SANDAOLING 11th to 19th January 2018


It was an excellent trip and I was surprised by the amount of steam activity as, not having been before, I did not realise that it was a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year operation, and the last on the planet! Within the area one could not go for very long without the sight or sound of steam at work, sometimes managing three trains in one shot!

Daily action saw three trains active on the pit circuit, sometimes reducing to two, and four locos in steam at Nanzhan with three working and one spare. A loco from Nanzhan would work trains to and from Erjing mine as required. Locos from Dongbolizhan and Nanzhan would also go to shunt at the works as required.

Locos seen in use were 8167 and 8190 (pit circuit 11th Jan only), 6224, 8173 and 8225 (pit circuit), 8053, 8077 and 8366 at Nanzhan. I didn't record the fourth (spare) loco but others did as 8358. In addition we saw 8089 (maintenance) and 8197 (medium overhaul) in the works together with 8167 and 8190 dead that we had seen working on the first day. That puts the active fleet at 11 locos with 7 in steam on a daily basis.

Shift change is supposedly 08:00 at Dongbolizhan but times seem a bit vague as sometimes trains were still at the washery at gone 08:00. The first loaded train up after the shift change is unlikely to be before 10:00 by the time the empties get down there and have been loaded. There can be a lot of activity between Baerzhan and the Blue Loader area as trains frequently run in to take coal and then out again to the headshunt before going in to load. There is also generally a mid afternoon break but again it can be rather vague and does not preclude trains moving somewhere or other during that period. A complete cycle can be completed in about an hour and a half but often there are long waits for no apparent reason. These were likely related to problems at the Blue Loader, whether mechanical or coal supply.


Thursday 11th January

Our first glimpse of steam in the distance was as we turned off the dual carriageway at 13:20. I presume this must have been at Erjing mine. We headed straight for the Hotel to check in and then straight back out as soon as possible to the pipe overlooking the pit. First confirmed sighting of steam at 14:08 was of empties waiting to go in for loading at Baerzhan. Walk down into the pit and then saw the following. Absolutely fantastic to be able to see regular steam working in 2018!!!


15:35 8167 up loadeds
15:55 8225 up loadeds
16:30 8167 down empties
16:40 8167 back up empties to headshunt
16:45 8225 down empties and stop at Baerzhan
16:52 8190 up loadeds while 8225 going down with empties

Friday 12th January

06:36 JS heard from hotel room working hard

Out to Washery.

07:32 JS just leaving as we arrive
07:48 8225 leaving washery to Dongbolizhan

To Dongbolizhan for shift change with 8225, 8173 and 6224 (No sign of 8167 and 8190!) approx. 08:05 to 09:50

Amazing atmosphere in the dark and cold especially with one loco light standing in full steam (believe it was 6224? - can anyone confirm?). All three locos being made ready and preparing trains for heading down to the pit. The only down side was that there were a lot of other people there as well, so we didn't attend again during our stay.

09:50 8173 propel empties to the pit


10:28 6224 up loadeds
11:09 8173 up loadeds


11:56 6224 empties from washery and into the headshunt stopping next to 8173 which had been held on the gradient with loadeds from the pit
11:58 8173 restart loadeds with difficulty to the washery
12:02 6224 depart with empties to Dongbolizhan
12:25 8173 with empties from the washery to the pit


13:00 6224 down empties
13:21 8173 out to headshunt empties, passed by ? with loadeds at 13:23, then back in to load

To Erjing line

Long wait
16:00 8077 leaving Erjing mine to Nanzhan with loadeds

To Nanzhan

16:42 8077 propelling empties straight back to Erjing mine

To Kenkongzhan

16:56 6224 loadeds out of pit to washery
17:10 8173 propel empties from washery to pit
17:28 8225 loadeds out of pit
17:52 6224 propel empties from washery to pit
18:02 8173 loadeds out of pit

Saturday 13th January

To Washery (07:15 to 08:15)

