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Rongshan - Luopoloing - Pingzhuang - Chifeng - Jalainur - Fuxin - Fushun - Liujiaxia - Sandaoling - Yongchuan

This is part three of my most recent China visit, covering Liujiaxia, Sandaoling, Yongchuan and between.

To return to part one, covering Rongshan, Luopoling, Pingzhuang, Chifeng and between, please click here

To return to part two, covering Manzhouli, Jalainur, Fuxin, Fushun, Beijing and between click here

11 November 2014

Our train arrived at Lanzhou station on time at 0737 and after alighting were greeted by some old friends (locomotives) that we had seen almost exactly one year ago to the date. DF5 1862 was shunting out a long train of 25T class cars, oddly with four dining cars in the consist! A number of SS7E's were also seen, including 0049 and 0069, which we also saw on our last visit to Lanzhou in 2013. Unfortunately we were not able to spend as much time here as we did last time, being 'evicted' from the platform by a very grumpy China Rail employee.

As we had the better part of the day to burn before our overnight train to Hami nan, I decided to pay a visit to Liujiaxia to see exactly how much the place had changed since 2006. Obviously I was not expecting to see any working steam, this being reported last by Bernd Seiler in 2008 with the imminent demise of the JS steam locomotives, but perhaps there would be an old JS carcass in a siding. Construction is at an all time high around Lanzhou with the high speed line to Hami well under way. A number of new rail overpasses have been upgraded, and the roads around the rail system are in an appalling state as a result thanks to the thousands of heavy trucks involved in the construction. We found a driver with a classic 1998 VW Santana to take us to Liujiaxia for 150 yuan, passing many "Praffic Police" stations (which refused to give our driver directions), but made it to Liujiaxia without to much hassle.

Despite this, finding the railway line which was a very simple process in 2006, was much more difficult than I had first envisaged. It took us over an hour of walking around the streets and asking directions armed with an old map of Liujiaxia, before finally finding a very elderly gentleman who pointed us the way to Gucheng where the locomotive depot was. We summoned a local taxi who whisked us away, and within a minute, found the railway line. The driver was confused by our request to stop the taxi, but eventually let us out about 50 meters from the depot.

Gucheng is a shadow of its former self, and as predicted, no steam was to be found. The steam facilities including the coal loader, water tower and even entire buildings have been removed. The only rolling stock in the yard was a pair of very battered N6 class flat cars from 1954 and 1958 respectively, the former having intact its timber side panels.

The main locomotive shed had a pair of diesels inside - GKD 7022 and 7038. A third diesel also works the line supposedly, however we never saw it. Traffic levels are clearly minimal, yet the guard crossings are all manned, indicating trains are still in operation.

Gucheng station has also had a bit of a tidy up with a few staff around. None of them took any interest in us and there were no objections to us taking photos around the place. One of the more interesting pieces was a large billboard showing a derailment involving one of the diesels from 2012. Semaphore signals are still used on this line, with a couple now removed from service, but still in place.

It became apparent why it was so hard to find the old line in town, as it has been completely built over by the new multilane road leading out of Liujiaxia that we had been walking on for nearly 20 minutes earlier on. As we headed back into town, we could see the area where the line leading into the town used to be, now completely built over with new apartments. The market place itself where vendors used to lift off their produce at the sound of the train whistle has now gone, with a large construction project currently taking place.

The local people around Liujiaxia are very friendly people, just as they were when I visited back in 2006, with many of them trying to sneak footage of us on their mobile phones, obviously very few foreigners pass through here nowadays, despite being a fairly heavy tourist area with the large hydro-electric dam and the Bingling Buddhist caves close by.

Our overnight train was in the hands of a brand new very swish looking HXD1D (Zhuzhou, 2014) rated for 160kph / 7200kw. The new China Rail units are growing on me, however riding behind them is not as smooth anymore. It seems every single HX unit I've ever travelled behind is very rough with sudden braking and accelerating. The older DF diesels & SS electrics seemed to have a seamless power/braking curve. I'd usually put it down to driver operation, however maybe it's due to the apparent lack of bogie traction bars or the extremely powerful motors that are giving this detrimental effect. Our travel dates still saw us using the temporary station at Hami Nan. The entire line to Hami Nan is now electrified and tickets within the urumqi bureau could only be booked 10 days in advance rather than the usual 20, which we were told was due to the nearing date of the reopening station of Hami.

