Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Tunisia June 2012

This trip was a bit of a last minute thing. Driven by two things really, one being the fact that i’d been wanting to go again for a while and two the fact that it seemed Tunisian Railways, SNCFT, were having a bit of a loco crisis (according to recent reports during 2012) which had resulted in DI’s working the Dhamani line vice GT, DK’s working the Tunis – Nabuel commuter turn vice GT and there’d always been a DI out on the Ghardimaou line to boot, which seemed to be common practice these days.

The Tunis – Erriadh commuter line was now solid EMU, since the timetable had been amended on 5th April 2012, and a new DMU for the standard gauge lines had been delivered for crew training as well, which had been spotted in May, so it looked all but certain that the Alco’s in Tunisia were probably on their way out, of passenger service at least, in the near future, so while the trip was a bit last minute it was necessary.

Things looked a little dodgy the day before we went out when i’d had an e-mail from British Airways to say that our flight had been re-timed to beat the curfew in Tunisia, something i’d heard nothing about prior to the message. Immediate investigation revealed there’s been a bit of trouble in a few places throughout the country, which had resulted in the government imposing a curfew from 2200-0400, starting the following day. Thankfully there was no trouble at all while we were there and the curfew was lifted on the Saturday night. The only inconvenience we’d suffered really was having a lack of choice of places to eat after 2030 as most places were closing up.

We stayed in the Hotel Omrane in Tunis (which had apparently recently changed its name, although it wasn’t visible on the front, only the marks on the wall where the previous name had been. Its website still exists in the old name though and the contact details are correct). It cost 87 Dinar per night for a double room. The rooms didn’t have air-con, only climate control, however by the time we’d left the room we’d stayed in had air-con fitted, wired up and working. It was a welcome relief towards the end of our trip as it seemed to be getting hotter as the week progressed! The hotel is nothing special but is clean, the rooms are quite spacious and breakfast is included in the room rate, not that we ever partook. The hotel also changes cash, both US dollar & Pound Sterling, which was good as the queue at the airport had been massive with the curfew meaning all but one place had closed up by the time we landed, luckily we had enough money to get a taxi to the hotel. A taxi journey that the driver initially demanded TD40 for. The fare should be about TD6-7 on the metre to Tunis Ville and we just kept to our guns and told him TD10 or he turned on the metre. Of course we paid the TD10.

Throughout the whole week we were there every loco-hauled train we viewed on the metre gauge was a GT with the exception of the 1810 Tunis – Nabuel (on two occasions) which was DM267. No DK to Nabuel for us. or DI/DK on the Dhamani line either. Timekeeping on the metre gauge seemed to have taken a bit of a hit since my last visit in 2010 and Tunis Shed were probably to blame for most of it, they couldn’t get a train into the station for a right time departure, other than at service start-up in the mornings. The evening rush was a joke every time we were in Tunis for it.

The standard gauge was even more of a farce. There are speed restrictions along the whole route, to both Bizerte & Ghardimaou. Despite the Tunis – Manouba section now being single line, while it caused delays it wasn’t due to the fact that it had become single line, it was generally down to late running inbound trains delaying trains coming out of Tunis. Bizarrely there were three occasions where trains weren’t anywhere near as late as expected, one we were on and another we were in the cab of DP151 on. The common denominator of all three was the driver. He was an absolute beast, spoke no English but certainly knew how to drive. Whether he actually slowed for the speeds written out by the station masters was debatable, although he certainly slowed for the speeds that had boards out and was very conscious of the speedo, although so was i at 140kmph!

The Bizerte line was worked solidly by DK81, 89 & 99, no sign of anything but, or anything piloting the train loco to/from Bizerte for a freight. DK81 & 99 were excellent locos while DK89 was far from it and in comparison to the others was shocking. We managed a cab ride in DK99 from Manouba to Sidi Othman one night, which was certainly interesting and a lot rougher ride than i’d expected. The driver kept us entertained while the second man kept an eye out to tell him when to blow the horn and when to slow down for speed restrictions, one of which he managed to slow from 95kmph to 60kmph for by the time he was already through it. It should have been 30kmph.

