The city of Jixi is located about 200km north-east of Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang province and as steam operated lines in China
gradually disappeared it became one of the major destinations for enthusiasts throughout the first decade of the 21st century.
Sadly the onward march of modernisation has now overtaken Jixi and by the end of 2012 all steam has disappeared and been
replaced, mainly by electric locomotives with their attendant overhead cabling, and a few diesels.    

Prior to their demise there were five main centres of steam operation in and around the city at Chengzihe, Hengshan, Didao
Donghaikuang and Lishu.  All the lines were worked by SY's and served the numerous collieries in the area.  Like most such
systems, the normal pattern of operation was for a locomotive to take empties to the mine, shunt the yard and then return
some time later with a train of loaded coal wagons.  These were then taken to the CNR exchange sidings for onward
movement across China.  
The Chengzihe system was located to the north of Jixi and served five deep mines and a washery at Beichang.  Maps of this
system, and the others at Jixi, can be found on
www.sy-country.co.uk and may help in understanding the various photographic
locations mentioned below.  At Chengzihe the locomotives gathered in the yard at Dongchang in the early morning before
moving off to serve the various mines and to shunt the washery.  There could be seven or eight locomotives being prepared
and it was always a good place to begin the day's photography.  Access was never an issue and the crews were always friendly
and interested in visitors.  A footplate ride to one of the mines or down to the CNR exchange sidings was always a possibility
when weather made photography less attractive.
SY0863 stands is being oiled up in
the sub-zero temperatures of
Dongchang yard prior to its day's
work.  In the background is the
control office and mess room where
crews gathered and received their
instructions - a noisy, happy place
where it was possible to obtain a
cup of hot green tea and a few
oranges for breakfast.
SY1058 at Dongchang.  Two visits
were made to Jixi - one in December
2005 and a second at Easter in
2008.  Whilst basically unchanged
the higher light made shots of the
morning gathering easier despite
some mist.
SY1348 getting ready to depart
with the winding gear of the
modern Dongchang coal mine in
the background
SY1544 brings a short train of wagons
from the washery at Beichang into
the yard at Dongchang.  Locomotive
movements were rarely predictable
and much time was spent waiting for
the next piece of action
SY 1058 arriving in Dongchang with
a train from either Zhengyang or
SY1544 brings a short train of low
sided wagons through the coal mine
at Dongchang in March 2008
SY1545 departing from Dongchang
yard with  short train of high sided
wagons heading for the washery at
About two or three times a day a
huge train of loaded coal wagons
headed for the exchange sidings
at Jixi.  The train was composed
mainly of wagons from Zhengyang
and Xinghua and had a second
engine at the rear.  This second
locomotive was used mainly for
braking purposes on the long
downhill grade to the CNR.  On
this occasion the lead engine is
A considerable amount of the coal output of the Chengzihe system passes through the coal washery at Beichang.  It was
pictures of this washery that first piqued my interest in Jixi as a destination.  The waste water from the washery contains coal
dust and it is collected in large ponds adjacent to the washery yard.  The coal dust settles to the bottom of the ponds,
gradually filling them until the water is diverted into another pond.   Once the coal dust has dried it is recovered and taken
away in small carts hauled by donkeys and horses to be sold locally.  I'm not sure if this was local enterprise or was officially
sanctioned by the coal company but it presented wonderful photographic opportunities.   It was however almost the death of
me, quite literally.  Crossing the snow covered area I was unaware that I was walking onto one of these ice covered ponds until
with a loud crack the ice gave way and I plunged into the freezing water.  Fortunately I was able to wedge my elbows against
the bank and just managed to stop myself from full immersion.  A number of Chinese saw what had happened and rushed to
my aid and I was able to regain dry land and make a rapid dash back to the hotel as my clothes literally began to freeze to my
body.  This was a scary moment and the only time my travels in China nearly cost me my life.
A general view of the Beichang
washery at Chengzihe with two
SY's at the head of trains.  Loading
can be a slow process with the
engines sitting at the washery for
up to an hour or so.
The washery at Beichang was
certainly not a place well patrolled
by animal welfare groups and the
horses and donkeys certainly lived
a difficult life hauling carts over
the uneven surfaces and wet coal
SY1544 arriving at Beichang
washery late in the afternoon with
a short train of low sided coal
wagons.  This train was actually
banked by SY0733 but this seemed
more like a convenient engine
movement that a necessity since the
load was so light for an SY
The very basic nature of the coal
recovery at Beichang can be seen
from this shot of one of the holding
ponds which has been almost
emptied by means of pickaxes,
shovels and carts.  Hard graft
indeed for both man and beast
SY1018 makes a spirited and
volcanic departure from the
Beichang washery with a long train
of loaded coal wagons.  From here
the wagons will be worked down
the hill to the CNR exchange
sidings in Jixi city.
SY1058 leaving the washery with a
short train of low-sided coal
The hard work of recovering the
coal was not limited to a male only
labour force - indeed there seemed
to be almost as many women
engaged in this physically
demanding task. Perhaps not
surprisingly there was a general
reluctance to be photographed
although not outright hostility or
In excellent light and cold crisp
conditions,  SY1018 shunts in the
yard at Beichang
One of the great joys of overseas
steam photography was the general
freedom of access to industrial
locations such as Beichang.  
Sometimes permits were required but
often not and so it was possible to
get right into the heart of the action.  
SY1058 waits patiently as the
wagons are loaded from the washery
The real target for the photographer at Beichang was to be able to get a shot with both the steam operation and the 'donkey
carts'.  Whilst this might sound easy it didn't always prove to be so, depending on conditions such as the light, where coal was
being extracted and the movements of the locomotives.  However with patience it was possible and was what I had really
come to Jixi to achieve.  The following three photographs are a small selection of the shots it was possible to make
The washery was always a good place to be based as there seemed to be an almost constant scene of activity - locomotives
arriving with trains loaded with coal, wagons being shunted to make up trains, loading slowly taking place with the engines
creeping forward and finally trains of varying lengths leaving the yard to head for the CNR sidings or back to the mines.  Add
to that a warm and welcoming signal control box with a friendly worker and plenty of green tea and its not surprising that
many of my pictures were taken in this area
SY1058 propels a short train of low
sided wagons back into the washery
With the afternoon light rapidly
fading and the shadows
lengthening SY1058 leaves the
Its almost hard to comprehend that a scene like this, taken in 2008 has now been consigned to history as electric and diesel
power has totally displaced the fleet of SY's.  Certainly there will be no source of free fuel for the diesels and few railway
photographers willing to make the journey to photograph the spectacle
The slow and somewhat tedious
process of loading coal wagons
could mean that an engine was at
the washery for a long period of
time doing very little - as  SY1018
A classic shot at Beichang washery
as SY0733 departs with a short
train of high sided coal wagons
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