INTERNATIONAL SUPPLEMENT TO BLN 1253 19 MARCH 2016
BRANCH LINE NEWS
This newsletter covers the World outside the British Isles from information
supplied by members.
Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Compilers or of the Society.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS TEAM:-
International Editor (to whom all email and postal contributions should be sent):
Paul Griffin, 7 School Bell Mews, Church Lane, Stoneleigh, COVENTRY, CV8 3ZZ
Email: [email protected]
Deputy International Editor: Derek Woodward, 68 Church Street, Matlock, DERBY, DE4 3BY
Please note that a BLNI Extra on Myanmar (Burma) is appended.
BLNI 1248.011 reported a last gasp visit to the Chivasso to Pré Saint Didier railway before suspension of the
service. For UK members the most memorable feature is a station called Derby. This dates from 1934 and at
some point after 1992 when the ticket office closed, it became a private residence. There is, incidentally, a
railway station at the small village of Derby in South Africa west of Johannesburg – also closed.
 Austria – Linz trams extend again
The first section of Linz’s StadtRegio-Tram project opened on 25 February, extending the 900 mm gauge
Line 3 southwest from Doblerholz to Trauner Kreuzung. The 2.7 km extension has five stops, including one
serving the PlusCity shopping centre in Pasching. A further 1.8 km to Schloss Traun is due to open on 2
September, adding three stops.
 Czech Republic - Branch likely to close in 2017
In June, when CD take over Sumperk – Kouty nad Desnou service with electric traction, Arriva will run
Petrov – Sobotin shuttles with 810 DMUs. As mentioned in BLNI 1229.104 there is currently no plan to
continue this service from the 2017 timetable so the passenger service will cease. One to bear in mind if
travelling in the Czech Republic this year.
 Czech Republic – KŽC services on unusual lines
Regular passenger services on the Straškov to Libochovice line finished in 2006, but tourist trains were
introduced by KŽC in 2010. Now Usti region have sponsored weekend only services from 26 March to 30
October which will be also operated by KŽC. . www.kzc.cz/cz/Novinky/Novinka/1154
During the summer KŽC run a DMU special from Ceska Kamenice to Liberec then off the railway tracks and
onto the standard gauge part of the DPM tram network. Timings are in the back pages of the national
timetable, the footnote indicating it runs to vlecka (siding) Babylon. The train runs Fridays only 1/7 to 26/8.
Interesting picture of a previous trip at www.kzc.cz/cz/Novinky/Novinka/1142
 Estonia – Tallinn Trams
Opened in 1888 the Tallinn tramway system is 4 lines radiating from a common short section in the
modern city centre with Hobujaama station straddling all the routes. No single route takes more than 30
minutes to travel and some much less. There are relatively few complications - for instance no early turn
back loops anywhere, and services operate over the full length of the lines they serve. Unfortunately one
line to Ulemiste was shut for major engineering works at the time of the visit. Kadriog 1/3 has a nominal
terminus on a long single track anticlockwise loop while Tondi 2/4 looks recently rebuilt and all trams
appeared to use the outer loop of the twin tracks on the otherwise single track loop. It is thought that
restoration of line 4 services here would see both sides used. At Kopli 1/2 which is almost at the coast and
the site of a tram depot just off the turning circle, there are separate set down and pick up platforms on
opposite sides of the loop and at the set down platform an inner line does get used (at least officially
arriving) by trams laying over for longer periods or simply looking to leap frog the trams already in the
outer loop. It is not difficult to arrive at either although a little more patience might be required for the
inner line; technically it is then non-passenger but the drivers encountered seemed more concerned by the
wait (10-20 minutes) than the actual intended traversal around to the departures platform. Services are
very frequent, often every 4 minutes and whilst a few very modern trams have arrived Tatra KT4 cars
(some built in Germany and still with German language notices in the cabs) still reign. An oddity on the
Kopli line not long after leaving the Balti Jaam (main railway station) is a flat crossing with an Estonian
Railways broad gauge freight spur over which the trams slow but still rattle and which provides quite a
contrast to the 1067mm gauge tram lines.
 Finland – Line closures deferred
The announcement on 15 September 2015 that the Ministry of Transport and Communications and
national train operator VR had reached a four-year agreement on the operation of public service obligation
(PSO) passenger services included a statement that from 27 March 2016, 28 of Finland's most lightly-used
stations would close and passenger services be withdrawn on several branch lines including Joensuu -
Nurmes and Seinäjoki - Haapamäki. However the Government has made a decision to postpone the
planned line closures as it opens up the rail sector to competition. The move will provide the cities to be
affected by the reform with a reprieve until December 2016.
 France – Caen guided bus routes to be replaced by tram lines
The municipality of Caen has confirmed its intention to develop a three-line light rail network for opening
by the end of 2019. The majority of the tramway would be converted from the existing TVR guided bus
network under plans first announced in December 2011, but a feasibility study has suggested that several
sections of new rail infrastructure should also be added to better serve local traffic generating hubs and
optimise network operation. Three routes are envisaged: T1: Hérouville Saint Clair – Ifs Jean Vilar; T2:
Campus 2 – Presqu’île; T3: Théâtre – Fleury sur Orne. The network would total 16.8 km with 37 stops. The
two most significant sections of new infrastructure are a 2.2 km branch from Théâtre to Presqu’île and a 1
km extension beyond the current terminus of the guided bus at Grace de Dieu to Hauts de l’Orne in Fleury.
 France - Rosa Parks, the inauguration and a cadeau!
Politicians adore making "field trips" and, on 6 February, the French Prime Minister created a photo
opportunity with the official inauguration of "Rosa Parks", the new stop on RER E and the first new RER
station in Paris since "Bibliothèque Francois-Mitterand” on RER C 15 years ago. Alain Vidalies (the
transport minister), Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris),Valérie Pécresse (Présidente of Ile de France Region)
and of course Guillaume Pepys, were all there. And Mr Valls had a surprise cadeau in his pocket! A
"cheque" for 500 million euros! Being the sum needed to completed the financing scheme for EOLE, the
western extension of RER E that will connect Haussmann St Lazare to La Défense and Mantes-la-Jolie. It
will cost €3.5billion altogether and with this contribution from the State, construction can begin.
Reproduced courtesy of the SNCF Society.
 France/Switzerland - Genève tram 15 to be extended cross border to St. Julien
There are thousands of cross-border commuters who cross the border daily from France to Geneva. For
years there have been discussions on how to increase the use of public transportation among the
frontaliers. In December 2015 it was announced that an agreement in principle has been finally found
between local and national authorities in Switzerland and France to extend the Genève tram line 15 to St.
Julien in Haute-Savoie subject to the formal approval process, which is expected to be completed by the
summer of 2016. In 2019 trams would continue from the current terminus in Palettes to Plan-les-Ouates
close to the Swiss-French border first and then from 2023 cross it to St. Julien. There the line would
terminate in front of the railway station, which is on the Bellegarde- Évian line. The budget for the project
is 235 million Swiss francs for the 6 km extension out which 1.4 km will be built in France. There are two
other projects to extend other tram lines across the border into France (one to Annemasse and the other
one to Saint-Genis-Pouilly), but progress is suspended due to lack of agreement over sharing the cost with
Genève agglomeration. An old postcard (picture available to e-BLNI subscribers only) from around 1924
shows a CGTE (La Compagnie Genèvoise des Tramways Électriques) tram in front of the St. Julien town hall
(source Wikimedia Commons, public domain). The old tram service to Genève, with a slightly different
route than the future one, was closed in 1938. Reproduced courtesy of the SNCF Society.
 Germany - Döllnitzbahn branch to reopen
The Döllnitzbahn runs trains on the 750mm gauge line from Oschatz to Nebitzschen and Glossen. Until
2006 trains also ran on the 2.7km line from Nebitzschen to Kemmlitz. Now a charitable donation has made
possible the reopening of this branch, probably in 2017.
 Germany – Branch finally closes
The 4.4km branch from Wasserburg (Inn) Bahnhof to Wasserburg (Inn) Stadt opened in 1902 and closed in
1987 after damage by heavy rain. Wasserburg became infrastructure managers in 2004 with a view to
reopening, but this never happened. In late February the Bayern Transport Ministry announced that the
line is now formally closed.
