Orient-Express 4: Filia - Dostluk - Friendship Express (50 p.)

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Proud Earthling

To the previous part of the series:
Orient-Express 3: Evening on Two Continents (50 p.)

November 4 2008

We return to the Orient-Express platform of Istanbul Sirkeci terminal.

Our train was hauled by E52518, which already had brought us here in the morning in charge of Bosphor-Express.

However, this time we left Istanbul on board of 81022/445 Filia - Dostluk - Friendship Express connecting Turkey with Greece at the time. Since February 2011 it is not running anymore, as all international passenger connections were seized by Greek railway company OSE due to the financial crisis.

November 5 2008

The train Istanbul - Thessaloniki consisted of the Greek rake, we occupied an "upper" cabin in one of the former SNCF sleeping coaches. On Turkish territory we stayed punctual and crossed the Turkish - Greek border on the original line via Uzunköprü (the inner-Turkish connection to Bulgaria had been built later) behind TCDD Alsthom Diesel DE24136. On the border we encountered a very surreal scenery as soldiers stood lined-up on both sides of the border river. It was especially bizarre in Greece as we passed some kind of leisure area with canopy, coffee table set in the middle of the night, volleyball court - and soldiers posing inbetween. At OSE border station Pythion people did not have to get out like in Kapikule, only passports were collected.

As I just took some video shots outside, I would like to insert two photos taken by my travel companion:


We gathered delay once waiting at Pythion where our OSE-loco with the express into the other direction 444/81021 consisting of modern TCDD coaches arrived 40 minutes after our scheduled departure time, despite a long halt. After we had traversed beautiful landscapes in the morning fog we met express 360 Thessaloniki - Sofia at Strymonas junction, hauled by ADTranz diesel 220 036, the last built for its class. The line from Thessaloniki arrives across the bridge from the left, straight ahead you reach the Bulgarian border within 15 kms.

On the way from Strymonas the line was being doubled, sometimes in a strange fashion - if it encountered some obstacle the new second track was laid in an s-curve around it. Two Czech diesel shunters could be spotted on construction duty, one class 742. In the end we only reached Thessaloniki shortly before noon, 80 minutes delayed. We quickly put our luggage into lockers and went on a first excursion of the line to Florina (with branch to Bitola) and Kozani. Above Edessa we emerged from the dominating high fog cover.

At Amynteo junction we just spotted this maintenance vehicle apart from the trains we took. On site we could also discover semaphore signals and former Viennese city busses. Already tired we let it be for the day and turned in at our Thessaloniki hotel.

November 6 2008

In good spirit, hoping to finally meet some sugar beet trains, we returned to the same line at the shores of Lake Vegoritida near Agios Panteleimon. At 8:30 a.m. we started with one of the most miserable waits in our railway photography careers - and that has something to say in our hobby! At first the fog stayed persistant, and we froze despite jackets. Around 10:30 as first scheduled train 738 a double MAN class 621 DMU showed up, plastic garbage was burned next to the tracks to the delight of our noses...

Around noon the fog was lifted a little, I explored the line on foot.

That way a panoramic shot of the next train with lake and absolutely real autumn colours was possible!

At 1 o'clock we had enough and took train 742 back. Highlight of our stay here was - next to the actually amazing landscape - the name of the halt: Stasis km 152,150! ;-)

We rode the well-used DMU, as most OSE-trains at the time, along the beautiful lake shore. The compartment door next to our seats was held open by a clever mechanism consisting of a rock on the floor. The driver's son (who also was allowed to announce stops) distributed pamphlets against OSE privatisation plans amongst the passengers.

Trains were always crossing at Arnissa on the eastern shore of the lake, nice old infrastructure still could be found here.

Travelling through wonderful landscapes but without a hint of a sugar beet train we dove into the fog again at Edessa after crossing some trestlework bridges. Only after our journey we learnt that there had been no sugar beet traffic just that year. On the other hand passenger operations from Edessa onwards were cancelled shortly later and only have been recently taken up again with three daily trains to Florina as Proastiakós (suburban line).

At the first station behind Edessa we noticed something in the thicket: A 507 (MLW MX-636 / built 1974) had brought a tank car train to Skydra, and yes, somewhere below the grass tracks were hiding.

The loco suddenly disappeared inbetween the shrubs and appeared again turned the other way - obviously a track triangle was hiding here. Subsequently the single engine left for Thessaloniki.

