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26 February - 21 March 2016
China Real Steam Tour
Click this box to read about the next 2 tours in November-December 2016 and February-March 2017. You, too, could see the last Chinese steam!
Linesiding with John
You can read about the last two China trips here:

http://www.users.waitrose.com/~jraby/chinafeb-mar2015.html
http://www.users.waitrose.com/~jraby/chinareport11-14.html
5 April 2016
The Steam Tour Completed
Next tour planned!
email me - jraby@waitrose.com - if you are interested in a tour in November 2016 or March 2017
I am especially pleased with spring 2015 tour photos which can be seen here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/117426803@N02/sets/

Click for my Flickr album for this tour.
18 March 2016 - Now includes photos from Fuxin, Sandaoling and Shibanxi.
Version 2

Fuxin, Fushun, Jiutai, Sandaoling, Shibanxi -- tour report complete.

ChinaTourSpring2016 The revised itinerary saw us heading first East from Beijing to Fuxin, Fushun and Jiutai, back to Beijing, from Beijing to Sandaoling and from Sandaoling to Chengdu and Shibanxi. The tour day-by-day notes have been inserted in italics at the relevant places in the itinerary. Photos have been uploaded to Flickr. From the original tour, Baiyin was dropped when the steam passenger ended and Pingzhuang was highly unpredictable (and based on previous visits, not very inspiring), hence the final choice of destinations. The text below was written during the tour.

The first part of the tour is almost over and you can read about our visits to Fuxin, Fushun and Jiutai below. There is also information on the Changchun tram and light rail systems which we visited at the end of Part 1. We are now about to head for Beijing (where 2 of the party will leave us) and then on to Sandaoling for Part 2. I have so far been unable to access Flickr to view or upload photos which suggests that it is now blocked in China. If so, the photos will have to wait until the end of the trip (after 21 March). Should anyone have any special requests for photos of things mentioned in the report, I can probably send you a photo as an email attachment. Email me if you have any requests.

Revised Itinerary

Day 1 – 26 February (Friday)
Meet up Beijing Airport, transfer to Beijing North Station for lunch and overnight train to Fuxin, dinner on train

A brief report with no photos to start this off as the wi-fi at the Huamei Hotel Annex in Fuxin is painfully slow. Arrival and meet up in Beijing was fine with lunch taken near Beijing North Station. The Fuxin train has lost its restaurant car so it was beer, sausage and instant noodles for dinner.

Day 2 – 27 February (Saturday)
Arrive Fuxin early morning, check in and breakfast at our hotel, then out linesiding with our tour minibus which will meet us at Fuxin Station on our arrival.

On time arrival at 06:15 saw us checked in, breakfasted and at the stabling point for 08:00 shift change. Just 4 steam locos in use along with 1 diesel. Wulong Mine is not working at present and nothing is going through the railway workshop. The tip line was busy enough and we saw three trains including a fly ash train before lunch. The top of the tip was sunny and still. After lunch (opposite the hotel), we saw one train at Pingan and another couple including another fly ash train with a wagon of sand as a 'make-do' caboose (from a different power station?) at Wulong tip level crossing before visiting the depot. The wind had got up slightly. An additional loco was in steam on standby at the depot with another loco cold in the small shed. Two locos came separately to service before sunset and that was it for our first day of the tour proper.  Some crews are working a 12 hours on, 24 hours off shift instead of a 12 on and 12 off shift as demand for coal is way down.

Locos seen: in use SY 1378, 1397, 1320, 1818, standby 1195, in shed 1460


Day 3 – 28 February
Fuxin

A frustrating day with less than perfect weather. We went out at 6 am to try to capture a train at sunrise on the spoil tip but the sun came up through clouds. We had two trains by 07:30. Only the second downhill return in good sun before breakfast was really a success. After breakfast, we had 3 more trains - all stone no sign of any ash trains - in increasingly windy and therefore dusty weather. We stuck at it as the current operating pattern leaves few alternatives to trains up the tip - no shunting at Wulong Mine, no coal trains from there the the main yard, very few trains from the main yard to the north.