12 November 2014

Our train arrived in Hami Nan just before 7am, and our usual 'guide' Mr. Zhang was there ready to pick us up with a new driver. The driver was with us for the next five days while we were out in the field and we never saw Mr. Zhang again until we arrived back in Hami at the end of our time in Sandaoling. We had spoken with him before boarding our train in Lanzhou who gave us the bad news of what had transpired in the mine in the past week or so. Spoil trains had finished and the number of locomotives had been reduced to five. We asked if this included the locomotives that worked the deep mines or Yikuang and Erkuang and he said yes (again we found this not to be the case and found six JS working the deep mines) - a stark contrast to what he had told me about 2 weeks before we left for China with 16 JS still working and spoil trains that "should be" working at the time of our visit as well as the new line that also "should be" working.

We did a preliminary check-in into the Jia He Xiang Wu Binguan that overlooks the large police station and headed out immediately to Kengkongzhen to get some steam trains storming out of the pit. The trains comprised of thirteen coal hoppers with the end one having the guards hut, the same as our previous two visits. They continue to work very hard, but we did notice that they no longer stop on the uphill section at Kengkongzhen, which gave us some incredible departures in previous visits, but instead one now waits at the washery.

We planned to go to the Dongbolizhen on the way to the washery, however as we got closer to Dongbolizhen, noticed that not a single locomotive was present and only the two box cars and caboose wagon (the passenger train) were sitting at the platform. Disheartened, we continued up towards the washery, a place which we had been intending to visit the previous two visits here. On this day, we found only three JS locomotives working out of the pit, those being 8167, 8190 and 6209, with two of these working the washery and the third which went to a different unloading point via Dongbolizhen.

Before we made it to the washery, we had a quick walk to the rail entrance of the locomotive depot to see not much had changed, apart from the lack of activity. JS 8384 hasn't moved and a huge amount of potentially reusable parts are strewn around the compound. The dump yard confirmed our worst fears with a number of locomotives seen in February now stored. Some of these locomotives had a number of components removed. 8195 which had been freshly overhauled in February was the most recent addition. Perhaps some of these 'fresher' locomotives will be brought back into service with the opening of the new line, however the word from Mr. Zhang was that once one of the steamers have a major problem, they will be retired.

The washery was however seeing a lot of traffic still and it was interesting seeing the yellow machines - whatever they are called! - in operation. These machines sit adjacent to the unloading siding with a large grate in between. The grate sits over a number of coal chutes, where it is taken via a series of conveyor belts to be washed multiple times to remove any impurities. The heavy cast iron scoops on the machines are used to bash the coal into smaller pieces and pull it through the grate once the car has unloaded. They move horizontally by electric motors along a railing system.

We didn't see these machines operating today as JS 8167 arrived within minutes and we were both invited up into the cab after handing out some photos. The unloading process was done within minutes and we were asked to stay on board for a ride! Never one to complain about a cab ride, the foot plate was drawn down, the door slammed shut and the two little fold out chairs behind the driver and fireman seats were brought out. Despite being rather frigid outside, the heat being generated in the cab from the firebox and the steam pipe between the tender & the locomotive was more than enough to compensate. With every stroke of the pistons, the firebox glowed from orange to white and the entire cab shuddered and convulsed from one side to the other, causing everything that was hung up, such as shovels, shifters, and a host of other tools to swing wildly from one side to the other.

Surprisingly we didn't stop at the loader, with the crew indicating they needed to take on coal and water and we were off to Xibolizhen. The pit has changed significantly since February, with huge mounds of earth dumped between Kengkongzhen and the loader, obscuring much of the view towards the loader. One of the lines from the pit into Xibolizhen has been removed.

Xibolizhen had turned into a wagon storage area, with every track filled with KF 60 hoppers. There was also a K70 class 4 bay side dump hopper (1977) which I hadn't seen on any of my previous trips to Sandaoling. The watering facilities were still operating and we were invited on top of the tender. A great, yet damp experience! Coal turned out to be a problem however as the front end loaders had all been relocated elsewhere in the mine, unbeknownst to the crew. So after a quick inspection and lubrication, we were off once again into the pit to load up. As far as I'm aware this could well have been one of the very last locomotives to be serviced at Xibolizhen.

