Greece October 2015 (PTG Southern Greece Tour)
It was a welcome trip and very eagerly anticipated return to Greece to get some more MLW’s in; especially after the PTG trip in 2014 had been so good. As in 2014 the tour started in Sofia, Bulgaria, as OSE have no fresh air stock left to allow it to run solely in Greece so BDZ stock is a necessity unfortunately. Having had a decent but interesting few days getting to Sofia the main event was going to be a lot more relaxing than the 10 days leading up to it and it was with great expectations everyone seemed to be looking forward to the second installment of Greek MLW’s in as many years!
The PTG tour started in Sofia, Bulgaria, so no flights into Greece
Sofia – Hotel Sylvia
Only about a 7 minute walk from Sofia station and has double and triple rooms, which are large and basic but have hot and cold running bog roll so what more could you need from a bed for the night? Unfortunately we had to be out before breakfast was served.
Thessaloniki – Hotel Vergina
Is a 5 minute walk up the road from Thessaloniki station. Check-in was simple enough and we were given 4 twin rooms on one corridor, all next to each other. The rooms weren’t massive but had AC and were more than adequate for our purposes. WiFi was free throughout the hotel although it didn’t seem to connect very well, if at all, in some rooms. It worked very well in the reception though. Breakfast was included in the room rate.
Volos – Hotel Philippos
Is a 5 minute walk from the station. The rooms weren’t massive again but were clean and had all the mod-cons including free WiFi, for which individual log-ins per device had to be created and collected at reception. Breakfast was included in the room rate at €3 per person but didn’t start until we literally needed to leave the hotel the following morning.
Athens – Hotel Nana
Over the road from Athens station, the Nana has served cranks for many years and their quad rooms, which are basically two twins with two bathrooms and a door separating the two, are very good value. It’s a shame that the bathrooms are tiny and you don’t have room to swing a cat, or basically sit on the bog! Still at next to nothing a night we couldn’t complain and at least the rooms are clean and have AC and free WiFi. Breakfast was included in the room rate.
Kalambaka – Hotel King
Is a 10 minute walk from the station. Of the four twin rooms booked 2 had Meteora views, all were spacious, had decent sized bathrooms with toiletries, had air conditioning, free WiFi and most importantly tea/coffee making facilities! The owner was very pleasant and gave us all the details we needed about visiting the monasteries in Kalambaka, including how to get there by foot, bus and taxi and how long it would take to do various things. Breakfast was included in the room rate and we arranged for it to be served at 0800 the following morning.
PTG Tour booked as part of a group booking direct with PTG Tours
Sunday 4th October 2015 (The suspense was killing everyone!)
Unlike in 2014 the tour actually started at a reasonable time from Sofia; if you call 0730 reasonable of course?! Still, having met up with “the others” the night before the tour, we stayed in the Hotel Sylvia; which we’d used in 2014 as well, it’s only about a 7 minute walk from Sofia station and has double and triple rooms, which are large and basic but have hot and cold running bog roll so what more could you need from a bed for the night? Unfortunately we had to be out before breakfast was served so had to grab what we could from the shops on the station front before the tour departed.
Aidy & I were first up and over at the station by 0630. With the tour allegedly being planned to depart from platform 4 that’s exactly where we headed; only to find a train just being dispatched by the red-cap and no other stock to be found. The red-cap, although she didn’t understand any English and initially told me that the train to Thessaloniki departed at 1515, soon understood what it was I was asking and having radio’d to someone confirmed that the train would depart from platform 7 and just as we walked out of the station we bumped into a load of the PTG tour group heading to platform 4, who were diverted in the right direction; with everyone else being sms’d the correct platform gen so they didn’t suffer the same fate we had.
Sure enough a load three set of stock was positioned at the Kulata end of platform 7 and just as we got up the steps BDZ passenger sector 07124 was dropping onto the stock; not ideal for most I guess but it was new for me as I’m a massive ned on 07’s anyway! Despite there being 85 people on the tour the spread of compo’s available seemed to fill with plenty of space being available for all and amidst an orange sky 07124, very un-noisily, departed from Sofia without even so much as a hint of smoke coming from its exhaust. 07’s, if not noisy, did seem to at least play to the clag value that most seemed to expect from them but not this one…….
It was a mediocre journey towards the Bulgarian/Greek border at Kulata and after stops at both Pernik & Blagoevgrad heads were eagerly hanging out of the windows as 07124 drew the train into Kulata; but there wasn’t a Greek engine to be seen anywhere, only a freight Sulzer 810245 shunting in the sidings. Passport checks were quite quick and very inoffensive but by the time the border security had got through the first coach 07124 was already off the train and shunting to the sidings; so most didn’t manage to get photos of it still on the train at Kulata.
It wasn’t long before the long hood of an OSE MLW MX627 could be seen emerging from Greece in the distance and despite it being A456, which had worked the tour the previous year, people were still suitably impressed as it had turned out to be the start of the show in 2014; but let me tell you it was a fucking disgrace on this occasion, what a letdown! Initially everyone assumed the driver was a complete gnome but no it seemed that A456 had transformed itself into a complete and utter state and even after the run-round at Strimon it struggled to sound anything like an OSE MLW that people expected of it; it was slow to load up, didn’t have much of a growl and just sounded like it generally struggled to do anything that an MLW should; still it was marginally better than 07124 and once the tour arrived into Thessaloniki we all headed for the hotel hoping for something a bit better on the short afternoon jaunt to Ghefira that would follow. With just the 8 MLW’s on shed at Thessaloniki there was plenty to choose from; with A451, A458, A459, A461, A462, A463, A469 & A509 all present!
