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Steam in China - October, November 2009

by Barry Buckfield

Jixi, Tiefa, Fuxin, Nanpiao, Beipiao, Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Hongmiao


Accompanied by Brian Hawkins, Norman Spalding, Ray Smith, Bram Stelling, Bruce Seymour and Mike Poulter, we embarked upon a tour of the north east area of China, including two locations new to us all, guided as usual by our good colleague and friend Mike Ma.

We arrived on various flights into Beijing on 20th or 21st October and stayed overnight at the Sino-Swiss Hotel near Beijing Airport until the morning of 22nd October. We then made our way to the station in Beijing to board Train K265 to Mudanjiang at 12.38, for a journey of some 22 hours in a comfortable but grossly overheated train. Upon arrival at Mudanjiang, our hire bus picked us up and transported us to Jixi.

JIXI – 23rd October to 25th October

Everything much the same at the Jixi systems that we visited, with eight SYs working at Chengzihe, two SYs at Donghaikuang and four SYs at Didao. The daily morning line up of SYs at Dongcheng featured all eight SYs. The afternoon sessions with the horse and carts at Beicheng Washery now seems to have been replaced by a mechanical digger. The derelict buildings on the opposite side of the track at this point have also been refurbished. On the Chengzihe system, we concentrated on the lines out to Zhengyang and Xinghua with some success.

At Didao, SY 1213 was running trains to and from the power plant.

Back to Mudanjiang for Train K2018 at 16.56 to take us to Tieling. A welcome sight at Mudanjiang station was Mike Ma’s brother handing us a case of beer!

Locomotives seen working at Jixi

ChengziheSY 0863, SY 1058, SY 1340, SY 1351, SY 1369, SY 1437, SY 1544, SY 1545
Donghaikuang  SY 0639, SY 0746
DidaoSY 0407, SY 0590, SY 1213, SY 1446

TIEFA (DIAOBINGSHAN) – 26th October and 27th October

We arrived into Tieling from Mudanjiang at 04.38 and made our way to our hotel in Diaobingshan. After breakfast we went to Diaobingshan station to the ‘tourist’ office, to pay for our permits, RMB100 each for the photograph permit, RMB50 to visit the museum at Daqing and another RMB50 to visit the depot at Daqing. Armed with the paperwork, we went out to find SY 1772, in a scruffy condition at the servicing point, later joined by SY 1771 when it arrived at 09.04 on Train 308 from Daqing. Again SY 1771 did not appear to be in the best of condition. SY 1772 was prepared and then worked Train 203 to Xiaonan which we easily chased.

Later in the morning, we made our way to Daqing to visit the railway museum and were pleasantly surprised at the effort that had been put in to create this collection, with SY 0063 the centrepiece of the display surrounded by galleries with a lot of interesting information, even if some of the translation was not quite correct! The authorities here must be congratulated.

At Daqing depot, SY 1770 was under repair, whilst SY 1077 and SY 1114, (the latter berthed in the museum shed), were both in ex-works condition awaiting transit back to Beitai steelworks. In the museum shed were all the other SYs together with KD6 487, YJ 269 and JS 5029. There were two new diesels present at the depot with the older DH3 units now all dumped.

All freight was noted diesel, although SY 1771 was noted in the power plant sidings at Diaobingshan on 26th October. Passenger trains were steam hauled at random on all lines except to Faku. Only trains to Daqing and Faku now load to five coaches or more, the other lines only having three coach trains.

The following day, we chased Train 201 to Wangqian, returning with Train 204, with SY 1772. This was followed by chasing SY 1772 again, on Train 103 to Daming, returning later with Train 106. Upon arrival back at Diaobingshan, we noted that SY 1771 was on Train 309 to Daqing.

It was a shame that despite the efforts with preserving some of the past on this system, that the two working locomotives were not in a more presentable condition. SY 1772 has also lost its smokebox cast numberplate, being replaced by a painted number. With the significance of the mantel this locomotive holds, (it was just ten years old in October), one would have thought that its unique status would have been presented a little better.