Most of the loading is done with the usual blue conveyor, however there is also a large electric digger adjacent to this which loads trains with a coarser coal from another parallel track. JS 6209 arrived and departed with a loaded train before we had finished, the blue loader being a much slower process.

Our cabride was further prolonged by the on board lunch break. The drivers were keen to share their lunches with us, however that was too much to accept from these guys and we declined.

Before loading was complete, a front end loader showed up to replenish the tender and we stormed out of the pit. The drivers offered to drop us off at Kengkongzhen, which we accepted - an ideal end of the journey where we could once again watch an uphill start and, as we had arranged our driver to pick us up from here, save a long walk back.

13 November 2014

We arrived again at Kengkongzhen during darkness to be well in time for the passenger train and to attempt to find some of the trains working hard for a spark show. As soon as we stood out of the car, we could hear the crisp barking of a JS returning from the washery, which was drowned out by the crisp barking of the station masters black and white yippy dog. We made a dash further towards the washery to get away from the mutt, and found an acceptable position to get 8190 working very hard to get her train over the gradient. The spark show was superb, shutting off the regulator a little later off than usual, to gather enough momentum to push her train into the siding outside Kengkongzhen. The tracks switched and she came back towards us and into Dongbolizhen.

8190 uncoupled from her train and became the locomotive used for the passenger train. Sadly the army of workers has greatly reduced, with only the skeleton crew required for Xibolizhen. Still, 8190 made a spectacular departure out of Dongbolizhen, which I was able to capture from the level crossing. JS6209 was the next to appear and brought her train up only a few feet away from us on the washery line where the crew change took place.

JS8167 and 8173 were already in Dongbolizhen, and we headed over there after 6209 went back into the pit with her new crew. At Dongbolizhen we were very happy to see some of the (non-drving) train crew we had met previously in Xibolizhen. We stayed until 8190 returned with the passenger train and switched back to her hoppers.

Our driver picked us up and we asked him to take us to the locomotive depot, but he said visits were no longer permitted under any circumstances. He assured us there were no locomotives inside and even got Mr. Zhang to call us and say the same thing. We asked the driver to take us to Nanzhen instead - the yard which serves the deep mines, including the new line to west. We were able to get 8167 over the bridge prior to the washery as we were leaving.

Once at Nanzhen, we headed up to inspect a recently built line to the south of the yard, which turned out to be a very long new siding for the diesels incorporating a weigh bridge. It was due to open about a week after we left. We followed the siding until we reached the new line which passes behind it and were greeted by JS 8081 replacing one of the smaller sidings behind the washery with a crane train.

The track gangers were happy for us to hang around for photos and videos, only to find we were being filmed ourselves by a member of "Sandaoling TV", apparently a local television station. They were on site filming a special on the last steam trains in Sandaoling and thought we would make a nice feature in their documentary.

The crane had removed ten sections of track prior to us arriving, and had just started to lift recycled 40' sections into place, a process that took nearly 2 hours.

The track sections, once lowered, were then lined up using a home made battering ram made from rope and requiring four men. A very rudimentary, yet effective method! After the main sections were in, the crane picked up the old sections of track onto the flat car. Steve had somehow managed to talk his way onto the cab again by this stage and had made himself quite at home!

The day was coming to an end too soon and and we walked back to Nanzhen, finding 8089 working C class hoppers. It would appear that this locomotive has been allocated to working the deep mines now. 8366 was also seen in the yard, as well as DF8B's 0247 and 0249, both shunting wagons around the yard.

14 November 2014

The next morning, we once again headed back to Kengkongzhen to try and repeat our success. JS 8081 had returned to pit operations with 8173 and 8167. 6209 was nowhere to be seen. We were enjoying trains in 15 - 20 minute intervals, with the rail car and water/flat car making an appearance. The air was very frigid giving us some superb steam effects as they battled the slippery rails.

Dongbolizhen was seeing a good amount of trains, although nothing was sitting around, and we continued walking up line towards the washery. We soon found 6209 on funeral procession duties as we approached the depot, pushing 8076 into the dump compound, another engine lost forever.