The Hotel Vergina, yes that’s right, Hotel Vergina, was only a 5 minute walk up the road from Thessaloniki station and our group of 8 weren’t the only tour participants staying there. Check-in was simple enough and we were given 4 twin rooms on one corridor, all next to each other. The rooms weren’t massive but had AC and were more than adequate for our purposes. WiFi was free throughout the hotel although it didn’t seem to connect very well, if at all, in some rooms. It worked very well in the reception though. Breakfast was included in the room rate.
After a quick bag dump and having had a decent gyros en-route back to the station imagine how displeased, and slightly confused, everyone was to find A456 bolted to the stock waiting to depart with the afternoon jaunt towards Axios & Ghefira; while displeased and confused nobody was utterly surprised as after all this was Greece and OSE were a law unto themselves, oh and fucking useless at times. And this was only the tip of their “how to piss off a train full of cranks” bag of tricks that afternoon! So with only one engine on the train and wondering quite how the train was going to reverse at Axios and get to Ghefira, A456 trundled out of Thessaloniki and down the main line towards Axios. For those wondering the shed at Thess was exactly the same as when we’d run in 2 hours previous, with all 8 MLW’s still there and in exactly the same places; WTF!?
At Axios those of us in the front coach were unaware of what debacle was going on at the rear of the train, which was obviously the front after the reversal at Axios, and when we set off in the opposite direction towards Ghefira we all assumed that A456 was propelling the train round the curve; which was actually nearly 5km! It wasn’t until Aidy poked his head out of the window and announced to the compo that “there’s another engine on the rear of the train” that everyone’s mood perked up for a second or two; Aidy really needed to be a bit more specific with his statement and add in a few more words; my statement would have been something along these lines “there’s a fucking ADtranz at the rear of this godforsaken train, the useless Greek twats”!
What happened at Ghefira just added insult to injury as both A456 & what turned out to be 220025 ran round to the opposite ends of the train, which then meant we didn’t get the new track in for Alco and there was a complete fuck about at Ghefira while the needless shunts took place; thanks OSE! And the stupidity didn’t stop there when 220025 was detached at Axios and then followed behind the tour all the way to the outskirts of Thessaloniki; it wasn’t far behind either and with the train doing a good 50mph down the main line was it at all dangerous? Of course it fucking was!
Thessaloniki Shed still had 8 MLW’s on shed as we ran by for the third time that afternoon and guess what, they were all still the same ones and were all still in the same place. It turned out that the powers at be within OSE were not happy about the fact the PTG had been subjected to ADtranz vice MLW; unfortunately, happy or not, the fact remained in that OSE had done us all out of what should have been a decent afternoon of top & tailed MLW action in the Thessaloniki area. So instead of ending on a high, having had a good deal of thrash and a few new engines, the day ended with everyone just wanting to get away from the train, having had a load of crap engines, not having had the only new track of the day for Alco and feeling thoroughly let down by OSE after the previous years tour had got off to such a good start; and the only thing to cure a shit day was of course a few beers and an excessive amount of food!
Strangely we found a decent restaurant down towards the port in Thessaloniki, which actually served food and not warmed up stuff visible to all in a shop window; while I can’t remember the name of the place it was very good and everyone was suitably fed before a few beers were consumed elsewhere. What I’d like to say here is that after a thoroughly good day it was good to get into bed, knowing that a late start followed in the morning; but it wasn’t so I won’t!
Gen for Sunday 4th October 2015
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 1)
07124 MBV7669 0730 Sofia – Kulata
A456 7669 1235 Kulata – Thessaloniki, 7747 1639 Thessaloniki – Ghefira (to Axios then dead on rear), 7448 1729 Ghefira – Thessaloniki (dead on rear to Axios then train engine)
220025 7747 1639 Thessaloniki – Ghefira (from Axios with A456 dead on rear), 7448 1729 Ghefira – Thessaloniki (to Axios with A456 dead on rear – it then followed light behind the train to Thessaloniki)
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 1:
Monday 5th October 2015 (More like it….!)
With a 1058 start a well deserved lay-in was had by all, even the dirty stop-outs, and breakfast at the Vergina was caned in at the last possible minute; with plenty of it making its way into my bag for later in the day, but not enough o fit at all in the end!
Would day 2 of the PTG southern Greece tour get off to a better start? Whisperings on the platform would have you believe so but I wasn’t believing any of it until I witnessed A470 backing onto the train with my own eyes. Thankfully the whispers were correct and sure enough A470 backed onto the stock to work, we hoped, only to Larissa where everyone was hoping for a further loco swap to take place for the run down to Volos.
A470 didn’t really get to grips with the train until after a brief stop at Plati, where OSE electric 120024 arrived in the adjacent platform with a loaded sugar beet train. On Thessaloniki shed as we trundled by were 5 MLW’s, A451, A458, A463, A469 & A501; four of which had been there the previous afternoon on all three occasions we’d passed by, the useless twat’s! Once A470 warmed up a little so did the thrash emanating from it and the run to Larissa turned out to be a very good one with A470 doing more of what we’d expected from A456 and it definitely proved to be a good loco, sounding the part once it got going. It also seemed to load up quite quickly, unlike other refurbished OSE MX627’s, which is always a good thing for the ears!
