Although steam locomotives gradually died out with technological advances, 21 of them are still exhibited and operating at a museum in Diaobingshan, Tieling, northeast China’s Liaoning province.
The museum is transformed from an industrial heritage that bears the memories of both history and culture. The revitalized heritage has not only attracted photography and steam locomotive fanatics from both home and abroad, but also were a shooting location for many movies and TV dramas.
Yan Shi was once a driver of steam locomotives. Though he started driving diesel locomotives in 2002, he said he still remembers the vibration and noise made by the steam locomotives. Thanks to the museum, Yan is able to once again drive a steam locomotive, sending mining workers to and from their workplace near the museum.
China stopped manufacturing steam locomotives in 1988 and the vehicles gradually fell into disuse 8 years later, according to Liu Chunshan, manager of the steam locomotive museum.
Starting from 2002, the rail transport department under Tiefa Energy Co., Ltd. (Tiefa) , which now runs the museum, initiated a program to replace steam locomotives by diesel ones, and the obsolete locomotives were either sold as scrap or melt down, Liu said.
However, Tiefa came up with new ideas due to the frequent visits by both foreign and domestic enthusiasts. “We realized that the retired locomotives are valuable tourism resources,” Liu told People’s Daily. To better protect and utilize the industrial and cultural heritage, the company established the steam locomotive museum.
The museum has a collection of 21 steam locomotives, including a KD6487-type vehicle produced in 1943. All the locomotives are kept in good conditions and can even run on the tracks.
Since it opened to the public in 2000, the museum has become increasingly popular and even attracted many foreign tourists, who came to appreciate the industrial charm of the vehicles.
“When they run, they are composing a melodious symphony,” said a tourist, adding they will be missed by many after disappearing from the tracks.
Developing tourism with steam locomotives has not only vitalized dated railway equipment, but also generated new economic drivers.
The museum has gained huge fame on the internet and more than 140 movies and TV dramas have once shot scenes there.
It has continuously improved the filming facilities and cooperated with film and television bases and studios in the recent years, which brought about a considerable amount of income, Liu said.
Steam locomotive tourism has become a landmark in Tieling, and even Liaoning province. The revenue it generated has exceeded five million yuan (about $717,115) for five consecutive years and the cumulative over 40 million yuan.
The company has also made progress in developing tourism products, including 1:4 steam locomotive models that run on special tracks, Liu noted, adding that three models are now in the museum for visitors to experience. Tourists can also take a special train converted from six carriages of the original vehicle.
All the steam locomotives in the museum could be put into operation and even piloted by tourists who can enjoy the views and take pictures of the sceneries along the rail tracks, which is rare among similar museums around the world, Liu said.