Linesiding with John

China Narrow Gauge Tour April 2018

A day at Mifeng
with the chickens
(and without the diesel)

Sunday 8 April 2018

I took the 7:10 passenger train from Sanjing/Yuejin hauled by No. 19 (one of the 'new build' C2 locos). With one intermediate stop and no waits for other trains it takes about 15 minutes to get to Mifeng where No. 19 ran round swiftly and departed uphill to Caiziba leaving almost no time to set up for a shot. The sun was up and it looks like it will be a fine day.

Morning passenger train 07:00 off Shibanxi, 07:10 Sanjing, 07:25 Mifeng, made up of 3 traditional green coaches (two 4-wheelers and one bogie coach), with loco No. 19 in fine fettle. The loco did not have to stop at Mifeng for fire cleaning and had run around at the reversal here and was away in around 3 minutes.

The pharmacist Dr Chen and his wife provided noodles, boiled egg and green tea for breakfast. The chickens were also being fed. There will be quiet times all day to write up this report. The next train should be the morning passenger I rode on to get here returning from Huangcunjin (the top end of the line).

There is a bit of a sweep up going on at the station ahead of the first tourist train but it's mainly a time for a smoke and a bit of loud banter. There is track gang out whose job today is to clear the culverts of bamboo leaves and mud and others working replacing sleepers further up the line.

No. 19 on its return working picked up a few passengers and departed 08:49 which means that it is likely to be looped at the passing point on the way down to Sanjing to wait for the 09:00 tourist train.

I was standing at the far end of the run round waiting for the first tourist train (due off Sanjing at 9:00) appreciating the silence and recording a few seconds of peace on the video when they turned on the music on the loud speakers. Peace was shattered. Those who are familiar with Japan and Taiwan would recognise the music style as enka - aka Chinese folk/light music. You can imagine peasants moving slowly waiving their hands in the air gently to the rythmn of the song.

No. 16 came up with one carriage and without the diesel but my pleasure was tempered by a video malfunction. However, the camera recovered and I was able to get to the flower-viewing runpast spot ahead of the train, now all green and no longer part of the tourist train program, to capture surely one of my last chimney-first uphill steam trains here unassisted.  No. 16 had its fire raked on the move as it approached the turn around which meant Dr Chen's wife was able to go and collect some unburnt coal from between the tracks to provide coal to cook my lunch.

It's now getting hot so I am shedding layers and have my sun hat and glasses on. You never know, it might get hot enough to zip of the legs of my trousers to create shorts! 09:55 and time to prepare for the next uphill tourist train. Should I try to get away from the music or embrace it?

I was then away from my Mifeng base for two uphill tourist trains - both without a diesel pilot. No diesel on the hill today? The second tourist train was No. 8 the former Pengzhou loco on two coaches which I video-ed on the next curve after the flower curve. They have now built a road down to the farmhouse at the back of the curve and the occupants were picking cherries. I then took a chance and walked on to Eagle Beak Tunnel catching the return No. 16 just on the down side of the tunnel. Around 11:30, the third tourist train came past this classic Shibanxi tunnel location on a ledge - No. 19 with a 2 coach train. Those who know this location may be interested to know that the bamboo grove that used to flank the railway here has been cut down and replaced by oil-seed rape opening up the view. It allows more light on the side of the trains for photography but that doesn't mean that I condone this destruction. I like my bamboo! After video-ing the train, I headed back to Mifeng for lunch.

On arrival back at 11:56, No. 08 rolled into Mifeng with its 2 coaches, ran round and by 12:00 had departed to cross the expected 12:00 tourist train at the loop on the way to Sanjing. Meanwhile, I'm here with the chickens appreciating the cooking smells coming from the wok inside the pharmacy.

At 12:35 after a simple but good lunch, it looks like there will be no 12:00 tourist train. Given the low tourist numbers today, they may have cancelled that one even if it would have attracted a few paying passengers to allow everyone to get a decent lunch break. Now I think about it, I saw one of the Mifeng station staff riding off on his motorbike as I walked back around 11:50. Probably going home for lunch. So the next arrival will probably be a down train around 13:00 and the next up train here at 13:30. That should give 4 tourist trains this afternoon and the late afternoon passenger train. A few more chances on uphill chimney-first trains without a diesel pilot...

After a sunny morning, clouds are building a bit and there is a pleasant breeze. The temperature must be in the low-mid 20s.

Back at my Mifeng base after the 13:00 tourist train for a cup of everlasting tea and to catch up on the report. It's marginal whether I should sit under a tree or head back between trains but heading back gives extra exercise and a return to my everlasting tea (where one handful of leaves provided numerous glasses of tea between 08:00 and early afternoon) has just had a new handful of leaves. No. 17 with 2 coaches was on the 13:00 up train meaning I have seen locos Nos. 8, 16, 17 and 19 which is probably all they need for the full timetable today. From the working fleet, missing has been No. 18 which with its extended front end I assume to be the second loco the Railway got from the Pengzhou railway after it closed and the diesel.

