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18th August 2019 – Potential event in Belgium – thoughts please

This is not an announcement of a set-in-stone event, but an update on my intentions and a request for your thoughts please.

After a lot of negotiation behind the scenes (which is why I’ve been quiet lately!), I have in principle arranged a modest haulage event for us in Belgium on Sunday 18th August 2019, arranged to coincide with the “Festival” at the Bocq railway, currently planned to feature 3 class 55s and a class 77.  This would be of a similar format to my event at Saint-Ghislain last year – but would be at Kinkempois Depot (Liège) and would be able to feature GMs 5216 and 5306 and shunter 7384 giving rides in a carriage.  These locomotives are not intended for preservation and it should be considered a ‘farewell’ to all three – in the case of class 53, it may conceivably be your last opportunity to ride behind one.


5216 arriving at Namur, 24th June 1989 (Photo: Jools Hill)

Now the ‘catch’ – these locomotives are stored and will require effort (and money and components) to reactivate for our enjoyment on the day.  The group concerned are prepared to do this for us, but need to know that:- a) these costs will be covered, and b) it will make their effort worthwhile – i.e. make them some money for their projects.  As ever with my events, every penny received will be given immediately to our hosts for railway preservation.  At present, I would intend to charge a flat fee of €50 for the event – not as a reflection of the rarity of the opportunity, so much as a reflection of the costs involved in them presenting it to us.  I realise that this is a larger sum of money than I charged last year, for a smaller total number of locos, but I feel that especially when considered in conjunction with the cheap rovers at the Bocq, still represents a good value weekend.  If more people than I expect commit to attending, that price would be brought down.  At last year’s event, I was able to offer an ‘opt-out’ fare if you did not wish to travel behind a certain loco, and I am certainly amenable to such arrangements under usual circumstances, but due to the nature of this event this will not be possible here I am afraid.

Please could you let me know ASAP if you would attend this event, if I was to arrange it.

My intention would be for an early start at Kinkempois on the Sunday (accessible by train from Namur, and Brussels if you’re up with the lark!).  This would mean a finish by ‘lunchtime’.  It is possible that I would then be able to arrange a follow-on event in the afternoon at the Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs with (some of) their diesels, which would be accessible by public transport, but the Infrabel track certification planned for the end of April did not happen and I am still in the process of understanding just what would or would not be possible for us.

Transport to Kinkempois would be under your own steam, but there is a public bus service and I would intend to attempt to co-ordinate your arrivals from Ougree or Guillemins (either side of the depot) in order to ensure loads are evenly split between buses and nobody gets left behind.

I apologise for the short notice (as you can imagine, it has taken a lot of work to get to this point) and hope that my track record in delivering three highly successful rare traction haulage events shows you that I am certainly serious with this.  The staff who would host us on the Sunday are also prepared to give up their day attending/working at the Bocq “Festival”, so that demonstrates faith in us too.  Please let me just reiterate that this is not a confirmed event, but hopefully your replies will allow me to make the necessary final steps forward to make it one.  Depending on how quickly the replies flood in, I hope to be able to say if it’s a runner or not by the end of the week and will contact you one way or the other.

With best wishes,

Jonathan Wilcox

23rd March 2019: Spanish class 310 special to Teruel

An interesting special train is operating in Spain on Saturday 23rd March 2019, taking an ADIF class 310 from Casetas to Teruel and return (details here), to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its organisers, AZAFT.

The tour costs €40 and depart Casetas at 08:30, has over four hours in Teruel, before arriving back at Casetas at 20:32.  The architecture of Teruel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so that, in conjunction with the sociable timings, make this excursion fall into the ‘family friendly’ category!

The traction

Planned motive power for this excursion is a class 310, a class of loco that has had a small number of passenger outings over recent months but is generally very rare for haulage.

These are four-axle single-cab General Motors Bo-Bo diesel-electric switchers, with 8-cylinder 645E engines, the same as the Irish ‘C’ Class Metro-Vicks and B181s.  The Spanish machines are no shunters either, with a top speed of 110 km/h.

Above is a link to a YouTube video uploaded by plasticdance showing a 310 in action.  “Numbers for short sighted trainspotters” well in evidence…

To get to it…

Casetas is located a short distance to the west of the city of Zaragoza, with the Cercanías route C1 linking the two in just 12 minutes.

