One quite recent surprising development in the Balkans is the re-emergence of ŽS class 666 General Motors diesels on passenger work – locos with quite a bit of history behind them.
The socialist federation of Yugoslavia was born out of the Second World War under the direction of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, a key figure of the wartime resistance. From 1947, he used the “Blue Train” to both travel around and entertain and impress guests; in much the same vein as the British Royal Family’s own private train. The “Blue Train” was the epitome of luxury, being essentially a hotel on wheels – it included bathrooms, suites, and copious amounts of leather and wood panelling. As a feather in the cap and a demonstration of Yugoslavia’s increasing prosperity, virtually every material that went into it was locally sourced.
This special train was greeted rapturously by the locals wherever it passed through. It was routinely hauled by three dedicated steam locomotives, one of which is now plinthed and on display at the side of Beograd’s main railway station. As part of the ongoing modernisation of Yugoslavia, these were replaced in 1957 by three West German-built Class 761 diesel-hydraulics – a six-axle version of the famous V200 class of the Deutsche Bundesbahn – named “Dinara”, “Kozara” and “Sutjeska” in honour of important Second World War battles fought in the Balkans. These were withdrawn in 1978, and now stand rusting away in sidings in Topcider, a southern suburb of Beograd (and here is a link to them on Google Maps!).
Yugoslav Railways (JŽ) had, through the 1960s and early 1970s, procured a great deal of its main line diesel traction from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, with great “out of the box” success. Consequently, it was an obvious decision to source the 761s’ replacements from GM too.
The result was four brand-new General Motors Class 666 diesel-electric locomotives; the first three inheriting the previous battle-inspired names and the fourth having the title “Neretva” bestowed upon it, on the same theme. These were built at roughly the same time and to a virtually identical design to the Irish 071 Class locos.
This is a link to a video uploaded to YouTube by Nemes Nikola, showing 666 003 at work on a freight train in 2016.
However, the GMs’ most notable duty was to be Tito’s final journey. After a protracted illness, the dictator died on 4th May 1980 in a Ljubljana hospital. The “Blue Train” – hauled by 666 003 “Sutjeska” and 666 004 “Neretva” – conveyed his remains, departing Ljubljana at 08:20 the next day and, after a break in Zagreb, arrived in Beograd approximately six hours later. Tito was buried in the “House of Flowers” there three days later.
Although the “Blue Train” is seen generally in history as “Tito’s”, it continued to operate after his death, conveying the new order of Yugoslavian top brass. An example of its use was to take Slobodan Milosevic to Kosovo Polje in order for him to give the infamous speech to over a million people at the Gazimestan memorial on 28th June 1989. This was one of the train’s last uses; its carriages were retired that year. The locos, however, remained in service, albeit with a much lower profile and, most recently, no passenger work and even withdrawal.
However, they have now obtained a daily passenger diagram on the two services that link the capitals of Bulgaria and Serbia (Sofia and Beograd), working the non-electrified section between Dimitrovgrad and Niš, as follows:-
1490 (09:40 Sofia -) 11:00 Dimitrovgrad – 13:38 Niš (- 18:14 Beograd)
1491 (09:25 Beograd -) 14:15 Niš – 16:58 Dimitrovgrad (- 20:10 Sofia)
These trains are booked to run daily until 17th September 2017.