I filmed the 13:00 tourist train arrival at Mifeng and then headed uphill staying out for the 13:00 and 14:00 trains. I just failed to reach my intended position for the 13:00 and settled for a lineside spot. The train was hauled by No. 17 with 2 coaches. I went back to the tunnel where by now the track was in sun before the tunnel but in shade after it. I saw No. 19 bring its train down there and then No. 8 brought up the 15:00 train with 2 coaches mostly empty. At this time they have to send empty coaches up to bring back people who have spend time at Bagou or Huangcunjing. I then headed back to Mifeng, hot and a bit tired but happy with the 'wall-to-wall' steam today. After a short rest, I plan to head down from here with a few trains to see along the way including the 17:00 local passenger train.

Around 16:00 No. 16 came down on its one-coach train, ran round quickly and departed, heading for a cross with the 16:00 tourist train. Across the rails from the pharmacy at the shop/restaurant/hostel, the old boys and girls playing cards and mahjong didn't let the arrival and departure of a tourist train spoil their concentration.

You may be interested to know that since I first visited in 2001, the entire steam fleet has been replaced. Then it was Nos. 7, 9, 10 and 14. Now it is Nos. 8, 16, 17, 18 and 19. The first of the 'new' locos was No. 8 a former Pengzhou Railway loco which Rob Dickinson and I saw working there in 2001. This was around 2011. The old fleet is vaguely accounted for with Nos. 7, 10 and 14 at Shibanxi shed/works with another unidentified loco and 2 tenders. At Mifeng is a loco and tender numbered 9 and a further unidentified boiler. Three of the new locos Nos. 16, 17 & 19 are new builds built at Shibanxi from spare parts and most likely new frames and boilers. I'm sure the old fleet all donated valuable parts to the new locos. I assume that No. 18 is the other ex-Pengzhou loco based on its extended front end with sloping steps making it similar in looks to No. 8.

Just to complete the day, I waited for the 16:00 train before starting my walk back to Sanjing but at 16:21, the signals at Mifeng were out indicating no train due so I assume this has also been cancelled due to lack of tourists. I'm heading down without waiting any longer. The rest of the report will be completed in Sanjing.

Saying goodbye and thank you to Mrs Chen, I walked down towards the crossing point between Mifeng and Sanjing. Just before I got there I heard whistling from both directions so I set up expecting an up train to go in the loop but it turned out to be the 17:00 passenger train uphill running early. I realise that the official notice says that the 17:00 train my be retimed to meet the Railway's need to prioritise tourist trains but I assumed that meant later not earlier! No. 8 recognisable by a weedy whistle was on the 3-coach passenger. I'd got quite a bit further before the downhill tourist train came past me headed by No. 19, I believe.

The final part between the tracks or on the motorcycle rutted path beside was a bit of a trudge but I got back before 18:00 for a shower and a mug of wine.

The rest of the group went off on a Nigel Mystery Tour today to see what small coal mines with railways they could find on a circular route around to Huangdan and Mamiao. I have a report from Nigel which I need to work on with photos from Nigel and John King and hope to publish this shortly.


The writing is on the wall for the Jiayang Railway as far as visits by foreign steam enthusiasts go. It already has one steam-outline diesel and the man who let us round the shed yesterday said that they are buying 2 more. These could be here for the October tourist season or the next March flower season. It's not hard to imagine a time when steam is only used for charters and movie filming. Already the one diesel pilots the trains on the only chimney-first uphill section of the line killing shots at the tunnel and on Caiziba curve and elsewhere on this scenic section. We only became aware of the diesel in late February just a month before our visit so have to live with it. For anyone else in the same boat with their trip already planned, I would recommend an overnight in Mifeng in the simple accommodation at the pharmacy. The only 'guaranteed' chimney-first uphill trains without a pilot are the early morning and evening passenger trains although yesterday, the 16:00 tourist train had only 3 coaches only one of these loaded and the diesel did not pilot this either but returned to Shibanxi making a third working worth photographing. We fully expected the diesel to haul the evening passenger train as we had observed on our first night at Sanjing but it didn't. So, the first passenger, last tourist and last passenger trains would have been fine to photograph on the Mifeng - Xianrenjiao uphill chimney-first section. By staying at Mifeng, you could have got these. And based on my experience today, on a day with few tourists you might just get a diesel free day and if so, Mifeng is the place to based yourself to find out. Double-heading with diesel-steam or 2 steam locos is required if the train loads to 5 tourist coaches. With 4 or less, it appears that a steam loco may still be allowed to handle the train throughout unaided.