Greece – April 2013
Hats off to those involved with the planning of this train, not only was the whole process from initial idea to execution simple but the information flow to those interested and later to those booked on the tour was excellent; simple and to the point. And not only that, the tour delivered exactly what was specified and even when it looked like the Kiparissia branch may be in doubt everyone was kept well informed as to what stage negotiations were at.
A trip planned by Alco bashers and it gave exactly what any Alco basher would want; plenty of notch 8 thrash and entertainment!
Thursday 11th April 2013
Having flown out from Gatwick to Athens the previos night quite a few of the tour’s participants gathered in the foyer of the Hotel Ariston to make the early morning run from Athens to Patra via Train OSE transportation. This involving the 0550 train to SKA to change into an Airport – Kiato train for the 0725 bus forward from Kiato to Patra to join the tour.
The booking office was opened at 0540 and tickets were easily purchased, the guy behind the counter speaking English probably helping. He explained that we needed to get off the train from Athens at the second stop and make our way downstairs to the suburban platform that served the airport, for our train forward to Kiato and then change there for the bus forward to Patra. The single fare was 17 Euros and the return 27 Euros.
The 0550 ex Athens to Chalkis deposited us at Acharnai Railway Centre with 13 minutes to walk down to the low level platform for the 0613 forward to Kiato, on the newly electrified Airport – Kiato section. From there the 0725 Kiato – Patra express bus whisked us down the coast to Patra; where we arrived a little before 0900.
As we approached Patra station Alco DL537 A9108 could be seen on Patra shed and in the station waiting for us was our charter train, simply named The Peloponnese Excursion, with Alco’s A9101 & A9105, both running. They couldn’t be multi’d up though as since A9101 had been overhauled it’s multi working system was no longer compatible with the rest of the fleet; so both had its own driver. The train was formed of a tank wagon, 1 x passenger coach & 3 x luggage vans, two for passenger use and the rear one for the crew’s use only. The stock had clearly only just been shunted in as people were still milling about taking photos of the Alco’s before departure.
The coach with proper seating seemed to be quite full but OSE in their wisdom had fitted out the luggage vans with comfy bench seating down the sides which also had luggage storage space underneath; this allowing folk to spread out rather than be crammed into the one coach.
Just after 0900 the familiar sound of an Alco horn got proceedings underway and A9101 led A9105 on a merry dance that would take us to almost all the ends of the Peloponnese system. The first day would only be a short day; our destination being Katakolo, or so we thought………..
The section of track from Patra to Pirgos seemed quite clear of vegetation compared to the other bits we’d done back in September 2012 and once clear of the Patra suburbs and the many crossings it had, the locos were given a chance to express themselves. A9101 sounded very good but the driver on A9105 didn’t seem to be giving it a great deal; that coupled with the fact the tank wagon was between us and it made for a mediocre day of thrash really, in the grand scheme of things.
There were photo-stops at: Vrachneika, Achaia, Varda, Pirgos & Katakolo
At Pirgos there’d been the potential for a bit of a bonus for everyone in that A9103 was apparently being readied to T&T our train to Katakolo. It was sat in the yard facing the right direction when we arrived, looking a lot cleaner than it had done when I’d seen it in September; buried over the back of the station looking a bit worse for wear. Unfortunately though it’s turbo’s were knackered so OSE wouldn’t use it meaning A9105 was taken off the inside of the pair and put on the Katakolo end of the train to work in T&T mode with A9101 on the Pirgos end.
September 2012 had witnessed the first ever visit of an Alco to Katakolo and April 2013 witnessed the second such event, this time with a lot more people. Unfortunately though due to a complete and utter farce with hotel bookings at the EpiHotel Odysseas in Katakolo nobody would be enjoying the nice seafront atmosphere that the town had to offer. It turned out that the hotel had actually closed in October 2012 yet people had still managed to get reservations through both Hotels.com & Expedia (25 reservations in total!) and the booking companies hadn’t told anyone that the reservation couldn’t be met until the previous day. In fact I’d had my mail when I got to the airport to fly out.
Long story short, the nominated spokesperson for the group, mainly because it cost him nothing to make/receive calls in Greece, had dealt with Hotels.com which had arranged the Hotel Neda in Olympia and a bus to take us from Pirgos to Olympia when we’d got back off the ecs from Katakolo.
