To bring in the coal required for the modern smelting operations to Gejiu and to transport the resulting tin to the coast construction of a branch railway to the Kunming-Vietnam line began almost as soon as the main line was finished. Overcoming initial financial difficulties and the resistance of the caravan operators construction began in 1915. 1917 the first stretch opened from Gejiu to Jijie, the main market town on the plains and four years later the mining railway connected to the main line at Caodi.
Compared to the already narrow 1000mm gauge in use on the main line, the mining rail, known as the Gebi Line, short for Gejiu-Bisezhai, was even narrower with only 600mm – hardly wide enough to support the heavy 45-ton American built Baldwin 0-10-0 engines that at the end of the 1920s began pulling coal to the smelters (Whitehouse and Whitehouse 1988, pp. 21,55). But as the caravan owners had negotiated the freight-fares to be at least as high as costs for mule transport, the initial uptake was slow and caravans and cargo-trains operated side by side – a situation not helped by the poor condition of the track and the engines.
Passenger services later introduced continued until the 1980s right into Gejiu City, the railway running directly along the lake’s shores. From Gejiu the passenger services made four stops on their 34km journey to the railway station of Jijie: first at Huogudu, then at Shiwopu, at Zhadian and Qiushuizhuang before finally arriving at Jijie. Uphill from Jijie the twice daily passenger service took more than two and a half hours, while on the downhill journey gravity assisted the steam engines to shorten the journey by over one hour.
In 1928 the railway extended to Jianshui and reached Shiping and Baoxiu six years later. After the war China’s only privately owned and operated railway, with the addition of the line to Shiping now known as the Gebishi Line, was nationalised and became part of China’s national railways. The line from Bisezhai to Baoxiu was widened to 1000m gauge to allow modern engines and rolling stock to operate.
But as roads are being upgraded, the grand days of Yunnan’s southern railways were over. Passenger services to Gejiu were suspended in the 1990s and the track that once led right into town was shortened to end at the mines of Yanpeng.
In 2013, an entirely new railway line connecting Yuxi to Mengzi via Tonghai and Jianshui opened.