December 2019 BLNI Extra No. 60
Railtours in Australia & Czech Republic
[E47] Australia – The Grainlander Railtour and dates of future tours
707 Operations Inc. is a preservation group based in Victoria and formed in 1980. The
main aim of the society was to preserve R707 “City of Melbourne”, a 4-6-4 loco built in
1951 by the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow. The broad-gauge loco is one
of seven R class preserved, but the only operational coal burner. While the focus of the
group is still R707, the group has a diesel fleet which the committee are keen to use and
enjoys running over unusual lines, both Melbourne metro lines which are normally only
EMU and freight lines.
The “Grainlander” rail tour which ran from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 September 2019 was
one which combined R707, two vintage diesels (T413 owned by 707 and T392 hired in
from Pacific National) and the long freight line from Maryborough to Sea Lake (over
209km). As the distances are vast in Australia and with slow speeds on freight sections,
the rail tour needed to run overnight. With three locos, one power van and twelve
carriages (a total length of 356 metres), it was a tight fit at Melbourne Southern Cross
for the locos to run round.
Departure was prompt at 22:12 and our member headed straight to his sleeper berth
(there were a total of six sleeping carriages in the consist). The twinette JTA 6 “Kuldalai”
is a privately-owned air-conditioned coach with full en suite facilities (toilet, basin, and
shower). The coach owner showed him the many buttons and storage spaces and the
working of the toilet and shower. After the hype of the Caledonian Sleeper Mark 5s,
Kuldalai had en suite facilities in 1957 for its passengers between Melbourne and
Adelaide 60 years ahead of Britain!
All rail tour participants were given a free drinks voucher, so it was time to head to the
lounge/bar coach for a night cap (or two or three) of cold Cooper’s Pale Ale.
After enjoying the climb out of Bacchus Marsh, it was time to retire. Our member
enjoyed the best night’s sleep he had had in ages and woke to see it was already
light. He enjoyed the view of the moving outback from bed for an hour, then a quick
wash before heading down for breakfast before the breakfast area would be converted
at Wycheproof to accommodate local passengers. This was a big event for the town as it
was the first steam loco to visit Sea Lake for 20 years. On departure from Wycheproof
station the highlight of the trip was running down the middle of the main street with all
the locals and many people from the surrounding area coming out to see the
spectacle. Journey’s end was at Sea Lake just before midday and an hour stay allowed a
visit to the very small town or to wait for some sun to photograph the T classes!
Pacific National owned T392 and 707 Operations owned T413 reach their destination of Sea Lake
after a 13 hour run from Melbourne on Saturday 07 September 2019 on train 8193 22:12 Melbourne
Southern Cross to Sea Lake. [Photo: D Langham]
The tour then returned to Wycheproof where it was to lay up for the night. A photo
stop was arranged in the main street before arrival for local press, before continuing to
the station where tour participants went on a coach tour of the local grain silos.
Wycheproof is famous for having the railway run down the middle of the main street. On the right is
the XXXX branded Terminus hotel (one of two pubs in the town), taken on the evening of Saturday 7
September 2019. Wycheproof (population 635) also boasts a motel, bakery, supermarket and a
kebab shop! [Photo: D Langham]
Now one grain silo is much like another but in this part of the world they have become
tourist attractions as they have become massive canvasses for art works. After the
coaches returned, dinner had been arranged in the Royal Mail Hotel (one of two pubs in
Wycheproof) before a short walk back to the stabled sleeper train. Sunday morning
welcomed more local passengers and tour participants could head part way to Sea Lake
or have the choice of photographing or videoing the train run through Wycheproof. Our
member took the option of carrying on to Nullawil where R707 was positioned in front
of one of the Art Silos, a very impressive sight.
Glasgow built R707 and T413 stand in front of one of the very impressive
art silos at Nullawil on Sunday 08 September 2019 before working
train 8194 1050 Nullawil to Melbourne Southern Cross.
[Photo: D Langham]
Departure from Wycheproof at midday allowed the freight line to be viewed in daylight
before continuing on to the V Line passenger network after a pathing/water stop of 90
minutes at Maryborough (although it may have been longer for our member as he had
misread the timetable!). The Grainlander was due to traverse the freight line from
Ballarat to Geelong but late essential engineering works meant it had to run main line
from Ballarat to Melbourne and with increasing V Line services, was hard to path. It did
however allow dinner to be loaded and served at Ballarat and allowed a visit to the
wonderful station refreshment room. No draught beers but pleased to see Feral Hop
Hog in bottles.
The return from Ballarat to Melbourne was in darkness but with some fine performance
from the locos, an enjoyable run spent part in the front coach and part in the lounge car.
