9th October 2015 - Return to Sofia
Friday 9th October 2015
No late start today but there would be a late finish as we had to get all the way to Sofia, the longest day by far in terms of distance covered on the tour, so we had a good fill of breakfast and walked to the station via the supermarket to get enough supplies for the rest of the day. The train was still in the siding when we arrived but we managed to clamber on board with the aid of a section of raised ballast and, as nobody appeared to be bothered about our (and a few others) presence, got an extra 100 metres or so of track.
After another round of photos (not as nice as yesterday afternoons) we departed four minutes late and even though we went straight to Paleofarsalos without stopping, managed to lose another seven minutes on the way. The run round here was done fairly quickly and despite everyone being exhorted to board promptly there was enough time to get a photograph of the abandoned EMU on the “up” side before heading to Larissa where the train was booked to stand for just under an hour.
Two IC trains were booked to pass during our time at Larissa, one southbound and one northbound though we did not get the best shot of the northbound one as it ran in at speed before we could get to the ideal position.
Returning to the train, we discovered that enquiries had been made about a loco swap but this was not possible due to a) the “spare” loco having work to do and b) it was A470 which was still in the area after working our train here three days ago so no point in having it again. The train should have left at 11:58 but we apparently had to wait for a train; what train? Unless it was for the northbound IC to clear some sort of block “section”. It looked as if it was double track north of Larissa but only one was actually in use until Nei Pori where the line reached the coast.
Although we had a good run after leaving Larissa, we only picked up a couple of minutes and arrived at Thessaloniki 19 minutes late, noting that we passed through the platforms at Sindos this time rather than the through lines. A504, one of the larger 3,600hp MLW MX636 type was waiting to take over the train for the journey back to Bulgaria, it would have been nice to have it over the mountain section but three coaches would hardly tax such a powerful loco so the 2,700hp MX627 types that did work our train were probably better for “thrash value”.
The loco change took place quickly and we only departed nine minutes down, there was some rather subdued “chugging” from the front end at times but to be honest we weren’t expecting too much noise given the light load and relatively flat route. We also got the impression that this route had suffered some reductions in line speed since our visit last year as, just like our outward journey on Sunday, we gradually dropped the odd minute here and there, arriving 20 late at Strimon. One thing that had been missing from this tour was a “seminar” photo so the opportunity was taken to rectify this omission before A504 ran round and did the shunt to get across to the Kulata line.
The usual rules applied at Kulata, stay on board until your passport has been checked and although we were one of the first people to be done we still didn’t manage to get a photo of A504 before it was taken off the train. The Bulgarian loco, a different class 07, was already waiting and was eventually put on the front of the train after a bit of shuffling around. One final shaft of sunlight for the pictures then we left 25 minutes late, just managing to sneak past the all stations from General Todorov to Blagoevgrad four minutes after it should have started its journey.
Things were progressing quite nicely until we were held at Peio Yavorov to cross IC361 from Sofia to Thessaloniki after which it all went “to pot” as we had further stops of varying length with time being gradually lost until we eventually appeared to be following something that was stopping at all stations. The train pulled into Radomir and stood for what seemed like ages, we had been booked via an alternative route from here as there were engineering works on the main line but we did begin to wonder if they had finished and we were being sent that way bearing in mind we were running quite late now. Finally, the signal cleared and we set off, duly lurching left at the junction for the freight line a short distance further on then proceeding to totter along about 10 to 15 mph for ages; perhaps we had been waiting for the passenger train in front to clear this very slow section. Our speed increased slightly a little later but it was still very slow and totally dark outside, a pity as it would have been nice to see a little of the line and its surroundings.
There was a junction at Razmenna where a passenger line trailed in from the right which meant the train speeded up quite a bit, it was still new track for us but at least with a passenger service it would be possible to return and do this bit of the line in daylight. Arrival in Sofia was at 22:01, one hour and eleven minutes late, into the bay platform which we thought we were meant to start from last Sunday. One last quick snap of the train and off to the hotel though it had been raining quite heavily and all the dust outside the station from the building work had turned into a gooey brown sludge which we tip-toed round with difficulty. By the time we had queued to check into the hotel and gone up to our room it was gone 11pm and the end of yet another interesting and eventful tour.
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