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Steam in China, November 2011

by Barry Buckfield

Shibanxi, Sandaoling, Beitai, Fuxin, Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Hongmiao


Accompanied by Norman Spalding, Bram Stelling, Ian Thompson, (with Chris Yapp joining us for Sandaoling and Beitai), we embarked upon this tour of China, guided as usual by our good colleague and friend Mike Ma, meeting up at Chengdu Airport on 14th November following our KLM flight from Amsterdam.

Following our arrival, we made our way by hire bus to Yuejin, (now virtually motorway all the way), where we will be staying during our visit to Shibanxi.

SHIBANXI – 15th November to 17th November

We arrived at Yuejin from Chengdu Airport soon after 17.30 on 14th November, in time to see the 17.30 passenger from Shixi, hauled by No. 08 (the yellow engine). We booked into the Yuejin (or Sanyima) Hostel for three nights, offering us basic accommodation but en suite facilities with an Asian style toilet which doubled as a shower cubicle.

We rose on the morning of 15th to join the 06.00 train from Shixi with No. 07, which was to become the usual passenger engine for the rest of our visit. However, there were no coal trains running on the 15th, we were told that possible engine difficulties may have been the cause. But at 17.00, two locomotives, (besides No. 07), were noted in steam at the depot in Shixi, (where admittance was not granted). The following day proved to be better with the first train of coal empties for Huangcunjing passing Yuejin at 05.45 with No. 10 in charge.

We again rode the 06.00 passenger, which waited at Xianrenjiao for the first loaded coal train to pass on route to Shixi. There were two more coal trains making this a comparatively busy day on the line for between 09.40 and 15.40 the following trains were noted in and around the Jiaoba area:-

  09.40		No. 10		Coal empties to Huangcunjing
  10.05		No. 10		Loaded coal for Shixi
  10.40		No. 07		Passenger to Huangcunjing
  11.05		No. 07		Passenger to Shixi
  13.20		No. 10		Coal empties to Huangcunjing
  14.00		No. 10		Loaded coal for Shixi
  15.10		No. 07		Passenger to Huangcunjing
  15.40		No. 07		Passenger to Shixi

All the passenger trains we saw, although shorter in length that during our last visit in 2007, were well used, particularly by locals with the 'tourist' coach attracting youngsters wearing their 'designer' attire using the latest in-fashion personal electronic gadgets!

On the morning of the 17th, an early train of coal empties again went out with No. 10 after the 06.00 passenger, returning with loaded wagons, (at 08.50 at Yuejin), soon after the return of the passenger.

This line still has a lot to offer and has mostly retained its unique charm. Much has been done to sympathetically improve the stations, with the station at Baijiaogou currently undergoing such work. However, also seen at this station was the new concrete road, which appears to terminate at a turning come parking area near the tunnel entrance, upon which were stood two black saloon cars and a small bus.

Locomotives seen
in steam
 C2 07,  08,  10 

We departed from Yuejin at 10.30 on the 17th back to Chengdu Airport for a flight to Urumqi then overnight train to Hami. We feared that there may be some disruption at Urumqi Airport which was closed two days earlier due to heavy snow; however our fears were unfounded as the snow had gone by the time we arrived.

SANDAOLING – 18th November to 22nd November

We spent five full days on this system, which now must be rated as the steamiest place on the planet. We made our way from Hami to Sandaoling and booked into the Sanhe hotel. Our aim for this occasion was to spend much time on the 'main' line out of the opencast pit where four JS are employed hauling coal to the crusher and washery at Kengkongzhan. The attraction was that these trains are now predominately hauled smokebox first; however on the first couple of days, we found two of the four locomotives working tender first, but only one on the following days. These 13-wagon trains are worked hard from the coal loading points and are an impressive sight amidst the man-made rugged landscape. Despite the engines being dirty, their mechanical condition appeared good.

It was noticeable that the loaded coal trains ran more frequently than previously with generally a train departing every half hour, apart from a break for lunch, indicating that current coal production from the opencast pit is high. This provides the reason perhaps that at the western exit from the pit, there appeared to be less activity for the spoil trains as there was on our last visit in 2008. Only six spoil trains were noted working instead of the previous seven and one of the seven spoil tip lines from Xibolizhan (No. 3) has been taken up.

The morning line up at Xibolizhan was still to be savoured however, but on this occasion there were no works trains present at this location, these apparently working back to Dongbolizhan at the end of the shift. Two works trains were seen during our visit in charge of JS 8188 and SY 1304, this being the only SY still working at present. JS 6224, (one of only two 6000 series JS seen working), was in charge of the spoil tip spreader, but saw little use during our visit.

