FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Shire survivor

Posted in England, Peterborough by folkestonejack on February 16, 2015

In the mid twenties Nigel Gresley, one of the greatest locomotive engineers of the steam age, began to design a new locomotive for intermediate express duties on the LNER network. The result was the D49 class of 4-4-0 locomotives, each named after a shire county or fox hunt. Seventy-six locomotives of this class were built at Darlington works between 1927 and 1935, mostly allocated to the Scottish and NE areas.

I have long wanted to see the sole survivor from this class in steam, but as the locomotive (No. 62712 Morayshire) is normally based at the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway this is not so easily arranged! My last attempt failed rather miserably as she was not rostered for service when we were in the area, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that a number of photocharters had been organised by Timeline Events for the start of 2015 at locations much further south. I opted for a day on the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough.

Class D49 locomotive No. 62712 Morayshire

Class D49 locomotive No. 62712 Morayshire

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for today’s photo charter made grim reading, particularly with the threat of heavy rain from midday until mid-evening. I’m not complaining – this is the chance that you always take with a photo-charter but it is a little more frustrating when you know that the forecast for tomorrow is for sun all day long! Conditions aside, Morayshire was a wonderful sight in steam.

Morayshire had the longest working life out of her classmates prior to preservation, having been one of the earlier locomotives to have been built (in February 1928) and she was the very last to be withdrawn (in July 1961). The late Ian Fraser, a former LNER locomotive engineer, purchased the locomotive and donated her to the Royal Scottish Museum, ensuring the long term survival of an example of the class.

Morayshire heads towards Peterborough in light rain

Morayshire heads towards Peterborough in light rain

For most of her time in preservation she has worn the familiar LNER apple green livery, but for the last 18 months of her boiler ticket (which expires at the end of 2015) she was repainted in the BR lined black livery that she wore at the end of her working life. After her overhaul she will return in apple green.

Morayshire can be seen at the Nene Valley Railway’s 35A New England Steam event this weekend (21st and 22nd February 2015), which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the closure of New England Shed to steam.

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Replay: Steam in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 20, 2013

Although my primary interest is taking photographs, I always try to come back from a trip with a few videos that give a flavour of the tour. I am clearly no great shakes when it comes to shooting videos but if they capture just a little of the magic of steam then I am quite happy.

My video camera developed a little bit of a stutter during the trip (or maybe the operator developed additional incompetencies!?) so I don’t know how many videos will be usable, but whatever seems half decent will be added to the playlist below.

Farewell to Tubarão

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 16, 2013

Although it seemed as though our trip was always just a step away from catastrophe we managed to make it through to the end somehow. In no small part this was down to our incredible crew, the valiant efforts of the museum team to work through the night repairing the locos and the ability of our tour organiser to continually re-plan as each new disaster hit.

Now we could relax, safe in the knowledge that we had made it to the most important photospots by the end of the tour. It might have been a slightly bonkers journey at times, but that is what makes these adventures so memorable. The events of the past week have also clearly captured a local interest too*, which I hope continues to generate goodwill for the future development of the railway museum.

TAM Airbus A320 PR-MBZ: My ride to Sao Paulo

TAM Airbus A320 PR-MBZ: My ride to Sao Paulo

Our journey home was to be a long winded affair, starting with a coach at 9.15am for the drive to the airport at Florianopolis. Flights out of the city were pretty much fully booked so we were spread over three different internal flights, even though we were mostly taking the same international flight out of Sao Paulo.

I had half expected a few problems (on account of slightly mixed messages from the ground crew at Florianopolis who suggested that the boarding passes they had printed for me would be invalid for my onward connections, which the check in staff at Sao Paulo assured me was not the case!) so was pleasantly surprised by the smooth transit. The only heart-stopping moment came when the machine at the gate came up with the message ‘Ticket rejected’ but that only turned out to be a seat change that worked in my favour.

My flight landed in Frankfurt on time and left me with a few hours to kill before the onward connection to the UK. Inevitably it was at Heathrow that things went a little haywire with an unwished for circular tour of London, repeated a few times, though I got the clearest views of my neighbourhood that I have managed on a flight which made up for it a little. It was good to be back.

*A local television station, Unisul TV, recorded a short piece on Saturday to find out why a group of international tourists came all this way, and the resulting footage is available on their website as
Rede Ferroviária volta a circular na região. On top of this, there were articles on the Radio Sideropolis and Diário do Sul websites.

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Reading the clouds

Posted in Brazil, Criciúma, Siderópolis by folkestonejack on July 14, 2013

Our final day on the territory of the EF Doña Teresa Christina took us back to Eng. Paz Ferreira and the spectacular sight of Santa Fe no. 205 doing her best impression of a volcano as she departed with around 20 loaded wagons. It was a great sight to start the day, followed soon after by a run through the road crossing we had visited a few days earlier.

Santa Fe no. 205 makes a spectacular departure from the yard at Eng. Paz Ferreira

Santa Fe no. 205 makes a spectacular departure from the yard at Eng. Paz Ferreira

Throughout the day we had the diesel following close behind to retrieve the freight train after each run through which I am sure spared us from some of the difficulties that we experienced earlier in the week. Our translator, Marcia, told us that the local children thought that the steam locomotive was broken and that the diesel was coming to rescue it. Thankfully, on this occasion, that was not the case!

In the afternoon we headed to a rather spectacular rock cutting and watched in dismay as shadow fell on the line as our steam freight passed through. Inevitably, sunlight illuminated the rocks beautifully afterwards but the question we had to grapple with was, could we get a second runpast in sunlight when clouds were closing in rapidly? We waited and waited, trying to read the wind direction and the path of small gaps in the cloud cover.

The peril of betting on the wrong gap became apparent when the sun poked through a small gap in the clouds but quickly closed up again. It was 45 minutes before a slightly larger gap in the clouds looked set to give us a slim chance and the instruction to go was urgently transmitted by radio to the waiting crew. The steam freight passed through in perfect sunlight and disappeared moments later. Incredible!

The perfect moment

The perfect moment

The long wait was worth it for the shot it produced but had come at the price of the next photospot, the tunnel mouth outside Sideropolis, which was now in shadow after a brief moment in sunlight. It is a shot that will have to wait for the next tour to come here. It looked like this was the end of the light as we trekked back from the tunnel mouth to see Sideropolis under a blanket of clouds.

Our luck held a little longer, with glorious rays of sunlight greeting the arrival of the steam freight at Rio Fiorita’s wooden loading facility and setting up the perfect finale to our tour. Large crowds of locals had gathered at the level crossing to witness this final act in the week’s events which gave the end of the tour a rather unexpectedly lovely atmosphere.

Santa Fe no. 205 arrives at Rio Fiorita

Santa Fe no. 205 arrives at Rio Fiorita

In the evening the crew, translators, railway managers, museum team and our tour organiser were deservedly the toast of the room with many a speech taking us into the night. I am sure that the crew in particular needed their sleep after a hellish week in ‘the office’ but all of could say with absolute honesty that they had delivered a magnificent spectacle.

As I headed to bed the sound of thunder, lightning and torrential rain pounding down reminded me that luck really had swung our way today!

