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Transport / Mass transit

China's surviving steam trains

In Shanghai, there’s a cutting-edge maglev train which transports passengers between the city and its airport at speeds of up to 431 km/h. It’s one of the fastest trains in the world. 


But in small villages in Sichuan, abut 2,000 km to the west, locals still get around by steam train. 

The coal-powered Bashi line transports locals between nine rural stops, from Shixi (the largest village on the route) to Huangcun, via Bagou, the village shown above. For those who live in the area, it’s both a local service and the only transport link to the outside world. It’s also used by tourists, who pay around 10 times the local ticket price, and help subsidise the line’s continued existence. 

The line was originally built to transport coal in the 1950s, but when the local mine shut down passenger carriages were added. Now, the final stop, Haungcun, is home to little more than the abandoned mine shaft. In the wake of the mine’s closure, the population of Bagou, the village closest to the mine, fell by about 80 per cent to the 1,500 or so who live there today.

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Steam trains are now an unusual sight in China, but they were in wide use until relatively recently. While the rest of the world was turning away from coal in favour of electric and diesel engines, China was the final country to use steam trains on mainline services, decommissioning the last in 2005. 

Because we’re good to you, here are some more pictures:

All images: Kevin Frayer/Getty.
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