Locomotives seen at Diaobingshan (excluding museum housed locomotives)

Working:    SY 1771, SY 1772
Repairs:SY 1770
Ex Works:SY 1077, SY 1114

FUXIN – 28th and 29th October

This was my first visit here since 2002 and what a change, no wires since the electrics were taken out of use! This opens up photographic potential that was not previously available. We had a great two days here with eleven SYs working. All passenger was diesel. The morning line up of around five or six SYs at Wulong crossing still takes place at around 08.00, although all locomotives now face west. At the opposite (east) end of Wulong yard, at the level crossing for the ring road, on both days at around 09.00 to 09.30, we saw three or four trains work east, all returning later. The stabling point at Taipeng now appears not to be used, although SY 0541 and YJ 403 are still dumped here.

Another significant change here is that the Hutongs that were abundant around Wulong have now all gone and replaced by blocks of flats, which overlook Wulong Stabling Point to one side and Wulong yard on the other.

One interesting working we found was SY 0895 at a coal distribution plant alongside the first China Rail station east of Fuxin, (we were told it was known as Fuxin East). There was a dumped diesel at the location, which may explain why SY 0895 was there. Several times each day, SY 0895 was seen to take a loaded train of coal along China Rail to the power plant in Fuxin, via a direct link from China Rail.

We could not access the locomotive repair shop or the adjoining shed at Wulong, where more SYs were probably to be found. One development at Fuxin however, is that the mining company security people are proposing charging for photographic permits, (they had been in discussion with the authorities at Diaobingshan it seems). Mike Ma was confronted by such a security man during this visit where such information was relayed.

Finally we called in to view the newly developed National Museum of Mining in China east of the power plant in Fuxin and overlooking the opencast site. On display outside this impressive structure is an electric locomotive and SY 1395.

Locomotives seen at Fuxin

Working:    SY 0895, SY 0941, SY 1195, SY 1210, SY 1319, SY 1320, SY 1378, SY 1396, SY 1397, SY 1460, SY 1818
Dumped:JF 508, YJ 403, SY 0036, SY 0076, SY 0127, SY 0391, SY 0541, SY 0576, SY 0770, plus one unidentified SY
Preserved:SY 1395

(Most of the dumped locomotives are in a compound next to Wulong Stabling Point).

NANPIAO – 30th and 31st October

We woke in our hotel rooms at 05.30 at the Xinhe Hotel, to find cold damp and overcast conditions. A visit to the stabling point at Xiamiaozi by 06.15 revealed that the morning passenger services were both diesel, making use of the newly acquired DF5B diesels recently delivered. Only one steam locomotive, SY 1299 was in use, in a filthy condition. A visit to the depot revealed the other five SYs all dead and looking neglected, although SY 0366 and SY 0754 were said to be serviceable. On both days that we were at Nanpiao, SY 1299 was used on freight traffic along the Sanjiazi line, on the first day, shunting for about an hour at Wiezigou Mine after arriving with a fairly heavy train, before moving on to Sanjiazi.

Overnight on 30th October the weather deteriorated with snow and temperatures down to about minus 8 degrees C. After some morning photography with SY 1299 on the Sanjiazi line on 31st October, we decided to move on to Beipiao.

Locomotives seen at Nanpiao

Working:    SY 1299
SY 0366, SY 0754, SY 1092, SY 1478
(It was said that SY 0973 had been scrapped).

BEIPIAO – 31st October and 1st November

Having not been here before and reading the reports of minimal activity, we did not know what to expect, but what a little gem this system turned out to be! The first sign of activity we saw, was on our way to our hotel in Beipiao, when we were halted at a level crossing in the centre of town to allow SY 1091 to come storming through with a train for Guangshan. After booking into the comfortable Beipiao Hotel, we made our way to the mining company office near to Guangshan mine to buy our permits. These were supplied at RMB200 each and a guide was provided on the first afternoon that we were there.

Leaving the offices, we were escorted through a normally locked gate onto the lineside and to the mine, where we were more than entertained by the non-stop activity of three SYs for two hours. The mine area is reasonably photogenic and there is also a footbridge which gives overall views of the facility. The locomotives on this system, which obviously once boasted a passenger service, (some of the station platforms are still present), appear in good mechanical condition and are kept reasonably clean.

