6th October 2015 - Don't Look Down!
Tuesday 6th October 2015
Back to earlier starts today, 7:15 on a road coach for another narrow gauge trip on the remaining section of the 600mm gauge line between Volos to Milies which had been retained for tourist traffic. The section at the Volos end ran through the streets and although a sporadic tourist service was run over this section in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the amount of road traffic meant it was too problematical to continue operations. There had also been plans to extend the current line from its current terminating point at Ano Lechonia back towards Volos but much of that section had run alongside the road which had since been widened to cover the trackbed, a shame as it would have made a nice scenic heritage line.
It took about 20 minutes for the two coaches to negotiate their way out of Volos and drive the 7 or 8 kilometres to Ano Lechonia where we then we caused our own traffic chaos whilst the vehicles shunted around to allow everyone off in a safe location. The train was waiting in the station for us, comprising of four wooden coaches and a strange apparition numbered A1 on the front which was actually a 1999-built Schöma diesel done up to look like a steam loco though we couldn’t imagine it fooling even the most ignorant of “normals”.
Off we went on the remaining 16km (10 miles) of line to Milies but it wasn’t long before we were invited to get off the train with instructions to walk across the viaduct ahead of us and wait the other side where we could get a photo of the train as it followed us across. It would have been a cracking photo about 30 minutes or so later but the relatively earlier hour meant that the sun was not quite high enough in the sky to illuminate the viaduct.
The train stopped to pick us up before resuming the thrash up the steep hill through the olive groves until the only intermediate station at Ano Gatzea where there was a prolonged stop where we could visit the station shop and café and tease the station cats.
After leaving Ano Gatzea,the train resumed its toil through the olive groves up the mountain with spectacular views across the Pagasetic Gulf until we reached another viaduct near the end of the line. It was an unusual construction, having a wide, straight steel deck with enough space for the line to cross it on a curve and although its official name is the Taxiarhis Bridge, it is more commonly known as “De Chirico’s Bridge” after its designer. We were again invited to get out and walk across to photograph the train on it but it wasn’t for the faint hearted as although the walkway was fairly wide and solid with handrails to grasp, there was a gap between the walkway and track and it was a long way down!
Soon after this we arrived at Milies, the terminus, a pleasant setting in the trees with a run-round loop, small shed and turntable. The loco came off the train and went onto the turntable onto which it only just fitted and the staff struggled to move it, calling for help from the assembled passengers. A number of people lent their muscle power but despite much pushing and pulling the turntable stubbornly refused to budge. Right, let’s try again; everyone out of the way, the loco was re-positioned and at the second attempt the turntable rotated with ease.
There was a restaurant / café a short walk away but it was out of season and the owners had only been told at the last minute that a special train would be arriving so did not have much to offer but one thing they did have plenty of was ice cream which was just right as it was another nice sunny day and getting quite warm by now. We were called back to the train a little earlier than booked as there was a) another trip that the railway wanted to get the train back for and b) the road coaches were needed to take some passengers off a cruise liner on an excursion so we all piled back on board for the return journey which took 55 minutes without any stops.
The early return journey meant that we had some bonus time at Volos and the 600mm gauge shed had been opened up for people to have a look at the pair of locos, built in Tubize, Belgium, inside. Although they looked intact neither of them were serviceable but the same could not be said of the two engines in a lean-to outside, one of which was only a set of wheels and frames with two rusting tanks on top.
Our standard gauge train was already in the platform and had a nice surprise in the form of “Baby ALCo” A209 on top of A470. Apparently contact was made with the “powers that be” when it was seen last night who agreed that we could use it for the trip to Larissa, top people! With only just over 1000HP on tap, A209 would probably need a little help from A470 but although the larger engine ended up giving more than a little help the pair of them did sound good and the driver of A209 looked as if he was enjoying his unexpected outing.
