The International Steam Pages
Steam in Sichuan March 1999
Robin Gibbons peers through the gloom of south China and reports:
This tour was arranged through Mr Li Nan at Chongqing CITS on comparatively short notice. The weather was poor throughout - no bright sunshine or deep blue North Eastern skies here. I suspect this dampness is fairly typical of Sichuan for much of the year. If you are going to do this trip, forget the long lenses - I think I managed to get above f1.8 on one day only - and 200ASA film is probably a good investment. We started in Chongqing and move on, by road, via Neijiang to Chengdu.
Please note, I can't tell the difference between a DF1 and a DF3, nor DF4B from a DF4 so where I say DF1 I could mean DF3 etc. Fortunately, SS3Bs say "SS3B" on their numberplates!
Jianghe Coke Co
This little line (600mm gauge? - should have taken a tape measure) is reputed to have been built in the 1890s to transport coal from a mine to the river. It is now used to carry coal from a mine to a coking plant. The track is of light section and supported on cut sandstone sleepers. Locos are primitive home-made looking four wheel diesels. The four wheel trucks have an inverted "V" section floor inside and discharge through bottom opening side doors. The trains appear to run in convoys - four loaded trains followed each other at short intervals in the morning and around lunch time the empties re-appeared in quick succession. In the workshops at Luoba, the staff were working on some wagons, and several showed evidence of recent re-planking. There are a couple of primitive passenger coaches in the yard and remains of further diesel locos, one or two looking more or less workable. This line is a wonderful anachronism and deserves further exploration.
No 3 Steelworks
We called in at this rather derelict steelworks which is down near the main Jialing River bridge. There are the remains of a narrow gauge system with five derelict diesel shunters on site (two 0-4-0, three 0-6-0), and two 0-4-0 diesels, presumably more or less workable, in a crude secure compound. The types I noted were CZ80R and JM80R. There is a rather attractive rope worked incline at one side of the works, presumably disused these days.
Chongqing Nan and Beibei
Prior to visiting the No 3 Steelworks, we called in at Beibei station north of Chongqing and noted a DF1 hauled Chongqing - Hankou pax. and an SS3 electric on a long freight.
One of the two main China Rail loco depots is at Chongqing Nan alongside the Yangtze. We wandered straight through the depot to the far side where there were a couple of SYs, Nos 1236 (out of steam) and 0017 (Tangshan 1966, in steam). These belong to the Dock Administration of the Yangtze River. Back in the depot, where SS1s rule, we were not very welcome, which was a pity as I would have liked to have taken some more photos of the locos therein. SS1s are actually rather pretty, bearing some similarity to the Swiss Ae6/6 and Re4/4 IIs.
It appears that the authorities consider diesels and electrics to be worthy of espionage and it is one thing to "bunk" a depot just to grab the numbers but far more difficult not to be caught and shown the exit if one is photographing the locos.
I decided to forego the "stewed bull's private with Chinese egg in wok" that night at dinner.
Wansheng and Nanchuan
Wansheng is a leisurely four hour train ride from Chongqing but still within the Chongqing city area. This is a very pleasant trip, through scenery that, although not spectacular, would rate pretty highly by most country's standards, but being China, is virtually unknown. Train 617 leaves CQ at 07.50 and reaches Wansheng, all of 145km away, at 11.58. There is a soft seat coach. Loco was DF1 1748 (Dalian 1972, based at CQ Nan)
Wansheng has a few SYs scuttling around (see Bruce Evans' report) but the main interest is the local railway to Nanchuan. The steep climb out of Wansheng is incredible and there are some wonderful locations. Imagine the Vale of Rheidol with less trees but three times the height and exposure with a few viaducts and tunnels thrown in. Unfortunately there do not appear to be many trains. At Nanchuan there is a large passenger station building, and platform, but no passenger trains and there never have been. Work that one out. There is apparently the possibility of a further extension of the line.
