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Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn loco haulage – Leipzig to Chemnitz

Possibly the least-visited area of diesel loco haulage in Germany at the moment – admittedly possibly in part due to the “blandness” of the locos concerned – is the route between Leipzig and Chemnitz, operated by Siemens Eurorunner class 223s.

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One of the locos from the pool – 223 055 – seen in a previous life, whilst employed on passenger duty on the Hamburg-Westerland “Marschbahn” route with the erstwhile Nord-Ostsee-Bahn.  Itzehoe, 19/05/12 (JW)

The area of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR; East Germany) is now a desert in terms of diesel locomotive haulage on passenger trains.  The cessation of through running to Szczecin by EC178/EC179 “Alois Negrelli” in Summer 2012 left Summer weekend-only 218-hauled Intercity portions on the island of Usedom as the only booked mainline diesel-hauled trains in the entire (former) country.

The December 2015 timetable change, however, brought something of an oasis to this desert, when the private Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB) took over the operation of one particular route from the incumbent DB Regio.

The unelectrified 38-mile cross-country route between Leipzig and Chemnitz links what were two of the four largest cities in the GDR – although, of course, Chemnitz was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt in those days.  The route will never win any scenery awards, although there is some interest in the area – for example, it passes within 10 miles of Colditz Castle, the site of the wartime POW camp that was the subject of a famous 1955 movie.

Anyway, back to the trains!

Motive Power

The trains are formed of Siemens “Eurorunner” class 223 diesels – noted for being almost silent! – and four- or five-strong rakes of GDR-era Halberstädter carriages, operated in push-pull mode.

The pool consists of the three machines that were in the fleet of NOB on the “Marschbahn” route prior to their replacement by the troubled 245.2 fleet – 223 053 to 223 055 – plus two locos that were new to passenger work; 223 144 and 223 152.

However, at the time of writing, 223 152 was engaged on the island of Rügen with one carriage, replacing the usual class 650 single-car DMU on the shuttle from Bergen auf Rügen to Lauterbach Mole while it receives works attention.

Moves

Three sets of stock (and, consequently, three locos) are in use 7 days a week between Leipzig and Chemnitz each day, and moves are very easy to put together.

Departures are hourly from each end (xx:20 from Leipzig and xx:31 from Chemnitz) with an end-to-end journey time of 59 minutes.

Heading towards Chemnitz, the “leaping shack” is Geithain (+5), and heading towards Leipzig, Narsdorf (+9) and Bad Lausick (+39).  Therefore all three turns can be covered in, for example, a “Leipzig > Geithain > Bad Lausick > somewhere” move in just over an hour.

The above is a link to a YouTube video uploaded by user SvenRailworld showing 223 054 making a sprightly departure from Leipzig Hbf in February 2016.

Controversy

Although pleasing from an enthusiast’s perspective to see a revival of loco-hauled operation an environment where it is otherwise in its death throes, it has not been universally welcomed by the locals.

The increased noise levels (not in terms of engine noise, but of wheel-on-rail and of the cast iron brakes of the stock) have gained much criticism in a country that culturally values silence – and that is not to mention that lack of air conditioning, slam doors etc that have generally been perceived as a backwards step by those that use them every day.

There have also been reports of trains with no serviceable toilets, as well as (unrelated to the rolling stock) driver sickness causing cancellations on the route.

The Future

The MRB have the franchise for the route until 2023 – at least – and it seems as if the class 223 locos and Halberstädter stock will continue in use until then, although it must be wondered whether the sheer weight of public discontent will force another solution sooner.

Marschbahn woes to continue

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245 212 at Westerland on a rake of drafted-in DB Intercity stock, 08/04/17 (JW)

Regional traffic on the Hamburg to Westerland “Marschbahn” route has been suffering from disruption for some time, and this does not look to end any time soon.  From a haulage and photography perspective, this may result in some interesting opportunities to remain present until Spring 2018.

This passenger rail traffic on the Marschbahn is some of the most important in Germany, given that the railway represents the only fixed transport link between the mainland and the North Sea island of Sylt, via the Hindenburgdamm causeway.  Sylt is a popular tourist destination, and it relies on the train service over the causeway to function effectively – all road traffic has to be conveyed on trains to and from Niebüll, and this itself has been a particular political hot potato over recent years.