At Nanzhan we only saw one of the new diesels at work, on traffic to and from China Rail. The other three new diesels remained idle on a siding in the yard. Upon each arrival of empty wagons from China Rail, (in rakes of 42 wagons), the rake was broken down ready for the JS locomotives on duty, (JS 8053 and 8314), to take the empties to Beiquan and Yijing mines. During previous visits these trains were propelled, however on this occasion we saw trains hauled tender first, top and tailed trains as well as propelled. On one of the days we photographed here, the Tianshan Mountains were remarkably clear of mist. The third pilot locomotive at Nanzhan yard was initially JS 8358.

Whilst around Nanzhan, we glanced into the walled compound that is accessed by a siding off the line to Beiquan, to find the illusive SY 1729 accompanied by JS 6204, which are both in store here.

We visited the depot and workshop on 21st November where we found JS 8027 and JS 8358 undergoing light maintenance, JS 8190 undergoing intermediate overhaul and JS 8195 receiving some in-steam attention. In the workshops, JS 8167 was well advanced in its major overhaul. We decided to decline the offer to visit the locomotive storage compound at 50 Yuan a head.

Locomotives seen
in steam
SY 1304
JS 6224, 6261, 8027, 8040, 8053, 8076, 8077, 8078,
8080, 8081, 8089, 8173, 8188, 8194, 8195, 8225, 8314,
8358, 8368
Locomotives under
JS 8190, 8167
Stored locomotives
(excl. depot compound)
SY 1729
JS 6204
Not seen (but allegedly
JS 6213, 6259, 8366

After sunset on 22nd, we made our way to Hami for the night and the following day took Train 296 at 06.53 to Urumqi, a six hour journey through some really desolate landscape. We got through the high security that was in place at Urumqi Airport for our five and a half hour flight to Shenyang. Again it had been reported that Shenyang Airport had been closed the previous day due to heavy snow, however we were able to land at 22.30 despite much snow being in evidence and a temperature of minus 10 degrees C. Here we were met by Mr. Gu Man Chun, (from Fuxin), who was our key to gain access to Beitai steelworks the following day. We made our way through the heavy traffic in Shenyang and booked in at the hotel at the main railway station for the night.


With Mr. Gu, we made our way from Shenyang, in gridlock traffic conditions until we were out of the city, to Beitai. We had been quoted 400 Yuan per head for admission to the steelworks, however a few days before our visit this was raised to 500 Yuan. Indeed we have learnt that some groups have been charged more than this amount. We arrived at the steelworks offices where we were each given a hard hat to wear and were then taken through the tight security by a steelworks employee in order to gain access to the works at 10.00. From here Mr. Gu led the way.

We made our way down alongside the blast furnaces where two SYs were waiting to collect ladle carriers. The photographic potential is good, but one must be aware of fragments of molten metal splashing from the ladle wagons. The operation at Beitai has been detailed in previous reports so we will not repeat here.

We were ushered out of the works at 11.30 when the office workers took their lunch break, but were allowed to re-enter at 13.00 until 15.40 when the office workers finished work.

Following the lunch break, we requested access to the locomotive depot, but were told there was nothing there. However, we laboured our request and finally Mr. Gu took us to the depot, where we found SY 1684 in steam, SY 1191 under repair and four SYs dumped in a siding opposite the depot. Staff at the depot told us that some locomotives had been cut up and they expected to have steam for another six months.

Locomotives seen
in steam
SY 0448, 0946, 1075, 1077, 1560, 1561, 1567, 1684
Locomotive under repair SY 1191
Dumped locomotives SY 0864, 1054, 1577, 2019
Not seen (but recorded
here, maybe scrapped)
SY 0322, 0792, 0825, 0930, 1005, 1114, 1131, 1514,

Note: SY 1114 was overhauled at Daqing in 2009 and is still there housed in the locomotive storage shed.

A tender body, possibly from SY 0930, was noted on a wagon in the steelworks.

Following our visit, we made our way to Fuxin, a journey of some five hours along mostly empty new motorways once we were free of the Shenyang city traffic. Mr. Gu had elected to remain with us for the rest of the tour. We arrived late evening and booked into the Xing Guang Hotel.

FUXIN – 25th and 26th November

We made our way to the Wulong level crossing at 07.30 of the 25th to see the morning line up of locomotives. It was a misty morning, but by around 08.00, six SYs and two diesels had arrived while a seventh SY made its way to the Wulong tip with a spoil train. We attempted to make our way towards the engines that had collected together, but we were soon spotted by an eagle eyed official and were escorted back to the level crossing. The crossing keepers and locomotive crews could not have been friendlier however.