As the light was beginning to fade in the late afternoon, we were escorted to the locomotive workshops at Taiji, where the other three SYs were found, with SY 1550 under repair. We also saw the ‘pet’ JF 886 in the wagon shops, in very good condition and with a tender full of coal! Leaving the workshops, we came across SY 1004 at Sanjing Mine positioning wagons for loading.

The following morning we chased SY 1091 on a train of empties to Sanboa Mine, which returned light engine to Guangshan to pick up empties and take out to Sanjing Mine. Meanwhile SY 1451 had arrived at a location near to Taiji which I shall call Songhangzi, (the adjacent village although this location may be known as Tiedaomen), to undertake some shunting to unload coal tippler wagons inside a walled compound. Whilst this was going on SY 1091 passed by with a train back to Guangshan. We also found a small locomotive servicing point just north of here near the over bridge carrying the Luotuoying to Zhuangjiagou local railway (?), where SY 1451 spent some time being serviced. We finished our visit to this line back at Guangshan in the early afternoon again with the three SYs being kept very busy.

We then made our way north for the long drive to Pingzhuang where we arrived after dark and booked into the excellent new Boashan Hotel.

Locomotives seen at Beipiao

Working:    SY 1004, SY 1091, SY 1451
Dead:SY 0387, SY 1196
Repairs:SY 1550
Stored:JF 886

2nd November to 4th November

We were up early on 2nd November to make our way to Yuanbaoshan for the morning passenger, a journey of just over an hour. Any prospect of a photograph at the long bridge north of Gongye were dashed as the temporary road across the river while the road bridge was being renewed, was causing a massive dust storm and in any case, the trees have all but grown around the bridge for good photography. However, we made our way to a little unspoilt road crossing just south of Fengshuigou where we took a very pleasant picture of JS 8242 on the 07.00 train from Xizhan formed with three carriages in the early morning sun. Back at Xizhan, we noted JS 8418 in the yard acting as standby.

We drove back to Pingzhuang for 09.30 and made our way to the stabling point near the washery. SY 1017 was carrying out some shunting and a little while after, deflectored SY 1083 arrived from China Rail with a train of empties, where it then conducted some shunting. At around 11.30, SY 1083 took a loaded train back to China Rail. In the afternoon, we drove out to Mine 2 to see SY 1017 disappearing with tippler wagons to Mine 3 where it remained. With knowledge from previous visits here, my memory was correct as at 15.00, SY 0400 arrived light engine to pick up the loaded wagons from Mine 3, then down to the photogenic Mine 2 to pick up more loaded wagons and then to the washery. After some further shunting here, SY 0400 made up a long train of loaded wagons and headed down to the China Rail exchange sidings at about 16.30.

Another early start on 3rd November and on the road at 05.45 to Yuanboashan, in time and with the sun just up, to get a picture of JS 8418 departing from Xizhanwith the three coach 07.00 train for Fengshuigou. An easy chase, despite the coal lorries and missing road bridge, to get another pleasing picture of JS 8418 near to the halt before the terminus at Fengshuigou.

Back at Xizhan, we had pre-arranged a visit to the locomotive depot, where we saw JS 8242 in steam being given some attention. In the shed were JS 8250 under repair, JS 6245 still warm and JS 8249 cold. Also in the shed was one of the diesels for maintenance, which meant that JS 8242 would be used on freight traffic until the diesel was ready for service again.

Following our depot visit, we drove out to the nearby mine at Hongmiao, which no one in the group had visited before. Less than half an hour from Yuanbaoshan, we turned up to a yard devoid of any wagons, however to our surprise; both SY 1565 and SY 1418 were in steam. SY 1418 was placed outside the shed by SY 1565, and was surrounded by an army of fitters, as SY 1418 had apparently undergone some repair work. What occurred next was truly amazing. With the cab of SY 1418 containing the crew and fitters and with the public road crossing at the entrance to the yard manned with four people, SY 1418 was then driven at high speed to and from the China Rail exchange sidings four times until everyone was happy that the locomotive was all well. None of us had ever seen an SY driven so fast, with the driver hanging on the whistle as they all enjoyed their moment of fun.