 Hungary – Budapest’s fonódó villamoshálózat project completed
Work on the fonódó villamoshálózat project (interweaving tram network) was carried out between
October 2014 and November 2015. This has enabled the creation of two long north-south corridors on the
right bank of the River Danube in the Buda district of Budapest. Passenger services commenced on 16
January. There are three new connections. Those between Üstökös utca and Margit körút and between
two sides of Széll Kálmán tér enable Route 17 to run from Bécsi út/Vörösvári út to Savoya Park. The project
also included the reinstatement of a 1 km connection between Batthyány tér and Margit híd. This allows
routes 19 and 41 to run to Bécsi út/Vörösvári út. Part of this is single track, owing to limited space under
the bridge. March should see the reopening of the rebuilt line under Lánchíd bridge, required to provide
enough clearance for the new CAF trams that started to enter service last year. Refurbishment of Széll
Kálmán tér is due to finish in May and this will include the removal of the redundant turning loop.
 Italy – changes at Roma Termini
Construction of a car park directly over the platforms started in January. It is hoped that it will alleviate
some of the parking and traffic problems of the area by increasing parking spaces from 275 to over 1600.
The website claims that it will be the first of its type in Europe, but this is disputed. Winterthur in
Switzerland already has such a construction, and the result is to shroud the platforms in gloom. It is also
reported that barriers now control access to the platforms.
 Italy - Ceva to Ormea will reopen for tourist trains
The 35km branch from Ceva to Ormea on which services were ‘suspended’ in 2012 saw a special train from
Turin on 3 February which conveyed FS officials and local dignitaries. It was organised by the FS Foundation
and the Piedmont Region. A gradual reopening for tourist trains is planned from Spring 2016 with a
defined timetable and train every 2/3 weeks from 2017. To use locomotive hauled trains the loop at
Ormea will need to be reinstated at a cost of €100,000 and funds should be allocated soon.
 Italy - Genova observations
A member visited Genova recently and spent some time at Genova Piazza Principe, one of the two main
stations in Genova. This station has become increasingly busy over the years, and extra capacity was added
by a new underground connection opened in 1993 between Genova Brignole and Genova Sampierdarena,
including a new underground station under Genova Piazza Principe with two platforms called Genova
Principe Sotterranea. It was observed that only eastbound services use this route at the moment. Access to
the westbound platform at Piazza Principe (platform 2s) has been boarded up and it is possible from one of
the overbridges to see that the track has been removed and the formation is being used as an access road
for construction work. Our member thinks this is only "temporary" but from what he has read this has
already been going on for two or three years.
 Luxembourg - Second Luxembourg – Bettembourg line approved
The government approved plans for the construction of a new line between the capital and Bettembourg
on 26 February, authorising the route and compensation measures for those affected by the project. The
€292m scheme involves the construction of a 7 km double-track electrified alignment, which would leave
the existing line at Howald and then run parallel to the A3 motorway, rejoining the existing route near
Bettembourg. The new line would be suitable for passenger trains operating at up to 160 km/h, and would
increase capacity between the capital and the French border. There will be no intermediate stations.
 Netherlands - Freight terminal electrified
ProRail has completed the installation of 1.3 kilometres of OLE to the Railport Brabant (RPB) freight
terminal in Tilburg, allowing freight trains hauled by electric locomotives to access the facility for the first
time. It was formally opened on 24 February.
 Poland – Great news for the Chabówka to Nowy Sącz line
BLNI 1247.447 reported that part of the scenic 77km Chabówka to Nowy Sącz line had been taken out of
use due to condition of the track. Our reporter was sceptical as to whether it would be repaired, so the
news that PKP PLK have allocated 1.2 million złoty for the repairs comes as some surprise. Speeds will be
restricted to 40km/h between Chabówka - Mszana Dolna and Marcinkowice - Nowy Sącz. It seems that the
work will be done quickly - tourist trains should be running by the summer months.
 Poland - Bonus days for weekend ticket
The excellent value PKP Weekend ticket is valid a bonus day if a bank holiday Friday or Monday occurs,
there are four such dates in 2016. Monday 28 March (Easter Monday), Monday 15 August (Assumption
day), Friday 11 November (Independence day) and Monday 26 December (St. Stephens day).
 Poland - Elbląg Tramways
Opened in 1895 and the second oldest electric tramway in Poland, this metre gauge system extends about
17 route-kilometres and is made up of four lines with a fifth route that superimposes over the others on
weekdays. The system is readily accessed from the main PKP station as routes 1/2/4 all pass across the
plaza outside the main entrance. One hour tickets can be bought from the drivers for 3.20PLN but a map of
the system is a useful reference as the tram stops are not named and do not have system maps. The more
central routes enjoy a fairly frequent passage particularly on weekdays but some peripheral sections like
Route 2 to Marymoncka have only an hourly service even during daytime occasionally increasing to half-
hourly. The line ends in quite a rural setting with a typically big turning loop, none of which the staff seem
happy about providing rides around. There are apparently planned extensions that might double the route
mileage and one of these could be seen running northwards off route 4/5 towards Saperow close to the
city centre. This would offer a sort of second city crossing linking to routes 2/4/5 at Krolewiecka but while
this might be in prospect the more "country-end" extensions appear a bit more likely in the short term.
The lines themselves are a combination of well ballasted concrete double track on reserved sections, to
single tracks weaving along muddy grassed verges. Similarly the tram fleet ranges from early 1960s AM6
ex-Mainz units to modern 121A low floor PESA-built units from 2007, so providing quite a contrast in a
small system. This was traversed in detail in about 4 hours as there were no complications, and even
included a wander around the scrap lines (at least your correspondent assumes they were all for scrap!) at
the only depot located at Zajezdnia Te which is off route 1/3 in the north-west of the system, where the
newer examples were well locked up.
 Russia (European) - Moscow (Mockba) line one extended again
A 1.4 km extension of Line 1 from Yugo-Zapadnaya to Troparyevo opened in December 2014 and on 18
January a further extension of 2.5km from Troparyevo to Rumyantsevo was opened. Like Troparyevo,
Rumyantsevo station is 12 metres underground, and will remain as the southern terminus of Line 1 until
yet another extension, this time to Salaryevo opens later this year. This will also bring a new depot into
 Slovakia – Armoured train at Zvolen
A member has discovered an armoured train in a park in Zvolen. On his town map of Zvolen the park is
called PARK ING S VIVNOVSKENO.
The train is in camouflage colours on a short
length of track. There is a 2-8-2 tank covered
in sheeted metal, 2 gun carriages with quite
large guns, 2 troop carriers with firing slits and
a flat wagon. If you turn right out of Zvolen
station in a North-Easterly direction through
the linear park, the train is within 400-500
metres. A plaque in Slovak nearby said (as far
as he could discern) that the train was
something to do with the SNP Slovak National
Uprising against the Germans in 1944. The
square at the North-east end of the park is
Nam(esti) SNP as are many squares in
 Slovakia – Kysak avoiding line service changed again
(BLNI 1251.077, BLNI 1250.055) Train R1602 13:44 Humenné - Bratislava hl.st via the Kysak avoiding line
has run on Sundays only since 28 February.
 Spain - Report on lines to the north west of Madrid (Part 1)
Madrid - Valladolid – León. The LAV is still single track through the tunnel south of Valladolid. A second
track has been laid but is still not connected up. A brief glimpse from a southbound train suggested that
the double track classic line also became single track through its separate tunnel, but our member is not
entirely sure. He saw no sign south of Valladolid of works for the proposed Iberian gauge freight bypass to
the east of Valladolid or for putting the lines underground through the city. A dual gauge freight branch
diverges to the right north of Campo Grande and curves back south. The UIC gauge rail and connection to
the LAV were both rusty. Openstreetmap clearly shows that this is the start of the above mentioned
freight bypass, which runs parallel to the I3 eastern ring road. Google satellite photos show a large brand
new factory on it, which he suspects is the replacement for the RENFE works next to Campo Grande
station. The LAV has been squeezed through Valladolid (and Palencia) by dint of converting the previous
double track Iberian gauge line to two single lines, one of each gauge. This is already creating a bottleneck.
It will get worse when high speed services to Burgos start in December and when the Pajares tunnel opens:
Madrid - Asturias services have the highest load factors on RENFE so presumably the considerable
reduction in journey time resulting from the tunnel will lead to more trains being run. It seems somewhat
nonsensical therefore that the junction at Venta de Baños is a flying junction. The gauge changer at
Villamuriel de Cerrato, south of Palencia and used by Santander services, is probably a sufficiently long and
separate line (a sort of very large crossover) to justify being added as an EGTRE Obscure Line.
