FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Steam and sheep

Posted in Bulgaria, Haskovo, Most by folkestonejack on May 18, 2016

On all our photo charters so far we have headed south from Most, but today we travelled in the opposite direction with a passenger service hauled by 03.12.

03.12 hauls our early morning charter

03.12 hauls our early morning charter

To make our charter possible we were pathed between the regional trains that ply this route in the early morning and we would have to clear the line for the northbound service to Stara Zagora (which offers the only connection that allows you to get to the capital on the same day).

We set off from Most at 7.13am and worked our way steadily up the line. At first the lineside seemed too densely vegetated for any photographic efforts but I was heartened by a runpast at the edge of a wheat field beyond Maslinovo (7.59am). It was a lovely spot with some pretty purple flowers in the foreground and worked reasonably well, despite our best efforts to ruin the shot by trampling them down in our walk to the position!

The next runpast (8.30am), amongst the atmospheric railway buildings at Knizhovnik, was even better. To add to our improving fortunes the sun was finally burning through the thin layer of cloud above us, illuminating the scene before us.

03.12 runs through Knizhovnik

03.12 runs through Knizhovnik

After passing through the station at Malevo (8.40am) we stopped at a field to the bafflement of a shepherd and his flock of sheep. Moments like this can be photographic gold, if everything falls into place perfectly, but often the sheep don’t stick to the script! On many occasions I have seen photographers forlornly chasing sheep across fields, trying to keep them in the foreground as a train passes, but this time we took advantage of the movement of the flock in front of the locomotive to get some memorable static shots.

Once the crew had finished assisting the shepherd in his efforts to persuade the sheep to cross to the other side of the line we enjoyed a lovely runpast (8.45am) with the train rounding the curve. The last clouds disappeared to give us clear blue skies and bountiful sun. If I can be allowed a little photographer’s grumble, I have to confess that this was a little frustrating knowing that we had a long break ahead of us in the middle of the day!

Steam and sheep

Steam and sheep

The last runpast of the morning took place at a sweeping curve through a patchwork of fields (9.08am). We had clambered out in the nearest field but soon discovered that the grass was so tall that it obscured the track from all but the tightest of positions. A short walk up to a hillside vantage point gave us a much better prospect and a great opportunity to admire 03.12 for a longer stretch.

Before the rural landscape gave way to urban sprawl a tractor driver ploughing a field next to the line honked up our train. There can’t be many steam specials here and most must be concentrated on the more scenic stretches around Kardzhali, rather than this stretch.

03.12 passes through the rural lanscape between Malevo and Haskovo

03.12 passes through the rural landscape between Malevo and Haskovo

We finally reached Haskovo at 9.30am. The crew gathered in front of the locomotive for a small presentation and thoroughly deserved the round of applause that followed. It was time to say goodbye to the crew, to 03.12 and to our passenger carriages.

The carriages, from the Corona Express set, are as remarkable as the locomotive. The carriages were originally manufactured for the use of Tsar Boris III, Tsaritsa Ioanna and Prince Kiril in 1938. Although this luxury might seem inappropriate for a group of railway photographers it is well known that Tsar Boris III was something of a rail enthusiast himself and he was often to be found travelling on the footplate and even drove steam locomotives on occasion. I hope he would have approved of the future use of his royal train!

After our farewells the crew set off for Dimitrovgrad where 03.12 will overnight before continuing on to Sofia tomorrow.

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16.27 to Podkova

Posted in Bulgaria, Kardzhali, Momchilgrad, Most, Podkova by folkestonejack on May 17, 2016

The afternoon gave us our only run behind 16.27, a steam locomotive constructed by the Lokomotivfabrik Floridsdorf, Vienna, in 1948 to a simplified wartime design (class 42) and exported to Bulgaria in 1952 along with 32 other locomotives of this class. The numbers in Bulgaria may have been relatively low, but across all the manufacturers 849 class 42 locomotives were built between 1943 and 1949.

