The International Steam Pages

Steam in Southern China, March/April 2002

Derek Jenkins led the Steam and Safaris party. He reports:

22nd March

Flew Beijing - Chengdu and then by bus to Pengzhou. In time to see 0-8-0 71 depart with the 16:30 mixed. The bus driver took the wrong turning outside the station so the initial attempts to chase the train were thwarted both by this and the road being crammed with 100's of onion sellers all trying to get the best prices from the North China wholesalers whose lorries and large blocks of ice were also in the way. Eventually got in front of the train at Tongji and again before Baishuhe where 71 was still working hard just before the station. At this time of year there is still enough light to see this train at the far end of the line.

23rd March

Dawned grey and distinctly cold. Saw 71 inbound on the mixed at Guankou bridge and managed to get into town in front of it. Shunting there was distinctly brisk. At the shed were 0-8-0's 67 and 72 , both serviceable and 70 dumped. These locos have the designation ZM16-4 on the cabside which presumably is their class type. They are not C2's as they have a different front end, larger cab, air pump and a tender that looks like a small YJ one. They do seem to be a C2 derivative however. Also at the shed were B-B Diesel Hydraulics 11, 15 and 16 the latter two looking ex works. We easily chased 71 with the 10:20 mixed and then rode the 13:00 mixed from Baishuhe with cattle being loaded en route. Diesel 13 passed us at Hongxing with the outbound freight. The weather was deteriorating badly so we saw 71 out with the 16:30 mixed before retiring.

24th March

A much better day but still surprisingly cold. Saw 71 inbound on the mixed at Guankou. Got to town in front of it then saw it off again before departing by road for Shixi where we arrived in time to see 0-8-0 09 (with 10's tender) departing on the 17:30 passenger. In steam at Shixi was 0-8-0 14 with 7 dead. Also here were dumped B-B Diesel hydraulics 01 and 02. They were in use from 1991 until about 3 years ago when the line fortunately could no longer get spare parts for them. The first 6 kms of this line to the mine at Yuejin is electrified and run by 3 ZL 14-7 4 wheel electrics 01, 02 and 03 all built 6/2000 and all of which were present. The 0-8-0's here are not C2's either. Again they seem to be some sort of derivative but no one could say what they actually were. We stayed overnight in Qianwe an easy drive from Shixi.

25th March

The intention was to see just how difficult the road was to the upper stretches of the line. The answer was just about impossible. Even the blue lorries were having a dreadful struggle. So we abandoned that idea and spent some time watching the electrics at Yuejin and the 600mm system there with its battery loco whizzing about. 09 went out with the passenger. We returned to Shixi to ride the 14:00 passenger which had 14 in charge. As RD was we were charged 30 yuan each for the privilege. Undoubtedly a rip off but we were told the police had instructions to remove any foreigner from the train who wouldn't pay the hiked up fare! Despite the fare rip off the trip was an excellent one and not to be missed. When we got back to Shixi 0-8-0 10 had appeared and was being steamed. As we found out the following day this is the indication that the freight is to run to Huancunjin.

26th March

Having decided that the only way to get to the upper stretches of the line was on the train we were up in what seemed like the middle of the night and took the 05:30 passenger which had 09 on it. We rode in the dark to Huancunjin and then back to Mifeng before bailing out and walking back up to the horseshoe curve on what was a glorious morning. Mike Cunningham purchased half a beer bottle of mountain man moutai from a large vat in the village for 1 yuan and this made the wait amongst the exotic butterflies and rustic scenery even more acceptable. We were rewarded with 10 on the empties and half an hour later with 0 9 on the passenger. The loaded train returned half an hour after the passenger returned. 09 had the afternoon passenger too and we rode the return back from Mifeng where a beer in the shade at the station shop was welcome on what was now a hot day. There are a number of excellent photo positions on the section beyond Mifeng and to the summit which is the only area where the engine is chinmey first and working hard. It's a long day to do it but well worthwhile.

27th March

At the last minute some Mr. Big at Chonqing Steelworks vetoed our official visit arranged for today. I understand a previous group had entered the premises without permission and been gripped so this may have had something to do with it. To compound a miserable day the road Qianwe - Chonqing was in an appalling state having subsided for 50 Kms on end. Progress was painfully slow. When we got to Chonqing all we could do was lurk on Dadukou station platform. The only thing we saw in steam was SY 1271.

28th March

Drove from Chonqing to Wansheng. SY's 0039, 1260, 1621, 1657 were all in steam on the mine line and things at first looked busy but the activity then subsided. We drove out to Nanchuan following the route of the local railway. This is an extraordinarily over-engineered set up with viaducts, tunnels, steep climbs and vast stations that no passenger has ever set foot on as there has never been a passenger service. At Nanchuan station SY 0606 was in steam but not expecting to do anything as the cab was padlocked! The line seems to owe its existence to minerals. There were piles of bauxite and another rock which was said to be ironstone. It was not like any ironstone I had ever seen. It was a purple colour, hot and being loaded by hand into box cars carefully piece by piece. Eventually SY 0974 appeared and took out a train tender first. Ominously at the shed at Nanchuan were 3 Shijizhuang built B-B Diesel hydraulics 008, 016, 018. They were class 2, not a sort I had seen before - DFH2?? With nothing else going on we retired to the hotel in Nanchuan which is a surprisingly bustling town.

