7th October 2015 - ALCos to the Airport
Wednesday 7th October 2015
Just in case anybody thought that 10:58 was a late start two days ago then how about 11:32? It wasn’t meant to be like this but the planned tour of lines in the Athens area had suffered several problems. There were no paths available for our train to go to Piraeus, Neo Ikonio Port had been refused (or maybe there were no paths available down there either) and the two north facing curves at SKA were not in use leaving us with just the line to Athens Airport, a journey of around 40 kilometres each way.
With the tour not being able to do various lines, we would be left needing the track to Piraeus, Kiato and Chalkis / Halkida but could not see a way of fitting all three in without a very early start and / or a very late finish. As we had a very early start tomorrow and it was less than a month before the clocks went back, we didn’t really see the point in doing new lines in the dark so chose the easy / lazy option of having a lie-in and doing the line to Piraeus before the tour.
The train to Piraeus departed at 8:53 so we had a gentle walk down to the station after breakfast only to find that it was running a few minutes late having come through from Chalkis / Halkida. Athens station was like many other railway projects we had seen in this country; half-finished and no further work taking place. There were several brand new platforms to the west of the station on the site of the former metre gauge station but although there was some track laid in the platforms it was not connected to the rest of the system at either end. The current station had four platforms of which only three were in use and we guessed that the intention was for all trains to use the rebuilt NG station as the lines would run straight in there rather than curving across to the current station. There were also large TV-type screens which gave a list of trains but no platforms or indications as to whether the trains were on time or delayed. Our train eventually appeared a few minutes late and was a Stadler GTW type DMU of a similar design to ones that we have seen in Switzerland.
The Pireaus line had been upgraded in yet another totally extravagant project which had not been completed. A huge amount of infrastructure had been provided to cater for far more than the roughly hourly service that the line has at present but it was not possible to increase the service as there were no signals; no wonder the tour could not go down there!
It took less than twenty minutes to get to Piraeus which is the main port for ferries from many of the Greek islands. The next train back to Athens was over an hour after we arrived and we didn’t really want to hang around that long so had purchased an Athens 24 hour ticket which covered the Metro system before we left Athens station. According to the map, the Metro station was just across the road but there was a large cordoned-off incipient building site in the way which we had to walk round. There were a few ships in port and the first real evidence of the current “migrant crisis”; crowds of them which was hardly surprising as the ferries are the main form of transport from the islands where they were arriving. We eventually managed to pick our way through the throng of humanity to the Metro station which was a lot older than we had expected with a nice overall roof. We had just missed a train so had five minutes or so to admire the building before leaving through the middle of the “car sheds” in a similar fashion to London Underground’s Bakerloo Line at Queen’s Park.
There was still nearly two hours to fill before the tour departed, only really enough time to go to the end of one line and ensure that we were back at Athens station in time so we changed at Attiki and did the northern end of Line 2, arriving back with plenty of time to get some refreshments. Today’s motive power was something more historic than the MLW MX627 type built in the mid-1970s that had worked the tour up to now, two genuine ALCo products dating from the 1960s. A326 on of seven DL543 type built in 1966 would be working the train to the airport and A302 one of 10 “World Locomotive” type FPD7 (DL500C) built in 1962 was on the rear for the return journey, both locos had been preserved along with A325, a classmate of A326. In fact A325 had been the requested loco for today’s trip though, as we required both of them, it was neither here nor there as far as we were concerned apart from the fact our chances of getting A325 at a future date would be rather unlikely.
A326 initially made a most satisfactory racket along with typical ALCo smoke effects as we departed up the hill towards SKA but it soon became apparent that all was not well as once it got to a certain speed the sound dropped off and it started struggling needing A302 on the rear to lend a hand.
We took the rare south to east curve at SKA which does not have a passenger service, the airport trains are electric and work between there and Kiato whereas the line into Athens isn’t wired and has no direct service. The curve was nice and shiny so we wondered what on earth used it and later found out that the electric units are maintained at Rentis depot on the line to Piraeus so are regularly dragged there by diesel units.
The airport line was new and had been sandwiched between the two carriageways of the A6 motorway, making it rather awkward for photographs, but the concrete walls either side made great sounding boards for A326 which appeared to overcome its earlier troubles though we think that A302 was still lending a hand on the rear. Passengers waiting on the suburban platforms waiting for their electric services must have wondered what on earth was going on as we thundered past attracting plenty of wide-eyed stares and covered ears.
Forty minutes after leaving Athens we came to a halt in the shiny new Athens Airport station, in the worst possible platform for photographs of course. Everybody dived out and most took a couple of snaps for the record then we were called back onto the train and, rather than returning to Athens, continued a further few hundred metres into the sidings beyond the station. Much to our surprise we were allowed out for photos and it was possible to get a decent picture of A302 by traipsing round the end of the train, clambering up then walking along the concrete retaining wall between the railway and the road.
