Steam in China - August 2004
by Dave Habraken
Tongchuan, Yinghao, Shibanxi, Weiyuan, Jinchengjiang, JiTong
From 3/8 until 5/8, I visited frustration-city, aka Tongchuan. And
frustration, it was... The first day gave very grey weather caused by the
high humidity but by choosing the correct photo locations (closer to the
tracks to avoid unclear pictures) it gave a nice atmosphere after all. It
seems pretty usual that each morning there is a loose engin, going to
Wangshiwa to pull back filled coal wagons. There is a certain logic in
this: more than once, railway employees told me they do this to avoid
running uphill while the sun is burning them out so they run more trains
uphill, starting at about 20:30... Of course, we photographers, are not to
pleased with this development. Anyhow, after the first loose engin, 2
trains came up the hill. The first one with grey sky and the second one
with the sun right shining into the lens (frustration-city, noooooo...)
Personal minor event was my video camera to get broken without any obvious
reason so the day after, I had to get to Xi'An to buy me a new one.
The second day, one engin left very early loose to Wangshiwa while the
second engin would not leave before 11AM. So I made a quick leaving towards
Xi'An to get rid of my money :-((
When we arrived, nothing had moved and after re-asking about traffic towards
Wangshiwa, it became obvious that they wouldn't go at all as there were no
empty wagons at Tongchuan...
So I went off to Meijiaping to visit the local workshop. Entrance was given
without problems after me giving some double pictures to the guard and a
local police-man who worked there. The police-man stayed with me the whole
visit and was very interested in what I was doing, but happily, only in a
positive way. He even gave me hints where to look :-)
Unfortunately, the workshop itself was not carrying out any overhauls to
steam engins at the moment so I had to be satisfied with the derelict engins
behind the shed. According to what the policemen said, they expect 2 new
engins for overhaul this week... He did not understand my attempts to find
out the location of these engins.
While driving to Meijiaping, I could see a steam engin at the cement work
from a far distance, as Bruce Evans allready suspected. Only, it was no SY
but a QJ. It's state was comparable with Dahuichang's SY0251...
When we returned from the workshop, I just had to give this engin a closer
look. So my taxi driver asked directions to locals to find a steam engin in
the neighbourhood. They pointed out to a nearby coal plant (east-side of
the tracks, at the other side of the station if yuou look from the
workshop). I had doubts, the QJ would be there as it was another company at
least one kilometer away from the cement work. Asking at the gate for
permission, up to 6 chefs had to see me before I could enter. It was quite
funny to see them looking at each other who was going to take the final
decision... Then, what I suspected became reality: it was another engine,
being used in this factory: SY0363! This engine is at least used to pull coal
from a loading point to the bunker but the chief who showed me the engine
didn't understand my attempts to ask if it's used for other work too. The
engine is good in the sun late in the afternoon. Work stops before 6PM but
they searched the driver to make a quick photo-departure. I have to admitt:
it's not JingPeng-quality but with Tongchuan being very quiet, it's a nice
alternative to fill up the day. Maybe somebody else can investigate the
using of the QJ at the cement plant?
The third day at Tongchuan, one of the engine was provided with coal with
the steam crane. Very nice sight! Also seeing the inside of the crane was
a nice experience as I had never seen this before. After this, the usual
loose engine towards Wangshiwa got away and in the afternoon, the other
engine then followed with a train. Of course with the sun shining in the
lens but with some creativity, I managed to make a decent shot (at least, I
3 days at Tongchuan and a similar quantity of trains... But, I'm glad I visited Tongchuan as the local staff confirmed that by december of this year, it' over with the JF's...
After Tongchuan, I went to Yinghao. Hum, this was a pure delight in this
time of the year with corn and sunflowers growing everywhere along the
tracks! Of course, people were staring at me as if I was an alien. They're
obviously not familiar yet with railway enthusiasts from the west :-)
I will try to make a more detailed map when I'm back in Belgium but here are
some highlights. I'll try not to give you the same info as Rob Dickinson
allready did (by the way: thank you Rob and our Japanese collegues four your
great info, it was very useful).
- the shifts indeed start around 8AM, 16PM (and 12pm) but these times are
influenced by the arrival of the trains at Xiangyang. Sometimes, both
engines go to the depot at the same time, sometimes they don't.
- The depot at Huangmen itself is too nice to discribe. Rob says on his
site, Yinghao is no Shibanxi but I must say, the depot made quite an
impression on me. Mine-employees live just aside the point where the engines
get oiled so you have all time of the world to make your pictures there.
