China Steam Tours 2013-14

'Moments of Magic II' Tour November-December 2013
& New Listing 'Western Magic' Tour March-April 2014

Final Update 28 October 2013

No further updates to this page are planned. You can see the revised itinerary and read the trip reports here (starting around 12 November).

If you would like to visit in spring 2014 when temperatures are warming up and the spring flowers are in bloom, click here.

The dates of the winter 2013 trip are chosen to give cold weather with a reasonable chance of some snow and temperatures in the +5 to -15°C (with an increased chance of 'mega-clag' for the standard gauge portion of the tour). In Sichuan, the temperatures are likely to be +10 to +16°C.

You can read about the lines included in this tour at:

http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/sichuan-shibanxi.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/sichuan-guangyuan.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/gansu-baiyin.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/xinjiang-sandaoling.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/neimenggu-pingzhuang.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/neimenggu-yuanbaoshan.htm
http://www.sy-country.co.uk/line/liaoning-fuxin.htm
http://www.china.internationalsteam.co.uk/trains/china325.htm
http://www.china.internationalsteam.co.uk/trains/china324.htm
You can also read about my last two tours to these locations (excluding Rongshan):
http://www.users.waitrose.com/~jraby/china4blog.html
http://www.users.waitrose.com/~jraby/sandaoblog.html

Images below are all from the 2012 'Last Great Steam Show' tour with Rongshan photos by Zebedee

JS and Jordan Spreader at Sunset - Xibolizhan, Sandaoling

Introduction
This is a tour for those interested in still and video photography of real steam operations especially of hard working steam-hauled trains in attractive or unusual scenery. It is not a tour for those primarily interested in riding behind steam (although there will be a chance to ride steam-hauled passenger trains) nor for those who like to see re-creations of how things used to be. What we see on this trip will be 100% real, 100% now and not especially arranged for us. Steam passenger train rides should be possible at Rongshan, Baiyin, Sandaoling and Yuanbaoshan (as well as Shibanxi on the pre-tour) for those who want them.

JS propelling spoil train - Xibolizhan, Sandaoling

I organise and guide trips within China using experienced local Chinese guides for small groups of individuals who are interested in seeing a variety of industrial and narrow gauge railways that still operate real steam locomotives daily. China is really the last place left in the world where it is possible to see this throughout the year. Should you wish to contact participants on previous tours to get their unbiased opinion about the kind of tours I lead, please contact me and I will put you in touch with one or more of them.

Excavator loading spoil train - west end of pit, Sandaoling

Background
The tour is timed for the beginning of the winter cold weather with a good chance of snow but before the real cold of winter. For Rongshan and Shibanxi (pre-tour) temperatures will probably be higher.

Workers' passenger train departing Dongbolizhan, Sandaoling

This tour is competitively priced when you take account of the number of days, the travel and the locations involved, and the items included as standard on my tours - single rooms in hotels, 3 meals a day plus beer with meals, permissions for access and photography and any 'compulsory' tipping.

Returning passenger train crosses an empty freight train at Liugongli Station, Baiyin

Revised Itinerary to include Shibanxi (pre-tour), Rongshan, Baiyin, Sandaoling, Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan and Fuxin

Pre-tour
11/11 arrive Chengdu Airport on KLM or other flight, transfer to Sanjin on the Shibanxi Railway.
12/11 – 15/11 4 full days at Shibanxi
16/11 transfer to Chengdu Airport to meet main tour arrivals

Main Tour
16/11 arrive Chengdu Airport on KLM or other flight, bus transfer to Guangyuan for Rongshan
17/11 – 19/11 3 full days at Rongshan with 2 daily passenger train returns and (we hope) coal trains or the passenger trains running as mixed trains, prior to China Rail sleeper train from Guangyuan to Lanzhou
20/11 – arrive Lanzhou, transfer to Baiyin
21/11 – 23/11 3 days at Baiyin prior to catching overnight China Rail sleeper train to Hami (Kumul)
24/11 arrive Hami, transfer to Sandaoling
25/11 – 29/11 5 full days at Sandaoling prior to catching China Rail sleeper train to Beijing
30/11 on train
1/12 arrive Beijing 09:41 – minibus to Pingzhuang
2/12 – 3/12 2 days at Pingzhuang and Yuanbaoshan prior to afternoon transfer to Fuxin
4/12 – 6/12 3 full days at Fuxin
7/12 morning visit to Fuxin or Bajiaotai power station (JS) if still in operation (additional cost for permission likely), return to Beijing by day train from Jinzhou Nan, transfer to a Beijing Airport hotel – hotel, dinner, breakfast (8/12) and airport transfer (8/12) included in tour cost.
8/12 leave Beijing to arrive home same day (if flying to Europe)