After lunch, a drive via the north end of the main yard to the open air museum confirmed just how quiet things are in the area. We returned to the tip and the dust and increasing cloud for further trains up the hill. As on the previous day they were frequent with probably 5 from 14:00 - 17:00 including one ash train with the standard caboose. After taking what we thought was a final shot of the day in the atmospheric cloud, sun and dust, we drove down to find a steam loco delivering empty wagons to Wulong Mine. We hope this is a good sign for Monday! The same locos were noted in use as the first day.


Day 4 – 29 February
Change of plan - Fuxin all day

A good decision to stay longer. Despite some wind, we had clear skies and the wind was not blowing the dust up. There were 5 locos on the stabling point by 08:00 including the standby loco. We spent the rest of the morning and the end of the afternoon on the tip line and managed some excellent shots. After lunch, some of the group visited the works to find 4 locos but no work going on. It was really cold late morning and late afternoon the focus on my video camera froze up after being left on a tripod outside for a period. With wind chill it was probably -15 or more.

Summary of active and potentially active SY locos seen:

1320, 1378, 1397, 1818 in use

1195 standby

1460
cold in depot shed

4 locos in the works stored/for repair including Zhu De under repair:
SY 1210, 1319, (1395) Zhu De, 1396

In total, 10 potentially active locos seen with 5 in steam. All other SY are dumped with one preserved at the mining museum. Only 1 diesel was seen in use with one more on standby at the stabling point on our first visit.


Day 5 – 1 March
Change of plan - sunrise and breakfast at Fuxin then drive Fushun

Around 06:15 we arrived at the tipping control office at the bottom of the tip to see one train part way up the tip. In the next 75 minutes 2 more came up and all 3 descended to head for shift change at the stabling point. This morning, they really showed how swift and slick the operation can be. Sunrise was just after the second train and those who made it out for our last look at Fuxin were suitably satisfied. Despite no real activity at Wulong Mine and no tipping into the open cast mine, this visit worked out well because conditions were overall good on the tip and Fuxin is justifiably one of the top 2 standard gauge steam locations left in China.

On arrival in Fushun we checked out the lines used by steam for tomorrow morning and then went to the two pit viewing points (south west and north east) in order to check out electric activity on the industrial lines. The locos we saw appeared mainly to be the Japanese-era single unit engines of the 6xx and 12xx series as well as 2 Skoda 3-unit crocodiles. The former passenger stations platforms are still intact and provide a good vantage point to observe the trains.

Day 6 – 2 March
Fushun and transfer to Jiutai

We left the hotel at 8 am and headed for the friendly woman crossing keeper at the second crossing near the steam stabling point. She showed us how to access the stabling point but a man came out of an office as we approached to shoo us away so we limited our photography to the two level crossings. SY 1633 came out before the diesel and a second steam loco was seen to move inside the compound. The diesel went off to do some distant shunting but the SY shunted empty wagons and wagons loaded with scrap between the sidings at the first and second crossings and we saw 4 steam movements before we called it a day at 10:30 to drive to Jiutai. While very much a minor steam attraction in China for those who have done everything else, steam action in the morning is almost guaranteed but photo positions are really limited to the two level crossings. Both crossing keepers are friendly and helpful. The recorded 'Huo che lai le' (a train is coming) messages sounds like they have been recorded by the crossing keepers themselves with a strident female voice at the second crossing and a Dalek-like male at the first. Our failure to get to the stabling point I put down to a combination of being seen by the wrong person and being a group of 7. Individual visitors seem to have more success with unofficial visits to the stabling point. Had we got there we would have found SY 1050 and diesel 0408. The active diesel was GKDA0219. We drove to Jiutai via Meihekou and Changchun. The expressway to Meihekou runs beside the railway in places and it reminded me how scenic the single-track, unelectrified lines in China can be. Oh, to be gricing JS-hauled passenger trains and QJ freights on these lines still and what a pity steam faded on the China Railways mainlines before we did!