8225? dep empties to Dongbolizhan
07:20 6224 depart washery empties to loop
07:47 8173 arrive at washery loadeds and 6224 depart empties to Dongbolizhan
08:05 8173 depart empties to Dongbolizhan

Pit between Pipe and Baerzhan

09:45 Sunrise shot with 6224 approaching with empties from Dongbolizhan and passing at 09:50 heading for the pit


10:13 8173? pulling forward from Blue Loader
10:17 8225 down with empties and stop
10:19 8173 up with loadeds and passing waiting 8225, continues climbing and starts slipping furiously and eventually stalls, finally making it out of the pit at 10:35!
10:22 6224 out to headshunt having coaled
10:25 6224 back in to load
10:27 8225 in to coal

Between Baerzhan and Pipe

11:00 6224 up with loadeds, 8225? in headshunt


11:27 8173 down with empties
11:46 8225 up with loadeds

Rim by Pipe

12:04 6224 down with empies and stop at Baerzhan
Approx 12:15 8225 presumed empties from washery to Kenkongzhan headshunt and then to Dongbolizhan
13:02 8173 presumed out to Baerzhan headshunt and back in to load
13:40 8173 up loadeds and 6224 in to load
14:38 8173 down empties and stop at Baerzhan
16:07 6224 up loadeds
16:11 8173 in to be loaded

Little way down from Kenkongzhan

16:44 6224 down empties
17:05 8173 up loadeds, surprisingly with no slipping!!
17:43 8173 down empties
18:00 6224 up loadeds

On levels near Pipe

18:25 6224 down empties and stop at Baerzhan with sun just setting
18:35 8173 up loadeds in the sunset, passing 6224 and with much horn sounding!!
18:37 6224 in to load

Sunday 14th January

Washery 06:30 to 08:15

6224 with empties in loop and another waiting on curve to arrive
06:39 8173 arrives with loadeds passing 6224
06:44 6224 finally departs loop empties to pit after an impressive steam display!
07:00 8173 departs empties to loop
07:19 8225 arrives with loadeds passing 8173
07:21 8173 departs loop with empties to Dongbolizhan
07:37 8225 departs empties to loop
07:58 6224 arrives with loadeds passing 8225
08:01 8225 departs loop to Dongbolizhan
08:13 6224 departs washery empties to Dongbolizhan


09:40 8173 in empties to coal
10:32 8173 out empties to headshunt
10:49 8225 up loadeds
10:50 8173 back in to load

Close to Blue Loader

11:30 8173 depart Loader with loadeds
12:00 8225 down empties to left hand line as viewed from Baerzhan (line 4?)
If the left hand line is line 4 then locos were being coaled on either line 4 or line 3 and loaded trains were departing on Line 2. Line 1 was not seen in use. The mechanical shovel that I understand was previously used to load trains was not seen in use and appeared to be derelict.
12:10 8225 out empties to headshunt and back in to load

Between Baerzhan and Pipe

12:34 8173 down with empties

Near Pipe

12:40 8225 up with loadeds


Locos observed shunting at Nanzhan including one that was clearly heading light engine to the works
15:42 6224 arrive with loadeds
15:58 6224 depart empties to loop
16:04 8225 arrive with loadeds
16:05 6224 depart loop empties to pit

There followed one of the highlights of the trip with an added and unexpected major bonus on top! Many thanks to Alan for asking for a second time!!

In cab of 8225 from 16:11 until 18:47! We were expecting to have a run down to the Blue Loader with empties and back up to the washery with loadeds but their loco control obviously had other ideas! 

We started by unloading at the washery which enabled us to get shots of 8366 shunting at Nanzhan whilst we were moving up with 8225. From a moving steam loco in normal service and of another steam loco moving in normal service in 2018!!!