To combine it with…

If it helps tempt you, the ALSA Rail-operated “Tren de Felipe II” heritage train, usually in the employ of ex-RENFE class 321 “ALCo” no. 321 059 (carrying “2148”), is operating between Madrid Príncipe Pío and El Escorial the following day, departing the capital at 10:20.  You have two options to get to Madrid in the evening off this tour via AVE high-speed train, currently available between €20-€25 single, arriving by midnight.

Madrid is also well-served by widebody aircraft on short-haul flights, including the Iberia Airbus A340 and British Airways Boeing 777 to London Heathrow, LATAM Chile Boeing 787 to Frankfurt and Air Europa Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 to Amsterdam Schiphol, adding a little possible extra interest to your trip away.

To book…

Anyone interested in this tour please contact Phil Wormald using this email address. The train will be formed of mostly air con stock, but some opening window seating will be available, but the organisers need to know rough numbers in advance.

10th-14th April 2019: V100 service trains on Rügen

Although it is many years since the former Deutsche Reichsbahn V100 type centre-cab diesel-hydraulics had any proper regular passenger workings, there is an annual event of interest on the island of Rügen in north-east Germany that provides a bit of a timewarp.

Each April, the single-car DMU shuttle used on the 7.75-mile branch from Bergen auf Rügen to Lauterbach Mole is replaced by top-and-tail Pressnitztalbahn V100s sandwiching two coaches, while it undergoes annual planned maintenance.

Both 2015 and 2016 saw 202 565 and 202 703 hauling the trains, whereas 2017 saw 202 565 and 204 425 in charge and 2018 saw 202 565 and 202 708 doing the honours.  It is expected that 202 565, with its steam-heat boiler in ticket, stands a strong chance of being one of 2019’s machines too.

2019’s shuttles

The dates for 2019’s hydraulic timewarp on the island have been announced as Wednesday 10th April 2019 through to Sunday 14th April 2019.  All services on the branch will be formed of the heritage train during this period.

Whilst on Rügen…

Although it’s not exactly a hotbed of loco-hauled activity, there are a number of other interesting things with which you combine a trip for the V100s to make it more worthwhile.  Aside from the occasional IC workings to Ostseebad Binz, the island is also home to the Rügenschen BäderBahn – better known as “Rasender Roland” – a 760mm gauge steam railway, which is well worth a visit.  In April, this will be operating a two-hourly shuttle between Putbus – at which the V100s stop – and Göhren, with two sets in use.

Not haulage related, but interesting nonetheless, is the Eisenbahn & Technik Museum Rügen a short distance away at Prora, which houses many items of rolling stock, including “Warship” V200 009, ex-ÖBB class 1018 E18 204 and E44 electric 244 139.

Further shuttles

The heritage set will be back on the island from 4th-7th July 2019 for shuttles a couple of times each day with 2-8-2T steam loco 86 1333 and one of the V100s top-and-tail.

Various dates in 2019: the Störtebeker-Express

Among the many haulage opportunities already announced for 2019 are a series of interesting charter trains in the former East Germany.

Four charters will operate over four consecutive Saturdays in July 2019 under the “Störtebeker-Express” title, all on the same theme: long-distance trips from towns in the region of Thüringen to the island of Rügen (a distance in the region of 350-400 miles each way), travelling via the outskirts of both Leipzig and Berlin along the way, departing on a Saturday morning and returning through the night.

The main reason for these trains, and their name, is that they visit the Störtebeker-Festspiele, an annual festival in the Rügen village of Ralswiek, started in the DDR days based on legends and stories surrounding Klaus Störtebeker, Germany’s most famous pirate, who lived in the 14th century.

Developing the DDR theme is the booked traction for the charters – former Deutsche Reichsbahn class 109 electric, 211 030.  Built in 1963 – as E11 030 – this is the loco that would have become “109 030” following German reunification if it had remained in traffic long enough; it was in fact withdrawn from DR use in 1988 and passed into private ownership, initially with VE Braunkohlenkombinat, and nowadays belongs to Eisenbahngesellschaft Potsdam (EGP).

