I just returned from a trip to China which included visits to Sandaoling and Fuxin. Some of the facts in this report might change in the next weeks due to the fact that I visited the places two weeks after Chinese New Year. Thus some of the operations might not have returned to full scale when I visited them. Nonetheless the future of steam in China, especially Sandaoling, looks rather grim.

Sandaoling operated with 6-7 JS locos (8081, 8167, 8197, 8225; I didn’t take down all the numbers as at least two locos were only shunting in Nanzhan where I didn’t go to. So steam operation continues in Nanzhan even after Chinese New Year), apart from that there seemed to be no further steam locos in running condition. Around the workshops several dozens of locos and waggons are lying around scrapped or partly scrapped. The compound for scrapped locos was full with 33 scrapped locos (I couldn’t note the numbers as I was not allowed to enter the compound). The two large workshop halls are completely empty, only in the small workshop hall minor repair works might be possible. The running locos are in a rather poor condition. On two occasions the coal trains were not able to move out of the open cast mine without the help of a second locomotive even though they were normal coal trains (12-13 waggons) and weather conditions had been very favourably.

Shift change still takes place at around 8:30 in the morning at Dongbolizhan. Between three and four locos meet there. At 8:40 the “passenger train” leaves down to the pit. In fact it’s just a loco without cars and around 8-10 people squeeze into the driver cabin. Around 20 minutes later the loco comes back and couples onto some waggons. Meanwhile the other locos take water, it seems that coal is being put into the tenders by diggers down in the pit. Afterwards the trains leave one after the other. Sometimes all four locos take coal out of the pit, but most of the time at least one of the four locos is used for shunting scrapped locos and waggons around the workshop or is going down to the pit with one of the steam cranes.

Sometimes coal was loaded into trains down in the pit on all three tracks (two by digger, one by the blue loader and/or one of the large electric digger cranes), sometimes up to three trains were queing up in front of the loading tracks to get coal only under the blue loader (I will never understand Chinese logic). This led to very irregular time intervals when were trains running out of the pit. Sometimes there were two trains within ten minutes, sometimes there was no train for more than two hours. Around two third of the coal trains go to the washery, the others go to the coal loading point near Nanzhan. Trains to Mine No. 2 (Erjing) are running very irregularly. In eight days I only saw two trains going there. They left Nanzhan around noon and returned in the late afternoon. Trains were pushed towards the mine chimney first.

Two steam locos are shunting in Nanzhan, they do not come to Dongbolizhan for the shift change. The new underground mine is served by a DF11B diesel loco. The empty waggons are brought to the mine from Nanzhan station around ten or eleven o’clock, the loaded coal train returns in the afternoon. The diesel locos also bring the coal trains to the state railways line, one was normally departing around noon.

There is still a lot of activity in the open cast pit. More than twenty explosions occurred every day and dozens of trucks bring out the spoil. So it seems that the open cast mine will be operated for the next years, however sooner or later the coal will also be taken out of the pit using trucks. If the mine continues to run steam operations like they currently do I think there will be no more steam locos in running condition within the next year. This has no also been realized by the Chinese. Especially during the weekend up to thirty photographers from China and Japan were running around Dongbolizhan in the morning and near the station down in the pit for sunset. They don’t care about the railway operations and other photographers, so anyway access to these places might soon be restricted.

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I visited Fuxin only for one and a half days as we initially planned to go to Yakeshi. However the weather was as weird as in Europe. It was much warmer than usually. We had up to +17° Celsius in Sandaoling and Yakeshi saw temperatures dropping only down to -20° with more than one meter of snow. Thus operation on the Wujiu mine was stopped and we went to Fuxin on short notice.

In Fuxin four locos were in operation (SY 1320, 1378, 1397, 1818), another four locos (SY 1210, 1319, 1395, 1396) are currently overhauled in the workshop. The locos running are not in such a good state as they used to be, however they still look much better than in Sandaoling. Wulong mine was out of operations, nobody could tell us whether this was only due to extended Chinese New Year holidays or whether the mine is already a victim of the new government policy (see below). The steam trains were only used to bring ash from the old power plant and spoil trains from Pingan station up to the spoil dumps. The spoil trains are brought from Wangying mine to Pingan using the DF5 diesel locos.

As usual the steam locos meet at Pingan station in the morning. However operation remains very calm afterwards. Until noon normally only one ash and one spoil train went up to the dumps. In the afternoon operations increased heavily and nearly four trains reached the top in the hour before sunset. After shift change in the evening the locos come to the depot around 8:30pm to get water and coal. If the Wulong mine reopens traffic might increase. The fact that four steam locos are being overhauled gives some hope that steam might continue in the near future as long as the mines are not forced to close.

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Just after Chinese New Year the Chinese government announced, that it wants to cut 1.3 million jobs in the coal industry and another 0.5 million jobs in the steel industry. Production should be could by up to one third. Especially smaller and ineffective mines should be closed already in 2016. No good news for mines which still operate with steam engines…

Apart from the steam locomotives in the mines, the Chinese Railways are developing heavily. I could only spot SS8 and SS9B electric locos along with the countless HXD series locos. Even during Chinese New Year when the railways are confronted with a heavily increased passenger demand I could not spot any loco older than 20 years. For the passenger coaches it looked a bit better. There were quite a lot of old coaches with coal heating running in long distance trains. Diesel locos are also becoming a more and more rare species. Jingpeng pass line should be electrified in this summer so if you want to see trains there without steam but also without wires you have to hurry up. But even for the electric locos on the line the future doesn’t look too bright as it is said that already preparations are being made to build a 20km long tunnel underneath the pass.