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”

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Albania’s forgotten railway

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It ranks as Europe’s newest national rail system, started after World War Two and only completed in the mid 1980s, it is the most isolated and run down, and it must surely be the cheapest. Superlatives abound when it comes to talking about Hekurudha Shqipetare, or HSH, the national railway of Albania (“the land of the eagles”), so what is it really like, this system of 356 route kilometres (since reduced through closure), that could be covered in its entirely for a total fare of less than €10.00?

Setting out with the aim of travelling the entire network in five days was like taking a step back in time and into some parallel universe. Life on HSH is run at a sedate pace, survival of the whole system seemingly hanging by a thread, and where un-broken and fully glazed windows in carriages are something to be dreamed of, in a country where throwing stones at passing trains seems to be something of a national pastime. Continue reading “Albania’s forgotten railway”

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”