The Tiefa Coal Railway is one of the few remaining steam
operations in China although probably no more than two or three
engines are operational on any one day with the rest of the traffic
being in the hands of diesels.   The line is a short distance from the
city of Tieling,  approximately 500 miles north of Beijing on the
Cha-Dang line from Shenyang to Harbin.   

The name Tie-fa is derived from the names of the two ends of the
line at Tieling and Faku.   The main centre of population is at
Diaobingshan which is about half way along the line.  There are
also several branches to the various mines in the area as shown on
the map (courtesy of Duncan Coterill)  At the time of my visits in
2001 and 2002 the line was worked by a fleet of about 19 SY Class
2-8-2's and a solitary Class JS.  Amongst the fleet was SY1772
which was the last steam locomotive to be built in China in
October 1999.  

The railway's main purpose is to carry coal from the eight mines
in the area to the nearby power stations and to Tieling where it is
transferred onto China Rail.   With much of the local population
living in Diaobingshan, there was an fairly intensive steam hauled
passenger service to transport workers to and from the mines at
the beginning and ends of their shifts.  This meant three periods
of activity around Diaobingshan station at approximate 9.30am,
2.00pm and 6.00pm each day and plenty of opportunity to
photograph (and ride) steam hauled passenger trains.  Although
there has been a dramatic decline  in the number of operation
steam locomotives the management seems committed to
retaining steam locomotives in a museum context at the Daqing
headquarters and workshops are and they have actually bought
in one or two locomotives such as a KD
6 No. 487 and YJ No.269 f
SY1770 leaving Diaobingshan
station with a morning passenger
train to Daqing.  The station itself
has a very  distinctive bowstring
footbridge whilst the locomotive
was one of two engines sporting
decorated smokeboxes in 2002.  
The authorities expect visiting
enthusiasts to purchase permits to
be on the company property but
once these are obtained it is then
possible to take photographs from
more or less anywhere on the
Morning rush hour at Diaobingshan station on the Tiefa system used to see four steam hauled passenger trains leave within a period of
about half-an-hour.   At the start of the 21st century there were few places in the world that could offer such a spectacle on a daily
basis - and as my friend Steve remarked at the time -  "There are some railways in the UK that would advertise this as a gala!".  From
left to right the locomotives are SY0655, SY0979, SY1769 and SY1683 with the steam crane on the extreme right of the picture.
The platform at Diaobingshan is
filled with passengers as SY0435
stands in the station with a
morning train from Faku.  On a
previous occasion I had spent an
interesting afternoon arm
wrestling and playing card games
with miners on their way to and
from the mines
SY1683 stands at Diaobingshan
station with an afternoon train to
Wangqian.  It was perfectly
possible to ride these trains for just
1 or 2 yuan at a time when the
exchange rate was about 13 yuan
to the GB pound and 9 yuan to the
US dollar.  
SY1147 leaves Diaobingshan on an
afternoon train to Daqing.  The
station footbridge can just be seen
in the background
SY1772 makes a spirited departure
from Diaobingshan with an
afternoon train to Daming.  The
low temperatures were almost
guaranteed to produce
spectacular exhausts whenever the
engines were working hard.
The view from the footbridge at
Diaobingshan station as an
unidentified SY arrives with a
morning train from Wangquin.  
On the right are the modern
apartments which have replaced
the more traditional brick-built
hulongs which are to the left of
the line in this view
My Easter 2001 trip was blessed
with less than perfect weather
with first the threat of snow
followed soon after by an inch or
two of the real thing!  However
nothing stopped the procession of
trains or the daily gathering of
locos at Diaobingshan.  Here
SY0063, SY0860 and SY0393 are
the locomotives about to be used
on the passenger workings
I was waiting just outside of
Diaobingshan for an afternoon
passenger train to arrive when
SY1769 came thrashing downhill
with a train of loaded coal wagons
from somewhere along the Faku
line heading towards Tieling.  Such
is the unpredictable nature of
freight operations on an industrial
The first station to the east of
Diaobingshan is Sanjiazi with a
two-road passenger station and
several loops.  SY1183 sets off
from one of the loops with a long
train of empty wagons heading
towards Diaobingshan and Faku
SY1767, with decorated
smokebox, rolls into Sanjiazi
station with an afternoon
passenger train bound for Daming
SY1255 on an afternoon train from
Daqing leaving Sanjiazi with a
train to Diaobingshan.  A brisk
wind threatened to blow the
smoke down over the traditional
green coaching stock but
fortunately it lifted just enough to
give a view of the whole rake.
Sanjiazi station stands just to the
west of the branch lines to
Wangqian and Daming.  Chords
feed off the main line from Faku to
Tieling allowing trains to access