Friday 12th April 2013
Our charter train was due out of Katakolo at 0930 and the ecs was away from Pirgos at 0903, the 0733 Olympia – Katakolo DMU being wedged out of Olympia as a result.
To try and combat the thrash related issues from the previous day the tank wagon was shunted out and left behind at Pirgos and A9101/A9105 would be left on their respective ends of the train to T&T it throughout from that point on; and it had the desired effect.
There were plenty of Greeks about chasing the train and they sorted out a decent photo-stop on the Katakolo branch on our return, once everyone was collected from the seaside. Then en-route back into Pirgos we traversed the Pirgos avoiding line which allowed trains to run directly from Patra to Katakolo without running into Pirgos, it wasn’t much of a curve but still it pleased the track bashers; or maybe not when we stopped a few yards short of the other end of the curve and reversed back, without actually doing all of it. A move which would ultimately result in us doing it again, just to make sure, on the last day of the tour.
Once away from Pirgos, A9101 sounding just as it should, we stopped at Alfios Bridge where the train was reversed back onto it for photos and then in amongst the sand dunes and trees just a little further on at Kaiafa before further stops at Meligala, Kalonero & Zevgolatio.
The run to Kalonero allowed A9101 to show what it was made of; A9105 still powered on the rear but it wasn’t between the front coach and the noise that A9101 was making; A9101 flexing it muscles a bit more on the climb away from Kalonero towards Zevgolatio.
Arrival into Kalamata was at a reasonable time of day. The previous visit in September had brought out the Mayor of Kalamata and a brass band; this time there was just the odd photographer and the station red-cap.
At least with the sun being up it made for a decent walk down the old railway line to the new town, where most people were staying on the sea front. The steam locos at the Kalamata Rail Park, by the old station building, were still looking like they’d been recently painted and only a very small amount of graffiti had appeared since September. Present at the rail park are:
Vulcan Iron Works (1947) 2-8-2 #7104
Breda (1951) 2-8-2 #7119
Breda (1951) 2-8-2 #7120
Krauss (1912) 2-6-0T #7535
Krauss (1926) 2-6-0T #7540
Krauss (1926) 2-6-0T #7541
Krauss (1925) 2-6-0T #7544
(Not being too up on my steam, all of the above gen is taken from the internet so if any is incorrect please let me know and i’ll update it)
The hotel of choice was the Ostria Hotel, a good 25 minutes walk from Kalamata station, where there were quite a few people staying. The views of the bay from the hotel balcony were excellent and the rooms were spacious too, each twin costing 50 Euros.
One of the nearby seafront eateries was literally taken over by cranks that night, with all available chairs and table space being used until quite late that night.
Saturday 13th April 2013
A glorious morning but one that warranted a taxi back to the station rather than a 30 minute uphill walk! It was time for A9105 to shine, or not as it turned out to be. Once the climb from Zevgolatio started A9105 never seemed to get onto full power, of course we initially blamed the driver but it turned out that when on full power A9105 wasn’t “pulling too well” in the drivers words so it appeared an electrical fault may be responsible. And that was how it stayed all day, just never quite sounding the part as it hammered away on the front for kilometre after kilometre.
It was a glorious day for photos and we were treated to some spectacular locations:
Chrani Viaduct, Manari Viaduct & Sirtis Viaduct
As well as Tripoli, Partheoi, Argos, Nafplion & Korinthos New Station
Lunch was at Tripoli, many using the station buffet while others ventured further a field to ensure they actually got some lunch in time.
Approaching Argos the massive Palamidi Fortress can be seen on the hilltop at Nafplion and after a quick reversal there we headed down the branch straight for it where it overshadows the station at Nafplion and made for a decent backdrop to any photograph. The last time an Alco had been to Nafplion was back in February 2003 when A9107 had the pleasure of standing in for an unavailable Alstom A9207 when working an SFS arranged day trip from Athens to Nafplion and return.
Back in September the OSE arranged charted we’d done had started at Tripoli vice Korinthos and OSE wouldn’t allow the train to do Nafplion, all due to the state of the graffiti on the stations and you could see why at Nafplion; Krauss (1908) 2-6-0T #7555 and stock in the adjacent platform were covered, the old coaches had smashed windows and it was all a bit sad really.