At the platform JF 2324 was in steam. The depot, which is only a little way from the station, now has three dumped JFs, 2444 which appears to have been a celebrity loco with cast numberplates and model loco crew plaque (this had only just been withdrawn), 2453 (according to the staff) and a third over which there is some controversy as to identity. Bruce Evans lists this as 2416, and the worksplate (56/7) would tie in with this but the tender, which has been gassed into several pieces shows 2290 and both this and the loco are stoker fitted - methinks possibly unusual for JFs. Three "Tai Hang 2" (Tai Hang seems to be a location of some significance in the war against the Japanese) B-B Shijiazhuang diesel hydraulics were on shed, 015 (named "Qingnian" or "youth"), and 016 in orange, and 008 in blue.
On our way back down to Wansheng, we stopped at the large viaduct towards the foot of the climb and were rewarded a couple of minutes later by the sound of a loco working hard, which turned out to be JF2264 on a train of empties, unaided. Unfortunately the light was lousy so the photos aren't up to much.
General Steel Plant, Zhongliangshan Coal mine and Chongqing Xi
This is further south along the main line from Chongqing Nan, by the Yangtze. We just visited the loco depot area. The steelworks covers a large area and there were no doubt a number of locos elsewhere on site. The weather was miserable. For the record, the locos we saw were as follows:-
GJ 1010, 1019 (working), 1027 (in workshop), 1030, 1047 (being shunted by 1019), 1063, 1065. The GJs don't appear to have builders plates but were built in Chengdu and Taiyuan between 1958 and 1961.
SY 0357 (overhaul), 0467 (working), 1253 (working)
YJ 235 (out of use but intact)
DFH5B (Ziyang) 3010, 3011, 3016. 0347 (not sure whether this last diesel is also a DFH5B).
In the afternoon we visited the Zhongliangshan coal mine, near Chongqing Xi depot, where there is an overhead electrified main line (n.g.) and battery locos are used to pull tubs into and out of the mine - said to be 900mm gauge. Raining steadily and no photos I'm afraid but a fascinating location and worth spending a bit more time.
We were not allowed around CQ Xi electric depot but spent a little time in the rain at one end of the large marshalling yard at CQ Xi. DF5 and DF1 used for shunting, SS1s on the main line pax and freight.
Yongchuan Narrow Gauge
We went by road from Chongqing to Chengdu, via Yongchuan and Neijiang. The rail service between Chongqing and Chengdu is a disgrace, trains taking around 11 hours for the 500km. Accordingly, most of the market has been lost to road traffic. At Yongchuan, an overhead electrified narrow gauge railway, assumed to be 762mm joins the main Chengdu - Chongqing ("ChengYu") railway and a train of four wheel tippers was being unloaded when we arrived.
This little line runs through some delightful scenery although the rain had "set in" and one really needs to spend a bit more time. We drove to the headquarters of the line where the workshops are located. It looks as though they are about to connect up a new depot facility here. Mr Li said there had been a couple of 0-8-0s on his previous visit a few months ago but these had since been cut up. I recorded electric locos Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4. These are "loco shaped" Bo-Bo type and Changzhou built (1991). As with SS3s, the "Faiveley" style pantographs are mounted back to front i.e. the knuckle faces outboard rather than inboard which is the more usual.
We pressed on to Neijiang after a bowl of noodles for lunch (the Sichuan noodles are highly recommended). The Yunheng Hotel is directly opposite the diamond crossing at the depot throat and there is a great view from the roof of the hotel into the depot yard, which is split into electric and steam sections with the diesels in the middle. As with Chongqing Nan, we got thrown out but not before we had walked round most of the depot. The variety of steam, diesel and electric at one depot must have few parallels - QJs, DF1s, DF4s, SS1s and SS3s (plus a visiting SY). The QJs I noted were:- 2489, 3147, 3148, 3152, 3153, 3175 (dumped), 3176, 3222, 3233, 3235 (dumped), 3237, 3288, 3297 (dumped), 3462. Several of the QJs carried remarks on the front boards showing they had been overhauled at Luoyang in 1997 and 1998. The QJs were generally in very clean condition.
One SY was on shed, 1628, said to be from Zigong Chemical Works. A freight hauled by QJ 3462 left for the Yibin line later in the afternoon, but steam activity appeared quite low otherwise.
It is noticeable that China uses diesels and electrics like steam locos: there seem to be a lot of locos hanging around doing nothing much and they scuttle back to the depot at regular intervals. This is great for the enthusiast but it hardly helps the economics of changing over from steam. Neijiang seems to be the limit of SS1 working from Chongqing, with SS3s taking over from here to Chengdu. This presumably has more to do with crewing than any inability of the loco to run through.
