Baotou is about 600km to the west of Beijing in Inner Mongolia.  When I visited this area in 1998 there was a great deal of
steam activity to be seen.  In addition to the steelworks (which still operated steam as late as 2009) there were steam hauled
suburban trains every morning and evening, although unfortunately in December these only operated during the hours of
darkness.  There was also a branch line to the collery at Shiguai..... but by far the most interesting line was the one which still
runs southward from Baotou to Dongsheng and then on to the coal mines at Shenmu.  The section from Baotou Dong to
Dongsheng was mainly operated by single QJ's but the section to the south of Dongsheng regularly saw trains containing over
3000 tons of coal. These required double-headed QJ's and in the area around Aobaogou, which is just to the south of
Dongsheng, these trains required further assistance from a QJ acting as a banking engine.  The sight and sound of these trains
as they climbed the last few miles was simply breath-taking and must have been some of the best steam action in the world at
that time.  It is impossible to convey in words the impact that these mighty trains had on this visitor to the area.  The sheer
scale was incredible and the frequency of trains was also surprising.  The cold weather and subsequent steam effects gave
added dramatic impact and certainly the photograph of the two locomotives comming off the viaduct near Aobaogou remains
one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to take.  Although only two shots are shown below, they form part of almost a
cine film sequence of shots - so magnificent was the sight that I couldn't keep my finger off the shutter button!

This page on the Batou/Dongsheng/Aobaogou area is a particular favourite of mine as it records my first experiences with
mainline Chinese steam.  I hope you will enjoy looking at this page as much as I did in creating it.
Baotou was really my introduction to steam in China on my first visit in 1998.   The small group I was with had already spent an
afternoon at the Dahuichang Limestone works in Beijing and a day at Singing Sands (when very little traffic had been evident)
but it was Donsheng and Aobaogou where it really all kicked off.  We had only just arrived when the first coal train came into
view in the pre-dawn light and my world has never really been the same since!  The incredible noise and power, firstly from the
leading pair of engines and then from the banker, took my breath away.  Suddenly those endless hours on the plane and then the
long journey by road seemed incredibly worthwhile!
By the late 1990's there were very
few places where steam was still
operated on China National
Railways.  However around
Baotou there was still a suburban
steam service which operated in
early morning and late
afternoon.  This made
photography almost impossible in
December but at first light
QJ6248 can just be seen crossing
the thickly frozen Yellow River
with a passenger train
                   31 December 1998
Between Baotou and Dongsheng
the railway runs along an
enormous concrete viaduct at a
point known as Singing Sands.  
This is right on the edges of the
Gobi desert and indeed the wind
appears to make the sand 'sing'.  
Sand ski-ing here is also popular -
complete with chair lifts!

The viaduct carries the railway
along the bed of the river - which
although dry in winter can
become a raging torrent in the
wet season.  We waited here the
best part of a day for the shot -
but in the end patience was
Having spent the night in
Dongsheng we were up before
dawn to get to Aobaogou which
is to the south of Dongsheng.  As
dawn broke we could hear the
approach of a coal train coming
from the direction of Shenmu.  As
it got closer the scale was
staggering - as was the noise
made by QJs 2617 and 6711 at
the front of the train and QJ6248
banking from the rear.  Nothing
had really prepared me for a
sight like this and my breath was
completely taken away.
QJs 1892 and 1611 cross the
curved viaduct to the south of
Aogaogou station with a long
train of empty wagons heading
for the mines at Shenmu.  In the
left hand background can be
seen the chimney of Dongsheng
power station - one of the users
of the coal brought from the
And the trains keep on coming
........ a picture which gives a real
idea as to the length of the coal
trains which operated on this
line.  It was often difficult to find
a location where the three
engines could all be included in a
single picture.  On this occasion
QJs6289 and 2586 are in the lead
with QJ3068 bringing up the rear
- all three engines working hard
against the gradient.
A side-on view of the same train
gives a good idea of the amount
of work the engines were doing
and also shows off well the lines
of the QJ class 2-10-2
locomotives.  At the time it
seemed that the QJ would
become the only working
engines in China but in fact they
have been largely outlived by the
JS and SY classes of locomotives
which can still be found at a
number of locations.  However
nowhere do they handle work of
this magnitude.
With its blow down valve fully on
QJ1269 makes a magnificent
sight as it accelerates away from
Aobaogou with the morning
passenger train.  The traditional
green and cream coaches lend
terrific attraction to this scene.
The local track gang take refuge
as yet another monster coal train
heads towards Dongsheng.  This
shot shows the banker, QJ6248,
hard at work providing assistance
to the two train engines.
Our first afternoon was spent to
the north of Aobaogou where the
railway crosses yet another
massive concrete viaduct over a
river.  The weather however
deteriorated but not before we
were able to see QJ3068 returning
light engine on banking duty.
Next morning saw a flying visit to
Dongsheng engine depot before
heading out to the lineside for
another days photography.  Like
most depots the prepation work
and indeed the stabling of the
locomotives takes place outside
despite the freezing temperatures
The first rays of the new morning
sun catch the paintwork and
exhaust of QJ3068 as its made
ready for another day of hard
work as a banking engine.
On this, my first visit to China, I
had joined with five other British
enthusiasts and we had engaged
the services of Li Weshui who had
a reputation for being not only a
first-rate guide but unusually also
as a first rate railway

Li knew his raileway lines well
and could always be relied upon
to give good advice and
guidance.  On the second
morning most of the group were
determined to reach a viaduct
about a mile and a half from
Aobaogou station.  Li was
sceptical baout their ability to
reach the viaduct in time and
advised that they should wait
nearer to Aobaogou.  However
they were determined and set off
leaving just Li and myself stood
on the hillside overlooking the
curved viaduct.  It wasn't long
before we heard a train
approaching and we knew the
others could not have reached
their destination in time.

All that we could do was to make
the most of a fantastic
opportunity as the train came
into sight in the early morning
light on an almost still day - the
smoke hanging almost motionless
in the air.  It was simply one of
the most breathtaking sights it
has ever been my pleasure to
witness and record.
Since the line was only a single
track, trains had to wait in passing
loops before heading on their
journey.  While we had been
photographing the northbound
train, QJ1891 had been sitting
patiently in the loops at Aogaobou
With the road ahead now clear
QJ1891 gets its long train of
empties on the move after the
enforced wait at Aogaobou.   
Since the line is downhill and the
wagons are empty a single QJ is
quite sufficient - the use of
double-headed QJs on trains of
empties was simply a way of
returning enough engines to
Shenmu to bring back loaded
After the previous days poor
weather we were determined to
have a second attmpt to catch a
train crossing the long viaduct to
the north of Aobaogou station.  
Whilst waiting for the next coal
train we were able to watch the
passing of the morning passenger
train - this time in the hands of
Our patience was finally
rewarded!  The train almost
fitted onto the complete length
of the viaduct and we were able
to enjoy QJ6017 and 1611
heading towards us in the late
morning sunshine with QJ3068
away off in the distance bringing
up the rear of this incredible train.
With Dongsheng just around the
corner the two leading
locomotives make the final effort
to bring their train up from the
mines.  No doubt the crews were
looking forward to a well
deserved rest on arrival!
A chance for one last
photograph at Aobaogou as
QJ's 6018 and 6247 speed
southwards on a balanced
Our next destination was
Benhong and a chance to catch
the overnight steam hauled
sleeper train to Jing Peng.  To get
there we had to retrace our steps
and were lucky enough to catch
QJ2586 on a train of empty coal
wagons about to enter Singing
Sands Gorge.
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