FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sleepless in Sandaoling

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 12, 2012

After two days of travelling it was a huge relief to step off the bus at Sandaoling this morning. The journey out here has taken three flights (London-Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Beijing and Beijing-Ürümqi), a sleeper train (Ürümqi-Hami Nan) and a charter-bus (Hami Nan-Sandaoling) with the prospect of an even more laborious trek to get us back to Beijing at the end of the week!

On this trip I booked my flights KLM with the advantage of a through ticket from London to Ürümqi (using a combination of Cityjet, KLM and China Southern flights). In theory this should have put me in a better position if I experienced any problems with the chain of flights. As it was, all the connections were made without difficulty – even with an hour’s delay at Amsterdam whilst a technical fault was fixed on our 747-400 combi.

After arriving at Ürümqi we took a charter-bus to the cavernous main railway station which is a grim place at the best of times – but especially unappealing in cold, dark and misty conditions! Our onward travel from Ürümqi was on sleeper-train K9782 which departed at 23:53 with arrival at the new out-of-town station at Hami Nan scheduled for 7:18. The trains on this line are unusual in having double deck soft-sleeper carriages (i.e. compartments of 4 berths on the top deck and compartments of 4 berths on the lower deck). These are fine but inevitably more cramped than standard sleepers (for example, there is no upper luggage storage shelf). The train kept pretty much to time today, arriving at Hami Nan around 7.30.

The entire train seemed to have disembarked at Hami Nan and in the best traditions of Chinese station design now had to slowly thread their way through an obstacle course of three narrow gates at the entrance. Once we completed this test and disentangled ourselves from the throng we were at last able to board our charter-bus for the final two and a half hour drive to Sandaoling.

In spite of all the hassle, any doubts about whether it was worth the effort were instantly dispelled when we clambered out of the bus at Kengkongzhan and – after a bit of a wait – got our first sight of a JS class steam locomotive working a coal train chimney first around the curve.

JS8195 hauls a coal train for Xuanmeichang out of the eastern end of the pit

There is no doubt that Sandaoling is currently the steamiest place in the world, having taken on this mantle after the demise of the open cast mine at Zhalai Nuoer in Inner Mongolia. At the moment up to 20 JS class steam locomotives work in and around the mine – an absolutely amazing concentration of steam power so far into the 21st century. As a bonus, this all takes place in the most incredible desert landscape with the Tian Shan (heavenly) mountains as a backdrop. It really leaves you breathless and banishes any sleeplessness, at least until the sun sets…

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