November 2014
Rongshan - This Page
11-17 November
18-22 November
23 - 26 November
3-5 November
6-10 November
These boxes are hot links. Click on them to go to the reports.
8 November

We were lucky and had a successful day with 2 locos at Rongshan - 211 and 219. In the morning, they both ran to the end of the line at Yujiabian to coal their tenders. This appeared to be a 'make work' activity. In the afternoon, one loco took 3 flat wagons and a caboose to Yujiabian to leave the flat cars there for removing mine gear. We added 4 coal wagons to this as a 'charter' and after chasing it on the way up, rode down in the caboose with 3 run pasts. At Shanziba, the other mine, they attached 5 empty coal wagons to move them to Rongshan as that mine is also closed. On arrival back at Rongshan, the second loco 211 was already in the high walled compound outside the shed and 209 dropped its fire and joined it. The gates to the compound were then locked. There will be no trains tomorrow and the date of the next train is not known. There is plenty of salvage items at Yujiabian to be removed but no date is fixed for that. Neither the loco crews nor the managers expected anything to happen on Monday.

So tomorrow, we expect no train movements and we plan to check out the mine and walk the line from Yujiabian to Rongshan. We will keep trying to find out if they plan to steam the locos on Monday or later next week but it doesn't look good. In which case, on Monday 10 November, we will drive via the airport at Chengdu to Shibanxi until 16 November.

There will be a similar tour in February - March 2015
Click for the Rongshan photo folder on Flickr.

9 November

We turned up at Rongshan station this morning to find the depot gates open and 219 being steamed. We established that it was to work a train to the mine. It seems that power to the mine may be turned off as the company has not paid its bills and they need to rescue as much equipment while they still have electricity for pumps, fans, cable inclines, etc. They will need to use the railway to move salvage materials away from the mine as there is no road access.

We drove up to the mine as the station restaurant promised to let Zebedee know when the loco moved and there must be 100+ people working there based on the number of motorcycles parked and lots of activity was visible involving mine tubs, working cable inclines and even a functioning workers' funicular although all work seems to be salvage.

On hearing that the loco had moved but would not take a train until after lunch, we returned to Rongshan station for lunch and the loco eventually went to load 2 low-sided wagons and a coal wagon with bricks and sand which it took as a 3 wagon-load to the mine. It coaled at the mine, removed 2 flat cars from main mine road and parked these at the top station and pushed the sand and bricks into the mine for unloading before returning light engine. At Rongshan, there are more bricks to take to the mine.

We expect supplies up (for sealing off mine adits?) and the salvage material to start coming down over the next week so on that basis have decided to stay to see what happens. The railway operations are clearly being decided day-by-day and we hope to see the locos working every day. We'll see what we find tomorrow. However, it seems that steam action at Rongshan is not over yet.
10 November

We had a late start today arriving at Rongshan about 10. They weren't steaming a loco but the workmen's door to the loco shed was open and also to the wagon repair shop. We took a bit of comfort from that.

We decided to walk the line from the mine to Rongshan. It's reported to be 7km but there are no km posts apart from one at the mine. It's a pleasant stroll that revealed one new position (or several) in the village after the big bridge at Rongshan. This will work for trains in both directions.

After lunch on the station, we drove over to Gaokeng on the closed narrow gauge line from Rongshan station that goes out along the river to the north past the loco shed. The mine is still working which makes access difficult and there is little to see from above except a bridge over the river with 600mm overhead electrified track and a single bladed point and an incline to a spoil tip. We didn't establish if you can walk the track bed but I would expect this to be difficult or impossible in parts. There is no sign of any track clearance for a reinstated line for tourist trains although there is a 'tourist coach' at Rongshan in a shed.

While we may hope for better tomorrow, Zebedee doesn't expect any trains. We will try to establish when something will happen again as well as exploring the possibility of a charter for the four people who have just arrived. Our previous understanding was that unless a loco is in steam and trains are running, this is unlikely.

11 November

Lovely sunshine but no trains today.
12 November

After 2 days with no working steam, we organised a charter today. With no loco already in steam and no trips planned up the line, this required making contact at a higher level in the organisation and a resulting higher price - Yuan 5,000.