the branches from either
direction.  SY0393 brings the
afternoon passenger train into
Sanjiazi from Daming, passing the
permanent way gang who enjoy a
moments respite from the freezing
Shortly afterwards SY0979
brought the afternoon train from
Wangquin.  This engine was the
first to be fully overhauled at Tiefa
following the closure of CNR
workshops in Shenyang and
carried a decorative headboard
and 'whisker' headboard and
numberplate.  The locomotive was
kept in exemplary condition and
was a joy to behold.  The track
gang have resumed work on the
Daming line seen in the left hand
Slightly further to the east and the
line from Daqing to Wangqian
branches off to the right as SY1183
heads a long train of empty
wagons along the main line from
Tieling towards Diaobingshan
SY1770 rolls into Sanjiazi with an
afternoon train to Daqing.  The
real joy of the Tiefa line was the
opportunity to see so many
passenger trains at work in and
amongst the working of loaded
and empty coal wagons.
SY1183 stands in the loops at
Sanjiazi.  The exhaust from SY1770
can be seen as it departs from the
station with the train seen in the
picture above
Armed with my permit I decided to
make my way by taxi to Daqing to
see the locomotives at shift change
around 7.00am.  The sky was
crystal clear with temperatures
hovering around -10 to -15
degrees and there were fantastic
photographic opportunities as
various locomotives arrived, had
their fires cleaned, took on fresh
supplies of coal and water and
were made ready for the next set
of crews to work the morning shift
The first rays of the early morning
sun turns the side of SY1771 to
gold as it stands in the stabling
point at Daqing.  The cold causes
every wisp of steam to condense
and creates an almost dream like
scene.  With frozen fingers and
cameras that frequently refused to
work in such extreme conditions
the dream could often feel more
like a nightmare!
With the light beginning to rise
more locomotives appear out of the
fog of condensing steam and
smoke.  There were often seven or
eight locomotives on the stabling
point at this time of the morning - a
far cry from the current (2012)
The glorious early morning light
perfectly illustrates SY1770 as it
stands on the coaling road at Daqing
SY1412 receives a wash and brush
up at Daqing depot.  The crew
seem to be oiling up the engine
using a somewhat rudimentary
platform on which to stand!
Steam in the industrial landscape
of Daqing as SY1412 shunts a raft
of wagons into the large modern
coal mine.  The depot and
workshops stand to the left of the
Shafts of sunlight cut down
through the dust and smoke inside
the workshop as SY1771 receives
minor attention.  The facilities had
been developed here to allow full
heavy overhaul of locomotives but
now these buildings are used to
house a museum containing a
number of SY's plus the KD
6 and YJ
class locomotive
SY1683 arrives at Daqing with a
long train of empty hopper wagons
having delivered the coal to the
power station to the east of
Daqing, the ccooling towers of  
which can be seen in the distance
SY1183 with a long train of empty
wagons shunts at Daqing.  This
was one of the longest trains I have
ever seen behind an SY class engine
- about 60 to 70 wagons.
The last SY ever built in China and
probably the last steam locomotive
ever built for industrial purposes
stands in the yard at Daqing.  
SY1772 bears a worksplate
declaring that it was built at
Tangshan in 1999.  There is some
question as to whether the
locomotive was actually built in
that year or whether that was the
year it left the works but which
ever is the case it is still a most
noteworthy engine
SY1751 shunts a short train of low
sided wagons containing ash and
clinker dug out from the inspection
pits at Daqing depot.
SY1412 creates an almost volcanic
exhaust as it leaves Daqing mine
with a long train of loaded coal
wagons bound for the CNR
exchange sidings at Tieling.  It was
sights like this that made the long
hours of standing around waiting
for something to happen seem
more that worthwhile!
Another early arrival at Daqing was
rewarded by the sight of SY1770
heading through Daquing with the
morning passenger train.  

Cardinal sin - the photographer has
managed to get his own shadow in
the shot - and he doesn't care!!
The pride of the fleet - SY0979 - on
the coaling road at Diaobingshan
prior to working one of the morning
passenger trains
Putting these pictures together onto
the website brings about very mixed
emotions.  Of course I am delighted
that I was able to travel to China on
a number of occasions and see sights
such as this one of SY0979 and
SY1683 at Diaobingshan, tinged
with intense sadness that such
scenes are no more and that it will
never be possible to see their like
again.  For those who were never so
fortunate I hope these shots give a
flavour of what the Tiefa Coal
Railway was like in its steam heyday.
As the light drops and the frost
begins to form SY0435 hustles its
train through Qiaonan .........
....... and heads off into the setting
sun en route to Wangqian.  It is
almost the sunset of steam itself at
Tiefa - time is rapidly running out
and scenes such as this will be
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