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I visited Sishui (Shandong province) on 20 August. With the demise of steam at Zoucheng earlier this year, the solitary QJ at the Daewoo Cement works there is probably the closest working steam to Beijing. Now that the high-speed line between Beijing and Shanghai is fully open, it is certainly the easiest to get to. With the fastest trains taking just over 2 hours from Beijing to Qufu East, a day trip from the capital (or indeed from Shanghai, for that matter) is perfectly possible.
Contrary to the impression that some reports have given, Sishui is not particularly close to Qufu - it is 16 km to the east, and the cement works is a further 8km beyond the town. Furthermore, although Qufu East station is, in theory, closer to Sishui than Qufu proper, the only access to the station currently is from the town. There is a direct bus service from Qufu East station to Sishui, fare RMB 10 but it is infrequent, running only every 2 hours. So by public transport a better option is to take the K01 bus from the high speed station into town, then one of the frequent buses from Qufu bus station to Sishui. From there a motorcycle rickshaw is probably the best option. But the cement works is in a fairly isolated location, so unless the motocycle waits, there is a longish walk back to the main road to wait for a bus. Alternatively, take a taxi all the way from Qufu East station as I did. On the meter the return trip was RMB195 and for just a few RMB extra the driver was happy to wait for me (presumably he would have faced the prospect of an empty return trip otherwise).
Security at the works seems to have tightened up - a friend (who speaks fluent Chinese) was refused access a couple of weeks earlier but was advised to phone ahead for permission to visit at weekends (during the week permission may still be granted on the spot) - the number is 0537 4224744.
Once in the works, the crew on duty on 7129 were very friendly and clearly used to visiting enthusiasts. They offered to run it up and down a siding, with maximum smoke and steam effect for photo purposes and invited me into the cab. Once the diesel had cleared a rake of gondolas from the loading hoppers, the QJ was then worked across the yard to take water. This coincided with lunchtime - and they said there would be no further activity until around 6pm, when it was due to first shunt then take a train down to the China Rail interchange. I was due to be taking a return train to Beijing around then, so left and spent the afternoon sightseeing in Qufu.
The crew confirmed 7129 is still steamed daily and more often than not will see some activity hauling one or more trains but the timing of this is unpredictable and varies from day to day. So to be confident of seeing some activity, one probably has to plan on spending a couple of days in the area and be flexible. A bit of a luxury to see just one working steam loco operating over just a short length of track. Then again, this is most probably the only remaining QJ in regular use. (What about Xintai Coal Mine where the local police are so unfriendly? D.F.)
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© 2011 Michael Reilly