Douglas Brooks reports:

Sandaoling – 28/2/ – 6/3/2018

March 2018’s visit turned out to be a bit of an expensive waste of time.

The Coal Yard and the Yellow Loader were not in use. It was far too warm for any exhaust except when departing from the Blue Loader and, at night, from the Washery. Only one train a day went from Nanshan to the deep mine, usually before sunrise and of only about 10 wagons.

Due to the relaying of the track outside the deep mine where the road crossing used to be, the return was at very slow speed and no exhaust.

With three JS’s (8190, 8173, 6224) assigned to collect coal from the Blue Loader, there was a working every 30 minutes from about 10:00 to 14:00. There was then about a 2 hour break before things picked up for a final burst of activity before shift change at 19:30. However, from Monday one loco was taken off from the Blue Loader to collect earth for embankment repairs at the Pipe Curve. This resulted in only 2 trips to the Blue Loader before 14:00 for the rest of my stay.

However, there was a full moon, so I was able to amuse myself by taking shots at the washery before sunrise.

Sandaoling was pretty much deserted with many restaurants and shops closed from an extended Spring Holiday, including my favourite kebab and plov restaurant. A new upmarket (well, for Sandaoling) restaurant had opened, which served some interesting dishes. Jun said he liked this restaurant, but complained about most of them and kept sending them back to be re-cooked. One was burnt to a cinder on its second appearance.

One new condition on coming here is that you have to take your passport to the police station and register your presence in person.

Shibanxi (The Jiayang National Mine Park) – 7/3/ – 12/3/2018

Oh dear.

They have a diesel made to look like a C2. Because they say the poor old steam engines can no longer go uphill by themselves.

But it gets worse.

It is doubled headed steam from Yuejin to Mifengyan. One engine then usually runs back light to start the next double header. Unless there has been an additional service to Mifengyan, which came up single header, then it goes back down hill double header!

Then it gets even worse.

The diesel takes over as the lead engine right through the most photographic part of the line up to Caiziba. Then single engine up to Bajiaogou.

There is a run past through the main flower field without the diesel, which means that is your only shot, because unfortunately at the lake before Jiaoba, it does a party trick by creating a rainbow from a blow out. The two run pasts are controlled by stewards armed with cattle prods and tazzers to ensure that the mass throng of selfie sticks don’t get in each others way, trample the flowers and the farmers crops.

Also, the two service trains, which run single header all the way without the assistance of the diesel, have been re-timed before sunrise and after sunset to “deter tourists from using them”. And there were many extra trains laid on due to the vast number of visitors to the railway. They were all single header but only run to Mifengyan.

Local residents are not happy and have blocked many paths that the railway had opened up for the tourists. This was done without consultation, they said.

On talking to the railway staff about the diesel and that it does not make for a good photo, they said the tourists don’t mind. I replied that if they don’t mind it being on the front then they won’t mind it being on the back either, baring in mind in didn’t appear to be required anyway. And you would get more visitors from Japan, Europe, ect if you ran more authentic trains. They said they weren’t interested. And at RMB160 for a round trip, they are making a lot of money. £20 for a round trip per person is more than the Bluebell and the Worth Valley Railways are charging for a day rover.

All five C2’s were in action – 8, 16, 17, 18, 19.

Wan Xie Well Coal Mine – 10/3/2018

A few miles from Mifengyan on the country road to Leshan there is a small coal mine operated by eight “Ma Expi” battery locomotives built by the Yuqiang Locomotive Co between 2007 and 2009, just up the road in Leshan. I saw this mine in 2011 when travelling back to Chengdu over the cross country route when there was no access to the mine highway as the road to Shixi was under repair. I couldn’t stop as I needed to get to the airport in time. So I went for another look to escape the madness at Shibanxi. Alas, the mine was closed for its own spring holiday.