On arrival in Jiutai late afternoon we checked out the steam locos at the coal mine and found everything as reported - 2 locos, one in steam and the line to China Rail showing signs of lack of use since at least Chinese New Year in early February.  


Day 7 – 3 March
Jiutai - then change of plan to overnight Changchun

The hotel breakfast starting at 07:30 slowed the group down so we reached the stabling point around 08:15 to find the loco had moved further inside to the watering point. After watering, it returned to the stabling point and the crew retired inside an office. We had clearly missed the fire cleaning outside the gates and possibly coaling at the coaling stage. The mine electric railway was very quiet but most of the group eventually found a mine electric to photograph. Most of the work on site was in clearing snow and there was no sign that any coal was being produced. Access through the security barrier is currently tolerated and we were able to wander freely. There is no guarantee that this will continue. Without this access, you would only see the locos from the rear (or the tops of the locos over a wall) and the electrics only if you climbed up the hill near the slag tip. By 09:15, we were done so we headed to Changchun to look at the light rail lines 3 & 4 and tram lines 54 and 55.

Locos at Jiutai Yingcheng Mine - in steam SY 1407, dumped SY 0515.

In Changchun, we rode the No. 3 metro from Changchun Station to Kuanpingqiao and from there tram line 55 to the end of the line at Changchun West station. Both the tramways start at Hongqijie, cross over Metro 3 at Kuanpingqiao and split at Nanyanglu with line 54 continuing to Xiandalu and 55 to Changchun West (line 55 is quite new but - from memory - probably almost duplicates a line that existed in the early 1980s). The tram depot is just after Nanyanglu on line 54 (it used to be close to Hongqijie). A Japanese era tram was visible in the tram depot
stabled along with other modern trams not under cover (plus one other older item hiding behind a modern tram). I would judge the period tram to be in working order. The metro ride costs 2 yuan (depending on distance) and each ride on the tram is 1 yuan. For the metro you buy electronic tickets at the ticket office and on the trams, enter at the front and deposit 1 yuan (coin or note) in the box. No change is given on the tram. Metro line 3 passes the China Rail diesel and electric depots shortly after it leaves Changchun Station and lots of locos can be seen over a stretch of 1-2 km. All the trams in use were standard white and red single cars although some had patriotic signs in the front windows. The drivers are a mix of male and female. The metro trains seem to be 5 unit articulated sets with a mix of side and forward/back facing seats. Most are purple but we saw two green sets. Metro line 3 crosses Metro line 4 at Linhejie. Both lines serve Changchun Station (line 3 - south side, line 4 - north side connected by a pedestrian passage through the station). The maximum fare to the end of each line seems to be 4 yuan. Exploring the trams (and riding the whole system) was better than watching the SY at Jiutai do nothing for the rest of the day!

The tour visits to Fushun and Jiutai were against my better judgement but were 'by request' and clearly appealed to people who have been to China before and wanted to see 'new' steam locations. At times, this proved more interesting than another frustrating trip to Pingzhuang which was really the only other thing on offer. A longer stay at Fuxin would also have been possible and now that I have satisfied any desire I had to see Fushun and Jiutai, I'll probably choose more time at Fuxin on any future visit. However, I think those on the tour will agree that it was worth doing once.


Day 8 – 4 March
Day 8 after morning at Jiutai high speed train to Beijing, overnight Beijing

We had a day D train ride from Changchun to Beijing and have now arrived. The weather in both cities is distinctly murky.

Day 9 – 5 March
Train to Sandaoling Z69 depart 10:00 arrive 13:02 +1

27 Hours on a train that started off crowded. It did the job without being much fun. The routing was via Shijiazhang and lots of new lines not on the 2008 Quail Atlas which chops lots off the old time. Leaving Beijing by this route does not take you through the scenic narrow river gorge but this is compensated later on by a 20+ km tunnel and lots of cave houses.