By the time we reached Korinthos that evening it had been a very long 12 hours on the go but there was still a bit of new track for everyone to get in, the New Korinthos Station that the Athens – Kiato electric services used. Alco’s had done it back in 2006, dragging Ganz units, unfortunately not on the days we’d been in the country at the time. We ran into the “New” station first then did the double reverse move to get into the “Old” station; the yard at which was derelict and void of almost all wagons, these having been moved to Tripoli during 2012 by A9101/9105. Alstom A9206 was sat in the shunt neck at the Athens end of the station as though acting as standby loco; the state it was in would probably prevent it from turning a wheel under its own power again though.
Our original plan had been to stay near Korinthos old station but as the tour was starting from the New station the following morning we’d changed to the Isthmia Prime in Isthmos only a few days before the tour, the taxi to which only cost 8 Euros from Korinthos old station.
Sunday 14th April 2013
Little did we realise how entertaining a day it would be when A9101 led the way from Korinthos New station, sounding nothing short of excellent when it got going up towards Argos. A short photo-stop was done at Mili to allow the dumped steam locos to be photographed, present were:
Vulcan Iron Works (1947) 2-8-2 #7101
Vulcan Iron Works (1947) 2-8-2 #7102
Vulcan Iron Works (1947) 2-8-2 #7103
Breda (1951) 2-8-2 #7112
Linke Hoffmann (1925) 2-8-0 #7723
Henschel & Son (1936) 2-8-0 #7728
(Not being too up on my steam, all of the above gen is taken from the internet so if any is incorrect please let me know and i’ll update it)
All was going quite well until we approached Achladokampos where A9101 shut down. It was soon started again and we left after everyone had done coffee, only for it to shut down again on departure so we went back into the station for another look.
The crew initially thought it was an air lock in the water system so they drained it down and refilled it, only for the same to keep occurring, it would shut down after a few minutes. It turned out that it was actually a fault with its water pressure sensor so the only sensible option was to run the locos round each other so A9105 could lead up the hill towards Tripoli. It was promptly detached and then reattached shortly afterwards when the crew realised that they couldn’t set the points as they were all clipped and padlocked. So off we set from Achladokampos with A9101 dead on the front of the train and A9105 doing all the work on the rear. 6km in though A9101 was started and help the struggling A9105 on the rear, shutting down every 3km or so and being started back up, initially taking about 1km to do so but by the time the crew had got used to it, it was only taking them about 0.2km to have her running again. Despite A9101 not being too well it made all the difference when climbing, even though the crew were a little reluctant to give it full power by that time. It was only 30km to Tripoli though and both locos were run round each other there; A9105 was turned on the triangle but A9101 was left on the rear long hood away from the stock, which was quite rare in their days of operation, usually that kind of thing only happened when the Korinthos standby had been sent to rescue something.
Lunch done and A9105 now leading the way we had quite a pleasant surprise. Whatever had been preventing A9105 getting to full power the previous day had rectified itself and it was soon proving its worth, hammering away at a very slow speed as it climbed away from Tripoli. A9101 was helping on the rear but every time it shut down the train slowed almost to walking pace; nothing short of a cracking afternoon’s thrash up to Lefktro, A9105 having redeemed itself after its poor performance the previous day.
We arrived into Megalopoli, with the horns blaring on both front and back locos, to quite a crowd greeting the first train into Megalopoli for apparently 10 years; which had quite possibly been a tour run by Hans Bernard Schonborn who was on board. It had been A9107/A9108 in multi with just the one coach on the rear of the train and a raft of tank wagons. That train had provided some of the best thrash an Alco basher could ever sample!
A free bus was provided by the Mayor of Megalopoli to take the trains occupants into town for lunch; allowing just under an hour for us to mill about before returning us to the station at 1700, which wasn’t bad to say we should have been away from there at 1410; A9101 being the cause of most, if not all, of the delay.
From Lefktro the climb up to Chrani had A9105 working hard again with the ailing A9101 helping on the rear when it could. Thankfully while we waited at Zevgolatio the driver had been told how to wire round the faulty sensor and was doing so while everyone was milling about on the platform which allowed A9101 to lead from there through to Kiparissia without having any more shutting down incidents.
Arrival into Kiparissia was just before 1800, almost 3 hours late but the locals were still out in force waiting for the arrival of the first train since the line had been closed. The Mayor was waiting and a fantastic spread of food had been laid on; the Mayor of Megalopoli should have spoken to his counterpart and done the same……
The Hotel Ionian was only across the road from the station and there was a mad dash to get checked in and sorted for the evening. The place had gone up in the world, having had quite a face lift since our regular visits to Kiparissia in the early part of the millennium. What was left of the evening was spent reminiscing at a taverna just round the corner from the hotel, which surprisingly still had the same owner as it had 9 years previous.
