mines.
10:50, top and tailed loaded wagons depart Nanzhan yard for Liushuquan.
11:50, JS 6208 and JS 6204 returned to Nanzhan with 42 empties.
12:40, SY 1729, working hard, on empties towards deep mine 2 (Erjing), its distant exhaust indicated it continued on to mine 1 (Yijing), there must be a summit between the two mines.
Subsequently two JS hauled trains of loads from Erjing.
14:15, JS 6204 on loads held at signal to enter CR yard at Liushuquan.
15:35, following train of loads with JS 6208 held at same signal for 35 minutes. 17:05, SY 1729 again pushing empties to the deep mines.

On the third day, we left the hotel at 7:50, heading towards Liushuquan, the weather was a bit brighter with a little dawn colour in the sky.
8:15, JS 6204 and JS 6208 on top and tailed loads held at entry to CR yard for 15 minutes.
9:40, JS 6208 and JS 6204 return with top and tailed empties.
9:55, JS with empties from Nanzhan to deep mines.

On our final day, we set off in the dark at 7:45. As dawn broke, the sky was cloudy with some breaks.
9:00, JS 6208 and JS 8314 top and tailing a loaded train held at signal to enter CR yard for 20 minutes.
9:55, the two JS returned coupled light engines, so on our fourth day, luck had run out.
10:15, back at Nanzhan, SY 1729 again in action propelling empties to deep mines, making a fine display as it left the yard.
10:40, JS 6203 light engine to Liushuquan.
SY 1593 with steam crane at Nanzhan yard loading rail onto a flat wagon.

Returning to our first day and observations of workings away from the CR and deep mines connections, we noted JS 6205 and crane were working on the embankment at the washery unloading point for coal from the opencast mine. The sections of grills that prevented large lumps of coal passing to the washery were being replaced one by one.

We went for our first visit to Xibolizhan. Here I was told to remove my red anorak. Just as well the weather was reasonably mild with the sun shining. Irecalled a similar request on my last visit to the opencast mine in 2007. I assume the wearing of red is some kind of danger signal. After some time watching the spoil trains passing through the yard at ground level, we climbed the ridge to the south of the yard for a superb overall view of operations with the Tian Mountains in the background. Traffic was intense, reviewing my video showed that at times, loaded spoil trains were being propelled through to the tips every 2 or 3 minutes. SYs 1593 and 1720 both arrived, each with a crane and other wagons, before reversing back towards the opencast mine. After over three hours here it was still sunny but some clouds had appeared. As well as the SYs, 17 different JSs were seen in action.

We had a brief look at Dongbolizhan, where a couple of JS were noted and on the way to our hotel saw that JS 6205 was still busy at Nanzhan blocking the unloading of coal from the opencast mine.

We spent all the second day around Nanzhan and the connection to Liushuquan. I did note the operation of a load of coal from the opencast mine on the track behind the stored loco compound. It must have reached this point by the 180° curve from Dongbolizhan. The train reversed onto a more southerly track, then propelled forward a short way where the coal was unloaded. From here it would have to be taken away in road vehicles. My guess is that coal for distribution by road used to be taken on the line leading towards Sandaoling town, but that line now looks to be disused. On my previous visit when the line was in use, the assistance of a second loco was required for a loaded train to reach the town.

On our third day we were joined by a company manager and visited the compound of stored and dumped locomotives, which contained 13 JS and 2 SY. In conversation with the manager, David Gorton was told the locos were classified as either “boiler repairable” or “boiler finished”, with JS 8384 and SY 1784 (at least) being repairable. He was also told there were no plans to purchase additional locos. There is evidence that some of Sandaoling's JS have been re-numbered and from the cleanliness of some of the air cylinder plates, it appears that someone has recently been doing further checking. Two that caught my eye were JS 6203 with plate 6098, dated 2/02 and JS 8077 with plate 8118, dated 11/99. When the manager was questioned about re-numberings, David Gorton was told that “some locos bought could not be identified and were given a number, but when their correct number was known were re-numbered with their correct number”. I must admit I don't quite understand this, at least they can't be taking the number off the air cylinder to identify a loco. We then visited the three road running shed and found JS 8366 and JS 8194 here for planned inspections, and JS 8040 for unscheduled attention. JS 8194 was noted to have a Datong plate dated 1995 on the right hand side. Deeper in the shed on the middle road was SY 1304, a loco I had seen in the compound on previous visits. I knew it was active again and, with its cast number plates on cab sides and tender, I had hoped to see it in action. It was jacked up without wheels, which, along with its tender, were further along the centre track. In fact the centre and right hand tracks now continue into a new extension of the depot which was completed earlier in 2008, the right hand and end walls are new but the left hand wall is mostly the already existing workshop wall.

