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Linesiding with John
8 April 2017
You can read about the previous two China trips here:
Click here to read about the March 2016 tour here:
Last China Real Steam Tour 2017
The Flickr Albums are now available below:
The Flickr Albums are now available
Tour Itinerary
Final China Real industrial Steam Tour
March - April 2017

This tour has now ended.  The Sandaoling portion of the tour is complete and the conclusions can be read below. I have now concluded the Shibanxi report - the big news is that the electric coal trains have stopped. More below.
I will add comments and reports below for our trip as time permits and when I have internet access.
Once back in the UK, I will upload some photos to a Flickr album.

1.     11/03/17    Saturday   
Meet up at Beijing Airport for start of tour (early-mid morning)

Visit to Beijing Railway Museum (large exhibits) and Hutongs in Beijing, overnight Beijing hotel (Dong Feng Hotel)

Immigration took forever and our baggage was waiting on a stopped carousel by the time we got through but the taxi ride to the Dong Feng was fast. Both were apparently due to national government meetings taking place in Beijing. Being a minimal size group (2!) at the moment, we were very flexible and as neither of us felt we needed the Railway Museum, we headed straight for the hotel. We took a taxi to lunch near Qiamen (getting out at the old Beijing Station which is also a railway museum (small exhibits) and walked the tourist hutongs near there passing a new tram service into the hutongs (2 old trams without overhead wires that seem to have two separate tracks (one for each tram). After a decent Muslim lunch with beer, Alan our guide headed back to the airport while Nigel and I walked further into the hutongs which got more and more authentic as we went on. We knew we were heading towards the hotel but when we emerged at a big road it took me a while to see the grey bulk of the Dong Feng back to our left. We'd walked through a decent chunk of surviving, well populated small roads and alleys to get there. After a bit of a rest, it was time for an early dinner opposite for our group of 4 (Nigel, Nils, Alan our guide and me). Early to bed after a bit of a repack for our train journey to Hami tomorrow.

2.     12/03/17    Sunday   
Transfer to Beijing West Station for train Z69 dep. 10:00 for Hami/Kumul, lunch, dinner, overnight on train soft sleeper berths, arr. +1

3.     13/03/17    Monday   
arr. Hami/Kumul 12:49, transfer to Sandaoling, first look at Sandaoling opencast operations until sunset after 19:00, overnight Sandaoling

Transfer to Sandaoling for first look

We arrived in Hami on time but took the back route to Sandaoling as security has increased and the driver wanted to avoid the check point on the expressway. It meant that we arrived at Sandaoling via the route of the coal line from China Rail to Nanzhan. The weather was cloudy and visibility was low with some sand blowing. Not great for photography. Nanzhan was quiet but the open cast side was busy and there is still activity to move locos in and out of the strategic reserve. It appears that steam could survive for another year (or to Chinese New Year 2018) - Jun gives those options 80% likely at the moment over a May 2017 closure.

Sandaoling is quite busy with 8 gricers who had dinner together tonight from 3 different small groups. It's good to be meeting friends (and new friends) in the very last great real working steam location.

Option to fly to Hami
07:55 PEK(T3)  11:40 HMI( )CA1299
This can also be done any day the group is in Sandaoling.

4.     14/03/17    Tuesday   

Wind dropping and visibility improving towards evening but it was not a good photographic day overall.

5.     15/03/17    Wednesday   

No visible sunrise and it was 10 am before we had hazy sunshine.

The JS locos working the open cast mine railway at present are:

On 13 March, 8197 was being returned to the secure compound but had derailed just outside. This was the loco reported by Bernd as out-of-use at Dongbolizhan in February with an expired boiler certificate. By 15 March morning, it had disappeared, presumably rerailed and pushed into the compound.

Currently 4 coal trains are operating during the day shift (8 am - 8 pm) and 3 trains at night.

8190 has been the 'passenger train' loco going light engine into the pit at shift change to exchange workers. It couples up to a rake of coal wagons when it gets back from its passenger turn.

Both loaders are in use at times and this morning around 12:00 all 4 trains were in the pit, 2 loading, 1 taking coal and 1 waiting at BaEr signaling point. It was possible to photograph 3 trains in one photo on telephoto as a loaded train departed, followed by the loco taking coal with its train running into the siding with the other train stationary at BaEr.

Of the deep mine locos, so far two have been identified:

8314 shunting Nanzhan east end
8366 shunting Nanzhan west end

6204 was reported out of use at the workshops but has since disappeared from there - back to Nanzhan?

6.     16/03/17    Thursday   

7.     17/03/17    Friday   

JS8053 has been identified in use at Nanzhan.

8.     18/03/17    Saturday   

Only 3 trains in use at Dongbolizhan all serving the high level (washery) line. No trains going to the coal yard. Nanzhan was also quiet with, in the afternoon, one train propelled to Erjing and one loco shunting the west end. We thought it might be quiet because it was Saturday.