In recent years, class 109 haulage has been available in just two places: on 211 030‘s railtour workings, and on the “Berlin Night Express” Summer-only dated overnight between Berlin and Malmö, where the section between Berlin and the train ferry at Sassnitz has been booked for 109 073 when available.  However, neither the dates of operation nor the use of the 109 have been confirmed for the “Berlin Night Express” for 2019 yet.


212 297, 213 334 and 211 030 at Arnstadt on 30th July 2016 (Stewart Wells)

Added traction interest exists on two of the four tours, as they actually start from Ilmenau, away from the wires.  On recent experience, this has resulted in pairs of ex-DB (West German) V100-type centre-cab diesel-hydraulics hauling the train on the relatively short unelectrified stretches – roughly 30 miles each way – with the 211 pan-down inside.

These are expected to come from the fleet of the Rennsteigbahn (the organiser of the tours); in 2017 they were 212 297 and 213 339, and in 2016 212 297 and 213 334 performed.  Haulage behind these classes of loco is not exactly rare, although limited to heritage and charter operations nowadays, but the specific examples of the Rennsteigbahn are not frequently available for haulage.


212 297, 213 334 and 211 030 at Arnstadt on 30th July 2016 (Stewart Wells)

As mentioned above, these tours are operated by the Rennsteigbahn and details are on their website.  The precise details of the four trips are as follows:-

  • 6th July 2019 – from Ilmenau (diesel haulage expected to/from Erfurt)
  • 13th July 2019 – from Gerstungen
  • 20th July 2019 – from Saalfeld
  • 27th July 2019 – from Ilmenau (diesel haulage expected to/from Erfurt)

The return legs depart from Bergen auf Rügen in the late evening, after a fireworks display, so it runs back to Thüringen through the night, arriving back on the early morning of the Sunday.  Dining is included, however, and the train conveys a bar/saloon car which will be open on the return leg for the insomniacs/party animals…

Whilst on Rügen

If the cultural festival does not float your boat, there are a few other things that you could do with your time on Rügen.  By far and away the most interesting are on the occasion of the first trip, on 6th July 2019, which coincides with a Pressnitztalbahn V100 (of the East German variety) top-and-tailing with 2-8-2T steam loco 86 1333 on some shuttles along the branch from Bergen auf Rügen itself to Lauterbach Mole.  More details on that little operation will become available in the early part of next year.

Similarly, the 13th July 2019 trip coincides with the 86 and V100 combo being used on shuttles from Greifswald along the short freight-only line to Ladebow – just over an hour from Bergen auf Rügen with a change at Stralsund, although I wouldn’t like to be drawn on whether it will be possible to combine the two, as the timings for neither have been confirmed yet.

Aside from that, but perhaps most prosaically, are the occasional loco-hauled InterCity service trains to Ostseebad Binz.  However, the island is also home to the Rügenschen BäderBahn – better known as “Rasender Roland” – a 760mm gauge steam railway, which is well worth a visit.  Not haulage related, but interesting nonetheless, is the Eisenbahn & Technik Museum Rügen a short distance away at Prora, which houses many items of rolling stock, including “Warship” V200 009, ex-ÖBB class 1018 E18 204 and E44 electric 244 139.

The fare for the trip is €164 for the full return trip, with lower fares available if boarding later in the journey (€136 from Leipzig and €115 from Berlin), however do consider that as effectively an overnight some of this goes towards replacing the hotel you might’ve otherwise have forked out for.

11640 and the Simplon Tunnel accident, 23rd July 1976

Occasionally – sadly – locomotives have suffered severe accident damage very early on in their working life.  One such machine was Swiss electric loco 11640, one of the 10,700 hp class Re6/6, which derailed at Brig in the early hours of 23rd July 1976, just four months and four days after being accepted into traffic.  This was the first serious incident involving a loco of this type, the production fleet of which had only started to enter service less than a year before.

11640 was hauling the “Riviera Express”, a Ventimiglia to Amsterdam and København overnight train, which in the 1970s was booked to run via the Simplon Tunnel into Switzerland in the Summer months (but via the Gotthard route in Winter).  The brand new loco, and its driver, took over the nine-coach train at the Italian frontier station of Domodossola just after midnight and set off north.  11640 would certainly not have had any difficulty getting such a lightweight train up to speed!