In the workshop we found JS 8027 nearing the end of a full overhaul, its boiler had been tested and was being relagged with fibre glass insulation. Before overhaul it had been stored in the compound where we had earlier seen its tender, but another tender was being overhauled for the loco's use. David Gorton was told that a full overhaul required 50 days and an intermediate repair, as for SY 1304, took 12 days. He was also told that SY 1304 was obtained from "a coal mine in Inner Mongolia".

We spent some time in the workshop and when we returned to the running shed we found SY 1304 had been re-wheeled so a photo opportunity had been lost. Trevor was of the opinion that whilst we were in the workshop, an accompanying security man had tried to attract his attention to something but at the time Trevor hadn't understood but guessed it must have been about the action we were missing.

Returning to day light and the running shed yard, JS 6223 had arrived with its crew wanting staff to check on some problem.

We then took our lunch at a "greasy dumpling" establishment in the town. Two plates piled high with dumplings were brought from across the road where they had been finished off in a tandoori style oven, creating miniature pasties. I say tandoori style because the oven wasn't made from clay but from an old oil drum. However with a mutton filling the pasties weren't to my taste.

After lunch, still accompanied by the manager, we went to the opencast mine, descended a steep twisty road to observe the loading of a coal train on one of the lowest tracks. We then were able to follow its path of three reversals to the start of the long track, partly single, partly double, to the washery at Nanzhan. There was only the one coal face being worked, there was at least one other face but the excavator may have been out of action. We ended the day with a brief look at the southern rim of the opencast where SY 1720 was on a permanent train of crane and wagon of track panels. For most of the day the weather had been dull and overcast.

On our final day, after the lack of an early morning empties train, we made observations around Nanzhan, the weather remained sunny and we again had lunch at the "greasy dumpling". The rest of the group was most enthusiastic about the baked dumplings, but I confined myself to a large circular unleavened bread that would have made a good pizza base.
After lunch we made for the east end of the opencast near the communication masts for the classic shot of a loaded coal train being propelled out of the mine. Whilst waiting for a train, several road tippers and a couple of bulldozers started work, but just seemed to be moving waste from one place to another. We then returned to Xibolizhan for a final look. I completed my final video cassette at the west end with shots of spoil trains climbing to the waste tips.

During the visit we saw 46 locos, of which 30 were working and 2 being overhauled:

Locos seen

JS 5455(with tender of 8027)*, 6203(loco only, tender separate on another line)*, 6204, 6205, 6206, 6208, 6209*(1981), 6210*, 6213*, 6223, 6224, 6259*(1983), 6261, 6430, 6436,
8027&, 8040, 8055, 8076, 8077*, 8078*, 8080*(1987), 8081, 8089*(1987), 8173, 8188, 8189, 8190, 8193, 8194, 8195, 8197, 8221, 8222, 8225*(1987),
8314, 8358, 8366, 8368, 8384*
SY 0092*(dumped, no works plates), 1304@(1984/7), 1593, 1718*(1991/12), 1720, 1729
*out of use in compound
&workshop, boiler off frame, major overhaul
@rear of depot, intermediate overhaul
For the JS, the numbers in brackets indicate the year on the Datong builder's plate carried.
For the SY, the numbers in brackets indicate the year and month on the Tangshan builder's plate carried.

Early morning, JS 8366 and JS 8314 top and tail empty wagons from Liushuquan.

SY 1729 propels empty wagons from Nanzhan to the deep mines.

SY 1304 under repair at the rear of the running shed, just after being re-wheeled.

An empty spoil train restarts away from the spoil tips towards Xibolizhan.

A loaded spoil train heads for one of the tipping areas.

By now our bus was having starter problems, but we managed to depart at 17:00 and reach Hami in time to once again collect KFC “Junk Food” and board overnight train T296 departing 21:14 for Lanzhou. It was only due to Mike's persistence that we had tickets for this train which gave us a full final day at Sandaoling as at first the local guide had obtained tickets for an earlier train. The next day, our train crawled into Lanzhou arriving 35 minutes late at 12:15. Tao got us the necessary pair of taxis to the departure stop for an airport bus which left at 12:40. At Beijing Terminal 3 we were met by Mike who led us to the pick-up point in the underground car park for the bus to the Sino-swiss. In the evening the five of us had our final Chinese meal together and on the following day, having said farewell to Mike at Terminal 2, I was in the care of KLM back to Birmingham.

Thanks to Mike and Tao for their efforts, it was a most enjoyable trip which added to the store of memories, slides and video tapes for the time when much of what we experienced belongs to the past. For 2009 I just hope, despite the credit crunch, to make final visits to Jalainur's opencast mine and Jixi's Chengzihe system with steam.

Dave Fielding

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