China Rail DF4 diesel crosses over SY-hauled freight empties at Baiyin

Tour price and deposits
The tour price is for ground arrangements Chengdu - Beijing (or Beijing - Beijing if joining part-way for Baiyin or Pingzhuang). Open Jaw tickets can be bought online and we have confirmed that this is possible with KLM and BA UK - Chengdu, Beijing - UK flights for prices similar to return tickets. Your additional costs on this trip will primarily be your return airfare to/from China and your Chinese visa.

The tour is priced in Chinese yuan. You can confirm your place with a deposit of £400 in British pounds but final payment will be in yuan either by bank transfer to Chinese guide Jun (Liu Xue-Jun) before the tour or in cash at the start of tour in China. The exchange rate offered at airport exchange kiosks can be poor so transferring money in advance is the recommended way to pay the balance of the tour costs.

Full tour (start Chengdu/end Beijing) 16/11 – 8/12 – 22 days, yuan 30800 (with 5% Full Tour discount + 5% Early Booking discount = Yuan 27720)

Full tour excluding Rongshan (start/end Beijing) 19/11 – 8/12 – 19 days, yuan 26600 (with 5% early discount = Yuan 25270)

Rongshan, Baiyin, Sandaoling (start Chengdu/end Beijing) 16/11 – 1/12 (but end counted as 30/11 en route to Beijing) – 15 days, Yuan 21000 (with Early Booking discount = Yuan 19950)

Baiyin and Sandaoling (start/end Beijing) 19/11 – 1/12 (but end counted as 30/11 en route to Beijing) – 12 days, Yuan 16800

Pingzhuang, Yuanbaoshan, Fuxin (start/end Beijing) 1/12 – 8/12 – 7 days, Yuan 9800

Pre-tour visit to Shibanxi (start/end Chengdu) 11/11 - 16/11, 5 days (16/11 day of transfer back to Chengdu Airport and joining main tour is covered by main tour price if you book that) Yuan 7,000 (Full Tour discount also available on this as long as booking main tour as well)

Pre-Tour + Rongshan (start/end Chengdu) - 11/11 - 20/11 - please ask for a price if you want this option.

The tour pricing includes the hotel/sleeper berth on the night prior to the end of the tour and breakfast and airport transfer on the final day in Beijing at the end of the full tour. Please ask for final day arrangements if leaving prior to the end of the tour. In all cases, the final day (8 December on the full tour) is not counted when calculating tour prices and the number of days on the tour (16/11 - 8/12 is actually 23 days).

Discount available:
- Discount for full tour 5% - This discount is still available.
- Early booking discount 5% (if booking for 15 days or more) prior to 15 June - This offer is now closed.
(Maximum possible discount of 10% of tour costs if booking for full tour or full tour + pre-tour prior to 15 June)

I use oanda.com to check exchange rates. You can also check the Bank of China rates.

Morning passenger train to Shenbutong towards the top of the valley, Baiyin

Included in the tour price
-Advice and assistance to obtain your Chinese visa and on other matters before the trip starts.
-Permissions for access and photography - but see additional notes below for exactly what is included in the tour price.
-Three meals a day (but breakfast and lunch may be snacks if necessary to increase the time beside the steam lines)
-Beer (or soft drinks) with meals (reasonable limits will apply) and bottled water at all times
-Single rooms (small refund if not available) - requests by friends to share are acceptable and will reduce your tour costs - ask for a quote
-Service of Chinese guide and British tour manager (with local guides as required)
-Travel by train (including soft or hard sleeper berth) or private bus.
-All non-discretionary tips
-Beijing airport hotel, breakfast and airport transfer on final day