Shortly afterwards, it entered what was at the time the longest railway tunnel in the world – the 12-mile-long Simplon Tunnel deep beneath the Alps.  It was not to emerge unscathed.  As the train left the tunnel, at 00:50, the loco and front carriages were already off the rails and came to rest scattered all over the track in the Swiss darkness.  Of the 131 people on board the train, 6 were dead (including the 34-year-old driver) and 34 were injured.

It is believed that the driver had become disorientated within the tunnel and had failed to brake for the speed restriction on the tight curve coming out of the tunnel at Brig, which was taken at approximately 140 km/h.  11640 derailed first, scraping the tunnel wall, which did in fact keep it relatively upright.  However, as it left the confines of the tunnel, it did then tip over onto its side, with the carriages following into it at speed and causing a scene of devastation.  One of the carriages was even left teetering over the edge of a steep embankment above the river.

One especially tragic tale of the accident relates how a 26-year-old Danish woman and her two infant children travelling home on the train had elected to move to an empty compartment in order to have a quieter journey.  All three perished, but the occupants of their “booked” compartment were able to walk away.

However, the fact that the death toll was not much higher was due in large part to the quick response of volunteer helpers rushing to the scene to help the rescue efforts.  It took only 45 minutes to evacuate all survivors from the wreckage and get them en route to the hospitals in Brig and Visp, despite the darkness and heavy rain.

It always seems trivial to talk about the fate of locomotives following accidents that have claimed lives, but 11640 did have an interesting story.  Its bodyshell was virtually destroyed in the accident (click this link to see a photo of it at the accident site).  Presumably due to it being brand new, it was not actually written off – Re6/6s were still very much in production at the time – they were in fact only delivered up to 11642 by then – and so a new bodyshell was constructed for 11640 and the loco re-entered traffic in 1978, with the same running number but with a new works number.

11640 was in the wars again nearly four decades later, when it collided with 11620 whilst shunting around St Maurice station on the morning of 23rd October 2014.  Both were damaged, but whereas 11620 was written off and scrapped, 11640 was repaired and re-entered service in April 2016.

At the time of writing, in 2018, 11640 – now numbered 620 040 – remains in traffic, with SBB Cargo.  Next time you see it whilst travelling through Switzerland, do take a second to think about the accident that befell it early in its career and the six people who died.

Loco haulage from Luzern to Engelberg

Luzern, a lakeside city in central Switzerland, is an excellent destination for a family holiday.

It is easily accessible from all parts of the country – and, indeed, would be an excellent base to explore it from.  You can reach Luzern by train from Zürich airport in just an hour, with the added bonus for fans of loco haulage in that these are powered by class 460 electrics as opposed to multiple units.  Indeed, there is quite a lot of loco haulage to be experienced in the Luzern region, as well as the Swiss Transport Museum.


The Kapellbrücke, Luzern’s most instantly recognisable tourist attraction, situated just two minutes’ walk from the railway station (JW)

Luzern station is particularly interesting.  Having burnt down in 1971 (the former portal entrance to the station now stands alone on the station forecourt) the station was rebuilt in 1990 to a design by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava (some of his other work will be famous to many of us as he also designed the stations at Liège-Guillemins and Zürich Stadelhofen).  It’s a 14-platform terminus beneath an overall roof; some of the platforms are standard gauge and some – those on the Zentralbahn network – are metre-gauge.

The Zentralbahn network comprises of the routes from Luzern to Interlaken – the very steeply-graded mountain “Brünigbahn” route – and the branch from Luzern to Engelberg.  At the time of writing, the latter is the last bastion of narrow gauge loco haulage in this area (although some vice turns have been reported on a very occasional basis on the Brünigbahn).

Luzern to Engelberg

The 20.8-mile-long branch from Luzern to Engelberg enjoys a fully loco-hauled service, with trains in the hands of HGe4/4 II electric locos working in push-pull configuration.


101 966 awaits departure from Luzern, 31/10/18 (JW)

There are eight of these locos (101 961 to 101 968) in the fleet, but they are not intensively used, with the hourly service on the Engelberg route being managed by two locos.