As the sun had not been in a very good position at Volos there was a bit of a stampede off the train at Larissa to get a photo of A209 with the sun on it before it was moved from the train; just as well as it was quickly uncoupled, leaving A470 standing on the foot crossing to the car park which caused some consternation until it was also removed from the train.
Whilst A470 disappeared in the direction of the loco shed, A209 had been sent over to the branch platform and coupled to the rear of the DMU forming the 14:30 back to Volos, the train departing on time with the little ALCo providing some lusty assistance from the rear.
Time for a quick look outside the station where there was a plinthed steam loco followed by a visit to the café on the station for refreshment then it was back to the train where A466 was now on the front for the 200 mile plus run to Athens. We set off along some more upgraded track complete with at least two substantial “cut-offs” until Domokos where the overhead lines ended and the IC trains swap from electric to diesel power at this isolated station, some 6 kilometres from the village from which it takes its name. After leaving here the line heads up into the mountains and it wasn’t long before we noticed the reason for the overhead lines terminating where they did, a brand new high speed railway under construction which would replace the original route but there appeared to be next to no work taking place on any of the sections we saw leading us to question whether it would ever be finished given the parlous state of Greece’s finances.
We had been told by some of our travelling companions who had previously visited Greece that the mainline to Athens was a spectacular journey and they weren’t wrong, the scenery was outstanding and all the more enjoyable with an accompanying “backing track” of A466 being put through its paces. All too soon we descended to Lianokladi where a two minute stop was booked to pass a northbound IC train but there was no rush to leave once it had passed and we were able to get out if we wished. Walking round the front of the train to take a picture, the reason for the train being held up became apparent – the driver was fuelling the loco; maybe there hadn’t been enough time to do it at Larissa before we left there.
Fuelling complete and we set off with another wonderful climb into the mountains beckoning but we hadn’t gone far when we were informed of another photo stop in a similar vein to the ones on the narrow gauge this morning, get off the train walk over the viaduct and the train will follow. If we thought that walking over the narrow gauge viaduct this morning was vertigo inducing enough, try the standard gauge version! This really did require a good head for heights, it was much higher off the ground and although the walkway had a handrail it was on one side only with a nice large gap between walkway and track, very definitely a case of “don’t look down”! About halfway across the walkway got a little narrower and the temptation to turn back was great but too late for that now as others were behind so it was a case of gripping the handrail firmly, keep eyes fixed on "terra firma" at the end and think of what a great photo it was going to be.
Once we were all in place, perched on the hillside, we were told that the train would stop after the viaduct and pick us up at a small halt but what wasn’t mentioned was that the halt was a few hundred metres further on, the other side of a short tunnel and with a lovely wet-spot to pick our way across outside, lovely afternoon for a gentle stroll along the mainline to Athens!
Back on board the train the scenery and line got even more spectacular, at one location the railway was clinging to a ledge partway up a cliff with a sheer drop to one side, not a good place to have a derailment! There was even a station on this stretch though we would guess that it wouldn’t be very popular with the locals if it were open as the village it served looked like a model at the bottom of an extremely steep hill.
More hill-climbing, ALCo music and fantastic scenery made for an unforgettable journey though we doubt that we would be in quite so many raptures if travelling in air conditioned “coffin” stock with an ADTranz loco on the front. By now, the train was running quite late, not all of which could be ascribed to fuelling the loco at Lianokladi; the overhead lines re-appeared at Tithorea but no electric locos were used at this end of the line. There was a brief stop at Inoi to drop off those who wanted to do the line to Chalkis (Halkida) as the tour could not cover it due to lack of paths and the final part of the journey was in darkness, arriving in Athens 59 minutes late.
Fortunately, our hotel (Oscar) was a short walk away, a fairly average hotel but fine for a couple of nights though the wi-fi was virtually non-existent. Issues with the latter might well have been down to the large numbers of, mostly female, youngsters staying in the hotel who were probably straining what was already a creaky system but lack of internet access meant it did give us an excuse to go out and have a quick look round the local area.
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