Day 10 – 6 March
Arrive Kumul 13:02, transfer to Sandaoling for late afternoon first glimpse of the open cast pit and JS steam locos in action

An on-time arrival in Hami after 27 hours and a smooth transfer to Sandaoling to check into a new hotel higher up the main street and off to the west (Longmen Hotel). Out to Kenkongzhan at around 15:00 and 6 uphill trains before we called it a day at 19:30. Sunset was due at 19:45 but with no trains due off the Blue Loader before then we left a bit early.  Three locos in use today on trains that vary from 11 to 13 wagons.

JS  8081, 8190, 8225


Day 11 – 7 March
Full day at Sandaoling

We visited Dongbolizhan for sunrise, worked back to Kenkongzhan and then drove out to Nanzhan before lunch. Three locos active at Nanzhan along with one diesel. There was no train at Erjing and the dirt road towards Erjing from Nanzhan was cut by a stream close to the tarmac road after the level crossing near the uniform factory. In the afternoon, we stayed at surface level and tried for silhouettes on the washery branch and sunset behind Dongboli with limited success. An attempt to see coal trains between Dongboli and the workshop produced one return and lots of trains heading to the washery branch! By late afternoon, it seemed that they were all going to the washery branch! An annoying cloud chased the sun down. In the late afternoon a chemical fire with lots of black smoke provided some drama in the area between the workshop and Nanzhan. Sunrise is 07:45 and sunset 19:45. (Although I will continue to call it the washery branch, after discussion with John P, I agree that there seems to be no washery here.)

JS  8167, 8190, 8225 on coal trains + 8080? + one other? (8080 was not seen on coal trains but a loco was 'on test' or shunting behind the workshop for most of the day.)

Deep mines JS 8089, 8368 at Nanzhan (I read 8369 for 8368 off a telephoto shot but this loco is not known here), plus at least 2 others visible in steam. Access here for groups is no better than my previous trip. Apparently children playing dangerously near the tracks has put the front access route to the pedestrian bridge out of bounds again.

Day 12 – 8 March
Full day at Sandaoling

We tried for sunrise on the 'washery' branch but the two trains came too early and there was too much cloud anyway. Moving on to Kenkongzhan, the mountains were really clear so we walked to the rim of the pit and did some snowy mountain and train shots before walking through to do some pre-lunch shots at track level at the pipe. Five locos in steam, 3 coal trains operating, an engineers' train and one loco on standby at Dongboli.  After lunch, we went into the pit at the pipe and walked towards the buildings in front of the set of 4 signals for trains in the pit. Temperatures were high and steam disappeared somewhere along the climb out of the pit so going further in helped. Towards sunset, after a totally clear sky all afternoon, the wind grew and shifted around to the east and low cloud blew in. The engineers' train included the steam crane on the end along with a flat wagon, box cars and an ex-China Rail caboose. It came out of the pit around 19:00. We still don't have the number of the 5th (standby?) loco.

Day 13 – 9 March
Full day at Sandaoling

Dongbolizhan: 5 trains there by 08:00, one on an engineers train, one detached to be the passenger loco.
Locos JS 8081 coal, 8167 engineers, 8190 passenger, coal, 8197 coal, 8225 coal
Two coal empties down the pit after the passenger run followed by the PW train and another empties.
10:42 first train out of the pit. 11:20 - 11:26 next train out and the last empty rake down.
At that point everything working smoothly with 4 coal trains dropping back to load in rotation probably from the blue loader and a dragline.
The weather started cloudy and then a wind got up and it was bitterly cold - good for steam but not good for video. We had a lunch break 12 - 3.

In the afternoon, we stopped for a while between the workshop and the storage compound as three locos were in the area. There was a steady steam of coal trains to unload on the south side of the storage compound and one loco shunting wagons in the works. We spent the rest of a rather quiet afternoon between the split in the lines near Kenkongzhan and the washery branch. Towards the end of the day, most trains were going to the washery and we achieved some reasonable sihouettes on the branch. With no more immediate trains and with light fading, we called it a day at 19:15. From the washery line we saw JS 8314 in the works and spotted that it was facing the wrong way and using its chime whistle - clearly a deep mines loco. Shortly after it returned to Nanzhan.