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Running like clockwork(ish)

Posted in Brazil, Cabeçudas, Capivari, Laguna, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 13, 2013

The day dawned with thick fog surrounding the hotel, but this burned off surprisingly quickly and led us into a rather glorious morning. Even better, there were no more problems.

Santa Fe no. 205 hauls 14 loaded wagons over the Pont de Congonhas

Santa Fe no. 205 hauls 14 loaded wagons over the Pont de Congonhas

An early start brought us back to the much photographed Ponte de Congonhas to watch a loaded steam freight cross the lowlands in the direction of Imbituba, which looked perfect in the morning light. One of the marvels of photo-charters is the the flexibility to run in the best locations at the right time of day, banishing the exasperation of being at a beautiful spot in a valley before the light has climbed high enough to illuminate the track.

The other delight of the photo charter is the ability to re-run the shot, usually to get an improvement in the light or to try a different position. The opportunity to repeat the shot of the steam freight across the bridge was irresistible and allowed us to try a position much closer to the track. It was just as wonderful to watch for a second time.

Second time lucky

Second time lucky

After leaving Congonhas our morning took us on to Capivari Bridge, Capivari Power Station, Capivari de Baixo and finally a small level crossing near Santiago. In the afternoon we continued the journey from this point, photographing the steam freight from a footbridge not far from Bananal and then jumped out at the Ponte Henrique Lage to watch the loco work its way across the lagoon.

Santa Fe no. 205 finishes her morning run

Santa Fe no. 205 finishes her morning run

Finally we tested the minibuses by taking them down a sandy track at Cabeçudas and into the shifting dunes that had proved such a challenge during the construction of the line. Inevitably, our minibus got stuck directly over the line and didn’t have the traction to get over. Figuring this was not such a great place to be with a steam freight on its way, we helped to push it back over the tracks before a second attempt succeeded. It was worth the effort as the last shots of the day offered a wonderful glint.

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Paint your wagon

Posted in Brazil, Imbituba by folkestonejack on July 12, 2013

The latest problem turned out to be much less serious than we had imagined and we were able to make it to Imbituba to take what we all expected to be the shot of the trip – Santa Fe no. 205 hauling a freight train past the lagoon with the south atlantic ocean in the distance. However, the story behind the shot is unquestionably bonkers…

Santa Fe no. 205 hauls a steam freight from Imbituba past the Lagoa de Paes Leme

Santa Fe no. 205 hauls a steam freight from Imbituba past the Lagoa de Paes Leme

The modern railway uses wagons with a white stripe, but in the 1980s the railway used stripeless wagons. To give us a historically accurate picture the railway had agreed to remove the white stripe from the wagons we would use for the nine days of our trip. However, the stripeless wagons that we loaded in Rio Fiorita had accidentally been discharged on their return to Tubarão and were now dispersed across the system. All the railway could offer us for our run to Imbituba were wagons with a white stripe.

I must confess that I am not absolutely devoted to historical accuracy, so I could have lived with a white stripe but this would have been anathema to purists. After some considerable discussion a compromise was reached – the railway agreed that we could paint out the white stripe on the wagons they could supply to us! It seemed a small price to pay to get things moving again. Our convoy of minibuses rolled out of the museum grounds and headed for Imbituba, via the local paint shop.

At Imbituba we stretched out along the line, armed with spray cans and roller brushes, awaiting the arrival of our freight train (hauled in by a diesel, which would be detached for the run pasts). The moment the wagons came to a halt we got to work, painting out the white stripe on the 14 wagons – though only on the side that would be photographed! On the strength of my efforts I think it is safe to say that I do not have an untapped talent for painting and should not be entrusted with a brush anytime soon…

My talents do not lay in wagon painting!

My talents do not lay in wagon painting!

The paint job was finished surprisingly quickly which was down to everyone playing their part and getting stuck in. We returned to the minibuses and headed to a roadside spot looking down on the line, the lagoon and the ocean beyond. It was a stunning backdrop for our freight train and a scene that I wouldn’t have missed for anything, no matter how mad the build up had been. I fear that for all our efforts we only succeeded in replacing an inauthentic white line with an inauthentic shiny brown line, but I didn’t care a hoot by this point. A beautiful moment had been captured.

Santa Fe no. 205 on the line between Imbituba and Cabecudas

Santa Fe no. 205 on the line between Imbituba and Cabecudas

We could relax a little now, enjoying a couple of shots further down the line as we headed back to Tubarão. The motorway was heavily clogged with traffic, but when we got going again there was a memorable stretch of driving running parallel to our freight train – exchanging friendly waves. Finally, we ended our day near Cabecudas where we grabbed a last shot before the light faded.

The story of the day was that, once again, victory had been clutched from the jaws of defeat.

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Steaming around Tubarão

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 12, 2013

It was something of a surprise to find that the expected disaster had not materialised and that Santa Fe no. 205 had been successfully hauled back to Tubarão by diesel after failing outside Siderópolis yesterday. On the down side, not much remained from the supply of the good coal. A digger helped load what little remained and we just had to hope that this would be enough to see us through the day, particularly as we were going to try to get to the most scenic spot on the network at Imbituba.

Morning preparations

Morning preparations

After the tender was fully loaded we followed the locomotive through the streets of Tubarão as it worked light engine to the diesel workshops to take on water. We were given permission to enter the workshop grounds where two stored steam locomotives could be seen under cover – 200 2-10-2 Skoda 1985/1949 (ex-Ferrocarriles Argentinos 1355) and 210 2-10-2 Henschel 23592/1937 (ex-Ferrocarriles Argentinos 1337).

Santa Fe no. 250 at the workshop gates

Santa Fe no. 250 at the workshop gates

At the workshops we were met by an official from the Ferrovia Teresa Cristina (FTC) who helped us understand the ambition of the railway, which wants to extend the existing line to Araquari to the north and to Cel. Freitas in the west. This development would connect the isolated FTC network to the national network and create a rail cargo corridor through the state of Santa Catarina. If successful in this endeavour, the railway could carry everything from ceramics (a key product of the state) to containers between the interior and the ports.

Taking on water at the workshops

Taking on water at the workshops

After our little jaunt to the workshops we headed back to the museum, expecting to be on our way again before too long. The plan seemed to be that our train would be hauled by diesel to Imbituba and then detach for the steam freight to work back towards Tubarão – a sensible plan given that we only had enough coal to get one way. However our confidence slowly drained as time passed. After two hours sitting around in the grounds we could only be sure of one thing – a new problem must have arisen!

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Three new problems and a setback

Posted in Brazil, Criciúma, Siderópolis by folkestonejack on July 11, 2013

An early morning drive down the motorway brought us to Eng. Paz Ferreira station (Criciúma, Santa Catarina) for an early start with Santa Fe no. 205. The locomotive underwent something of a transformation in the yard with the smokebox and chimney painted black to give it a more authentic look (something that we particularly appreciated after last night’s video screening showed how things looked in the 1980s).

Steaming out of Eng. Paz Ferreira

Steaming out of Eng. Paz Ferreira

There are some areas of Criciúma that are not particularly safe for tourists to wander into but it so happens that this is precisely where the line goes – cutting a path through an area that was described to us as the ‘backyards of drug dealers’! It didn’t look too threatening when we turned up but we heeded the warning not to venture in, watching as Santa Fe no. 205 steamed through.