At Larissa it was assumed we’d be giving up A470 as A466 was in the station as we rolled in and when it ran off towards the depot everyone just assumed it was to turn it for the run to Volos; but no that wasn’t the case and the dangled carrot that was A466 was never to be seen again as A470 was ultimately run straight round and bolted to the opposite end of the stock to take us forward to Volos; make up a sentence from these words: fucking useless twats! Alternatively for those offended easily the words piss-up and brewery spring to mind!
If you were quick at Larissa food could have been sought but as breakfast had been late what I’d managed to accumulate from the Vergina sufficed and even got shared out a little in the compo; that turned out to be a bad move from a completely selfish point of view later!
The run down to Velestino on the Volos line was pretty straight forward and at Velestino, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and afternoon of MG awaited most; those that couldn’t be arsed ended up doing the DMU into Volos for dinner, checking into the hotel, having food and returning to Velestino on the DMU later in the afternoon; the sensible bastards! Meanwhile, back in Velestino, in the baking afternoon heat, the brave set about what was more of an endurance test than an enjoyable ride.
Having shunted into the sidings at Velestino, after everyone had disembarked, A470 was shut down and the train secured; it wouldn’t be required for another 5 hours after arrival! The afternoon entertainment was to be provided by EMOS, a group that had preserved part of the old MG network that used to run direct from Volos to Kalambaka via Paleofarsalos. The original plan had been to convey everyone on an afternoon jaunt with the only loco the group had, Nippon Sharyo No.2921 – originally built in 1971 for Aliveri Lignite Mines and Power Station – but as the thing was so tin-pot it couldn’t manage to pull the Linke Hoffman DMU the group owned; so had to do two round trips in the end with an open plan wooden brake van instead!
As the brake wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone in one go two trips had to be done instead of one; the first trip was more wedged than the second but the photos stops en-route back were in better light than the second trip’s. The loco wasn’t much to write home about and it even managed to shut down en-route due to it overheating. The wedge factor in the brake wasn’t the best as there were loads of people standing, which always makes for a comfortable journey at the best of times; not! The scenery however was a completely different ball game and the sheer riot factor of travelling through what was more like a jungle than a railway line made the journey more interesting than it would have otherwise been; although I was fed up of being twatted round the head by branches and bushes by the time we got back!
The line now only operates from Velestino to Aerino, a distance of 11.89km and the uphill journey was covered in just under an hour. After a few photos at Aerino we set off back with the #3 still attached to the same end, now leading back down the hill having pushed the train up it. A photo-stop was done on the return journey where there was plenty of opportunity to give the shot some perspective from the surrounding area. Thankfully the sun just about held out for us; unfortunately the second trip didn’t fare so well in the sun stakes. Arrival back into Velestino was almost 2 hours after we’d departed, where some people opted to head straight into Volos on the local DMU while others chose to have a look round the group’s shed area before retiring to the stock to get a bit of respite from the afternoon sunshine; while the little shunting type device headed back to Aerino with the rest of the group.
The shed area at Velestino is basically full of stuff that’s going to end up rusting away where it sits with the Linke Hoffman DMU being the only thing, other than a wooden motorized track trolley, that looked remotely serviceable. It was fun exploring the yard area though and even clambering around inside one of the demic DMU cars. Credit where credit is due though, the group was operating trains over a section of line that was far from easy to manage terrain-wise and had managed to clear the tracks enough to allow our special trains to run. This in a country where the economic climate didn’t currently have a great outlook and yet they’d kept the railway serviceable for a long time now. I was glad to sit down and get away from it all in the non-dusty, non-sunny and cooler confines of the stock in the sidings; all we needed then was a nice cold beer to cool us down a bit!
And bugger me if the one they call Flossy didn’t answer all our prayers and arrive from Volos with a bag full of ice cold Amstel’s; which he very kindly offered out to those of us that had been daft enough to hand around in the dustbowl of Velestino all afternoon, without food, water, pop, beer and sense!
The 20km run into Volos that evening was very welcome and the MG tracks towards Volos are still visible at the side of the SG tracks for some way. At Volos Alco DL532 A209 was on shed in all its green splendor and what had previously been dumped in the yard adjacent to the station, well some of them anyway, and were plinthed on the far side of the yard; with the yard area now being SG and not MG anymore. There were 10 steam locos in all, which would be investigated the following morning, there’d previously been a couple of Mitsubishi A9401’s dumped in the yard as well but these were nowhere to be found.
The hotel of choice for the night was the Hotel Philippos, which is a 5 minute walk from the station. As some had already checked in it only took minutes for the rest of us to get checked in. The rooms weren’t massive again but were clean and had all the mod-cons including free WiFi, for which individual log-ins per device had to be created and collected at reception. Breakfast was included in the room rate at €3 per person but didn’t start until we literally needed to leave the hotel the following morning; and what a waste of time it turned out to be in me paying for it!