16.27 at Most (with diesel 07.126 lurking in the background)

16.27 at Most (with diesel 07.126 lurking in the background)

In Bulgaria the locomotives were designated as class 16 and were an immediate success, hauling heavy freight trains on steep and curvaceous sections of network from their home depots of Ruse and Gorna Oryahovitsa in Northern Bulgaria. The class had a good lifespan, continuing to haul trains in regular service until 1990. Today, the only member of the class in operational use in Bulgaria is 16.27 following the completion of her restoration in 2015.

Our run with 16.27 began with departure from Most at 1.35pm and ended at Podkova around 6pm. The results were a little mixed photographically, principally because the cover of the spark arrestor often had the effect of pushing the smoke down, smothering the train. As one member of our party said, nothing that an oxy-acetylene torch couldn’t fix! However, when everything was in favour the results were splendid (for the conditions) and we got a good selection of shots.

16.27 on the viaduct between Perperek and Sredna Arda

16.27 on the viaduct between Perperek and Sredna Arda

This was be our last run on the stretch of line between Most and Kardzhali, giving us a last chance to grab any shots that we have missed so far. The delights on offer this afternoon included a false departure from Most, two runpasts at a viaduct beyond Perperek (2pm-2.15pm), a single runpast at a tight spot beside a lineside posthouse just before Sredna Arda (2.35pm) having beaten down thorns to create a position, runpasts at Sredna Arda from low and high (2.48pm and 2.55pm) with the latter shot taken from a handy ‘seat’ in the rockface, a runpast at tunnel portal 3 (3.15pm), a runpast at the exit of the next rock cutting (3.24pm) and a runpast at the tunnel portal 4 (3.37pm).

One classic shot that eluded us up to this point was a view of the causeway coming towards Kardzhali – we stopped at the spot today (at 3.59pm) to the delight of one of my fellow photographers. An Australian chap in our group commented ‘Your fairy godmother is looking after you’ but then as we were halfway out we were all told to re-board, leading the same chap to admit that he spoke to soon ‘Your fairy godmother just ****ped on you!’. It was a pity that we had to abandon the shot to keep to our timings, but to be fair we were running 40 minutes late at this point!

At Kardzhali we boarded our bus and drove to the spot overlooking the viaduct between Kardzhali and Momchilgrad. On this occasion I chose the high viewpoint, which involves walking along a busy four lane road with no pavement to a couple of spots that look down onto the viaduct. After two runpasts we began our walk back along the road, staying as close to the guard rail as possible, only to hear the locomotive going for a third run and reached a distant viewpoint in time to see a fourth.

16.27 on the viaduct between Kardzhali and Momchilgrad

16.27 on the viaduct between Kardzhali and Momchilgrad

The bus continued on to the next viaduct where we had the opportunity to photograph the train on two runpasts from a high vantage point (5-5.30pm) with a terrific view of the landscape beyond, before re-boarding our train. A couple of stragglers got left behind this point but some nifty footwork from our organisers got some local gricers to pick them up in their car, dropping them off at Podkova where they were bemused to see an empty train arrive (we had climbed out at a level crossing a short distance from Podkova for two runpasts and then walked back to the station).

Over the past three days we have covered most of the good spots on the line between Kardzhali and Most, with the obvious exception of the causeway in the direction of Kardzhali. The number of spots is limited by the dense vegetation that surrounds much of the line, though it is possible that there could be some shots to be had with rural and industrial scenes on the stretch of line just beyond Kardzhali. I’m quite happy with the opportunities that we’ve had, even if I’m convinced that I’ve made the most of that!

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Storming to Most

Posted in Bulgaria, Kardzhali, Momchilgrad, Most by folkestonejack on May 17, 2016

A night of rain has given way to a cool and cloudy morning, though the pools of water around and about leave you in no doubt what had come before. Although the conditions are not going to have any photographer leaping for joy it is clear that they could have been an awful lot worse. The glass in front of me is half full…

03.12 at Momchilgrad

03.12 at Momchilgrad

The photographic day started with an outing to Momchilgrad to capture 03.12 in front of the rickety old engine shed. I didn’t have the highest of hopes, but we got lucky with a burst of sun through a rare break in the cloud cover. It might have been short-lived but it was sufficient to get the shot before the clouds closed back in.