The route is very scenic, following as it does the Engelberger Aa river valley as it climbs into the mountains.  The final section of the route, from Grafenort is rack-assisted.  Until very recently this was via a particularly scenic section of line, but one that was susceptible to flooding.  A 2.5-mile-long tunnel (incorporating the rack section) was opened in December 2010, bypassing this.  The original route surprisingly is very difficult to trace now, having returned to nature.  The cut-off has sadly resulted in the loss of the scenic views – a proposal to retain the original route on a heritage basis came to nothing – but it has slashed journey times and the service is far more reliable as a result of it.


101 962 sits on the blocks at Engelberg, 31/10/18 (JW)


In order to travel behind both HGe4/4 IIs, it is possible to travel out from Luzern behind one of them at xx:10 as far as the first stop at Stans (arrive xx:23), swapping over to the inbound working with the other (depart xx:34, arrive Luzern xx:49).

Alternatively, you could travel throughout on one loco, arriving at Engelberg at xx:53.  Return departures are at xx:02, so with 69 minutes to explore the ski resort, you could then take the other machine back to Luzern.

Do not panic if you walk along the blocks at Luzern to be greeted by what you think is a selection of sliding-doors plastic EMUs!  The locos run with mixed sets of stock, the last three are “Gelenksteuerwagen” – very modern Stadler-built vehicles which provide low-floor access.

Sunday 9th September 2018: Charter with ex-SNCF Baldwin A1AA1A 62029, Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin, France

Sunday 9th September 2018 saw the third European Traction haulage event, and probably the most complex to date: a visit to the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin (CFTR), not far from Colmar in north-east France.


62029 during the pre-event shunting at Volgelsheim, 09/09/18 (JW)

The idea was simple: to visit the CFTR to ride behind ex-SNCF A1AA1A 62000 class locomotive no.62029.  This diesel-electric machine was built in 1946 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, and has a six-cylinder, 660hp Baldwin 606NA power unit.

106 locomotives of model DRS-6-4-660 (Diesel Road Switcher, 6 axles, 4 powered, 660hp) were built by Baldwin between 1946 and 1948, all for the French Supply Council under Marshall Aid.  100 went to SNCF and the other six to Morocco, as class DB-400.  Only seven of the French machines remain extant – in various states of repair – but 62029 according to my research at the beginning of this year, although two others have worked recently, is the only one that is currently operational.  I am not sure whether any of the Moroccan machines survive, but check out a selection of Phil Wormald’s excellent photos here to see some shots of DB-405 in a deplorable state, long withdrawn at Taza.

Although the Baldwin was the draw, I also asked for ex-SNCF Decauville-built diesel “locotracteur” Y2402, recently re-engined with a Deutz power unit and fitted with train brakes, to power us for a short distance – although it was not operational at the time the event was conceived.

The actual event, however, was complicated by the fact that the CFTR is not rail connected, and public road transport is scarce (and, indeed, non-existent early on a Sunday morning) and not conducive to moving parties of our size in any case – so I arranged a connecting road coach to and from the main line railway stations at Colmar (France) and Breisach (Germany).

On the Day

43 people from four countries participated in the event.  I am pleased to report that the arrangements went perfectly.  I am very grateful indeed to the railway’s volunteers firstly for returning Y2402 to traffic in time to work for us, but also in working through the night to repair a serious defect on 62029 shortly before our event which could have precluded its use.

DSC04263 (2).JPG

The now-traditional seminar photo…

I recorded the movements on the day as follows:-

Y2402 – 10:20 shunt from Volgelsheim station into siding
62029 top & (Y2402) tail – 10:29 shunt from siding back to station
62029 top & (Y2402) tail – 10:38 Volgelsheim to Volgelsheim Depot
62029 top & (Y2402) tail – 11:11 Volgelsheim Depot to Embarcadere de Sans-Soucis
Y2402 – 11:43 shunt from station clear of points (propel)
62029 + (Y2402) DIT – 11:51 shunt back into platform
62029 + (Y2402) DIT – 11:54 Embarcadere de Sans-Soucis to Volgelsheim

A GPS measurement of the route between the two stations came out at 12.04 km (7.48 miles) and another of the shunt at Sans-Soucis recorded it as 165 m.  A (potentially less reliable!) walked measurement of the shunt at Volgelsheim using an exercise app came out at 93 m, but if you recorded this by more solid means, please let me know!