The locomotive attracted plenty of attention, with locals coming out from their homes and workplaces to get a closer look. As the crew answered questions from their loco’s new admirers we drove on to the next position – a long abandoned loading point that looked rather splendid in its crumbling state.

Santa Fe no. 205 passes a long abandoned loading facility

Santa Fe no. 205 passes a long abandoned loading facility

The next stop, on a gradient, gave us one last magnificent burst of steam power before Rio Fiorita. The locomotive had to pass through without stopping as it needed to clear the line for the diesel freights coming out. Finally, we made it to Rio Fiorito in late morning.

The coal from the mines at Siderópolis comes in by truck and after being dumped, the coal is transferred into the loading facility by conveyor belt and deposited into the waiting wagons. At least that was the theory… but as ever, there were a few problems to overcome first! They had run out of coal to load into our wagons, our loco was short of water and there were no paths to get us out of there…

Santa Fe no. 205 at Rio Fiorita

Santa Fe no. 205 at Rio Fiorita

The midday heat made the loading facility a somewhat unforgiving location to rest, with little in the way of shade, but we had no choice but to wait it out. In the meantime, a local journalist from Radio Siderópolis turned up to gather material for the strange story of the foreign tourists visiting Siderópolis, admittedly not a well known tourist destination, in search of steam. The resulting story and photographs can be seen at Turistas visitam Siderópolis para conhecer a „Maria Fumaça“.

A water truck organised by a Brazilian railway enthusiast turned up at 1pm and solved our first problem with impressive speed. As all this was taking place the trucks continued to deliver coal and by the time we were ready there were sufficient supplies to load our train – a process that has now been captured from every conceivable angle by umpteen photographers.

Photographing coal loading at Rio Fiorita

Photographing coal loading at Rio Fiorita

The process took a while but by the end we had 14 full wagons, giving us a load of approximately 1120 tons. A path was available to us, meaning that we could finally make our escape from Rio Fiorita – heading off in our minibuses around 3pm. Our destination was a gradient on the approach to Siderópolis where we saw our freight train struggle with her load before finally stopping 800 metres from the tunnel. It might have been a different story in the days of real steam when the locos were in much better condition but today, with not enough of the good coal left, it was just too much. When asked what he would do differently next time, our tour leader said he would take 13 loaded wagons!

The end of the struggle

The end of the struggle

The crew asked for a diesel to come and assist, whilst once again an admiring crowd looked on. It was clear that our day of photography was at an end so it was time to relax a little before the long drive back. No-one needed to be told that tomorrow was likely to be problematic.

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Steaming to sunset

Posted in Brazil, Morro Grande, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 10, 2013

The new supply of coal was loaded and it was time to get back on the road. Our first port of call was the Congonhas Bridge, a spot now very familiar to us, but this time we were down in the fields rather than up on the hillside. The route to the perfect spot involved crossing a wooden footbridge, skirting a field and then walking a short distance along the riverside – all of which was rewarded by a magnificent view.

The view was terrific in its own right but when combined with a steam freight made for a very special moment. It struck me as being the highlight of the trip to date, so I hope I managed to do it some justice!

Santa Fe no. 205 at the Ponte de Congonhas

Santa Fe no. 205 at the Ponte de Congonhas

Now we had to re-trace our steps in a frantic dash back to the minibuses. The railway had agreed to hold our train on the line for 15 minutes but no longer. One by one the minibuses filled up and disappeared in a dust cloud, heading across the lowlands at speed (no mean feat given the incredibly bumpy dirt road).

At the other end we emerged in time to watch our freight train cross the lowlands, passing a farmstead that looked no different on the outside than it did in photographs from the 1980s.

Santa Fe no. 205 crosses the lowlands

Santa Fe no. 205 crosses the lowlands

Our freight train made it to the loop between Jaguaruna and Morro Grande where diesel freights in both directions were threaded past. A moment like this reminded us that the modern railway had to be applauded for their flexibility, it must have been incredible tricky to find a path for our train given that traffic has doubled in recent months.

Santa Fe no. 205 was the star of the show

The star of the show

After both diesel freights had passed we continued on to Morro Grande, where the Santa Fe attracted much attention from locals by the lineside.

The final shot of the day came at a factory by the motorway. At first it seemed a little bit of a head-scratcher but in the end I settled for a contre-jour shot with some of the wooden stacks in the factory grounds. I was a little unconvinced as I was setting up but quite like the end result!

The last shot of the day

The last shot of the day

In the evening we had an impromptu viewing of the museum’s CD of the line in the 1980s. It is an incredible record of how things were under real working conditions – quite remarkable footage. The CD is available for sale from the museum and is well worth every real.

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The coal man cometh

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 10, 2013

Our delivery of coal was expected first thing in the morning but none of us were terribly surprised to awake to the news that it had not arrived. Nevertheless, we were re-assured to hear that the driver had set off from the depot at 6.30am.

In the absence of steam we headed out to the Ponte de Congonhas to take a photograph of a diesel freight that was expected to leave Tubarão around 10.30am. On reaching our spot the news filtered through that the diesel had problems! There would be a little delay…

EMD G12 diesel-electric locomotive no. 4287

EMD G12 diesel-electric locomotive no. 4287

The diesel freight was impressive when it turned up – a triple headed working with about 55 wagons. Although this would normally have passed straight through, the railway had kindly arranged to stop the train so that we could drive a short distance to a different spot to get a second photograph.

Triple-headed diesel freight on the Ponte de Cononhas

Triple-headed diesel freight on the Ponte de Cononhas

After our diesel interlude we headed back to the museum where we were unsurprised to learn that the coal had not yet arrived. We started to wonder what the next news would be – the driver has lost his keys? lost his licence? Nothing could be ruled out! The good news was that the museum was 100% ready for the delivery, having already emptied the tender of the wrong coal. Our loco (Santa Fe no. 205) was in light steam and a loader was primed to tackle the coal when it arrived. It was just a waiting game now.

A long lunch at a local buffet helped to pass the time, though there was still no sign of the delivery when we returned to the museum. We started to wonder whether the driver was coming all the way from Sao Paulo or some other far flung spot. Finally, the coal truck arrived just after 1.30pm.

Now, the day could begin in earnest…

The wrong type of coal

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão, Urussanga by folkestonejack on July 9, 2013

Our day started to unravel around midday, starting with the planned crossing of the two steam locomotives. The crew of the second locomotive (Santa Fe no. 205) had made it from the museum to the junction with the main line but couldn’t go any further. After a while it became clear that they had forgotten the key needed to unlock the points. The only course of action was for someone to bring a key out to them, either by road or on a speeder. After some time a key materialised, but this didn’t appear to be the end of the problems.

The wrong type of coal

The wrong type of coal

It appeared that the crew were afraid to take the loco out onto the line for fear of blocking it. The cause of their concern was the coal they had been given to use. The coal that had been donated to the museum was powerplant grade coal which was not well suited to being fired in a steam locomotive. The powerplant grade coal was heavily crushed and just falling through the grate. The crew on Alco no. 153 (who had been working for 48 hours without a break) had enough experience to get their loco steaming properly with this (although, at times even they too struggled -perhaps explaining the problems we saw with the loco on the gradient earlier today).