The operation of the Hamburg to Westerland regional passenger trains passed from DB Regio to the private operator Nord-Ostsee-Bahn (NOB) at the December 2005 timetable change.  NOB retained the franchise for 11 years, operating the service with little fuss with a mixture of Siemens class 223 and MaK class 251 diesel locomotives.

Motive Power

2014 marked the root of the current problems.  The organisation that co-ordinates public transport in Schleswig-Holstein – now known as “NAH.SH” – decreed that a fleet of 15 brand-new Bombardier Traxx class 245.2 locomotives (245 201-215) would be procured by the investment company Paribus for use specifically on the Marschbahn regional trains, regardless of operator.  These entered traffic from late 2015.  At about the same time, it was announced that the franchise would be returning to DB Regio as of the December 2016 timetable change, using the 245.2s and the existing Bombardier “Married Pair” carriages.

However, problems with the 245.2s have been legion since day one.  Initially, they suffered from frequent overheating issues and required fire brigade attendance worryingly often.  Software problems have been frequent and oil and coolant issues have been frequently reported as the cause of failures too.  This is over and above an acceptable level of “teething troubles” and is clearly unsustainable. In October 2017 it was announced that they must again go through a rolling programme of works visits for software updates and that the fleet is not expected to be back at the planned-for level of availability until Spring 2018.

Part of the problem, it is commonly believed by railwaymen and observers alike, is that the 245s are very technology-heavy locomotives, a fleet of which has been ordered without any real prototype having been tested.  Throughout the entire history of (West) German diesel and electric motive power, all new technology has been thoroughly tested on the duties expected to be carried out before an order is placed – here, we are seeing issues being discovered for the first time on the front line.  The Marschbahn is far from flat and the locos get very warm on these demanding duties.

With a full fleet of 245.2s unable to be fielded, DB Fernverkehr Niebüll depot’s allocation of 245.0s (245 021-027) have been pushed into service on these diagrams, with at least one such loco being in use on these workings each day.  Originally procured to replace pairs of 218s on Intercity and car train workings, their own poor account of themselves has seen them generally relegated to half-length Niebüll to Westerland car trains only – although it is technically possible to get haulage from these (thanks to the “Sylt Shuttle Plus” DMU workings that attach to the rear of the car trains – article on this in production), they are otherwise very rare on passenger trains.

Additionally, a number of class 223s and 251s have been called back to the Marschbahn to help prop the service up.  It is unclear whether these machines will be easily ridden behind once the 245.2s are back in action.

Only one class 218 “rabbit” diesel-hydraulic working has been recorded on the regional traffic since the troubles began – when 218 381 piloted an early morning southbound service to save on a light engine path.  Further 218 use is not expected on these services as they are booked to be worked entirely by drivers who no longer sign them.

October 2017 has also seen problems with class 245s hit the headlines in the Frankfurt area – perhaps surprisingly given they have five locos (245 016-020) for four very leisurely peak hour-only diagrams.  Commuters were reported as being “left in the lurch” specifically by 245s, which suffered three fires in just eight days.

Of note, the Intercity traffic on the Marschbahn – almost entirely in the hands of pairs of 40-year-old class 218s – is not affected.  These locomotives continue to provide sterling and reliable service, and some are even being put through Bremen works even now, ostensibly to continue to work on Intercity duties on this route until 2025.

Carriages

The “Married Pair” carriages are also providing trouble.  On 11th November 2016, a coupling defect was identified with one of the vehicles that led to the entire fleet of 90 being immediately withdrawn from traffic.  Even now, nearly a year later, only 68 are back in service.  This has led to all manner of scratch sets being formed from withdrawn Intercity and “fresh air” regional stock obtained from across Germany.

Indeed, DB Regio, which inherited the fleet at a time when none of the vehicles was operational, are apparently considering pursuing NOB for some form of compensation.

8 Belgian class 21s to Poland

8 Belgian class 21 electric locos have been moved across the continent to Poland this week, although there is currently not a lot of information regarding what is planned for them.

