At the start of the 21st Century, China is the almost last country in the world where steam engines are used on normal, everyday trains. Mostly, they run on branch lines serving mines or quarries, but there was one main line, from Tongliao to Jining in Inner Mongolia, where almost all the normal, long distance freight trains were steam-hauled. Not any longer, sadly. By April 2005, steam had gone from the JingPeng pass, and it finished on the Daban – Chabuga section at the end of 2005. That’s why GW Travel organised The China JingPeng Orient Express in October and November 2004, and why Steam Age Pictures had to be on it – before it was too late!
27th Oct Tongchuan
Tongchuan, about 100 km north of Xi’an in Shannxi province, is the centre of a large mining district. It is also probably the last place where JF class 2-8-2 locomotives were still working. Five were thought to survive, and two were normally in steam for working trains to the colliery at Wangshiwa. When we were there on Wednesday 27th October, two JFs were in steam: 2368 & 2369.
29th Oct Pengzhuang & Yuanbaoshan
Pengzhuang lies about 30 km south-east of Yuanbaoshan. In 2004, the depot was home to around a dozen SY class 2-8-2 steam locos and a larger number of centre-cab Bo-Bo electrics that worked trains to and from an open cast mine. The electrics worked the stone and coal trains, while the steam locos handled the engineer’s trains that were constantly employed laying new track as the work face ate further into the hillside.
Yuanbaoshan, near Chifeng in Inner Mongolia, is the centre of a 30km railway system that connects several coal mines with exchange sidings on the CNR main line. We we visited, it was home to 9 JS class 2-8-2s.
30th & 31st Oct Chabuga & Daban
Although the outer ends of the JiTong line were worked only by diesels by 2004, the central section, from Chabuga in the east, through Daban, to Baiqi in the West, was still worked largely by QJ class 2-10-2 locos. These 3 towns have large loco depots. We looked around Daban on Sat 30th and Chabuga on Sun 31st Oct (in the rain!).
5th Nov Dahuichang
On Friday 5th November, we visited Dahuichang, on the south-western outskirts of Beijing. Here, a short 762mm-gauge line connected a limestone quarry with the crushing plant, cement works, and mainline railway. Four C2 class 0-8-0 locomotives survived here, two being used each day on an intensive service. Here too, we were just in time, since the line, and the quarry it served, closed in June 2005.
We also spent three days on the spectacular JingPeng Pass section of the JiTong line, which is covered in China Railtour 2004, Part 2
While I was busy with the video camera, Corinne Henman took some excellent still photos.