Along the seafront Volos has loads of restaurants to suit everyone’s needs; if you’re not keen on seafood just persevere there are places that will be for you. I managed to find a decent pizza/pasta place in the end. It wasn’t a late night, the afternoon had taken it out of most and the early start the previous day hadn’t helped; despite the late start on this particular day!
Gen for Monday 5th October 2015
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 2)
A470 7597 1058 Thessaloniki – Larissa, 7588 1315 Larissa – Volos (stayed over at Velestino for 4 hours)
#3 (EMOS Nippon Sharyo No.2921 – Built 1971 for Aliveri Lignite Mines and Power Station)
1428 Velestino – Aerino – Velestino, 1620 Velestino – Aerino – Velestino
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 2 (Main Tour):
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 2 (Velestino):
Tuesday 6th October 2015 (A bonus little green monster, with a big nose!)
Not all of us got up to do the first part of the days excursion, which involved having to get to Ano Lechonio for a ride on what remained of the now OSE operated Volos – Milies railway. As breakfast started at 0700 we literally had a couple of minutes to smash and grad what we could while we waited for two taxis to turn up and take us to Ano Lechonio. Both came to around €15 but Vic noticed in ours that the cheating wanker of a driver flicked the tariff from 1 to 2 half way through the journey; which randomly was posted on the back of the seat in front of me. The wanker also attempted to then ask for money to convey our bags, this was a charge only applicable to bags over 10kg; which ours definitely weren’t. Having fucked the two taxi’s off we had a serious rethink about how we were going to get back to Volos later and having consulted with others that had arrived by taxi the general consensus was by service bus; once we knew that our train would be back in Ano Lechonio earlier than planned.
Our OSE charter train was sat in the station waiting with 4 nicely maintained little wooden coaches with bench seats down the sides. The loco however was just pure ridiculousness; I mean who’d want a diesel loco to look like a kettle? DA1 was built by Schöma in 1999 and of type CFL200BB and works No.5532. It was only a tin-pot little thing which to the untrained eye did look like a kettle but OSE certainly weren’t fooling anyone with the photo-shopped smoke coming out of the chimney on the cover of their leaflet for the line!
Having spent the afternoon melting and crammed in a wooden box the previous day this little jaunt to Milies was rather pleasant in comparison with the scenery being quite nice as the train climbed up the hillside and crossed viaducts and passed through tunnels. A stop at Ano Gatzea en-route allowed for photos and a morning coffee during which time the thief struck! While not minding our gear on board the train said thief stealthed its way into the coaches and systematically searched through random bags; unfortunately mine was the one that took the thief’s fancy and without a care in the world it rifled through my stuff! Thankfully said thief was disturbed while in the middle of its robbery and was too quick to be caught red-pawed! It turned out that my breakfast had been stolen, the breakfast that I’d paid €3 for and not even touched, the breakfast that I was going to eat the moment we departed Ano Gatzea but now couldn’t thanks to the four-legged ginger thief! In sheer disgust the remainder of my cheese sandwiches were thrown at said cat as it sat looking at me from a distance; and that was basically my breakfast in a nutshell, taken from me by a scheming cat thief that clearly did this sort of thing on a regular basis the way it came running out onto the platform as the train arrived and then systematically went through the train while everyone was out on the platform!
Having had a photo-stop at Kalorema Viaduct, before Ano Gatzea, we stopped for another at De Chirico’s Bridge at Taxiarhis, just on the outskirts of Milies; the former being a curving concrete viaduct and the latter a relatively straight metal bridge but with a bizarrely curved section of track across it! Milies terminus itself is in a very secluded place in woodland with a couple of buildings, from which could be purchased some rather nice ice-cream. Upon arrival though the loco was shunted onto a turntable and then manually shoved round by worked and tour participants alike, before being plonked back on the stock in readiness for the return journey to Ano Lechonio.
There was no stopping on the return journey to Ano Lechonio but as we ran through Ano Gatzea the thief was still at large, hiding in the shade while watching the train pass through and I must say looking a bit fat! Back at Ano Lechonio loads of people off the tour were planning to catch the bus back into town, the time’s of which had been found for us by Apollon while at Milies. Fortunately the bus wasn’t needed as there were two tour buses available and there was ample room on board for all to ride back to Volos; unless you were from the Midlands…….
Imagine everyone’s surprise when the bus dropped us at the station and we found Alco DL532 A209, in all its green splendor, on top of MLW A470. At first I thought it was just going to shunt the stock back down the platform after it had been watered and was going to get the shunt in anyway; it eventually filtered through that in light of our disastrous afternoon in Thessaloniki at the start of the trip OSE had sympathized with us and had gladly provided another crew to allow A209 to pilot A470 to Larissa on this fine and sunny day! Very un-OSE-like but still a bit of a bonus and with everyone quite pleased with how the afternoon was going to pan out a quick bite to eat was had before heading over to the kettles over the far side of the yard to get some photos before we departed Volos for the long run to Athens.