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One of the 21s now currently in Poland – 2125 seen at Gent Sint Pieters on 04/04/14 (JW)

8 withdrawn examples of the Belgian class 21 have now arrived at Bydgoszcz depot, after a two-week journey across Europe, although there is currently a lot of conjecture but no confirmation as to why this is.  The fact that some plans were afoot was reported on this site’s sister Facebook page as long ago as 11th July, when the documentation was prepared for four of the machines to travel east, but at that point it was thought that they were heading to the Czech Republic.  The story then went quiet until they set off at the start of this month.

It appears that the general consensus is that they are either for reactivation by CZ Loko – the Czech firm that has recently refurbished similar ex-Belgian loco no.1203 as the prototype “Effiliner 3000” loco – now sold to, and in use by, IDS Cargo – or DEPOL, a firm local to Bydgoszcz notable for having some former East German “Ludmillas” in its fleet.  According to Rynek Kolejowy, both companies have neither confirmed nor denied the suggestion.

Poland shares the Belgian 3,000V dc electrification system so there is no technical barrier to the 21s operating there (other than fitment of safety equipment etc, and it is believed that they require an element of asbestos removal).  This voltage is also used in the Netherlands, Italy, Slovakia, some of the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

This 60-strong class of electric locos were built by BN in the mid-1980s, and the first withdrawals began in 2014 as the class 18 and 19 Siemens Vectrons and new EMUs bedded in, although many remain in traffic in Belgium.

The machines in question are: 2103, 2104, 2109, 2119, 2120, 2125, 2128 and 2129.  Of note is that 2119 was involved in the Buizingen train crash on 15th February 2010 – the most deadly railway accident in Belgium in recent times – although it was undamaged as it was at the rear of its train.

Saturday 9th December 2017 – Two CC6500s on railtour duty in France

Among the most popular French locomotive types are the class CC6500 express electrics.  Retired from main line use for over a decade, there are currently two in working order, and Saturday 9th December 2017 sees both in use on the same day.

This class of 200km/h 1.5kV dc electrics were the crack express locos of their day in pre-TGV France, and are one of several types built to Paul Arzens’s classic “broken nose” styling.  74 were built – with a further 4 converted in the 1990s from CC21000 class locos (one of which, CC21003, had been tested between Washington DC and New York by Amtrak in 1977) – but only 2 remain in occasional service on the main line; CC6558 and CC6570.

CC6558 is painted in green livery, and is notable as one of the 21 machines that were actually built as dual voltage, to also operate on the 1.5kV dc third rail system on the Maurienne route from Chambéry to Modane, which was converted to overheads in 1976.  It is perhaps a little odd to see photos of these machines hauling trains with no catenary in sight!

CC6570, meanwhile, is painted in the attractive burgundy and orange “coup de soleil” (sunburn) livery.

CC6558

CC6558 is working a short-but-sweet railtour from Chambéry (where it is based) to Lyon and return, in connection with the Festival of Lights and the Christmas market there.  Lyon is France’s second-biggest city and is a UNESCO World Heritage site so is surely worth a visit!

The tour departs Chambéry at 13:59 and returns from Lyon Perrache at 23:40, with a journey time in each direction of appoximately two hours.  The fare for the round trip is a bargain €23.

The tour is operated by the APMFS (l’Association pour la Préservation du Matériel Ferroviaire Savoyard) and more details can be found on their site here.

The above is a link to a YouTube video by user Paul Mollard showing CC6558 on the same working five years ago.

CC6570

CC6570’s duty is from Avignon-Centre to Arles and return and is essentially a Santa Special, with treats and entertainments for children on board.  The route is circular, travelling out via Cavaillon, Salon and Miramas, and back via Tarascon, and the train performs this loop twice – at 15:00 and 17:00 from Avignon.  The second of these can even be easily reached from the 07:52 Eurostar from London to Paris that morning.

The fare for a round trip is a supremely reasonable €12, and there is an option to travel outwards on the first, have a break of two hours in Arles, then return on the second.

This tour is operated by APCC6570, and more details can be found on their site here.

The above is a link to a YouTube video by appropriately-named user Nez Cassés showing CC6570 on the main line in 2016.

Cranks’ Itinerary

Whilst the clash is perhaps unfortunate in some respects, you may be interested to know that you can comfortably travel behind both during the day – and given the very cheap prices involved, missing part of a tour is not necessarily the end of the world.