Arrival in Melbourne was after 22:00, but it was still worth while waiting around for 20
minutes to admire “City of Melbourne” running round, before heading out on the
empties to Newport.
707 Operations Inc. plan to run monthly tours in 2020.
While many of these will be short tours in the Melbourne area, they have announced
the dates for three long distance tours for 2020 already.
Friday 13 to Sunday 15 March 2020: "Sunset over the Harvest Weekend" will be a diesel
hauled tour covering over 350 km of freight track (Maryborough to Managantang,
Ballarat to North Geelong and Newport to Tottenham). Now open for booking.
Friday 5 to Monday 8 June 2020: Steam and vintage diesel hauled to Denilquin and
Piangil (both freight only). Now open for booking.
Friday 4 to Sunday 6 September 2020: Repeat “Grainlander” to Sea Lake with steam and
Further details and bookings will be announced on www.707operations.com.au.
[E48] Czech Republic – Notes from a three day KŽC holiday in a railcar
Once or twice a year Czech company KŽC run a long weekend railtour which also
includes some sightseeing and brewery visits - a curious combination. The main
attraction for most people is the opportunity to visit a number of freight only lines and
this was what drew two members to the November KŽC tour.
The tour started from Kladno (north west of Praha) using a class 810 railcar owned by
local railway company Kladenská Dopravní a Strojní (KDS). A reversal by Kladno Dubi
station allowed the branch to Vinařice to be accessed and the line climbs, steeply at first,
passing through extensive woodland to reach a junction after 2·82 km. The line to the
right goes to Mayrau Skansen, of which more shortly, but the section from the junction
to Vinařice has recently been reopened and this was the major attraction of the day.
Vinařice military depot was reached after 6·12 km and appeared to comprise two long
and high Nissen hut like structures, presumably for storage purposes. On the left hand
side was the old station building. Alighting and photography were not allowed but the
tour was able to continue through a gate and across a road to the headshunt which now
forms the end of the line about 6·48km from Kladno Dubi. It used to continue to
Zvoleněves on the Kralupy to Most railway line. Photography was now possible.
The colourful KDS railcar stands at the end of the branch to Vinařice.
The train now returned to the junction for the short journey to Mayrau – about 830
metres – passing a large jail complete with watchtowers before arriving at Skansen
Mayrau. KDS has run tours here in recent years but, if the author recalls correctly, these
have been very popular and advance booking has been required so enthusiasts have not
found it easy to get there.
The Skansen (museum) was the site of a colliery, closed and backfilled in 1998 and now a
mining museum with a working Smichov-built steam engine amongst other attractions.
A short flight of steps by the buffer stops leads to the back of the site and there is a
short length of narrow gauge railway with several wagons on display.
Narrow gauge tracks and old rolling stock at Skansen Mayrau.
The tour ended back at Kladno Dubi, and passengers transferred to the waiting KŽC bus
for a lengthy drive westward to Kralovice. Study of a railway map of the Czech Republic
reveals that a line used to run from Rakovnik to Mladotice which is on the Plzeň to Zatec
railway. Today only the Rakovnik to Kralovice section remains as a branch with buses
replacing trains from Kralovice to Mladotice from 1 January 1997 due to structural
damage on this section.
A local group are agitating to reopen the closed section and gave a talk (in German)
about the line under the veranda of the now disused station building which is beginning
to crumble and looking a little unsafe.
Kralovice station, now occupied only by pigeons.
The buffer stops are not far away and beyond these the trackbed is overgrown though
the rails are still present. It was possible to walk by the tracks for a while before striking
off north to visit Mariánská Týnice which is a former church and pilgrimage destination
from the Baroque era. The waiting bus took the group to the former Trojany station, the
only station between Kralovice and Mladotice. This is nowhere near the small
settlement it served and today is crumbling quietly away in the forest. The rails outside
the station have disappeared – possibly stolen.
Trojany station building, bricked up and decaying in the forest, though a minor road runs nearby.
The majority of the group were now led on a walk through the forest following the
course of the railway west towards Mladotice. This proved to be a difficult journey as
the trackbed is now thick with trees in many places and numerous diversions were
needed. Progress was slow and daylight beginning to fade before the group emerged
(with some relief) into fields with a road and waiting bus nearby. The walk had been
only 2·75 km but felt more!
The rails are still present but growth of trees and shrubs
render the trackbed impassable in many places.
The group spent the night in Plasy, or Liblin for the overspill, which included our two
members. The following day’s railway journey started at Plasy station, which is outside
the town on the valley side, but nevertheless has a small bar by the water tower at
which beer could be purchased even in the early morning!
The bar and water tower at Plasy. The station building has a manned ticket office.