29th March

With only 2 trains a day on the local railway we drove back towards Wansheng encountering SY 1074 at Canglin doing nothing in particular. We set up over the large viaduct by Bajiao tunnel for the outbound freight but a droning noise told us the worst and B-B 015 appeared. This would have been a superb spot with steam but traffic is so thin on this line and unpredictable on the mine lines as to excude this as a visitable place. I understand a recent group paid 8000 yuan (no not too many noughts) to hire a train here. "Crazy" said our guide but it's now set a bench mark.

30th/31st March,1st April

We drove to Qijiang before taking Train K167 for the short run to Ganshui and the Songzhao (Datong) Coal Railway. Our bus to the line turned out to be a railbus which we used each of the three days we were there at a cost of 100 yuan a day. I suspect the railway management were just seeing if such a thing worked and the cost may be more next time. The truth is that a railbus isn't necessary as long as you are not frightened of a hike to the photo spots. That said the co-operation from the railway was first class and everyone we met extremely friendly. Our 3 days here were good as was the weather. Datong literally means "breaking through" which refers to the line getting up the valley through 10 tunnels - 5 before Maliutan, 5 after the longest of which (9) is 2047 metres. All trains are tender first up hill because of the tunnels. It's quite a thrash particularly beyond Maliutan . Between tunnels 9 and 10 there are a number of good spots acessed by climbing up the other side of the valley. There are places beyond Qingqihai as well but not all trains go this far. We also looked at the branch from Maliutan to Xiaoyutou. This line is owned by Chonqing Steelworks and operated by SY's 0344 (in steam but with nothing to do) and 0514 (dead in a shed). The following SY's were all in steam on the main line 0303, 0329, 1656, 1197/8. 1199 was away at works and 1148 OOU. The mine system at Baiyan has a 600mm battery electric operated system.

This line has a reasonable amount of traffic and despite the tender first running is definitely worth another visit.

On 1st April we took Train 1321 from Ganshui to Hechi. Mr Wong, the platform manager at Ganshui, told us that his grandmother was from Ireland. I know it was April 1st but Mr. Wong did have ginger hair!

2nd April

Arrived Hechi 12:07 after a very slow and scenic journey. The CNR motive power was a pair of DF7D's , a class I have not seen before. They are single ended and work in pairs generally back to back. It seems that orange ones work North of Mawei and green ones South of there but not beyond Hechi The local guide contrived to get lost 50 yards from the station. It transpired that she knew how to get to the best places on the line but didn't know Hechi at all. We went to the shed at Nan station and here were JS's 8283 ,8288 and 8290 all in steam. JS 8376 was OOU and JS 5706 dumped. All the JS's here are 1988 save 5706 which has a Datong 1981 plate which it must have acquired later in life it being a Dalian product of probably late 1959..JS 8288 was on the Mixed ex Hechi 14:20 but no other freights from the train plan ran until 8284 went North after 18:00

3rd/ 4th April

We spent a good 2 days here in searing heat - 34 degrees! The timetable for the mixed and the freight plan are a nonsense. It is better not to have them e.g on 3rd April the mixed was 30 minutes late inbound and 90 outbound and the freight plan is constantly in a state of flux. JS's 8375 and 8285 also appeared . There are excellent photo spots in Wenping gorge (Nortbound trains work hard here) and at various places to Pohua but the road runs some way away from the line in places. Beyond Pohua to the junction at Poluo there seems to be nothing . Beyond the junction on the Pingzhai branch the road gives out at Dunchuan. However, thanks to Ron McElrath (who now has the dubious pleasures of a mention here and having his photo on the Tiefa Railway web site) who took the mixed right out to Pingzhai and stayed there overnight I can give some details of the line. It looks worthy of investigation but, of course, only about half the trains go up this line :-
Km posts start again from zero at Poluo
Km 14 Dunchuan. Station/ passing loop
Km 22 Reside. Station/passing loop
Km 27 Long tunnel followed by short tunnel. Steeply up hill for Northbound
Km 30 Stop but no station. 2 high bridges just beyond here. Quite scenic and still up hill.
Km 32 Tunnel followed by viaduct
Km 33 Summit
Km 39 Kenfu station .Steeply up hill from here
Km 42 Tunnel
Km 43 Very steep up hill to a summit
Km 45 Mine with NG system. High bridge.Up hill again
Km 49 Summit
Km 52 Pingzhai station. Mine .White Horse Hotel at platform end. 60 yuan for bed in room with shower and TV

We took train K144 to Nanning arriving 5th April but as all steam activity on the local railway there is said to have finished we set of f for Laibin and Heshan. En route we encoutered the passenger train with the weird combination of 2 small railbuses with 2 full size coaches sandwiched between them. At Laibin station JS 8289 was in steam footling with a couple of wagons. The staff said they were not sure when it would leave so we went to Heshan. There JS 8286 was on the mine/power station run and JS 8353 stored almost ex works. JS 5186 was dumped and lurking in the vegetation were 3 JF6's said to have been returned from Vietnam in 1979. One is 3026. Both the others have almost indecipherable numbers on their tenders. One is probably 24-110 but only a 2 is visible on the other.

Traffic is so thin on this line as to not make it a worthwhile venue.

We returned to Nanning and the flight back to Beijing and eventually the UK.

Rob Dickinson