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Steam in China - the 'last big bash', 13th-31st October 2011

by Richard Turkington and Keith Strickland

Beitai, Fushun, Beipiao, Fuxin, Pingzhuang, Baiyin, Sandaoling


This report summarises our fourth and final trip (since 2007) planned to include most of the main strongholds of standard gauge steam. The report includes details of travel and hotel arrangements and of activity at each location. We saw a total of 50 locomotives in steam or in service, and the trip was made all the more successful by the reports and maps of previous contributors, to whom we express our very warm thanks.

The general situation

Since our previous trip in November 2009, concern over security and safety has increased noticeably, especially at Fuxin, Baiyin and Sandaoling. This strengthens the value of having a guide to help overcome problems. Distributing photos from previous trips was well received.

In general, locomotives continue to be maintained well mechanically but their appearance has deteriorated at all locations, and this is indicative of the prospects for the future. Metaphors about the '11th hour' and the 'last gasp' have been exhausted but it is clear that the decline in the use of steam may well be rapid and is certainly unpredictable. In all locations, we asked about plans to replace steam and, whether they prove to be accurate or not, they are included below.

Arrival information

13th October, KL 1426 13.40 Birmingham to Schiphol arrive 15.50
13th October, KL 897 17.35 Schiphol to Beijing arrive 08.55
14th October, CA 9321 13.25 Beijing to Shenyang arrive 14.25

Just over 1 hour to Beitai though would have been quicker if the Benxi ring road had been open.

Beitai steelworks, 15th-16th October

In the context of recent reports and our refusal to pay 2,000 yuan per person for access to the steelworks, this was always going to be a speculative visit. Security is now very tight - even at the weekend - and passes are required to access any part of the steelworks site. You would be advised not to try to gain access to the works without permission, you are almost certain to be detained or arrested.

As a result, we were only able to observe light engines running to and from the depot from the road bridge to the east of the CN station. We managed a brief visit to the depot on the Saturday while the offices were closed, but only by promising not to take photos. We learnt that steam is only being used in the (least accessible) plant 2 and none could be seen at plant 1 adjacent to the CN station. We were advised that of 18 locos, a maximum of 10 were in use at any time, and there is a plan to replace steam in 6 months' time.

Locos in steam:SY 0448, 1075, 1648
Locos serviceable:SY 0864

Fushun steelworks, 16th October

1 hour 30 min. drive from Beitai.

Our disappointment at Beitai was made up by our visit to Fushun. The map below identifies the route to the depot which was accessed by a dirt track on the right side of Anshan road facing Beitai, just before a Petrochina garage and before the main entrance to the steelworks, and with the end of an elevated slip road on your left. Continue until you reach a level crossing (shunting takes place here from 8-10.30), cross then turn left (for c. 1 k.m.) until you reach a second crossing which also accesses the works. Turn left over the crossing, then walk to the right along the trackside for another 100m. The crossing keeper doubles as a security guard but was happy to direct us to the depot.

The lunch break was just starting (11.30), 2 locos returned to the depot and all staff were friendly. We spent 20 minutes taking photos, including against the old and elegant copper clad cooling towers which are still in use. The highlight was 1632 whose overhaul at Sujiatun in September 2011 was recorded on the tender frame.

Locos in steam:SY 1050, 1632, 1634
Locos serviceable:SY 0839


Fuxin, 17th-20th October

4.5 hour drive from Fushun.

Fuxin was, again, a wonderful location with 6 steam locos and only 1 diesel at each morning shift change. However, we were constantly challenged by 'security', and a works visit on the 20th was unexpectedly refused as 'foreigners are no longer allowed to visit'. Whether this is permanent, connected to the new diesel facilities - a cleaning plant was under construction, or temporary because it coincided with a visit from some 'VIPs' is not known.

We spent considerable time at Wulong tip (non-stop action) and the mine crossing where the grumpy male crossing keeper lived up to his reputation. However, he was sufficiently interested to take a look through my video viewfinder and now has a photo of an SY at Pingzhuang in his building. Following his instructions and being nice to him would seem advisable!

A discovery at the other end of the line at Xinqiu is that the mine is now privately owned with coal loaded by diggers (mechanical) into wagons delivered to end sidings near the main road each morning. We witnessed a spectacular attempted departure at 15.30 on the 17th then a second successful departure still with 25 loaded wagons.

Once the train has left the loading point, the line veers to the right and up a steep incline accessible by walking down the tracks or by taking a concrete road parallel with the CN line. Where this road veers right, turn left over a CN level crossing then right before a mine railway level crossing. The following map identifies the set up.