Following the arrival of the second round trip from Avignon to Arles with CC6570 (departs approx 17:00 and returns approx 19:00), you can travel on the 20:27 local train to Avignon TGV, a TGV to Lyon Part-Dieu, and then another local train into Lyon Perrache, arriving at 22:43 and giving you a nice +57 onto CC6558’s return working (of course, what you then do at 01:42 at Chambéry is up to you!).

An advance through ticket from Avignon-Centre to Lyon Perrache on these service trains is currently available on the SNCF website (at the time of writing) at €14.50, meaning that the entire itinerary including both CC6500s and transport between them is theoretically available for less than €50.

American loco goes to Goes

One type of diesel loco extinct in the Netherlands is the NS class 2000 – 65-ton 600hp Whitcombs built for, and used by, the US Army Transportation Corps during World War 2 for their operations in Europe, of which NS acquired 20 after the end of the war. All were out of service and subsequently scrapped by the early 1960s.

However, the Stoomtrein Goes-Borsele have now finally succeeded in acquiring an example of the same type from industrial use in the States – works no.7989 of 1943, which has been in use up until fairly recently on the internal system of Lehigh Cement in Mason City, Iowa. It is to be loaded onto a ship tomorrow, 19th October 2017, and should arrive in Antwerpen in mid-November.  Link to photos here and below.

Congratulations to the SGB on achieving their goal, and I’m sure many of us are very keen to see it back in action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near miss at Worowo involving EP07-1035

A potentially nasty event occurred at Worowo in Poland at approximately 13:30 today, 17th October 2017 – TLK81104, the “Rybak” from Szczecin to Bialystok, hauled by EP07-1035, passed a signal at danger and was brought to a stand only after an emergency radio broadcast from the traffic controller – just 100 metres from a head-on collision with the oncoming “Zulawy” which was crossing into the loop ahead of it.

The driver of EP07-1035, which had the SPAD, is currently held on charges that carry a potential custodial sentence of between 6 months and 8 years.  Understandably, the incident remains under investigation.

It must be said that the safety performance of the Polish railways is possibly a cause for concern.  The last six weeks alone have seen EP07-395 and EP08-006 severely damaged in collisions with other trains, and this could have been so much worse – luckily, there were no injuries.

There are some hair-raising photos in the article here.

Lausitzer Dampflokclub provisional 2018 railtour dates

Here is a list of provisional railtour dates for the Lausitzer Dampflokclub for 2018.  As far as I am aware, none of these have yet been advertised, let alone bookings opened, so please therefore treat this list in the spirit it is intended – purely to help you with as much advance warning as possible over what they are trying to do.  I do not want the LDC on the receiving end of any negativity if these plans do not come to fruition in the hoped-for way.

The group is currently engaged in fundraising to repair their steam loco 23 1019 after damage sustained at Chemnitz.  Should you wish to book on any of these, you will be helping them in this aim, when indeed bookings open.

 

27th January 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Elsterwerda – Dresden-Neustadt – Freital-Hainsberg for trip to Kurort Kipsdorf with Weisseritztalbahn narrow gauge steam loco

24th February 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Görlitz – Jelena Gora, Karpacz und Jaworzyna Slaska

Through coach from Dresden with 50 3648 (steam)

17th March 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Calau – Senftenberg – Hoyerswerda – Schwarze Pumpe power station area – Boxberg power station area – Nochten – Cottbus

7th April 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Elsterwerda – Dresden for the Dampfloktreffen event, and return.

14th April 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Frankfurt (Oder) – Eberswalde and return.

28th April 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Guben – Wolsztyn for the Dampflok-Parade

10th May 2018

Class 772 “pig taxi” DMU – or V100+stock “bei Bedarf” (if necessary): Cottbus – Weisswasser for a trip on the Bad Muskau Waldeisenbahn

26th May 2018

18 201 (steam) – Cottbus – Elsterwerda – Dresden Hbf – Bad Schandau and return

9th June 2018

03 2155 (steam) – Cottbus – Forst – Wroclaw and return

10th June 2018

03 2155 (steam) – Cottbus – Görlitz and return

23rd June 2018

52 8131 (steam) – Cottbus – Görlitz – Liberec – Tanvald – Harrachov and return

30th June 2018

Class 772 “pig taxi” DMU: Cottbus – Calau – Senftenberg – Schwarzkollm and return