Day 14 – 10 March
Full day at Sandaoling

We tried most open cast pit system locations today. With the end of our visit approaching, I prepared a list of possible location for the various times of day which I will post below. With a clear, crisp day, we started at the Washery branch where the last train before shift change ran 3 minutes before sunrise. We then moved to Dongboli where we had an excellent session but our attempts to photograph blowdowns on the head shunt were stymied because most locos blew down elsewhere! Mid-morning saw us at the pipe and in the pit. We had our normal lunch break 12:30 - 15:00 and then returned to Kenkongzhan and the look out looking down on the blue loader (pedestrian route out of pit) before finishing up at Dongboli (where the only activity was one return around the curve and the engineers' train parking up for the night). The loco on this train was 8081 today which came off and parked up (we assume a loco change tomorrow). 8197 struggled for 20 minutes to get a loaded train underway after loading and perhaps would be a better loco for the PW train. This also suggests that the loading was by excavator or front-end loading making the track mucky between the wagons. One of the group chose the Washery branch and was more successful with a last train before sunset (19:45). However, in the afternoon, coal trains were scarce and we suspect a problem at the blue loader.

Day 15 – 11 March
Full day at Sandaoling

A grey day which didn't improve until around 18:00. We were again frustrated by unpredictable blowdowns at Dongboli that we wanted to photograph and video. Five locos in use, four on coal trains and one on the engineers' train which again headed down to beyond the blue loader. Late morning was slow for trains out of the pit despite having 3 trains loading most of the time. Being a Friday may have been a factor.

The group (but not me) went out in the afternoon and the light improved and they got sunset shots at Dongboli with 3 trains there.

At this time of year: Sunrise 08:15, sunset 19:45


Summary of the normal range of photo/video options:

Early Morning (07:30 - 09:30)
Sunrise with empty train on the Washery line (requires luck to get a train at the right time)
Dongbolizhan sunrise, glint, crew change, loco preparation and blowdown shots, passenger train 08:40 (loco only) and first coal empties to the pit

Mid-late morning (09:00 - 12:30)
Kenkongzhan - first trains down and up
Rim of pit with distant mountains (on clear days)
Views from the Pipe
Down the pit towards the control office (Ba-erzhan) in the pit
Views into the pit from the pedestrian only exit from the pit between Ba-erzhan and the Pipe

Afternoon (15:00 - 17:30)
Kenkongzhan - locos out of the pit
Down the pit towards Ba-erzhan
The curve from Dongboli to the workshops - early afternoon before trains switch to serving the Washery

Late Afternoon - Sunset (17:30 - 19:45)
Down the pit near Ba-erzhan
Views into the pit from the pedestrian only exit from the pit between Ba-erzhan and the Pipe
Silhouettes and glint shots on the Washery branch
Sunset at Dongboli - but few trains here late afternoon

Not included above is the area between the workshop, coking plants and coal unloading point towards Nanzhan. Our guide did not want us wandering there or taking photos in this area but others (especially unsupervised individuals) may manage this.

Also not included is the Nanzhan deep mine system. Others have had direct access to the footbridge at the stabling point there but it was off limits to us (again). Shunting at Nanzhan from the east end of the yard is entertaining only for a short while. Trains on the branch to Erjing are infrequent and often load for 2 - 4 hours before returning. Access is now only from Sandaoling town as a stream now cuts the dirt road from the level crossing near Nanzhan towards Erjing. Yijing is not working at present.