Our morning charter with 46.03 took us from Kardzhali (departing at 9.08am) to Most (arriving at 12.07pm). Along the way we got to see just how much the overnight rain had transformed the lineside landscape with streams in place of dry ditches and water running off both sides of a rock cutting that we walked through).

46.03 storms through the rock cutting on the approach to Sredna Arda

46.03 storms through the rock cutting on the approach to Sredna Arda

In my opinion the morning worked out much better than expected photographically and nothing could diminish the spectacular sight of 46.03 storming through the rock cutting towards Sredna Arda.

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Messing about in boats

Posted in Bulgaria, Kardzhali, Most by folkestonejack on May 16, 2016

The afternoon promised the tantalising, if somewhat unsettling, prospect of a session photographing 46.03 and our three coach train from boats. It was easy to sign up for this months ahead of the trip, but now that the moment had arrived I wondered quite what we had let ourselves in for…

After arriving at the familiar territory of Sredna Arda we followed some steps down to a small jetty at the edge of the Studen Kladenets reservoir where we found a collection of small boats and a motley crew of boatmen awaiting us.

The convoy en route

The convoy en route

We nervously clambered aboard our fleet, with around six to eight photographers per boat, then set off across the water to the first of two spots where we would attempt to form a photographic line. The theory was sound but the practice was rather more chaotic!

Our small boat was rocking madly in the choppy waters from the off and this only seemed to get worse as the crews attempted to tie the ships together by rope. Soon the boats were drifting in the way of each other or floating too far away from the ideal shot.

A photograph of photographers photographing our train!

A photograph of photographers photographing our train!

Inevitably, the moment a run started the boats became wildly unstable as photographers moved around to try and get a decent shot. It was a miracle that we avoided dunking any photographers into the cold waters, though some might argue that was precisely what we needed to bring us to our senses!

Sometimes it seemed that the boatmen were a little too enthusiastic in their rivalry, trying to out do each other in their attempts to give their photographers the best view. At one point we were slap bang in everyone’s shot until our captain was cajoled into re-starting his engine and falling back into line.

It was a wonderful opportunity to take some different shots in the spectacularly photogenic rugged landscape of the Eastern Rhodopes, but I think we were all a little relieved when we motored to a small pebble beach and clambered off onto dry land. We walked along the beach and up the line to find our train taking on water at Spirka Zvezdelina.

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Express through the Eastern Rhodopes

Posted in Bulgaria, Kardzhali, Most by folkestonejack on May 16, 2016

After departing Kardzhali at 9.15am our express continued to the bridge across the river at Sedlovina. The railway bridge here runs parallel to a small causeway and is also a popular fishing spot, providing some additional interest and local colour to the scene.

03.12 crosses the bridge at Sedlovina

03.12 crosses the bridge at Sedlovina

A second runpast offered us the chance to climb higher for a better perspective of the scene but as this required a sure footed balancing act I opted not to go all the way up – with a cliff to one side I really didn’t want to go missing in action. As it was, with barely a third of the group at the top it already looked like an attempt to see how many railway photographers you could fit onto a pinhead!

The rocky hillsides between tunnel portals a little farther on provided some more great vantage points over the railway, though I decided to take a less treacherous route up that brought me out at a higher spot for the first two runpasts then followed the rest of the group along the track to a spot above the tunnel portal that afforded a great view of the lake and the mountainside.

03.12 passes the rock niches at Sredna Arda

03.12 passes the rock niches at Sredna Arda

Our next stop delivered us at Sredna Arda where we tried a variety of shots, including one through the rock cutting and a false departure from the station. An unusual feature of this spot is the presence of a series of rectangular niches carved into the rockface by the ancient Thracians, generally believed to be associated with cult rituals in some way.

No further photo stops were possible after our departure at 11.15am as we had to reach Most on time to allow a diesel pathed through here to pass. Our loco struggled on the final stretch, stopping at a couple of spots out of steam, then slipping as she got going again. We eventually made it to Most at 12.15pm.

