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Steam in China, August 2014

by Ameling Algra

Guangyuan (Rongshan)

In October 2013 I went to Guangyuan, only to find the railway not running. Well, I had some news to report, but not the news I like to report… Anyway, looking at the rather derelict locos I hardly expected that the line would run again.
When good news came through in May-July, I decided to go there again before the inevitable end. KLM flies directly to Chengdu, offering a comfortable way to go there from Holland. But in high season, ticket prices were not so nice. Until there was a sudden offer Düsseldorf-Amsterdam-Chengdu. Plus of course a train ride to and from Düsseldorf, costing me € 38. Less comfortable than flying from Amsterdam, but OK. So I did not hesitate, booked, arranged my visa and went.

I flew DUS-AMS-CTU on Aug 12, arriving Aug 13 in Chengdu at 12.30 PM. Ten minutes later I was in the airport bus, heading to the North Railway Station. I checked into the nearby Mercure Chengdu North Hotel, adhering to my principle of not doing too much travel jet lagged after a night on the plane.
The Mercure is close to Zhao Jue Si bus station, from where buses to Guangyuan leave every 30 minutes or so. Fifteen minutes after arrival at the bus station on the morning of Aug 14, I had paid the 121 Yuan bus fee and was sitting in a comfortable bus that went to Guangyuan in just over three hours.

In Guangyuan, I went to the Lizhou hotel mentioned bij Michael Reilly and booked through Ctrip – 160 Yuan a night for an excellent double room, excellent breakfast and very helpful staff. It is a bit difficult to find as it is in a backyard from a pedestrian area. But the address in Chinese when booking through Ctrip does help, of course.

I asked the reception to call Mr Wang, mentioned in Dave Habraken’s report, to get a taxi for the day. The receptionist called, and then asked me whether I wanted to change my plan. I got a bit worried –was she told that the train is not running? I said no, no change of plan, I do want a taxi tomorrow. OK, she said, I’ll arrange it.

Next morning, indeed there was a taxi at the arranged time (6.45 AM). Not Mr Wang, but a friend of his. Maybe – hopefully – that was the "change of plan" and the steam train was running…. On arrival in Rongshan half an hour later, that proved to be the case: two locos in steam preparing a train of empties.
I hired the taxi for seven days. One day I sent him away because the rain was pouring down too heavily. The other days, he offered excellent service. Helping me on difficult inclines, holding my umbrella when it was raining, folding and unfolding my tripod. One incident typical for China worth mentioning. When we stopped at a suitable photo point one day, I heard a big bang and saw smoke coming from under the hood. I started filming, thinking this was probably my last shot of the day. When I finished filming, a minivan halted and I was invited in. It took me to the end of the line, where I filmed at the mine. Returning from the mine, the minivan was no longer there but the taxi – repaired. I did not miss one shot!
I paid the driver 300 Yuan a day, he was very happy with that. Though I must add I did not make very long days, see detailed report later on. I asked his telephone number but he would not give it. Probably part of the deal with Mr. Wang.

People on the railway were extremely friendly and helpful. Info they gave me always proved to be correct.

On Aug 22, it was time to go back to Chengdu. Bus again, this time taking almost four hours. The high speed railway line seems almost complete near Chengdu, with full catenary. But in the mountains near Guangyuan, there is a lot going on but still a lot to do. Many tunnels and bridges under construction, it will take some time before the high speed line replaces the bus as the convenient means of transport.
In Chengdu, went to the Minshan hotel conveniently located near the airport bus. Then on Aug 23, first to Shanghai, then overnight Shanghai to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Düsseldorf and ICE back home. A bit complex, but with the advantage of an overnight flight on the longest part of the journey (seems to take not as long as a day flight….) and earning a lot of air miles for next trip.

Day by day

Aug 15.
Clouded. The first day saw a top-and-tailed train (211 and 219) leave around 08.30. The train went to the end of the line. One loco filled a train of empties and returned with loaded train plus caboose. The other loco shunted a set of empties into the mine and returned single engine. Both locos were back around 10.30.
Work resumed around 1.00 PM. One loco shunted and unloaded the loaded wagons, and then left for the end of the line engine-plus-caboose, returning with the loaded train around 2.30 PM.

Aug 16.
Heavy rain in the morning so sent the taxi driver away. Around 11 AM the sky cleared up a little so I left by bus 8 to Rongshan. Promptly at 1.00 PM loco 211 came off shed, shunted & emptied the loaded wagons and then left engine plus caboose. As it started to rain again, I did not await its return.

Aug 17.
Sunny. Morning operation as on Aug 15. Only difference: 218 instead of 219. No afternoon trains.

Aug 18.
Sunny again. Morning operation as on Aug 15. Afternoon: two locos left with train of empties brought to the end of the line. One loco returned with fulls from the end of the line, the other one with fulls from the prison mine. The only train seen from that mine during my visit.

Aug 19.
Partly clouded, operation as on Aug 15.

Aug 20.
Partly clouded.
Train left with loco and without banker. Surprisingly, faster than the banked trains without having to stop to build up steam. Other loco followed with a short train consisting of flat wagons with mining equipment. First loco left with loaded train, followed with second loco with loaded train. Afternoon only shunting and unloading.

Aug 21.
Raining. Operation in the morning as on Aug 15. As it started to rain heavily, I gave up after the return of the first loco with a loaded train.

I wil definitely go there again. Though the line is complicated (overgrown, not easy access, tender first uphill, not many trains) a trip there is easily done and it is unbelievable a line like this still exists in 2014! The combination of narrow gauge steam, heat and rain reminded me of my first gricing trip in Portugal, now 42 years ago!

Ameling Algra

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© 2014 Ameling Algra