Random jottings:

-Re-reading my notes above and checking the SY-Country loco list for Sandaoling, I think I can say that we saw all 6 open cast mine locos in use although one only briefly. The numbers were JS 8080, 8081, 8167, 8190, 8197, 8225 JS 8080 was seen on one day only and while this may have been written in error for 8081, both are part of the greater Sandaoling fleet.  
-Coal trains are now 13 wagons (previously 11) which may explain why some locos struggle at times.
-Trains to the unloading point behind the workshop are more frequent morning to early afternoon. Coal seems to be loaded into trucks and taken away immediately finishing by late afternoon. No way of determining which coal train would go to which unloading point was established but from mid-afternoon, almost all coal trains head for the Washery branch. 16:30 seemed to be when a switch happened between unloading behind the workshop and the washery. Perhaps someone else can crack this.
-One long dumped JS (no tender) next to the workshops along with lots of frames from scrapped tipper wagons. The bogies, tipping air cylinders and tipper bodies are not visible.
-There has been a reshuffle in the secure compound and the steam locos are now further in away from the rail access. No sign that anything has been scrapped and with the hulk at the workshop still there, it seems unlikely that anything more steamable has gone.
-With no activity in the workshop, we did not try for a visit nor did we try for the secure compound.
-Only three of the six locos allocated to Nanzhan were identified. We did not see 6209 so cannot confirm if any 6xxx series locos with double slide bars are still active. JS 8089, 8314, 8368
-One long diesel-hauled coal train (c.50 wagons) seen approaching Nanzhan from Shadunza, shorter 34 wagon diesel-hauled empty train also seen.
-The line linking Dongboli to the junction with the line to Shadunza has not seen any use recently. We did not check to see if the connection is still in place at the junction.
-One of the group went to Xibolizhan and reports that a truck road and truck compound are now features of the exit from the pit and the water columns in use by water tanker trucks. The trackwork is rationalised to two
through tracks to Shadunza (with a passing loop, I believe) although there is one unused high level track remaining that goes some way into the pit on the south side.

Day 16 – 12 March
Most of the day at Sandaoling prior to transfer to Hami for train to Chengdu.

A clear start to our last day. We started at Dongboli where I wanted to get some loco and crew close ups to supplement my previous video footage there. Being a Saturday, we had company in the shape of 5 Chinese photographers/enthusiasts from Urumqi. Probably due to the number of visitors, blowdowns were less frequent and even more unpredictable than normal. Five locos were present for four coal and one engineers train. After spending the rest of the morning at the pipe or in the pit, we said goodbye to Geoff flying back to Beijing and after lunch, had a final session around the split of lines at Kenkongzhan. Then it was all over again and we headed for Hami and our 41-hour ride to Chengdu.

Conclusion
Sandaoling is still the greatest real steam spectacle we have left but it's 95% based on 4-6 locos on a stretch of track bringing coal out of the open cast pit that can't be more than 6 km long including some bits which are not very accesible. The steam locos allocated to the deep mines provided only a very minor attraction/distraction. Whether it will survive another year or more is not clear but I haven't written it off yet. Given its isolated setting the idea of flying Beijing - Hami - Beijing is becoming more attractive and flights are now daily, reasonably reliable and bookable as part of an international ticket with Air China (which helps to guarantee your connection or support if this is missed). I'm not sure if I'll be back but 5 days or more here is always interesting and good food, comfortable accommodation and a general lack of hassle while photographing trains make this a relaxed place to be. Our arrangements as usual were with Mrs Guli who seems to have a monopoly on the railfan market but is able to achieve permission from the open cast mine company to wander fairly freely all over their area.  


Day 17 – 13 March
On the train

The train was not crowded which led to a good overall experience and a journey with plenty of scenic interest. The soft sleeper was old stock with only power points in the corridor and only the squat loo in use. We were next to the restaurant car which provided good food and Yangjing canned beer. Security at Hami was more relaxed and various items that might have been considered contraband last year - wine, water and a pocket knife made it onto the train.

Day 18 – 14 March
Arrive Chengdu 15:10. Transfer to Sanjin on the Shibanxi Railway.

