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Steam in China, 14th - 20th January 2019


by Ian Hopkins and Stephen Szwejkowski 

Monday 14th January

No security checks at Hami airport. We were on the road 25 minutes after touching down. A check en route took 10 minutes and the same at the checkpoint at Nanzhan. As we approached, a JS was taking a rake of empties up to the deep mines.

After checking in, we had a look at the open cast. 3 trains running with 8195, 8197 and 8224 in charge. Trains are still running into the coal yard intermittently. Went up to Erjing to see 8077 bring up empties and then take a loaded train back to Nanzhan.

Tuesday 15th January

Went to the morning line up at Dong. The 3 locos running Monday being prepared, one after running into the pit with the passenger. No spare loco. But a plague of gricers present. Counted 30 comprising us Brits, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese including women and children. There are also some Czechs around somewhere. Then went over to then deep mines again. 8053 brought up empties to Erjing, ran around the train and pushed it to the second mine. It was followed up 30 minutes later by 8077, which then took a load back to Nanzhan. 8053 stayed with its train to load and then left about 2 hours later back to Nanzhan. In the afternoon, saw a banked rake of empties going up to the deep mines in the distance. Watched shunting (lots of it) at Nanzhan from the old spoil heap opposite the washery. Finally saw 8089 leave the works and return to Nanzhan.

Wednesday 16th January

Same 3 locos at Dong. Much calmer today. Saw the first return from the pit at the pipe. Really cold morning and the run up out of the mine was superb. Then walked into the mine. Looking left to right towards the loader. Track one is now just about 250 metres long ending in a pile of dirt and a stop sign. Track 2 is for the blue loader. Track 3 is used for filling trains by bulldozer from the huge pile of coal that straddles line 4. Waited a long time for two departures from lines 2 and 3. Once again superb in the cold. A quiet spell so went to Erjing again to see 8077 bring through a loaded train from the second mine. Finally, the open cast had picked up and we had 4 trains through to the washery before darkness fell. Also saw 8314 leave the works.

Overall, the deep mines and Nanzhan are really busy. The open cast less so but with 3 trains running gaps arise depending on loading patterns. The number of loco movements so far has far exceeded what we were expecting. 

Thursday 17th January

As good a day as we’ve ever had here. 3 departures around the curve between Dong and Keng (We did see a shift change at Keng one morning when we got up early to take a look. It was a light engine so possibly the ‘passenger’ loco. Too dark, and the cold was brutal. Should have stayed in bed).

Then saw the first two trains out the pit, the second passing a small frozen waterfall about 500m below the pipe. Then watched a return out of the coal yard, past the works and round the curve, then across to Erjing for afternoon empties coming up from Nanzhan with 8314. The Czechs came up the track from Nanzhan. No problem doing this but you have to leave your passport with the Police at the Nanzhan crossing and go back the same way to collect it!

Then down to the works for the weekly loco changeover. 8195 was replaced by 8190 (it looks a total wreck but staff claim it is better than the other 3 on duty and it certainly danced out of the pit). It worked tender first until Sunday, possibly because wagons are being loaded on the leg of the triangle between the works and Nanzhan. When loaded a Nanzhan loco picks them up. Others saw this but unfortunately not us. Watched 8195 have its fire dropped on the head shunt at the entrance to the works before it moved inside. The crew locked their shovels and kettle in the tender lock box for safe keeping.

Friday 18th January

Went to Erjing in the morning. There were two trains up from Nanzhan with one pushing through to Yijang. You can expect to see 3 to 4 trains a day going up to Erjing. There is a frozen lake to the north of the line just before the mine which provides an interesting foreground for photos.

Plenty of action in the pit in the afternoon. A bit of a novelty for us seeing 8190 climbing out of the pit tender first.

We had dinner with a senior mine official. Steam will definitely finish Sept 2020. At Nanzhan as well. There will then be a 3 year project to fill in the pit. We told him we’d send a working party! On a much more serious note he said that visits to the works are no longer possible and anyone found in there without permission could face an automatic 3 years in prison. 

Saturday 19th January

We walked into the pit in the morning. Only two trains though as 8224 had failed at Dong at the start of the shift. It was back in action by 6 pm. You are advised to go no further into the pit than the area around the signals at the start of the pit throat. On return said goodbye to Martin B0chnig who was standing in the midst of the icefall preparing for a master shot. Thanks for sharing information Martin and hope you caught your flight.

Watched more trains at Erjing in the afternoon. The JS with the red star on the chimney cowling worked through from Yijang (835x – can’t remember the exact number). That made it the 5th loco we’d seen in action at Nanzhan.

Sunday 20th January

8224 stalled on the curve coming out of Dong after the shift change so we were treated to 10 minutes of fireworks as the driver skilfully got it going again against the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise. Our last action was to see 8190 turn on the triangle by the works and head into the coal yard.

So in summary an excellent and very busy trip, which exceeded expectations. 9 different locos seen in steam. The open cast is still busy enough to make it worthwhile and we’ve never seen the deep mines as busy in all our visits.

If your budget can run to it we’d recommend using a guide. We use the ever cheerful Mike Ma who deals with any hassle and paperwork, makes sure we eat properly and provides tea, coffee and Snickers bars on demand. 

Our final view of steam was a JS heading up to the deep mines in the distance as we headed on to the motorway. A bittersweet moment as that’s probably the last ‘real’ working steam we’ll ever see but tempered by the fact that we’ll never ever, ever have to stay at the San He hotel again…….

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