We were treated to a visit to the depot, during which we saw all of their rolling stock.  The highlight for most of us was 1944-built ex-USATC General Electric “dropcab” no.4036, currently undergoing restoration.  Please have a look at my article here to read a bit more about this noteworthy locomotive and how you can help its restoration.


The hire fee for the train part of the event was €1,000, to which can be added the proceeds from the bar car that the railway had kindly provided for us.  This means that my three European Traction events to date have resulted in a total just in excess of €5,000 reaching the hands of continental railway preservation organisations – so thank you very much for your support.

On that note, I would like to thank Sebastien, Mani, Carine, Nathalie and Claude for their hospitality and assistance in providing what was a fantastic morning at a lovely little railway.  If you have not visited the CFTR, they are not empty words when I implore you to make the effort to go.

Future Events

Having delivered two complicated haulage events within the space of a month (the other being at Saint-Ghislain in Belgium on 12th August), I’m now having a bit of a rest!  However, I have a number of projects on the anvil for 2019 and I look forward to presenting you with the details soon.

General Electric 4036 – under restoration in France

Those of us who attended my haulage event at the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin (CFTR) in north-east France on Sunday 9th September 2018 did so primarily to enjoy haulage from ex-SNCF loco A1AA1A 62029, built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania in 1946.

However, this was not the only American-built diesel on the site.  During the visit, we were treated to a tour of their depot, in which we were shown and told about another very interesting locomotive from the USA.  I would like to share its story with a wider audience here.


4036 under restoration at Volgelsheim, 09/09/18 (JW)

To give a bit of historical background, the Second World War was in full swing when the decision to undertake an invasion across the English Channel was taken by the Allies at the Trident Conference in Washington DC in May 1943.  This invasion was to be the largest by sea that the world had ever seen, and would occur via the northern coast of France, in the region of Normandy.  Of course, we are familiar today with the D-Day Landings of 6th June 1944.

The year between conception and realisation of the plans allowed an enormous deal of planning to occur.  Railways were to form an integral part of the invasion, initially in terms of transportation of troops and equipment, and indeed since 1942 the USA had been shipping rolling stock to the UK for such an eventuality; this was stepped up a gear after the Trident Conference.  However the focus was not so much on the invasion itself but what came after; in an attempt to disrupt the invasion, the Germans rendered much of the French railway network entirely unusable, both in terms of infrastructure and rolling stock.  It was clear that whatever was provided to work in France after the invasion would need to be durable and able to operate in harsh conditions.

Among the American rolling stock was a fleet of 10 twin-engined diesel-electric “dropcab” switching locomotives manufactured by General Electric between March and May 1944, with works numbers 27528 to 27537, and given the running numbers 7228 to 7237 by the USATC.  As built, the locos had two 6-cylinder Cummins power units; these were later replaced by 8-cylinder veeform Baudouin DP8s.

The locos passed in 1947 to the SE (Société générale des chemins de fer économiques) for use on their Gironde network as 4028 to 4037.

Preservation of 4036

4036 was retired by the Chemin de Fer de Blaise et Der (CFBD) in 2011, when the operation was ended the locomotive was redundant.  It was saved by a member of the CFTR in 2014 who transported it to its new home shortly afterwards.

The future and how you can help

4036 is in the midst of a comprehensive restoration, and has already been started and moved under its own power.  However, there is plenty of work left to do before it can once again haul trains and form a mobile memorial to the events of 1944.

As with any other restoration project, the speed of its progress is dictated by the volunteers and funds available.  Although I am fairly sure that most reading this will be UK or USA-based and therefore unable to help with the former problem, we are able to help financially by making a donation into the project’s PayPal account at sebastien.kieffer(AT)

If you do choose to do this, please select the “send to friends and family” option and ensure that “4036” is included as a note/reference so that he can identify the transfer.  If you do not “do” PayPal, but would still like to help out, please get in touch with me and I can try to assist.

Additionally, as I know we have some supremely knowledgeable and well-connected people here – does anyone happen to know of any sources from where we might be able to obtain some (any) GE documentation about these machines for the team – particularly regarding, but not limited to, electrical wiring?  The lack of this is another thing that is hampering the progress of the restoration.  If so, please do let me know – I don’t mind following up even the most tenuous of leads myself.

