The International Steam Pages
More Steam in Southern China, November 2000
Bernd Seiler continues his visit to the lesser explored parts of the country. Click here for the first part.
Owing to space limitations on my server, the images from this report have been removed (15th June 2004).
The report is a little fragmented because it has been sent in several parts from various Internet cafes in China! Apologies if I have made any mistakes cutting and pasting bits together. (Places get mentioned in more than one Email...)
locos in service: 10
The line is nearly totally lacking in interest, but the ride through the city in Jiyuan and the turnpoint in Jiyuan are highly recommended to visit. Also the turntable at the end of the line in Wen Xian is interesting. About 28 km far from Jiyang, in Zhongwang, the loco takes water. The branch after 22 km to the south looked intact but not used. The locos are in poor condition (external and technical). The railway serves only the villages between Qiyang and Wen Xian with coal and limestone. It is hard to believe that this line can last for more than one year (I said this too nearly three years ago. RD). All main roads are in very good condition in this area.
I took a bus to Yaunqu (on the way to Houma). The bus was a wreck, but cheap and with a loud horn (that means faster than buses with not so loud horns). After 5,5 hours I reached that place I hoped for steam, Yuanqu. It is one of the most dirty, dusty and unpleasant places I've ever seen in China. The rest gave me the stationmaster who told me, that steam as replaced by diesel in 1998 (end of the year). So I found only the very rare Shijiazhuang built class TH4 (number 029), a 4-4 diesel hydraulic loco. From the distance I couldn't see whether the loco is already dumped for years or still in use. If it was in use then it was in the same shape that the city was. The very scenic line Houma - Yuanqu is served by two daily freight trains.
It was not possible to find an internet-cafe, neither the staff of the hotel nor the owner of a DVD-Video shop could read the Chinese character for internet! They didn't know, what Internet means. The taxi driver too, of course. The city has about 80 000 inhabitants (according to my taxi driver). This was the outback of China!
Next morning I went via Houma (massive police presence there) to Linfen to explore a line north/northwest from Linfen, marked on my Nelles map. Unfortunately the line was closed in February 1999 and no remains could be found. So I guess, it was a ng rly. According to my map it was more than 40 km long and turned into the mountains. (Quail marks this as long closed and Bruce Evans found little trace some years ago.. RD)
Linfen steelworks: Only a brief visit I made, it produces SY 0288, SY 1373 and SY 0745 with the ash train at 2 pm. I left before the officials could find me.
After checking the railway timetable the choice was either to take the very slow and ugly dirty 7084 to Jiexie or the last direct bus to Lishi. The choise was clear. Although I know that Chinese driver are mostly no good, I was realy afraid to lose my life. Snowfalls set in and after dusk the temperature dropped down below zero. On the pass road the surface was frozen and dozens of buses, trucks and other vehicles were standing at the side or even across the road in the middle of it and couldn't continue. We passed even some accidents. But our driver drove like an idiot, so fast as he could see the road. One time we lingered down and the driver couldn't get back into the right lane. Not before our driver overtook some buses with the same engine like ours, but now, as everybody went down the road in the first gear, he overtook all the others sometimes in third gear! I'll never forget this ride ...
Lishi is situted in the western part of the Shanxi province. The recently built railway from Sanjiaozhuang through Zhongyang to Lishi, Liulin on to Mucun. Mucun is at the border to the next province, there is built a bridge in the direction of Suide, but any kind of construction work was stopped at the border. Mucun was first operated in October 1993. The part Zhongyang - Mucun is operated by QJ.
The shed is in Zhongyang, an allocation of 8 QJ (I saw only three: QJ 6426, 6285 and 6429, all for freeline service, and in the shed under steam 2866) and of 3 1999-built DF4s (7656, 57, 58) The line belonging to the private company is the part Sanjazuo via Zhongyang - Lishi to Liulin. After Liuli there are another 9 km but according to the staff no construction work in the direction Suide. I also couldn't find any sign of construction work to the north (as quoted on my Nelles map). Zhongyuan has a turntable whilst Mucun has a triangle (according to the staff, I couldn't see it). In Mucun are also facilities for steam locos, coal and two watercranes were visible.
