The city of Handan is located 430km south of Beijing on the main railway line from Beijing Xi to Zhengzhou.  The Handan Iron
And Steel Company have a large works in the south-western part of the city and in common with other similar locations the
railway system at the plant was steam worked using mainly SY class locomotives.  Prior to my visit in December 2002 there
had been little information about this site other than two fairly brief reports, from Bruce Evans who visited in December 2001
but who apparently didn't actually enter the works, and Roy Bowden who gained access in November 2002.   I have certainly
seen very few photographs taken at this location and  it is amazing that this location was not visited more frequently.  
There are moments in any serious photographers life when they know that they have just taken a picture which
they are unlikely to ever surpass.  This was one such moment for me as SY1208, SY0557 and SY1081 came down
the yard in front of the blast furnaces in perfect formation - each hauling their own train of wagons containing
either molten iron or slag.  It was simply the best Christmas gift one could wish for and was the start to an
incredible two days
In common with a number of other industrial locations I visited during my solo travels in China, it was necessary to engage the
services of a local guide to obtain permission to visit and also to accompany me whilst on site.  In the event I arrived in Handan
a day early and decided to at least have a look at the location from public access points.  The taxi driver dropped me off at the
main security gate and drew attention to my presence!  However, once I showed a picture of a Chinese steam locomotive
there was no problem gaining entry and I was ushered through the gate and shown which railway tracks to follow to find the
action.   Therefore Christmas Day 2002 was spent at large in the works, free to wander wherever I wished.  The following day
I returned and was able to point out to my guide all the best locations and where to find something to eat and drink on site
since he had never been there before!  
Having an almost free run of the
plant provided me with fantastic
photographic opportunities and
the chance to get up close to the
action.  SY1152 stands in front of
one of the giant blast furnaces as
molten iron pours down into the
cauldron wagons behind the
locomotive.  Engines would move
forward wagon at a time until all
wagons were loaded and then pull
away to the pig iron and steel
SY1081 standing at the head of a
train of wagons collecting molten
slag from one of the seven furnace
The air pumps are hard at work and producing twin plumes of
steam as SY0800 waits patiently while the molten iron pours.
The size and scale of the blast furnaces at Handan can be
appreciated as SY0557 waits at the head of its train of wagons
The intense cold and clear blue
skies were a real Christmas gift for
the photographer.   SY1393 sets
away with a train of molten slag
which will be taken to the slag
dump some two or three miles
Handan was certainly one of the
'steamiest' locations I had the
pleasure to visit in China.  Only
Fuxin Tiefa and Jailanur came
close in terms of the number of
active locomotives and the
intensity of their usage. Here
SY1208 and SY0557 stand at the
heads of their respective trains
The production of iron and steel
requires a great deal in the way of
raw materials - coal, limestone and
iron ore - to ensure the furnaces
can be constantly recharged and
kept operational for many days at
a time.  SY2009 shunts a long train
of loaded coal wagons in the yard
at Handan
SY0800 with a train of loaded
cauldron wagons makes its way
from the blast furnaces towards
the steel making plant.  The fresh
white snow on the ground on
December 25 gradually turned
grey as the pollution from the
plant settled on top.
With the rapid expansion of China
in the 1990's and into the C21st
the demand for steel for the
construction industry was
insatiable and the Handan plant
operated 24 hours a day.  Hence
the endless procession of trains in
various combinations and
formations.  SY0800 stands at the
head of a train returning from the
slag dump as SY1393 brings a train
of molten slag from the furnaces
A short while later and  SY0800
sets forward as SY1081 brings its
train from the furnaces.  In the
distance another SY waits
patiently for its wagons to be filled
with molten slag
It was hard to tear oneself away
from the continually unfolding
spectacle in front of the blast
furnaces but eventually I decided
to explore more of the site and
came across YJ311 being put to
use as a stationary boiler.  This
was one of three YJ class engines
on site although none were in
active use
SY1658 slowly backs its train
across the road and into one of the
main steel making plants at
Handan.  The road was one of the
few public access points from
which it was possible to see into
the main furnace area although
only from the distance and
photographers without permission
to visit could easily find themselves
being 'moved on' by the security
guards employed to the company
SY1208 crossing the road at the
head of the main yard at Handan.  