After spending an hour at Skydra we moved on as well, from Edessa you could find a denser timetable.
In the meantime we talked to an older lady who identified my buddy - whose ancestors never had left Eastern Austria - as "proper Greek lad", while I - an Eastern European "mixture" - was called a "real German"... ;-)

Our local train ended at Platy on the mainline Thessaloniki - Larissa - Athens. Next to it we found stabled A 204 (ALCO DL532B / 1962) which had been returned to its original turquoise livery.

A Desiro class EMU, operating on the line Larissa - Thessaloniki as Proastiakós since 2007, took us back to the hotel.

Not our hotel, but on Thessaloniki streets utter chaos prevailed, worsened by the new underground construction, here in front of Holiday Inn - what a relaxed holiday! ;-)

November 7 2008

Next morning we returned to the concrete platforms of Thessaloniki New Railway Station (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Railway_Station ).

We were thinking: if nothing was happening in the mountains, we could try it along the mainline. However, in the flatlands and along the coast you had to expect persistent fog. Our first stop was Neo Pori close to Larissa, express 592 Kalambaka - Thessaloniki consisiting of a class 520 AEG InterCity DMU just had arrived.

With conductor in the back cab and headlights on it almost looked posed. A slightly virtual homage to the once, before electrification, nice view at Neo Pori.

1 1/2 hours later IC 70 Athens - Thessaloniki - Alexandroupoli followed, long distance coaches of OSE were derived from SGP ÖBB "modular" coaches... really "a lot" of traffic on this modernized concrete monster of a high-capacity line.

And an hour later: actually a suger beet train hauled by A 503! It was going to be the only freight train we spotted on the mainline.

We went a few stations back to Litochoro where the line was running close to the coast (not really noticeable). Suddenly it had been decided to haul express trains like 501 to Athens up to Larissa by electric class 120 HellasSprinter - 160 kph could be reached here.

Half an hour later express 500 from Athens rushed past. Oh yes - without fog you may be able to see Mount Olympus somewhere here, only to be clear... :)

Proastiakós in the concrete desert of Litochoro.

As last station we stopped at Katerini. The former charm of the line still was preserved here, but modernization was already in progress. IC 52 from Athens came to a halt at the temporarily elevated platform.

November 8 2008

We still had the morning before our flight would leave, so we discussed our best option. Until now either: 1) the spot was beautiful but a) the fog stayed too long or b) nothing came or 2) the spot was hideous, overly modernized and still hardly any more traffic.

We always passed a nice little ALCO shunting at the yard, so we simply decided to stay. An early morning view out of the hotel window told us: no fog! So we packed quickly and took a city bus to the freight yard, where...

... we entered another world!

You can find the videos of this trip here, by the way:




And the soundtrack to the following images:



The friendly crew of A 205.

The body of the loco is similar to an Indian metre gauge YDM-4, yet fitted with two-axled standard gauge bogies.

A former German DB class V100 could be observed stabled next to the mainline, in the background you can spot a digger on rails.

Due to the maintenance work a Desiro class EMU used this electrified track along the yard.

A 457 (MLW MX-627 / 1973) appeared as next highlight, on heavy shunting duty.





Diesel paradise Greece, where else could you meet a class V100 next to a MLW next to an ALCO?

Mainline MLWs passing.

Probably the homeliest hump in the world, however, all rail links had been severed.

Although the big city was adjacent, this spot featured plenty of rural flair.

I am not sure what was on offer here, it was dispensed by ladle into plastic cups.

A proud MLW double traction consisting of A 510 (now we have seen half of the operable engines in this class) and A 458 (in new livery, with low hood) in front of signalbox Thessaloniki 2.

Next we changed our focus to the mainline - because of the gravel road, dust was stirred up by passing trains at the level crossing. At first an older MAN DMU as train 736 from Edessa.

A few minutes later 741 blasted past us into the opposite direction.

We caught several express trains, here IC 70, however, no Filia Express was spotted until after noon.

Now we had to say goodbye to this location providing a very satisfying farewell.

With plenty of spare time we took a city bus directly to the airport, it took about an our to fight our way through the traffic juggernaut Thessaloniki. At the airport we still had to wait a little for our SkyEurope-737 to take off towards Bratislava.

Heavy air traffic in the skies above Belgrade - let's see where it will take us next?

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