Sunday, 3 February 2013

Septemvri - Dobrinishte Narrow Gauge Railway

Could there be a better place to sit waiting for a train to photograph on a beautiful day? 77002 heads the 06:40 Dobrinishte to Septemvri away from Dolene on 22nd September 2012
The train destination board-
written in Cyrillic of course
I do not usually 'do' narrow gauge railways. This is probably because I have grown up in the UK where almost all of our current narrow gauge railways are run purely for tourists with a collection of 'weird' rolling stock that I am unfamiliar with. Last year I had the chance however to travel on a 'real' narrow gauge railway- that which runs from Septemvri to Dobrinishte in Bulgaria. The 760mm gauge line is over 78 miles long running up and into the Rhodope Mountains and sees trains hauled by miniature diesel locomotives hauling equally miniature coaches. The whole operation is run by the state rail operator BDZ, and while tourists certainly do use the train go get up into the mountains its primary function is most definitely to transport the local population.
Shunting locomotive 81002 with narrow gauge
stock at Septemvri
The line starts at Septemvri where it meets the standard gauge line from Sofia to Plovdiv. Septemvri is on a plateau some 200m above sea level, but the mountains are not far away. The train leaves Septemvri several times a day and veers sharply left heading straight for the mountain range. The journey is not fast, but the scenery is stunning. On hitting the mountains the narrow gauge train follows the banks of the Vestula river winding up the valley gaining height as it goes. As the train continues the valley below begins to look more and more precarious with the railway and a road both clinging to the banks of the river- often the train passes through short tunnels where the valley side is simply not wide enough to accommodate the line.
76006 pauses at Varvara, the first stop on
 the route from Septemvri
At Dolene, after around an hour and 20 minutes on the train (the whole journey to Dobrinishte takes around 5 hours), the railway parts company with the Vestula river. I also leave the train at this point- there are only two trains left in the day which head back to Septemvri and I want to be sure to get a photograph of the train  which would shortly pass mine heading in the other direction.
The train departs after we have disembarked and continues to climb, now doubling back on itself on the other side of the valley. It will continue through Vallilingrad (one of the largest towns on the route) and many other small halts including Avramovo (the highest railway station on the Balkans at 1,267m) to reach Bankso (a popular ski and mountain resort) and finally a few miles later Dobrinishte.
Henschel-built 75006 departs from Dolene for Dombrinishte
The line has a small fleet of diesel locomotives of two classes- Class 75 built from 1965-66 by Henschel in Germany and Class 77 built in 1988 in Romania. In addition the line has one active steam locomotive used for tourist trains, and one serviceable shunting locomotive based at Septemvri.

This railway is nothing like the tourist narrow gauge railways I care so little for in the UK and is a fascinating real working railway. It's future however is not assured. The service has been cut several times in recent years, and with BDZ effectively bankrupt one cannot help but wonder how long this railway can cling on to it's existence. It may be a lifeline for the the local people, but it is clear that this operation is not a profitable asset. I thoroughly recommend a ride on this railway- and do hope it will continue to run for many years!
75004 arrives at Dolene heading back down to Septemvri

1 comment:

  1. I've done this a couple of times and it's a great journey in a really lovely part of the World - especially in Spring. I'm glad you enjoyed it, great write up.
    The blog is excellent and I enjoyed reading some more of your articles.