León - León old station is locked up and surrounded by wire fencing. It has been left just as it was, apart
from the new road that cuts across the former line immediately to the south. The temporary station
comprises two side platform sections, one of each gauge. The numbering is eccentric, running 3/1/2/4
from west to east. The usage of the various curves at León has been of interest to our member for some
time, especially with regard to EGTRE Obscure Lines. At one time, following the cutting of the main line
immediately south of the old station, almost all through trains used interesting curves to reverse and
propel into the station in order to keep trains the same way round and avoid having to change locos.
However, this resulted in inflated journey times, which led to complaints from passengers travelling to and
from Oviedo. The (Vigo/A Coruña -) Monforte de Lemos - León (- Bilbao/Irun) train taken by our member
must be one of the few classic (non-Talgo) loco hauled trains in the country. It is classified IC but was an
'Arco' - possibly the last train left with that designation. Mind you, the carriages still said 'Arco' on them.
This train ran straight into León and changed locos. It seems likely that no trains now propel into the
station, removing use of a curve.
 Switzerland – Snippets from Swiss Express
The AOMC (Aigle – Ollon - Monthey – Champéry) will be closed between July and early November this year
for reconstruction. This includes conversion from Strub to Abt rack-and-pinion and from 850V to 1500V
electrification, making it the same as the Aigle – Leysin line.
Some passenger trains may run through the Gotthard base tunnel as soon as August 2016. (Official
opening ceremony June 2016, regular passenger service December 2016). The earlier passenger workings,
perhaps up to three daily, will be for test and instructional purposes. This will result in an extended station
stop at Arth-Goldau and/or Bellinzona.
The Chemin de fer Lausanne-Echallens-Bercher has submitted an application to build an underground line
to replace street-running in Lausanne. This could open by 2020. A new viaduct came into use between
Prilly and Cery-Fleur de Lys in October 2015, allowing closure of a level crossing (see BLNI1246.A103) and
another deviation to avoid a level crossing should come into use at Le Lussex next year.
SBB may abandon its policy of “guaranteeing” connections, for the same reason that most railways with
frequent services do not. It just makes more trains late. There was an experiment late last year in the
Bern/Zürich/Basel area of letting trains depart on time, even if a connecting service had not arrived.
However, any general adoption of this policy will only apply in areas where there are frequent services.
 Switzerland – Erstfeld deviation completed
Identified as imminent in BLNI1250.061, the deviation at Erstfeld on the Gotthard route was commissioned
on 29 February and all trains are now using the new alignment. So about 3.5km of new track to go for.
REST OF THE WORLD
 Australia – Overland continues
BLNI 1242.368 reported that GSR’s Overland service (Melbourne - Adelaide) would cease operating at the
end of December 2015. This did not happen and the timetable continues to run up to 30 June 2016 with, at
present, no indication that a further timetable will not be issued for beyond that date.
 Chile/Peru - Delayed International service to start in April
BLNI1235.240 reported that services between Tacna, in southern Peru, and Arica, in northern Chile were to
start again in July 2015. This was obviously delayed, but a new start date of April 2016 has been
announced. There will be two departures from Arica daily with a 48 seat railbus being used and a second
railbus scheduled to enter service later in the year. Immigration formalities will be performed on the train
and prices will be competitive with buses.
 Japan – Abina line finally closes
Seibu Railways has announced that it will formally close the Abina Line, a 3.2 km spur that breaks off from
the Seibu Shinjuku Line at Minami-Otsuka in Kawagoe City. It has been dormant since 1963. The Abina Line
was a freight line. It was one of several lines reaching out to rivers in western Tokyo for transporting gravel
scooped from their banks. Regulations against the harvesting of river gravel brought the freight operations
to a halt. The Seibu Tamagawa Line is another line originally built for this purpose. Interestingly, Seibu kept
the license for the line alive; there were plans to construct a vehicle depot with a capacity of 300 cars and
even open a new passenger station. The Seibu Shinjuku Line's major depot is adjacent to Kami-Shakujii
Station, in a developed area where expansion is difficult. That the company is cancelling this line means
that there will be no new depot and by extension, it has no plans to increase the number of runs on the
Shinjuku Line for the foreseeable future. Seibu Shinjuku Line fans let out a sigh, for this means through
service into the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line and quadrupling of tracks are not going to happen. Much of the
tracks are still there, buried under grass, and some catenary poles are still standing.
 Japan – Shinkansen line to be renovated
The aging Sanyo Shinkansen Line will undergo major renovations from 2028, the line’s operator said
Wednesday. The work on bridges, tunnels and embankments will take a decade. The line began life in
1972, with services between Shin-Osaka and Okayama stations. It was extended westward to Hakata
Station in Fukuoka Prefecture three years later. JR West have submitted the renovation plan to the
 New Zealand – Britomart Station, Auckland (see BLNI 1249.041)
One effect of the forthcoming works at Britomart Station to facilitate the extension of commuter rail
services to Mount Eden is that there is no longer room at the station for Kiwi Rail’s diesel-hauled Northern
Explorer service between Auckland and Wellington, which runs three times a week in each direction. The
final working into the station was on 20 December 2015 and, given the paucity of the service compared to
that of the commuter services, it may not have been the most operationally efficient arrangement to allow
it to occupy one of the five platforms. A friend of the correspondent in New Zealand (not a railway
enthusiast) suggested that it had been evicted because it was not normal for diesel trains to operate
‘underground’ but the station is hardly any more underground than Birmingham New Street, where diesel
trains operate quite happily. Indeed, Wikipedia suggests that Britomart ‘is one of the few underground
railway stations in the world designed for use by diesel trains’, so the more likely reason would seem to be
the extension to commuter services. The Northern Explorer now serves a station called Strand, but it’s not
the historic station by that name – rather a ‘purpose built exclusive’ platform reserved solely for the
Northern Explorer. It is, needless to say, not served by city public transport, whereas Britomart is the city’s
public transport hub. Britomart, incidentally, is not the 21st-century whizzo media-friendly name that
might be thought – rather it is the historic name for the area. Auckland commuter services are run by
French operator Transdev, who have also recently won the tender to operate local services in Wellington.
These are presently operated by Kiwi Rail who will be left to run the nation’s rail infrastructure, freight
services and just three passenger services – the Northern Explorer, the Tranz-Alpine (Christchurch to
Greymouth) and the Coastal Pacific (Christchurch to Picton).
 South Africa – The Cape Point funicular railway
The original Cape Point lighthouse dating from 1859 occupies a dramatic setting on a promontory on the
south east tip of the Cape Peninsula south of Cape Town. It was located too high and was often obscured
by clouds, and this contributed to the sinking of the Portuguese liner ‘Lusitania’ and ultimately led to a
new, lower, lighthouse being constructed in 1914. The old lighthouse was a popular tourist attraction, and
a road was constructed up to it on which a 16 seat bus, known as the Flying Dutchman, operated a service.
The name comes from the legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship, believed to sail the perilous waters of
the Cape. Increasing visitor numbers led to the bus being replaced by an electrically powered funicular
railway from December 1996. This is branded as the Flying Dutchman Funicular and is believed to be the
only commercial funicular of its type in Africa. The funicular runs between the Cape Point parking area and
the viewing point below the lighthouse and follows the line of the road used by the bus. The single track is
585 metres long, and rises 87 metres from the lower station (at 127 metres above sea level) to the upper
station (at 214 metres above sea level), with a maximum gradient of 16%. There is a passing loop partway
up. There are two cars, named "Nolleth" and "Thomas T. Tucker" after vessels that sank in the area, and
each can carry 40 passengers for a journey that lasts around 3 minutes. It runs from 09:00 until 17:00 each
day (17:30 between October and March) and a return journey costs Rand 55 (about £2.50). The Cape
Point funicular is the southernmost railway in Africa, though contrary to popular belief, neither Cape Point
or the nearby Cape of Good Hope are the southernmost point in Africa. That honour is held by Cape
Agulhas, some 150 km to the east. A visit on a weekend in late February 2016 found the funicular to be
extremely busy, with queues at each end. Our member took the funicular up, enjoyed the views and
walked back down on a glorious southern hemisphere summer day. For picture see next page.
