Although China boasts the world's most extensive high-speed rail infrastructure with over 16,000km of track, it is also home to one of the last regular passenger steam train services in the world.

Award-winning photojournalist Kevin Frayer made several trips on the train and then walked along the tracks, capturing scenes straight out of China's past.

The narrow-gauge Jiayang Railway connecting the towns of Shixi and Bagou in Qianwei county, Sichuan Province, was constructed in 1958 to haul coal. The trains are still powered by the rusting, temperamental steam engines built in the 1950s.

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Early morning in Shixi, and the train is readied for a journeyKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A railway engineer prepares the steam engine for its first trip of the day, at a station in ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A worker loads coal into the engine of the steam train at the station in the town of ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A worker fires the coal-fired steam engine at the station in ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A worker services parts for the steam engine in a workshop at the station in ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images

In 1978, the service added a couple of passenger coaches. The train was the only way for locals to travel between the two towns until a road was built a couple of years ago.

The regular carriages are very basic, with wooden benches and no glass in the windows. Your fellow passengers might include poultry and piglets, which are being taken to market by local farmers. But it is cheap: a one-way trip costs CN¥5 (£0.52, $0.81).

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Locals look out at the passing scenery near ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Locals sit in a carriage as the train passes a bamboo near BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A man travels with other passengers in a carriage for localsKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Commuters look at their mobile phones in a carriageKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A man looks at his mobile phone as he waits for the train to depart at a station in the town of ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Passengers look out of the train as it goes through fog near BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Passengers look out of a window as the steam train travels through fog near the former mining town of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Passengers gather their belongings as they disembark from the train near BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Locals walk along the railway tracks outside BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Locals walk through a tunnel to catch the train near BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images

For a more luxurious trip, there are air-conditioned sightseeing carriages, catering for a growing number of tourists wanting to experience this "living fossil of the Industrial Revolution".

Seats in these carriages costs 10 times as much as on the local service but you do get a tour guide and the chance to disembark and photograph the train barrelling around the scenic Jiaoba Curve at top speed (30kmh).

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Tourists react as the coal-powered engine noisily lets off steam at the station in the former mining town of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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The coal-powered narrow-gauge steam train lets off steam as it rounds the scenic Jiaoba curve near Bagou, Sichuan ProvinceKevin Frayer/Getty Images

The 20km route through the misty, mountainous Sichuan basin passes scenic rapeseed fields, bamboo plantations and rice paddies. The tiny villages alongside the tracks seem untouched by China's rapid economic progress.

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A passenger looks out a window as the train passes a bamboo plantation near BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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The steam train passes rice fields near the village of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A farmer tends to his field as the steam engine travels near the village of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Peng, 80, watches a train passes her house along the railway line in BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Men smoke and play cards at a tea room close to the railway line in BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A woman carries goods to sell at a market across the railway tracks from the station in ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A woman carrying firewood walks along the platform of the station in ShixiKevin Frayer/Getty Images

Bagou, the town at the end of the line, was once home to 20,000 people, but the closure of the coal mine led to a decline. The miners moved away, and the schools and hospitals were shut down. Now the place is unloved, with crumbling buildings and around 1,000 mostly elderly residents.

However, the increasing popularity of the railway line may turn the fortunes of the town around. Some of the former miners' cottages have been renovated and now operate as guesthouses for visitors.

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A woman sits on her bed under posters of Chinese Communist Party leaders, at her home near the railway line in the former mining town of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images
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A portrait of Chairman Mao hangs in a house near the railway line in the former mining town of BagouKevin Frayer/Getty Images

The tourists that come here are mostly urban Chinese people from nearby cities like Chengdu, wanting to travel back in time, but a few foreigners have begun making the trip to experience "the real China".

Kevin Frayer, who took these photographs, told IBTimesUK: "So much of the view of China these days is about development and fuelling economic growth. It is a country of megacities, sprawling buildings and has one of the most sophisticated transport systems in the world.

"Yet there are still places where you can get glimpses of an older China, where the pace is slower and the infrastructure less advanced. The steam train line in the hills of Sichuan looks exactly as it has for decades.

"The service still exists mostly because of tourists who come from cities in other parts of China, longing for a bit of nostalgia. The rail line is operated by the local coal company so that helps keep it viable. But it isn't a guarantee. China's government continues to curb coal dependency so there could be a day the steam train is at risk. For now, it is a wonderful and rare chance to take a step back in time."