The International Steam Pages

Steam in Sichuan, September 2003

SHIBANXI & WEIYUAN, Greg Howell : 13 - 15 September 2003

Journey time from Chengdu airport to Qianwei was 3hr15min. Yuquan Hotel is closed for renovation and will be renamed TianBo Hotel. Stayed in Liyuan Hotel (tel 0833 4253888) which was quite full (120Y for twin/200Y for a 4 room suite!). Room price includes 10-pin bowling games that the driver & guide enjoyed.

Jiayang Power Company Railway, Shibanxi

Driving into Qianwei across the river bridge, at the first roundabout it is right to Shixi and half left into town. After exactly 10.5km from this roundabout, there is a rough road in Shixi town climbing steeply to the left with a light at night. Go up here and take the steps on the right at the hairpin and these lead you up to the railway. On the right is the platform, on the left is the yard and beyond the yard is the shed. Walking along outside the concrete yard wall, the railway control office can be found on the top floor of the white building.

Wow - what an operation! Loco comes off shed at approx 05.15 and shunts coaches into the platform. A return ticket costs 30Y for foreigners and only 5Y for my guide. Coaches are home made and basic, unlit with longitudinal seats and each has a conductor who also operates the brake on the return journey. We depart promptly at 05.30, tender first. There is a quick stop at a halt in Shixi and then through the tunnel to Weijin (Sanjin locally). The loco climbs steeply after Sanjin all the way to the summit. In the dark and the humidity, it is an atmospheric experience as the loco exhaust is voluminous and lit intermittently by the glow from the firebox, red hot embers fly high out of the chimney and red hot ash flash under the coaches, visible through the wooden planking! Luckily the sleepers are concrete.
It is still dark when we arrive at Mifeng and the loco instantly uncouples from the train and flies off to the headshunt, leaving behind a pile of burning ash from fire cleaning on the move and a trail of red ash under the stationary coaches and disappearing off into the distance! The loco reverses onto the coaches and there is not enough time to take a 10 second exposure before the crew are whistling & shouting impatiently for me to get onto the train.

05.30 dep Shixi (tender first)
06.10 dep Mifeng (chimney first)
06.15 Laoyinzhui (Eagle's beak) tunnel (otherwise known as Bernd Seiler's)
06.22 Caiziba horseshoe curve
06.35 Jaoba
06.50 dep Huangcunjin (tender first with 3 loaded wagons)
07.15 summit
07.30 dep Mifeng (chimney first)
From Mifeng, the tunnel is a 15 minute steady walk and Ciaziba is 45 minutes.

In general, the track was much more overgrown than in photos I have seen taken in Nov/Dec which made the shot across the horseshoe curve difficult. There were lots of mosquitoes although everyone said that there is no malaria in this area. Also, note that there were poisonous snakes - the locals had found a yellow/black snake in the 2-foot and were very nervously putting it in the lineside vegetation - photographers note!!

There had been 2 landslips above Laoyinzhui tunnel with extensive clearance work but little stabilization.

Also, locals claimed that I had arrived in the middle of the harvesting fortnight during which everyone is in the fields, including miners. Hence, output from the mines was reduced (perhaps accounting for no freight trains running) and Hongbitan mine, near Xianrenjiao was supposedly undergoing maintenance, with no production. The miners are on piece work and so normally the mines work every day. Locals also claimed that the line was designed by the Russians and built by Chongqing Iron and Steel.

Saturday 13 September

Caught the first train with No. 07 hauling 6 x 4-wheeled coaches and a bogie coach at 05.30. At Huangcunjin, the loco propelled 3 empties from the loop towards the mine before picking up 3 loaded wagons that were coupled between the loco and the coaches. Weather grey. Got off at Mifeng on the return and walked back up to Caiziba.

10.15 No.07 passed with the late 9.00 train and 3 empties
12.30 No.07 dep Mifeng to Shixi with 3 loaded wagons
Guide negotiated a bed above the restaurant in Mifeng and I had a sleep for 1.5h!
14.47 No.07 at Laoyinzhui tunnel
16.00 No.07 dep Mifeng to Shixi
16.20 No.07 arr Sanjin where 02 electric was on a rake of loaded wagons.

At Shixi, 10 was in steam and pulled 01 and 03 electrics out of shed. Inside the shed were 09 cold and 14 without wheels. The staff claimed that both locos had their original boilers and that the boilers were expired.

Sunday 14 September

In foggy weather, 07 hauled the passenger trains again and I caught the 05.30 and got off at Xianrenjiao on the return train. Walked down to Caiziba to photograph the 09.00 passenger in the fog. Then walked down to Mifeng as the sun burnt through. Instead of catching the 3rd train down from Mifeng as on the previous day, I wanted 2 shots in the sun - the tunnel and then the downhill train at Caiziba. In order to get back down to Shixi, the guide arranged for the railway staff at Mifeng to take me and my guide down on "motos"- motorbikes that ride along the ballast shoulder - for 40Y each! We walked up to Laoyinzhui tunnel for the 14.00 train where the sun was slightly on the wrong side and there were shadows from the trees up the rock face. One tree was removed and my guide proceeded to shin up a second and remove an offending branch about 10m above the ground!

