The International Steam Pages

Steam in Vietnam, October 1998

Florian Schmidt reports on his recent visit:


As suggested by earlier reports, steam is almost history in Vietnam. Regular steam-hauled passenger and freight services have been history for quite some time, shunting duties are performed by three to four metre-gauge 141s in three different locations. These services are expected to cease possibly as early as by the end of next year, just in time for the Duong Sat Viet Nam to enter the year 2000 completely dieselized.

The good news, however, is that the railways have launched some sort of preservation program which will allow steam locomotives to be used for special and tourist purposes in the new millennium. Some nice and historically significant engines have been earmarked for this initiative.

Special Steam Trains

The author arranged three special trains for a small Austrian/Swiss/German group on the metre-gauge lines to Haiphong in the East, Luu Xa in the North and Bim Son in the South on October 18th, 19th and 20th, respectively. The engine used for these passenger and mixed trains was a well-maintained 141-165 of Chinese production.

Overall, the organized events can best be described as a resounding success thanks to the perfect organization and co-operation with Duong Sat Viet Nam and Vietnamtourist as well as the brilliant weather we were blessed with. Altogether we were able to arrange no less than 38 rewarding photostops, including 25 runpasts both on the line and in railway stations. Amongst others, the beauty of the "Dry Halong Bay" south of Ninh Binh, the combined road-railway bridge just north of the same city, the river bridges near Da Phuc and Trung Gia on the Luu Xa line, as well as the rice-paddy scenery on the way to Haiphong could be fully appreciated and exploited, with the inevitable farmer / water-buffalo-with-steam-train-in-the-background-picture not to be missed.

Regular Services

Steam operations at Yen Vienh came to a sudden end in May 1998 and the whole shed now looks like a huge scrapyard. Standard-gauge operations are generally at an extremely low ebb due to the appalling condition of these facilities. With the standard-gauge track on the Luu Xa line being worn out, operations are now restricted to the dual-gauge lines to Lang Son and from Thai Nguyen to Hong Gai via Kep. Three Chinese-build diesels are available for these duties, the four Ljudinovo-made D8H’s are all dumped or under repair.

Hanoi shed has gone diesel with sizeable D4H and D12E allocations. However, steam locomotives are still maintained in the workshop. On the date of our visit we saw 141-164, 167 and 178 in various stages of repair. Mr Loi, the friendly foreman elaborated that six engines will be maintained by the Duong Sat Viet Nam of which three will be used for shunting purposes in Haiphong, Bim Son and Giap Bat, and three be kept as reserve.

On October 22nd, good-looking 141-206 was busily shunting in Giap Bat yard, the largest of its kind in Vietnam. The morning can be highly recommended due to the higher level of activity and better light.

Haiphong as a sub-shed to Hanoi has run-down 141-186 under steam. The loco shunts the station yard and performs the occasional turn to Haiphong docks. Loading and unloading activity in the harbour was very low and the docks do not see steam operations every day. Fortunately for our group, they could be organized. The is a remote chance of "mainline" steam around Haiphong since 186 occasionally performs shunting activities in Vat Cach quay and may transfer goods cars. Passenger trains on this line are D4H worked, the daily freight appeared to be a regular D12E or D18E duty.

141-192 was used at Bim Son cement works on October 20th. The engine is in poor external condition but performed some nice shunts with long trains. Line-workings to Ninh Binh are history.

Reportedly Thai Nguyen Iron & Steel Works have dumped all their standard-gauge GJ’s. For five of the works' six engines this could be confirmed: 1032, 1034, 1035, 1037, 1042. The two metre-gauge 131s, however, are still used, with one engine kept as reserve. On October 19th 131-426 was arranged to do some extraordinary "line-work" from the works into Luu Xa station, much to the pleasure of the present European railway enthusiasts.

Steam for the Future

Some months ago Duong Sat Viet Nam launched an initiative to restore three steam engines for special and tourist purposes. These engines are all based in Hanoi and will be made serviceable within H1 of 1999. The said engines are 141-108, apart from 141-106 (dumped at Yen Vienh) the last survivor of the original Graffenstaden-built engines with brass fire-boxes and distinct smoke deflectors, 141-122, one of the two "TU LUC" (literally translated with "Do it yourself") engines built in Vietnam, and 141-191 !

This is certainly surprising and encouraging news and the author is very much looking forward to having these engines ready for another Vietnam experience in October 1999, possibly on the extremely scenic mountain lines to Dong Da and Lao Cai at the Chinese border!

Rob Dickinson