The little kettles, while lined up nicely in a row, don’t look to have been treated very well when moved to their new spots with it being very evident a bull in a china shop could have done a better job in preserving the history and appearance of the locos. Each and every one had basically been lifted beneath the cab and bent in the process; some worse than others. I remember from my previous visit in 2004 that some of the kettles had their metal plaques still attached but none had anymore but all at least had some sort of number on them, even if most were scrawled on the side of the loco in paint. One even had two different numbers on the buffer beam and below is a list of what each has on it, from left to right as you look at the front of the locos:
#41, #40, #42 or 45 (has both numbers on it!), #30, #34, #1058, #203, #20, #21 & #27
At 1330 our train pulled out of Volos with A209 leading A470, I think everyone was expecting the driver in A470 to give the little Alco a go on the front but it wasn’t to be and unfortunately we hardly heard the 6 cylinder machine all the way to Larissa; A470 was excellent though and really did sound the part. At Larissa A209 was immediately removed from the front of the train and then, surprisingly to all, attached to the rear of the DMU heading back down to Volos and when train 1578 1430 Larissa – Volos departed A209 was powering on the rear! A470 was eventually removed from the train and this time went to shed with A466 returning to re-engine the train and work it forward to Athens.
During the hour stop at Larissa there was plenty of time to get food for the journey to Athens and then A466, unfortunately the only OSE MX627 I’d had on a passenger train, showed us what it was worth as it headed south and up over the mountains from Lianokladi; by which time it had warmed up and sounded as good on full chat, if not a little better than, A470? The extent of the lengths gone to build the new railway line through the mountains as opposed to over them is very visible from the hill section and we even saw a couple of BDZ 55’s employed on works train en-route. There was a very welcome photo-stop at Gorgopotamos Bridge en-route; which involved everyone getting off and walking across the bridge first. With a load of Greek photographers already poised high up the hillside time was of the essence and everyone was hurried along by the waiting Greeks, before the sun dropped behind the hill and plunged the fantastic viaduct into shadow. Bizarrely, rather than stop just after the bridge end and pick everyone up the train continued onwards to the station, which resulted in everyone trudging along the ballast behind it for quite a distance!
At Amfiklia a few locos remain dumped in the adjacent yard with Caterpillar’s A230, A222 & A221 being behind some wagons while Alco DL500 A304 is dumped in the yard with Romanian built Craiova A557. After a brief stop to let an OSE IC head in the opposite direction we were soon on our way again so no time for photos unfortunately. On the outskirts of Athens it was evident that local Greek cranks were out to see the train with the amount of horn blowing and random bellowing out of the window and a brief stop for them to photograph the train was made before we made it into Athens not far off time in the end; with A466 having done a good job en-route. It was time for hotel and food though so there was no hanging around and admiring the mighty MLW, despite the light being good for a spot of night photography.
A trip to Greece wouldn’t be the same without a stay at the Hotel Nana, for old time’s sake! Over the road from Athens station, the Nana has served cranks for many years and their quad rooms, which are basically two twins with two bathrooms and a door separating the two, are very good value. It’s a shame that the bathrooms are tiny and you don’t have room to swing a cat, or basically sit on the bog! Still at fuck all a night we couldn’t complain and at least the rooms are clean and have AC and free WiFi.
Disappointment reigned when we headed out to the usual restaurant in Athens only to find it closed. We were soon back on track though when we discovered a place we’d previously never found and managed to get 10 of us round a few tables; which was soon filled with more food than we needed, and was polished off I might add. I was struggling after the long day and rafts of food so left everyone to their beer while I returned to the Nana and headed straight to bed, relaxed in the knowledge that a very relaxing day lay ahead the following day.
Gen for Tuesday 6th October 2015
Volos Steam: #41, #40, #42 or 45 (has both numbers on it!), #30, #34, #1058, #203, #20, #21 & #27
A304, A556, A221, A222 & A230 dumped at Amfiklia
A209 1578 1430 Larissa – Volos (on rear of DMU and powering out of Larissa!)
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 3)
DA1 (Schoema 1999 – CFL200BB No.5532)
7802 0800 Ano Lechonio – Milies, 7803 1030 Milies – Ano Lechonio
A209/A470 in tandem 7519 1330 Volos – Athens (to Larissa)
A466 7519 1330 Volos – Athens (from Larissa)
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 3 (Main Tour):
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 3 (Milies):
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 3 (Volos Steam Locos):
Wednesday 7th October 2015 (A302; what more do you want me to say?!)
With a leisurely 1132 start from Athens station, a 2 minute walk from the Hotel Nana, there was no reason at all to get out of bed other than to make sure breakfast was caned in right at the last minute; and suitably fed we were all over at the station eagerly awaiting the arrival of some of the finest Alco’s Greece has ever had to offer!
When Alco DL543 A326 ran in leading the stock, with the machine that is Alco DL500C A302 on the rear, the big question was “where is A325”? The answer to that question was on shed at Rentis as OSE didn’t think they needed to use all three on the train as A302 & A326 were capable of doing the job themselves. Regardless, A325 was the more south after of the two A321’s but we later figured out, having seen it on shed, that A325 was the opposite way round to A326 meaning it was easier to use A326, with A302 being the way round it was! The reason why A325 should have been on the train as well would soon become very apparent!
The climb out of Athens towards SKA is long, steep and built up on both sides to amplify the thrash; unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal as A326 seemed to have problems getting its transition in. As it set off from Athens it really did sound the part, meaty, noisy and just like a knackered old Alco should; when the transition tried to come in though the loco died down to a whine and just couldn’t seem to get it in and as it was slowing down while attempting it completely dropped out and went back into its lower transition and thrashed back up again. This continued, completely spoiling what should have been an immense uphill thrash, until A302 basically shoved it up the hill allowing the loco to get to a speed where the transition came in without the train slowing before it had.