We left the washery at 16:25 and observed the crew on the phone! It soon became apparent that plans had changed when we arrived in the headshunt at Kenkongzhan and then reversed and went round to Dongbolizhan arriving at 16:38. The empties were promptly cut off and we proceeded on light engine! What the hell are we doing and where the hell are we going!!?? The riddle was solved when we arrived at the main workshops at 16:46 and I was wondering what view their officials might have taken of three foreigners in the cab but all seemed ok! We move up towards a steam crane numbered 4 at 16:50 which is clearly in steam and had obviously been in use stopping at 16:52. What a pile of scrap everywhere!! Oh, look! There goes a lorry with a steam loco chassis on it!! Unfortunately I was not quick enough to get in on video! However, the JS driver indicates to continue watching, so I am ready with the video as the boiler and cab section of SY 1729 goes past on a second lorry at 16:57!!! Pretty amazing stuff! We later learn that the SY was going to be stuffed and mounted at Urumqi. Others had seen the SY being shunted a couple of days previously. We also assume that the steam crane had been used to load the SY onto the lorries.

We then buffer up to the crane at 17:01, pull forward with it at 17:02, stop at 17:05 and propel it back at 17:06 to the main workshop buildings where the right hand door is open and we stop at 17:11 with the crane half inside, then push in until solid contact made at 17:12. That solid contact (unbeknown to us at the time) was with the tender of a JS inside the workshops, see later for more details! We then complete our whistle stop works visit by returning light engine to Dongbolizhan, re-attaching to our empties and setting back to take water at 17:24. We then propel the empties to Kenkongzhan at 17:30 and depart for the Blue Loader from Kenkongzhan at 17:40. We arrive at Baerzhan and stop and at 18:00 8173 thunders past us with loadeds for the washery. We head in to load at 18:02 being in position at 18:07. We finally depart at 18:35 for an exciting run up to Kenkongzhan with loadeds, passing 6224 waiting with empties at Baerzhan, and getting off at 18:47. A truly memorable experience, all the more so to realise that this is in 2018 !!!!

8225 departs for the washery with "our" loadeds at 18:52

Walk along to Pipe

Approx 19:28 6224 up loadeds with arranged sparks

Monday 15th January

Near Washery from 06:10 - Bitterly freezing cold - probably the coldest we experienced on the trip!

07:20 JS with loadeds to Washery
07:42 JS with empties to Dongbolizhan
approx. 08:10 JS with loadeds to Washery
08:27 JS with empties to Dongbolizhan

After breakfast with ladder and climb up vertical rungs onto derelict Hospital roof! Still very cold! From here we could see the line to the washery, the line to and activity at Dongbolizhan and also the works.

09:50 JS with empties from Dongbolizhan to the pit (6224?)
10:03 JS light from Nanzhan to the works and active in the works at 10:30
10:33 JS light from Dongbolizhan forward onto disused line and back in at 10:35
11:00 to 11:15 JS with empties from Dongbolizhan to Kenkongzhan with difficulty and much slipping (8173?)
11:09 6224 with loadeds to Washery

Level crossing between Kenkongzhan and Washery (blocked with sleepers) "Sleeper crossing"

11:40 6224 to Kenkongzhan with empties
12:05 8173 to Washery with loadeds


12:?? 8225 arrive with loadeds and stop outside in loop
12:30 8173 depart with empties and stop in loop next to 8225

.... and then for something completely different, surprising us all!! 

12:33 8173 straight back in to washery with empties to the other line!
12:37 8225 in to washery to unload

The reason for 8173 coming back in became apparent when each of the wagons in turn was tipped and a small digger scraped out the remaining contents which were quite securely frozen to the bottom of the wagons!

Excellent now with two JS's side by side in the washery!!

12:57 8225 depart with empties and thrash away to Kenkongzhan (clearly it is quite steeply graded to there from both the washery and from Dongbolizhan and the locos have to work hard with the empties!)
13:10 6224 arrive with loadeds

Two JS's side by side at the washery again!!

Then, at 13:21 as 6224 is pulling up and unloading, 8173 departs with empties - Very Nice !!!

13:42 6224 depart empties and stop in loop

On way to lunch 6224 passes us at Sleeper Crossing with empties

Pit rim on opposite side (views can be had all way from the Blue Loader to almost Kenkongzhan!)

