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

Kosovo’s locomotives, in photographs (Part 3 – imported and new traction)

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2640 010 in the divided town of Mitrovicë, 19/09/15 (JW)

In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at the locomotives of the former Jugoslovenske Železnice (Yugoslavian Railways, JŽ) that are now to be found in Kosovo.  However, as I will explain in a future article, political developments in the Balkans in the 1990s directly led this small disputed territory to now possess what may well be the most diverse selection of locomotives to be found anywhere in Europe.

Locos now to be found in Kosovo hail from Norway, Sweden and France – and that’s not to mention the British and German diesels that have spent time there in recent decades, as part of the combined effort to rebuild post-war Kosovo, nor the German V60 shunters that were bought by JŽ before the break-up of the federation.  There are also a handful of locomotives that have been delivered to Kosovo from new.  Here is a photographic record of them, all taken 17-20/09/15.

Ex-NSB Class Di3

2640 001 (ex-Di3 619)

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2640 002 (ex-Di3 633)

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2640 003 (ex-Di3 641)

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2640 004 (ex-Di3 643)

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Ex-SJ Z65

DAL 3180C (ex-Z65 548)

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Ex-SNCF BB63000

BB63015

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BB63018

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New build JT38CW-DC

2640 010

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New build G1700BB

2710 009

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New build MDD3

2760 001

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2760 002

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Kosovo’s locomotives, in photographs (Part 2 – other ex-JŽ locos)

In Part 1 we looked at the 11 General Motors-designed diesel locos of the former JŽ that are now in Kosovo, but they do not comprise even half of the machines from the former Yugoslavia that can still be found in the disputed Balkan state.  Here is an illustrated look at the other 13 locos – all taken 19/09/15.

Ex-JŽ Class 641

641 111

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641 112

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641 122

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641 129

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641 130

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641 131

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641 203

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641 204

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641 211

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641 212

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Ex-JŽ Class 734 (previously DB Class 260/261)

734 031 (ex-260 418)

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734 109 (ex-261 690)

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Ex-JŽ Class 01

01.043 (plinthed at Fushë Kosovë)

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Kosovo’s locomotives, in photographs (Part 1 – ex-JŽ GM diesels)

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This is a photographic record of the General Motors diesel locomotives of the former JŽ (Jugoslovenske Železnice; Yugoslavian Railways) locomotives in Kosovo, all taken 17-20/09/15.

Ex-JŽ Class 645

2620 005 (ex-645 033/HŽ 2044 031)

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2620 016 (ex-645 018/HŽ 2044 010)

There is no photograph of 2620 016 as this locomotive had yet to be delivered at the time of my visit – although I’m sure I have a picture of it in Croatia that I hope to find soon!

Ex-JŽ Class 661

661 114

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661 128

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2640 006 (ex-661 132)

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661 203

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2640 007 (ex-661 228)

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2640 008 (ex-661 231)

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661 254

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661 261

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Ex-JŽ Class 664.0

664 062

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…and there’s actually a twelfth…

There are a handful of other GM diesels in Kosovo – four Swedish-built NoHABs acquired from NSB (the Norwegian State Railways) and also a curious, unique device now numbered 2640 010.  This machine was built by TŽV Gredelj in Zagreb in 2010, as a heavy rebuild of withdrawn “Kennedy” 661 203 – although in practice only using the bogies and braking system from the 661.  As the “original” 661 203 still stands largely intact, buried in a clump of trees in the scrap line at Fushë Kosovë, for the purposes of this survey the “rebuild” will feature in a future blog post about the new-build locos that Kosovo has obtained!

 

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HŽ Class 2044 – GM power in Croatia

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2044 008 at Split, 31/07/14 (JW)

Jugoslavenske Željeznice – the state railway of Yugoslavia – had a successful track record of sourcing diesel traction from General Motors.  One such class of loco was the JŽ class 645 which, following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, became the Croatian class 2044s, many of which are still in traffic.

Between 1981 and 1984, JŽ procured 35 locomotives of class 645, which were 2,330hp A1A-A1A General Motors diesel-electrics built under licence by Đuro Đaković in Slavonski Brod, in modern-day Croatia.  4 of them (645 031, 032, 034 and 035) passed to Železnice Srbije in Serbia and retained their numbers, the other 31 of them to Hrvatske Željeznice, the Croatian railways, becoming class 2044.  This article is about the latter.