The Ghardimaou line was a bit of a mess due to the speed restrictions and the fact that Tunis couldn’t get anything into the station for a right time departure, other than the 0615 Ghardimaou it seemed. DP142, 149, 151 & 152, along with DO281 were the staple traction on the line. All 4 DPs were out solid every day we were there. The DO did the Beja turn only, nothing else at all, and it only managed that for 3 days before disappearing off the circuit all together. On the second night we saw it dumped at Jedeida off the 1515 Tunis – Beja and could only assume that either DM273 had worked the train forward, as the wagons it had been on were still there when we returned from Bizerte. It appeared that DN319 had worked the following morning’s 0510 Beja – Tunis though, although this was an assumption, we saw it on the blocks at Tunis on the Saturday morning, after returning from Bizerte. The only DI we saw on the SG was DI70, which was out virtually every day on freights, we saw it on both the Bizerte & Ghardimaou line.

The big surprise of the week was DK89 being turned out for the 0615 Tunis – Ghardimaou & 1150 return. Whilst relishing the run with a DK to Ghardimaou, I was quite sick of it by the time we got there, 80 late! Had it been DK81 or 99 it would probably have been a lot more enjoyable, but it wasn’t. DK99 did do the Beja turn towards the end of our trip (after DO281 had done one), which would probably have been a lot more enjoyable, but it was a difficult train to even contemplate doing when staying in Tunis. The only other surprise of the week was DJ123 being turned out for the morning 0605 Tebourba – Tunis commuter train, twice. The second day of which it came past us pouring out thick black clag, from what must have been a seized turbo, which was probably why it didn’t appear the next day and DP149 was in charge instead. Of note is the fact that the 1745 Tunis – Tebourba turn was caped every time we were at Tunis to see it.

Despite the lack of a DI being out it was an excellent bash on the Ghardimaou line. I’ve never been there before when everything to Ghardimaou has been solid Alco. And with there being no DKs on the commuter to fill the time in if there had been more DO’s about things could well have become very frustrating. Although we could almost predict what was going to work what almost every day it didn’t stop us staying on until trains crossed, just to make sure. Trains coming out of Tunis to Manouba can easily miss, likewise if your train is in at Medjez el Bab, chances are you’re going to miss it due to the long loop. We did discover a get out of jail card though. The trolley crew that board the 0615 Tunis – Ghardimaou at Beja doe the following, which means trains must stop, even if out of course to pick them up/drop them off:

0615 Tunis – Ghardimaou to Bou Salem, 0940 Ghardimaou – Tunis to when it crosses the 1015 Tunis – Ghardimaou, for that to where it crosses the 1150 Ghardimaou – Tunis and that back to where it crosses the 1300 Tunis – Ghardimaou, probably back to Beja? We didn’t ever get off the 1150 for the 1300 so can’t confirm either way. We only did it the other way, which is why i know you can very likely miss at Medjez el Bab as the only reason we made was because i was waving out of the back door at the driver to stop him going, which was why we ended up in the cab of DP151 too……

DP142 is nothing short of a monster, it stood out from the crowd by far. DP151 was second in command, with DP149 & DP152 being much of a muchness, although not poor in any way. Their reliability was nothing short of excellent and they kept the line running, one failure and that would have been it. The only thing missing was DP150, which we didn’t see, even on our one trip past the shed, although we did see what we assumed to be DI64, with all its doors open down the side of the loco, which probably explained why it wasn’t out.

As I’ve said, a thoroughly enjoyable trip, the question was would I ever make it there again? The new DMUs would certainly change the face of the timetable, although we were told that they wouldn’t work the Bizerte line due to the track condition, but would they replace trains on the Ghardimaou line or supplement them………?

A full list of sightings is posted below (as jpegs MG & SG separate), some of which are assumptions but “must” have worked their return trains to get to where they were spotted the following morning.

Enjoy the photos…….

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