Tongliao Sand Railways

11 July - Beijing to Tongliao on Train 2189

Arrival in Beijing was 40 minutes late due to a late arrival of the plane onto the stand at Heathrow. In Beijing the delay was compounded as we had to remain in our seats while our temperatures were checked with a temperature gun to the forehead as the Chinese authorities are trying to turn back any cases of swine flu. One passenger had an abnormal temperature so we had to wait a while until they decided that he/she was OK. If not, the whole plane or just a section could have been quarantined along with the suspect. Luckily, I emerged from customs about 90 minutes late and Mike and I headed by shuttle bus for Beijing main station. This is the classic start for so many visits to China for steam.

While in the soft class waiting room we had a visit from rail enthusiast Gao Liang Jun who was up Beijing from his normal home in Baotou. Then, it was off to Tongliao on the overnight train. We passed through rain - quite heavy at times - and caught the odd glimpse of the Great Wall before retiring for the night. In the morning, we arrived in a wet Tongliao 40 minutes down.

Tongliao Area Sand Railways

The score for the three 762mm narrow gauge lines reported by Japanese sources is 1 closed permanently (Yamenying), 1 temporarily stopped awaiting China Rail wagons to clear the stockpile (Menda) and 1 working (Baishi). This was the order in which I visited them and they appear as such below.

11 July 2009 - Tongliao and the Yamenying Sand Railway (762 mm)

Yamenying is about 30 km south of Tongliao. Buses will drop you there from the bus station outside the railway station,

We checked into the Railway Hotel (RMB120 for a triple non-ac room) and after breakfast headed out to Yamenying. Although we had been told that it wouldn't be working on a Sunday, we thought a quick recce would be a good idea. In the event, it was a very good idea as the line will never work again. Traffic stopped around 1 month ago and the line has been replaced by road trucks. We saw 3 of the reported 4 locos outside the shed. The locked shed probably contains the final working loco.

Looking back at the machine that loads the standard gauge wagons, you can see on the left of the pic that the sand closest to the machine has arrived by road. Formerly, the narrow gauge lines on either side were used to tip into the pit.

We walked the short (c. 2km) line and one of the interesting features was the use of halves of standard-gauge sleepers in combination with 762 mm sleepers.

At the end of the line, the simple loader was clearly no longer used and we walked back along a dirt road used by the sand trucks to get to the mainline station.

12 July - A grand day out to Menda and Baishi sand railways

Menda is about 50 km from Tongliao and Baishi is about 75km. Baishi is much closer to Shuangliao/Zhengjiatun and is best approached by taxi from there. Biashi is off the main road about 4km so local transport is useful.

We left Tongliao on the 6:45 bus to Menda and were dropped on the main road at the petrol station. We then started the longish walk to the railway station but were fortunate to be given a lift by a young chap who offered to take to Baishi as well and then on to Zhengjiatun so we could catch a bus or train back to Tongliao. Our first stop was Menda sand railway which wasn't working due to a surplus of sand waiting to go out by China Rail. They predicted 2-3 days before they would resume work. We were allowed access to the depot area and a dumped loco was framed by a Chinese doorway.

The working loco was outside with its train with the shovels in the back all ready to go.

The depot was locked up and we didn't establish if they have any more locos here.

Our driver took us to the sand loading area and we were able to see the dredging and cleaning process used to produce the sand for shipment.

Following this, with no action expected on the railway, we headed for Baishi which is in a suburb of Zhengjiatun (also known as Shuangliao) beyond a power station. Our arrival also found the railway not working.

However, it transpired that working hours in summer are 4-8 and 2-4/5 and we had hit the extended mid-day siesta. The unloading involves manual labour and the times have been chosen to provide the coolest daylight working hours. So, we headed off to lunch in Shuangliao and to book tickets on the 16:49 train to Tongliao. Return to the line for 2 pm was easy with a local taxi. And, dead on the dot of 2, a driver turned up to take the working loco out of the shed and back it on to the rake of low-sided wagons and reverse to the loading point.

Here, there was a bit of a delay as the engine stalled and the battery had to be charged with jumper cables on the caterpillar tractor before the sequence could start. We saw 2 return trips before we had to leave.

The second trip coincided with a mainline passenger train waiting for its path on the single line to Tongliao.

There was a second loco spare in the shed but that seems to be the total fleet working or otherwise.

We were in the middle of no-where and very dependent on luck to find a motorcycle taxi or ordinary taxi to get us back to the main road and to Zhengjiatun station for our train. Frustratingly, there are no passenger trains that stop at Baishi or Menda to pick up passengers. Despite the elaborate passenger stations, they only stop if waiting for a path. Anyway, we did get lucky as one normally does and made it back to Zhengjiatun for our train. While at Baishi, we saw a chipmunk-like animal.

As well as this small plant growing in the sand that some of you may recognize from your hippy years.

John Raby