 South Korea – Mobile phone app of railways
The Korea Rail Map is an app (available from ITunes app store and maybe others) which covers all South
Korean railways and metros. It is reasonably detailed and in English. It also seems to be accurate and up to
date as it shows the current suspension between Jeongdongjin and Gangneung.
The two cars prepare to cross in the middle of the 585 metre ascent from the Cape Point parking area to the
viewing point below the lighthouse which is clearly seen on the top right hand side of the picture. The rails
follow the route of the road formerly used by the used by Flying Dutchman bus
 USA – Mayor proposes streetcar line in New York
The Mayor of New York has proposed a new 16 mile long streetcar line linking Brooklyn and Queens. The
line would follow the banks of the East River, an area
that has seen rapid development recently, but is
isolated from the existing subway system. Areas along
the proposed route include Astoria and Long Island
City in Queens and Greenpoint, Dumbo, Red Hook and
Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
The line would have rails embedded into public
roadways, with the streetcars travelling alongside road
vehicles. Because the cars would operate on city
streets, the project is not expected to be subject to
state approval, which has prevented other rail related
developments in New York recently. The cost,
expected to be $2.5 billion, is also much less than a
subway. Administration officials believe the system’s
cost can be offset by increased tax revenue from a rise
in property values along the route. Under the plan,
construction would start in 2019, after studies and
community review; service would begin several years
after that, perhaps not until 2024. The last sections of
New York's once extensive tram network were
removed in the 1950s to accommodate private cars.
The new route is proposed to run 70% on its own
right-of-way and 30% in mixed traffic.
 USA – Washington DC streetcar opens
Services on Washington DC's DC Streetcar H/Benning
Line began on 27 February after more than a decade of planning, construction and testing. The 3.3km line
with eight stops linking Union Station and Oklahoma Avenue/Benning Road is part of a wider aspiration to
build a 59km network of light rail routes in the area but these have been hit by political and financial
problems. The line will have six trams, each able to accommodate 150 passengers. Services operate every
15 min every day except Sunday. Frequencies are expected to increase once a sixth vehicle is brought into
service. Travel is free.
RAILTOURS AND DIVERSIONS OVER NON-PASSENGER LINES
This is provided as a service to members and details must be checked with the organisers.
France - Carnoules to St. Maximin trains
Special trains are planned for the first time in several years in connection with the annual “FETE DES
TRAINS” at Brignoles. These run approx 43km on the Carnoules to Gardanne via Brignoles freight line.
23/04/16 between Brignoles and St Maximin
24/04/16 same plus a return trip from Toulon to Brignoles.
Although there is no guarantee yet that all the trains will actually run, they are taking reservations on:
March 2016 BLNI Extra No. 12 – Myanmar (Burma)
[B23] Myanmar – A brief history of the Burma Mines Railway
The Burma Mines Railway has its origins in centuries old slag tips from abandoned silver mines found when
the British took over the area in 1886. These could profitably be worked for lead, zinc and copper. The
Mandalay to Lashio line was completed in 1903 and the Burma Mines, Railway and Smelting Co Ltd was
promoted in March 1906. A 50 mile 2 foot gauge railway was built to connect the old mines to the Lashio
line at Manpwe for trans-shipment and onward travel to a smelter in Mandalay. The Tiger Camp mining
area was reached at the end of 1908 and the very difficult 5km to Bawdwin Mine in 1909. Namtu became
the railway headquarters, 38.4 miles from the Lashio line. In December 1911 a smelter came into use at
Namtu and a second 6 months later. With the ancient slag almost exhausted, fresh ore was now mined at
Bawdwin and brought to Namtu by rail. The exchange point with the main line was diverted from Manpwe
to Namyao in 1915. After the First World War, the local Burma Corporation Ltd took over operations. A
new ore crushing mill and an electrified underground line came into use at Tiger Camp in 1921 to bring ore
at deep level direct from the Bawdwin Mine to storage hoppers for gravity loading. There were passenger
stations along the Namyao to Namtu line and at Namtu, Lopah, Wallah Gorge, Tiger Camp, E.R. Valley and
Bawdwin. Further track improvements meant a reversing spur in the Wallah Gorge was replaced by a
double spiral. Battery electric locomotives were used for underground haulage, three 0-4-4-4-4-0 GEC(US)
1920 built electric locomotives hauling ore to the overhead tippler/storage silos at Tiger Camp. 1930 saw
peak traffic from the mine and investment in track and infrastructure enabled operations to remain
profitable until 1950 when the lease expired despite the damage wrought by the second world war
(including destruction of the Namtu smelter). Under local Ministry of Mines control there commenced a
slow run-down of the operations, despite the delivery of some Orenstein and Koppel diesels in the 1970s.
Steam continued in occasional use commercially until 2002 – latterly only Bagnall-built 2-6-2 no. 42 which
was used for shunting at Namyao and possibly Kerr Stuart "Huxley" class 0-4-2T no. 13 at Namtu. By the
new century coal for the smelters was brought by road from China and most of the finished product also
left Namtu by road, the line south to Namyao seeing only occasional traffic, and eventually closing
altogether. In the final days ore from Bawdwin and Tiger Camp was shipped to the Namtu smelter by rail
and this section saw quite heavy use with three return trains per day.
The Burma Mines Railway was privatized in 2009 and taken over by a new owner in early 2010. Now the
railway is looking forward to a very uncertain fate. A Myanmar Government website advises that ‘the
Organization formerly known as No.(3) Mining Enterprise was terminated as of 31st, March,2015 and the
establishment, including the services, duties and functions, responsibilities, financial authorities and
employees were placed under the administration of No.(1) Mining Enterprise as of 1st, April, 2015.’
[B24] Myanmar – Account of a pioneering visit in 1999
One of the people on the PTG Rail and Scenic Wonders of Burma tour of November 2015 was visiting
Namtu and the Burma Mines Railway for the second time.
His first visit was in 1999 at a time when Namtu really was an unexplored frontier for Westerners and was
written up in semi-note form. The report presented here is in expanded form to aid readability, but In a
departure from the normal BLN practice the original narrative has been retained. Photography in that era
was of poorer quality than now, but some pictures when scanned show fascinating differences, as well as
similarities, with pictures taken today. Now read on:
Our expedition to the Burma Mines Railway was at the invitation of Bill Alborough, who was the founder
and leading light of TEFS, one of the pioneers of overseas enthusiast rail tours. Bill's organisation was the
first rail tour group to visit China and then later North Vietnam, and having done previous tours to Burma,
Bill had heard of the existence of the Burma Mines Railway in an area normally out of bounds to
foreigners. After much preparatory work, Bill invited three of his regular tour participants to join him on a
"recce" visit in April 1999. Visiting Burma was far less straightforward than it is today; there were far less
flights, tourist visas were restricted to seven days and visitors were subject to much surveillance, overt and
covert. My mobile phone was put into quarantine on entry to Rangoon airport, to be collected (in my case
with much difficulty) on departure. On the 1999 visit we had a military escort of six armed soldiers from
leaving Lashio until returning there four days later.
Sunday 18th April
We arrived at Lashio at 14:00 and went straight to the Lashio motel for a beer. Little do we know what is
in store for us for the rest of the day! We leave for the nearby North East Command military depot to
collect our escort for the next part of the journey, only to be told ‘the military escort will not be here for at
least 1 hour still’, so we decide to leave without them. Back into town to get various papers photocopied,
back to N.E. command for more rubber stamping and finally we are off to Namtu at 15:45. The road at
first is paved but in the outskirts of Lashio it rapidly becomes only a dirt surface. Progress becomes slower,
potholes become larger and in places it is barely wide enough for our coach. In fact we only just make it
over a sleeper bridge where some locals quickly vanish into the scrub. On the entire journey of 42 miles
we meet only one army lorry with jeep escort and a WW2 farm lorry conversion.
Our first glimpse of the narrow gauge railway is at Nahsy. It becomes dark about 18:45 and still with 20
miles to go! Directions are confirmed and on we go with the driver’s assistant checking the depth of
water filled pot holes by the light of the headlights. Eventually, just after 20:00, the lights of Namtu
appear, we go down a long hill and more directions are sought before we wind our way up to ‘Government
Guest House No.1’. The drive is lit and upon alighting we are greeted by the guest house staff, assistant
general manager and head of mine railway U Ne Myo. We had been expected at 16:00. Shoes are
removed at the door, and a reception is waiting for us before we are shown to our rooms. There are only
four of these, each with original Shanks plumbing and mosquito nets. The building is a superb original
colonial style guest house. After drinks dinner is served and it is a typical English menu – soup, roast
chicken, potatoes etc. We are apparently the first visitors from the outside world since 1950! Finally to
bed at 23:00, still unaware what the next two days have in store for us.