9.     19/03/17    Sunday   

Back to 4 trains in use at Dongbolizhan. JS 8173 which was moved out of storage recently is now in use on coal trains. We think it has replaced JS 8225. After shift change, all trains when down the pit and were all there at one time which suggests one at blue loader (track 3), one at front end loader line track 1, one in loco coaling line track 2 or in the siding at Ba-Er zhan and one waiting at Ba-Er zhan. Track 4 is the old link line to Xibolizhan which rarely sees any use. I don't know how far it goes these days. By the late afternoon, just 3 trains were operating.

10.     20/03/17    Monday   

11.     21/03/17    Tuesday   

The rest of our group arrived and, of course, it got cloudy and windy again. They have just 2 full and 2 half days to see all the sights so we are trying to give them 'best of Sandaoling' but the weather is not completely co-operating.

12.     22/03/17    Wednesday   

Two trains to the high-level unloader before shift charge and the last one left around 08:20. We now know how to access the roof of the former hospital for good panoramic views of this line as well as the line into Dongbolizhan. We just about got a sunrise with train before the sun went behind the cloud. At Dongbolizhan, 3 trains left for the pit and one loco shunted a wagon out of its train. I'm not sure if a 3 or 4 train service was established as we tried for a workshop visit that was put back to the afternoon. So instead, we drove around by the power station to Yijing and Nanzhan and we caught a tender-first train of empties hauled by JS 8077 around 12:00 and then went via the high-level unloader to the coal yard before lunch. Two trains visited the high-level unloader before 13:00 and none to the coal yard. JS 8366 was shunting the west end of Nanzhan.

In the afternoon, we visited the workshops where a dust storm blew up which called an early end to the day for some of us while a couple persisted at the high-level unloader. It worked well for them as the wind dropped and the sun came out. The mountains became dramatically clear in the dust storm and after and we hope they will still be visible tomorrow morning.

In the workshop, 3 locos are stored/being serviced JS 8358, 8225 and 8089 (wheels out) and one loco 8080 probably in there as a spare parts' donor. All these are in the first workshop. In the second workshop, there were no locos but a set of wheels were being turned on the wheel lathe. The narrow gauge push line to the workshop power plant is still in use and was photographed before the dust storm hit us! An interesting feature of this line is the use of heavy standard gauge rail for a narrow gauge line. The storm hit before I could use my boots to re-establish that it is 500mm but see the report of my 2011 visit where it is mentioned here.

13.     23/03/17    Thursday   

14.     24/03/17    Friday   
Morning at Sandaoling

Transfer to Hami - end of Part 2
Overnight train to Chengdu (2 nights)
Option to return to Beijing to end tour

Our visit finished at 12:30 and then we prepared to leave Sandaoling for Hami. Some returned to Beijing by train and plane while a small, select group took the 42 hour train ride to Chengdu and Shibanxi.

Overall comments on Sandaoling:

Sandaoling has a future. It looks likely that the open cast coal operation will remain steam until the end of 2017 if not longer.

Locos for both systems have been removed from the strategic reserve to be restored to steam and at least one JS8173 is already in use. There were 4 locos in the works, 2 stored available, 1 with wheels out being worked on and 1 more either for repair or as a donor loco.

The open cast mines are using 3-4 locos each shift with one more loco stored ready for use in the workshops.

The deep mine appears to be using 4 locos with another stored available in the the workshops.

JS 6204 (the last active 62xx series loco in use) has not been seen recently but was last reported moved dead to Nanzhan.

No unusual workings were observed - no works trains, no steam crane, sand trains or railbus use - in the 12 days that we were there. Wrong line working from BaEr Zhan to KenKo Zhan with at least 2 loaded train coming up the empties line, was observed one afternoon.

Most days saw 4 trains bringing coal from the blue loader and the bucket loader to both the high level line unloader and the coal yard west of Nanzhan. The coal yard is primarily a daylight operation while the high level line continues 24 hours.

We saw empty trains heading to Erjing on the deep mine system morning and afternoon both being propelled and hauled but using one loco only. The return was never swift and on most occasions we gave up waiting for it.

The weather in late March tended to be windy and cloudy. The wind also produced dusty conditions. However, we had the occasional clear days with low temperatures, steam and the mountains visible. While I wouldn't disagree with anyone recommending a November - February visit, March is not to be totally dismissed as it produced acceptable photos with longer days and a few magic early mornings and evenings and the occasional persistence of steam through the day. If you can only go in March, you should go. Our visit this year was about a week later starting and longer than our 2016 visit (6 - 12 March 2016) although the windy weather had already started when we arrived this year.

