FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Steam freight: Despotovac to Resavica

Posted in Despotovac, Dvorište, Resavica, Serbia by folkestonejack on October 18, 2011

Mid-way through our unexpectedly leisurely (and delicious) lunch in Despotovac we received confirmation that our locomotive had set off on its return, having turned at Resavica.

Our Serbian guide, Dragan, had encouraged the crew not to go for more coal (they had plenty for our needs and time was running out if we were to get any shots in the remaining light of the day) but when Bernd asked if they had taken water, Dragan said no but ‘alles ist unter kontrolle!’ which prompted laughter across the dining room. It was a little hard to believe that anything might go to plan given our luck so far today…

Departure from Despotovac

Around 3pm 33-087 returned to Despotovac and after a shot of a false departure we re-joined the train, this time taking up residence in a freight car behind the loco with nothing much to hang onto, let alone any creature comforts. It was a strange way to travel, made even odder by the liberal sprinkling of salt across the floor of the car (maybe the previous occupants of the car were carcasses of meat or containers of fish!?). It was actually quite good fun and certainly more spacious than my usual commuting experience into London!

33-087 on the approach to Dvoriste

Soon we were well under way and made good progress up the line to the more scenic hilly stretches. We stopped just outside Dvorište and photographed two runpasts from the hillside before walking up the line to photograph a third runpast through the station.


33-087 departs from Dvorište

In theory the stop at Dvorište should have been our last opportunity to photograph 33-087 under steam today as the water was running low, but by chance our freight train was stopped just outside Resavica by a signal. This gave us the opportunity to walk up to the station yard and watch 33-087 haul the train the final yards into Resavica (luckily just before the light disappeared from the valley floor).

Arrival at Resavica

All in all it had been a very frustrating day. Instead of photographing runpasts from 7.30am to 2pm we had to make do with about an hour or so between 3 and 4pm. Hopefully tomorrow will be better – a full day of steam action would be just perfect.

Steam lift

Posted in Resavica, Serbia by folkestonejack on October 17, 2011

In the early afternoon we drove across to Senjski Rudnik (Senjski Coal Mine) to see their steam lift. Although our focus was on this one piece of machinery it has to be said that the entire complex is a remarkable industrial survivor. Indeed, a recent EU report described it as the birthplace of the industrialisation of Serbia.

Sign at the entrance to Senjski mine, Serbia

Senjski Rudnik is Serbia’s oldest coal mine, established in 1853. On the drive in we passed one of the most significant parts of the site, the tunnel entrance to Alexander’s Shaft (described as ‘the first shaft in the history of coal mining in Serbia’) before reaching the gates of the current complex.

The complex includes a number of shafts, workshops and administrative buildings – although around this you also see the world of the mining community with a row of workers’ cottages and the beautiful orthodox church of St. Prokopie (which we passed on the way down into the valley). It was a remarkably green place for all the industrial activity, heavily wooded with goats grazing on the hillside.

A view of the steam lift, tower and engine building during operation

After making our way in we were shown to the steam lift over the main shaft, which clanked into operation before our eyes, bringing some miners to the surface. This was, of course, the cue for a rather mad burst of camera clicking worthy of the paparazzi – winning a look of bemusement from the workers!

Two miners emerge from the steam lift at shift change

We were offered the chance to go down ourselves if we wanted, though no-one was brave enough to take up the challenge.

A path around the lift building took us to the small brick building housing the steam engine. The current elevator was constructed in 1922-24 but the steam engine that powers it is much older. It was originally installed at a mine at Vrdnik, Vojvodina Province and dates to 1878. I had been somewhat skeptical of the appeal of a stationary steam engine but have to admit that it was fascinating to watch it stir into action.

The steam engine, complete with wooden cogs, from 1878

The EU report from 2008 gives a vivid description of the significance of the engine and the lift that it powers:

This elevator is a little technical museum in itself. The steam engine, driven by steam transported in leaking pipes from the nearby electrical power plant, was produced by the firm J. Körösi in Graz, Austria in 1878. The wires of the twin elevator baskets are moved by giant cog-wheels. The wheels are from steel, but the cogs are made of oak, so as to be both silent and exchangeable. The communication between the elevator house and the machinery is maintained by a talking-tube. Both the engine and the elevators run smoothly, but lack modern safety measures.

As well as the stationary steam engine there are still some remaining structures from the narrow gauge railway that you can spot from the road out of the valley.

The railway to Senjski Rudnik was completed in 1890-92, connecting the coal mine with central Serbia. Apparently the remains of Senjski Rudnik Railway Station still stand, although the interior was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. The line carried on from the passenger station to the mine. The report optimistically expresses the possibility that the railway could be restored and I have to admit that it would make for an interesting stretch of line.

The station building has a symbolic value, as the reminder of a period when Senjski Rudnik was a lively, important spot with good communications. If the railway could be restored, wholly or in part, as a tourist attraction and communication link, the station would again become an important building. Even if this is not done, the station has significance as a witness of the town’s past.

It is hard to imagine that industrialisation once made this area the most prosperous in Serbia. There seems to be little sign of this today and the future seems uncertain, with the coal reserves only expected to last until 2013-2018. The EU report talks about steps towards making the site a heritage centre for tourists and I hope they manage to achieve that.

A quiet start… and an unfortunate end

Posted in Resavica, Serbia by folkestonejack on October 17, 2011

The first morning of the tour took us from Požarevac to the colliery at Resavica, which is home to two veteran steam locomotives built in Budapest – 126.014 (MAV class 325) and 120.019 (MAV class 370). Although the label ‘veteran’ is all too liberally used in descriptions of steam locomotives it really does apply here – 126.014 was built in 1899 and 120.019 in 1906.


The original plan was to steam 126.014, using the locomotive to shunt around the station and then take a coal train onto a short stretch of the state railway line. However, on arrival in Resavica it soon became apparent that 126.014 was far from well. Some repairs had been carried out but it would be around two and a half hours before she would be ready for our cameras. Oh well, I could cut some slack for a centurion!

Under repair: 126.014

In the meantime, we had a wander round the quiet yard and photographed 120.019 on the turntable which, like everything else, had seen better days. The younger locomotive was out of use but could be moved around using a small diesel to allow us to create a few posed photographs.

After exhausting the photographic potential of the yard we took the opportunity to get some lunch (chicken soup, bread and the ever reliable Jelen beer!) and then made a visit to the nearby Senjski mine to see their steam lift.

120.019 on the turntable at Resavica

120.019 on the turntable at Resavica (with a small diesel behind)

Around 3pm we returned to Resavica and got to see 126.014 shunting in the yard and around the station. The crew certainly had their work cut out to coax the old girl into life and were using the reverser with a smidge of the regulator to control the braking.

126.014 in steam at Resavica

Veteran steam locomotives 120.019 and 126.014 side by side at Resavica

126.014 shunts in the yard at Resavica

The ill health of the locomotive was evident to everyone (even to a technically challenged soul like me) as she sat on the turntable towards the end of the day with water pouring out. Our tour leader, Bernd, told us that she had two broken stays. It was clear that we wouldn’t be seeing her in steam again on our trip – though I took the view that we were lucky to have seen her in steam at all.

126.014 on the turntable at Resavica

The light disappeared from the valley fairly early, but we waited around until darkness had fallen to get some night shots of 126.014 and 120.019. It was all good practice as I hadn’t tried any night photography with my new camera before. It’s an art I still have to master, but had good fun trying different settings.

126.014 in the twilight at Resavica

On these trips the photography comes first (and I wouldn’t want it any other way) but we certainly appreciated the price that we paid for that with dinner at 10pm!