During the day as the mist lifted a little to reveal some pleasant sunshine, we had two sessions at the tip behind Wulong mine which was quite busy with SY 1210, 1396, 1397 all working spoil trains. During the day, we checked on the stabling point at Taiping, however it appeared disused. After 15.00, with the sun beginning to drop from the sky, we visited the stabling point at Wulong and finished at sunset at the east end of Wulong yard.

On 26th, again we attended at Wulong crossing. Once again there were six SYs and two diesels present, however the mist was more intense than the previous day after some overnight snowfall. Some atmospheric photography was possible as the sun struggled to penetrate the mist.

We later explored the spoil tip operations to the east of Fuxin, however visibility was poor, but we saw SY 1818 on a spoil train east of Gaode and SY 1397 descending a tip line somewhere behind the back streets Gaode. On the way back into Fuxin, we noted SY 0895 out of use in the coal yard adjacent to the China Rail line, east of Fuxin. We finished up at the east end of Wulong yard before deciding to move on to Pingzhuang at 13.30.

Locomotives seen
in steam
SY 0941, 0988, 1210, 1319, 1378, 1396, 1397, 1460,

A four hour journey along a new but empty motorway for most of the way, we arrived at Pingzhuang and checked into the Baoshan Hotel. Walking back from a restaurant after our evening meal, the city echoed to the occasional chime whistles of SYs going about their business.

PINGZHUANG – 27th November

We made our way in hazy sunshine and mist to the servicing point at Zhuangmei by 08.00, in time to see SY 1425 arrive from the mines with a coal train. The first two (tippler) wagons were detached and unloaded at the servicing point for locomotive use. Soon the servicing point held three locomotives, SY 1017, 1425 and 1441, and as usual this location did not disappoint for photographic potential. At around 09.00, SY 1017 and 1425 ran coupled light engines towards Pingzhuang Nan. Sensing that empty wagons were to be brought from the China Rail exchange sidings, we made our way to the river bridge just north of Pingzhuang Nan and were not disappointed as first SY 1017 brought up a load of empties followed ten minutes later by SY 1425 with another load in classical atmospheric conditions.

Back at Zhuangmei, we had a look at the open cast yard. Notices have now been posted, (in Chinese), warning unauthorised people not to enter the yard. In the distance we could see two SYs (1025 and 1764) which were awaiting further orders. We were told that a third SY (1487) was working in the opencast pit; however this was not visible due to the mist.

Finally we went exploring the line to the deep mines north of Pingzhuang. At Gushan Sanjing (?) mine, new security fences have been erected on both sides of the tracks preventing access to the line.

Locomotives seen
in steam
SY 1017, 1025, 1425, 1441, 1764
(1487 reported in steam but not seen)

YUANBAOSHAN – 27th November

At 12.00 we made our way to Yuanbaoshan. Since my last visit in 2009, new roads and a new railway under construction, elevated on an extremely long viaduct were much in evidence.

Only one locomotive was in steam, JS 8418 in respectable condition, which worked the 14.00 mixed train from Xizhan to Fengshuigou.

Locomotive seen
in steam
JS 8418

HONGMIAO – 27th November

On our way to Chifeng, we called into Hongmiao. However seeing no locomotive present, we made our way to the exchange sidings with China Rail where SY 1565 was standing. As we arrived, a train of empties was running into the yard off China Rail. The rake was broken down and SY 1565 was soon underway as the sun set, with empties for the mine.

Locomotive seen
in steam
SY 1565

We made our way to Chifeng, bid goodbye to Mr. Gu and our driver and after a meal, boarded Train 2560 the 21.07 to Beijing Bei. In Beijing we booked into the formerly named Sino Swiss Hotel near Beijing Airport and had a free day in Beijing before flying back to Europe on 29th with KLM.


Another successful tour with reasonably good weather, (with 17 degrees C at Shibanxi, down to minus 10 in Shenyang). We managed to see 47 locomotives in steam, (24 x SY, 20 x JS and 3 x C2), which must be considered as excellent for 2011. However things are still changing fast in China, particularly with new roads, railways and buildings and yet more road traffic. As always Mike Ma provided all the support we needed, so thanks Mike for the excellent service and again the choice of good safe bus drivers throughout the tour.

All of us on this tour questioned whether we would come back to China for a steam tour. Now all over sixty years of age, the amount of internal travel to get to steam locations is excessive, coupled with the rising costs of a China tour and the increasing security to contend with, something new would need to be on offer to tempt us. We will have to see…………….

Barry Buckfield

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