Monday 19th April
We are awake at 05:00 to jungle sounds outside, and breakfast at 06:00 with porridge, eggs etc. - all very
British in their way. After breakfast we begin to realise the splendour of the entire place and its fine
colonial style guest house dating from the Edwardian era and little changed since. This is the beginning of
what becomes probably our greatest day of rail travel and adventure ever. As we leave the guest house at
07:00, the smelting plant hooter can be heard in the valley below and we head for the station depot. Our
coach descends to lower levels, crosses the river and we enter the station yard which has market stalls
scattered around. Tea is taken with the General Manager.
The locomotive and carriage display in 1999 (left) and a rather more tired display in 2015 (right)
A little distance away stands a specially painted carriage complete with curtains and wooden chairs.
Hauling it is veteran British built steam loco no.13, built by Kerr Stuart in 1914, with brass numbers and
lettering gleaming in the early morning sunlight. We are taken to the repair shop where some of the diesel
fleet is undergoing maintenance. Unbelievably in the back of this large shed are the remains of some 20
steam locos in totally dismantled form, and all have been numbered with their former identification for us.
Later we are told that eventually it is hoped to sell the boilers for agricultural use for soil sterilization etc.
After this we view the line of four ‘preserved’ locos and a carriage on their own fenced off length of track -
again specially set up for us (see pictures on previous page). Virtually the entire staff and other locals have
assembled to watch the proceedings. By now our armed guard of six soldiers who will be ‘looking after us’
for the two days, have arrived. Everybody is very friendly. Along with U Ne Myo, other railway officials,
soldiers and extra train crew, we depart Namtu yard for Tiger Camp and Bawdwin. It is the first time a
steam loco has traversed this section for 20 years. At first we follow the main river up a valley, gradually
climbing before turning into another valley, still beside water. The engine is not in the best of health and
struggles somewhat, but gradual progress is made. After several stops for photographs, the scenery
becomes more spectacular but a more serious mechanical defect is becoming apparent. The eccentric
strap has broken. The train limps on but eventually gives in. Unknown to us a diesel local is ‘shadowing’
our train with water tanks and our picnic lunch, so this is used to push us to nearby Lopah station.
Immediately the diesel is dispatched back to Namtu to pick up a spare strap. While we wait the fire is un-
clinkered so we take each others photos on boulders in mid-stream of the adjacent river. Water is taken on
via the tanks specially constructed for the day and the diesel engine and pump from the Namtu fire engine
has been requisitioned. After about an hour back comes a Wickham rail bus with the spare strap, which is
quickly fitted and off we go again. After about half an hour we stop and are told of a photographic vantage
point, so we walk ahead led by our military escort and round the bend we are in sight of Tiger Camp.
Between us and Tiger Camp is the most spectacular piece of railway civil engineering I have ever seen, a
double internal spiral with river running through the centre. From a vantage point high above we watch
and film our train making its way up the spiral and on into the yard at Tiger Camp.
A short walk to Tiger Camp and it’s time for lunch. On higher ground a large crowd of school children have
gathered. A wave from us and the entire mass erupts into cheering. Lunch is served in a nearby hut. It had
been sent to Bawdwin, but as we are running late (it was now 13:30) it was brought back to Tiger Camp for
us and comprised chicken, rice and soft drinks. After lunch it is back on the train for the last section of 4
miles to Bawdwin and Marmion Shaft. Soon we are climbing an incredible 1 in 25 and after two reversals
we skirt the edge of the mountains between the two places. Finally we descend to Bawdwin, passing
miners huts and the market place. On arrival official photographs of the group are taken and we are
greeted by the head of the mine and his deputy. A decrepit old Land Rover takes us to Marmion Shaft. This
is the main shaft of the mine with the winding house, which we are shown around and are amazed to see
1935 English Electric equipment! Much to our surprise we are offered the chance to go underground which
we eagerly accept. A couple of safety helmets are eventually found and down we go, first to level six
where at this level the electric railway runs the 2 miles almost level journey to Tiger Camp. Then we
descend to level 10 and here (about 1200 feet down) are the electric pumps. It is very hot and wet at this
level, so we get back in the lift cage and send a message to the surface by morse code. The instruction is
received and we soon ascend to the surface. From the pit head we are taken by Land Rover and then mine
lorry to see the nearby open cast site, a huge area gouged out of the mountainside. Steadily we climb to
the very top. It is a fantastic scene. Dusk is approaching and many colours spread across the mountain
sides. The mine and Bawdwin below are distant specks. We descend to find our train waiting. Bill has gone
on ahead in daylight in a railcar to look at possible photographic locations for later visits he hopes to make.
The light is failing rapidly as we depart from Bawdwin and everybody waves and cheers the train as it
threads its way through the township. A short climb to the summit and it’s downhill all the way back. The
locomotive headlight picks out the sharp curves of the descent, we run through Tiger Camp non-stop,
round the spiral and on towards Namtu. In the fresh night air we see fireflies and after one and a half
hours we safely reach Namtu, much to the relief of U Ne Myo who had made great personal efforts
towards the success of the day. Back to No.1 Guest House for drinks and dinner with everybody. We have
had the most fantastic day. To bed at 22:30.
Tuesday 20th April
Up at 06:00 for breakfast at 07:00. All the jungle sounds are outside again. We walk around the grounds in
the early morning light. In some respects we are in one of the remotest places one can get. We take a
short journey to the railway yard and then a grand tour of the smelter and metallurgy complex. A most
interesting tour and although much of the plant was shut down for maintenance, parts were working low-
key for us. More loco boiler remains were seen here.
The internal railway system in the smelter was very extensive. The small wagons were pushed by two
An interesting wagon design allowed easy loading. The smelter was (and still is) a vast complex of
At 09:15 it was back to our special carriage this time hauled by a Bawdwin-Hino lorry conversion. The lorry
has many locals on board who have been patiently waiting for the past 2 hours or more! We climb out of
Namtu slowly and pass the remains of a Japanese P.O.W. camp, an eerie derelict site of sprawling concrete
remains. Onwards through thick scrub - still climbing. Two derailments are quickly dealt with, then a stop
is made at Nahsy where we had had our first glimpse of the narrow gauge system. There is beer and a
glutinous rice stick for lunch. And so onto the last stretch to Namyao where we arrive at 14:15. A steam
loco is here under the coaling stage. This is Bagnall no.14 and it has been cleaned specially for us. Although
in poor condition it is used for occasional yard shunting. After a quick look at the interchange facilities we
start our walk to the main line, which includes a high level crossing of the Namyao river on loose planks
laid between the track. Soon the station is reached. The news here is not good. A derailment the previous
day resulted in our 15:32 train to Lashio being cancelled. The ‘up’ express is due about 18:00 but may well
be late. Contact is made with Lashio station by morse telegraph and by good fortune our coach and drivers
were waiting there and agreed to drive to the nearest road point, a village some 45 minutes walk down the
line. This option was agreed, I buy a selection of tickets and off we go with our military escort and railway
officials from the line. It is hot and the track winds its way through jungle scrub. Shortly before the village
we arrive at the location of the previous day’s derailment. The track side is covered with litter thrown from
the train while its luckless occupants awaited re-railing. After almost exactly 45 minutes we reach the
village and are greeted by our coach crew. At this location is the Shankhai Hindu temple with a large pool
outside full of very large fish, and here we are told of the folklore concerning the temple and the railway.
The ill fated train the previous day had not acknowledged the Gods when passing and within 400 metres
was derailed! Here we say our farewells to all those who had looked after us so well during our visit to
Namtu and we depart on our coach for Lashio arriving about 17:20. We take an hours walk about the town
which is very different from other places we had seen, being mostly modern and concrete with all forms
of consumer goods on offer, and a more prosperous feel. After a Chinese dinner at the hotel we go to bed
[B25] Myanmar – A visit to the Burma Mines Railway
Even in 2015 Namtu was not an easy place to get to. The PTG Rail and Scenic Wonders of Burma group
flew from Yangon to Lashio, then travelled by coach to Namtu, pausing in the town to drop-off the
paperwork to enter a restricted area. This had to be obtained months before. The Namtu Guesthouse
Number 1 was the mining company’s guesthouse and is a huge wooden building with dormitory
accommodation. The location is wonderful and there are views to the Burma Mines Smelter in the valley
below. Today enthusiast groups visit Namtu for the Burma Mines Railway, still just about functional, which
runs through spectacular scenery with steam haulage. The following morning the coach transferred the
group to the shed and workshops at Namtu. This is a graveyard of steam and diesel locomotives in varying
stages of dilapidation where the hulks of 14 and 16 (Kerr Stuart “Tattoo” class) and 34 and 40 (Kerr Stuart
Huxley class) are located. There are three working locomotives: steam loco No. 13 (0-4-2T, Kerr Stuart
“Huxley” class, 2383/built 1914), and Orenstein and Koppel diesel shunters DC303 and DC205.
