5th September 2016 - Trains, bikes and busses
Monday 5th September 2016
Today started off with another disappointment; the plan had been to take the charter train to Hultsfred for a visit to a couple of narrow gauge lines but the line between there and Linköping was single track with a non-standard signalling system requiring special equipment to be fitted to the trains plus someone who had been trained in its use. There was either no equipment available (we can only presume it was like RETB in the UK where portable equipment is available) and / or no qualified staff available to conduct. We didn't miss out on the track though as our group had been booked onto the local DMU which, of course, have the relevant equipment and drivers to work on the line. At least we had a train; they could have ordered a road coach! The unit was almost the same as a DSB (Danish Railways) "rubber ring" DMU which was quite comfortable, the other unit we noted working on the branch was more of a local type unit and not so posh.
One of the museum staff had travelled up from Nässjö to sort out tickets for the train and point out things of interest en route including the last semaphore signal on the "mainline" network in Sweden at the junction of Bjärka Säby. It was not actually in use but had been left in situ with a cross on the arm (denoting that it was not operational) as some kind of monument.
From Hultsfred there were two choices, either a short coach ride to Björkudd and do the narrow gauge line to Målilla Sanatorium or stay on the coach for a tour including locations of railway interest. Why the choice you might ask? Why not just all go by rail, it is meant to be a track-bashing tour after all? Sounds simple enough but there was a catch, the line has been closed since 1986 (1984 for passenger traffic) and the section to Målilla given over to a draisine or rail bike operation; quite a popular thing in Sweden. These bikes are pedal powered rather than motorised and the organiser had quite sensibly realised that not all the participants would either want or be able to ride such a machine so had provided an alternative; we don't think there were enough bikes for such a large group in any case.
One of us (we'll let those that know us work out who!) quite liked the idea of the bike ride but was unsure about their ability to complete such a task however being told that quite young children could manage it made the final decision easy. Each three wheeled bike had a "passenger seat" so the workload could have been shared but most people doing the cycling option took a bike each. A diesel hauled Green Cargo freight train was standing a short distance from the draisine "station" and we hoped that we might get a photo of it from the narrow gauge line which ran parallel to the standard gauge for some distance but it set off whilst we were being instructed on how to use the draisines and only a couple of people managed to dash across and get a photo.
Riding the draisine proved to be quite easy once it got rolling with the added bonus of not needing to steer or keep one's balance. A bit of effort was required on the uphill sections, one of which came quite early in the journey when the narrow gauge line rose up to cross over the standard gauge line between Hultsfred and Kalmar C, the small amount of exertion was more than cancelled out by the exhilaration of the downhill bits. We had been instructed to stop and walk the bike over the level crossings, there were two, and there was a laminated map attached to the handlebars of each bike so we could track our progress. On one section there were some rather colourful fungi so we stopped to take some pictures though thought it best not to touch, let alone eat due to their vivid red colouring. A friend who knows about such things later confirmed that they were very poisonous.
Towards the end of the run, the line crossed a lake on a causeway with some nice views, cue another stop to take photographs and there was a picnic area at the end with a turntable to get the bikes off the track if anyone wanted to stop. The draisine section ended at the site of the single track Målilla Sanatorium station at the foot of a fairly steep downhill section which required much use of the brakes; quite glad that we didn't cycle in opposite direction as this was by far the steepest gradient encountered on the line.
Our tour leader was bringing up the rear and had phoned the museum staff on the coach whilst crossing the causeway which was just the right timing for the coach to arrive and pick us up once all the bikes had been secured as instructed using the locks provided. The coach took us all to the next location of Virserum which was further along the same route from Hultsfred but had a heritage railcar service along the final section to Åseda. The line between Målilla Sanatorium and Virserum was still in situ and was apparently still useable by both the draisine operation and railcar but it wasn't on the agenda for today as there was insufficient time aside from any other issues.
The heritage operation was run by Föreningen Smalspåret Växjö-Västervik who provided a pair of 891mm gauge DMUs either side of a trailer car which had been turned into a "restaurant car" where we were to be served lunch. Having been told that it was a hot lunch we had wondered how they were going to cook it in such a vehicle but everything had been prepared nearby and brought onto the train in hot roasting tins. It was another help-yourself operation with a free tin or bottle of drink and tea / coffee the food was of excellent quality and the effort put into providing it was much appreciated.
The railway had a couple of diesel locos which we were able to photograph before dinner was served but they were not able to haul the DMUs so we had to do the line with the latter and set off just as we were finishing dinner. Good job most people had finished eating as there was a photo stop a short distance into the journey on a small causeway across a lake. The train dropped us off at the far end then reversed onto the causeway whilst we walked behind it and attempted to find a perch away from the track. It was not an easy task trying to avoid the undergrowth and balance on the stones at the edge of the lake but the result was pleasing enough.
There was another stop a little further on at a station where the building was now a private dwelling and we hoped that the occupants didn't mind too much about a train load of British and German "cranks" being deposited outside their front door though there was no sign of life in or around the building.
It was now time to get a move on to the end of the line at Åseda though it had continued to Växjö until 1970. Åseda was also the end of a standard gauge line from Vetlanda which was also out of use, having finally closed as recently as 2002. Our train stopped in the narrow gauge station for pictures before continuing as far as possible up to some disused wagons which were parked on the furthest extent of the track attracting a small audience of locals in the process.
More photos were taken before we got back on the train and returned to Virserum, fitting in one further photo stop / run past on the way. The road coach was waiting patiently for our return and quickly took the whole party back to Hultsfred to be reunited with the standard gauge train which had come directly from Nässjö along a line which had "normal" signalling. The locomotive today was a former DSB (Danish Railways) type MY NOHAB but we weren’t going to be treated to any classic GM engine sounds as it had been re-engined in 2004 with a Cummins engine and was also carrying a rather lurid silver and lime green livery.
Meals were available in the restaurant car again despite the fact that we'd had a filling lunch on the railcar and it was only just over an hour’s journey to Nässjö where we would have to leave the special train. Accommodation was in rather short supply there and the only place that had enough capacity for our party was Jönköping, around 35 minutes / 26 miles further west though there was a problem in that it was apparently impossible to get a path to take our special train there.
It was a single line with plenty of passing loops and we did indeed note that the train we were on passed something in every loop so perhaps there really were no paths or a special train would have to wait a considerable period of time for one. The EMU deposited us at the modern station at 19:52 and our hotel (Hotel Savoy) was about 10 minutes’ walk through a small shopping centre and past a park. It was a nice enough hotel and the first one we'd been in that provided two sets of exercise weights in the room, a pair of 2kg ones and a pair of 4kg; was that a hint?
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