Our train loco 219 took the other loco 211 to be coaled by a front end loader at the far end of the yard. Coaling 211 is a good sign that future real trains involving 2 locos in steam will occur sometime. 219 then assembled a train of 8 coal wagons, a yellow passenger carriage and a yellow caboose and we sent off with 5 run pasts on the way up and 5 on the way back although light was fading towards the end.

Management may have been happy about the charter fee but the train crew who could have been relaxing at home on full pay were less impressed. However, they did a good job in providing us 10 run pasts on a return trip up the line between 14:30 and 17:00.

The frustration is not being able to find out when the next real train will run so with no certainty about tomorrow, we arranged another charter, this one for the morning, and will take an all yellow consist of the 2 passenger carriages and the 2 cabooses if possible. Because we pre-booked the charter they will keep the loco in steam for us overnight.
13 November

A sunny day and we arranged a morning charter. Still no real trains although we checked out the mine at Yujiabian and they have loaded some wagons ready to go down with much more to follow and a need for a shunt at the mine sidings required soon. 219 was still our charter loco with 8 coal wagons, a carriage and a caboose. Despite a rumour that 219 would have work in the afternoon, this didn't happen and it went on shed by 14:30.
14 November

A confusing and disappointing day but we are now moving away from Rongshan and Guangyuan. The loco was in steam in the yard and we hoped initially for a real train. The weather was cloudy with the prospect of a little rain so with a chance of a real train we planned to postpone our next charter until Saturday with an option on Sunday as well. However, the boss called Zebedee in for a chat and was insistent that we made arrangement today (Friday) for the weekend and paid him immediately. Negotiations for 2 charters became 'you must have 2 not 1!'. Our group discussed and agreed but in the meantime another boss had told the loco crew to drop the fire and return the loco to the depot. With that done, they refused to refire the loco and that was it. No real trains and no charters.

The post tour group will go tonight to Sandaoling while those ending their tour will visit Hanwang (2 SY out of use), the Chengdu Music Park QJ and SY (both plinthed) and then a tourist narrow gauge line out in the country. Not the same as real steam at Rongshan but the best we can do.

Rongshan is not quite all over but knowing when to come to see a concentration of real steam salvage trains won't be easy and will be difficult to plan in advance. Based on what we saw today, cooperation from Rongshan management cannot be guaranteed.
The Last Days of Rongshan

This is the working title of the DVD I plan of our visit. It seems fitting as although the end will be a protracted affair, I think there is no real doubt the the top mine is closed with a salvage operation in progress and the middle mine is closed or mothballed. It seems unlikely at this point that the line will make a transition to tourist railway although it is very scenic and of suitable length. It seems very, very unlikely that the lifted branch will be relayed. This is shorter and less scenic. It also seems highly unlikely that the existing line will be electrified.

We saw the last official pre-closure trains on 8 and 9 November. From 10 November until 14 November there were no real trains and the only loco to operate, 219, was in steam and working only because we chartered it. Apart from taking 211 to be coaled by a front end loader at the other end of the yard, no real work was done. The wagon repair works and the depot were open with some work going on in the wagon works but none at the depot.

At the top mine, there are now stacks of salvaged lightweight mine rails, metal pit props and other materials and one or two 762mm wagons have been loaded ready to be moved down to Rongshan. A shunt will be required soon to remove these and to place empty flat wagons and low sided wagons for loading. Some light household items were being carried out across the suspension bridge to the road but everything heavy will need to go out by rail. There is no road access to the top mine but the middle mine can be accessed by truck by driving through the shallow river.

At Rongshan, on 8 November, we saw a flat car loaded with unused electrical cabinets being unloaded and the goods shipped out by road. This appeared to be new equipment that had been taken up to the mine but never used. There is no secure storage at Rongshan so re-useable materials and scrap brought down from the mine will probably need to be shipped out immediately. Keeping the material in a secure area at the mine until this has been arranged makes good sense.

We were told the company has a large unpaid bill with the electrical power company and fears that power to the mine may be cut off. For that reason, the priority is to salvage as much as possible from the mine before or in case that happens.