No. 13 has derailed coming off the shed at Namtu.
No 13 was coming off the shed as the group arrived, and no sooner had they walked to the locomotive
than it derailed!
Using the most basic equipment the loco was re-railed, reversed
at the points, and promptly derailed again. Meanwhile DC303
picked up some open wagons and positioned them near the stock,
which comprised two locally built wooden carriages on one side of
the triangle. When No. 13 finally made it onto the carriages, the
diesel backed the wagons onto the engine, the group got on, and
the charter set off for Tiger Camp. An interesting sanding method
is adopted to ensure adhesion on the steep gradients to come.
Sand is piled on the front buffer plates of the locomotives and two
men sat above the buffers throwing it onto the track ahead.
The Namtu river is followed for 2km (taking care to avoid hitting a
recent small landslide which had been largely removed), after
which the line set off up the side valley of the Wallah River. From
Namtu to Lopah is a ruling gradient of 1 in 40, from Lopah to
Wallah Gorge is 1 in 27 and from Wallah Gorge to Bawdwin 1 in
25. Namtu is at 1765 metres A.S.L. and Marmion shaft at Bawdwin
is 3262 metres A.S.L. Track condition is poor and sitting down is
advised as the carriages move around a lot despite the low speed. The line climbs continuously towards
Tiger Camp and is never far from the river which it crosses several times. Two runpasts were organised,
with the diesel and wagons being uncoupled and setting off up the line so the steam engine could perform
the run past with the coaches. At several points local people joined the train, boarding the wagons at the
front (see picture above). Passenger transport on the line has always been free, and the tradition
continues to this day, though services may be months apart! On the line travelled today there were
stations at Lopah, Wallah Gorge, Tiger Camp, E.R. Valley and Bawdwin. The train stopped at Lopah while
some maintenance (pouring water into the radiator of the diesel!) was undertaken. The wooden station
building survives in good condition, and a sign warns that travelling on the railway is at your own risk, in
four different languages.
The train stopped just beyond Lopah station for the diesel to take on water. The disclaimer notice at
Lopah is in Burmese, Shan, Hindi and English. Many Indian workers were involved in the construction of
The Wallah Gorge spirals in 2009 from a high vantage point. Photo courtesy of Bernd Seiler.
After another 3.5km the next major feature of the railway is
the Wallah Gorge spirals. These replaced a zig zag and are an
amazing sight, comprising a spiral within a spiral with a river
running through the middle. The line passes through 540
degrees to pass a small pagoda on the hillside and reach the
lower part of Tiger Camp. The loader here is a vast structure
of wood and corrugated iron.
People are still living in the area adjacent to the yard and
there is a welfare club amongst many other offices and
structures associated with the mine. In one of these the
group had lunch while the train was shunted around and
reformed. Although there was no time to go and see it,
above the loader the electrified line ends in a loop with two
tipplers alongside the staithes.
Onward travel was to be in a single coach behind lorry railcar
NBTRE 1, a road to rail conversion of a Hino truck dating
from 2008. It is only 600 metres, all uphill, to Tiger Camp
tunnel where the electrified underground railway from the
Bawdwin mine emerges en-route to the loader.
A roaring Tiger’s head is over the tunnel mouth, which is
now blocked off by a grid. It is necessary to reverse here to
travel up the increasingly narrow heavily wooded valley.
Lorry Railcar MBTRE 1 and one coach are at the reversing point at Tiger Camp tunnel. To the right the
electrified railway emerges out of the Tiger tunnel from the Bawdwin mine.
The bridge has been completely washed away near the E.R. Valley loading point, leaving only the rails
dangling precariously over the river.
The Lorry Railcar propelled the coach for 1.5km before reaching another reversing point, and resuming
forward progress along the valley side. The train was now heading south, then swung westwards. After
2.2km it stopped, and it was apparent that the train was not going any further, as a massive flood some
years earlier had washed away the bridge, leaving only the two rails spanning the river.
A path led steeply down to a bridge over the river from where a sharp climb allowed the tracks on the
other side of the bridge to be reached. There was no sign of the other Lorry Railcar which had been
promised to take the group to Bawdwin (another 5km) - mechanical problem apparently - so a short walk
through a cutting to a steep descent to a meadow and rough road where an ancient lorry was waiting. This
had to be bump started before it could carry the group to Bawdwin Mine, passing through Bawdwin village
with the attractive old mine headquarters building.
The winding house is still operational and the ancient winding gear (British built and dating from 1935) was
demonstrated, though travelling down the shaft was expressly prohibited.
Level 6 is the level for the tunnel to Tiger Camp and it would have been amazing to return to Tiger Camp
on the underground railway. The vast opencast mine at Bawdwin was viewed from high above the valley
floor, and is still in use, ore being taken out by road to China. The lorry and then a walk was necessary to
return to Tiger Camp tunnel where DC303 on one coach was waiting to take the group to Tiger Camp.
Here, after much shunting, No 13 took the two coaches and some happy people back to Namtu, largely in
the dark, the journey being made more exciting by the loco not using its headlamp most of the time!
The next day saw a short excursion to the Namtu Smelter, referred to in some literature as the Old
Japanese Mill. DC205 with a single wagon was piloting No 13 with its two coaches. It wasn’t long before
DC205 derailed, creating an ad-hoc photo opportunity while the loco was rerailed. Once the train was on
the go again, the line curved round and rose to reach the wasteland above the present smelter. Apparently
this was the site of the original smelter which was destroyed during the Second World War. There are
views across the smelter, town and hills beyond. The diesel and wagon were detached and ran into a short
headshunt, and No. 13 continued on some very dodgy track with several reversals to reach the furthest
point on the line.
Curving round to approach the smelter and the end of the line for the PTG Namtu Charter
A quick shunt back, and the group detrained to walk through the smelter, now mothballed in case a new
owner wants some amazingly antique machinery, and guarded in case other, more nefarious, people want
it. The smelter had its own internal narrow gauge railway with small wagons pushed mainly by women if
the guide was to be believed. The huge, largely deserted and decaying site had its own industrial grandeur.
Exiting the main gate, the entrance to the shed at Namtu was only a few metres away, and after a farewell
group photograph, the tour of the Namtu railway ended.
The railway really is on its last legs. Track condition is awful, only three operational locomotives and only
one driver for the steam loco. Occasional visits by western rail tour groups keep the railway alive. One
German company donates money to keep steam operational. Visiting as soon as possible is strongly
recommended, but remember this can only be done with an organised group as Namtu is in a restricted
[B26] Myanmar - Special train runs over the Lashio to Mandalay railway
The PTG Rail and Scenic Wonders of Burma tour of November 2015 had its own privately chartered train to
travel, over the course of two days, between Lashio and Mandalay. This is the Northern Shan State Railway
and, like all of Myanmar Railways lines, is metre gauge. Lashio is the terminus and easternmost point of
the railway, passenger trains normally taking 11 hours to reach here from Mandalay on a good day. They
are usually much later. There is a proposal to extend the railway east from Lashio to the Yunnan (China)
border at Muse as dual gauge, and to connect to the Chinese railway system. The group stayed the night in
Lashio after transferring from Namtu where they had enjoyed travelling the remaining parts of the Namtu
Mines Railway. Two people opted for an evening taxi ride from the centre to the station, which is almost
three miles away. At the station they found the loco and single coach train over the inspection pit, and
were quickly intercepted by railway staff who were delighted to see them and fascinated by the concept of
hiring a train for private use. The following morning a coach transfer to the station ready for the 07:00
departure was made, the actual departure being delayed while the groups local guide wandered off to buy
fresh fruit for later in the day! Pretty much everyone at the station turned out to observe the strange
westerners. 2000 horse power Chinese built loco DF2050 was never going to have any difficulty with the
train which comprised one Upper Class carriage and a small PW carriage complete with track maintenance
gang and equipment.