7th July 2018

Class 143 electric: Cottbus – Frankfurt (Oder) – Berlin Hohenschönhausen – Ostseebad Binz (optional trip to Lauterbach with 86 1333 (steam) then on the “Rasender Roland” narrow gauge steam line)

15th July 2018

Class 772 “pig taxi” DMU: Cottbus – Calau – Senftenberg – Schwarzkollm and return

11th August 2018

Class 772 “pig taxi” DMU: Cottbus – Finsterwalde and return

11th August 2018

18 201 (steam): Cottbus – Lübben – Berlin Lichtenberg – Berlin Gesendbrunnen – Warnemunde and return for Hanse Sail 2018

1st September 2018

18 201 (steam) last working before withdrawal from traffic for major overhaul: Cottbus – Falkenberg – Halle (Saale) to Meiningen for Dampfloktagen and return

1st September 2018

Class 143 electric: Cottbus – Frankfurt (Oder) – Berlin Stadtbahn – Potsdam Hbf – Wittenberge for Brandenbergtag and return

29th September 2018

52 8131 (steam): Cottbus – Elsterwerda – Coswig – Meissen and return

6th October 2018

“Class 245 diesel” (may mean Class 285 on previous form): Cottbus – Falkenberg – Wittenberg – Dessau – Wernigerode for a trip up the Brocken with a narrow gauge steam loco

3rd November 2018

V100 diesel loco: Cottbus – Senftenberg – Pulsnitz for the Pfefferkuchenmarkt and return

1st December 2018

03 2155 (steam): Cottbus – Görlitz – Wroclaw and return

8th December 2018

“Class 245 diesel” (may mean Class 285 on previous form): Cottbus – Falkenberg – Wittenberg – Dessau – Quedlinberg for Christmas market or optional Christmas journey on the Harzer Schmalspurbahn

15th December 2018

52 8079 (steam): Cottbus – Görlitz and return

2143 056 on the comeback trail

Some good news from Austria is the imminent return to traffic of diesel-hydraulic loco 2143 056.

If you followed this site’s Haulage Calendar through the summer of 2017 you will doubtless have been familiar with the tireless use of Regiobahn’s blue and orange machine 2143 062, which has put in many shifts on special trains from Wien to Ernstbrunn.

Regiobahn/Verein Neue Landesbahn are now soon to restore sister machine 2143 056 to traffic, which will be in “blood orange” livery with its original number of 2143.56.

It appears that ‘056 is intended to complement, rather than replace ‘062, as the video linked below (from Facebook) shows them engaged in a multiple-working test on shed at Mistelbach in July 2017 – prior to work on ‘056’s repaint commencing.  I reckon the pair sound pretty good!

Verein Neue Landesbahn also have 2143 070 in 1980s-era livery which is currently in the works at St Pölten – but it is possible that next year may see a fleet of three 2143s available for use on the special trains to Ernstbrunn.

Check out this article which was a preview of Summer 2017’s heritage diesel operations in Austria, to give an indication of what may be in store in 2018!

 

Kosovo’s railways – the story so far

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2620 005 (ex-HŽ 2044 031) at Hani i Elizit, 20/09/15 (JW)

Standing at the erstwhile crossroads of the Yugoslavian railway network, Kosovo Polje – or Fushë Kosovë, to use its Albanian name – is a town approximately five miles west of Pristina, the capital of the disputed state of Kosovo.  It has had a turbulent past riddled with conflict – not least in the last 20 years – but, on a breezy afternoon in September 2015, it cut a peaceful figure.

Fushë Kosovë remains a railway crossroads, but its services are much curtailed from the Yugoslavian heyday – ethnic and political tensions have severed hitherto-vital links and reduced former main lines to branch line status.  One thing that Fushë Kosovë does retain, however, is a railway depot of significant size.  It is where the entire fleet of the Kosovan railway is based and maintained.

As well as maintaining the operational rolling stock, the depot at Fushë Kosovë contains a padlocked compound at its southern end, in which 20 locomotives are parked – rusty, faded, battered and derelict.  These actually hold the key to telling us a fair amount about the history of Kosovo since the war of 1998/99, so rather than a straightforward “spotters’ fleet list”, I’ll try and cover a bit more general history.