Despite dropping downhill when taking the curve onto the airport line just before SKA, both A326 and A302 hammered through the lengthy tunnel and gave a good performance all the way to the airport; much to the bemusement of waiting passengers at the stations en-route who couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing as two 1960’s built Alco’s hammered through on full power. There were hands over ears, stares of disbelief and even people walking away from the train as it hammered through to get away from the noise. It was a great run but a shame it was all over so soon as we arrived at the airport a mere 40 minutes after departing Athens!
The arrival of A326/A302 into Athens Airport was a first for any Alco in Greece, let alone the oldest working ones OSE had, and it was a massive shame that OSE wouldn’t allow us to go through to Kiato as the tour had been originally planned to do to prolong the day and allow the old Alco’s to be enjoyed, on what could be their last outing ever!? In hindsight though it was probably as well that they did only work to the airport and back…..
To allow for better photos and ultimately get some more track in, the stock was shunted into the EMU sidings beyond the platforms; where everyone could get out onto the ballast and snap away as A302 basked in glorious sunshine. On the return to Athens, quite surprisingly I have to say, A302 did the honours itself with no help from A326 on the rear; it was music to the ears as it hammered up the hills and through stations, the driver playing to any gallery he could on the way! As with the outward run though it was all over too soon and we were back in Athens only 2 hours after departing; with our day’s bash technically over! What happened next was something that we all should have just dissed straight away but the afternoon was nothing short of farcical!
It had been agreed with OSE that a depot visit round Rentis would take place after the tour arrived back and OSE did the sensible thing in allowing us to travel down to Rentis on the empties off the tour; which weren’t booked to arrive there until after 1500 so there was time to gather snacks from the buffet on Athens station beforehand. After relaxing on the stock for a bit in the station at Athens we eventually set off on the 6km journey to Rentis yard, where upon arrival A302 promptly failed with oil pressure issues and A326 couldn’t help as it too wasn’t in the best of health. The result being that ADtranz 220005 had to sort out the locos and stock; meanwhile a bit of a farce unfolded.
It was announced that the Rentis depot visit was now not possible but that a visit to the works at Lefka was; the only issue was getting there as it was over a mile further towards Piraeus. In the end OSE’s solution was to use a pair of Stadler DMU’s, that were heading empties from Rentis to Piraeus, to take everyone down on it’s way; said DMU’s were soon seen in the yard and followed MLW’s A510/A453 through it and shunted into the platform. The air-conditioning on the unit was a welcome respite from the hot afternoon sunshine and once everyone was inside the gates at Lefka Works the fun began.
We were told immediately that no photographs would be allowed inside the works and when a raft of OSE staff turned up with visitor’s badges and hard hats the very idea of going round the works was soon not on a lot of people’s agenda’s! In typical Greek style OSE had managed to take the fun out of a depot visit and turn it into nothing but a PR exercise and one where they were allowed to take photos of the group but the group weren’t allowed to take photos of the locos; which I’m reliably informed was pointed out to the OSE staff in no uncertain terms during the visit. That was a visit that at least 10 people didn’t partake in, most of our group included and we all headed back to the station to do the DMU that had brought us to Lefka in the first place, back to Athens as it returned from Piraeus with the 1525 Piraeus – Chalkis.
My grand plans of doing a quick out and back to SKA with IC58 1616 Athens – Thessaloniki and back with IC57 1204 Thessaloniki – Athens were soon binned when I noticed on the printed timetable at the station that IC57 didn’t run any more! The fact that it was completely scrubbed out being a bit of a giveaway so the local tickets we’d bought, which weren’t actually valid on the IC’s anyway, to do the move were handed back over for a refund; thankfully we hadn’t validated them. Having watched ADtranz 200013/220019 arrive with IC58 we soon realised that we could have actually done 220029 on IC51 0513 Thessaloniki – Athens to Rentis for IC58 back; both trains actually running to or from Rentis but not advertised on the departure screens. Needless to say an afternoon of beer, food and generally no doing a lot took place following what really had turned out to be a wasted afternoon thus far! With a ridiculously early start of 0513 the following morning there was no staying out late and despite the late start it had been a tiring day for some reason…….
The good news for the morning was that MLW A454 should be gracing us with it’s presence for the run back north towards Kalambaka.
Gen for Wednesday 7th October 2015
220013/220019 IC58 1616 Athens – Thessaloniki
220029 IC51 0513 Thessaloniki – Athens
A453/A510 & A454/A466 worked the two northbound Rentis – Thessaloniki scheduled freights
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 4)
A326 7102/3 1132 Athens – Athens Airport (A302 assisting in rear as required)
A302 7104/5 1236 Athens Airport – Athens, ECS at 1409 Athens – Rentis
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 4:
Thursday 8th October 2015 (An MLW, a caterpillar and a shit load of Monasteries!)
Early start or not, everyone seemed in good spirits as we all waited on what would have been an otherwise deserted Athens station at stupid o’clock in the morning. News soon filtered round that OSE had done us a big favour again and had only sent A454 north the previous night on one of the freights; leaving A467 for our tour, which had of course worked the previous year’s tour; and was about as shocking as they come, a little like A456 had been at the start of this tour!
