On a long hot summer’s day in 1989 I made one of my most rash investment decisions ever when I followed the example of many other Brits at the time and bought a second home, near Dinan in Brittany. Over the next three decades it gave me a chance to get to know the region and its fascinating, but much-rationaised, railway network.
Having finally and reluctantly decided to sell the house, this seems like a good excuse to look at some of the changes that I have seen on Brittany’s railways over the past three decades, as witnessed on my numerous delightful days by train out over that time.
After defying all those who cast doubt on its survival, scheduled steam services from the remarkable Wolsztyn depot in western Poland now look secure for 2021.
Despite heavy reliance on a handful of semi-retired drivers, the twice daily weekday service on the 46km (29-mile) route to Leszno and Saturday services on the 80km (50-mile) route to Poznan will continue for at least another year.
An enforced overnight stay in Berlin, as a result of easyjet cancelling most of its flights to and from London, gave me the chance on my return to the German capital by train from the Zittauer Schmalspurbahn to pay a visit to another of the narrow gauge lines in Saxony, the rather delightful Döllnitzbahn.
After the crowds travelling on the Zittau system it made a remarkable contrast to find myself as the only passenger on one of the services I took, which are essentially run for the benefit of local school children travelling into the town of Oschatz – midway between Dresden and Leipzig – from Mügeln and surrounding settlements. Continue reading “A day out on the Döllnitzbahn”
After a January visit to see narrow gauge steam on the German/Czech border between Cranzahl and Kurort Oberwiesenthal, my first post-lockdown rail excursion to Europe takes me to another remote corner of SE Germany and the splendid 750mm narrow gauge system based in the charming city of Zittau.
Besides paying a return visit to a line I had visited in very different times shortly after German reunification 30 years ago, I was particularly eager to photograph the famous double departure of services from its junction at Bertsdorf and also to sample the railway’s unique dining service. Continue reading “A trip in Europe’s smallest dining car”
HOLIDAY plans for many of us have been thrown into disarray by the pandemic, so this seems like a timely moment to look back at two memorable July holidays from years gone by, when I was able to sample and photograph one of Europe’s most remarkable railway networks.
32 years ago this month I paid my first visit to the fabulous metre-gauge system on Corsica, and over the course of a two–week touring holiday with my future wife contrived to travel in stages over the entire 232km (144-mile) Y-shaped rail network, connecting the northern towns of Bastia and Calvi with Ajaccio on the west coast.
Having recently re-discovered photographs and slides of that memorable July 1988 trip, and a return family visit in July 2007, this is a look back to a time before modernisation, when there was still regular freight on the principal Bastia-Ajaccio axis, when trains still ran to the port at Ajaccio, and when marvellous 1949-vintage Renault ABH railcars were the mainstay of passenger services. Continue reading “Corsican metre-gauge in 1988 and 2007”
NINE years ago this month (in May 2011) I paid a visit to Europe’s most isolated country, Albania, and spent the next five days travelling the whole of its decrepit railway network, before the most scenic section of route was suddenly closed a year later.
As desperately needed investment seems set to revive at least part of this remarkable and ramshackle system, this is an expanded and illustrated version of my original 2011 account, with an update at the end on developments since that visit. Continue reading “Europe’s forgotten railway network”
EXACTLY 25 years ago today, on Wednesday, 10 May 1995, I went on one of my most memorable ever continental railway journeys, when I broke off from a family holiday near Lisbon to spend an unforgettable 36 hours travelling to the Douro Valley and then sampling two of the remarkable metre-gauge lines leading up tributary river valleys north of the Douro.
Those trips up the Tua Line to Mirandela and later up the Corgo Line from Régua to Vila Real convinced me that these were some of the most scenic rail journeys in Europe, so it came as a real shock to learn years later that the Portuguese Government had allowed these lines, along with the Tâmega Line from Livração to Amarante, to close (in 2008/9). Continue reading “Lost metre-gauge in the Douro Valley”
After autumn visits to two of Germany’s wonderful narrow gauge railways on the Baltic Coast, my first overseas trip of the New Year took me to the opposite end of eastern Germany and by 750mm gauge steam to the country’s highest town.
This is the ski resort of Oberwiesenthal, which stands close to the border with the Czech Republic in the Erzgebirge mountain range and is reached by rail on the charming Fichtelbergbahn, a 17.4 km (10.9 mile) line that connects with the standard gauge DB network at Cranzahl.
The railway takes its name from the Fichtel Mountain, which is close to the ski resort, and opened to traffic in 1897; although its current identity was only adopted on its privatisation just over a decade ago. Continue reading “Germany’s steam-hauled ski train”
On my first ever visit to Poland 30 years ago (October 1989) I paid a visit to the country’s last steam-worked narrow gauge railway, a charmingly rural line that ran 14 kms westwards from a town called Sroda to the south of Poznan.
In those far off days there were six round trips a day, conveying a mixture of workers, shoppers and schoolchildren in a pair of ancient wooden coaches each heated by a coal-fired boiler mounted beneath the coach floor. A single fare to the terminus at Zaniemysl (pictured above) cost the princely sum of 170 [old] Zloties (less than 2p). Continue reading “Steaming to Sroda”
Daily steam working will now continue from Wolsztyn in western Poland into 2020, at least until the famous May Day Parade event, and there is even the prospect of extended weekday operations from the world-famous depot.