The Sandaoling Coal Mine Railway

This coal mine is, in early 2010, the largest steam locomotive operation in the world.

Bad News in March 2010: The company got three used DF8B engines, which now serve most coal trains between Nanzhan and Liushuquan. However, in November 2010 the steam locomotives used before between Nanzhan and Liushuquan were still in use on all sidings from Nanzhan, as well as helpers from Liushuquan. Diesel fuel seemed to be too expensive.

All other not especially marked information is from November 2009.

At the mine you will find big posters in blue color with white characters. They tell the history of the mine and some other data. Here is what is written: The mine was opened in 1958.

Length west to east: 6km, north to south: 1.7km, 10.2 square km. Originally they used locomotive to haul coal stone and since 2007 they have started using trucks, additionally.
In 2008, they produced 2.4 million tons of coal.
There are 3244 staff in total. It is predicted that the mine will be in use until 2020.
By the day Oct 2, 2008, the mine has been a safety record for 2000 days, which is considered first-class standard amongst coal mines in this area.
The rest of the information text is mainly about the methods, the productivity, and the safety rules...

Other info was told me, like a depth of about 100 meters, coal seam is 13.7 meters thick, and they have to move about 10 tons of stone per ton of coal.

Their railway is 180 km long in all.

 Without a guide, contact Mr Fu Zhong Wei from the mine company (Lu Xin Mei Kuang) for a permit. He will help you in any conceivable way, giving you access to virtually everything there, including the workshop, the deep mine, day or night. He speaks Chinese only, phone 13899347757.


By the way not much happens in SDL before 9 o'clock morning because it is dark in winter.


Two SAFE taxi drivers at Sandaoling who also know what we foreigners want to see: 13999032957 Liu, 15909028732 Li Chun Bo, both women. Otherwise there are many taxis. From Liushuquan, getting a taxi may be difficult.


There is at least one bus per hours between Sandaoling and Hami. There is one morning and one evening bus to Wulumuqi. The bus station is opposite Lu Xin Bin Guan.


If they are interested, tell them the truth: You look at the steam engines of the mine. They seem to be used to this, but may ask Mr. Zhang Fu Sheng or Fu Zhong Wei if he knows you are there. They are the mine company representatives and will keep you out of conflicts with the local police. (Note: This was written before the police made the deal with Hami CITS.)
From the mine, station Nanzhan, there is a line to China rail at Liushuquan: The mine has no say about any restrictions here. Be careful when photographing on the lower parts of that line. There is an air force base and high security (Yaerbashi Test Range  43°4′38″N 92°48′29″E / 43.07722°N 92.80806°E / 43.07722; 92.80806). This line is served by DF8B diesel engines from March 2010.

Sandaoling diesels and trucks:

They started hauling coal from the mine by trucks and a conveyor at the end of 2009 or so, and they are converting to trucks. Xibolizhan is the last place to be affected.

In November 2007 at least 27 steam engines were in daily use. In November 2010, 20 were in use, in September 2011, 18.

A list of engines seen in steam or in repair (November 2009):

At the mine:
SY 1304, 1593, 1720
JS 6205, 6224, 6261, 6265, 6436
JS 8027, 8040, 8076, 8078, 8081, 8167, 8173, 8188, 8190, 8193, 8194, 8195, 8221, 8222, 8366 major overhaul.

Service Nanzhan to Liushuquan, as well as to Beiquan and the power station:
SY 1729
JS 6208, 8059 (last two digits not sure) 8314, 8358

The mine company do major overhauls in their own workshop near Nanzhan! And they wash out boilers, including small maintenance tasks, every four weeks.
Four crews per engine, all of them working three weeks at a time in 12 hours work – 24 hours free schedule. Week 4 is free.

September 2011 (Thanks to John Raby):
Sandaoling (19-24 September)
Working locos: JS 6224, 6261, 8027, 8040, 8076, 8077, 8078, 8080, 8167, 8188, 8190, 8194, 8195, 8225, 8314, 8358, 8368, SY 1304 (18 locos in steam)


From the mine towards west, there is Xibolizhan. Through here, they haul stone to stone dumps. Six tracks from the mine, seven tracks onwards to stone areas. There are about 200 trains per day (24 hours) here. There are typically 8 trains hauling stone, and they take four turns up and down per 12-hour shift. (Infor from 2009 and 2010).

On the east side is Dongbolizhan station, functioning as a servicing station. The coal trains, however, come from the mine towards east and continue to the coal silos near Nanzhan. Upwards from the mine, then steeply down to Nanzhan.

There is a daily worker train 8.40 and 20.40 from Dongbolizhan to Xibolizhan, returning half an hour later. It took a turn into the mine from Xibolizhan in 2009 and 2010, but not in 2011.

Most work trains with steam cranes are run by SY engines, some by JS engines.

The workshop is just south of Dongbolizhan.

A new line to a new deep mine is to be constructed 20-30 km west from Xibolizhan.

News from Bernd Seiler Dec 4, 2009:

The company operating Nanzhan-Liushuquan have already purchased 4 diesel locomotives. Training of loco drivers is expected to last until April so the line should not go diesel before April. Reason for the change to diesel is that the company intends to operate their coal trains in the future not only to Liushuquan but also over the CR tracks to a power plant in Hami.

Additionally they plan to end steam in the open pit in 2011 (Coal trains will go to truck first maybe already in 2010, spoil trains later). But they will keep 6 steam locomotives in service, because they will open a new 30 km line to a new deep mine. The line will start in Xibolizhan. The line will be opened in 2011 only ("more than a year"). They want to keep steam on that line as they have coal free.

News from John Raby Sept 2011:

The workers' passenger train now runs from Dongbolizhan to Xibolizhan and return only. Departure is around 08:40 with the return shortly after 9 am.The loco for this train was seen both chimney and tender first. Four spoil tipping lines were in use from Xibolizhan. Some areas around the edge of the pit are unstable and liable to collapse. This is associated with faults in the rock and smoldering hot areas of rock. There are two of these areas between the view down into the pit just before the turn off to Xibolizhan and where the overburden trains exit the pit. Avoid these areas for your own safety.

Jiayuguyan – Hami – Wulumuqi line

The line is being electrified, opening in two years planned.

Traffic now run by Wulumuqi based diesel engines:
Single DF4B and a few DF4C on freights with 3500 tons.
Passenger trains with DF4B, DF11 (most), and DF4DK
Shunting with DF5.

From Turpan to Kashi freights double traction DF4B.

Slow train stopping every station, without reservation, tickets on the train:

Train 7552 from Wulumuqi 10:15 to Liushuquan 19:03
Train 7551 from Liushuquan 9:40 to Wulumuqi ca. 18:30

The mountains north of the coal mine.

The mountains, visible in clear weather, are about 3000 meters high. They are called Tianshan. In good weather, it is a 45 minutes taxi trip to a village called Liushugouxiang. From there you may follow a horse and camel trail through a canyon and over the mountains northwards to Balikun hu. This is a day trip. You may also climb the mountains around the village. The terrain is very loose and steep. No trails. Be careful. On the mountains you may see wild mountains goats and eagles.

Just west of Liushugouxiang, at the end of the straight stretch of road, there is a horse path going west amd then northwest over the mountains. It is a nice day trip to follow this path up to the highest point at 2600 meters altitude, to a mountain pass. Some people are even living in small farms in the middle of the mountains.

Links: (trip reports and maps).

Satellite pictures and maps