So it was good news all round and to add insult to injury there was no sign of the stock at the booked departure time of 0513! When A451 rolled in with it 30’ late, and not A467 as everyone had resigned themselves to expect, there was an instant mood change on the platform; maybe it was because their bed had arrived but maybe, just maybe, it was due to A467 not having come out to play?
It took the train a long time to wake up that morning and it seemed to take an age to get to Lianokladi. After leaving Tithorea, where ex DB 212318 was standing in the sidings, the run through the hills was worth being awake for; the sun broke through the cloud casting rays upon the valley below and the higher we climbed the more moody the whole scene looked. The sky was still the same when our train dropped into Lianokladi, where the waiting OSE Caterpillar A223 dropped on; benefitting from the morning sunshine as people swarmed around to get their photos before departure.
The late departure from Athens was never recovered and as a result had a knock-on to OSE’s train service on the Stylis branch that morning; mainly because our train was the Stylis branch train that morning! As there were apparently no paths down the branch OSE had agreed for our train to run as a service train from Lianokladi to Stylis and return and 4526 0815 Lianokladi – Stylis & 4527 0857 Stylis – Lianokladi were the chosen trains; hence the stupid o’clock departure time from Athens!
Thankfully OSE saw sense for a change and left A451 on the rear of the set to save a run round at Stylis and once A223 was coupled and ready to go, we were away about 30 late. Of course the little Caterpillar was going to struggle, and definitely needed the hand A451 gave on the rear up the hill towards Lamia. It put in a decent performance though through to Stylis and just about did the job. Quite what the normals travelling on the 0815 Lianokladi – Stylis thought, I don’t know, but the looks being cast towards the train as it rolled to a stand in stations we those of disbelief; until the guard beckoned everyone into the middle coach that was.
With only 5 minutes or so at Stylis there was a lot of rushing about for photos before A451 did the honours on its own back to Lianokladi with 4527 0857 Stylis – Lianokladi; running about 35’ late. To anyone’s knowledge this was the first run of an MLW down the Stylis branch on a passenger train. In the past only the Caterpillars and Baby Alco’s (A201’s) had been allowed to work the branch trains and since the ADtranz came along there’s been no need for an MLW to go down the branch after the track was upgraded. A451 was beginning to prove its worth too, no it had warmed up.
As we didn’t arrive into Lianokladi until after our booked 1006 departure time, we had to wait for ADtranz 220016/220004 to arrive with IC53 0704 Thessaloniki – Athens before we could head north; at least this allowed for photos to be taken at a steadier pace than at Stylis. After 15 minutes or so we headed north with A451 performing well on what was essentially a fast run along the main line to Paleofarsalos, where the train had to run through the station on the main line and reverse across the northern throat to platform 1 to access the Kalambaka branch; it can only be assumed this is due to the points at the south end of the station not allowing access at that point?
With our very early start that morning the inevitable early finish came in Kalambaka at 1245; just as everyone was waking up! A451 ran round the stock in the station and shunted it into the sidings; where it resided for the night. Everyone then made their way to their respective hotels, ours being the Hotel King, which was about a 10 minute walk from the station. Of the four twin rooms booked 2 had Meteora views, all were spacious, had decent sized bathrooms with toiletries, had air conditioning, free WiFi and most importantly tea/coffee making facilities! The owner was very pleasant and gave us all the details we needed about visiting the monasteries in Kalambaka, including how to get there by foot, bus and taxi and how long it would take to do various things. Breakfast was included in the room rate and we arranged for it to be served at 0800 the following morning.
A decent, small, restaurant was found over the road from the hotel and we just about hatched a plan to do the monasteries over dinner, well maybe almost; we couldn’t really agree on how to get there let alone where to go and how long to spend there. It was lucky that there was plenty of room on the PTG Tour buses and we were allowed to ride with them; we’d have probably still been trying to figure out what we did wrong now if we hadn’t!
The monasteries in Kalambaka are built in the most unlikely of places, atop of the very imposing rocks that stand behind the town. Their building was something but having travelled up to see them the real extent of the engineering that had gone into the building of them became a lot clearer. The views all around are absolutely breathtaking and the way some people get to and from the monasteries could literally have you holding your breath as open air cable cars pass over very high ravines, hanging in the balance as they ease slowly either to or from the monasteries. These are open to the general public as well!
Our trip up in the bus first stopped at a panoramic viewpoint en-route, which gave excellent views across the land below and in between the rocks we could see back down to Kalambaka. There’s absolutely no fencing to prevent people going wherever they wanted to on the rocks either so you can be as nesh or as adventurous as you like when scrambling about to get your photos. After the short stop we headed on to the Monastery of the Great Meteoron and very grand it was too; the monasteries look like tiny places when view from way down below or across the valley but the Great Meteoron was far from small.
We had plenty of time to explore the Great Meteoron, which had its fair share of steps to climb to even gain access, and from the upper parts of it excellent views across the valley allow for good views of the nearby Varlaam Monastery. The most fascinating thing for me inside the monastery was the chapel which seemed to have nothing but death paintings all over it, from wall to ceiling; everywhere! Most seemed to be scenes of torture and by the time I’d finished obsessing with the paintings I had definitely learnt some new lessons in how people were tortured back in the day!
