China Blog 2009

Pingzhuang Coal Railway

26 July - 1 August

This railway has been suggested as a good one to add to the decreasing list of good Chinese steam lines to video. I'm trying to give it time (3-4 days) to see if I agree and some of the comments in this initial blog may be modified when I finish my stay here. For maps and previous reports see SY-Country.

Firstly, it should be said that Pingzhuang is a decent town with a good, reasonable hotel (Pingzhuang Hotel discounted to RMB145 for a double with free breakfast) with internet available in the room for those with laptops and a fridge to cool the beers. There are a number of decent restaurants and it has a compact town centre including train station, bus station, hotel, restaurants, shops and Bank of China ATM all within walking distance of each other. Buses 1, 2, 3, etc. all head out to different places on the line (although so far we have used the cheap taxis at RMB5-10 to do the job). It's a place that I am very happy to spend a few days especially as David Thomas has reported that you can also catch buses from here to have a day at Yuanbaoshan avoiding the need to stay in Chifeng.

But what about the railway? The morning line up at the stabling point (Xilutian) at shift change is currently only 3 locos (SY1084, 1052, 1425) but SY1084 with full smoke deflectors and skyline casing is the main attraction and is doing most of the work from the mines to the Pingzhuang Nan interchange with China Rail. In fact, it is not yet clear what the other locos do although one appears to be on standby and one may work the line to Wujia.

After quizzing Mike Ma, it may be that the electrified line to the open cast mine has its own steam locos in addition to this (being operated by a separate company) and I will try to check this out in the next few days.

So far, SY1084 is the only loco I have seen working trains. Initially, I thought that the crew had been ordered to make as little noise and smoke as possible but the line is fairly flat and the loco can do the work with ease. Getting interesting lineside shots is a challenge but waiting around the various loading points does provide some noise and steam. The loco rolled almost silently over the bridge to the China Rail interchange at Pingzhuang Nan with a full train of coal wagons and finding an effective shot that is not head on there is a challenge. The other problem has been the length of time between any action. You can easily wait 2-3 hours before a train at this time of year. It doesn't seem to matter which side of Xilutian you go. Bring a few good books!

After 2 days, though, I have walked the line from Pingzhuang Nan to Gushanlijing in stages (10-12 km about 2.25 hrs in total) and have a slightly better idea of the pattern of work. This appears to be:

- loco takes empties to Gushanyijing and Gushansanjing (according to Bernd Seiler's map on SY-Country) either to one or both and then returns light engine or waits for wagons to be loaded at either place.

-loco takes loads to Xilutian (possibly going out light engine to get them)

-when requested by China Rail, loco takes coal train to Pingzhuang Nan and either returns light engine or with empty wagons.

-loco may also be called to go light engine to Pingzhuan Nan to collect empties when available.

As you can see, there is the potential for a lot of light engine moves with the loco returning to the stabling point at Xilutian although this may happen much more on the stretch to China Rail.

Here are a few of the still pics achieved so far:

SY1084 and 1052 at Xilutian stabling point around 08:30 on the first day.

Be honest, would you know this was an SY not a JS? SY 1084 heads for Pingzhuang Nan with coal for China Rail from Xilutian.

Lunchtime at Yijing. Having run light to Sanjing, the loco returned immediately with fulls and stopped at Yijing to collect more coal wagons.

Mid-afternoon at Sanjing. The loco has delivered the empty wagons and is waiting for them to be loaded (around 90 minutes).

Rather attractive PW railbus. Crew appeared to be involved in a gauging exercise. This was the only action we saw in the morning of day 2.

After another day which started early (6:30) at the stabling point but finished at lunchtime when we had seen only the one move pre-8 am shift change to China Rail and, after shift change, a tender first train of empties to the mines and a light engine movement back - i.e at least 4 hours without a chimney first train, I can confirm that this line does not qualify to be in the top flight of China steam lines even if Jalainur and Sandaoling both go diesel. This is not a line to travel half-way round the world for. European enthusiasts would have much more fun on a UK preserved line or on the former East German narrow gauge such as the Harz. The novelty SYs and generally friendly people are the biggest attractions.

John Raby