Everything worked like clockwork and a car picked up 3 new members from Chengdu Airport at the same time we were finding out people mover at Chengdu Station. The two groups combined at the first service station en route to Sanjin. We arrived in time to see the last down passenger at 19:30 and hear a loco off a previous tourist train heading back to Shibanxi. Rumour has it that the mid-day passenger no longer runs mid-week which we need to check tomorrow. The number of the passenger loco was not seen in the dark and the train was only 3 coaches long including the bogie coach.

Day 19 - 15 March
Shibanxi

All duties today were worked by C2 locos Nos. 7, 16 and 18 (along with electric No. 3). There were tourist trains at 9, 10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30 and 15:30 (rough times off Sanjin). All the tourist trains went to Huangcunjin but with any more scheduled, they will terminate at Bago (and the battery electric work the final section?) Passenger trains were at 07:15 (delayed until 07:35 by coal train activity) and 17:30. The 'midday' passenger has been suspended for the month (flower season) but should return Monday - Friday in April. The second tourist train (the one we caught) was delayed to allow the loco off the first passenger to work this train (new-build No.18 with distinctive stove-pipe chimney and spark arrester). No. 7 appears to be running with the bronze coloured tender off No. 8. The passenger train is 3 coaches (see above) and the tourist trains ran with 4 green with yellow stripe tourist coaches. Developments and changes continue apace. Probably most unwelcome so far is the repeated loud speaker warnings from the ends of both tunnels near Bagou when the red light comes on. This is not at the Bagou station end but between the two tunnels where the two separate speakers say - in
Chinese-'A train is entering the tunnel. Do not use the tunnel. Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding (8 dings)' These messages from the ends of each tunnel are not synchronised and continue until the lights are turned off. They make it difficult to hear a train approaching! They were probably introduced as a safety feature now that the guard cabin between the tunnels is not manned when a train is coming. Similar speakers are visible on the two tunnels between Jiaoba and Xianrenjiao. In Sanjin, the Sanyema hostel theorectically has wi-fi in every room but in the reception area it is more reliable. In Bagou, the Tianya guest house has doubled the size of its separate restaurant and now offers breakfast there. The croquet/gate ball court in Bagou which was converted to a space with trees is now uniform concrete as part of the square which now specialises in renting Mao-era uniforms for dressing up.

Day 20 - 16 March
Shibanxi

Today we had sun in the morning but it clouded over in the afternoon. We rode the first passenger from Bagou to Mifeng and walked back. We had a good lunch at the shop next to the old hospital at Caiziba. Locos in use were 7 (tender of 8), 16 and 18 but the last tourist train was loco No. 10 (still in green). Tourist trains ran at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30 & 16:30. The last tourist train mainly runs to mop up any tourists left at Bagou. 


Day 21 - 17 March
Shibanxi

We walked to Huangcunjin to see the morning passenger and then walked to Caiziba for lunch and down to Sanjin for mid-afternoon and checked back into the Sanyima hostel. It started off cloudy and we had some light rain for a few hours from mid-morning. The latest loco seen is use is No. 17 which along with 7 (tender off 8), 10, 16 & 18 means we are missing Nos. 8, 9 (loco with this number in the Mifeng museum) and 14. We were at Mifeng for the 13:00 tourist train and No. 10 struggled to make it into the station and they started trying to get the lubrication to the left cylinder working. After a delay and a lot of animated discussion, the next up tourist train (14:00) arrived and after further discussion, the return working of the 11:00 train which had been sitting there for a long time was allowed to proceed to Sanjin. One option (perhaps the best) to switch this loco for No. 10 was not taken but eventually the loco off the 14:00 up train took the 13:00 forward. As soon as it had cleared the runpast at the flower curve, No. 10 followed with the 14:00 train. We're not sure what permissible working allowed this before the 13:00 reached Xinrenjiao the next staffed singalling point. We're not sure if they sorted out the lubrication but No. 10 was heard to struggle to complete the runpast but eventually turned up back at Sanjin and headed to Shibanxi light engine so I assume that it must have struggled but completed the round trip.