Not included

-Discretionary tips for good service (most likely to be given to our bus drivers and local guides)
-Phone calls, laundry, snacks between meals, alcohol other than beer
-Personal emergency cover for any eventuality (please make sure you have travel insurance to cover this)
-Air flights to China, Chinese visa, all expenses prior to the start or after the end of the tour

Afternoon passenger train passes under the iconic suspension bridge over the yard at Gongsu, Baiyin

Minimum and maximum numbers
Minimum 6 people, maximum 10 people

Morning line up for shift change with up to 7 SY at Wulong stabling point, Fuxin

Small print

We will be visiting real steam operations. There are no charters or special trains, it's all real. However, as with any real operation, we could experience days when things don't operate as we would like. There is also the chance that these lines could reduce the amount of steam they use, dieselise or close by the time of this trip. If joining this tour, you accept these possibilities. We will create the best alternative programme after consultation with the participants should any changes be necessary.

Sunset at the east end of Taiping Yard, Fuxin

We could also find hotels that have promised single rooms do not have enough rooms for the group or that hard rather than soft class sleepers on overnight trains are all that are available for some or all of the group. We will do what we can to ensure that frustrations and minor discomforts such as these do not happen but we depend on the cooperation of others to ensure that everything goes totally to plan. You sign up for these tours in full knowledge that things don't always go right all the time and accepting that flexibility and compromise may be required by you at times.

If single rooms are not available then the decision on sharing arrangements will be made by the organiser. You agree to accept my decision on this. A refund equal to half the price of a single room per night will be paid to anyone who has to share.

Tipping power station fly ash at Fuxin

Although we plan overnight journeys travelling in soft class sleepers on trains this is not always possible and sometimes hard class sleepers may be used. Hard sleepers are nowhere near as unpleasant as they sound and the latest version of hard class carriage has compartments for 6 people compared with soft class which has compartments for 4. In both soft and hard class, people normally prefer lower berths. You agree to accept that class and berth allocation will be at my discretion.

Photo by our guide Zebedee of C2 210 at Rongshan on a mixed train

Your deposit is fully refundable but only until the tour is declared 'go' and the organisers start to incur costs. Once we incur costs (most likely my airfare and visa fee), you accept that these costs will be split between all those who have signed up and you will receive back your deposit less your share of this. If you cancel two weeks (14 days) prior to the tour start (16/11), no refund will be made. In the event that the organisers have to cancel the tour, your deposit will be fully refundable.

Rongshan passenger train with C2 211, photo by Zebedee

Should you transfer money to Jun our guide in China to pay the balance of the tour cost, you accept that returning money from China is not an easy matter and I may have to collect the money in person during the tour to make a repayment should you cancel.

In the unlikely event that we need to cancel the tour for whatever reason, the limit of our liability will be the full refund of all monies already paid by you to us.

You should have travel/medical insurance to cover you in the event that you are hospitalised in China or if you should need to be medically evacuated back home. You may also want to cover yourself for missed flights, lost luggage, etc. but medical emergency is the most important item to insure against. The tour organisers will not be able to support you financially should you have a medical emergency and will only be able to support you in other ways so far as successfully running the tour allows.

JS 8242 at Yuanbaoshan being serviced between passenger/mixed trains

Contact me if you are interested in this tour. The final booking deadline is 6 October 2013 (6 weeks prior to the tour start).

Please read these notes before booking. The notes will be updated from time to time and updated versions will be sent to those on the mailing this for this trip. Please ask to be on the list.

Notes:

These notes are written based on what I know right now. Things can change and there are many things I don't know. You sign up for this tour accepting this element of uncertainty and agree to go with any changes that are required to make the best of circumstances as events unfold.

General - the tour features 3 overnight train rides. Most railway enthusiasts enjoy the opportunity to experience such long train rides which include sleeper berths, restaurant car and trolley service and plenty to see out of the windows and in the carriage. The actual trains cannot be confirmed at this point as there will be a new timetable before this tour takes place and the best train for our purposes may change. Information about planned trains will be given to tour participants when the new timetable is known.

To get the best shots, participants should have no problem walking some distance over rough ground or along railway tracks sometime on the ballast. Our transport will normally park near the railway giving a shot of sorts nearby but the best shots could be some walk away.

