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Steam in China, March  2015

by Sandro Vigato

Sandaoling, Shibanxi


In this report there is no special news about steam trains, on the other hand John Raby (to whom goes my thanks for the help he gave me and was present in the same days) has already written extensively about the present situation of the locomotives and of the service made. Here I describe how I was able to complete this journey without the help of a local guide and some snippets that may perhaps be useful to future visitors to these two sites.

Travel arrangements

After 4 years of absence I returned to China and because of decreasing activities of steam locomotives I only found a mate in Italy, I would say the best of all: Paul Bertelli. We decided to spend 15 days at the steam in China and in the end the choice obviously falls on Sandaoling because this site you can still admire the great JS in a nice amount (7-8 locomotives in service). The other place to look was Shibanxi because Paul wanted to avoid the cold of February and see the flowering rape plants. Between these two sites we wanted to include a visit to Baiyin. So the program was decided and we could book transfers. The best price was by Aeroflot but times were quite unpleasant:

Luckily at Beijing airport we could go to sleep in a comfortable bed at a reasonable price. Once in Sandaoling we had the news that in Baiyin steam trains had already ceased passenger service because of the mild weather. So we decided to extend our stays at Sandaoling and Shibanxi.


Because of indecision on the period and the ways of our trip I was not able to request a complete estimate and so we found ourselves without any guide and with only the help of a Lonely Planet phrase book. With a good dose of luck, while I tried to buy a phone card, I found a kind lady who spoke a bit of English and she helped me in the purchase. Then she gave offered me her help in case I still needed her. Well, I must say that I needed her more than a few times, and her help was very useful. Not only for the hotel, restaurant and taxi but especially for access to the mines. Thanks to her, I could enter the mine No. 1 in Sandaoling and to visit the new mine of Shadunzi. I asked her if she was interested in helping other people like me in Sandaoling, of course behind an appropriate fee, and she agreed to give me her e-mail to be published on SY country. The e-mail is: Tonykiki@163.com and her name is Quianyao Wang. Write her before your visit and you can have fresh information on steam train situation (please donít ask loco numbers or other technical questions, she is not a steam train enthusiast).

Now here's some information of the new mine railway (you can see in Google Earth at Lat: 43.165356į, Lon: 92.467101į ) According to what I was told by a member of the general manager staff (he speaks good English and is friend of Mrs. Wang) the line is 12 km long, and since there are 2,000 people working, probably in the future there will be a passenger train from Sandaoling to bring staff to work instead of the current buses who have to travel more than 30 km of road. They do not seem interested in using steam locomotives on trains for the new mine but they will keep them until the work in the open pit mine is finished: for about another 4 years. So I suggested that by using steam locomotives as a tourist attraction, the city of Sandaoling could have a much larger number of visitors just as happens in Shibanxi. I do not know if my suggestion came to the ears of the general manager, but if someone wants to write the same thing to Mrs. Wang, probably it could arrive. As regards the service of steam locomotives I would like to add to what has already been said in other reports, that as well as going to the washery, the trains loaded with coal also go to the coal transfer point, passing through the station of DongBoliZhan, then making a half circle they pass behind the locoshop, and then with another half circle arrive behind the cokeplant. Here trains reverse direction and go to unload the coal in a depot visible from the washery. I canít say exactly when these services are carried out (I was told one train in every 3) but from the report of service made by the staff at the entrance of washery you see that in the early afternoon of March 8, did not arrive trains and in fact the photos here attached were made in that period of time.

Also from these relationships, we can guess that at night the service is made only to the washery (at least from the large number of trains arriving). I said I guess because I do not think there is a real timetable but the trains are made according to the production requirements. From the report of Kenkouzhan you can see that here the service is quite different from previous reports.

For the other places there is not much to add to what reported by John Raby in his recent report, but having had the opportunity to enter (a relative of Mrs. Wang is working in the mine 1) I could take a picture different from usual.

At the mine 1 I've been there two times and each time I found a train that was loading coal and remained there until I got tired of waiting. I was 2 more times at Nanzhan where a couple of locomotives did some shunting. I did not find any difficulty to enter to the station of Nanzhan, after trying to ask if one could access the overpass and not having had any refusal we took the opportunity to take some pictures. Of course as long as we were there arrived a train from the mine number 1 but when we realized it was too late to catch the train in a better position.

The rest of our time was spent mainly between Dongbolizhan and the Washery, at sunrise and sunset in search of some photo effect.


My last visit to this railway goes back four years, when there were still coal trains and just a timid hint of tourism. This time my first reaction when I arrived at Sanjin was of dismay: men, women and children everywhere, the square once empty now was full of buses. To access the train you have to buy your ticket with numbered seat (at noon the first train with seats available was at 16.00) at a price 40 times more expensive than the normal ticket !!! Fortunately, once at Mifeng things improved significantly, and although the presence of tourists is virtually continuous it was not as invasive as at Sanjin. The next day we started with the most photographed place of the line. To get a view different than usual was not easy but fortunately possible.

The rest of the first day was spent inspecting the stretch of railway that goes up to after the first tunnel. Then a discharged battery gave us an excuse to go back and do a nice nap. After another quick inspection of the line section downstream, we sat down to enjoy meals prepared for us by the wife of "doctor" (the chemist who hosted us in Mifeng in his hostel). Unfortunately the quiet of the dinner was sometimes disturbed by a piercing whistle that warned of the imminent arrival of a train. The next day we took the first train to Bagou at 2 Yuan per head. We got up to the end of the line at Huangcunjin (where there was once a coal mine) and from there began our walk back to hostel.

Here is a typical passage for the exclusive use of tourists (note that the train is almost empty). The locomotive discharges steam with the hope that some lucky coincidence allows to make appear a rainbow ....

Since the only way to return to Mifeng is to retrace step back along the railroad, it happens that you have to go through some galleries and if this is a short one, than there are no problems, but for the long ones the experience can give some thrill, not only for the pitch darkness where you are, but also by a concern that a train arrives from the opposite side. For people like me who have already lived this experience, the presence of bright red signal indicates that it is forbidden to cross the tunnel.

At Caiziba there must have been a party, there were many people who were eating at tables sumptuously laid well, then appeared a beautiful lady and I could not help but to take some pictures.

The next day we went to Shibanxi and we were able to visit the locomotive shed and workshop. I am still baffled about the equipment and how they work in these workshops, but obviously my assessment is made with parameters too far from their reality. The fact is that even with the little they have available, they can manage to cope with such a demanding service.

Another interesting new feature is the ability for three trains to cross at Mifeng. Here we see two trains awaiting the arrival of the third in the first track (the free one).

In conclusion, this railway is still a paradise for fans, and certainly worth going to see if one is in the area. For myself by now should appear a new Jing Peng for another trip to China, and then I just have to hope for a miracle .... but a miracle in a communist country I think is really hard!

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