Monday 15th April 2013
The last day of a cracking tour, and the mood reflected it. A9105 led back to Pirgos and then onto the Katakolo branch, for A9101 to then take the reigns for the short bit of unfinished business round the curve onto the direct line to Patra and it finished the tour off in full voice. It was just like the “olden” days once we’d left Varda, after dinner, the driver clearly wanting to get back and showing A9101 who was boss. It was all over by 1400 at Patra, A9101 & A9105 disappearing off to shed soon after arrival leaving the trains occupants to sit and discuss the merits of the tour in the station buffet at Patra while waiting for the 1630 bus to Kiato to get back to Athens.
Everything went seamlessly, the bus to Kiato, train to Acharnai Railway Centre and second train forward to Athens and we were checking in to the Nana Hotel by 2000. It wasn’t a late night for anyone and the prospect of a lay-in was something we were all looking forward to as we called it a day at around 2230.
Tuesday 16th April 2013
A bonus trip round Athens Lefka Works had been arranged for the morning and the 0950 train from Athens to Pireaus dropped us at Lefka, a new station, right outside the Works entrance gates. There was some random guy waiting on the platform who then escorted us round the place, no corner was untouched and our tour began at the roundhouse that was now home to 6 of the A9101’s as follows:
3 Road A9106 (intact-ish)
4 Road A9102 (stripped with no power unit)
7 Road A9112 (heavily graffiti’d but otherwise intact-ish)
8 Road A9104 (intact)
9 Road A9111 (intact)
11 Road A9107 (intact)
A9109 was inside the works complex completely stripped down to bare shell, having been fabricated ready for being put back together as the second one to be overhauled; its power unit was inside one of the warehouses also stripped down ready to be rebuilt and put back in. Of course that idea soon went by the wayside when Greece went down the tubes and its highly unlikely it will ever get finished, despite OSE having the complete kit to finish it off.
With the 7 A9101’s in Athens we’d accounted for them all as follows:
A9101 – in service based at Patra
A9102 – stripped at Pireaus Roundhouse
A9103 – faulty turbos based at Pirgos, otherwise a runner
A9104 – intact in Pireaus Roundhouse
A9105 – in service based at Patra
A9106 – intact-ish in Pireaus Roundhouse
A9107 – intact in Pireaus Roundhouse
A9108 – in service based at Patra (but OSE don’t like using it)
A9109 – stripped down to shell only in Athens Lefka Works (was under overhaul)
A9110 – scrapped 2001
A9111 – intact in Pireaus Roundhouse
A9112 – intact-ish and heavily graffiti’d in Pireaus Roundhouse
Present in the rest of the works were the following:
A201 – stripped down to virtually a shell with its body in another part of the works
A457 & A468 – both undergoing overhaul (the last two of the A451 fleet)
A464 – inside the main shops
A467 – outside in the yard
A507 – outside in the yard
A509 – inside the main shops
A510 – inside a secondary shops
A367 – outside in the yard but under cover
220010 – outside in the yard
220016 – inside the main shops
220026 – outside the main shops near the traverser
220028 – outside the main shops near the traverser
220032 – inside the main shops
120017 – outside the main shops near the traverser
It was a thorough look round indeed and with only 6 staff working on the locos now it would take some time for anything to get finished, including the overhauls of A457/468, let alone the repairs to the rest of the engines present.
With the rest of the afternoon free we opted to get some pictures of the old Peloponnese station and were even treated to A508/A455 passing through as we walked back to the main station for a bit of a sit down.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent doing the 1418 Athens – Thessalonika to Acharnai Railway Centre for the 1004 Thessalonika – Athens back; 220013 out for 220027 back in, then it was off to the airport, our trip well and truly over. Easy Jet delivering us back to Gatwick South Terminal early……..
The end of a cracking trip with cracking engines, cracking scenery and excellent weather making for brilliant photo-stops; the whole tour was a very pleasant experience that brought back so many memories and thanks have to go to those that organised it in the first place as without their time and effort none of us would have got to enjoy what the Peloponnese Alco’s have to offer once again. Lets hope its not the last time……….