The PTG charter awaits departure from Lashio station. Lashio is the end of the branch line from
Mandalay and is served by one train pair each day.
Speculation that this was in case of derailment was finally put to rest when they got off at an intermediate
station: they were simply hitching a lift! The Upper Class carriage had extremely comfortable seats, which
aligned with the windows, a practice becoming uncommon in Europe. Everyone had a window seat. There
was no glass in the windows, only a metal blind that could be pulled down if required. They never were. An
Asian style squat toilet at each end of the coach was adequate – the female members of the group having
been pre-warned that facilities would not be western style. The westbound service train had departed at
05:30, so was well out of the way by now, which meant that until Gokteik the PTG train had the single
track line to itself. Since there was a senior manager of the railway, (as well as several other railway staff
and several military police) on board, there was opportunity to have photostops and runpasts on request.
In fact, when discussing the tour with the Myanmar company who had organised it on PTG’s behalf, it had
been found that Myanmar Railways had only supplied departure times each day. The logic being that since
it was a private train, able to do whatever the passengers wanted (within reason), there was no point
trying to give an arrival time at the day’s destination! Nevertheless the group was aware that this would be
a long day, despite travelling to Pyin Oo Lwin rather than Mandalay.
After initial excitement at an attractive series of temples on the left, the journey quickly settled down to a
passage through a mosaic of fields and upland rainforest with views of distant hills. At 547.75 the 2 foot
gauge line from the mines at Namtu trailed in just before the station of Nam-yau. The line was very
obviously disused – not unexpected since the Namtu smelter closed a few years ago. About 5 miles later
was the little station of Man Pwe. This was until 1914 the site of the original junction for the line to Namtu.
Note that Myanmar still uses imperial measurements.
Friendly locals, many of hill tribes, waved as the train passed, clearly bemused by what they saw, and the
most common sight encountered was a local photographing the train on their mobile phone camera. A
photo-stop at an attractive river bridge showed that the train crew were going to be doing the same! The
concept of a run-past having been explained, the senior manager promptly organised one. Cab rides were
refused – apparently there were quite a lot of people in the cab already – but this was relaxed later in the
day. The presence of the military police was never really explained, but they helped out with hacking the
vegetation away at some photo-stops. The railway line is not within the restricted area of Shan State
(which Namtu is) so extra security seemed superfluous. The train was following a river and increasingly
passing through rain forest, with only occasional villages and small stations. At mile 537 (from Yangon ) the
train was stopped so the group could photograph the very fine Man Sam Waterfalls on the far side of the
valley, then 90 minutes later, another bridge at Chaung Sone. One glance revealed why the group was
forbidden from walking over! Definitely not safe. Nevertheless another runpast was organised. Now the
journey was through dense forest until Hsipaw (mile 509.5) was approached. What few mile posts were
observed were all in Burmese script, so were useless for recording purposes. Hsipaw is a major stop on the
line on account of it being a centre for trekking into Hill Tribe territory and therefore popular with western
visitors, few of whom venture further on the line after a long day travelling from Mandalay. There are
sidings here, but generally not a ‘big station’ feeling. Beyond Hsipaw the scenery changes, with flat terrain
supporting extensive cultivation, particularly of dry rice (i.e. not grown in paddy fields). 20 minutes out of
Hsipaw a rail connected factory (or possibly military building) was present on the left. The connection
showed signs of use. A large and impressive Buddhist temple quickly followed, then a small station where
DF2060 was present on a short freight. For a time the train followed an escarpment on the right,
eventually arriving at the second major centre of the line at Nyaukme. This was where we would cross
train 132 Up, and it was only a few minutes before it appeared with DF2047 in charge. This train spends
about 15 minutes in the station which allows passengers (including many western backpackers) to get off
and purchase food and drink. It’s a busy scene, and one the tour passengers were able to enjoy as they
knew their train wasn’t leaving until the other train had gone. In fact the group spent 30 minutes at
Nyaukme, departing at 13:59. A steady climb up the side of the valley soon ensued with fine views off to
the right, then a steady ride across a sparsely populated plateau. By 15:15 the train started to descend the
loops on the north side of the valley of the Gohtwin River , catching glimpses of the Gokteik Viaduct
below. Short tunnels, one guarded by a little golden stupa reached by steps before the tunnel, give access
to the viaduct. The maximum gradient on the approach and ascent from the viaduct is 1 in 40 ( the Lickey
incline is 1 in 37 for comparison). Until one looks at the map it is difficult to appreciate how winding the
descent and ascent actually are.
The largest railway trestle in the world upon its completion, the Gokteik Viaduct was part of the Northern
Shan State Railway which was constructed as a way for the British Empire to expand their influence in the
region. The viaduct was designed and fabricated by the Pennsylvania Steel Company in the USA and
shipped to Burma where construction was overseen by Sir Arthur Rendel, engineer for the Burma Railroad
Company. Stretching 689 metres from end to end, the viaduct has 14 towers each spanning 12 metres,
along with a double tower 24 metres long. These 15 towers support 10 deck truss spans of 37 metres along
with six plate girder spans 18 metres long and an approach span of 12 metres. The true height of the
bridge as measured from the rail deck to the ground on the downstream side of the tallest tower is 102
metres. Construction began 28 April 1899 and the official opening was on 01 January 1900. Gokteik also
had the tallest bridge piers in the world at the time of its completion at 97.5 meters. The current record is
held by France's Millau Viaduct. For many years Burmese soldiers were stationed on the train as well as on
top of and underneath the bridge to prevent any potential attacks, though none were observed at the time
of the charters passage. The bridge’s military value was further underlined when an 'emergency route' to
the valley floor featuring spectacular horseshoe curves was built from 1976 - 1978, to keep trains running
even if the Goteik viaduct was sabotaged. The route was limited to 140 tonne trains and never saw any
real use, despite monthly test runs until about 1987 to keep it clear. The connecting pointwork was
removed in the early 1990s but later reinstated to allow special trains to run to prevent the route
becoming overgrown. Since 2002 nature has taken over. The bridge was mentioned in Paul Theroux's
acclaimed travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar. He described the viaduct as "a monster of silver geometry
in all the ragged rock and jungle, its presence was bizarre". Today Burmese youth taking ‘selfies’ man the
approach towers, but the view from the viaduct remains as impressive as ever – a steep sided gorge,
heavily forested with waterfalls in the river below, and part of the original elevated construction line
visible as it is supported on piers which discourage encroaching vegetation.
Approaching the Gokteik viaduct. The location is popular with Burmese youth taking ‘selfies’ despite the
danger. Hundreds of people walk over the bridge every day.
The charter stopped at the end of the bridge for photographs and a run past (when was the last time a
runpast occurred on the Gokteik Viaduct?), then continued to Gokteik station where another photostop
was made affording a wider panorama. The afternoon light was just right. Further loops allow ascent of
the other side of the valley and soon dusk began to fall. Two hours of travelling remained, much of it in
the dark, before the city of Pyin Oo Lwin was reached. This former British Hill Station (then known as
Maymyo) was to be the tours overnight stay.
A mornings sightseeing of the old Colonial Buildings by horse and buggy, culminating in a visit to the
wonderful Botanical Gardens was the prelude to the resumption of the journey to Mandalay. Although
nominally at 11:00, the charter actually left at 11:15 and soon wide views over the plateau were enjoyed
on the right. After 75 minutes the trains progress slowed and stops were made by points. This, it was
explained to us, was due to the steep gradients ahead. Brakes were checked to make sure they were
functioning correctly, and only then were the points set away from the runaway siding to the main line so
the train could progress. Slowly but securely seemed to be the way. Two and a half hours after departing
Pyin Oo Lwin the train had passed through two short tunnels to approach the first of the switchbacks at
Reversing Station 4. This section of the line is referred to in some texts as the Zigzag Railway.
