Heritage traction on a Breton branch line

IMG_8201In summer 2016, Brittany remained one of only three regions in France to see local services still worked by single car X2100 units, which were in service alongside the new generation X73500 units on the branch line heading south from Rennes to Chateaubriant.

Weekday services on this pleasantly rural route comprise just three or four round trips, with one  late afternoon working as far south as Retiers. Continue reading “Heritage traction on a Breton branch line”

Narrow Gauge to the Rhodope Mountains

Narrow gauge railways have always held a particular fascination for me and one which I had long wished to visit was the 125km (78-mile) 760mm gauge Septemvri-Dobrinishte line in Bulgaria. Despite persistent closure threats the line continues to be run by Bulgarian State Railways and is the country’s only narrow gauge line.

IMG_1057This is a truly remarkable railway that traverses some fabulous scenery and feels like a step back in time when you are able to look out of the window and see horse-drawn ploughs being used in the fields. With the four daily round trip hauled by diesel locos dating from the mid-1960s, it is a trip not to be missed. Continue reading “Narrow Gauge to the Rhodope Mountains”

A metre gauge adventure in Greece

IMG_9792My 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. Continue reading “A metre gauge adventure in Greece”

Narrow gauge delights in the Czech Republic

Think of the Czech Republic and the odds are that what springs to mind are the cultural and nocturnal attractions of its capital, Prague, or the population’s legendary beer consumption and the vast range of beers on offer. Less likely to feature is a vast, efficient, and predominantly state-run rail network and two fascinating narrow gauge rail systems on opposite sides of the country.

While it does not enjoy the reputation among those interested in European rail systems of two neighbouring countries – Austria, for its numerous narrow gauge lines and Poland for its surviving steam – the Czech Republic is a very scenic, cheap and attractive place to spend a few days and the two narrow gauge systems – one privatised and one still in the hands of state operator České Dráhy (ČD) – are remarkable places to visit.

IMG_8867What these two 760mm (2’ 6”) systems have in common is regular steam operations during the summer months and being home, for the moment at least, of a fleet of aged Tu47 Czech-built Bo-Bo diesel locomotives, dating from 1954-59 and currently the mainstay of daily scheduled passenger services. Continue reading “Narrow gauge delights in the Czech Republic”

Last steam to Leszno

IMG_8186.jpgScheduled steam working at Wolsztyn in western Poland out-lasted the rest of the country by more than two decades, thanks principally to the efforts of Howard Jones MBE and his Wolsztyn Experience, which helped fund continued use of steam on services from the town to Poznan and Leszno by offering footplate experience courses, that have attracted enthusiasts from all over the world.

But changes at PKP Cargo, owner of Wolsztyn depot, and privatisation of the local passenger services, led to a funding crisis and the suspension of the remaining twice-daily Wolsztyn-Leszno service at the end of March 2014. Continue reading “Last steam to Leszno”

Europe’s last big steam show

IMG_7214It became a byword for violent disorder during three years of devastating civil war between 1992 and 1995 and the massacre that took place during that bloody conflict, but the industrial town of Tuzla, in north-eastern Bosnia-Hercegovina has acquired a new distinction, as home to the last working industrial steam locomotives anywhere in Europe.

At a small workshop, next to a closed-down coal mine on the western outskirts of the town, Merim Alicic and his small team of skilled engineers are fabricating new cylinders and other components that are needed to keep a five-strong fleet of huge World War Two-era steam locomotives on the rails. Continue reading “Europe’s last big steam show”

Last train to Wellingtonbridge

IMG_2034Despite a long and bitter local campaign, the 30-mile long route from Rosslare Europort to Waterford, in the south eastern corner of the Irish Republic, was closed on Saturday, 18 September 2010 and now remains “mothballed”, with state rail operator Iarnród Éireann (IE) required to maintain the line, in the unlikely event of its future re-opening.

Seasonal sugar beet traffic had once been a mainstay of the South Wexford route, but this had disappeared when the Irish Republic ceased to be a beet producer in 2006, leaving only a single daily return passenger train, departing Rosslare at 07.00 on Mondays to Saturdays, and returning at 17.20 from Waterford. Continue reading “Last train to Wellingtonbridge”

Classic traction in Corsica

IMG_9587Corsica is probably best known for its liberation front and its wild boar pate, but the large Mediterranean island can also boast the finest and most spectacular narrow gauge railway system anywhere in Europe – at least since the sad closure a few years ago of Portugal’s Douro Valley routes from Tua to Mirandela and Regua to Villa Real.

The 144-mile long metre-gauge system comprises a main Bastia-Ajaccio axis, from which a branch line diverges at a junction station called Ponte-Leccia, just north of the university town of Corte. This 46-mile long branch reaches the island’s north coast at L’Île-Rousse and from here westwards to the terminus at Calvi a seasonal shuttle service known as the Tramway de la Balagne supplements the limited longer distance services, and serves the many beaches and resorts along this delightful coastline. Continue reading “Classic traction in Corsica”

A Final Winter of Polish Steam

Memories of a visit to Poland – December 1990

IMG_9502Transcribing this diary a decade after the events it describes brings home just how dramatic have been the changes that have taken place in Poland over the last ten years. Far from the booming economy of today, Poland at Christmas 1990 was a country on the verge of huge changes. Continue reading “A Final Winter of Polish Steam”