The management at Rongshan were particularly difficult people to deal with. It proved impossible to get any information about the next real train once they knew that we were willing to pay for a charter. The final straw was after paying for them to keep the fire in 219 overnight for another charter, they dropped the fire the next morning (14 November) before any negotiations about the next charter could be concluded and refused to relight the fire. We were later told from other sources that there had been an accident at the top mine and for that reason senior managers may have wanted to encourage us to leave the area. In that, they succeeded. Prior to leaving, we had 7 days visiting the line with steam movements on 4 of those. On 2 of these days, chartered trains were the only movements.

I walked the line from the mine to Rongshan twice and from Rongshan to the mine once and I have a reasonable video and still record of the line. The gradient is gentle, estimated at 1 in 100. There are two major and one minor bridge and one tunnel. Apart from the sidings at Shanziba mine, there are no passing places so if two trains were operating, this would be the only place to pass. Based on reported workings when coal was leaving the mine and passengers were being carried, mixed trains were operated uphill to the mine with one or two locos (topping and tailing). One loco would return with the passenger, mixed or coal train from the mine. With two locos, the second loco might remain for a second coal train down. However, this is based on my reading of other reports, not on observation. I also walked the closes branch, there are now railway buildings on the track bed at Rongshan and the road access to the mine has covered the track bed at the top of the line. It is mainly now a narrow footpath beside the river with vegetable plots encroaching on the track bed. There are no bridges or tunnels on the line.

The mine at the end is still operating with unwashed coal going out by road. We were able to access the surface areas of the mines at the end of the line and the closed branch. At both mines, battery and overhead electrics, cable and hand tramming are employed. Normal and single bladed points are in use on the mine tracks. All of the mines in this area appear to be former prison mines. The mine at Yujiabian has a workers funicular with 2 open sided green cars still making frequent trips to the workers accommodation area higher up the hill. This is being used to remove personal possessions. We were able to ride this. Even in prison days, it appears that quite a large number of non-prison employees worked there and in places there are walkways inside and outside the confinement area and security gates between the two.

We saw locos 211 and 219 in steam on 8 November and 219 following that. The third potential working loco is 218 in the from section of the loco shed. There is a fourth C2 210 behind it in the rear section. On the other road at the back are two electric locos along with another in the shed on the other side of the line to the closed and lifted branch to the north, is a third electric and a 'tourist' carriage painted green. The two yellow carriages both have renewed interiors and new sliding Perspex windows. The carriages are of at least two different designs with both ribbed and flat sided versions. There are two cabooses, both on similar bogies but the one in use with an extended body to provide 11 seats and more interior space. All of the stock in use is air braked. Three types of freight wagons were seen, side discharging coal wagons with a V-shaped bottom, bogie flat wagons and bogie low sided wagons.

The two standard gauge SY survive, SY 1434 is inside the standard gauge shed and SY 1305 outside. These originally took washed coal from Rongshan to the end of the branch but have not been used for quite a long time. Just beyond the branch junction is a China Rail station and so the trains may have run a bit further to this as an interchange. Evidence of a previous narrow gauge line is visible near this station (concrete bridge structures) and it looks like this line may have run up the next valley (closer to Guangyuan). There is no visible evidence that the narrow gauge at Rongshan ever extended further to meet the China Rail through line.

The washery is at Ronshan and there are unloading grates for the side discharging narrow gauge wagons at the washery. Once washed, the coal was taken by conveyor belt to hoppers on the standard gauge. These are being used by road trucks to remove the last coal but to coal the loco tenders the front end loader went to the higher level beyond these hoppers to get loco coal. Since the end of the standard gauge, it appears that this operation was modified for truck loading possibly at this higher level which was not explored.

I hope future visitors will be able to update this information but unless a reliable pattern of real train operation resumes, I cannot recommend Rongshan as a place to visit. Our guide Zebedee has contacts with the train crews and the restaurant on the station and these people, rather than the management, are probably the best future source of information about what is happening. If you need to contact Zebedee, please contact me in the first instance. He is currently trying to establish a new email address to replace Hotmail which he has been told is about to stop offering a free email service in China.