The International Steam Pages
The Xingyang Brickworks Railway, December 2008
The Xingyang Brickworks Railway on DVD, click here for more information.
There is a video clip available of fly-shunting shot during this visit and two more earlier ones on our video page - http://www.internationalsteam.co.uk/video/chinanarrowvideoclip.htm.
We broke our journey back from our Shibanxi Holiday in late June 2009 as Peter Nettleship had asked to have another look at this railway. Alas, not surprisingly at this time of year, the service was suspended. It was a Sunday morning and the few people around each told Yuehong a different story. You could take your pick, but basically it seems that rain as usual had stopped play, certainly no clay trains had run for anything between a few days and a month, However, the rails had fresh rust and 207 outside looked 'ready to run' coupled up to a flat wagon that may have been for the usual wet weather track repairs. One set of wagons was in the shed yard and the second loco locked inside the shed. Best wait for the rains to pass...
We first visited Xingyang in 2004, click here for that report.
For a railway considerably less than 10km long, the Xingyang Brickworks Railway has an unenviable reputation of being a difficult one for gricers to crack. Since its 'discovery' by Bruce Evans in 2002, operation has always been spasmodic, governed mainly by the local demand for bricks (the Chinese prefer concrete these days) and the weather which curtails activities immediately it rains. Its very shortness allied with alleged limited photo opportunities has discouraged nearly all but the serious narrow gauge enthusiasts who by and large are gone within a day or two. And even when it has been working, the area has frequently been covered in a pollution based mist. Not surprisingly, few tour organisers are prepared to commit themselves months in advance to a visit here.
To which I say "Hallelujah!". Being based in Beijing, we have had a unique opportunity to organise dedicated visits to ensure a 100% operational success rate and apart from a time when we were 'just passing by' with UK visitor Peter Nettleship, we have always been blessed with good weather. And so it was when the railway burst into life in December 2008 for a short season with predicted wall-to-wall sunshine that we jumped at the opportunity for what may realistically have been a last ever visit. We were not disappointed, what follows photographically are a few shots taken when I did not have to concentrate on our video record, most of which by its fly-on-the-wall nature doesn't translate well into stills anyway. I've got a new Fuji 'toy' camera, it's quite good for the price and more than an adequate successor to my tired 2002 Canon.
Firstly 'the bridge'. It was so good on the first morning...
That I felt the need to go back and do it all again, actually the video had a small speck of dust in one corner. The blow down valve was in heavy use so I had to hold back to see the loco:
The conventional picture (on the third day) was quite acceptable too after a 4 year gap, on day 4 we had a lie in:
However, we wanted to concentrate on the south end for which we had less adequate coverage. It sheds a new light on the railway:
People in central Henan have traditionally lived in cave houses, most like those in the background here have been abandoned.
Behind the train is one of the few still in use, the occupants run a pig farm on the site.
This abandoned one nearby had recently been carefully bricked up which indicated that it had a new use...
Compared to our first visit 4 years ago, a lot of trees have been planted at the far end, making it tricky for photography as they obstruct the area the sun reaches:
Photographing from the west side of the line is also tricky as the afternoon sun barely illuminates it before descending into the murk created by the power stations, but the winter wheat adds some much needed colour:
Unfortunately, I left attempting a later train until the last day when it was rather windy...
Xingyang is Yuehong's father's home town but it would not be in my top 1000 places in China to live. The new central area is soulless, there are many more shops than customers and a lot of it is already falling apart at the seams. The streets are quite clean, but after that you don't have to look very hard to find masses of rubbish which seem to fill almost every spare gully along the railway and elsewhere. Only on the western outskirts of town did we find signs of the 'real China' with original shops, an open air market and small restaurants with plenty of customers through the day. Unlike the church and mosque at Yinghao which are normally 'open for business', this Chinese temple near the lineside was firmly locked and bolted:
Nevertheless, our hats go off to the staff of the railway who were as friendly, co-operative and uncorrupted as ever. The staff of the Xingyang Binguan opposite the town square did their best to make up for the fabric which is very tired, our original choice by the station has raised its prices and is out of the way for eating. The Ding Xiang Shi Fan restaurant on the west side of the square (bright lights outside, lots of customers inside) once again served us absolutely delicious non-standard Chinese food (no egg/tomato or sweet and sour), we never repeated a main dish in the week we were here. The Muslim restaurant on the opposite side of the road from the mosque beyond the big bridge does an excellent beef noodle soup, as no doubt do others in the same area. Thanks also to Mike Ma for once again tipping us off that XIngyang was working again.
If you are a tour organiser and you like what you see but you feel the need to 'buy it' for your customers, then please piss off. And if you are tempted to join such a tour, then 'f*** off' from this website, it was never meant for sad bastards like you. If you are a responsible, independent traveller prepared to take your chance and would like some help visiting, feel free to get in touch.
One of the friendly taxi drivers we had in Xingyang was actually brought up in a cave house along the railway. He recalled how busy the line was in those days with trains running constantly day and night. He and his friends used to ride the train to and from school, the drivers would slow down where they waited, there was a raised area for them to jump on from, I guess they then used one of the cabooses which are now grounded at the loading point.
Finally why am I more than a little impressed with my new toy? Here's the original resized down for the web. There's another videographer in the image.
Here's a cropped version of the original, almost as shot. Look a little closer and you can see it's Yuehong at work... You can't quite count the bricks though.