QJ's are mostly active on the part Zhongyang - Liulin, the diesels take the steep part to Sanjazuo (not marked in most of the maps I know). The gradient is always in the direction Sanjazuo. At least 35 tunnels and the same amount of bridges were necessary to built this line. The line was not opened throughout till 1990.
I found an honest taxi drver (remarkable in China, even if the taxis haven't a meter) who drove me for 180 Yuan per day. But the hotel is dirty, noisy and overpriced. Water (cold an warm) is only available in the evening.
There are very friendly stationmasters in Mucun, Liulin and Zhongyang. The timings, they are pointed out, were correct (not like Tongchuan, where you can forget the quoted times totally). But Lishi seems to be a little bit difficult because the railway officials don't like foreigners in their signalbox. And the administration is just above the signal box.
I asked several times about steam hauled trains from Zhongyang to Sanjiaozhuang. The stationmaster even made a telephone call to the shed to find out which train is hauled by which kind of traction. But the only operation was expected during the night, I should ask again the next day. I did this and after a talk with the shed it was clear that there were enought diesels for the three expected trains that day. Unfortunately I missed that there were four trains, two from Luilin, one from Lishi and one from Mucun. So the train from Lishi passed through to Sanjiaozhuang with steam. Why I was so keen to see steam on this section: the mountains are changed here from the normal loess shape into a more rocky shape, the road, which follows all the way from Mucun to Zhongyang (and a few more km towards Sanjiaozhuang disappears and only a small local road follows up to Sanjiaozhuang. Also the noticeable gradient towards Sanjiaozhuang was it. All together, Lishi is a nice place to visit with a lot of photographical potential, kind people (I had lunch in the canteen of the shed for example), honest taxidriver (car number 02329 - a red minibus) and a reasonable hotel, but not heated (by snowfall!). Trains are easy to chase by taxi.
I stayed in the Shanxi province and was curious to investigate the line that recently appeared on the map, from Qinxian to Qinyuan. I found the line still under construction, the line is ready from Qinxian to Yaoshan. There is only one loco in use for construction: QJ 1522. The loco is very shabby and has small, high smoke deflectors. All worked like a \"Feldbahn\" (like Rumanian forestry rlys). The coal was shovelled by hand out of small trucks on the ground, from there in the tender of the QJ. At nine a clock, the QJ pushed four flat wagons some two kilometers to Yingchun. There it stopped at a bridge. Then the crew put a tube down to the river and pumped water from the river. This procedure took more than one hour and a half.
The loco is not based at the state railway station but in Xiqushang, about two km away from Qingxian. The photographic potential was limited but I got some very pleasant rural shots. The line itself, if it is once finished, should see very limited traffic. It seems that some officials received fundings for improving the infrastucture so they had no better idea than building up a pointless railway. Better than building a road!
The next totally unknown railway I found was in Wuxiang. This line sees already regular traffic, but on a very limited level. They use only one QJ, 2153, based at Wuxiang. The line is showed in the newest Shanxi atlas (in Chinese) to Mouden, but effectively it has only been built to Panlongzhen, there is an unfinished bridge and not any sign of earthwork or so. In Panlongzhen (in the maps you might find the larger place Beishe, there is also a rly station) there is a small factory, a small station and nothing else. I wonder if this line can ever pay for the costs. I found QJ 2153 there with only one wagon. Some workers shovelled some earth out of the wagon and as it was emptied, the "train" went back to Wuxiang.
The line is worth a visit, there are several (standard shaped concrete) bridges and a tunnel on the first third of the line (road-km 69). Train chasing is easy because the speed is limited (specially if the loco has to pull a heavy train, the gradient is faced towards Wuxiang) and the road goes parallel. QJ goes tender first to Panlongzhen and returns chimney first.