Magazine article Geographical

Chariots of Fire

Magazine article Geographical

Chariots of Fire

Article excerpt

The development of the steam engine was central to the Industrial Revolution during the 19th century. For more than 100 years steam reigned supreme until it was finally overtaken by cleaner and more efficient electric and diesel traction. The last steam engines built for British Railways rolled out of Swindon Works in 1962, only to be withdrawn six years later. It was still possible to find steam trains in action abroad, albeit in ever decreasing numbers. Today they survive in only a handful of countries doing the work for which they were designed.

John Tickner takes us around the world to see some of the last of the great working steam locomotives.

The locomotive repair shops at Anshan steelworks, Liaoning Province in China. These SY class locomotives are China's standard steam locomotive for industrial service, and were the last steam design built in large numbers for commercial service anywhere in the world. They were still in regular production at Tangshan Locomotive Factory in the mid-1990s, and one was constructed as recently as October 1999. It is likely that they will be the last steam locomotives in regular service anywhere in the world

Sunrise at Jixi locomotive depot, Heilongjiang Province, China. Chinese National Railways (CNR) took delivery of its last steam locomotive, from the Datong Locomotive Factory, in 1988. Since then, the use of steam has been relegated to shunting and menial duties. China continues to invest heavily in diesel and electric locomotives, electrification projects, and in new railway lines. Recently a completely new 898-kilometre electrified line opened between Kunming and Nanning, boasting no less than 258 tunnels and 476 bridges

Two QJ class locomotives struggle the last few metres to the summit of the Jingpeng Pass, Inner Mongolia, China. The Pass is part of a new 948-kilometre line that was opened in December 1995 to provide a direct link for freight between Manchuria and northwest China. Funding for construction and operation of the line is provided by the local administration. To keep costs down, secondhand steam locomotives were purchased from CNR to operate on the line. Much of the line is fairly flat, but to climb over the Jingpeng Pass, most freight trains require the help of a second locomotive. This section of the line through the mountains is widely considered to be the greatest steam spectacle surviving in the world today

Slag tipping at Baotou steelworks in Inner Mongolia. Two important factors favouring the continued use of steam in industrial regions were an abundant cheap labour supply and vast quantities of local coal. As long as these two resources were available steams engines were seen as useful and economically viable machines

Another heavy freight train climbs the Jingpeng Pass in winter. In howling gales, the temperature here regularly falls to -20 [degrees] C The dramatic conditions attract rather than deter serious enthusiasts who visit the area in ever increasing numbers each winter. Elsewhere, enthusiasts are drawn to several countries where veteran steam locomotives are used seasonally in connection with the sugar cane harvest, notably in Cuba and Indonesia

The `toy train' to Darjeeling, India, climbs through the busy streets of Kurseong. …

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