The Jiayang Coal Railway


Today, all over the world mainly trains with normal gauge of 1,435 millimetres are en route. Narrow-gauge railways, on the other hand, are mainly used in museum traffic and clubs. However, there are still spots on this earth where the narrow-gauge railway determines rhythm of life of entire regions. This includes the Jiayang steam train in the province of Sichuan in the southwest of China.



Since 1959 the Jiayang steam engine has been travelling on the stretch between the municipality of Shixi and the ancient coal mine of Huangcunjin. Initially, on the gauge of 600 millimetres, since 1960 on the 762 millimetres gauge. The stretch was built by the mining company Jiayang which gives the line its name until today. In the first few years, the trains exclusively used to transport coal. A few years after commissioning, also passenger wagons were attached. With growing importance for the population, in 1975, a regular passenger transport with several daily train pairs was introduced.

Tourists at the lookout.
The railway is not been used by the train only.

At the turn of the millennium, the delivery volume of coal decreased constantly, so that the line was to be shut down. However, between the villages in the middle of the hilly landscape there still wasn‘t any link across paved ways. Acting from necessity, the authorities decided to develop the region as a tourist destination. The coal mine was designated an industrial museum and additional tourist trains were added to the route.



Today, the line between Shixi and Huangcunjin ranks as an absolutely obligatory destination for all railway fans. The steam engines pull up to seven passenger wagons along the approximately 20 kilometres long stretch through the mountains reaching an average speed of 20 kph. During that, each train masters an altitude difference of 238 metres. Along the route, dense woods blend into rice fields which are laid out like terraces in the slopes. During the 75 minute travel, the Jiayang steam train passes through a kick turn, six tunnels and 109 bends. In addition to that, there are eight regular stopping points and four lookout points where the tourists can take great photos of the train and the landscape.


Aboard the normal passenger train the people transport everything needed for their daily life. Furniture, construction material, animals and what else might find place inside the narrow wagons. In case the Jiayang steam train does not cross the tracks, the natives use them and the narrow verges by foot or on various vehicles. There aren‘t any asphalted roads. So, the farmers use handcars for transporting their vegetables from the fields to the village markets. Workers ride with bicycles and motorcycles along the tracks to get from place to place. Even the tunnels are used for traffic beside the railway. There are traffic lights at the entrances of tunnels in order to avoid pedestrians and cyclists being captured by a locomotive. As soon as a train is approaching, the signals turn red. Not a particularly safe matter! What the natives consider normal every day life, for the tourists is an adventurous journey into the past of locomotives with separate tender and narrow-gauge railways.


Photos: Michael Borgers, Kevin Frayer, Ulrich Tack
Necessity is the mother of invention.