23rd Extreme Steam trip to China
Jixi, Yaojie, Baiyin, Changzhi, Xingyang
by Michael Rhodes
This trip was undertaken by myself, Steve LeCheminant, Vernon Murphy and guest star Nick Dodson from Railfilms. Our guide throughout was Alan Fengwang from CTS Chengde. There is still a lot of industrial steam in China and whilst this is definitely our last trip before we write our third and final book, anybody who hasn't seen steam in the raw could do far worse than visit some of the locations reported here or in Bernd Seilers recent trip report.
Then we drove to Jixi for 5 days on the Jixi system. Having been the first to report from here in 1998, we haven't been back since. It is clear that our visit eight years ago was not as comprehensive as it might have been, especially as we spent most of out time chasing the 16 remaining QJs on Jixi shed. I shall make some observations on each of the five distinct groups of collieries below. The best maps to understand the system are those provided by Bernd Seiler and Duncan Cotteril - they are essential for anybody planning to explore this very extensive mining area.
Jixi area 11/2/06 to 16/2/06
Lowest morning temperature -27, highest noon temperature -6.
Locomotives working - SY0237, 0590, 0733, 0863, 1058, 1351, 1544
Pattern of working - this group of mines to the north and east of Jixi city is the biggest producer in the area - it receives about 200 empties from China Rail each 24 hours - this equates to about 4 million tones output per annum. The empties depart the China Rail yard at Jixi behind steam about 4 times per 24 hours and there seemed to be pretty consistent departures at 0730 and 1630 from China Rail.
This often meant in excess of 50 empties storming up towards Dongchang colliery behind a single SY. They almost stalled on two occasions we photographed them. From here they are distributed to the washery at Chengzihe and the mines at Zhengyuang and Xinghua.
As for the "donkey shot" at Chengzihe washery - the horse carts collect coal dust that has settled from the washery effluent and the slurry is then taken away in water tight carts to be used making coal brickets. The two stroke three wheel "put puts" are taking over here. Thanks to Dave Longman for his e-mail about this.
Locomotives working - SY0639, 1018
This mine only gets about 40 empties per 24 hours and therefore there is only one loaded train per day and this takes up one locomotive, the second is a spare
Locomotives in use
DF5 2056 (China Rail pilot)
SY0341, 0746, 0804, 0898 (Lixin colliery), 1095, 1340, 1369,
Pattern of working
There are about 150 empties arrive from China Rail each 24 hours, usually in rakes of 50 or 56 behind a single DF4 (was pairs of QJs when we were last here!). They are then distributed to three collieries to the east of Hengshan yard and one to the west. The shot of the day is the top and tailed run from the colliery yard at Hengshan Xi up to Zhonxin - usually with about 25 empties. This happens about every 3 or 4 hours.
The biggest single producer in Hengshan is Xiao Hengshan, reached by reversal at Zhonxin and there is a busy slag tipping operation here as well as loading of coal from an overhead bunker and a pad loading area too. Another mine worthy of mention is Lixin - this is where we found a solitary QJ in 1998 - this now has a dedicated SY (0898). The mine produces just 100,000 tonnes of coal a year but also acts as a collection point for coal from smaller mines which comes in by truck. There is a daily run from the China Rail yard at Hengshan to the pit and there is also a marvelous rope worked 600mm line down the pit which is 700 meters deep - well worth a look.
Locomotives in use - SY0951, 1118
This is a very low out put system and the only movement of the day when we visited was 11 loads of coal to China Rail, four from up the hill and seven from Lishu itself
Locomotives in use- SY0950, 1205, 1213, 1445
The washery here has a larger area and bigger track layout but seems much quieter than Chengzihe. The collieries here are the third biggest producers after Jixi itself and Hengshan.
Jixi Xi workshops
These lie to the west of the main Jixi freight yard and maintain all the locomotives from all five sections of the Jixi colliery system. Engines run over China Rail under their own steam for repairs at this facility. At the other end of Jixi Xi freight yard is Jixi diesel depot which was still recognizable as the depot we visited in 1998 to photograph QJs - all DF4 5 and 8 though in 2006!! The Jixi workshops have oopened a new workshop to undertake full boiler rebuilds and this was commissioned in August 2005 (I suspect this is a result of the closure of neighbouring Mudanjiang steam works).
In the works were:-
SY0407, 0477, 0746, 1344, 1437 (boiler rebuild)
CZ6213 Mudanjiang - Beijing
Overnight at the delectable Holiday Inn Lido (near to the airport).
HU7231 Beijing - Lanzhou
17/2/06-19/2/06 - Yaojie
Then 2 hour drive to Haishiwan and then a couple of days in the Haishiwan hotel which was fine - the food here was some of the best and most exquisitely prepared we have had in 14 years of visiting China!!
Conscious of the grief that some have had in Yaojie which we first reported on back in Feb 2005, we went straight to the railway manager to see if we could avoid any undue conflict - I spent 45 minutes with our guide Alan Fengwang in his office - our second book was proffered and lengthy negotiations revealed that a few weeks earlier a group (?? Japanese) had paid about RMB 500 to have the diesel stay in the shed for a day. We could not do this however as this needed a letter from the security bureau in Lanzhou etc etc and we didn't have time to organize this. Then there was a lengthy discussion about maybe just paying RMB 500 to him but that this would be "corruption" and even though it was the manager who made this suggestion he then decided he didn't want to do this!! We also discovered that much of the antipathy to enthusiasts at Yaojie was caused by an American group who ran amock in the engine shed - when asked to leave there was apparently a "pushing fight" between one enthusiast and the depot manager - George Bush does railway enthusiasm!! On top of that the manager slipped in that they had a "Japanese JF in a sealed shed" but we were not allowed in there - I gave up taking tea and returned to the bus at this point.