Day 22 - 18 March
Shibanxi

We walked down to Shibanxi observing light engines up and several electric coal trains (with No. 1) as well as the first passenger down. We were granted a quick look inside the depot but not into the further reaches of the workshop. On the depot were No. 10 and No. 7 (tender from 8). No other locos could be confirmed (not 8, 9 or 14). A photo at Sanjin shows loco No. 11 which is not one I have seen in recent years. The current working fleet is 5 steam locos 7, 10, 16, 17, 18. Despite 2 new locos since 2015 (17 & 18), the working fleet has not grown which must still be a worry at busy times.

By mid afternoon, the last steam loco (No. 7) was at Sanjin for the Mifeng short workings. The passing loop halfway between Sanjin and Mifeng was clearly not in use as the additional short workings led to increasing delays to all trains. The last passenger train made it back around 20:15.

Electric coal train activity was intense all day and they were likely building a stockpile so they need to run fewer trains over the weekend.

Day 23 - 19 March
Shibanxi

A big day for the railway with lots of local tourists everywhere. We walked or rode to Mifeng to get started. The first passenger train ran roughly 15 minutes late and was followed by an early tourist train double headed until Caiziba or Xianrenjiao where the front loco came onto the down passenger train. We were having breakfast at the Doctor's at the time and the double header took us by surprise. The new loop at Caiziba and the relatively new one near Yueliangtian (halfway between Sanjin and Mifeng) were both in use. We had 4 double-headers with the lead loco apparently assisting the train loco to get uphill faster. The 3rd and 4th double headers occured once the short working to Mifeng started. Stock for this was regular passenger stock. I showed the group the way to walk from Mifeng to Caiziba by road and we almost beat the tourist train which had stopped for a runpast at flower curve. We then walked back to Mifeng along the railway for lunch.

With loco watering and coaling at Sanjin between trains, the only need to go to Shibanxi was the return passenger working in the morning which probably brought up the stock for the Mifeng shuttle. They ran an extra train after the 16:00 tourist train and after that locos started heading for Shibanxi after coaling at Sanjin. Watering at Sanjin means locos do not have to return to Shibanxi during the day.

One loco was definitely struggling (No. 17) but the double heading helped keep delays to a minimum. The weather was overcast in the morning turning hot and humid in the afternoon with hardly any clear sun or shadows all day.

Day 24 - 20 March
Half day at Shibanxi prior to transferring to Chengdu

The weather was cloudy again and everyone decided not to go far from Sanjin. That has obvious disadvantages as you don't get chimney first uphill trains and you will likely have every photo bombed by last minute local tourists rushing in. Some of the group walked towards Shibanxi and avoided most of the tourists. All 5 locos were in use with 17 only working uphill trains double-headed. Electric coal trains ran frequently and although lots of shuffling around is required, having the steam locos coal and water at Sanjin must save time.

We left at 13:00 for Chengdu. So ended the steam action for this trip. We visited 5 steam locations and saw something move at all of them although Fuxin, Sandaoling and Shibanxi are the highlights of a China steam tour. We saw 21 locos in steam (not counting 1-3 more at Nanzhan, Sandaoling where we couldn't get the numbers) of 3 classes C2, JS and SY. Overall the tour was a success and hassle free. Alan (Wang Feng) as usual proved a very capable guide with other arrangements by Jun (Liu Xue Jun). I couldn't do it without them. The group was very tolerant of each other, of me and Alan and we had plenty of convivial moments usually over food and beer. It must help having only a small group (maximum size 8 including Alan and me.) Chinese steam is not over yet so I will be offering a November 2016 tour (Sandaoling & Fuxin) and a March 2017 tour (Fuxin, Sandaoling & Shibanxi). Please contact me if you would like to be on my mailing list for China tours. After that, we'll see. At the moment, Sandaoling appears the most vulnerable of these 3 lines and being able to offer a visit in November and March is a hope not a definite promise.

Day 25 - 21 March (Monday)
Fly home from Chengdu


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