The only option for the days ahead was to buy better coal if we were to stand any chance of making it to the other locations in our itinerary. Meanwhile, the plan for today had to be rewritten. One of the Ferrovia Teresa Cristina’s diesels helped to drag Alco no. 153 back in and then detatched, allowing us to grab a shot of the two locomotives crossing. It was a relief to be able to move on after spending far too long at this spot, slowly going ever more crazy and desperately taking naff shots of abandoned farm machinery!

In the little time remaining in the day we headed to the level crossing just outside Tubarão and waited for Santa Fe no. 205 to arrive. First there was a bit of gardening to be done! One of the Japanese guys got his shears out and started wildly chopping down the grass stalks that would interfere with his photograph – a wonderful moment of light relief after so much frustration.

A spot of gardening at the level crossing

A spot of gardening at the level crossing

Finally, we watched the beautiful sight of the Santa Fe coming round the curve and bringing her freight cars over the level crossing. It was well worth waiting for this. Yet again it was a moment that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Santa Fe no. 205 saves the day

Santa Fe no. 205 saves the day

Our day finished at the Capivari bridge with a glorious sunset that glinted perfectly on the locomotive as it crossed. Hopefully the delivery of more suitable coal tomorrow morning will put us in a better position for the remainder of the tour though I think we are all coming to realise that the only certainty is that there will be new problems ahead!

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Return from Urussanga

Posted in Brazil, Esplanada, Morro Grande, Urussanga by folkestonejack on July 9, 2013

The early morning wake-up call was probably the last thing anyone wanted to hear after a late night shoot, but it was just so good to have things finally working smoothly enough that we could start so early. At least we got to sleep in our own beds which is more than could be said for one member of the crew, who stayed with the locomotive all night (in a box car).

Our locomotive, Alco no. 153, had spent the night at Urussanga and the plan was to work this back to Tubarão where it would cross with the second locomotive, Santa Fe no. 205, on its way to Eng. Paz Ferreira. Our day would start with no. 153 and then switch to 205 when they crossed.

Alco no. 153 shunts at Urussanga

Alco no. 153 shunts at Urussanga

The picture we shot at Urassanga with the wooden coal loading facility and a Volkswagen beetle stopped at the crossing could so easily have been a moment in the 1980s when steam was in everyday use here.

In reality, the owner of a VW beetle had been persuaded to join us for a staged scene with the car carefully parked in the optimum position for photographs. The owner assumed this was enough but who abandons a car at a level crossing!? No, we needed a driver… the owner laughed, got back in the car and then showed that he too could add his own touch of authenticity by pointing out that he would put his seatbelt on too!

After the eccentricities of the staged scene at Urussanga we followed our train back down the line, taking shots at a cutting en route to Esplanada and on a fairly uninspiring spot where the road runs parallel to the track (though this did allow me to grab a shot of our VW minibus with the loco passing by).

Tackling the gradient

Tackling the gradient

The final shot of the morning came at a gradient near Morro Grande which provided a great view of 153 approaching from a long way out, although we had to wait a while on the hillside to witness that. The delay suggested that things were not quite as perfect as we had thought, though none of us could understand exactly what the nature of the problem was. I hoped that it was another small but ultimately insignificant problem.

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The way to Urussanga

Posted in Brazil, Esplanada, Jaguaruna, Morro Grande, Tubarão, Urussanga by folkestonejack on July 8, 2013

After a stuttering start to our tour, things started to fall into place today with an attempt to make it to Urussanga, albeit 48 hours later than originally scheduled.

Our convoy of four VW minibuses rolled out of the hotel car park on time at 7.35am and in another part of town our steam locomotive (no. 153) was starting her journey. Our paths met at a level crossing before the Congonhas bridge where we handed over the radios that would be our vital line of communication with the steam crews during the day.

After a few shots on the stretches of line around here, including the Congonhas Bridge itself, our convoy set off in pursuit along the dusty local road, looking for all the world like some latter day re-make of ‘The Italian Job’ and attracting much attention wherever we went. One local said that he had never seen four VW Kombis at one time!

VW-Kombi-Fest

VW-Kombi-Fest

Our lunchtime stop gave us an opportunity to wander round the streets of Jaguaruna, a town of around 15,000 inhabitants set in a fertile landscape of lakes, lagoons and green fields. However, it is the proximity of the town to the atlantic ocean that draws most tourists to the area, with 18 vast beaches along a 37km stretch of coastline and an active surfing scene. Alongside this, the area has some vast sand dunes which are a popular destination for sandboarders.

The town itself has an incredible variety of small shops with not a chain store in sight, selling everything from wool to surfing gear (at least two surf shops can be found on Rua Duque de Caxias). The local car dealership was, rather wonderfully, selling Jaguars.

Sights in the town include the striking church and tower of Nossa Senhora das Dores (our lady of sorrows) which was constructed in 1968, the old railway station (now a tourist information office) and the modest Museu Cidade de Jaguaruna which had an unexpectedly busy day with foreign visitors.

Our chase resumed in early afternoon as we headed out on the road to Morro Grande. A short drive brought us to the spot where 153 failed two days back, but today a different story was being written. We photographed the departure of our train and then hurtled along the road to a busy road bridge which afforded a great view over the line (the picture comprising a work gang repairing a small railway bridge, a couple of houses and a concrete water tower). Alco no. 153 looked quite magnificent as she passed, though not at full steam on account of a speed restriction placed on the bridge while it was under repair.

Alco no. 153 en route to Morro Grande

Alco no. 153 en route to Morro Grande

At Morro Grande the loco took water and attracted a large crowd of fascinated locals who soon became sought after additions to our photographic compositions. A similar story unfolded at our next stop, Esplanada, where a local VW Beetle driver was persuaded to re-park his car in a suitably visible position to add to the local colour for a runpast!

Our luck had held for such a long way, but here we learnt that the line to our intended destination, Urussanga, had just been blocked after a diesel had collided with a car at a level crossing! No-one could believe that we had come so far only to face falling short yet again. Thankfully, this proved to be less of an obstacle than it first sounded and we were able to set off again at about 3.30pm.

Alco no. 153 passes through a cutting not too far out from Urussanga

Alco no. 153 passes through a cutting not too far out from Urussanga

The next stop was a cutting not too far out from Urussanga where we settled down to wait for the sun to make an appearance and prayed that our locomotive would be able to set off when conditions were perfect. Thankfully this all went to plan. I figured that we were due a bit of good luck!

From this point on our train would not be able to stop until it reached Urussanga, but some speedy driving ensured that we were able to take a few more shots – each stop followed by a quick dash back to the minibuses and some speedy driving to overtake the train on the parallel road before repeating the process. The glow of the last light of the day was quite special, particularly as Alco no. 153 steamed through Morro da Fumaça.

