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Steam in China - April 2010

by Peter Semmelroch

Xingyang, Pingdingshan (Yuzhou), Guangyuan

Some notes on a 4-day visit to the Xingyang Brickworks Railway from 24th to 27th of April. The visit was made together with Wolfgang Klein.
(My third visit to this line).

I took a Friday evening flight on April 23 from Shanghai to Zhengzhou and a taxi from Zhengzhou airport to Xingyang. Wolfgang arrived from Chengdu on the afternoon of April 24. There is a motorway all the way from Zhengzhou and the taxi needed just 40 minutes to reach Xingyang (400 Yuan as it was late in the night, normal price should be RMB 280-300 only). I checked again into the still comfortable Jiasheng Century Hotel (260 Y/night), situated on the intersection of Zhengshang Road (a main road leading from Zhengzhou to Xingyang and further to Shangjie) and Jingcheng Road, very easy to find. Local taxis are available outside the hotel, and necessary to reach the line, access with roads is excellent nowadays, it might be only a question of time when the clay will be transported by truck…

The railway was working on all 4 following days which was good news, as there hadn't been any reports for months. It seems to be back to normal, working 7 days a week.

The action starts with the first train of empties leaving after 7 (work in the yard where the loco and one rake of empties - the other one stays at the loading point - is parked overnight starts nowadays only shortly before 7, the first loaded train returns around 9, then there are two or three more round trips in the morning, the last reaching Xingyang between 12.00 and 12.45 A round trip takes usually between 80 and 100 minutes nowadays, compared to 60 to 70 minutes in 2008. This is due to the fact that the loading point is now approximately 1 km further south and the line subsequently longer. Also the way of loading the wagons has changed (no converyor belts are used now, only a front loader). Sometimes trips take longer due to problems with loading or mining the clay (there is almost no clay stock at the loading point, two trucks bring the clay from an approx. 500 m distant mining point where another front loader is working on the canyon walls.
There is a lunch break of approx. 30 minutes to an hour, and usually 3 round trips in the afternoon, if there are only 3 round trips in the morning there can also be 4 in the afternoon. So the number of round trips during the day (1-shift daylight working) is lower than in 2008, during my stay there were 6-7 round trips per day. Frequent derailments took place both at the yard in Xingyang (I saw two) and at the loading point (I saw one, but there may have been more, as sometimes trains didn't run as expected and suffered delays from 30 min to almost 2 hours).
On the afternoon of April 24 the loco failed with problems on its rear coupler, which had to be welded in the workshops, but on the next day it was running again as normal. Running loco was 07, 207 was inside the shed, cold, but looking complete. A lot of staff were working inside the shed (on Saturday) on loco parts.

They have still all 3 unloading points in use, named 1, 2 and 3, but on unloading point 1 the train can unload either on the mainline before the siding or in the siding, the loco stays coupled in front of the train and reverses by fly shunting only after unloading, the train then being empty and derailing easily…. If unloading points 2 or 3 (over the road crossing) are used the loco reverses by fly shunting before unloading, the heavy loaded train seems not to derail so easily.

Besides the well known arch bridge the line has a very scenic section with good potential for photography in a narrow agriculturally used valley directly north of where the line is crossed by the national road 310 on a high dam (Main road from Zhengzhou to the west). Unfortunately young trees have been planted along most of the line there, but some sections are still free of them or free again now. The new loading point and the section north of it to the crossing with the 310 are also scenic, a new high speed line which uses only Japanese-style bullet trains crosses on a large concrete bridge basically directly over the loading point and gives a nice contrast to the antique narrow gauge line.
As always everybody was very nice and helpful, and I was invited to ride the loco to and from the loading point, but I didn't accept the offer. The workshop/shed was open and a quick visit was not discouraged as well.
Weather was warm and mostly sunny, sometimes cloudy, but hazy with lots of dust in the air as it was quite windy at times. Only Sunday was completely overcast.
Unexpectedly large Paulownia trees (Foxglove trees) were in full bloom almost everywhere and their pink flowers were a nice addition in the partly lovely landscape. Tuesday late afternoon we took a taxi back to Zhengzhou airport (300 Yuan) and an evening flight back to Shanghai and Kunming.
The 2009 map of Bernd Seiler showing how to reach the loading point and the nice valley was of great help in finding the way. Thanks!

How long will this paradise last?

We met 4 or 5 other railway photographers, mainly Chinese from Zhengzhou, one Taiwanese and one Japanese and gathered additional information.
Pingdingshan (Yuzhou):
They told us that Yuzhou still has 2 or 3 steam locos (QJ or JS) but only for shunting, they go to Pingdingshan only as bankers of diesel hauled trains now, if at all.
Interestingly the place to be for Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese gricers seems to be the so-called Guangyuan Prison Railway. For Asians visits seem possible, although Japanese gricers have been arrested and thrown out there recently. At least the Taiwanese we met had been there recently together with Chinese friends. For westerners the line seems to be off limits. Traffic levels are high, the line is said to be extremely scenic ("much better than Shibanxi") and serves a coal mine. There should be pics on Taiwanese websites available. Unfortunately the line will be electrified during 2010… Maybe we should go there now and disguise as Haibaos…











Peter Semmelroch 1.5.2010

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