16:13 6224 up loadeds passing (8225?) waiting at Baerzhan
16:20 8173 up loadeds with extreme difficulty. Much furious slipping and stalled at 16:32. Much more furious slipping and not reaching Kenkongzhan until 16:58 !!!


17:15 to 17:17 8225 up loadeds and stop
17:20 6224 empties from washery to pit
17:23 8225 restart with empties to washery
17:57 8173 empties from washery to pit
18:05 to 18:09 6224 up loadeds to washery
18:25 8225 from washery to pit, stopping briefly


19:15 8173 up with loadeds and slipping - almost dark
20:00 8225 up with loadeds and arranged sparks!

Tuesday 16th January

02:30 listen to JS working hard from hotel room

Spoil tip overlooking Blue Loader - quite windy! Had it been any more windy there would have been a coal dust storm!

Approx 09:30 8173 empties to Blue Loader
09:50 6224 down empties for loco to be coaled
10:09 6224 empties to headshunt
10:15 8225 from Baerzhan empties for loco to be coaled passing 6224 in headshunt
10:20 to 10:35 8173 depart with loadeds (seeming much better?) passing 8225 coaling and 6224 in headshunt (all three in same video shot!!)
10:28 6224 empties from headshunt to Blue Loader passing 8225
10:31 8225 empties to headshunt
11:15 to 11:30 6224 depart with loadeds passing 8225
11:23 8225 empties from headshunt to Blue Loader


11:52 8173 down empties to Blue Loader

Walk up towards pipe

12:07 to 12:11 8225 up loadeds
12:35 6224 empties from washery and then to Dongbolizhan
12:58 8225 down empties and stop at Baerzhan
13:04 to 13:15 8173 up loadeds passing 8225


15:20 8053 shunting and very clean
15:27 8366 propelling empties to Erjing mine

Go towards Erjing mine to watch


16:41 DF08 0248 arrive with huge rake of empties ex China Rail
17:10 DF08 0248 depart with loadeds to China Rail
17:48 8077 shunting out
17:52 8077 shunting in

Near washery

18:37 6224 empties from washery to pit in silhouette


18:46 8173 up loadeds and stop
18:50 8173 depart loadeds to washery but stop again as crew touting for cigarettes! Depart again 18:51


19:25 8225 or 6224 up with arranged sparks

Wednesday 17th January

02:40 JS heard working hard from hotel room

Turned into a glorious clear day for the mountain views

Washery 06:45 to 08:20

6224 already waiting in loop with empties for the pit
07:02 8173 arrive with loadeds
6224 puts on a major show of steam and eventually moves forward a little (!) before departing shrouded in steam at 07:21
07:25 8173 depart empties and stop in loop
07:37 8225 arrive with loadeds and has a small fire on top of the left hand cylinder
07:38 8173 depart empties to Dongbolizhan
08:04 8225 depart empties to Dongbolizhan as 6224 arriving into loop
08:07 6224 arrive with loadeds
08:18 6224 depart empties to Dongbolizhan with major fireworks!!

Level Crossing between Dongbolizhan and Kenkongzhan

10:15 8173 shunting light at Dongbolizhan (having taken water?)
10:22 to 10:25 6224 with empties to pit
10:34 to 10:35 8173 with empties to pit

Rim on opposite side

11:20 to 11:24 JS up with loadeds passing JS down with empties at 11:22
11:56 to 12:11 JS (8173?) up with loadeds (JS leaving washery with empties heard in background)
12:03 JS (8225?) from Baerzhan empties in to Blue Loader
12:06 6224 empties down from washery
12:37 to 12:41 8225 up with loadeds

Near washery

13:00 8173 empties from washery to Kenkongzhan
13:07 8173 empties from Kenkongzhan to Dongbolizhan


13:15 to 13:19 6224 up with loadeds and stop
13:20 to 13:25 8225 with empties from washery to pit, stops briefly and continues and 6224 restart with loadeds to washery

After lunch to look round the market in Sandaoling


Locos visible in steam but nothing moving

Sit by line to Erjing mine but nothing happening

15:30 DF08 depart with loadeds to China Rail
approx 16:25 saw a massive cloud of dust in the distance. I wondered what it was! A few seconds later there was a big bang confirming that it was a rather large explosion!!