Finally, we made it to Urussanga as the sun set. This was by no means the end of the day, merely the signal for a pause – we headed off to a local restaurant whilst the crew were scheduled to turn the loco at Esplanada. Naturally, nothing about this trip could ever be straightforward. The locomotive’s light had failed and this had to be fixed before they could set off, delaying proceedings a little whilst they waited for the repair team to arrive by road.

Night shoot at Urussanga

Night shoot at Urussanga

It wasn’t until 9.45pm that the locomotive returned (after yet another problem on the way back). It took about forty-five minutes for all the lighting to be rigged up for our night shoot and even then the loco ended up on the wrong track. Finally everything was in the right position and I must admit that the wooden loading facility did make a stunning backdrop. The final scene with the locomotive passing undermeath to be loaded with coal was incredibly atmospheric. It has to be said that the crew, the museum’s repair team and the specially arranged night shift deserved medals for their patience and co-operation in all of this madness!

The photographic day finally ended at 11.30pm, though by the time we reached our hotel it was nearly 1am. No chance for a lie in though, as we have to be up again at 5am…

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A vision in red

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 7, 2013

The sight of the red liveried 2-8-2 Jung in steam much sooner than expected was a welcome surprise when we returned to the museum. It wasn’t too long before the loco was surprising the locals too, as it made its way over the level crossing that separates the museum from the yard of the modern railway. Although there were only a couple of hour of light left in the day it was still a pleasure to watch as Plan C came together.

A short drive brought us to a level crossing just outside town where we watched the loco pass, hauling our wagons towards our next stop, the Tubarão river bridge. Finally, the loco made it to familiar territory in the shadow of Capivari power station with the light now fading fast. The security guard at the station seemed somewhat bemused by this unexpected train – let alone four identical Volkswagen minibuses packed full of foreign tourists!

No. 5 makes a return to Capivari Power Station

No. 5 makes a return to Capivari Power Station

As night fell we improvised some extra lighting using the headlights of two of our Volkswagen Kombis which worked surprisingly well, though it must have looked a strange sight to the locals.

The location for our unexpected night shoot was highly appropriate as this locomotive spent its life shunting at Capivari coal washery, rather than out on the line. The Companhia Siderurgica Nacional owned a pair of 2-8-2 two cylinder superheated locos that it had acquired from Jung, both of which had been constructed in 1954 (works numbers 11943 and 11944). Both have survived into preservation, with no. 4 (11943) still in working order at Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

The night shoot was good fun and rescued a day that seemed destined for defeat, even to the optimists amongst us! I hope that it augurs well for tomorrow, but I have given up predicting anything here.

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A slow day in Tubarão

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 7, 2013

The sight of our tour guide in flip-flops told us all we needed to know about our prospects for the morning… though it really was no great surprise to any of us. Even the most optimistic souls amongst us had struggled with the idea that either of our two locomotives would be ready today.

The news from the workshop was that the Sante Fe (no. 205) was still too hot inside (65 degrees celsius) to work on but that repairs were underway on Alco no. 153 which they expected to be ready later today. It still sounds a little too optimistic, but there is no doubting the tireless work of the engineers here. Maybe miracles are possible!? I would like to believe so…

Igreja da Guarda

Igreja da Guarda

In the absence of a plan for the morning I headed off for a walk around our hotel at Termas da Guarda, five miles north-west of Tubarão. The village includes a church, school and three small clothes shops centred around a green public park. It would be hard to put a date on any of this but some historic photographs in the hotel suggest that many of the buildings (including the hotel) date to the early twentieth century. It certainly felt fairly timeless, with just the occasional satellite dish to remind you of the 21st century world.

Around midday we headed in to town to take a look at a plinthed loco (a 2-6-6-2 Baldwin constructed in 1948) and the Museu Ferroviaro de Tubarão, home to an impressive collection of locomotives from the Ferrovia Dona Teresa Cristina. In stark contrast, the yard opposite contains a line of dumped steam locomotives that make a particularly sad sight with vegetation growing unchallenged through their rusting panels.

Under repair: Alco no. 153

Out of action: Alco no. 153

On our visit to the museum workshops it was quite clear that Alco no. 153 was not in steam yet, nor was there any sign of any repair work taking place. We soon learnt that this was because one of the fire bars had been lost when the loco was dragged back to the museum (it had been resting on the front of the loco) and nothing more could be done until it was found. A speeder had been sent out to search for it on the trackside, so we could only hope and pray!

I can only imagine the rocketing stress levels of any tour leader at times like these but we all appreciated Bernd’s efforts to try and deliver a tour in the most difficult of circumstances. Bernd pulled out the only rabbit left in the hat, asking for the museum’s third locomotive – the red liveried 2-8-2 Jung (no. 5) – to be brought into steam. It wasn’t entirely clear how long this would take, but there was now a glimmer of hope that we would see a steam locomotive out on the line before the day was out…

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Double disaster

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 6, 2013

The wonderful start to the day, combined with the good weather, left me buoyant with optimism for the tour. I should have known that nothing can be quite that smooth, and that trouble was lurking just around the corner…

The first disaster of the day occurred when the grate of Alco no. 153 collapsed into the ashpan while it was on its way back. As it is expected that it will take two days to repair this, the ex-Argentinian Santa-Fe 2-10-2 (no. 205) was brought into steam earlier than originally intended, though we were warned that it would not be ready until late afternoon. A long lunch beckoned…

EMD GL8 diesel-electric locomotive 4008 comes to the rescue

Veteran EMD GL8 diesel-electric locomotive 4008 (built in 1961) comes to the rescue

In the afternoon we set off for the loop where Alco no. 153 had dropped her fire. An EMD GL8 diesel-electric locomotive (no. 4008) was on the scene already and soon began the work of separating the wagons, box-car and steam locomotive. After this process was completed the diesel dragged Alco no. 153 back to the museum. Worryingly though, there was no sign of the Santa Fe which should have arrived at 3.30pm.

News soon filtered through that the Santa Fe had also failed with everything pointing to a problem with the steam pipe (although this later appeared to be something of a mistranslation, with the actual problem identified as a leaking boiler tube). Although this should be fixable the locomotive will have to cool down before this can happen. The suggestion that the locomotive would be in steam by tomorrow afternoon seemed a little optimistic to us!

I always try my hardest to look for a glimmer of hope, even on a bad day like this, but there is no doubt that the outlook is pretty grim for the next few days (at least).

One small positive in the day was that our unexpected long lunch stop gave us a chance to try the traditional Brazilian Feijoada (a stew of black beans with beef, pork trimmings and sausage) and a rather incredible dessert made up of a milk mousse with a coconut layer and white chocolate crust. It’s not much to grasp at, but I’ll take anything right now!

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Morning steam on the Ferrovia Dona Teresa Cristina

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 6, 2013

The railway museum at Tubarão, the centre of the system, currently has three serviceable steam locomotives and two of these will be used on our tour. The first to make an appearance was an Alco 2-8-2 (no. 153, built in 1941) which was used for shunting and light use on the line. This locomotive was painted green some time after it finished its working life, but has been re-painted in its authentic black livery for our re-creation. Since joining the museum fleet the loco has been used on tourist trains, so this occasion presents an unusual opportunity to see it hauling coal wagons.