The depot-building itself is a real beauty too with engines packed together
before it and aside of it. For both shift changes during the day, you can
make great pictures there. The free extra hint: watch out when they will
put sand into the engines...
- generally, the atmosphere along the line between Huangmen and Xiangyang is
quite different than on the other sections as the line is curving very hard
and it lays aside of the village at Huangmen. Leaving from Xiangyang, the
4PM-shift change is a great opportunity to make a picture of a C2 passing
aside of some typical chinese houses with curved roof.
- The line from Xiangyang to Liangwa is not so long, but even on this short
section, trains (hum, 4 wagons...) had to stop sometimes to get the pressure
back up again.
- after Rob's challenge to find the beer shop at Houying, I would like to
add a second one: there is a sort of "meeting hall" in Liangwa which is used
as a restaurant for the local's. This is really a hit if you want to
experience the real China!
- between Xiangyang and Yinghao, you have the village of Houying but it
seems a great challenge to combine the old houses with a train as there are
some trees between the houses and the tracks. I think, the afternoon
might succeed for a train heading to Yinghao at the cross road in the middle
of this town.
- on the same section, after Houying, I got great sights while sitting on
the tender during a ride towards Yinghao. Unfortunately, it seems, all of
these sights are against the sun and there are a lot of poles in the way in
the case you would try to take a picture with back light (maybe in the early
morning?). Looking the other side, the train runs aside small hills. This
is nice too but not as nice as it would have been with the landscape
- on the way from Yinghao to Xiangyang, all trains followed made 2-3 stops
to raise the pressure.
I think that's about it. Of course, there is much more investigation to
perform on this nice line. It would be nice to hear your experiences of
course as I'm going back to Yinghao this winter.
From 10/8/2004 until 13/8/2004, we were at Shibanxi with two persons
and stayed with the friendly family at their guesthouse
at Bagou. Before going to Shibanxi in the summer, I thought this was
one of the most stupid ideas I'd ever had: it would be raining season
so not a big chance for nice weather... But: as closure was
threatening at the time I was making up my trip, I decided to go
there anyway during this time of the year. I didn't regret this at
all: on 3,5 days, only 2 trains didn't run in the sun!! On the
evening of the 11th, we had a very hard thunderstorm but this
resulted in a 99% blue sky the day after. I must admit, it was very
hot, too hot sometimes, but looking at it afterwards, it was worth
the trouble (only not again next week).
Locos in use were no.9 and no.14. On the 11th, loco 14 pulled a
wagon with construction materials to buld a house until the tunnel
after Mifungyan. No other freight trains noticed. One person at
Huangcunjin asked us to pray that the mine would reopen again...
No other gricers seen.
Weiyuan Coal Railway
On Aug 14th, I visited the Weiyuan Coal Railway in the hope to see
some movements, being well aware of the bad news-report about track
damage on Florian's website. It must have been my lucky day: only
after one minute, loco 32 showed up with it's coal
train running back to Huangchinggou. Of course, the famous bridge-
shot was made, together with two other shots.
While directly after my arriving the train allready showed up, the
manager of the line surely did not have the time to get me. My whole
visit to this railway only lasted about 20 minutes... The
perfect "hit and go" I suppose...
Hechi saw low traffic but we had quite some sunny weather with
complete blue skys almost every afternoon.
On Aug 20th, we arrived at JingPeng: the third train we saw was a
diesel double header running from Daban towards Haoluku ! Though I
couldn't read the numbers (we had just checked in at the hotel and we were
walking towards Liudigou), it was very clear it were two diesels in front of
a freight train.
We might have one answer for this bad news: in about 3,5 hours, we saw 7
westbounders of which two with only one steam egin, although the trains they
hauled were very heavy. Maybe, just maybe, there was a temporary lack of
steam engins at Daban, which could explain this using of the diesels.
Otherwise, it's the beginning of the end :-)
Next day (Aug 21st), 2 diesels with a freight train passed Reshui at 06:00,
also in the direction of Haoluku. They were observed again on their way back
to Daban at JingPeng around 13:00. We saw them distance only but
we have the impression, they didn't stop at JingPeng (no maintenance for diesels needed of course over there). At least one of the diesels was
another one then the ones one day before: on Aug 20th, there were two green DF4's, on Aug 21st the train towards Daban was lead by a blue-white DF4D and a green DF4.
The dieselisation of the biggest
steam show still left has begun!
Dave Habraken, email: firstname.lastname@example.org