High on my rail-fan bucket list was a visit to Sandaoling. Sandaoling lies in Xinjiang province in North West China and it’s claim to fame is that it is one of the last places operating steam locomotives in an industrial setting. Changes are happening fast at Sandaoling and before the operation is a shadow of it’s former self I decided to pay obeisance ……

here’s a short video………. ( well not so short !)

For an extensive photo gallery click here…..

The road to Sandaoling is a pretty long one from New Delhi. It involved a 5 hour flight to Almaty, Kazhakastan, with a 7 hour wait at the airport, before  a 1 hour flight to Urumqi. A 0300 arrival followed by a 530km, 7 hour car journey finally got me to SanDaoLing. The area is an autonomous region and the ethnic Uyghurs are at loggerheads with the Chinese administration. The recent Kunming knife attack has also been attributed to the Xinjiang Uyghur separatists and so it was with some trepidation that i made my way out of the airport to be met by my guide, Liu Xue Jun. Entire arrangements for this trip was made by John Raby of Linesiding with John.

sandaoling map 816

The open cast pit mine is about 6 km long and 1.5 km wide, reaching a depth of apx. 800ft. Two deep pit mines lie to the north east of the pit. A third deep pit mine lies to the north west and a rail connection to it is currently being constructed. Coal from the open pit and deep pit mines are brought to Nanzhan, where coal is loaded on to China Rail wagons and hauled by diesels to the mainline at Hami and onwards…….

sandaoling full map 816
click on pic

Currently the west side of the pit is being mined. The rock is blasted with dynamite and coal is brought up to the blue loader area by trucks……..

sandaoling blog 02 - coal is loaded onto trains by the blue loader

and then loaded onto the trains ……

sandaoling blog 101 - rake into blue loader video grab

The train consists of 13 self unloading hoppers permanently coupled and hauled by a JS class 2-8-2 locomotive.

sandaoling blog 03 - here a train awaits entry into the blue loader in the east pit

The last wagon has a small guard van on it. Atop the guard van is a  semaphore signals which indicates to the loco driver whether to stop or proceed.

sandaoling blog 04 - the 13 wagon rakes are pushed guard van first into the loader

the 13 wagon rakes are pushed back into the blue loader it takes about 30 minutes for all the 13 wagons to be loaded .The train then has to make it’s way out of the east pit …….

sandaoling blog 103 - train out of blue loader video grabsandaoling blog 11 - view of a loaded coal train from above the east pit (video grab)sandaoling blog 09 - a loaded rake going uphill and out of the east pit

and then onwards to the washery for unloading the coal ………

sandaoling blog 15 - which is a nice sunrise photography location

Coal is also mined via two deep mines …. the YiJing Mine….

sandaoling blog 17 - coal is also hauled by trucks

and the ErJing mine …..

sandaoling blog 18 - the other deep pit mine in operation is the ErJing mine

The coal trains make their way to NanZhan with the TianShan mountains making a beautiful backdrop ……

sandaoling blog 23 - Loaded trains are hauled out with the Tien Shan mountains forming the backdrop

Coal is transferred to China Rail at NanZhan…..

sandaoling blog 26 - the coal is hauled from the deep pit mines to NanZhan

and is hauled by diesels to Hami and onwards …..

sandaoling blog 30 - A ChinaRail rake awaits entry into Nan Zhan yard

There is a cement works at NanZhan as well , out of bounds for tourists……..

sandaoling blog 28 - there is a cement factory at NanZhan

SanDaoLing has it’s own loco work shop…..

sandaoling blog 94 - the whole operation would not be possible without a loco repair facility

which can perform complete overhauls of the locos ……

sandaoling blog 95 - this loco was getting it's boiler pipes cleaned sandaoling blog 96 - while this one seemed to be getting a deep over haul

DongBoliZhan is where the shift change for the east pit crews, takes place…..

sandaoling blog 34 - this coal loader at DongBoliZhan is no longer functional

It is also the starting point for the workers trains which runs between DongBoliZhan and XiBoliZhan…..

sandaoling blog 35 - this train will take the morning shift workers into the mine

A diesel rail car with a flatcar from DongBoliZhan, carries water down to the pit for the workers

sandaoling blog 100 - diesel rail car video grab

The west pit is currently being mined……

sandaoling blog 105 - west pit video grab

Before the coal can be carried away by the trucks to the blue loader, the spoil has to be removed by excavators and loaded onto the spoil trains…

sandaoling blog 102 - spoil loading video grab

which then have to  thrash their way out of the pit.