Alco no. 153 on the line to Jaguaruna

Alco no. 153 on the line to Jaguaruna

Our morning with Alco no. 153 began at Tubarão and took us close to the outskirts of Jaguaruna, with a number of photo stops along the way. As most of the steam I have seen in my life has been in Europe or China, it was quite striking to see a steam locomotive working past a couple of palm trees. It was well worth spending the time to get this photograph right!

On this charter we are not riding the train but instead chasing it using four Volkswagen Kombis well suited to the rough back roads in the area – a necessity to reach the most scenic spots. It was also great to be able to call on the local knowledge of the museum president, Dr. José Warmuth, who spent many a moment in the 1980s photographing the real thing from the same spots.

Morning steam on the Ferrovia Dona Teresa Cristina

Morning steam on the Ferrovia Dona Teresa Cristina

Later in the week we will get to see one of the beautiful ex-Argentinian Santa-Fe 2-10-2’s (no. 205, built by Skoda in 1949) that first appeared on the system in the early 1980s. The third serviceable locomotive in the museum is a Jung 2-8-2 (no. 5, built in 1954) which spent its life shunting at Capivari power station, rather than on the line, but we will not see this in steam during our tour.

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Steam in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Tubarão by folkestonejack on July 5, 2013

The number and variety of locations in the world with real steam is rapidly diminishing, but in some places it is just possible to turn back time for a moment or two and restore the sight of working steam. The Dona Teresa Cristina railway in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, is one such place.

The road to Tubarão

The road to Tubarão

Bernd Seiler of FarRail Tours has worked with the railway museum at Tubarão and the privatized modern railway (Ferrovia Tereza Cristina) to re-create the spectacle of heavy coal freight trains on the system. It has taken a remarkable amount of preparation to ensure that these trains can run and to create a workable plan to dovetail these steam freights with the regular traffic on the line. The incredible attention to detail that has gone into arranging this tour was a significant factor in convincing me to book a place and take up the opportunity to photograph a moment out of history.

Our international group of photographers and videographers assembled at Florianópolis airport this morning after completing long haul flights from all corners of the globe. Unusually, for a trip such as this, our first day has been relatively relaxed. After completing the 160km bus ride south to Tubarão we have been able to chill out at the hotel and explore the surrounding area. Tomorrow will be a different matter, with the first steam freight from Tubarão to Urussanga.

Railfan’s day at Glenbrook Vintage Railway

Posted in Glenbrook, New Zealand, Waiuku by folkestonejack on March 22, 2013

Although, for once, my travels have not taken me a country with any real steam operations there are still a number of interesting preserved railways here in New Zealand that I have been keen to see. One of the most impressive is the Glenbrook Vintage Railway (GVR), which is around a fifty minute drive from central Auckland.

L507 at Glenbrook Station

L507 at Glenbrook Station

The Glenbrook Vintage Railway largely follows the footprint of the old Waiuku branch line, although it deviates from the old alignment shortly before its current terminus at Victoria Avenue, Waiuku.

The Waiuku branch line was first mooted in 1880 but construction only began in 1914. A further eight years elapsed before the railway finally opened in 1922. It connected Waiuku with the North Island main trunk line which connects Auckland and Wellington. The branch line closed in 1967 and the track was in the process of being lifted when the GVR stepped in.

The GVR re-opened a section of the line in 1977 and have made steady progress with their extension towards Waiuku, opening to Pukeoware (1977), Fernleigh (1986) and Victoria Avenue (2010). The railway hopes to be able to extend the line to a final station at the Tamakai reserve in time (an artist’s illustration of the intended future terminus was on display at Glenbrook station and certainly looked impressive).

Looking across the Tamakai reserve to the site of the future terminus

Looking across the Tamakai reserve to the site of the future terminus

This weekend the railway are holding a vintage festival and the Railfan’s Day (photographic charter) organised as a prelude to the festival seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. The charter for the day used two visiting locomotives (L507 and Y542 from MOTAT) with numerous run pasts on the railway’s 7.5km of track, starting and ending at Glenbrook.

L507 and Y542 from MOTAT posed with the GVR's Ada (F233)

L507 and Y542 from MOTAT posed with the GVR’s Ada (F233)

First up was the L, one of ten 2-4-0 tank locomotive built by the Avonside Engine Company, Bristol in 1877. The locomotive saw service with New Zealand Railways from 1877 until 1903, when it was transferred to the Public Works Department for use in construction work until the early 1930s. In later life the locomotive saw industrial service with the Portland Cement company before her acquisition by the Western Springs Railway (MOTAT) in 1971. To open our day the L was coupled with a single passenger carriage.

L507 coupled with a single passenger carriage

L507 coupled with a single passenger carriage

After a lunch stop at Waiuku the charter resumed in the afternoon with Y542 on a mixed passenger/freight. The Y was one of three 0-6-0T locomotives built for the Public Works Department in 1923 by the Hunslet Engine Company, Leeds, and remained with the department until 1951. In her time with the PWD the engine was used on the North Island Main Trunk railway construction projects. In 1951 she transferred to New Zealand Railways for a short lived period of service (just seven years) before moving on to the Portland Cement company. Y542 was acquired by MOTAT in 1985.

Y542 on a mixed passenger/freight passes a water tower on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

Y542 on a mixed passenger/freight passes a water tower on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

Although the big engines were not in service today, we were able to see them being prepared at Pukeoware workshops in readiness for the weekend’s festivities. I have to admit that the two members of the Ja class 4-8-2 steam locomotives that we saw (Ja1240 “Jessica” and Ja1250 “Diana”) looked like pretty impressive engines. I’ll have to come back to see one in service on a future occasion!

Ja1240 at  Pukeoware workshops (with Ja1250 in the background)

Ja1240 at Pukeoware workshops (with Ja1250 in the background)

Our charter came to an end with our return to Glenbrook just after 5pm… I really wish all my 9-5 days were like this! To avoid hitting the rush hour we drove back to Waiuku and enjoyed a leisurely and surprisingly tasty meal at the Kentish Hotel, a historic pub just across the road from the Tamakae reserve and a part of the Waiuku Heritage Area. It has been a pretty full-on day at the end of a full-on week, but I loved every minute of it.

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Kawakawa

Posted in Kawakawa, New Zealand by folkestonejack on March 17, 2013

In the early morning we drove out of Auckland, heading north on the motorway to Northland. The conditions were fairly miserable, with heavy rain falling throughout the morning.

Our first destination in Northland was Kawakawa, a small town in the Bay of Islands which originally developed around a coalfield discovered in the mid nineteenth century. Although the mines closed at the start of the twentieth century the transport infrastructure built to support them remained, notably a railway line to the deepwater port at Opua. Kawakawa’s railway line was the first to be established in the North Island.

Gabriel on the level crossing outside the station at Kawakawa

Gabriel on the level crossing outside the station at Kawakawa

In the late 1980s the line was re-invented as a scenic tourist railway with 14 bridges and a 80m tunnel along its 11.5 route. Sadly, the railway’s operating licence was withdrawn by the Land Transport Safety Authority at the turn of the century and although a new trust stepped in to revive the railway in 2006 it has taken time to restore the line to its full extent.

