Favourite photo-spots: Craven Arms

IMG_9602Controlling an important junction south of Shrewsbury between the Marches Line to Newport and the Heart of Wales line to Llanelli is Craven Arms Crossing, which was once one of two signal boxes here, along with one at the station itself, some 300 yards to the south.

IMG_9644.jpgWhile the box itself looks more like an East German border post than a traditional signal box, and the station has long been reduced to basic “bus shelters” on each platform, the station footbridge and platform ends offer a splendid vantage point from which to appreciate the collection of lower quadrant semaphore signals that are  a feature of the Marches Line. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Craven Arms”

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Heritage traction on a Breton branch line

Chateau_04In 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 routes such as 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.

Chateaubriant’s well-preserved station has become an interchange with the re-opened route south to Nantes, which has been converted into light rail route T1 by the Pays de la Loire region and is currently served by eight trams a day, with a significantly more frequent service operating from Nantes as far north as the towns of Nort-sur-Erdre and Suce-sur-Erdre.

 But co-ordination of the two rail services appears almost non-existent. Looking at the summer 2016 timetables, there was only one viable connection a day in each direction – with a southbound departure from Rennes at 07.43 connecting into a tram that gave an arrival in Nantes at 10.29, while in the reverse direction the only connection was from a tram departing Nantes at 10.10 that gave a connection into a train service arriving into Rennes at 12.51. 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.

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. 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”

Manx Magic

IMG_6121.jpgWhere is the international airport whose rail link is only served by steam-hauled trains? It may sound like a rather fanciful question, but the answer is Ronaldsway on the Isle of Man, where a modest airport halt stands behind an industrial estate, some 300 yards from the airport terminal, mid-way along the 15-mile route from Peel to Port Erin. The regular steam-hauled trains stop on request to the guard, or by making a hand signal to the driver.

I know this to be true because I alighted there myself at the end of a brief three-day visit in May 2013 to this fantastic island, with its three separate rail systems (four if you include the horse-drawn trams), all Government-owned and for an inclusive fare (a three-day Island Explorer ticket cost me £32.00) offering a marvellous way to explore all corners of the island. Continue reading “Manx Magic”