sandaoling blog 104 - west pit thrash video grabsandaoling blog 44 - and the train heaves itself out of the pit

After performing a switchback maneuver….

sandaoling blog 45 - here seen after switching back

they finally make their way out of the pit and onwards to XiBoliZhan…….

sandaoling blog 46 - the spoil train climbs out of the west pit

XiBoliZhan is the holding yard for the trains coming out of the pit and moving onto the spoil dumping area, and vice versa ……

sandaoling blog 48 - Xibolizhan is the staging area between the west pit and the spoil tipping and disposal lines

Trains from the east pit make an appearance to load up on coal ……

sandaoling blog 56 - they are coaled here now and sometimes they bring coal_

It’s a nice spot for sunset and night photography…..

sandaoling blog 66 - the sun is setting on XiBoliZhan sandaoling blog 68 - rakes line up to enter either the spoil removal or tipping lines

Past XiBoliZhan lie the spoil dumping lines. In it’s prime there were 6 spoil lines but currently there are only 3 operational. the other lines having been ripped out….

sandaoling blog 73 - you can see some of the lines have already been removedsandaoling blog 71 - a spoil loaded train runs up one of the spoil disposal lines

A Jordan spreader is stationed at XiBoliZhan for levelling and spreading the spoil once dumped by the trains ….

sandaoling blog 90 - it made short work of ripping of these wooden stakes sandaoling blog 91 - it was clearing up the sides of the track so that the track itself could be removed

A lot of changes are occurring at SanDaoLing the most defining being the end of spoil operations in the west pit. The spoil will be removed by trucks starting June 2014 and will be dumped within the west pit itself. This will mean the end of spoil haulage and dumping and evidence of this can be seen by the string of empty hopper wagons stabled outside XiBoliZhan …….

sandaoling blog 57 - with many spoil lines closed rakes lie disused at XiBoliZhan

There is a third deep pit mine to the north west of SanDaoLing and currently coal from this mine is hauled by trucks. That is set to change as a new line is being laid west of XiBoliZhan so that trains can haul the coal.  The old worker train route which used to run south of the open pit is also currently being upgraded for this purpose……

sandaoling blog 83 - the old passanger line is being ripped up to be replaced by new track for the 3rd deep pit mine sandaoling blog 87 - and the crew seemed efficient too

Traffic seen on this line will certainly not make up for the traffic lost on the spoil removal and dumping lines which leads one to wonder if the sun is finally setting on the greatest steam show on earth……

sandaoling blog 67 - as it nears the end of days

10 Responses

  1. A wonderful piece on a system that is now sadly in decline, and which after the end of steam on the Ji-tong line did become the greatest show on earth. I was lucky enough to visit there in 2008 when steam was still topping and tailing the workings up from the mainline yard and at the west end, you could hear and see a spoil train pounding out of the hole every 5 minutes or so, or so it seemed. I loved the night shots- though I’m sure that the West Yorkshire Fire Service would take a very dim view if we chucked out that amount of burning goodies at our Railway!! Thanks for publishing this.

  2. Well done Vikas, A thoroughly enjoyable and comprehensive coverage of the entertaining Sandaoling operation.. although truncated as it now is. The quality of recording is exceptionally good, the (presumably) arial shots using a photo drone unique and I have not visited the site since the coal trains went over to chimney-first operation. A splendid effort, once again thank you for your kind consideration in putting your footage on general release.I have been to Sandaoling many times in the past but not since Nov/Dec 2009. Knowing the haulage of coal trains down to China Rail was soon to be dieselised I travelled there on that occasion with a professional film maker ( Paul Wilson) to make a 2-hour documentary of the ( then) all-steam operation at it’s peak activity. The production is TV-quality transmission standard and I would recommend it to you. For reference see; http://www.paulwilsonproductions.co.uk or e-mail Paul at paul.wilsonproductions@gmail.com Kind Regards Kevin Gould

  3. Wow. Seeing that is going to make the little steam engine shows I visit around the Midwest seem pretty ordinary. Thanks you for a beautifully documented glimpse into what for many of us, is a passion.

  4. What a stunning piece of documentation. Loved the images and the detail. And I can see that the GoPro / Phantom has been put to use. Where do see more from these?

  5. Marvelous documentary – absolutely top notch! As for the Sandaoling Steam Operations – it’s a time machine taking us back at least a good 70 years into the glorious days of steam operations – beautifully captured and definitely one your best works that I’ve witnessed. Can’t thank you enough for the video and the photos – just wish I could visit this place before all the action is gone.

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