The line has already been re-opened as far as Taumarere (which is the current destination for services) and the next hurdle is the long ninth bridge on the way to Opua. The bridge was built in the late 1940s/early 1950s and crosses the Kawakawa river for a distance of 230m, supported by 35 piers. The amount of renovation and replacement required to overcome this hurdle is daunting.

The end of the line... for now

The end of the line… for now

The view from the bridge looked terrific as we walked across and I am sure that it would look pretty spectacular to photographers from across the landscape (if they can get trains running across it again).

One of the highlights of the railway is the run into Kawakawa itself, along the main street, which was the spectacle that we were presented with around midday. The rain was teeming down which made photography a little tricky, but after this the weather improved dramatically.

Kawakawa in the rain

Kawakawa in the rain

We enjoyed a pleasant ride on the train to Taumarere (a journey of around 16-17 minutes) and back again which gave us a good opportunity to learn about some of Taumarere’s vanished sights and the challenges facing the railway today. I really hope they manage to make it back to Opua.

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Farewell to Sandaoling

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 16, 2012

Our farewell to Sandaoling was destined to be a short-lived affair as we needed to start our 380km drive to Dunhuang at 10.30am if we were to be sure to make the 6.58pm departure to Lanzhou. It also meant that our breakfast of noodle soup had to be capable of sustaining us for the entire day, with no guarantee that we would get to eat again today if the sleeper train did not have a restaurant car!

We took the familiar road to Dongbolizhan and arrived in good time to watch the tender-first departure of the passenger train with JS 8089. The plan was to stick around until the return of the passenger train and then head to a spot in old Sandaoling but this soon unravelled as the passenger train was delayed at Xibolizhan, awaiting the final trains for the tender show. We couldn’t abandon the plan as some of the group had taken the opportunity to experience the commute Sandaoling style! The passenger train eventually returned around 30 minutes late.

Farewell at Nanzhan

Farewell at Nanzhan

After an obligatory group shot at a ruined gate in old Sandaoling we headed to a level crossing at Nanzhan where we got our last sighting of a JS class steam locomotive with one of the youngest of the fleet, JS 8314, shunting some wagons. It is incredible to think that a steam locomotive like this only rolled off the production line at Datong in 1988.

Although we had seen plenty of JS action in our week at Sandaoling it was still a pleasure to savour these final moments of working steam before we said farewell.

A final stop at Kengkongzhan

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 15, 2012

It seem appropriate that the end of our last full day in Sandaoling should be spent at Kengkongzhan, given that it was the prospect of chimney first coal trains that lured most of us here. Indeed, a coal train was already rounding the curve as we sauntered along the ledge – prompting a headlong dash down the bank to get to a decent position.

After JS 8225 had passed with its loaded coal wagons I crossed the track to explore the photographic opportunities from the other side, particularly enjoying the spectacular view of the curve with the dramatic ‘grand canyon’ backdrop and a clear view of the mountains in the distance.

JS 8089 heads back to the coal loader with some empties

JS 8089 heads back to the coal loader with some empties

The next coal train, hauled by JS 8089, caught us a little off guard by arriving tender first. The delight of chimney first trains out of the pit is in no sense guaranteed and when combined with the somewhat erratic schedule of the coal trains shows that such pleasures can come at a price measured in patience! Thankfully, for us, normal service service was resumed by the return of JS 8225 chimney first.

JS 8225 resumes chimney first service at Kengkongzhan

JS 8225 resumes chimney first service at Kengkongzhan

JS 8225 with a loaded coal train

JS 8225 with a loaded coal train

Although we stuck it out till the sun set there were to be no spectacular sunset shots today. In any case, even if the sun had co-operated the last train past us before the light faded was JS 8089 running tender first. I know when I am beaten!

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Spoilt for choice

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 15, 2012

A short distance from the yard at Xibolizhan the tracks diverge, six lines fanning out from west to east and each ending at a different spoil dump. It’s a fabulous spot to visit as you stand around trying to work out which line is going to be next to receive a spoil train.

JS 8078 passes through the level crossing where the lines to the spoil dumps split

JS 8078 passes through the level crossing where the lines to the spoil dumps split

The five lines to the west are crossed by a rather rough level crossing (with a rather cute hand-painted sign warning of steam locomotives) and near to here there are a series of small huts. On the way up trains stop at the huts to pick up a worker with the key used to release the spoil onto the dump. On the way back down they stop to drop him off. It seemed like a classic, if baffling, bit of job creation for its own sake!

JS 8368 pushes a spoil train past the remains of the lifted track

JS 8368 pushes a spoil train past the remains of the lifted track

Originally there were six lines here but one has been lifted since my last visit. The space left by the lifted track is still marked out by telltale pairs of wooden stumps and there are small sections of mangled track lying here and there. A neat pile of track and sleepers could be seen stacked to one side.

JS 8173 with spreader crosses a bridge on the farthest east of the spoil dump lines

JS 8173, with spreader, crosses a bridge on the farthest east of the spoil dump lines

In the hour that we spent here we saw spoil trains pushed/hauled back tender first by JS class locomotives 8076, 8077, 8078, 8167 and 8368. In addition to this, we saw JS 6224 coming back from a spoil dump with a crane and JS 8173 with a spreader on the separate line to the east (though a spoil train would have been a more impressive sight on this distinctive tip!).

Gallery from the spoil dumps

A morning at Xibolizhan

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 15, 2012

A morning exploring Xibolizhan gave me a good chance to see the area from a different perspective to my previous visits, with more time spent photographing the line from the pit entrance/exit to the gantry than I have managed before. A raised bank to one side of the line provided a great vantage point to see trains working against a backdrop of abandoned villages, industrial complexes and the mountains.

JS 8225 arrives at Xibolizhan shortly after sunrise

JS 8225 arrives at Xibolizhan shortly after sunrise

The arrival of JS 8225 with a train shortly after sunrise was particularly wonderful. There was something about the way the light caught the train as it passed a small patch of wild grasses in the barren landscape that worked perfectly.

JS 8167 with a spoil train in the pit

JS 8167 with a spoil train in the pit

Excavator 415 fills the wagons of the spoil train

Excavator 415 fills the wagons of the spoil train

After spending some time walking along the bank I returned to the track and followed it into the pit, where I watched one of the excavators at work on the upper levels – crunching rock from the side of the mine and filling wagons in a waiting train with spoil. It is always an impressive sight to see industrial steam in action like this – as far removed as it is possible to get from the polished image of steam that you get on any preserved line in the UK! I certainly couldn’t tire of the sight of a JS working hard with a spoil train.

JS 8081 pushes a spoil train out of the pit

JS 8081 pushes a spoil train out of the pit

JS 8638 pushes a spoil train out of the pit

JS 8638 pushes a spoil train out of the pit

It was always going to be a wrench to tear ourselves away from as incredible a scene as this, not least because there was always the promise of another spoil train round the corner (quite literally). On this occasion we stayed around this spot until midday, then headed over to the spoil dumps on the other side of Xibolizhan to see the end of the process.

Xibolizhan Gallery

Shift change at sunrise

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 15, 2012

After another early morning start, fuelled by a wonderful breakfast of dumplings cooked on a stove in the street, we headed out on the bumpy road to Xibolizhan. The twinkling of stars in the darkness suggested that the cloudy start from yesterday would not be repeated.

