My interest in the extensive metre-gauge network around the Peloponnese Peninsula in Greece had been aroused during a summer-time visit in 1979, when I had travelled a few sections of the remarkable route, from Athens to Korinthos (Corinth), Mycenae to Tripolis and Olympia to Patra, while on a low-budget student month touring Greece and Greek islands.
Having fallen victim to the Greek financial crisis in 2011, which left only two isolated sections of the system in operation – Olympia to Pirghos and Katakalo and a Patra suburban service – it was good discover that much of the system was still useable three years later and to have the chance to travel much of the route on a two-day PTG Tour in October 2014.
Beginning at the new Korinthos station, where narrow gauge lines are alongside the new standard gauge suburban electric service from Athens, our train was top-and-tailed by two Alco diesels (9101/9105) with one proper coach and three converted baggage cars. After three years of no regular traffic, the track is in remarkably good condition, but there is no signalling, so we have to proceed cautiously over all the many level crossings. On the first leg of our trip, I manage to get a shot of Mycenae station, which looks a sorry sight compared to the image in my colour slide from July 1979. After a brief stop at Arghos we head down the Nafplio branch, attracting a lot of local interest as we do.
We then return to Arghos and resume our southward journey on the track I had previously travelled to Tripolis. Pass the dump of steam locos at Myoli en route and make three photo stops – two on impressive viaducts and later in a station. One viaduct had only been re-built in 1971 after being bombed in the war and the temporary Y-shaped deviation is still clearly visible along with the remains of the old viaduct. At Eleochori station an old rail timetable (pictured right) still shows the six trains each way that were stopping here until services were halted in early 2011.
Our next stop is at the delightful station in Tripolis – the limit of my 1979 journey on this line (pictured left). There is a remarkable amount of stock dumped here and the station seems untouched and ready to re-open, if ever that day comes. From here our journey continues south to the junction at Lefktro, where we then proceed rather gingerly up the short branch line to Megalopolis.
After returning to Lefktro, we then resume our southward journey with one brief stop in a hill-side village for a group shot in front of the rear locomotive. Our final stop of the day is in the delightful station at Zevgolatio (pictured left), junction for the line across to Kiparissia and some distance short of Kalamata, which sadly we don’t have time to visit. Take some great early evening shots here before we set off on the rather less maintained track to our final destination for the day, Kiparissia (pictured below) which we reach in the dark at 20.00.
Things sadly go awry on the following day (Sunday, 12 October 2014) when, after setting off on time at 08.00 it soon becomes apparent that the poor track late yesterday has taken its toll on the train, with wheel damage to the first two vehicles, as well as some braking problems.
It means we are forced to make painfully slow progress all the way to Pirghos, losing a great deal of time and meaning that we can no longer travel the Katakolo branch, which I and many others were very keen to do. We finally get to Pirghos around midday and transfer to one of the modern Stadler railcars that are used here on the Olympia to Katakolo service and also on the suburban service in Patra. In 1979 I had noted 28 dumped steam locomotives here – today just one of them remains.
We eventually set off and make sedate progress, due to the poor track and number of level crossings. After a couple of hours we have a break at a station called Varda (pictured right). Later there is a degree of concern on the train as around a dozen people have been booked onto the 16.45 OSE rail replacement bus from Patra to Kiato (temporary terminus of suburban service from Athens) and it doesn’t look like we are going to be there in time. The day is saved however when we arrive just in time, after a phone call had resulted in the bus being held for our arrival.
As I am staying the night in Patra, there is a chance to visit the nearby depot, where the highlight is 2-8-0 steam loco 7721 (pictured left) which looks in remarkably good condition and is clearly a potential runner at some time in the future. I also photograph a cat sleeping in an abandoned railcar (2103), before taking a trip on the thriving suburban railway, first to its southern terminus, Agios Andreas, where there are a few remaining dumped coaches and two locomotives, then head north to the terminus at Agios Vasileios, just beyond a place called Rion, where the old station building is now a thriving café.