Back onto the train and into the platform where we stopped for a few minutes as a train to Kiato departed then waited a few more minutes for it to get away then it was A302’s turn to frighten the locals as we enjoyed a repeat performance of wonderful ALCo sounds amplified by the concrete walls. All too soon we left the Airport line and went back round the curve at SKA, descending along the part-modernised line into Athens main station. With the benefit of hindsight we should have gone off and done some more track but there was the promise of a depot visit at Rentis so a good proportion of the tour decided to stay on the train which would take us there as it had to return to the depot.
After waiting on the train for 45 minutes, it eventually set off the six or so kilometres to the sidings just beyond Rentis station where we just stood around until we noticed others getting off so did likewise, the footbridge leading to the depot providing a handy vantage point to photograph the train.
By this time there was some confusion as it looked as though A302 had failed with ADTranz 220.005 appearing and being attached to the train then we were finally told to leave the train and wait by what looked like the old station building. Next we were all told to make our way to the station platforms a couple of hundred metres away and that we would now be visiting the works at Lefka, nearly a mile away. To save us a walk on this warm afternoon, a DMU which was booked to go empty from Rentis to Piraeus would be diverted to the station to pick us up and drop us off at Lefka station, right next to the works entrance. Watching this manoeuvre gave us an insight into the signalling issues on this line as although the points were powered, they were not worked from anywhere and being worked by hand on the ground by a man wielding an adapted power drill to save the effort of winding them across by hand!
A pair of MLWs came along first then the DMU which soon whisked us to Lefka where we let through the locked security gate, corralled outside a small temporary office, issued with hard hats and visitor passes and told “no photographs” at which point a number of people lost interest and left. We almost followed them but as two hours had already been wasted up to this point, we decided that we might as well carry on seeing that we had gone this far.
There were a few items outside the main works, a smashed-up standard gauge Stadler DMU, A451 class loco no. A460 and an ADTranz loco, then into the works where A468 was part way through an overhaul next to A506 which was totally stripped. We were told that A468 was being prepared for a return to service but have since found a photo showing it in exactly the same condition 2 ½ years previously so they were not rushing. There were also three ADTranz diesels and an electric loco in the shed and we guessed that they had hardly been touched either. A couple of workers were in evidence, without hard hats or other PPE so why all the show of issuing our group with such items, including the two security guards who were accompanying our party, presumably to ensure that nobody sneakily took any photos or actually pinched anything.
Engine repairs were done in another shed which contained one ADTranz loco with A452 outside connected up to what looked like a load bank, a demonstration would have been nice! Round the side of that shed was the carcass of “Baby ALCo” A201, another restoration job allegedly but, again, photos were found later that showed it had been in this state for some years.
Next, we were taken round the side of some offices where there was another shed with the frames of a metre gauge ALCo which we were told was 9109; yes, another stalled restoration job, then on to the former metre gauge roundhouse where the rest of the narrow gauge ALCos were stored apart from the three that are still on the Peloponnese system. Most of the locos in the shed were heavily stripped and we were allowed to walk round the rear of the shed, making sure not to fall into any of the maintenance pits. The turntable pit outside was full of water with plenty of dragonflies in evidence and no doubt loads of mosquitos as well.
Not far from the roundhouse were two narrow gauge Stadler units, one with a smashed front end and one that had suffered a fire and next to them was a metre gauge loco no. 7108, a metre gauge 2-8-2 steam loco dating from 1947. As we filed past the latter back towards the entrance, watches were consulted – not long until the DMU back to Athens at which point about half the party decided that they had seen enough triggering a scramble to hand back the hard hats and visitor passes to reception. It was just as well the platform was right next to the works entrance as the train ran in whilst we were squeezing single file through the security gate but we think everyone who wanted to did manage to get on the train.
We were back in Athens before 5pm but with a very early start tomorrow it didn’t really matter. A quick visit to the hotel to drop the bags off and we went in search of a nearby restaurant which had been recommended to us, although all we knew was which square it was in (the one with the church) and “you can’t miss it, it will be the one with all the people in it!” Sure enough, the church was located and although there were several eateries in the square there was only one that was busy at this relatively early hour, the Gefstiki Gonia. The kebabs and veal steak we had were excellent and it was just as well that we didn’t go to take a closer look at the strangely-shaped items rotating over the barbeque until after we had eaten; they turned out to be whole sheep’s heads, complete with eyes and teeth, a local delicacy but not really to our pampered palate’s taste.
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