Steve made a run for it, however with the multitude of blisters still ever present, I could only muster up some sort of crippled hop, with multiple expletives with each step. As I reached the dump compound, 6209 had already uncoupled and headed back towards the pit light engine.

I suspect, some of these locomotives "may" be brought back into operation, however I also believe this would be a very short lived exercise and I wouldn't be surprised if they were left for either a new buyer or scrapped. 8076 has had a number of components removed, some cut off with an acetylene torch... never a good sign. The guard allowed us briefly into the compound for a few minutes for some photographs, which made up for missing out a couple of days when Steve was able to sweet talk his way inside! Steve's list of equipment in the dump included some 31 JS locomotives and 5 SY's. A few of the JS's we saw in February were unaccounted for and I suspect these locomotives are in the depot, most likely being stripped of parts.

We spent a considerable amount of time at the unloading point of the washery, getting plenty of videos and photos of the unloading. 8190 & 8081 were kept busy with 8167 and 8173 working the trains via Dongbolizhen (seen in the distance).

We finished up back at Kengkongzhen, the final train seen being 6209, pulling an unusual consist of five KF60's loaded with spoil, including two guard variants. The train disappeared towards Dongbolizhen, and the wagons were found in a siding there the following morning. It is unclear whether these were to be used for "ballast" for the newly laid siding we found or to be used as test cars for the new line.

15 November 2014

Dongbolizhen was the starting point of the day, with four JS's on site - 8173, 8167, 6209 and 8190. JS 6209 had already coupled up to the box cars for the passenger train, with the other three waiting crew change. As we arrived, we saw a familiar white luxury SUV which we had seen in February this year, carrying around some local tourists with no regard for anyone else. Fortunately, there was only two cars this time, instead of the usual five, but they still saw fit to run in front of our cameras to ensure they got that 'perfect shot'.

Steve had already said he was going to have at least one more ride on the passenger train before we left and the chaos around Dongbolizhen presented a good opportunity. True to form, Steve not only rode the passenger train all the way to Xibolizhen and back, but scored yet another cabride behind the driver.. bless his cotton socks.

I left for the fork near Kengkongzhen, a nice place to get the engines working hard out of Dongbolizhen with the engineers working hard to combat the wheel slip. Once JS 6209 returned with the passenger train, she quickly uncoupled and formed a back to back double header, albeit light engine, with 8081. both locomotives disappeared into the pit and were not seen for the rest of the day.

We walked back towards the pit, capturing six trains with good sunlight and the superb Barkol ranges just starting to appear through the haze. However, it took only two trains before the dreaded white SUV appeared in the distance, and true to form, the occupants in fluorescent puffy jackets, set up right in the middle of our shot. Again. Steve was rapidly running out of patience by this stage and came up with some creative ways to annoy them in return.

Our driver met us back at Dongbolizhen, where we were greeted by 8173 rolling through the station with another loaded coal train. The rest of the day was spent along the line between Nanzhen and the deep mines of Yikuang and Erkuang.

SY 1729 is still cold in the factory and we almost got access to it, before the security guard was overruled by another man with an uncanny resemblance to Kim Jong Un and were told to go far, far away. I was able to get a few shots of it by walking down line about 200 meters from the level crossing.

Traffic levels were not overly high this time, seeing two departures and two arrivals into and out of Nanzhen with locomotives 8089, 8358 and 8366. Another JS (not identified) was working at Erkuang and another two (also unidentified) were idling and/or shunting in Nanzhen yard. This would bring the total number of working JS's in Sandaoling to eleven.

The DF8B's were also seeing a lot of use. DF8B 0248 arrived into Nanzhen with a train of 49 empty C class gondolas from the mainline and departed two hours later with an equally long, yet loaded, train. 0247 and 0249 were shunting wagons around Nanzhen as well as the steamers.

The white Range Rover also made an appearance, initially setting up about 100 meters from where I was, but thankfully didn't stay there when the first train came rolling through. They sped past me in a cloud of dust towards the main road, but soon returned after being unable to find access to the main road and nearly getting bogged in the process, amusing considering Mr. Zhang managed to get his Nissan Tida through the same spot only a few months prior.

We headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon and I hit the market, a fascinating place that I was keen to experience again, particularly being a Saturday where it seems to be the busiest day of the week. I took a number of photographs of a large truck carrying eggs - 253,440 - to be exact!! (1408 crates of 180 eggs) We enjoyed another superb meal at Maria's restaurant and despite being completely exhausted, were unable to refuse the owners insistence of joining him for (many) beers in a simply indescribable karaoke bar.

16 November 2014

The first part of the morning was spent again between Dongbolizhen, Kengkongzhen and Old Sandaoling. Once again the painful tourists in their white Range Rover was already there, but for the time being were staying mostly out of site. John Raby's group had also arrived by the time of our arrival, finally good to meet some of you!

Tender first 8081 was locomotive for the passenger train. We were able to capture some fantastic departures out of Dongbolizhen, with the usual suspects. The most unique train we saw (and nearly missed) was 8081 and 6209 in the first front-to-front double heading train I've ever seen! This train reversed into the pit, presumably to Xibolizhen, although we never saw it again.

The main goal of the day was to make a final pilgrimage to Xibolizhen, which frustrated our driver. He was insistent that there were no trains there, but eventually caved in to our requests. We had to first change cars from the nice VW sedan we were using to a battered old Jeep Cherokee to provide adequate clearance on the appalling state of the road.

When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was the yard was completely empty, a huge contrast to the hundred plus wagons occupying the yard a few days prior. Every single track up tot the spoil dumps had already been removed up to the western throat of the yard, despite all the signals still turned on. The yard itself was due to be removed starting from the 18th of November. The crew hut (made from an old box car) at the beginning of the dump tracks has been removed, and the large double story brick building is now abandoned. All signage and anything salvageable has been stripped, asides from a carton of unused brake shoes which was lying forgotten amongst the scene of devastation. The old boom gate mechanisms crossing the dump tracks has also gone, asides from one of the booms which has been snapped providing a semi-permanent barricade over what used to be the level crossing.

No trains were seen on the new line, a pity as it would have been good to have seen at least some of the testing trains. We appeared to have missed a few of these workings only days prior to arriving and missing out only a few days after leaving. Some of John's group were lucky to witness steam and diesel testing trains during their stay. Once out of Xibolizhen, the line curves gently away to the north west and runs dead straight for as far as one can see. We walked approximately one kilometre before heading back. Interestingly, the brand new brick building on the curve in the track which I saw in February appears to have suffered fire damage. It is locked up and nobody was present. Having been here three times already, I'm unsure if this new line will be enough to bring me back although I look forward to seeing what others are able to achieve here. The sun is in a good position for trains heading out of the mine and also gives an excellent view of the Barkol ranges in the background, pending haze/pollution of course.

We headed back to our driver at Xibolizhen and the final few hours were taken around the washery/unloading point where we were able to get 8190 and 8173, being the final JS steam locomotive I saw - and probably the last working Chinese steam locomotive I will ever see. We exchanged cars again and drove back to Hami for the overnight train (T295) to Lanzhou.

Farewell Sandaoling, thank you for the great memories.

17 November 2014

Once again, our overnight train (T295) was a pressure cooker and we were quite happy to alight when we arrived (on time) in Lanzhou at 1021. I awoke at Wuwei, just priot to entering the 20 kilometre Wushaoling tunnel. No passenger trains were seen until Lanzhou West, and all freight trains up until Hekou was handled by HXD1C electric locomotives. In contrast to last year, our train passed through Hekou-Nan, rather than around it. Lanzhou West station, which is to accommodate the new high speed CRH services, is partially complete and construction work is well underway for the high speed service to Hami. A temporary service (L357/358) led by HXD1C and comprising of green and gold rolling stock was seen here on a scheduled stop. The CRH service from Hami to Urumqi opened about a week prior. Other locomotives seen in the Lanzhou area were DF5's and a DFH5 on a construction train. Unlike last year, not a single SS3 locomotive was seen and I suspect these will have been withdrawn now.

The day was spent in Lanzhou city and after lunch, we headed to Lanzhou airport for Henan Airlines Flight (HU7074, Boeing 737-800) to Chongqing and headed to the Hilton for a good night's sleep.