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A meeting with grandmother bear

Posted in Bulgaria, Kardzhali, Most by folkestonejack on May 15, 2016

An early start from Sofia put us on the road to the Eastern Rhodopes with just a small detour to the University of Transport ‘Todor Kableshkov’ to see the plinthed locomotives in their grounds (narrow gauge steam locomotive 615.76 and electric locomotive 42.072) and a couple of comfort stops along the way.

Our 85 year old 'Grandmother Bear' on the line between Most and Kardzhali

Our 85 year old ‘Grandmother Bear’ on the line between Most and Kardzhali

Around 1pm, at the small station of Most, Kardzhali Province, we got our first glimpse of 46.03 as our train arrived from the direction of Haskovo, hauled by a diesel.

Maybe I am too much of a railway geek but I struggled to see why the Bulgarian railwaymen deemed these tank engines to be ugly enough to warrant the nickname of ‘Grandmother Bear’ (quite what they would have made of the Q1 class of austerity steam locomotives in the UK I dread to think!). Other accounts I have read suggest a more positive perception of the class with the nickname of ‘Grandma’s Boy’ mentioned on more than one occasion on account of their habit of saving the day in tricky conditions.

The appearance of diesel 07.126 was a nice bonus, as I have a soft spot for these heavy freight diesels. This class are better known as ‘Ludmillas’ and produced in large numbers by the Soviet Union for the eastern bloc and other communist states. Around ninety were built for Bulgarian Railways alone but the total number runs into the thousands, distributed as far across the world as Cuba and Syria.

Ludmilla 07.126 heads off towards Kardzhali with the water tank

Ludmilla 07.126 heads off towards Kardzhali with the water tank

We made our departure from Most at 2.20pm for the run to Kardzhali. The number of photographic opportunities in the afternoon was dictated by the limited supplies of water and the tight schedule we had to stick to, but we made good use of some spots around Sredna Arda to get some shots of 46.03 in action. Our timing was spot on as black clouds and a distant clap of thunder suggested that rain was on its way. We made it into Kardzhali at 4.45pm, just seven minutes late.

The heavy freight giant made an immediate impression as soon as we saw her in action. It was hard not to forget about taking pictures and just stand in admiration as the 2-12-4 tank engine made easy work of this line through the Easter Rhodopes with a few light carriages. I have simply never seen a tank engine as big or powerful as this so it was quite spellbinding to watch. The mind boggles at how much more spectacular it would have been to see these locomotives hauling 1,200 tons of coal at the peak of their working lives.

Twenty locomotives of this class were procured by BDŽ between 1931 and 1943, constructed by H. Cegielski of Poznań and Berliner Maschinenbau. The order for a second batch of eight locomotives was a confirmation of the success of the design, though this didn’t stop them making further improvements at this stage. Notably, the first batch had two cylinders of 700mm diameter (Zwilling) whereas the second batch had three cylinders of 550mm diameter (Drilling).

46.03 at Sredna Arda in mid-afternoon

46.03 at Sredna Arda in mid-afternoon

The design of the locomotive was developed to suit the demands of the Bulgarian railway network – specifically, the need to haul heavy freight using coal with a low calorific value over the mountains and through long sections of tunnel (requiring the installation of a fresh air system). The challenge was not insignificant – some of the track had a gradient of 1 in 35 and beyond.

All of the class survived to have lengthy post war careers, mostly seeing service on the line between Pernik and Sofia, despite initial use on other lines (e.g. Stara Zagora to Gorna Oryahovitsa and Mezdra to Sofia through the Iskar Gorge).

The last of the class was retired from service on 21st August 1975 and two examples have been preserved (one from each batch). Our locomotive, 46.03, was one of the batch constructed by the Polish company and was the first to be adopted into service on 7th June 1931 (46.01 and 46.02 were officially adopted into service a day later!). 46.03 returned to operational use in May 2015 after restoration at Sofia Depot in 2014.

For further information, there is a splendid account of the history, technical data and the work involved in the restoration of 46.03 on the Bulgarian Railway Modelling website (in Bulgarian).

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