Locos in steam:SY 0941, 1195, 1210 (newly overhauled), 1319, 1320, 1378, 1396, 1460, 1818



1 hour drive from Fuxin.

We called here to establish the situation and were told by local railway workers that all steam had finished.

Pingzhuang, 20th-22nd October

2 hour drive from Beipiao.

Although patience was required to photo the unpredictable chimney first trains on the move from the mines, there was plenty of action at the washery, and to and especially from the CN exchange sidings up the gradient to the level crossing. Up to 2 locos were working in the open cast mine.

The 8 a.m. shift change at the stabling point included 3-4 locos, and on Saturday morning, each loco was steam cleaned below the main frames. From enquiries at the stabling point, we understand that there were plans to replace steam but these have been abandoned for economic reasons. We were also told that steam had finished at Yuanbaoshan.

Locos in steam:SY 0400, 1017, 1025, 1441, 1487

1 hour drive to Chifeng then flight CA 1282 20.50 to Beijing arrive 22.00.

Overnight at Capital Airport Hotel, Beijing.

Flight H7231 08.50 to Lanzhou arrive 11.20.

1 hour 15 min drive to Baiyin.

Baiyin, 23rd-26th October

This was a consistently unfriendly location, which may be due in part to uncertainty over steam crews' future and also to heightened concern over safety. 4 diesels were seen working and 2 steam but the system was short of one working steam locomotive. 1470 was allocated to the Shenbutong passengers and 1047 to trip working but both 1581 and 2008 were under repair with 1013 at the back of the works split from its tender and all motion removed. As a result, an orange diesel worked all Sanyelian passengers, and due to problems with 1470, a blue diesel worked the Shenbutong early passenger on the 25th.

We were advised at the depot/works that the SYs were needed to steam heat the carriages but there were problems getting spare parts for them. The railway would like to replace them and can't afford to do so, but an application has been made to the 'government' for a grant enabling this.

Particular mention should be made of the photo/film opportunities of trains leaving uphill from sidings under the elevated line visible from the footbridge. From observation and soot staining, most use the left hand bridge so if you see a loco and wagons disappearing under there, it's worth setting up and waiting. However, some of the trip workings both here and to/from Sanyelian were with diesels.

Sandaoling, 27th-29th October

1 hr 15 minute drive from Baiyin to Lanzhou, 16.00 soft sleeper to Hami, 1 hr 15 min. drive to Sandaoling.

Despite their neglected appearance, the locos were in good mechanical condition and Sandaoling remains a wonderful location - the last place to sit and watch a constant procession of steam-hauled trains go by. Following the incident earlier of this year of a photographer on the tracks, the company has issued a common sense 5 point procedure for photographers to observe, but crews couldn't be friendlier.

Other than brief visits to Nanzhan yard (up to 4 steam locos at the 8.40 shift change and 4 blue diesels); to the mine at Beiquan (no obvious pattern to trains) and a half day at Xibolizhan, we concentrated on the double track 'main line' between the mine loading point and Kengkhongzhan. 4 locos were shuttling to and from the washery and the loading point and action was near constant. Most trains are filled from the blue loader whilst a yellow crane on the right loads another train. These have particular difficulty getting away and can follow a train from the loader, 'clag spotting' is evident before departure.

At present, all rail-hauled coal goes to the washery via Kengkhongzhan. Trains from the pit to Xibolizhan contain only spoil. We also visited the works where activity was much less than 2 years ago, 8078 was receiving an intermediate overhaul and 8167 a full overhaul. The relevant manager stung us for an extra 100 yuan each to visit the store which now has much more active security.

Locos in steam:SY 1304, JS 6224, 6261, 8027, 8040, 8053, 8076, 8077, 8080, 8081, 8089, 8173, 8188, 8190, 8194, 8195, 8225, 8314, 8358, 8366, 8368
Locos serviceable:JS 8078, 8167
Locos in store:SY 0092, 1593, 1718, 1720 JS 6203, 6205, 6206, 6208, 6209, 6210, 6223, 6430, 6436, 8055, 8189, 8193, 8197, 8221, 8222, 8384, 8455
+ 1 JS without a tender whose number we missed.

Note: no sign of SY 1729.

1 hr 15 min. drive to Hami for K9781 23.50 double decker soft sleeper to Urumqi arrive 08.10 (almost an hour late but upper deck very comfortable) then taxi to Urumqi airport, flight CZ 8901 10.05 to Beijing arrive 13.25. Lidu hotel.

Departure information

31st October, KL 898 11.55 Beijing to Schiphol
31st October, KL 1431 16.20 Schiphol to Birmingham

Richard Turkington and Keith Strickland

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2011 Richard Turkington and Keith Strickland