Participants are responsible for moving their own luggage. We don't offer a porter service! This can be especially important at railway stations where there may be a reasonable walk including stairs, rough surfaces and narrow carriage corridors. A key element to this is not to bring a case that is too big nor pack things you don't need. For comfort, I suggest limiting yourself to 3 bags including a camera case and making one of these a backpack.

The hotels will vary from luxury (3-4 star in Baiyin) to 1 star (in Sandaoling) but all should be warm and provide hot water for baths/showers (although hours for this may be limited). All should provide internet access in your room via LAN/Ethernet cable. You may need a password from reception to get online. WiFi is less common and tends to be provided by a national telecom provider and is usually charged for. Those with iPads or similar with WiFi but no LAN input may need an Apple AirPort Express-type device to plug into the LAN socket to create a local WiFi zone.

Shibanxi - Steam continues here on passenger and tourist trains (ng-C2). A new loco (ex-Pengzhou) has been added to the fleet. There are 4 passenger trains a day but the second train is exclusively for tourists at a price of Yuan 50 single trip compared with Yuan 5 for the regular trains. There are more tourist trains on Saturday and Sunday. The tour price includes travel on the local passenger trains but not on the tourist trains. Electric locos work the coal trains from Sanjin to Shibanxi. The rest of the line is exclusively steam.

Rongshan - this former prison railway has just been transferred to new owners and I am only aware of one group that has visited so far. They paid a very high price for permission and also chartered a coal train. The tour price is based on a more reasonable daily charge of Yuan 80 per person which Zebedee our guide has been quoted. I do not plan to charter any trains anywhere. As this is the 'newest' steam line available for foreigners to visit, much is unknown and much could change. The new owners plan to turn this into another 'local tourist' line similar to Shibanxi. They also plan to relay a lifted branch line. I hope we will be able to see it operating normally with passenger and coal traffic before this change occurs.

Baiyin - one local enthusiast predicts they will stop using steam by August 2013. Jun has heard otherwise. We will keep an eye on the situation but should the passenger train stop using steam, we may spend longer at Sandaoling. Permission at Baiyin is Yuan 500 per person (irrespective of how long you stay). This price is only justified if the passenger train is steam.

Sandaoling - various new dirt roads are available to our tour bus - from Xibolizhan to Dongbolizhan around the southern side of the pit and out to the spoil tipping which makes getting close up views of the Jordan Spreader at work possible. A new line will be built to serve the new deep mine to the west. Work should start prior to our visit and should involve steam locos on track-laying trains. The workshop is now not available as part of the permission fee of Yuan 200 per person per day. Senior management have decided not to allow workshop visits but they may still be possible at the discretion of the workshop manager. Whether a workshop visit is possible or not won't be known until we are there. There is a planned, gradual decline in the use of steam here. Currently still the steamiest place on earth for real steam with around 20 JS in use every day, the management plans a gradual reduction in steam use with the elimination of steam on the west (Xiboli) side by 2015 while retaining 3-4 locos in use on the east (Dongboli) side. They plan to have only 7 locos in steam daily by 2015. With the use of SY locos on engineers' trains apparently finished, and the use of steam on the line taking the coal to China Rail dieselised some time ago, we have seen a gradual decline already but it is still very steamy!

Pingzhuang - around 4 SY in use here but it can be quiet at times and luck and patience is required. There is no system of paying a fee for permission so certain areas may be off limits (workshop, open cast pit) and others need to be approached carefully (stabling point).

Yuanbaoshan - 1 JS in use here on the passenger/mixed trains. There is no system of paying a fee for permission so certain areas may be off limits (workshop) and others need to be approached carefully (stabling point).

Fuxin - 6-7 SY in use here. The system of paying to see the stabling point and visit the workshop has taken hold and prices have escalated and now include the loco depot. It now costs Yuan 200 to see each of these 3 once only making a total of Yuan 600 to see the morning crew change at the stabling point, visit the workshop and visit the depot. We have included this cost in the tour price but should you wish for a second visit to any of these, there will be an additional charge which we will need to pass on to you. Jun has now established a route to drive up to the tip to see the fly ash tipping. The narrow gauge electrics at Wulong Mine can be seen and photographed outside the mine yard gates but we have not yet managed to negotiate access to see them inside the mine yard.

Click here for additional photos of the places to be visited on the tour (photos taken on the 2011 Autumn Tour).