The Last Steam and Coal Freight Railway Has Finally Closed For Good

The end of an era

Grant Piper
3 min readMay 18, 2022


(Ben Kletzer /

Steam locomotives dominated the world’s rails for over a hundred years. Trains were stocked with coal and men had to continuously shovel coal into the firebox to keep the engine running. The result was plumes of white and black smoke and brilliant sparks that sent these trains rumbling over the rails. It was a dangerous and dirty job.

After decades of dominance, coal fired locomotives were slowly phased out and replaced with safer and more modern diesel and electric engines. Now, the last mainline steam locomotive has finally been phased out.

The Sandaoling Coal Mine in China was the last major industrial operation to regularly use coal powered steam locomotives. A six mile stretch of track was ferried countless loads of coal from the mines to the railhead for decades. China is still one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal. Coal is plentiful and is still used in various applications in China but they can no longer keep their aging fleet of steam locomotives running.

With the last engines being retired, steam locomotives have now been regulated for tourist attractions, niche historic lines, and museums. It marks the end of an era that started in the early 19th century.

A Final Farewell

The state-owned Chinese mine could not continue to maintain these old engines. The engines running on this six mile track were Chinese build JS-class steam locomotives. However, since the rest of the steam locomotive industry has slowly faded away the Chinese could no longer find parts to keep these trains running efficiently.

Over the past few years, the remaining JS engines in this region were slowly cannibalized for parts until there were not enough parts to do the train’s regular maintenance. There is no word on what the old steam locomotives will be replaced with.

While few people realized that old firebox engines were still being used for commercial purposes it still marks the end of a prominent era of transportation, technology, and industry.

The Sandaoling Coal Mine was the perfect place to harbor an old coal fired engine. It was a remote mine with plenty of coal…



Grant Piper

Thought provoking articles, when time and payouts permit it.