18 November 2014

After a superb breakfast at the Hilton, we had a walk around Chongqing and checked out of the hotel before heading to the bus station next to Chongqing railway station. Tickets were ordered without too much trouble, and after surviving the bus station public toilets, made it to Yongchuan just after 2pm. Still being somewhat run down, we elected not to head out to Yongchuan, but arranged for a taxi driver to take us to Honglu the following morning. Our hotel in Yongchuan was called the Minghao International hotel, a not too shabby hotel, with large spacious rooms for about 250 yuan per night. It also has a superb Chinese restaurant with excellent food (although only 10% of the choices were available!)

19 November 2014

As agreed, our driver showed up on time and we headed off to Honglu to start our time along the narrow gauge line. Along the way SS4G #7072 (Dalian, 2003) passed us with a Chongqing bound mixed freight. Once out of the big city, the road began to deteriorate with the suspension of the little Hyundai bottoming out on several occasions. Clearly something was lost in translation regarding the price, because the driver pulled over at one stage and made it very clear he wouldn't take us for less than 100 yuan, despite us agreeing to 150 the previous night. Naturally we accepted his offer and off we went again.

The first train we sited was with unit #02, one of five (perhaps four now) electric ZL-24 used on the line, with 15 bogie hoppers and a caboose passing through old Honglu. It was heading towards us, and I was only able to get some photos through the windscreen. The driver dropped us off directly opposite the washery, very happy with his fare. There is a small run off track behind the locomotive depot with a very severe gradient followed by an abrupt end. I can't for the life of me figure out what this is used for, apart from perhaps to stop runaway wagons through the yard, but it is rather extreme!

The locomotive workshop is a large brick building with three tracks inside. Next to the depot is a three track compound, where locomotive #03 was receiving pantograph repairs. There are two types of caboose used. the small twin axle one is used behind twin axle hoppers, with the larger type with bogies used behind the larger bogie hoppers. The larger wagons use automatic knuckle couplers and the smaller wagons use a pin type system. All the ZL-24 locomotives are 1996 and run on 750 volts. They all have twin pantographs.

Inside the shed sat poor unit #01, stripped of most of her components, after colliding with a truck a couple of weeks prior to our visit. Due to the severity of the damage, it is unlikely she will be rebuilt, but will become a parts bin for her other four class members. Next to #1 was a brand new electric locomotive. I forgot to get more detailed information on this unit - even its number escapes my memory, but it is apparently a replacement locomotive for #1. The dimensions and livery are similar to the ZL24's, but a much squarer design with split windows and a CCTV camera at each end. The workers were happy for us to have a look around, after asking for permission of course, and asked us not to take 'any more' photos of #1.

Inside the yard, only #04 was present shunting wagons to different tracks, and we began walking up the line to the CNR loading exchange. We had initially intended to walk only as far as old Honglu.

The land around Honglu is very fertile, with huge amounts of crops, predominantly rice and vegetables. The scenery is stunning and reminded me of Shibanxi in 2006, an area (almost) untouched by civilization for decades.

The first train to appear after reaching Old Honglu was #02 with 14 empty coal hoppers and a caboose heading back to the washery. The track gangers were very friendly and were very happy to receive some Australian railway photos.

After this train passed us, I headed about a kilometre further up line to a spot I had seen from the taxi. The overcast conditions we arrived in were disappearing however, and the sun was on the 'wrong' side of the train as a result, but still - what a site! - #04 screamed along with a long heavy train of coal for the loaders.

Steve was really starting to feel the effects of the humidity and a suspected oncoming flu, but he pulled enough strength to catch up with me about half an hour later, and we continued walking even further up line. Before we knew it, we had reached kilometre post "2" (starting at "9"), just as north bound #02 rolled through under a standard gauge branch line.

We waited for its return only a couple of hundred meters away from here at an elevated position. Interestingly when it did, both her pantographs were lowered. So much for our 'easy day', we made it to the loader not long after and with little going on with the narrow gauge, switched our attention to the standard gauge line.

We found a good position next to a stone arch viaduct, but didn't stay too long here after being moved along by an angry policeman, but found an even better spot which gave a great view of the viaduct with the high speed viaduct in the background. The high speed isn't open yet, however we did get a ballast train moving over with an orange DF4B on the front of a large rake of hoppers and a dark green DF12 bringing up the rear. Both locomotives had extra Chinese characters over other class members and I presume they are operated by a construction division within China Rail.