I noted DF1(3?) 2092 was built at Qishuyen 1974.
Chengdu Seamless Pipe Mill
The sidings and depot here are located adjacent to the end of the ChengYu Expressway and near to TaziShan Gongyuan (public park). The depot yard is visible from a level crossing and we didn't follow a cinder track but the railway itself into the yard. The staff were more affable here but we would probably have been thrown out if it wasn't lunchtime. The attraction here is two Jinan built SYs (2008 and 2010), the latter carrying splendid polished cast brass cabside and tender numberplates. Also early SY 0016 - has anyone seen an earlier one?
Numbers I noted were: SY 0016, 0079, 0085,1110, 1244, 1523, 1612, 1613, 2008 and 2010. Many of these were not working but were generally intact. GK1c diesel 007 was also noted.
In the afternoon, we tried to get into Chengdu depot without success (makes a change from being chucked out) and watched some comings and goings in Chengdu Dong marshalling yard.
Pengzhou - Baishuihe 762mm gauge local railway
Pengzhou is around 40km nnw of Chengdu and I would guess this narrow gauge line is around 35km in length. The line, apparently built around 1958, serves limestone and phosphate quarries which supply significant freight traffic. There is a twice daily passenger service which operates as a mixed with a few bogie open trucks - empty up, full down. These trucks serve to carry anything that won't fit in the three passenger coaches: minerals, cows, pigs, motorbikes, sacks of produce etc.
We had two days in Pengzhou and stayed a couple of nights at the Jiufeng Hotel which is OK. I reckon three days would be better as in addition to doing the round trip to Baishuihe, one could get off at Hongxing and walk back to Meiziling, exploring a disused branch and a small mine working en route. The other day to get a feel for the place and explore the Pengzhou end.
The sequence of stations is as follows: Pengzhou, Longfeng, Guankou, Meiziling, Hongxing, Tongji, Qingjiangqiao, Xiaoyudong, Baishuihe. The workshop and depot is at Pengzhou as are reasonably extensive sidings which serve a cement works and the standard gauge interchange .There is a track diagram (and a token machine) in the station office at Pengzhou. The line appears to climb generally in the Baishuihe direction. Scenery in the Pengzhou area is moderate but beyond Guankou, the hills are encountered and it starts getting quite pretty although the towns are rather grim. Probably looks better in sunshine. There is a delightful little mine working between Meiziling and Hongxing with hand worked tubs disappearing into a hole in the hillside.
The passenger timetable is:-
It can be seen that the daily service starts/finishes at Baishuihe. The loco probably overnights at Xiaoyudong as there is a triangle there and possibly a secure area. The service takes a scheduled 102 mins. The coaches were full on every train we saw although it thins out towards the top end of the line. At Baishuihe we were invited into the "staff canteen" for beancurd and rice (RMB2) - very reminiscent of Chenzhou.
The line still uses "proper" cardboard tickets but these are being replaced by paper tickets as they run out.
There are five steam locos and (at least) four B-B diesel hydraulics. The steam locos are C2 type 0-8-0s, but with SY type bogie tenders and an extension to the front frames. No 71 (Chengdu 1988, possibly assembled from bits supplied from or used elsewhere) was working the mixed, 70 (Shijiazhuang, date?) was being re-assembled in the modern workshop building, 67 was in the shed yard minus its smokebox superheater covers, and 68 and 72 appear to be dumped alongside the workshop. There was a boiler and a pair of cylinders in the yard which may be the remains of a sixth loco. None of 67, 68 nor 72 carry worksplates.
The four diesels are all "Taihang 52" class, built Shijiazhuang, Nos 011, 013, 015 and 016, although the worksplate on 011 shows "JMY380". JM must stand for "JinMa" or "golden horse" which is the motif (and characters) on the fronts of the locos. 015 and 016 were working the freight trains. There seemed to be two freight trains each day.
A very satisfying trip although as usual, more time needs to be spent at all these locations and I am sure there are some good main line locations. The weather was not kind to us and I'm not sure what the best season would be, late or early summer perhaps?