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”

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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”

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”

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”