16:56 6224 with empties from washery to the pit
17:02 8173 with loadeds from pit to washery
17:15 8225 with empties from washery into headshunt and then to Dongbolizhan (for water?)
17:34 8225 with empties from Dongbolizhan to pit
17:41 6224 up with loadeds
17:56 8173 with empties from washery to the pit

Thursday 18th January

03:00 JS heard working hard from hotel room
06:08 JS heard working hard from hotel room

Washery 06:45 to 08:20

(8225?) waiting in loop with empties
07:01 (8225?) departs along loop then stops, then pulls forward again a long way, then after a while departs again at 07:08!! No idea why!!??
07:29 6224 arrive with loadeds
07:58 6224 depart empties to loop
08:02 8173 arrive with loadeds and 6224 depart with empties to Dongbolizhan
08:19 8173 depart empties to Dongbolizhan

Level crossing between Dongbolizhan and Kenkongzhan

09:48 to 09:52 8225 with empties from Dongbolizhan to Kenkongzhan


Incredible to see normal service steam locos being worked on for continued service in 2018!!

8089 dead and being worked on
8190 under maintenance 
8197 under medium overhaul on blocks with no wheels and watched as bearings being removed from motion and tubes being removed from the boiler
8167 dead in a separate shed

Whilst at the works 8366 and 8053 arrived coupled from Nanzhan

Huge amounts of scrap lying around including two Jordan spreaders and a number of cabs all bearing the same numbers as locos still in service - hhhhmmm!?

Thanks to Alan for arranging!

By ex coal yard

Look at derelict JS at end of works yard and consider that steam has been dying for around 85 years since America started wholesale dieselisation in the 1930's and yet it is not quite dead yet!!

11:46 (8225?) loadeds to washery
12:12 (8225?) empties from washery
12:25 8173 loadeds to washery
12:46 6224 loadeds to washery
13:00 8173 empties from washery

Bank and shopping

To Erjing line 15:50 to 16:50 - nothing happening

Other end of Nanzhan yard

8053 in steam but disappears!
Many locos visible in loco compound

Bank and more shopping!!


19:03 JS down with empties
19:18 to 19:21 JS up with loadeds and arranged sparks

Final dinner all together plus Jun as well!

Friday 19th January

04:08 JS working hard heard from hotel room, then later heard another

Washery 06:45 to 07:50

JS in loop waiting to depart
06:51 8173 arrive with loadeds
06:59 JS depart loop with fireworks!
07:19 8173 depart empties to Dongbolizhan
Approx 07:50 3rd JS arrived with loadeds as just leaving!

After breakfast we head for the Erjing line and wait. Group photo whilst we are waiting

10:28 to 10:33 8077 propelling empties to Erjing mine, very impressive!

Look at uniform factory with 2 derelict JS's, one is 6204

Pit near Pipe for our last look for this trip!

All three trains are at the bottom end!

11:32 to 11:39 8173 up with loadeds, slipping a little

Then a fantastic sequence in bright sunshine to mark a superb end to an incredible trip :-
12:23 to 12:33 6224 up with loadeds
12:27 8225 from Baerzhan to Blue Loader for loading
12:30 8173 down with empties passing 6224 in front of us

Then back to the hotel for final packing and off to Hami with food and beer, but it was not quite all over!

As we joined the main road we could clearly see 8077 heading back to Nanzhan from Erjing with it's loaded train!!

That's all folks ....!! Until next time...???

Thanks to all organisers, guides, participants, loco crews, staff and locals for making it such a worthwhile and memorable trip!!


Sandaoling January 2018 Report
by Steve Rogers