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2640 007 (ex-661 228) trundles into Ferizaj, a small microcosm of the multicultural state that Kosovo is – with a mosque dominating the skyline but a church steeple peeking over the trees too.  1605 Fushë Kosovë – Hani i Elizit, 17/09/15 (JW)

Kosovo, as a former territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, benefited from being a small cog in the big wheel of a relatively homogeneous Balkan railway network; Jugoslovenske Železnice (Yugoslavian Railways).  Rolling stock procurement was done on a national (i.e. Yugoslavian) scale and therefore you would not necessarily have expected to find different types of train in each republic/province.  However, the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has certainly changed this.  It’s just one more way that each republic has, consciously or otherwise, cemented its independence.

However, one thing that has all but disappeared from the public eye in most other parts of the former Yugoslavia is any trace of the JŽ logo, or indeed many reminders at all that the constituent parts used to be part of the federation with each other.  The Fushë Kosovë compound is one exception.  Here, the locomotives sit rotting, Kosovan purely by dint of being unserviceable there when the federation collapsed.  Nobody especially wants them, and in a cash-strapped environment, nobody really sees a need to spend any money on them, or more importantly, as their problem to do so.  Some of these locomotives will have not seen use since Yugoslavian days, many have certainly not seen heavy maintenance since then, as the faded painted dates on their bodysides attest.  The vast majority – if not all – will never pull a train again.

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Traces of Yugoslavia in the scrap line (JW)

Kosovo will be most well-known – certainly to people of my generation – as being the scene of deep-set tension between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs, and most notably, the attempt of Slobodan Milosevic’s government to brutally suppress the Kosovo Liberation Army’s campaign for independence which erupted into civil war in 1998/99.  Between March and June 1999, our TV screens were full of images of the 78-day NATO bombing campaign – “Operation Allied Force” – carried out with the intention of removing Milosevic’s forces from Kosovo.  Milosevic accepted the terms of an international peace plan, and the UN deployed a security presence in Kosovo, the “United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo” (UNMIK); NATO also deployed peacekeepers – the Kosovo Force (KFOR).  KFOR supported UNMIK’s work, but, as befitted their parentage, there was no chain of command between the two.

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KFOR and UN logos on the side of ex-SNCF BB63018 (JW)

KFOR were up against a difficult task and it became clear that, dilapidated as they may be, the Kosovan railways would be integral to their operations.  Initially, the British Army (79 Railway Squadron of the Royal Logistic Corps) was in charge of railway operations for KFOR.

79 Railway Squadron had been present in West Germany during the Cold War which, had it turned “hot” and escalated into conflict between East and West, would have seen the squadron operate a support network of railway services using Class 216 diesel-hydraulic locomotives (on which the crews had been fully trained).  Sadly, the British Army no longer maintains a railway operating capability – if required in the future, these duties will need to be carried out by civilians instead.

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79 Railway Squadron lettering as worn by accident-damaged 661 254 (JW)

The Italian Railway Regiment took over in the September, providing 120 specially-trained railwaymen and women, who were veterans of the Bosnian railway rebuilding earlier in the decade and therefore more than able to carry out what was required of them.  They brought their own train, the Rapid Reaction Train, in order to assist, which arrived in the October.

As an aside, this wasn’t the first train of the era to run all the way through to Kosovo.  A remarkable train had operated in September 1999 in connection with the KFOR operations, all the more special as it was a charity endeavour.  What was called the “Train for Life” took three ex-British Rail Class 20 diesel locomotives and their train from London all the way through to Kosovo, arriving in Fushë Kosovë – not without some resistance en route! – on 27 September.  It was conveying 15 carriages of donated clothes, food and medical supplies, as well as educational material and other items to assist with the rebuilding of Kosovo.  Key to this was the train itself.  The three British locomotives then remained in Kosovo for a while, operating trains for KFOR, eventually returning to Britain where they re-entered service on less prestigious duties.

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Back in the UK after its Balkan adventure, 20901 is seen at Bury Bolton Street during a diesel gala at the East Lancashire Railway, 12/09/05 (JW)

The reconstruction and recommissioning of the railway network in Kosovo continued.  At this point, it’s important to point out that not all the work was done by soldiers – at all points they were assisted by railwaymen who had previously worked for the JŽ and gave their labour for free.  In the same way that railwaymen have in divided communities the world over, from Belfast to Berlin, ethnic Albanian railwaymen worked alongside ethnic Serb railwaymen – the common bond of the railway proving strong.

