China Report February - March 2015
11 March
12 - 14 March
15 - 22 March
28 February - 2 March
Sandaoling - this page
4 - 8 March
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Tour starts 27 February. First reports from Baiyin should be available 28 February or shortly afterwards
Deep mines
8053, 8089, 8314, 8358
Sandaoling summary

We saw 5 locos in use on the open cast pit side and 4 in use on the deep mines. The Nanzhan yard area is still off limits so although we have the numbers of 4 locos in use there, there could be 1-2 more in use. At the time of our visit, 2 locos were under repair at the workshop and one appeared stored in reserve there. One loco 8081 was in for repair and back in use the same day. It started off on the open cast system chimney first to the train but was later turned. The explanation seems to be that there is a triangle at the workshop.

A maximum of 4 coal trains are in use in the open cast mine. That leaves one loco spare for other duties or on standby. After its return from the workshop, 8081 was used to take a boxcar train to the limit of the open cast system where the line from Dongbolizhan joins the new line from Nanzhan to Shadunza. Without special permission, open cast mine locos can go no further. The line out of the pit to Xibolizhan has been lifted and the remaining line from Xibolizhan into the pit at a high level is only there because there was not sufficient time to lift it. Now track lifting was taking place during our visit and the steam crane was reported stored.

At Xibolizhan, several lines closest to the control office have been lifted and a broad track now exists from there to the open cast mine. It's planned that big trucks used in the pit will park up outside the control office when not in use. The two water columns are still there but track around them has been removed. Two line remain furthest from the control office to provide a passing loop for coal trains on the line Nanzhan to Shadunza although currently there is only one train on the line at any one time. For some reason, the line that the Jordan Spreader parked on is still in place.

The deep mines to the east still have tender first empty and chimney first full steam hauled trains. These are as challenging as ever being fairly unpredictable, requiring long waits for action and the locos working fairly hard tender first but just coasting downhill with the fulls. However, these trains probably offer the best chance of trains with a good mountain backdrop. Erjing mine seems to be off limits and driving from the town via Yijing to Erjing is now not something the guides want to do. Access to Nanzhan is mainly restricted to the east end level crossing where shunting is quite frequent. Diesels work the trains from Shadunza to Nanzhan and on to China Rail.

In the open cast mine, the Blue Loader car park is currently an acceptable place to park a bus and you can then walk back to the four signals and beyond for the late afternoon silhouette, contrajour and glint shots. If you walk in from Kenkouzhan or the pipe, you can be picked up at the end of the day from there.

At this time of year, the washery branch gives the chance of sunrise shots. There are usually two trains there around 7:30. It's now a bit too late in the year for the first one to be in darkness and producing sparks. Right now, the second train leaves just about sunrise. The morning passenger leaves Dongbolizhan at 08:40 and returns within 20 minutes. It only goes as far as the Blue Loader these days. Riding the train is still possible.

Despite several videos on YouTube showing locos producing fireworks at night working coal trains out of the pit, this is not normal. The normal sparks can best be described as fairy dust and are not plentiful nor dramatic. We concluded that any major sparks and flames out the chimney are by special request to the crew. If there are special atmospheric conditions that help this at another time of year, I would be interested to hear when and what conditions these are.

In world terms, Sandaoling is one of the very best real steam locations left - possibly the very best. In China, only Fuxin and Shibanxi still provide a similar amount of activity and interest.

4 March 2015

Bright, clear mild day - boxcar passenger still running into the pit as far as the blue loader and return journey takes about 20 minutes. After the passenger train returned, the loco 8173 went onto a rake of coal wagons. At that point all 4 locos and trains were at Dongbolizhan. This, plus problems at the Blue Loader led to a slow morning with just two trains up by 12:30.

No sign of the pw trains with the steam crane. It's not clear if track lifting is still taking place at Xibolizhan.

In the afternoon, we went to Nanzhan and drove towards Erjing to catch a 20 wagon train of empties for Yijing. There were as many as 4 locos (in total) visible at Nanzhan including the train loco for Yijing. Prior to arriving, we had been told that 8 steam locos only are in use (compared to 10 in November when they were testing steam and passenger trains on the new line to Shadunza). One loco is said to be in the workshop.

Then it was back to the open cast system to see one train at the washery before we walked down the pit. At this time of year, sunrise is around 8 am and sunset around 7.30 pm. Trains were coming out of the open cast mine at 25 minute intervals and we were lucky with a final train out just before sunset down the pit near the 4 signals were the tracks combine leaving the loading operation. Both the dragline bucket excavator and the Blue Loader were in action in the afternoon.

5 March 2015
Pattern of operation similar and locos in use on the open cast system unchanged from our first day except that the Blue Loader was working and we saw regular trains out of the pit all morning.

We enquired about the pw train seen lifting track at Xibolizhan before Chinese New Year but the steam crane is currently stored out of use.

Some of the group visited the workshop and found 4 locos inside.

8081 in steam, minor repairs, 6204 dead, possibly stored as a spare loco, 8197 overhaul, 8366 full overhaul
Dumped inside the workshop compound 8384 + 1 more.

By the end of the day, JS 8081 had joined the other 4 locos for the open cast coal trains but was waiting at Dongbolizhan to enter traffic (perhaps until the night shift). See below for what it's first job was.

6 March 2015
At this time of year, there is a possible sunrise shot of a train returning from the washery to Kenkouzhan. It didn't happen today as sunrise was slightly late for the train movement. Another possibility in moonset behind train going for shift change at Dongbolizhan. With last night being Lantern Festival (a lunar calendar event), we have a full moon.

At 10:30 we set off around the south side of the pit to drive to Xibolizhan. However, we saw a diesel-hauled coal train on its way to Shadunza and caught it at the control office and short loop; the point where the old line from Dongbolizhan joins the new line from Nanzhan where JS 8081 waited on a short train. We let the diesel go and asked what the steam loco was doing. The loco and train of two box cars and a loaded coal wagon were at the limit of normal open cast mine operation and could go no further towards Xibolizhan although a physical rail connection exists. They were to wait there until a road truck brought tools being removed from Xibolizhan to them and then take these back to the workshop. That raises the question of why the road truck didn't do the whole job and also why this open pit train isn't allowed on track which now belongs to the deep mines. The crew did say that the link was left in for emergency movements between the two systems if authorised by management. There is no ban on steam on the new line as one of the steam locos allocated to the deep mines would be allowed to Xibolizhan or Shadunza. After the loco did a couple of run pasts for us, we headed back for lunch.

Mrs Guli confirms that the only steam workings on the new line to Shadunza known to have been witnessed by visiting enthusiasts were the two my group saw during the November 2014 tour. (See clickable link to the right.)

7 March 2015
There was a good sunrise on the washery branch with an empty train back to Kenkouzhan just at the right time. The weather then became overcast.

The loco on the passenger train is now 8081 facing chimney to the train.

A phone call elicited that a loco would go out light to Erjing to bring back a train. In due course 8089 went out to Erjing and shunted for a long period and came back just before 12.

8 March 2015
Another good start leaving the hotel at 07:30 and picking up a packed breakfast before we caught 2 trains returning from the washery on the washery branch. The second was shortly after sunrise. We then moved over to look back on Dongbolizhan from the washery branch near Kenkouzhan. The passenger was in the hands of an energetic driver and following that two trains crossed with one going to Dongbolizhan for servicing and the other departing for the pit. The weather was good with very clear conditions. Towards 12:00 something went wrong at the washery (conveyor belt problems as well as too much coal waiting to be loaded onto China Rail wagons) so two trains were there and a third train was waiting at the exit from the pit. Things had come to a halt.

After lunch, the problem has been solved but we were off to Hami by the old road. A miscommunication meant that stops to photograph trains on China Rail which had been requested were not possible as the current security situation makes photography of China Rail by foreigners in this area 'suspicious'. By the time this became clear we were committed to driving the old road and had left Sandaoling and it's excellent steam behind. I wonder how much longer it will last?

Locos in use:
Open cast mine:
6209, 8081, 8167, 8173, 8190