We headed back to Yuanbaoshan for a late lunch, noting on the way that JS 8242 was working a coal train down to the Yuanbaoshan China Rail exchange yard. After lunch we photographed JS 8418 on the 14.00 Xizhan to Fengshuigou mixed train at two locations. Upon arrival at its destination, JS 8418 shunted the wagons from its train then set back on the coaches to await its return to Xizhan. Returning to Pingzhuang, we paused at Majiawan to photograph JS 8242 in the low sun. This was shortly followed by a 30 minute delay at the China Rail level crossing at Pingzhuang CNR station, after which our bus refused to restart. We got the bus started by bump starting it; however, the lights were not working and darkness was approaching. But hey, this is China! Following a hair raising ride in the dark with no lights, we stopped at a little village where a man fixed the bus and all was well again.

The following morning on 4th November, we had breakfast in the hotel then out to the stabling point opposite the washery at Pingzhuang by 08.00. Present were SY 1083 and SY 0400 being prepared for service, shortly joined by SY 1052, with an odd looking makeshift spark arrester fitted over its chimney. We briefly drove to the opencast yard level crossing, where we saw three SY’s in steam. As we had no permission to enter the yard, we quickly made our exit before the security staff saw us. We then went to the main depot and workshops, after Mike did some negotiating with his contacts. Here we saw SY 1017 in the servicing shed and, SY 1425 in the repair shop. Other than these, the only other locomotives seen were the dumped and out of use SYs and JSs noted by Dave Fielding in his May report. By our calculations, there were another 11 SYs we have not seen according to the lists, have these been scrapped or are they stored elsewhere, in the opencast yard perhaps?

Leaving the workshops, we checked with the nearby crossing keeper on the line, to see when the next train to the China Rail yard would come by. He said ‘soon’, which normally means anything up to two hours; however it was ‘now’, so a quick dash to the bridge just before the China Rail yard delivered us with only a grab shot of SY 0400 on a loaded train.

At about 12.30, we left Pingzhuang for Yuanbaoshan to finish our tour with some JS work. JS 8242 was again employed on freight work whilst JS 8418 was on the afternoon mixed train to Fengshuigou which we successfully chased for two good positions. Returning from Fengshuigou on our way to Chifeng, we stopped briefly at Majiawan to see JS 8242 depart with a freight for Xizhan, our last view of Chinese steam on this tour.

We soon arrived at Chifeng where Mike booked us hotel rooms for a wash and brush up, (cold shower!), ready for our overnight journey back to Beijing Bei on Train 2560 at 21.08.

Locomotives seen at Pingzhuang

Working:    SY 0400, SY 1017, SY 1025, SY 1052, SY 1083, SY 1487, SY 1764
Repairs:SY 1425
SY 0463, SY 0798 plus two unidentified
JS 1001, JS 6246, JS 6544, JS 8216, JS 8218, JS 8246

Locomotives seen at Yuanbaoshan

Working:    JS 8242, JS 8418
Dead:JS 6245, JS 8249
Repairs:JS 8250

Locomotives seen at Hongmiao

Working:    SY 1418, SY 1565

BEIJING – 5th November and 6th November

We arrived on time into Beijing Bei station at 06.00 and transferred to the Sino-Swiss Hotel near the airport. We managed to get into our rooms straight away and after a wash and brush up, we went into Beijing to wind down after the tour. All but one of the group flew out on 6th November, although the Finair Helsinki flight left one hour late and the KLM flight to Amsterdam was cancelled!


Another successful tour with good weather, apart from at Nanpiao. We managed to see 42 locomotives in steam, (40 x SY and 2 x JS), which is not bad going for 2009. However things are changing fast in China and what was so noticeable in and around the ‘coal’ towns, was the vast increase in new and grossly overloaded and sometimes badly driven coal lorries, their owners all no doubt plying to get a bit of the action. In addition the growth of new saloons and 4 x 4’s, even in the more remote regions, all adds to the disappearance of the magic of China. As always Mike Ma provided all the support we needed, so thanks Mike for the excellent service and the choice of good safe bus drivers throughout the tour. With steam disappearing so fast, will there be a chance for another successful and fulfilling tour next year we are thinking, we will have to see………..

© Barry Buckfield
21st November 2009

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