Piece by piece, the damaged and severed railway lines were brought back into use, predominantly for the transportation of supplies (both of a construction and a humanitarian nature).  As well as assisting in the general rebuilding of Kosovo, this proved great for morale.  A NATO article in 1999 quoted Pejë stationmaster, Muharrem Ukaj, as saying on the event of the first train back to his station after the reopening of the line: “This is a big day.  I am full of feeling, almost about to cry”.  The recommencement of trains was one very forceful sign that life might be returning to normal (whatever “normal” was).

In December 1999, the railways were opened up for the use of civilian passengers – for free; 20,000 people travelled in the first three months.

UNMIK’s mandate was, and is, “to help ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo and advance regional stability in the Western Balkans”.  This included the eventual transition of the management of the railways (along with other services) back to civilians.  The operation of the trains remained under the control of KFOR, until it was handed over to UNMIK in March 2001, and then on to local civilian management.

Kosovan Traction Policy

One notable thing about Fushë Kosovë, and the Kosovan railways in general, is the remarkable variety of rolling stock that can now be found there.  This can largely be attributed to KFOR.  Only three ex-JŽ locomotives were fit to be used for KFOR’s post-war railway operations.  All of the others – which remain in the compound – were simply no prospect for renovation, having stood neglected for too long, or suffered severe mechanical failure or damage in the past (or both!).

It was therefore up to KFOR (and, it transpired, its successors) to source alternative rolling stock to use.  Some of the nations working as part of KFOR came up trumps here.  Locomotives and railcars were donated or borrowed from service in the UK, France, Italy and Germany; although it followed that as these were the ones most easily spared from their “day jobs”, they were generally near to the end of their service lives or already surplus to requirements.  The British and German rolling stock was repatriated for further use, whereas the French and Italian rolling stock is still at Fushë Kosovë – depressingly, it was used until it broke down and then was unceremoniously dumped amidst the weeds, its purpose served.

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Ex-Norwegian NoHAB Di3.633 (now 2640 002) at Fushë Kosovë (JW)

Four Norwegian Di3 NoHAB diesel locomotives were donated to Kosovo as “start-up aid” in 2001.  These, too, are thought to all now out of service (although the former Di3.641 has been reported in limited use recently).  In addition, a fairly extensive amount of Swedish rolling stock was acquired towards the middle of the decade (mainly railcars and carriages, and a shunter).  The network appears to go through cycles of acquiring another country’s cast-offs, using it until it breaks, then repeat ad nauseam. This may seem wasteful on the face of it, but it makes commercial sense for such a small, cash-strapped organisation to operate in this manner – especially if it can negotiate to acquire the replacement stock as an economic donation.

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A plaque inside ex-Swedish carriage no.5163 denoting its heritage (JW)

Kosovo declared their independence from Serbia in February 2008, and although this has not been universally recognised, it certainly did mark a watershed in the evolution of the former Yugoslavia.  “The youngest country in Europe” certainly feels as if it is developing, and although parts of it seem crushingly down-at-heel, its people are on the whole positive, the younger generations multi-lingual and technology-literate with a clear yearning to better both themselves and their environment.

It would be misleading to intimate that Kosovo has been a calm place since the end of the civil war, over 17 years ago.  Violent clashes are frequently seen in response to what might be seen by outsiders as relatively innocuous stimuli.  Some claim that Kosovo is a hotbed of Islamic extremism and recruitment for Isis; although it is considered as one of the most pro-American societies in the world, its citizens still grateful for NATO’s efforts to remove the Serbian oppressors in 1999.  One thing is for certain, Kosovo has changed much for the better since Pristina was a daily fixture on the TV news, but it will continue to develop, and the manner in which it does so remains to be seen.

The majority of these locomotives have remained largely untouched in their compound through numerous conflicts and changes of ideology.  Ultimately, I suspect that they will stay there until such a time as the price of scrap metal picks up.  However, until that time, a small snapshot of both the former Yugoslavia, and the collective effort to help rebuild Kosovo after the civil war, will continue to decay in a padlocked compound in Fushë Kosovë.

