5th October 2015 - The Train and the Tortoise
Monday 5th October 2015
It was a very late start this morning, at 10:58 it was getting on to be an afternoon departure! There was a 10:04 departure to Athens so we walked down to the station in time to get a photograph of it though the sun position was dire. Whilst waiting at the far end of the platform, a man wearing a high-vis vest approached so we braced ourselves for an argument about taking photos but, on the contrary, he was keen to point out that we could get a photo with the station name on the ends of the canopies in Greek and Roman alphabets.
Not long after the Athens IC left, our loco for the day appeared and it was another A451 class, A470, which was copiously photographed before we boarded the train. Shortly before departure time there was a lot of shouting in Greek outside and the train rolled forward a short distance. The signal had been cleared and we moved about a coach length towards it before stopping again, it looked as if there might be a problem with one of the coaches which would not be very helpful with five days of the tour still to go. Fortunately, the “problem” was a minor one; the rearmost toilet tank needed filling and the hosepipe didn’t reach!
Toilet tank suitably replenished, we set off 7 minutes late and scored a minor bit of new track in the shape of the through line at Sindos Station before stopping at Plati where we changed crew and passed an electric-hauled freight train. Huge amounts of money had been spent on the line south towards Larissa including numerous re-alignments, long tunnels and deeply ballasted double track; there was even a third track in places but all sections of this were out of use or, more likely, had never been commissioned.
Larissa was the junction station for the line to Volos where we would be spending the night though not before a trip on a narrow gauge line en route. There was a shed at Larissa where an A451 class was based, so there was hope that we might have a loco swap seeing that the train reversed here but although A466 briefly appeared from the direction of the shed shortly after the train arrived it was only teasing and promptly disappeared again.
Electric loco 120.012 was parked near the Volos branch platform and it was soon joined by 120.024 which we had seen earlier on the freight train at Plati. A470 ran round and we set off to the narrow gauge line at Velestino only to be told en route that the train on that line did not have enough capacity for the whole group so would have to make two journeys in order for everybody to get a ride.
There was a four-wheeled orange diesel loco carrying the number 3 attached to a bogie wagon which had been converted to a “coach” by placing what looked like four wooden park-type benches lengthways either side of a central entrance and a roof attached. About half the tour passengers managed to fit into the wagon without overcrowding it too much and we set off with the loco propelling the coach along the rather rickety track which was rather overgrown in places so it was essential to keep all body parts within the wagon sides. Even so, we had to keep a look out for some of the larger branches intruding through the opening between the top of the wagon side and the roof.
The line we were travelling over was the last remaining metre gauge section of the 142km long line between Velestino and Kalambaka which was closed in 1999 on completion of the rebuilding of the Paleofarsalos to Kalambaka to standard gauge. The 13.3km section between Velestino and Aerinon is used by the Museum Railways Company or EMOS (ΕΜΟΣ / Εταιρεία Μουσειακών Σιδηροδρόμων in Greek) and although they had quite a collection of vehicles outside the shed at Velestino we did wonder how often they actually ran anything along the line. It did look as if somebody had made an attempt to clear the very worst of the undergrowth for our visit but a full clearance was an impossible task for what we guess was a very small team of people. The line was quite steeply graded and the loco had to work hard in places until on one climb the fire bells could be heard ringing followed by silence, it had overheated and shut down!
We stopped for about 10 minutes in all whilst the loco cooled down a little and we slightly nervously looked around for any signs of civilisation, the only thing being a dirt track crossing the railway a short distance ahead. Fortunately, the loco restarted and we were off again, barging our way through the undergrowth with the track disappearing at times. Civilisation in the form of a tarmac road appeared on the left after a bit then we saw a dark shape across one rail; what on earth was it? As we drew closer, the distinctive shell of a tortoise could be seen; what on earth was it doing here so far from any houses? Surely the guard would signal the driver to stop? No, on we went with a noticeable crunch as we passed over the unfortunate creature. This did spark some debate as to whether it was actually still alive before the train turned up; nobody had noticed any limbs protruding from the shell and there was a distinct suspicion that it had “beached” itself across the rail and, unable to free itself from its predicament, died prior to our arrival.
We arrived in Aerinon next to some stored wagons 53 minutes after leaving Velestino, the track could be seen receding in to the grass further on but the crew said it was “like a jungle” so probably even worse than the section we had just covered. As it was, the floor of the wagon was littered with various types of shredded leaves and twigs and even a couple of figs!
We were allowed about 10 minutes to look round and take some pictures once the crew had moved the train clear of the stabled wagons then it was time to brave the vegetation and return to Velestino so that the second group could have their turn. We were promised a photo stop on the return and it was a good one, not far from the location where the loco had shut down on the outwards journey. The train stopped on the level crossing with the dirt track and the loco reversed onto an embankment which was clear of overgrowth and overlooked by an open hillside with plenty of room for everyone to spread out.
We arrived back at Velestino at 16:20 but the special train would be delayed for at least two hours whilst the second group had their trip to Aerinon. There was an alternative to this fester as there was a service train to Volos just after five o’clock, giving 40 minutes to look round the shed area. This contained a few metre gauge inspection trollies and a selection of wagons in various stages of decay along with a 1937 built Linke-Hofmann two car DMU. The latter was by far the most interesting and historic item on the site and it was a shame that it was being kept outside, being too long to fit in the single road shed.
It was now nearly time for the service train so, not wishing to hang around for another hour and a half at least, we hoicked our case out of the train and filled in the FIP coupons ready for our first taste of a Greek service train. The guard was sitting with the driver as the train arrived and they both looked rather surprised to see another train here and so many people, there were only two “normals” who had turned up to catch the train.
It took twenty minutes to get to Volos where there were plenty of stored wagons and tamping machines, it looked as if there was some sort of works for the latter here outside which was parked “Baby ALCo” A209. After pausing to photograph the attractive station building we easily found the hotel a short walk away then set off to find the restaurant we had looked up on-line and made our way to where it was marked on the map. We couldn’t find the restaurant but there was a row of 10 narrow gauge steam locos lined up in a compound behind a wall and an unlocked gate. There was no sign of anybody to ask if we could have a look (or rant at us if we “helped ourselves”) so we went in to have a look and take some pictures. All the locos were lined up on sections of track with pink paving stones surrounding them and rusting bolts in the floor which may have been to secure information boards to describe them; we can only presume that it was intended to be some sort of museum which, like so much else in this country, had run out of money.
Just behind the steam loco compound was a restaurant, we were not sure if it was the one we had been looking for but it looked OK and proved to be very good and, like yesterday, came with a free dessert – must be a Greek thing. Some of the people from the second narrow gauge trip arrived just as we were finishing and confirmed that our guess that the train would leave Velestino at 18:30 had proved to be correct.
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