Greece September 2012
The last time I’d had the pleasure of gracing my ears with the sound that the “best” engines in the world have to offer, seemed like forever ago. Some might say that the 6th October 2006 was a long time ago, it certainly seemed like it, however once Alco A9101 had departed Tripoli and got to grips with it’s train on September 29th 2012, it was like music to the ears, the noise, the smell, they were the same. The only differences were that A9101 had been overhauled and sported its original 1960’s livery and that the line we were running over was now closed to traffic.
Train OSE had the foresight to open up a transfer move to passengers from Pirghos to Korinthos via Zevgolatio on 1st September 2012, this was the first passenger carrying train that had operated over the closed line (other than on the Olympia – Pirghos – Katakolo section which retains its passenger service) since it had closed in 2011 and what’s more they had the sense to open up the return working once the locos, A9101 & A9105, had done what they’d been sent to Korinthos for, which was to move wagons from there to Tripoli for storage.
The return working was scheduled for the weekend of 29th & 30th September and duly advertised on Train OSE’s website. The Assoicaition of Friends of the Railway (SFS) took the liberty of keeping Alco fans around the world informed of what was going to happen and when, and once the dates were released there really wasn’t much of a decision to make. I’d been out of the country for the first trip and wasn’t going to miss the return working. Thanks to a swap I managed to arrange at work flights were booked on the night of 17th September, while still in Mozambique, and myself and a travelling companion had confirmed seats on the trip.
The itinerary was:
Saturday 29th September – Tripoli – Zevgolatio – Kalamata
Sunday 30th September – Kalamata – Kiparissia – Pirghos – Katakolo – Pirghos
Train OSE were providing a connecting bus from/to Athens Larissa Railway Station, included in the ticket price of 50 Euros per day
Saturday 29th September 2012
We’d arrived the day before, flying Swiss Air via Geneva and getting the train to S.K.A. for another train into Athens, EMU for DMU. The Metro would have been the better option. Our hotel was the Ariston Hotel, right over the road from Larissa Station and booked online at 39 Euro’s for a twin.
The bus departed from the station front at 0715, we’d been told to arrive by 0645 though. The journey to Tripoli only took a little over 2 hours, even with a stop en-route.
Tripoli station looked like you’d expect it to on any normal day 5 years previous. The yard behind it was full of wagons, vans an assorted stuff but in the station was our set for the charter train formed:
A9101 (in original 1960’s livery) – coach – van – van – van – A9105 (in OSE orange livery)
We departed at 1100 prompt, ambled over the crossing just outside the station then A9101 erupted into life as we climbed away from Tripoli, up the hills towards Zevgolatio. Having been overhauled in September 2008 I was intrigued to find out what had become of it, was it better, or was it worse? It was still a machine! The noise was excellent, although its exhaust was clear, even when first opened up, but it was very crisp and loud. Its transition was different though, it died off, initially came back in on low power before erupting straight back to full power. I was impressed, it was still real. I was that enthralled by it, it took me 20 minutes to actually notice the fact that A9101 wasn’t the only engine on the train giving its all through the hills, A9105 was hammering away on the back as well. It was like being in Alco heaven……………
Throughout the day neither loco disappointed at any point and any thoughts or reservations we may have had about there being a lack of thrash or the journey being a stagger were put right out of our minds during the first hour of the trip. It really was just like doing a day on the “Pelly” 8 years previous, the drivers still knew how to drive the things, properly, and the Greeks knew how to have photo stops too. During which there was even competition between the drivers of A9101 & A9105 as to who was going to shunt the train for the run-by, the result being very impressive as both locos hammered away into the distance on full power, on more than one occasion.
With the train being the first over the line between Zevgolatio & Kalamata since the line had closed it was a bit more of a challenge, not for the locos, but to try and not get hit by the encroaching bushes while bellowing. The track was in excellent condition but the surrounding flora needed trimming back, big time, and what better way to do it than with an Alco!