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2044 017 worksplate detail.  Note that the word “Jugoslavija” has been crudely removed from the plate.  (JW)

16 of these 31 remain in operational condition – two of these with the private freight operator PPD Transport, a further two in Kosovo, and 12 with HŽ.  The current disposition of operational class members is shown below:-

2044 003 PPD Transport (Skinest Rail)
2044 004 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 005 PPD Transport (Skinest Rail)
2044 006 HŽ, Varaždin – withdrawn in September 2017
2044 007 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 008 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 010 Trainkos, Kosovo – as “2620 016”
2044 011 HŽ, Osijek
2044 013 HŽ, Osijek
2044 015 HŽ, Osijek
2044 016 HŽ, Varaždin – now withdrawn
2044 017 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 020 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 022 HŽ, Varaždin – withdrawn in July 2017
2044 026 HŽ, Osijek
2044 028 HŽ, Varaždin
2044 029 HŽ, Split
2044 030 HŽ, Split
2044 031 Trainkos, Kosovo – as “2620 005”

It is, however, entirely possible that some of the stopped machines may yet be reinstated.

The HŽ locos are nominally allocated to three depots – Split, Osijek, and Varaždin – although can be, and frequently are, loaned between them.  Their use on passenger trains is now concentrated on three routes; Split – Ogulin (on overnight trains only), Osijek to Koprivnica and Varaždin – Zagreb.  These are now the last diesel-hauled passenger trains in Croatia.

2044 routes

Routes that currently see diesel haulage in Croatia (JW)

2044 011 departs Zaprešić on “Table 12”, 01/08/14 (JW)

“Unofficial” diagrams are available on the excellent European Rail Gen e-group, with generally about 9 machines in traffic each weekday, with significantly reduced numbers at weekends.

In short, the overnight trains between Split and Zagreb are 2044-hauled between Split and Ogulin and vice versa.  The solid climb out of the port town of Split into the mountains is a great stretch of railway.  It has to be said that being stood at an open window with a bottle of beer, a red sunset over the water and a wall of GM sound from the front of the train sometimes being brought down to walking pace by the combination of gradient and load is one of the truly great diesel hauled experiences of Europe.

The above is a link to an excellent video uploaded to YouTube by diesellokguru giving an impression of what the route of Split is like.

The second route mentioned is that from Osijek to Koprivnica.  I think it’s fair to say that this route does not have the geographical benefits of the route out of Split!  In the main, the 2044s handle the Zagreb to Osijek trains on the unelectrified section east of Koprivnica – a journey of just over 3 hours each way.  One of these locos also hauls a one-way local train from Križevci to Koprivnica in the early morning.

Koprivnica is also served by a Varaždin-based 2044 on the Varaždin to Zagreb “express” – R771 which departs Varaždin at 05:33, reaching Koprivnica 36 minutes later.  This loco then lays over until the return train, R770, comes back in the evening peak.

The more normal route, however, from Varaždin to Zagreb takes about 45 minutes longer and is that via “Table 12” via Zabok.  It is certainly not the fastest of routes – although it has some quite scenic parts – and the locos are rarely taxed.  Multiple units have now made their presence felt up here, and this former GM stronghold now sees only three weekday 2044 diagrams – two of which are peak hours only.

2044 006 departs Podsused Stajalište on an evening commuter train on “Table 12”, 26/08/10 (JW)

As a rule, however, these venerable locos’ star is falling, with less than half the fleet now active with HŽ – their bread and butter work either covered by multiple units or wiped from the timetable altogether.  With three more due for imminent withdrawal, and with Balkan locos rarely having a future after withdrawal from normal service, I would make plans soon if you wish to experience them.

Kosovo

Two locomotives – the former 2044 010 and 2044 031 – have been “exported” (I use the apostrophes, as they remain in the former Yugoslavia) and are now to be found in Kosovo, forming the backbone of the loco-hauled passenger service there.

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

These machines have been fully overhauled at TŽV “Gredelj” in Zagreb and are in good condition.  The Kosovar railways have had a historical tendency to obtain second-hand traction from other countries, run it into the ground and then park it up (broken) before finding some more motive power from elsewhere and starting the cycle again.  Hopefully the condition of these machines will mean that they provide some stability and many years’ gainful service.

It’s fair to say that not many railway enthusiasts travel to Kosovo, and therefore operations there are rarely reported.  What is known is that the reliability of their Swedish railcar fleet leaves something to be desired, and most services are currently being loco-hauled.  Services run on two routes (Pristine to Pejë and Pristine to Hani i Elizit, the Macedonian border) and there seems to be one of the 2044s out each day.

Private Use

Last to be mentioned are 2044 003 and 2044 005 which have now passed to the private freight operator PPD Transport and are painted in a striking green and black livery (link to photo here).  It is early days, however they appear to be getting their feet under the table with some container train work between Zagreb and Rijeka – here is a link to a photo of the first working, on 12th April 2017.

2044 005 departs Zagreb Zapadni Kolodvor, 26/08/10 (JW)

Many thanks to Julian Mandeville and Colin Garner for their help with the preparation of this article.

 

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