The morning shift change at Xibolizhan is a highlight of any visit to Sandaoling as it presents an opportunity to see around eight locomotives lined up, tenders facing towards the pit. It’s not often that I am tempted to photograph locomotives tender first but in Sandaoling it is a necessity – indeed, it has been the most authentic position to find a loco within the pit. I took a grab shot of the line up which gives the smallest impression of just how remarkable this is.

Xibolizhan tender show

Xibolizhan tender show

The photographic opportunities abound as the crews change over. The sunrise presented a great opportunity to get amongst the lines and get some interesting shots of the crew, but my favourite shot was the line up of passengers waiting on the platform with loco after loco in the background. Understandably the workers take this for granted but to anyone from an increasingly steamless world it is the most amazing sight to behold.

Shift change at Xibolizhan

Shift change at Xibolizhan

Amidst all of this, the morning passenger service from Dongbolizhan is scheduled to arrive. At this time of year the train’s arrival coincides with the sunrise, making for a wonderful start to the day. It was great to see thirty year old Datong loco JS 6224 arrive in good time, positively glowing as the sunrise enveloped the train.

The morning passenger train arrives at Xibolizhan

The morning passenger train arrives at Xibolizhan

After the passenger service departed the trains worked their way back into action one-by-one. As a spectacle it is hard to beat!

The workshop

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 14, 2012

The railway workshop is located amidst the demolished remains of old Sandaoling, a short walk away from the compound of stored locomotives and the line to the unloading point. It was reassuring to see locomotives were still undergoing overhauls and there was plenty of work going on around the place.

JS 8314 in the workshop

JS 8314 in the workshop

JS 8081 in the workshop

JS 8081 in the workshop

At the nearby compound of stored locomotives JS 8040 was in use with a rail mounted crane for the retrieval of several lengths of line which were being loaded onto the back of a lorry. It was a surprisingly interesting operation with the locomotive moving forward and back as required for each load.

Steam locomotive JS 8040, crane and lorry at the compound

Steam locomotive JS 8040, crane and lorry at the compound

JS 8040 moved the crane into and out of the compound

JS 8040 moved the crane into and out of the compound

Mid-lift

Mid-lift

The weather had improved a little by the time we came to leave the workshop but it still wasn’t worth going for a sunset shot. An early bath tonight!

The pit

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 14, 2012

Our day began at Xibolizhan where we watched the remarkable sight of nine trains lined up side by side at shift change before making our way along the track towards the pit entrance/exit.

The open cast mine at Sandaoling is an incredible sight, even in conditions as overcast as today, which surely cannot be rivalled in the steam world. The mixture of dust from the excavations, columns of steam and mist evoked a hellish vision with the sun only slowly breaking through the clouds. The eye of sauron wouldn’t have looked out of place here!

JS 8077 works some empties tender first from Xibolizhan towards the pit

JS 8077 works some empties tender first from Xibolizhan towards the pit

The poor light and the persistant wind left us with conditions that were not especially conducive to photography or video, but nevertheless we gave it a go. A particular highlight was the sight of JS 6209 struggling with a spoil train on one of the lower levels of the pit which resulted in JS 8190 being sent to assist – a spectacular double header.

JS 6209 and JS 8190 double head a spoil train from the lower levels of the pit

JS 6209 and JS 8190 double head a spoil train from the lower levels of the pit

In the afternoon we drove round to another clifftop viewpoint which gave a great vista across the fallen rocks to the lines up from the pit. The ledge we walked along contained some giant cracks and it didn’t take much imagination to realise that some caution was required. The unstable nature of the terrain had led to a series of landslides in the area and a nearby village had been abandoned. A beautiful but potentially deadly landscape.

The impressive scene from the clifftops at Sandaoling

The impressive scene from the clifftops at Sandaoling

Along the top of the cliffs a series of abandoned pairings of wooden stumps signalled that the the railway had once come this way in an earlier phase of the pit’s development but the track and much of the ground it was sited on had long gone.

The long abandoned track bed at the top of the cliffs

The long abandoned track bed at the top of the cliffs

As spectacular as the view was, the light really wasn’t with us today so it was agreed by all that we should head for the workshop and keep our fingers crossed for better weather tomorrow.

Gallery

Sunset at Kengkongzhan

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 13, 2012

We returned to the crumbling cliffs of Kengkongzhan for our sunset shot and hoped for that perfect combination of a coal train with the setting sun. The colours were rather incredible with the rails almost seeming to glow with a glint from the sun. I had a few attempts at the shot and didn’t really get it right, but it still captures the essence of a rather wonderful moment.

Sunset at Kengkongzhan

Sunset at Kengkongzhan

The deep mines

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 13, 2012

After leaving Dongbolizhan we headed to the deep mines at Beiquan where we hoped to see some trains to/from Nanzhan and shunting around the washery shunt. At this point the line crosses a barren and near featureless landscape which makes the soaring background of the Tianshan mountains all the more spectacular.

JS 8358 and the Tianshan mountains

JS 8358 and the Tianshan mountains

The control office assured us that a steam propelled train was due but we had a lengthy wait before anything appeared, then we all groaned as the hum of a DF8B drew closer to our positions in the middle of nowhere. We could easily have abandoned our positions but thankfully we persevered and were soon rewarded by a steam propelled train which we followed to the second mine at Beiquan.

Loading at Beiquan

At the mine the train was being loaded a few wagons at a time by a few diggers whilst an endless stream of lorries made the trip along the dusty road with full loads of coal to add to the mountain. After watching the shunting and false departures around here we moved on to the first mine and watched a JS make a slow crawl along the line as yet more lorries rumbled along the parallel road.

A slow crawl through the dusty landscape between Yijing and Erjing

The landscape here was quite incredible – there was something about the combination of the barren landscape, the power plant chimneys, thick clouds of coal dust and a demolished village that left you thinking that you were looking upon a vision of hell. It was all very well us spending a day there taking photographs, but it must be a harsh environment to live in.

By late afternoon, there were three JS class steam locomotives gathered at Beiquan – two locomotives from the Nanzhan pool (8358 and 8366) and, strangely, one of the locomotives usually seen working spoil trains (6209). JS 6209 is one of the oldest steam locomotives in use at Sandaoling having been built at Datong in 1981 and presumably was a temporary substitute for one of the out of action Nanzhan locomotives. After watching JS 8366 depart we took our leave from Beiquan and headed away to find a suitable spot for sunset.

Gallery from Beiquan

The morning passenger

Posted in China, Sandaoling by folkestonejack on November 13, 2012

The early morning passenger train runs from Dongbolizhan to Xibolizhan around 8.40am and then returns half an hour later. It’s not a luxurious commute by any standards, using two box cars, but it is an effective way to get between the two points quickly – especially as the roads in this area are particularly bumpy. The train can be chimney first or tender first, so what you see is down to luck on any visit!

Passengers leaving the train at Dongbolizhan

It was interesting to see just how many people could be squeezed into the two box cars and even more surprising to see a motorbike being driven out amongst the departing throng!

Gallery from Dongbolizhan