This crossing and the footbridge to
the left of the picture were the
nearest it was possible to get
without a permit.
Close to the crossing and
footbridge was the engine depot.  
In common with most Chinese
steam operations the routine
maintenance of the locomotives
took place in the open air with
locomotives only entering the shed
for more intermediate work.  On
this occasion four SY's were stabled
outside the depot - SY0702,
SY1393, SY1203 and SY1535
Usually workshops and depots are
considered to be out of bounds to
foreign visitors but on Christmas
Day nobody seem concerned by my
presence and so it was possible to
photograph SY2007 inside the
depot apparently undergoing a
boiler washout.
By this stage I was becoming
concerned at the amount of film I
was using at Handan.  Every few
minutes a new scene and a new
photographic opportunity presented
itself and it was impossible to let
such scenes go unrecorded.  SY0557
and SY1081 run down the yard with
cauldron wagons
Having managed to gain access to
the site i was reluctant to leave it in
search of the slag dumping area
although I believe that this was
dumped into water and so did not
give the spectacular shots that
were obtainable at Anshan and
Beitai.  Here SY1393 returns from
the dump with a short train of
cauldron wagons
A short while later and SY1208
returns on a similar duty.  
Although Jingpeng and Baotou
provided spectacular scenery there
was something equally magnificent
about industrial sites such as
Handan with their mountains of
pipework, ladders and girders
which was so appropriate as a
habitat of the steam locomotive.
SY1081 slowly pulling away from
the furnaces with its load of
molten iron.  Generally the longer
trains contained molten metal and
the shorter trains contained the
molten slag bound for the tip.
SY1208 shunting a train back
towards the furnaces.  The flat
wagon between the tender and the
first cauldron wagon is presumably
for safety reasons,keeping the loco
crew safe from accidental splashes
as the front wagons receive the
molten metal and slag from the
By Boxing Day the snow which
was previously on the ground had
largely disappeared - not least due
to the enormous amount of heat
produced in and around the
furnaces.  SY1658 hurries away
from the furnaces and passes
The cabin used by locomotive
crews and shunters stood under a
small tree in front of the blast
furnaces. When it got too cold it
was an ideal place to retreat, show
my collection of photographs of
steam trains around the world  
and drink a cup of hot green tea -
a pursuit occasionally interrupted
by the need to photograph
another train - this time SY1208
SY1154 and SY0702 standing close
to the wagon repair shops located
between the engine depot and the
line to the slag dump
SY1208 with a train of molten slag
pulls away from the blast furnaces
on the afternoon of 26 December
With the sun beginning to set it was
finally time to leave the steelworks
after two amazing days of
photography but not before one
final shot - this time of SY1203
hauling a failed diesel and its train
past wagons filled with limestone
standing in the background.
A total of 20 working  SY 2-8-2 engines were to be found on site at Handan during 2002.  Most worked in and around the main
area to the south of the blast furnaces although locomotive crews told me that four of the engines were working another part
of the site.  At the far end of the yard, beyond the level crossing near the south gate was a small yard containing two
stationary boilers.  One of these was a YJ 2-6-2 No.311 and the other was SY0293.  To the east of the wagon repair shop were
three more locomotives that had been dumped.  Two of these were YJ's (No.106 and an unidentified engine) plus SY0119.   

Shortly after my visit a group of enthusiasts made an unauthorised entry into the works and were aprehended by security and
escorted from the site.  Permissions to visit Handan were subsequently denied except to a very restricted number of closely
guarded locations.  One of these groups observed YJ311 being scrapped - the fate of the rest of the Handan fleet is unclear.  
There are no reports from this location after 2003 but it seems unlikely that steam is still in use - a view reinforced by a
YouTube video that I watched recently which showed only diesels at work in and around the works.
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