After the train, we walked back up to Xiaorenjiao and the motos arrived. Took a photo across the horseshoe curve from above the hospital and then set off on the moto with camera box strapped to the rack. Traveling at speeds up to 30kph along the ballast and wearing no helmet was interesting with concrete sleepers and a steel rail to hit had we come off. The journey to Sanjin took about the same time as a downhill train and 07 was still in Sanjin. 02 arrived with empties and then 07 continued down to Shixi. 10 was again in steam and had shunted some new homemade wagons out of the shed. There were more part-built wagons and lots of steel plate around for future work.

Railway "facts"

The train graphs in Control showed that the last freight train had run on Tuesday 9th. Of the 13 days visible, 7 freights had run - all either 30 minutes before or after the 09.00 passenger, except one that was slightly later. The lack of recent trains appeared to back up the theory that the miners were harvesting, rather than producing coal.

Mr Greg will appear in the company newspaper for reporting a 3-4" gap at a fishplate joint. However, when the PWay gang investigated my report, they instead found a track spike placed in a rail joint. I was told that the joint gap that I had seen was within specification! However, Mr Liu was grateful for my report because the subsequent investigation found the spike and he faced prison if there had been a serious accident.

A special freight train was offered to me for 2000Y with 24 hours' notice but I declined - the price appeared negotiable!
All the following information was provided by Mr Liu (railway boss) and Mr Peng (controller):
Tel : 0833 409 1502 x8217 control, x8195 for Mr Liu
Railway construction commenced in Dec '58 from Bagou and the line opened in Dec '59, employing 300,000 workers!
The line climbs at 3.6% and is the steepest in China
Locos were assembled at Shixi and originally had water tanks under the cab.
Locos were improved by the railway and they added the tenders, increasing water capacity from 4,200 to 6,000 litres which means that they do not water during the 40km round trip. The locos weigh 28T. The front 2 axles have large leaf springs, whilst the rear 2 axles have a smaller spring - I don't know if this is typical of C2 or reflects a change of weight distribution.


The direct route took 3.5 hours, via Rongshan. The road was extremely rough and deeply rutted over a short section - good ground clearance was essential. It is probably impassable after rain and my Jeep got stuck in the worst section of ruts. This route is not recommended.

Monday 15 Sept - Weiyuan Coal Mine Railway

Stayed in Weiyuan City at YouYi Hotel that was cheap and comfortable, apart from the mosquitoes in the public areas (100Y single, 120Y twin). It took 40 minutes to drive the 25-30 km to Huangjinggou (HJG) despite getting lost and having to ask for directions. The final section of road follows the railway from Gaoshi where the power station is clearly visible.

If there were more trains, this 8km line would be a gem! The photographic potential of the line is very good with the line on a ledge high above the road. Unfortunately, with trains that only run in the early morning, the line is on the east side of the valley and so is difficult to photograph in sun. Unfortunately, this was not a problem when I was there! Also, sometimes there is no train. There is a viaduct at Badongqiao (8 arch bridge) and a photograph appears on the internet; however, new wires have appeared but a shot is still on. It is against the light.

At HJG, my guide went into the mine yard and confirmed that the first train was running. The weather was bad and 32 appeared tender first on the downhill loaded train at the viaduct & then we gained access to the end of the line near to the power station up the rough Zizhong road that climbs up from the Weiyuan road.

The chimney first empty train back to HJG nearly caught me out as I was expecting to hear the train was approaching; however, the line drops to the viaduct. The loco then works across the viaduct and all the way to HJG. It is possible to get a shot on the viaduct and then get a shot near to the curve. Unfortunately, the curve is overgrown but you can get to the track up a diagonal path in the middle of the bend in the road and then run down through the cutting for a second shot! The position can be on the correct side for the sun.

07:31, tender first and downhill with 26 loaded wagons
07.40 arr Gaoshi power station
07.55 Badongqiao, chimney first and uphill with empties
08.03 app the curve
The loco driver was washing by 08.15 - not a bad day's work but without any job security!

The staff told my guide that a second train only runs when there is sufficient coal but, in the market, stallholders said that there was only 1 train each day. Railway staff also stated that the line and mine would close in 2-3 months because the coal was nearly exhausted and that the manual mining was not cost effective. The miners would be paid the bus fare to travel to other mine(s).


The journey to Chengdu, via Zizhong and then the expressway, took 3 hours to the Chengdu outer ring road.

Land arrangements

Land arrangements were booked through Sam Yue of Chengdu as recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. 600Y/day for Beijing Jeep and 100Y/day for an English speaking guide - CITS quoted USD900 for 2 days!! Sam Yue was a good find in the Lonely Planet guidebook and arranged 4-wheel drive Jeep and guide. However, the itinerary was not passed on to the guide and I had to brief him fully myself.

My guide was Zebedee (Mr Zhang Guangyu) who proved to be energetic and very fit because he normally takes parties up the Emei mountains. He said that he usually earns 80-100Y per day with foreigners. He is licensed only for Sichuan province and only knows the Emei area in detail. He carried my camera box everywhere, assisted in gardening and was keen to find out about the railway and the locals, in order to supply information to me.

Rob Dickinson