The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Steam in China Part 7
South and West

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index.

For other tales in this series see:

South - Neijiang - Zigong Yibin.

Planning our 1997 trip we came across a report that suggested the line from Neijiang to Yibin in the south was scenic and steam worked. Staff at Zigong station were supposedly OK with night photography which meant my companion could indulge his passion, without getting in strife. With 6 days here, what could go wrong? Well a ban on night photography and 6 days of mist, although it was good to see a green landscape and even find backdrops of palm trees.

The express from Neijiang included 2 air con coaches in its 17 coach consist, 18th January 1997

A passenger train from leaves Zigong for Yibin, 17th January 1997

Zigong was a compact city with the chance of reflection shots in walking distance from the hotel. I noticed many people wore trendy clothes and were wealthier than their northern counterparts. Mao suits were a rarity, the poorest workers seemed to be those who lived and work on their boats. 

89 Express between Zigong and Yibin, 19th January 1997

A Yibin bound freight crosses paddy fields, 19th January 1997

Western China, Baotou.

JS 58 001 and SY 1517, Baotou Steelworks, 13th January 1997

Baotou was as far west as I ventured, I had missed out on Zigong, but the new coal mining line to Dongsheng and the Baotou steelworks railway were visited in 1997 and 2001. Our 1997 visit seemed to coincide with a shift change and most activity was light engines going on and off shed for servicing. Both JS here were seen, these locos had been allocated to the steel works when new. Only one YJ class 2-6-2 was seen in steam, it had been recently repainted, the rest of the class were on the shed dump. Set aside were tank engines, a couple of XK class 0-6-0Ts and ET 0-8-0Ts, I paid them little attention, concentrating on engines in steam. A SY emerged from the repair shop where it had been having its brakes checked. It was energetically run up and down along a straight section of track and the brakes slammed on, after a few charges up and down the fitters had it returned to the workshop.

A 2001 visit saw us at the slag heap watching a number of SY hauled trains dump their hot slag from tippler wagons in extreme cold conditions, they emptied slowly like sludge. I was horrified to see people scramble up the steep embankment to gather coal and bits of iron which were then melted in small furnaces. The scavengers had no protective gear and they were in close proximity to molten ore. 

Some CNR steam survived for suburban work and the branch to Shiguai. In 1997 our guide tried to stop us was visiting Shiguai it turned out to be an army garrison, not a good place to linger when festooned with cameras! We retreated found a spot out of town to see the morning passenger depart for Houba and Baotou.

The line was still steam in January 2001, but the JS had been bumped from their suburban trains by new DF4s. 

A JS departing Shiguai, 13th January 1997

Baotou. JS 8279 catches the last rays of winter sun as it prepares the Shiguai departure, 14th January 2001

The morning passenger from Shiguai approaches Houba, 19th January 2001

For our last day of steam action in 2001 we negotiated a rough country track that led to the small summit station of Houba. We were disappointed to find the morning coal trains were not running, however the morning passenger was worth coming to see, the JS was clean with brass boiler bands. In 1997 the train had loaded to 7 coaches, now only 4 sufficed. The engine still made a fuss about the modest load and the scenery was breath-taking. At the time I thought that would be my last shot of Chinese steam, not a bad way to see it out. It turned out I was to return, but this was my last view of CNR steam in action.

Rob Dickinson