Saturday, 8 March 2014

China Winter Steam- Fuxin

We arrived at the Pingan stabling point at around 07:30 for the shift change on 21st January- our first morning in Fuxin. Each of the SY locos arrivefrom various directions for light servicing and to swap their crew. 

The collection of many steam locomotives in one small area in what appears to be the heart of the city is quite breathtaking. Many pleasing photographic angles were available, enhanced by the rising steam and the remaining snow on the ground from the previous day's flurry. The locomotives shunt into various positions before beginning to depart to their various duties across the system at around 08:30. In addition to the steam locos a couple of DF5 diesels are also observed shunting around. 

This was a truly fantastic start to our time in Fuxin with near perfect lighting- it is certainly encouraging to hear a veteran of Chinese steam who has been visiting for the past 20 years describing the photos we have taken as 'just as good as has ever been possible'- now who said steam in China was dead?

We quickly head to Wulong mine as the shift change begins to reach its conclusion. Immediately upon our arrival a train is ready to depart headed by SY 1195. As soon as it does we are 'boarding' once again and back in the bus to head for our next spot- the spoil dump.

The first stop we make is at the station half way up to the spoil dump. At this point the trains pause to pick up an unloading crew. We have beaten the first steam train of the shift and first witness a four wheel railbus which is bringing workers up for the shift. Where this vehicle disappeared to I will never know as it didn't seem to be up on the dump... nor did we ever see it again!
Shortly after the workers railcar we hear the unmistakable sound of steam beginning the steep ascent to the tip. The trains are pushed up to the spoil heap and we first see the lead wagon coming into view complete with a worker sitting atop the loaded spoil to guide it. After a quick stop to pick up the unloading crew it continues with SY 1319 shoving from the rear as the wagons head for the tipping area.

The view from the spoil heap looking down to Fuxin city is spectacular. We can see mines, the power plant and endless high rise buildings. Thank goodness we have arrived on a clear day with the sun shining!
Hot on the heals of the fist spoil train is another pushed to the heap by SY 1210.

We wait for SY 1319 with the first train descending from the tip before we head higher up to the dumping area. One of the three roads is already occupied by SY 1210 and its train. This departs but it is not long before SY 1195 arrives with another train. While we observe this depositing its spoil yet another train appears in the distance ascending to the top- this time it is double headed with SY 1378 and SY 1460. Having made our way over to it expecting a double headed departure SY 1378 then disappears to run back down the hill light engine.
SY 1210 is soon to reappear on the scene- this time with a loaded train of flyash from the power station. This gets the tour group excited as it has the potential to produce a huge ash cloud billowing into the sky- It doesn't (the practice has been virtually eliminated as Fuxin really doesn't need any more dust in its skies and the ash is now dampened before tipping).
The ash train departs, and so, eventually, does SY 1460- its train was longer than the usual four wagons, but it still seems to have taken an eternity to unload!

SY 1396 arrives just as we are leaving the spoil tip to head back into town. It is now late afternoon and we have not yet had lunch- few however are complaining as the steam action on the spoil tip has been fantastic.
 Change of plan! Back in the city we come to a halt at a level crossing. Passing is SY 1395, Fuxin's decorated loco named 'Zhu De Hao' after the founder of the People's Liberation Army. The loco is pushing an ash train to the spoil heap... after a rapid U-turn in the middle of the city street we find ourselves back at the top of the spoil tip ready for the locos arrival just as the sun is beginning to turn orange at the end of what has been a day of perfect weather and perfect trains.
The day has one more surprise in store for us- as the sunset reaches its climax SY 1378 appears with a spoil train. Everthing (except maybe our own minibus) is positioned perfectly for shooting the pair of trains together in the falling sun. All the photographers, no matter how long they have been coming to China are grinning from cheek to cheek. I am too. What an incredible end to an amazing first day at Fuxin!

Our next morning begins in much the same was as the previous, with shift change at the stabling point. There is a little confusion as the railway staff try to send us away, but before long our Chinese guide Alan comes to the rescue and restores the peace by assuring the railway staff that we have we have permission to be there and have paid for photo permits.

After the shift change we head again to Wulong mine- this time spending rather longer her and the nearby area through which all the spoil trains pass as they begin their ascent to the spoil tip.

We head back up to the tip and catch SY 1319 mid way through its descent. SY 1460 is next on the scene pushing up to the top - we get two chances at the shot this time as the loco stalls on the steep gradient and has to return for a second attempt!

On our return from the tip we call in at the mine to ask if there is any chance of photographing their elderly narrow gauge electric locos. 'No' is the answer and we continue on our way, passing SY 1397 from the bus as we do. We have got used to all these steam trains by this point and driving straight past this one causes little bother!

We stop at a crossing for our next picture- the ancient crossing keepers hut (which is very recently out of use) and traditional housing here provide a pleasing backdrop. Also the temperature has started to rise (a couple of degrees above freezing)- some of the group even remove their coats and enjoy a beer by the lineside between trains. 

Our next port of call is the railway workshop which contained SY 1320 and SY 1818 receiving major attention. Fuxin still carries out full overhauls of steam locomotives here and it is reassuring to see the engines being worked on. A DF5 locomotive is also being overhauled in the depot and SY 1396 is inside receiving running repairs before departing.
Once we have taken our fill of shots inside we move out to the stored loco line and of course take plenty more of the locos which will almost certainly not see traffic again.

We seek out what is possibly the last older style crossing keepers hut which is still in use for our next shots- we are not sure how long we will need to wait for a train here- but luck is on our side and within the space of about 20 minutes we have seen steam heading in both directions.
More good luck was in store on the drive back into town- we pass a level crossing where SY 1210 just happens to be backing a train into the power station. We make a quick about turn and promptly pour out of the mini bus (the 'emergency' back doors proving very helpful on this occasion) to capture the steamy industrial scene.

Finally- a day later than planned we make it to the loco servicing point. Our 'sunset friend' SY 1395 the decorated loco is here again for some sunset shots under the coal loader.

With that we say goodbye to Fuxin and into the buses we go to begin our journey to Pingzhuang.

Our respite from Fuxin is brief as our time in Pingzhuang is cut short (more on that in the next section!) so 24 hours later we find ourselves once again enjoying the steam at Fuxin- just in time for sunset.
The steam once again played ball with a SY 1396 busy shunting in the main yard. It was joined by DF5b 067 which also made some pleasing shots (though much of the group decided to totally ignore the 'box shaped' loco.)

Our final morning in Fuxin dawns with the air thick with fog (or far more likely- smog). I attempt some different angles of trains crossing one of the city roads rather than heading to the stabling point immediately once again. We then follow this with another trip up to the spoil tip- the atmosphere is totally different in this new weather. Gone are the long views over the city where you can pinpoint other steam locomotives in the distance- instead there is an eerie haze shrouding everything from view.
Pollution such as this is now probably the biggest threat to the remaining steam operations in China. Authorities are urging industries to 'clean up' and the steam engines which are seen as 'dirty' and 'polluting' are an easy victim. Fuxin appears to have no plans to completely dieselise in the near future and has a relatively young fleet of locos. However this is of course China and anything can change in an instant.

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