Traffic on the busy single track mainline was exclusively hauled by SS4G's (freight only) and SS3's (freight and passenger). As the light faded, we called it a day and took an empty bus back to Yongchuan.

20 November 2014

After waking up wrecked from the unplanned long hike along the line to Yongchuan and with forecast rain, we decided to leave Yongchuan on a good note and head back to Chingqing for some last minute shopping for family (and recover Steve's phone charger from the Hilton) before the long flight back to Sydney. The staff at the bus station were very helpful and even one of the managers came out of his office to see us on the correct bus. We were dropped off at the outskirts of Chongqing, as expected from Wilson Lythgoe's report.

A couple of hours were spent in the city center before hailing our last taxi to Chongqing international terminal for flight 3U605 (A330-200). Not an overly good flight this time back, with much more cramped seating & barely edible meals, exceedingly lengthy customs clearance and for myself, another flight back to Melbourne.


Rongshan - After three attempts, we made it! A superb line, now gone forever - at least in its current state. Rumours of turning it into another tourist line have been murmured, but it would never be the same.

Luopoling - What a great place! Very close to Beijing with very high traffic levels in a very beautiful part of the world. Marred slightly by the pollution haze over Beijing, but certainly doesn't dampen my enthusiasm. 99% of the trains on the mainline are now in the hands of electrics and the branch line is worked by DF7's (with cabooses!). If I ever make it back to Beijing, I will definitely pay a return visit.

Pingzhuang - Steam operations had finished only a few days before our visit! All traffic is now handled by a pair of old DF4B diesels. Staff reported the SY's have (again) been retired.

Chifeng - A little difficult to take photos of the mainline traction, especially with the position of the sun at this time of the year. Motive power limited to only a handful of types, but fairly busy especially considering the single track mainline.

Jalainur - Sadly also now 100% steam free. We visited the area based on the news from a friend of mine who visited in early October that one SY was still in use. Visiting the other locomotives in more or less untouched state in the new Russian theme park was a real treat!

Fuxin - What a gem! Very easily accessible system with heaps of trains mostly with an SY at the helm. We experienced good weather during our visit and were warned that the locomotives had been turned, however based on photos from other's reports, I suspect they may have been turned back to their original direction again. Either way, we came away with some of our best shots from the trip and I would highly recommend anyone to visit the area. With the demise of Sandaoling, Fuxin would have to be (if not already) the steamiest place in China.

Fushun - Limited operations here, a pretty dreary place, very dusty, limited photo possibilities and limited trains.

Liujiaxia - With half a day to kill in Lanzhou and knowing steam had ended years ago, I wanted to see if the line still existed. I was certainly not expecting to see any working steam and unfortunately no working trains were seen The line runs as far as Gucheng, with the section into Liujiaxia town now built over. A pair of diesels in the shed. Was nice to reminisce, but not worth a visit.

Sandaoling - 11 locomotives still in use - five for the Sandaoling coal railway and six on the deep mines. Apparently locomotives requiring heavy repairs will be dumped. New line is complete, but no trains seen on the visit. Action at Dongbolizhen less than previous visit in February, but still worth some time in the mornings. Xibolizhen as still intact, but track was to be lifted two days after we left. Trains work from the blue loaded to the unloading point at Xuanmeichang and Jichangzhan. Between these two points, at Kengkongzhan, it appears the good old days where a train headed for Xuanmeichang would wait for a returning one, requiring an uphill start, is now over. Still worth a visit for now, but it will be over very soon.

Yongchuan - A gorgeous line with exceptionally friendly people and unique trains. Another visit for me one day perhaps!

Would I go again? Sadly as I won't have more time off work until at least late 2015, the chances of another visit is very unlikely. With Rongshan and many of the minor steam locations now finished, as well as Sandaoling winding up their operations, it would be very slim pickings before another trip would be possible. Certainly Fuxin would be well worth another visit and the Kunming narrow gauge (diesel) if it were to be still running, but for the foreseeable future, it looks like I am retiring from rail fanning in China. It's been quite a ride!

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