Sandaoling Farewell Tour

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

The last fireworks of steam: 04/01 – 12/01/2020

The saga continues: the finest and hardest steam spectacle on earth. Almost all is said about this place. It was a miracle that Sandaoling extended its steam service until September 2020. If not a second miracle happens this will be the last and final tour we’re offering to this amazing site.

Nanzhan continues to use steam as well. They’ve closed the unproductive mine at Yijing but the rest of the operation is unchanged. Access to the yard or the mine is not permitted, but the steep mine to the deep mine in a moon-shaped countryside is accessible.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Sandaoling had seven to nine locos in steam in early 2019. There are more steam locomotives scattered all over China, but only locations with one or two shunting locos, rarely moving and, at best, they produce boring situations in endless yards and on short links to industrial sites which are either inaccessible, not photogenic, or both. The last really worthwhile location still offers steam at its best: fighting against the physical limits of adhesion, they climb steep gradients with their trains of coal.

No matter whether you’re a newcomer to steam in China or a well experienced gricer who just wants to say goodbye to the era of steam, this tour is made for all your needs.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling





Individual flight to Beijing


Arrival in Beijing by 15 hrs, hotel shuttle bus to a hotel near the airport.

06.01. until 10.01.

In the morning we’ll go by bus to the airport and fly to Hami. Charter bus from Hami to Sandaoling. We’ll drop our luggage in the hotel there and head for the last big water hole for steam enthusiasts – Sandaoling. The best location for genuine steam in the world: Sandaoling. It’ll never become boring!


Time to say goodbye to the open cast mine of Sandaoling. One more time we’ll take pictures and videos of the famous last heavy coal trains out of the pit. Around noon we’ll return to Hami and fly to Beijing, hotel in Beijing


By hotel shuttle bus to the airport and return flight home, arrival in Europe the same evening


Line description

First of all, we are at the edge of a steam-free age, we can’t rule out that lines may have changed to diesel locomotives before we arrive or even closed down completely. The itinerary is based on information from May 2019, several months before we go to Sandaoling. There is no substitute if Sandaoling is dieselised or closed. No guarantees and virtually no refunds are possible.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Sandaoling has become the Mecca for railway enthusiasts. In the moon-like countryside there are plenty of photographic opportunities. The time we’ve planned for the visit to the steamiest hole on earth won’t be boring. We’re sure that you’ll still find new positions on the last day of your visit and may think about extending your stay rather than leaving early.

All coal trains from the loading facilities deep in the pit must climb out of the open cast mine to reach the unloading point. This is a thrash of almost 3 miles for the heavy trains. In the best case you can witness this spectacle about every 20 minutes to half an hour. Sometimes there is a gap of up to four hours, but then it starts again! Most, if not all, of the coal trains are hauled chimney first out of the pit.

The trains are all “push-pull” trains with a small signal cabin built on the platform of the last wagon of each train. Empty trains are pushed into the mine and loaded trains are pulled loco first. With a semaphore on the roof of these miniature “cabooses”, the loco driver gets the signal forward. This is an unusual operation pattern in China and well worth photographing.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Sunsets in Sandaoling can be amazing. There are quite a lot of reasons to go there but the main reason is that normally there are several hard working JSs in the area!

Trains to the deep mine in Erjing might see a hauling and a banking engine. It depends very much on the production and the availability of wagons.

A visit to the workshop is, again, possible. Entrance fee was 150 Yuan in December 2018 (price can change and is not included). The loading area within the pit is not permitted for a visit. In the open cast mine there are several cameras, so an unauthorised visit is not recommended either. But we’re allowed to walk down to the first station after the loading point. On this section, from the unloading point to the first station inside the pit, you can take dozens of good shots. Conclusion: still the greatest steam show on earth.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling


Small Print

We expect a morning temperature around minus ten (likely) to minus 20 (unlikely) degrees Centigrade in Sandaoling, while afternoons can be as mild as plus 5 to plus ten degrees Centigrade. The photo equipment usually has no problems with these temperatures, it’s only the batteries. When not using them you should pack them in a warm place. We can warm up in our charter bus any time, so it’s not too difficult to stand the winter with the right clothing. The recent winters have been very mild during our stay in China.

The voltage in China is 220 Volts, 50 Hz. You’ll need an adaptor for the power outlets. China uses the European mobile phone (GSM) standard.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

This tour is designed for both dedicated photographers and video film makers. Our philosophy is to provide opportunities to get that perfect sunrise shot rather than a time consuming 5-star breakfast buffet. Breakfast and lunch may be served as a packed meal. For breakfast try the local noodle soup or dumplings, that’s a fantastic start in the day. Dinner is planned to be a proper (Chinese) meal. Times for meals can vary. Beverages are not included in the tour price. Our hotel in Sandaoling doesn’t offer breakfasts, but there are small restaurants just across the street.

We’re planning to do some night shots. Please take an appropriate tripod with you. Yes, even in the digital age a tripod does help a lot when it comes to tricky light situations!

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

The coal mining industry in China is declining. They’re closing mines and dismissing a lot of staff, including safety guards. However, there are several CCTV cameras around the place. After our group left Sandaoling in December 2016, a different group of newly arrived railway enthusiasts seemed to feel too much at home between the tracks and didn’t care about jumping in front of moving trains across the tracks and generally behaved unsafely. Shortly after this, the local police arrived and cleared the whole site, including areas where the group had a permit for. On our February and December 2017 and December 2018 tours we didn’t face any problems. To avoid trouble you should always use common sense and stay well outside of the profile of moving trains.

Hotels, charter buses and trains represent the standard of our host country, which may deviate from European or North American expectations. While we will endeavour to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require an extra but worthwhile effort. You should be physically fit if you want to go down to the bottom of the pit. Always remember that you need to climb back up the plus/minus 100 metres that you went down.

The hotels used will be of medium class but in remote areas, i.e. Sandaoling, that is very basic. A hot shower and a private bathroom with a western style toilet are available in all our hotels. Recently the hotels didn’t accept foreigners and they needed to go back to Hami for accommodation every day. My mid May 2019 the hotels, again, agreed to accept foreign tourists.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

Hygienic and environmental standards in China do not conform to Central European, Australian or North American expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable. Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in China falls short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. FarRail Tours Club cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy. You should also consider trip cancellation insurance.

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling



The last fireworks of steam 13 to 24 participants £2,140
05.01.2020 – 13.01.2020 Single room surcharge £185
Registration Deadline: 31.10.2019

The price includes:

Not included are:

Last Genuine Steam: Sandaoling

All pictures taken on the tour in December 2018.


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