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Steam in China, December - January  2017-2018

by Trevor Maxted


Just back from China, Sandaoling only this time. Out 29/12 using the Friday morning 1045 BA flight (BA1039) which is scheduled in to Beijing at 0450 giving a theoretical 3 hours 15 minutes to catch the Hami flight at 0805, CA1299. Our plane was a few minutes late but beware the queue for passport control at this hour with only some four 'booths' open and huge wait lines. We had to jump the queue big time to make sure we could secure CA1299, not too difficult if you explain to people as you cut across the lines! We stayed at the LongMen again, RMB110 per night for a twin room, comfortable enough with 24 hour hot water, and cosily warm despite one morning starting at -28c. Temperatures during our 14 night stay were cold enough for much exhaust all day and we only lost perhaps three half days to high level cloud. A very small dusting of snow one morning was all we had of any white stuff and this vanished very quickly. Visibility to the TianShan mountains was generally not very good during our entire visit.

Traffic: There is no longer any coal yard traffic, everything now goes to the 'washery', this includes trains loaded from roads 1&2 on the shovel at Xikeng (blue loader area). This means that at best there are three trains in the circuit though at times there were only two. If the loader only is being used, as seemed to be the case most afternoons, two trains would easily be enough but they lean towards three using the loop outside the 'washery' in most instances. Mornings were usually slow, three trains out of the pit generally but sometimes only two before lunch break. The first departure was usually around 1100, sometimes earlier, even if empties were in the pit by 9.00. The usual slow loading and failures were commonplace and at around 1.30 most days there was a good 2 hour lunch break. After this the railway suddenly got busier until sunset/shift change with usually three trains running well, but not always. The general traffic levels seemed well down on more recent times with trains suddenly being removed from the 'circuit' though of course this could be because of failures/engine problems etc. Going to Ba'erzhan, the junction near the blue loader, has the benefit of extra departures after locos are coaled in the morning on line 2 as they depart for the headshunt before setting back in to the loader. Pictures of departures from close to the blue loader are now hampered by a new pole route in the area alongside the track. Line 4 now has a huge coal stockpile being delivered by conveyor belt. The security gate for Xikeng is now at the top of the hill and the 'road' down widened to almost dual carriageway proportions. Nanzhan was a good afternoon alternative between 14.00 and 16.00 with at least two JS kept busy shunting and on one occasion there were four so engaged, well worth a couple of visits. No movements to the lower coal yard, now at Nanzhan of course, and Erjing trains were difficult to predict though there was usually an afternoon train.

Locomotives: The pit operation rotated JS6224, 8167, 8173, 8190 & 8225, most not in great condition. JS8197 was removed from the scrap/storage yard just before we left and was being worked on for a return to traffic. At Nanzhan JS8053, 8077, 8080, 8089, 8358 & 8366 were all seen in use. 8080 was a veritable 'rust bucket' while 8053 had received a fresh coat of paint and looked quite smart. SY1729 was removed from the 'clothing factory' on 11/01, where it had been in store for some time, and taken to one of the works buildings. At first it was thought it was to be scrapped but is actually intended for plinthing at Urumqi and was having bits removed to facilitate a transfer.

General: Sandaoling is now becoming a bit of a circus with so many photographers running amok. The discipline among most is deplorable with people wandering in front of cameras without any regard to anybody else. On one occasion three of our group had set up near the base of the pipe only for another group to wander past and erect tri-pods etc no more than 20 metres directly in front of them! This was happening all the time, particularly by people from, shall we say, east of the Urals! Photographers were also dotted all around and among the pit 'hillsides' and generally behaving not very sensibly. There were also enthusiasts there getting trains stopped and drivers performing special effects, for example wheel spins with steam whistle and air horns sounding and cylinder drain cocks open, looking so unnatural and messing other peoples pictures up. I saw one instance of money being handed to a driver to perform loco only wheelslips near the depot, hideous. I can only assume this is going to get considerably worse, shift change at Dong is quite a pantomime now with much whistle/horn blowing as trains are moving to be serviced due to the sheer volume of camera totting people there. The crews must be very tolerant! All of this perhaps paints a negative picture but that is how it was during our visit. Beware management patrols in the pit, thought to be M/W/F, with enthusiasts being asked to leave and a police car even in the pit one day.

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2018 Trevor Maxted