People stared on in amazement as the train rumbled by their homes, some gestured to the crew in disbelief, some gestured in genuine happiness. People came out to wave at the trains occupants, and at some stations where we stopped they boarded to have a look round, as though they’d never seen a train before. It was like a real sense of belief was instilled in them, just at the sight of the first train in almost 2 years. A sense of belief that the Mayor of Kalamata obviously had. The station at Kalamata was wedged with people to greet the train as we arrived, there was a brass band playing as well and there were even speeches broadcast over the station PA system from the Mayor himself and Train OSE speakers as well. The general mood being that the train’s arrival was a good thing and that people wanted a service to return soon. If it was Alco hauled I hoped it would start very soon………
Our hotel for the night was arranged by the Railway Club of Athens at the Hotel Galaxy, costing 40 Euros for a twin room.
Sunday 30th September 2012
After breakfast we wondered down the the Railway Park of Kalamata, which is by the old Railway Station about 1km beyond the current station, towards the Port. The track to which remains in situ and you can just follow it down.
There are steam locos, an old railcar, some freight wagons and various other bits on display there. Most of which had recently had a fresh coat of paint, covering up any rust and graffiti and in the case of two of the steam locos, their identity No’s 7104 with a train of wooden vans & 7120 in among the trees.
We had some unfortunate news when we got to the station, in that we wouldn’t be allowed to go into Kiparissia as the line had been officially signed out of use within Train OSE, a fact that while true, wasn’t a reflection of the state of the track and was merely a paperwork issue. Either way it prevented us from going and rather than run direct, avoiding Kalonero, into Kiparissia we ran into Kalonero and the set was then turned on the triangle for the run to Katakolo.
A9105 had its chance to shine that morning, while leading the train, still with A9101 assisting on the rear mind. It sounded more like a Greek Alco should, it clagged the part, couldn’t digest its fuel properly and choked when put to full power. Some may say shocking, well you’re wrong, it was excellent. I have to say though that I think A9101 was actually better than A9105, noise wise anyway, certainly not entertainment-wise.
The run from Kalonero through to Pirghos was over more familiar territory to me and territory that had clearly been overtaken by the surrounding trees, bushes and other assorted flora. I’d been so obsessed with not getting whacked in the head that me poor ankles ended up in the wars instead. It was a dusty affair and by the time we got to Pirghos the coach and all three vans were littered with debris from the outside world, branches, twigs, leaves, rushes, berries and anything else green.
The photos stops en-route on Day 2 were fewer than the first day but were a relief from the constant onslaught from the branches when they came. The best of which had to be getting a head on shot of A9105 as it returned to collect us having run over Alfios Bridge to do a run-by. The shot of the day however was at Katakolo of the first Alco “ever” to work over the branch, from half way up the steps that lead up the steep hillside. It was almost picture postcard looking down, A9101 being almost a spot on the panorama that was Katakolo, its backdrop being the sea and surrounding coastline. Absolutely cracking.
Having had 2 hours for food we ended up with about 45 minutes by the time we’d finished seeking out the best photo locations but it wasn’t a problem there were plenty of places on the sea front. I was actually questioning myself as to how we’d not managed to stay in Katakolo instead of Olympia, the many times we’d been stuck form somewhere. My first impression of Katakolo had it way ahead of Olympia immediately.
The short run back from Katakolo to Pirghos came round way too quickly. We were only just getting into the trip and it was already over. Both A9105, now leading again, and A9101 wanted to have the last word as we headed back to our destination, both had performed faultlessly the whole trip, which all fans of Greek Alco’s know is not an easy task for them, and back at Pirghos they just got shut down where they arrived and the trains occupants drifted away, turning their backs on the finest loco’s in the world once more. Would they ever work again, I was bloody hoping so and the consensus of opinion was good for 2013, so fingers crossed.
There was just enough time to have a quick scan round Pirghos before the bus took us back to Athens. There were quite a few DMU’s, most of which were graffiti’d and languishing over the back of the station was A9103, itself grafitt’d and two Mitsubishi’s 9402/9419. The steam loco that had been buried under a few feet of creeping bush was still there sporting #7115 on its tender, this being the first time I’d paid any real attention to it……
The bus journey back to Athens took 4 hours, and we didn’t arrive until 2300. Thankfully the Ariston was only a 2 minute walk, if that, and we were in our room 5 minutes later, with an 0500 alarm call and 40 Euro taxi booked to get us to the airport for our 0700 flight.