Anyway whilst I negotiated for 45 minutes the other three saw a freight running north from Yaojie "top and tailed" by Sys and we therefore decided to concentrate on the Nanlingcheng Teilu north from Yaojie - in the event this turned out to be excellent.
The Nanlingcheng Railway was opened in 1964 to connect the iron works at Nanlingcheng to the coal mines at Yaojie. It is a completely separate railway to the Yaojie Railway, linking the mines at Yaojie to China Rail, which opened some years earlier. The depot for the line is at Yonghong (this is the small station marked on Louis Cerny's map about 3 km south of Nanlingcheng). The depot here houses three derelict Sys and four steamable (three of which are used each day).
SY 3020, 0633 and 0737 are derelict
SY 1402, 1321, 0150 and 1097 are steamable
Operation - Yonghong depot only works for the day shift from 0700 to 1900. Most work is based around the aluminium smelter and power station 7km north of Yaojie. There are only 2 or 3 wagons of freight each day into the Nanlingcheng iron works at the moment and it seems to be mothballed. Freight consists of trains every 2-3 hours from Yaojie to the smelter carrying coal, alumina or returning ingots to Yaojie. The connection with China Rail from Yaojie has now been dieselised. Now the night shift between Yaojie and the smelter is worked by Yaojie locomotives - the three SY steamed each day and said to be "standby" in previous reports, actually handle the coal traffic to the power station (providing electricity for the aluminium smelter) overnight - the locomotives handling this traffic during our visit were SY0362, 0527, 0990.
During our 2 days on the line we saw nine trains heading north out of Yaojie to the smelter and these included single headed, double headed, top and tailed with one SY at either end and top and tailed with one SY at the front and two at the rear (last train of the day used to return the locos to Yonghong depot). The gorge may be gone BUT the line north from Yaojie is great as I hope the accompanying photos will show.
19/2/06 - 21/2/06 - Baiyin
Two hour drive to Baiyin where we had a couple of days - not much to report, except that this really is an industrial wasteland! SY0206, 1581, 0989, 1047, 0965, 2008 all seen in traffic. Sandstorm blew in out of nowhere on the afternoon of 18th which put a pretty abrupt halt on photography.
We had a three hour drive to Lanzhou airport in icy conditions on the motorway - we passed no less than eight major accidents. We flew with Xiamen airlines to Zhenzhou from where we had a four hour drive on an amazing new piece of highway to Changzhi. Here we stayed at the Globe International Hotel and came across some fellow Brits who were in town to buy gym equipment for their chain of fitness centers!!
22/2/06 - Changzhi area
We explored the Changzhi area and I hope the accompanying map helps clarify what can be found in this busy steel town with a population of 600,000. Changcun mine received a further three DF10D locos at Christmas (numbered 0090-0092) and this wiped out steam to the mine. Weicun depot housed QJ2098, 2227 and 2229 and DF10D0055. We wanted to find a working QJ on this, our last trip and this was as close as we got. It's amazing to think there are so few of these magnificent locos at work now Jitong has finished. Just DaGu and Pingdingshan are left with regular QJ action. Anyway, after a few pictures of these three QJs, we went to the steelworks. Changzhi steelworks opened in the early 1970s and has four separate parts with a total of seven operational blast furnaces - these are spread over a wide area. It is the 20th biggest producer of steel in China (out of 78 integrated steel works) and is said to produce 10 million tones of steel a year - I suspect this figure is inflated.
Changqu east station is near Weicun and the exchange yard there serves three separate nests of blast furnaces. Here we found JS8121, SY0289, 0536 and 0886 (in steam) and SY 0464, 0583 and 1051 (all derelict). Ominously a new grey liveried GK10D 0014 was also present. From the yard here there is a steep climb west to two steelworks. At the eastern end of the yard there is a connection to Weicun yard and then China Rail as well as to the third steelworks in the area. There is a slag tipping operation here handled by a couple of Sys.
A 20km drive from here back into Changzhi took us to Guacun, the second main yard of the steelworks railway. As we got there JS8121 arrived and this must have traveled over China Rail for 15km or so from Changzhi Bei yard where the line from Weicun joins the China Rail network. It arrived with coal empties bound for the mines at Pingshun and Huguan. Anyway, we found JF116 and JS5570 anf ?6119 derelict here. I put a question mark infront of 6119 because it was so weatherbeaten I couldn't be certain of the number on the smokebox and all other numbers had been erased. Working here were JS 6226, 8416, 8356 and SY 2017, 0324. We then had a five hour drive to Xingyang for our fourth attempt to see the brickworks railway.
23/2/06 Xingyang brickworks
A great little operation! The railway was not due to start working until 28th February but for a small consideration it started a couple of days early - wonderful morning filming, photographing and riding on the clay wagons - the driver of the railway was pleased as punch with the copy of 21st Century Extreme Steam we gave him and even did a couple of runpasts for us! The management think the line will continue to operate for a couple more years and hope that "reforms" of the local communist party will allow and attract investment for the line.
24/2/06 - 25/2/06
R & R in Shanghai then home on BA168.
This was our last trip before we get to work producing our third book and the final China DVDs. Was it worth it?? YES. We saw abundant working steam in the Jixi area (a must if you haven't been there) and plenty of action in Yaojie, Baiyin and Changzhi, not to mention finally getting to see Xingyang brickworks in action. We saw all 4 standrad gauge classes and a narrow gauge line and its 2006. Jitong may be gone, but there is still plenty to see in China in 2006 - it won't be there by 2008 so if you haven't visited go NOW.
© 2006 Bruce Evans