The plan was to take a service train to Plzeň to join the KŽC train but one member had
got it into his head that the KŽC train was actually starting from Plasy after the service
train had departed. So, when he spotted a Woodpecker on a tree at the edge of the
station, he wandered off to take pictures while the service train arrived. One member
got on the service train and wondered where his companion was. Then his phone rang…
The tour was duly joined at Plzeň which then proceeded to Nýřany. There has been a
major remodelling of the tracks between Plzeň-Jižní Předměstí and Plzeň-Skvrňany
which includes a new flyover, so some people may wish to travel this section of railway
again, though it hardly counts as a major deviation.
At Nýřany a 2·6km branch goes west off the Domažlice line to Dioss Nýřany a.s, an
engineering company who produce metal tubes and sheets. There is a stop sign before
the factory gate and it is clear nothing has entered the works for many years. In recent
years shuttles have run on the branch, presumably to convey walkers and cyclists, and to
assist in disembarking a rather low rough earth platform has been constructed. There is
at least one other similar platform on the branch sited near the junction.
The current end of line at Dioss Nýřany, just before the factory gate.
Returning to Nýřany our two members were reunited and the train returned to Plzeň,
passing the station on a non-platform line and heading north on the western side of the
yard and depot to reach a headshunt at the northern end of the yard, over 3 km of
freight track, and at one point over 350 metres from the passenger line to Plasy. A
reversal here allowed the tour train to get to the eastern side of the yard and onto the
line to Plasy.
Between Plzeň and Plasy is Kaznějov which, for a small town, has a surprising amount of
industry. An elderly gentleman and his family joined the train here. They were
obviously expected and the man was clutching a schematic plan of the layout of
industrial lines in the area.
The plan referred to above.
Access to the industrial branches is by a branch leading west to a four track dead-end
yard. From the start of this a double shunt got the train onto a separate branch. The
line to the ZZN cement works trails in right, obviously out of use, though a picture on the
internet shows a freight leaving in 2005.
Next the branch to Aktiva diverges left. There is a long history of chemical production
on the Aktiva site – sulphuric acid since 1883 and many other chemicals, especially citric
acid in the communist era. Even in 2001 Kaznějov Aktiva was the fifth biggest producer
of citric acid in Europe with almost 400 employees but cheap Chinese acid caused the
market to collapse and the company went bankrupt. The new owners demolished much
of the plant to sell the steel but citric acid production has resumed and the railway
branch remains in use. Unfortunately permission could not be obtained for the tour to
The next branch to diverge goes to what is labelled Armaporit Kaznějov on the map but
today is called Hebel Chlumčany. They make concrete blocks. It was difficult to tell
whether this branch was in use.
The objective of the tour was the Kaolin works, ZKKZ Kaolin Kaznějov, which processes
Kaolin from the big quarry nearby. There are two branches into the works and the more
northerly one was taken to the start of the buildings. So another 1·9km of freight track
covered. Alighting was not permitted, so the train returned to Kaznějov and continued
to Plasy (and Liblin by coach) for a second night.
The final day of the tour was a complete change from what had been advertised apart
from the Plzeň avoiding line. The reason for this was the disaster which had befallen the
previous KŽC tour in March 2019. On the final day the tour got stuck at Horni Cerekov
due to strong winds bringing down trees and closing both lines west towards Tábor.
After five hours waiting the tour was cancelled so, the day’s highlight, the military
branch off the Tábor to Bechynĕ railway at Sudoměřice was not done.
Fortunately the German tour organiser is not one to give up, so approval was sought and
given, for the branch to be included (at a late stage) in the November tour.
It is quite a trek on a 4 wheel class 810 railcar from Plasy to Tábor where the connection,
not normally done by passenger trains, was taken to access the Bechynĕ branch.
Towards the end of the branch, after Bechyňská Smoleč station, the military branch to
Bechynĕ Airforce Base diverges left at odb. Dubina and passes through an area with
numerous horse paddocks suggesting a high level of affluence. After 3 km further
progress was prevented by a gate at the site boundary. The track continues for another
1·8km but the gate was as far as the tour was going to get. Pathing and time were
getting tight, so no photographs and an immediate return to odb. Dubina where the
train reversed and proceeded to Bechynĕ, crossing the spectacular bridge (dating from
1928) over the River Luznice immediately before the station. Those who wished to
could walk to the other end of the bridge to photograph the railcar coming back over the
bridge. The attraction is that this is the only combined road/rail bridge in the country
and when a train crosses road traffic is stopped in one direction.
The combined road/rail bridge at Bechynĕ, sometimes called the ‘Rainbow of Bechynĕ’.