China Report February - March 2015
11 March
12 - 14 March
15 - 22 March
28 February - 2 March
4 - 8 March
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Click if you are interested in a November 2015 or a March 2016 Tour. I plan to offer both tours.
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Please take a look at the Flickr albums I have created from photos taken on this trip. You can access these albums by clicking on the links on the individual steam location pages. I think these photos show that Chinese steam is still worth seeing in action.
Comments on this and future tours

The success of this tour has pursuaded me that there is still enough life left in Chinese steam to propose another visit in November 2015 and one in March 2016. Jun is keen to organise this and I will shortly know the dates that work for him as well as me. Please take a look at the photo albums on Flickr to see why I have reached this conclusion.

The 5 locations visited on this trip will be included in the March 2016 plan but the November trip will not include Shibanxi. Should Rongshan re-open, it will be offered as a pre-tour option for November (with Shibanxi as the back up plan) and instead of Shibanxi in the March plan. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up on that but some railway staff are still employed on a retainer at Rongshan and final closure has not been announced. The companies involved (the old Prison mine company sold a majority share to a major Chinese coal company but retained a minority share) may still be talking so we will have to wait and see what happens. If they re-open as a coal rail, there is a big question about which coal mine they would serve. We saw them stripping out equipment from Yujiabian and absolutely no activity at Shanziba mine.

I am not aware of other Chinese steam lines that should be added to either tour. That's not to say that they are not worth a visit by individuals who want to see what is there. However, so far no other known marginal steam operation offers sufficient 'guaranteed' interest or action to justify a visit by an organised group. Should access to Chinese steel mills ever be possible again, that situation might change but I think that is unlikely to happen.

With the changes at the lines we visit, I have re-assessed how long is good for each place. My currently feeling is that if planning a visit, you need to spend at least the following amount of time:

Sandaoling - 5 days (more wouldn't hurt)
Shibanxi - 6-7 days (but make sure you visit during a tourist season such as the March flower season and include the weekend influx of tourists and all the extra workings)
Baiyin - 2-3 days (but only during the winter steam heat season - roughly 15 November - 15 March)
Pingzhuang - 1 day (but try to find out how many diesels are in use and if the washery - China Rail transfer is steam hauled this could justify longer)
Fuxin - 3-4 days (longer would probably see you repeating things)
Rongshan - 6-7 days (but only if it re-opens and runs as a working coal railway. As a salvage operation or tourist line, less time is needed)

With public transport in China now evolving rapidly, there are fewer overnight sleeper trains, more high speed trains and more airline flights to obscure destinations. Based on my recent trip, the following transport options seem the best:

Beijing - Lanzhou
For a tour starting or ending at Beijing Airport, the option to fly to or from Lanzhou for Baiyin now makes good sense compared to the overnight train options.

Lanzhou - Hami
The overnight train is still better than the slow daytime high speed train as you can have an extra half day at either Baiyin or Sandaoling. I am not aware of any suitable flights.

Hami - Beijing
The daily flights now make this the preferred option. It just takes too long by train to continue to recommend this.

Beijing - Fuxin
Travel by semi high speed train to Jinzhou Nan and private transport from there is the best option.

Fuxin - Pingzhuang
Private road transport or the daytime train both cover this. The road option is quicker and more flexible.

Pingzhuang - Beijing
Private road transport or train from Chifeng to Beijing North. The road option is quicker and more flexible especially if heading to or from Beijing Airport.

Beijing - Chengdu
Flying this route with lots of choice is the best option. To get to Shibanxi, there is now the option of high speed train from Chengdu to Leshan and train to Guangyuan for Rongshan. While private transport may be good for the 2.5 hour drive to Sanjin (for Shibanxi), make sure you have comfortable transport for the 4 hours plus drive to Guanyuan. There is also a flight from Beijing to Guangyuan (but of the one per day variety).

I don't like these changes but it's increasingly likely that the end of steam in China will be seen using far fewer traditional overnight sleeper train rides in my tour programme. Expect more use of internal flights and high-speed trains on any future tours.

If I have more comments on this and future trips, I will add them here.

This version uploaded 25 march 2015.