33 years since the Sud-Express disaster

When I was a Class 50-mad kid taken to Portugal to experience their Iberian cousins by my Dad, I took in as much detail from my Portuguese crossing-off book (Fearless Publications’ excellent tome from 1991 – who else has that on their shelves?) as possible. One of the things that stuck out was the reference to both 1439 and 1961 having been written off in a horrific accident involving the Sud-Express.

In later life I learnt that this accident occurred between Nelas and Mangualde exactly 33 years ago this evening, on 11th September 1985, with the big Bombardier loco on the “Sud-Express” colliding head-on at speed with the EE/Sorefame machine which was on a regional train. The result indeed truly was horrific, with many of those who survived the impact killed by burning or asphyxiation in the resulting inferno.

On this worldwide day of remembrance, I’m also taking a minute to remember the 56 (officially, but estimated to be up to 150) people who perished in this accident. There are some truly shocking photos online of the accident, but instead I’m choosing to share this rare image of 1439 in happier days to accompany this little note.

2062 045 and the Croatian armoured train

A curiosity amongst HŽ’s fleet is class 2062 locomotive 2062 045.  This loco – the former JŽ 664 001 – has not truly been “seen” by anyone for nearly three decades, having been hidden beneath a veritable suit of armour since 1991.

The 1980s, following the death of Marshal Tito, were changing political times in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  Considered by some to have always been an unnatural cluster of nations populated by very disparate people of different ethnicities only held together by the glue of Tito in the role of “benevolent dictator”, his death resulted in increasing unrest.  This culminated in Yugoslavia’s constituent republics pulling in different directions, and June 1991 saw the first two – Croatia and Slovenia – declare their independence.  The response from the Yugoslav government to this was to mobilise the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in an attempt to keep the union together by force.  This led to outright war – in Slovenia’s case, the Ten Day War; but in Croatia’s, largely because of the very different ethnic situation there, it was to last for over four years, result in over 20,000 deaths and cause huge repercussions on many levels that remain evident today.

The armoured train(s)

As 1991 progressed and tensions increased, the nascently-independent Croatia quickly set in motion plans to create three “oklopni vlakovi” (“armoured trains”) to be able to fight the JNA in a mobile manner – one based in Novska, one based in Osijek (using shunter 2132 049 which is now in the railway museum in Zagreb and retains its armour plating) and one in Split.  It’s the latter which we will concern ourselves with in this brief article.

HŽ and the Brodosplit shipyard in Split devised plans to create a train comprised of a diesel locomotive and two four-axle “series G” wagons.  Less than three months elapsed between conception and completion, with the work largely improvised; no formal drawings ever existed.

The wagons were completely rebuilt from the solebar up, whereas the locomotive was not fundamentally rebuilt but instead clad completely in bullet and grenade-proof armour.  The loco type selected was a class 664 General Motors 2,200hp diesel-electric; a highly reliable and durable design that had, over the previous 18 years, proven itself a master of the mountainous railways in the region.  Anecdotally, 664 001 was considered the “best” 664 in the area, and therefore it was the “weapon of choice” for such an important role.  Given the fact that the method of operation of the armoured train was to roll into an area of combat, fire the guns and then – once it had attracted maximum attention to itself – make a full power high-speed getaway to safety, the insistence on a particularly reliable and strong example of the class is perhaps hardly surprising!

Under the renumbering scheme implemented after Croatian independence, 664 001 became 2062 045, however it is not clear whether it has actually ever carried this number on the bodyside.  It certainly hasn’t on the armour, but it could do beneath it.

The completed armoured train was put before the Croatian top brass on 31st January 1992.  However, it only ever made one test run from Split.  The reasons given in various written sources for that seem vague and in some cases contradictory, but a common theme is that the weight of the armour and – more importantly – the armaments conveyed upon the train made the axle loading excessive.  It has otherwise never moved under its own power – and, as such, “Split’s best 664” has not been used in anger for nearly 30 years – realistically it never will again.


The train (loco plus two wagons) is now in the collection of the Croatian Railway Museum, but remains at Split-Predgrade.  At various points over the last five years or so, suggestions have been made that it will be put on formal display as a tourist attraction or historical exhibition in Split, but this does not appear to be materialising any time soon.