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2640 003 (ex-NSB Di3.641) on a Mercia Charters railtour, 18/09/15 (JW)

Locomotives in Kosovo

For a photographic summary of the locomotives currently to be found in Kosovo, please click here (Part 1 – ex-JŽ GM diesels); here (Part 2 – other ex-JŽ locos); and here (Part 3 – imported and new traction).

Additionally, the following locomotives were provided for use in Kosovo, but have now returned to their home countries.

BR Class 20 – 20901, 20902, 20903

DB Class 202 – 202 318, 202 432, 202 516, 202 613, 202 615, 202 637, 202 658, 202 786

Saturday 7th October 2017 – Norwegian NoHAB power to Åndalsnes

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The “‘Stålvogntoget” is ready for departure from Åndalsnes. Photo: Mette Larsen

Saturday 7th October 2017 sees a very interesting railtour in Norway using classic diesel traction.

The Norsk Jernbanemuseum are taking their class Di3 loco, Di3.642 from Hamar to Åndalsnes and return.  The timetable will be published on their website as soon as it is available, but the intention is to have a departure from Hamar at the very sociable time of 09:30, returning around 21:00.

Fares are 600 NOK (£59) for adults and 400 NOK (£39) for children – fantastic value for a return journey that is in the region of 420 miles.  Tickets are available by sending an email to post@norsk-jernbanemuseum.no, and are valid for entry to the museum itself (also at Hamar) on the Sunday.

The Locomotive

Di3.642 is one of the 35-strong Di3 class of 1,750hp General Motors 567 series-engined diesel-electrics supplied by the Swedish firm of Nydqvist & Holm AB (NoHAB) to Norges Statsbaner (NSB; the Norwegian State Railways) between 1954 and 1969.  This well-loved class were loyal servants to the Norwegians, being finally withdrawn at the turn of the century.

Di3.642, built in 1960 and withdrawn in July 2000, is one of the three members of the “Di3b” subclass which were built with an A1A-A1A wheel arrangement (as opposed to the Co-Co Di3a), and were longer, heavier and faster than their forebears. They were actually built for the Finnish market, but the Finns never took up the order.  Di3.642 is unique, however, in being the only one of this subclass still to remain in Norway; the other two – Di3.641 and Di3.643 – now eking out their existence in Kosovo.

Di3.642 will have a good opportunity to sing as it will be hauling load five – carriage numbers BF14 21728, B5-2 26021, B3-2 25579, BC5 26029 and FR3 21265.

The Route

To those of us who live in areas where a scenic railway can often be defined by a single feature along its length, it is perhaps difficult to imagine a route which consists of 70 continual miles of such features!  Indeed, the route from Dombås to Åndalsnes – the Raumabanen – has been named by Lonely Planet as the most scenic in Europe.

This is traditional Di3 territory, and the climb out of Åndalsnes – situated right at the edge of a fjord – is quite a steep one, soaring to 2000ft above sea level in little over 30 miles.  Sadly, however, the route no longer has any loco-hauled passenger trains, so this is surely a perfect opportunity for locomotive enthusiasts to travel over it.

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On our way to Åndalsnes. A short stop at Marstein station with the famous “Trollveggen” in the background. Photo: Kjetil Naess

It is the intention for this special train to have a number of photo stops along the way, to take full advantage of this.

Getting There

Norway may seem like a far-off land to those of us in the UK, but it is actually less than an hour’s flight from these shores!  Admittedly I am talking about the flights from Aberdeen to Bergen and Stavanger, but this route to Norway may interest you if you combine it with a northbound Caledonian Sleeper.  There are, of course, direct flights from most other sizeable UK airports.

The projected times for this railtour are superb, in that it should be possible to reach it by train from Norway’s capital city of Oslo (on the 07:34 departure) and connects back into a train back there at night (22:07) – both with a journey time of about 80 minutes.  However, if you intend to stay in the Hamar area, the museum recommend referring to this website: http://www.hamarregionen.no, which I echo.

This tour promises to be very popular – I am already aware of at least two British enthusiasts who have decided to go since I first put some information out about it! – so get your bookings in soon!

 

My sincere thanks to Mette Larsen and the Norsk Jernbanemuseum for the information on this event, and their assistance with this article.