Thursday, 28 April 2016

Coal Decline- Steam to end at Fuxin?

Shift change can still bring up to 6 SY locomotives together in Fuxin- but for how much longer?
Lines to the spoil tip will need upgrading before diesels can
start. SY1195 sits precariously at the top of the tip.
Two years ago I made one of those 'trips of a lifetime' to China to experience the worlds last bastion of standard gauge steam. Many die-hard steam enthusiasts had been visiting this far off land for years but this was my one chance to see 'real' steam in action- at least what was left of it. It was clear then that steam was in its final stages of terminal decline but nobody was sure quite how long it would cling on. Now, in 2016 it is still clinging on. But only just- there are just two large steam operations left in China which use more than 5 locomotives each day- the huge opencast coal mine at Sandaoling, and the mining railway of Fuxin. Both railways were anticipated to use steam for several more years but the declining price of coal has put this under threat. Sandaoling is currently likely to use steam until the pit is planned to close in a few years time, while Fuxin was still overhauling steam locomotives early this year. Times are changing however and the falling price of coal is forcing the closure of mines all over China.
SY1460 begins its descent from the tip back to Fuxin in January 2014.

Half way up the spoil tip in typical SY1395 is seen in typical
Chinese gloomy conditions with an empty train.
Steam driving is hard and dirty work- but these 'livng, breathing'
 machines are loved by may of the crews here. 

News has emerged in the last couple of weeks that several mines close to Fuxin are to close imminently. Suddenly an end to steam operations here is on the cards- seven diesels will be released which are to directly replace the SY loco's which currently operate at the complex. The change over could be very quick- track upgrades will be required but subject to being completed in time Fuxin could be dieselised as soon as June 2016- Steam really could have less than 2 months left. Of course the authorities will be pleased, they have long been concerned about the visible pollution from steam locomotives running through the city, but for the steam enthusiast this is a massive blow. Fuxin was the last site where SY locomotives could be seen in any number, and wasn't too far from Beijing either. I took some of my favorite photographs here when I visited in 2014 and had never totally ruled out the idea that one day, just maybe, I might have gone back. We should really be grateful that steam has lasted so long, and that it's swansong has been so glorious.
Sandaoling will remain as the steamiest site on earth for, perhaps, a few years longer using it's fleet of JS locomotives. These really are the dying days of 'real' steam.

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