Open Cast Mine Fleet
JS 8081, 8167, 8173, 8190, 8225

Deep Mine Fleet
JS 8053, 8077, 8314, 8366 (this list may not be complete)

15.     25/03/17    Saturday   
Day on train

16.     26/03/17    Sunday   
Arrive Chengdu

Collect any new arrivals at Chengdu Airport
Transfer to Shibanxi - Jiayang Coal Railway
Hotel in Sanjin

Just north of Lueyang (several km) on the west side was an industrial siding with a dusty, unloved industrial diesel possibly now not in use. Although I didn't see it this time, I believe from previous trips that the working line curves off north west of China Rail and runs to I know not where. Perhaps Google Earth can help.

Our Train - K454 from Korla to Chengdu has some of the worst brakes on any train I've travelled in China on which made our second night on the train full of short naps broken up by violent braking which seemed to swing the bogie one side then the other.  In recent years, we've noted a compatability issue with modern electric locos and traditional sleeper stock but this appeared solved on the Beijing to Hami train Z69. It seems to have got worse on train K454

17.     27/03/17    Monday   
Start of 6.5 days at Shibanxi

Transfer to Bagou

I'll write the summary of the first 3 days here. We are now back in Sanjin and it's Wednesday. The next report will be for Thursday below.

The big news is that the power station was shut down in December 2016 and the electric-hauled coal trains stopped. The railway now only operates steam-hauled passenger and tourist trains. The coal mine at Sanjin/Yuejing is sending out all coal by road and cannot meet all the demand for its coal. It now seems even more likely that the steam loco shed and workshop will be transferred to Sanjin (although I'm not sure they know yet where they will fit it in). The locos now have to travel 4.4 km each way from the depot to the tourist station. Coal and water are available at Sanjin so it's only stabling, servicing and repair that is done at Shibanxi.

Locos 7 (with 8's tender), 17, 18 and 19 have been in use. No. 19 is new for me this year. No. 18 was new last year. We had a quick scoot around the shed before we were asked to leave and could see 2 more locos in the back section. I'm no sure that anyone managed to get the numbers. I would expect at least one more loco in action at the weekend. In previous years, they have managed 5 locos but not 6 for the peak season weekend service.

Mid-week, all of the tourists trains have been running to Haungcunjing. The battery electric may come out at the weekend for a Bagou - Huangcunjing shuttle with steam trains terminating at Bagou.

The train times currently are:

07:00 Shibanxi (passenger)
09:00 Sanjin (tourist)
10:00 Sanjin (tourist)
11:00 Sanjin (tourist)
13:00 Sanjin (tourist)
14:00 Sanjin (tourist)
16:00 Sanjin (tourist)
16:30 Shibanxi (passenger)

On 28 March, a special one-coach train operated at 15:00 and terminated at Bagou from where it returned. From Friday or definitely on Saturday and Sunday, we expect the 12:00 and 15:00 tourist departures will also run and shuttles to Mifeng will also be fitted in. On Saturday and Sunday, the last passenger will run later (17:00 or 17:30) to allow for all of the extra tourist trains. The mid-day passenger should be reinstated in April after the end of the Spring flower season.

Trains are passing at Sanjin, Mifeng, Caiziba and Xianrenjiao.

18.     28/03/17    Tuesday   

19.     29/03/17    Wednesday   
Bagou to Sanjin

20.     30/03/17    Thursday   
Sanjin or Transfer to Sanjin

21.     31/03/17    Friday   

Beautiful sunshine all day with not many tourists but plenty of trains.

22.     01/04/17    Saturday   

A quiet, cloudy weekend day towards the end of the flower season.

23.     02/04/17    Sunday   
Morning at Sanjin

It finally got busy on Sunday. This was because of a 3 day National Public Holiday 2-4 April for Tomb Sweeping. The Flower Season at Shibanxi officially ends after this holiday. They ran tourist trains hourly from 8 am until 4 pm (9 trains) and at least one shuttle from Sanjin to Mifeng around 12:30. This was in addition to the first and last passenger train - so at least 12 trains in all. Over the weekend, some double-heading occured from Sanjin to Mifeng when the pilot would come off. There was normally a 'thunderbird' loco at Mifeng to assist trains as required. Locos seen in use were 7, 16, 17, 18, 19. There is an unanswered question about the other older locos including 8 (a Pengzhou loco - its tender was running with No. 7), 9, 10 and 14. One possibility is that they became parts donors for the 'new locos' 16 - 19. We only managed a partial visit to the shed/workshop but that would only suggest one more intact loco (number unknown). The loco in the museum at Mifeng is numbered 9.

In hindsight, our visit should have included this holiday as the number of tourists increased dramatically along with extra trains.

Transfer to Chengdu Airport to be in place for departure home
Option to fly out same evening (at your own risk)
Overnight hotel near Airport

24.     03/04/17    Monday   
Fly home from Chengdu

End of Tour

Beijing March 2017
Sandaoling March 2017
Shibanxi March 2017