After the Great Meteoron we headed downhill, the only way to actually go, to a small monastery call Rousanou Monastery; there wasn’t a great deal to see at this one but the views from it were worth turning up for and those from the adjacent hillside, right over the valley, were even better. What better way to finish off the day than to be looking out over a valley, with hills in the distance, in tranquil settings and with the day ending pretty much as it had started with the sun casting its rays through the gaps in the cloud as it struggled to keep the day alive…….
After an enjoyable afternoon food was sought in a more lively part of the town than dinner had been; which topped off a long but decent day. The last day of the tour beckoned though and it was a shame it was all coming to an end so soon but a long day followed what had been a very short one in comparison.
Gen for Thursday 8th October 2015
220016/004 IC53 0704 Thessaloniki – Athens
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 5)
A451 7886 0513 Athens – Lianokladi, 4526 0815 Lianokladi – Stylis (assist in rear to Lamia with A223 on the front), 4527 0857 Stylis – Lianokladi (A223 dead on rear), 7886 1006 Lianokladi – Kalambaka
A223 4526 0815 Lianokladi – Stylis (A451 assisting in rear to Lamia then dead to Stylis)
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 5:
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 5 Kalambaka Monasteries:
Friday 9th October 2015 (Bloody freight lines; too much staggering!)
Breakfast at the Hotel King was unfortunately not a free for all and servings were brought directly to each table; which kind of spoilt my idea of making up some sandwiches for the journey! After walking down to the station the day started with everyone reflecting on the tour; literally by taking photos of the train reflecting in a massive puddle in the car park! Then the long journey back to Sofia began.
A451 gave a spirited run back to Thessaloniki, having led long hood first to Paleofarsalos and short hood first from there to Thessaloniki after it ran round. There was no engine change at Larissa on the way back north and even if there had been the only MLW there was A470; which we’d of course left behind there 3 days earlier. There was a late start from Larissa due to some operational issues ahead, despite the train being ready well before time!
Unfortunately our 12 cylinder music came to an end at Thessaloniki as 16 cylinder MX636 A504 was waiting in the platform to work the final leg of the Greek part of the tour back to Kulata. Even more unfortunate was just how disappointing A504 was but I guess on only load 3 there really was no testing it anyway!
A504 did the job though and after a seminar photo and run round at Strimon, Kulata was soon upon us; where BDZ’s Plovdiv passenger sector 07032 was waiting to work the train back into Sofia, which I’d had the previous year over the border from Ruse to Giurgiu Nord in Romania; hey ho though at least I’d be getting a new on over the border this year with 07106 allegedly on the Kardam turn, which was the only other passenger sector one I’d had.
The time lost at Larissa earlier in the day was never recovered and we were late into Bulgaria as a result and as with the back end of all tours I just wanted to get to where it was going, soonest! Soon just wasn’t the word for this tour though as we had a diversion to contend with due to some BDZ engineering works between Radomir & Sofia on the main line. The result was our tour being timed via Radomir and Hraburska back to Sofia and a 15kmph stagger ensued the moment we turned off the main line and onto the freight only part of the diversion. Had we known that BDZ 44151, which we’d overtaken just outside Kulata with 50244 1700 Kulata – Blagoevgrad, would then work forward before us and have the benefit of running to Pernik and then diverting off via the alternative passenger route towards Sofia, we’d have got off for it and done it in to town instead. It was sat in the adjacent platform at Sofia when we arrived, having clearly arrived some time before us!
At an hour late we didn’t arrive into Sofia until 2200, by which time everything had closed outside the station but thankfully we managed to find a place that made up fresh toasted Panini type sandwiches; which actually did the job and cured our hunger. As Aidy & I were heading off on our own this is where we parted company with the rest of the group as we headed back to the station to board our pre-booked overnight towards Varna. We were heading off to Romania the following morning and hadn’t quite fancied doing the Sofia – Bucharest day train throughout for 10 hours; the solution being to break the day up and tackle the journey from Varna instead, with a break in Ruse.
BDZ 44111 was sat with our overnight and in the station area there were 3 different BDZ Cargo 06’s knocking about; we’d hoped there might be a bit of dragging going on but there was no such luck! Train 2627 2245 Sofia – Varna is formed with Turkish built sleeper stock which has three berth compartments and at just 10 Lev for the reservation, based on the cleanliness of the compartment and space each had, it was a steal! I was well impressed with the large beds, decent mattress, pillow and quilt and even the fact that there was a clock in the compartment, which had fully operational air conditioning as well. Having had our tickets checked by the coach attendant as we boarded, we told the attendant we wanted to get off at Beloslav, the shack before Varna, and that was that until there was a knock on the door the following morning!
Gen for Friday 9th October 2015
120030 IC59 1504 Thessaloniki – Athens
PTG Southern Greece Tour (Day 6)
A451 7889 0915 Kalambaka – Larissa, 7598 1158 Larissa – Thessaloniki
A504 7668 1415 Thessaloniki – Kulata
BDZ 07032 MBV7668 1650 Kulata – Sofia
44111 2627 2245 Sofia – Varna
44151 50244 1700 Kulata – Blagoevgrad
45162 50247 1815 Blagoevgrad – Petrich
46205 IC361 1515 Sofia – Thessaloniki
46208 5611 1700 Sofia – Kulata
61006 50254 1700 Petrich – General Todorov
The Photos PTG Southern Greece Tour Day 6: