China Report February - March 2015
11 March
12 - 14 March
15 - 22 March
28 February - 2 March
4 - 8 March
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16 March 2015 (Monday)
Despite not being the weekend, the 9 am tourist train was 3 full coaches and the 10 am was already sold out. Tourist trains expected today:
09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, (16:00?)
(The 16:00 didn't run due to insufficient demand.)
Return from Bagou 10:30, etc
From Bagou, the battery electric and cage coaches meets the steam train and takes passengers forward to the tourist coal mine at Huancunjing.
Run pasts are at the flower curve above Mifeng and the blow down lake curve.

Passenger trains at 07:15, 16:45 (approximately) from Sanjin on Saturday and Sunday (the time of the last train depends on last tourist train). We also saw a 12:00 (Sanjin departure) passenger which Zebedee confirmed as Monday - Friday only - but it's still running despite recent comments from others. Times are 15 minutes earlier from Shibanxi.

Electric coal trains canrun early morning only to accommodate the 6-7 tourist trains.

Locos seen so far 7, 8, 16, 17
No. 9 (identity dubious) is still in the Mifeng loco park plus an additional C2 boiler on an accommodation wagon.

17 March 2015

Tourist trains ran at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 14:00, and 15:00. Trains varied from 1 to 4 coaches with blue or brown stock.

Passenger trains ran at 07:00, 12:00 and 16:30 from Shibanxi. All trains ran considerably late (to accommodate the tourist trains or, in the case of the first train, because the rails were slippery after rain in the night).

It was sunny until early afternoon when it clouded over.

The same 4 locos were in use.

18 March 2015

A grey day to follow our sunny day. Not much of note. No. 10 still with green tender and cab now in action which suggests that No. 16 which was sounding unhealthy is in for attention. As dusk fell, it was mizzling with more rain forecast tomorrow when we transfer down to Sanjin for the weekend tourist peak.

19 March 2015

We caught the first day down from Bagou as it was cold and grey up there. It was marginally better in Sanjin. We visited the battery electric line at Yuejing coal mine (mainly used for moving supplies into the main and unneeded items out). We then drove up and over the hill to the back of the mine where we saw a battery loco bringing 4 tubs of spoil for tipping into a valley. The activity was very frequent after the end of the lunch break at 13:00. The mine has a short-term future only. They have just installed a fan system to replace the washery (it would be interesting to know how that works) and it looks an expensive bit of kit. The plan is to close the power station in Sanjin first, then the one at Shibanxi. Another user of the coal is a special steel factory in Emei which is also scheduled to close. That could be the end of the coal mine. The quality of the coal is poor and the production levels are not high enough for it to be part of the Government's long term plans.

We then walked over the hill to Mifeng to see the afternoon trains before walking back along the line to Sanjin in the rain. It appears that loco No. 7 (not 16) is the one dropped from the roster of locos working the passenger and tourist trains.

Walking down from Mifeng, we passed the newish halt at Yueliangtian (which is used by passenger trains on request) and then a very new passing loop at Huangsapo. The points are locked out at the moment but it will be interesting to see if it is in use at the weekend. Being able to sideline an uphill train struggling to get to Mifeng so a downhill train can pass and not totally upset the timetable would have proved useful in the past so perhaps they have this in mind.

Electric locos 1 & 2 have now been seen in use on coal trains.

20 March 2015

Now in Sanjin. This morning we walked the line to Shibanxi and took a local bus back to Sanjin for an early lunch. You could argue that we should have done this in reverse with more locos on shed and more steam going to Sanjin as we walked back. No matter. We saw several locos for the tourist trains pass on our walk some light engine and some with tourist stock, some electric coal train movements and eventually the morning passenger train returning. A lot more dirt truck roads are being built in the section. We were kicked out of the shed by the foreman but had we been seriously interested, we could have waited until his lunch break or until he went off shift. Locos 10 and 17 were on shed along with most of the passenger train stock which was undergoing emergency welding before the 12:00 train. We were not able to see the state of (potentially) No. 7 (in action earlier in the week), 9 or 14. Electric 1 & 3 were also on shed leaving not much space for the missing steam locos unless they are tucked well back in the shed. A loco cab (not mounted on a loco) was visible behind one of the electrics. I'm not sure if a second No. 9 exists as well as the one in the Mifeng museum.

After an early lunch, we caught the crowded 12:15 passenger from Sanjin and got off at Mifeng. We had hazy sunshine by this point and had various goes at the afternoon trains as far as the tunnel before walking back to Sanjin photting along the way. Already local tourists are present in good numbers and the weekend should see a real peak. The oil-seed rape flowers are already less than at the beginning of the week partly because of two lots of rain. The peach blossom is almost gone.

As I write this in the Sanjin Hotel sitting with my back to the open window, I can feel a bit more light rain on my neck although the weekend is forecast to be fine.

ps: Rooms 501 or 503 are both good for photographing steam trains from your window.

21 March 2015

A busy day with at least 15 return workings some just to Mifeng. The new loop at Huangsapo was in use with one person controlling both sets of points. The sequence we saw had the down train in the loop and the up train given the all clear to pass straight through. From the downward end, this was an impressive sight.

The weather was perfect with a nice misty sunrise and then blue sky and sunshine all the way. The trains were running full although down trains less so. There must have been a lot of people trying to get on the last trains at Bagou.

Five locos in action - no surprises - 7, 8, 10, 16, 17. No. 7 is very leaky - good for a steamy shot on the morning passenger at the flower spot - and No. 16, it's valve timings are off. The others sounded on fine fettle. No. 8 you can tell at a distance by its higher pitched whistle.

The second passenger of the day reached Sanjin at 17:30 on its way up the hill - that's 45 minutes later than on a weekday and it had to wait for a final tourist train to head uphill around 17:00. I'm not sure if that last tourist working was a short working to Mifeng or all the way to Bagou. The railway has had a busy day and will need to do it all over again tomorrow

.22 March 2015

It was a cloudy start but sunny from 10 - 3. Fewer visitors than yesterday especially first thing and the first shuttle ran with one coach and didn't really get going until 11:30. The new crossing loop at Huangsapo is used for every down Sanjin - Mifeng shuttle trains when a tourist train goes through uphill once the shuttle has stopped but is not needed otherwise in the timetable.

No. 7 is running with the tender from No. 9 and No. 10 with that from No. 14.

Our visit to Shibanxi has ended. I will add photos to Flickr once I get home as it has not proved easy to do that from China especially from Sanjin and Bagou.

In his latest report (click to view complete report), Bernd Seiler writes:

'Although Shibanxi still hauls regular passenger trains, I'll not list it as a real steam destination anymore. The line is now driven by tourism and has changed its face completely. The road reached Bagou some time ago and the coal traffic beyond Yuejin is history. The line would have been closed by now if it wasn't for the thousands of tourists coming from Chongqing and Chengdu.'

In support of this view, the railway certainly now runs primarily to make money from tourists, there are no steam-hauled coal trains and the Jiayang Company is doing a good job 'upgrading' facilities and in the process destroying the original character of the line and planting trees along the line making photography challenging.

However, it is the last real narrow gauge steam-hauled passenger train in China (and arguably, the world) and it is the last active Chinese steam narrow gauge line. The locos in appearance are about as far from preserved locos on a tourist line as you can get and the line still still carries local passengers three times a day on weekdays and twice a day at the weekend.

I still rate it worth a visit especially during the spring flower season (normally peaking sometime in March) and plan to include it in my March 2016 China tour. It works well as a place to unwind after the grimy standard-gauge locations and provides a total contrast to coal and mineral haulage in freezing conditions with passenger trains, warmth, humidity, lushness and everything is walkable or accessible by steam passenger train. And of course, having access to the whole railway by walking the railway line is rare in most countries with tourist steam lines.