This is pretty much directly above a tunnel leading to Reversing Station 2. After a quick discussion a
photostop and runpast was organised before continuing with the locomotive propelling down a 1 in 25
gradient to Reversing Station 2. From here the line curved round the head of a defile and was clearly
visible on the far side where it went into a tunnel to go round a great snout of rock. The view, with the
Irrawaddy plain far below, was quite magnificent. With the locomotive leading again the train proceeded
around the defile and snout to descend steeply to Reversing Station 2. More propelling for a considerable
distance, to Reversing Station 1, where the loco worked forward again for the final part of the descent to
the Irrawaddy Plain from where the line curves west towards Mandalay. The station closest to the base of
the incline is Sedaw, where a pause was made to collect paperwork before continuing. Mandalay is a city
of 6 million people and covers a considerable area, so the outskirts are entered long before arrival at the
station. The ‘circular railway’ trailed in from the north, but enquiries revealed that it had no passenger
service now and the remaining part saw only occasional freight traffic. Soon the junction with the mainline
from Yangon was reached and the line, now double track, soon entered Mandalay Station. There was no
time for exploration – sunset from Mandalay Hill was next, and the coach was waiting!
[B27] Myanmar - The Mandalay to Bagan railway
Today’s journey was to be a pleasant if unspectacular journey in the lowlands close to the Ayeyerwaddy
(Irrawaddy) river. Setting off from the bay platform at Mandalay at 07:00 the train comprised an Upper
class carriage for the tour passengers, and an Ordinary class carriage for railway staff and assorted
hangers-on. The locomotive was DD1214, built by Krupp and delivered in 1983. A single cab hood loco, this
engine is normally used on freights. Mandalay loco depot was immediately passed on the left and after 7.5
miles Myo Huang station, where the Lashio line travelled two days before diverged left. Myitnge station
had sidings that were a stock graveyard, then there was a bridge over a tributary of the Irrawaddy and
soon the train was on four track, with the Bagan lines diverging right after Paleik station, and quickly
becoming single track. The first photo stop was the nice little station of Tada U, which was by far the most
attractive on the line. A branch 11.8 miles long, built in 1994 went south from just after the station to
Mandalay International Airport, but no sign of it could be seen and google earth shows it to be lifted.
Numerous little stations passed by at the usual sedate Burmese Railways pace and the next stop was
Suphyugone (also spelt Su Hpyu Kone) where train 117 Up was crossed. This is the 04:00 departure from
Nyaung U (the station for Bagan) and is a mixed train conveying Ordinary class carriages, a couple of goods
vans for assorted items and a single Upper class carriage, the whole lot hauled by DD1202. With this out of
the way the train progressed a further 5 miles to Wetlu, where the Express DMU which is train 119 Up was
waiting for our arrival. This leaves Nyaung U at 07:00 and overtakes train 117 Up at Paleik. Not surprisingly
this air conditioned train is used by tourists travelling from Bagan to Mandalay. With nothing else on the
line ahead, the tour train resumed its journey, through a more open landscape dominated by scattered
Palm trees. At 12:45 the train arrived at Mying Yan, the major town of the line with a large, airy, station
building and the opportunity to visit a little market nearby as the train would be here for 30 minutes. A
local train had arrived from Thazi, and the loco was shunting the carriages a little way up the line. The 56
mile railway between Mying Yan and Nyaung U was not actually opened until 1996. The junction with the
Thazi line is a mile south of the station at Sar Khar, and shortly after this an absolutely enormous silk
factory was observed away to the left. Fifteen minutes later the train stopped at the beginning of a
combined road rail bridge at Sin Thay Kan. Those who wished could walk over the bridge to a viewpoint
offering good photographs of the train as it travelled slowly over the bridge. There was no water below
(that only arrives in the wet season), but a sandy wasteland patrolled by herds of cattle. The next
excitement was over an hour later when the largest bridge in Myanmar was observed in the distance. This
is the Pakokku bridge and it is 3.4km long, carrying both a major road and a railway line 6.17km long,
which linked the railway systems on the east and west bank of the Irrawadday. It was inaugurated on 31
The actual junction for the line over the new bridge trails in on the right before Pu Lin station, and from
here it was not long before the train arrived at Nyaung U station. A privately owned steam engine and
carriages were stabled here, having worked a charter train the previous day from Yangon. Nyaung U is a
twenty minute ride by coach from the tourist areas of new Bagan. The days journey had been 123 miles.
[B28] Myanmar – The Southern Shan States Railway
Widely rated as the most scenic railway line in Myanmar, the Southern Shan States Railway opened on 2
May 1921 from the small town of Thazi, on the Yangon to Mandalay main line, eastwards to Schwe
Nyaung, a distance of 98 miles. The PTG tour of Burma in November 2015 travelled the line by private
train. Arrival in Thazi the previous day was at dusk, and several participants made their way from the
Wonderful Guest house (yes, it really is called that) to the railway station, about ten minutes brisk walk
away. A northbound express was just leaving with an ex-Indian Railways YDM4 locomotive in charge. A
loco was shunting two carriages and a brake van into a siding, and this looked suspiciously like the tour
train. One of the group set off over the tracks to investigate and was quickly intercepted by a young man
who enquired in good English if he could help? This turned out to be the Depot Engineer, who confirmed
that this was indeed the tour train, freshly arrived from Mandalay. He quickly agreed to a depot visit, the
depot being ten minutes away. A small tank engine was plinthed near the depot entrance. ‘There’s another
one over there’, the Depot Engineer told the group. Walking closer and peering through the gloom one
group member was heard to mutter to himself ‘it’s only a f*****n Garrett!’. The shed sported an
assortment of diesel locomotives and another steam engine (No. 769, for those interested) at the back.
Also present was a breakdown crane built by Cowans Sheldon of Carlisle in 1943, which sent one group
member into raptures as he was a member of the Breakdown Crane Association (www.bdca.org.uk/)! The
Depot Engineer was well aware of the PTG group and what they had done this far – it seemed everyone on
the railway was following the groups progress!
Departure the following morning was at 06:43 rather than the scheduled 06:30 as the group’s luggage had
to be loaded on board. Motive power was another 2000 hp three bogie diesel built in China. Sadly for the
group leader, it was DF2010 – the only one he’d had previously! Maps persist in showing two routes into
Thazi from the west, a northerly route and a southerly route. In fact the southerly route is out of use and
was observed to be disconnected as the tour train went past before branching east and starting the slow
journey to Schwe Nyaung. The initial part of the journey is flat and relatively straight, so the train rattled
along at a good pace (by Burmese standards). After 13 miles a line trailed in from the south. Maps show
this as originating on the Yangon – Mandalay line south of Thazi, allowing trains to/from Yangon to avoid
calling at Thazi. However information from the internet describes it as a ‘quarry line’, and Google Earth
shows the quarry quite clearly. Whatever, it was very obviously in use. The tour train included a light blue
brake van in the consist, and this soon sported three chairs on the back platform, with participants taking
turns to enjoy the sunshine and open views.
The line takes a sizeable deviation north to get round some high ground and from this point onwards, the
speed slowed considerably to about 10-12 mph. Eastward progress was resumed about 08:30 when the
town of Yin Ma Bin was passed, with a short stop to exchange paperwork. All the station staff were in their
best clothes and saluted as the train went by. Possibly something to do with the Area Manager being on
board the train? Half an hour later the train passed though Pyin Nyaung and crossed a sizeable river by a
bridge which provided an admirable photostop. A large cement works quickly followed – not rail
connected. The railway heads south now, initially following the river then diverging away and starting to
climb through dense forest up the side of the escarpment which runs north-south, passing through the hill
tribe villages of Yeebu and Lebyin, where the train paused for ten minutes while the train staff had a good
natter with the station staff. Twenty minutes later there were long rows of little houses (perhaps shacks
would be a better description) in the valley below, and it transpired that these provided accommodation
for workers in a gold mine. Soon the train slowed and entered the reversing point for the first zigzag. This
was prominently labelled Zit Zat Reverse (a) and the area around the tracks was occupied by wooden
houses with tin roofs, the occupants swarming out to admire the train and sell the occupants refreshments
and other, less identifiable, goods. After a few minutes the locomotive propelled up the steep gradient (1
in 25 apparently, the same as the gradient of the zigzags on the Northern Shan State Railway), to another
reversal point in the forest. There was a elevated lever frame to control the junction, apparently made by
McKenzie and Holland of Worcester, England. This provided an opportunity for another photo stop.
Presumably the junction is Zit Zat Reverse (b). Continuing through forest for another four miles, the train
reached Khway Yok, another linear settlement which has grown up alongside the railway at a reversing
point. The spelling of station names is not consistent, probably due to the difficulties of transliteration
from the Burmese characters. There are also references to Khway Yok being spelt Khwe Yok. However it is
spelt, the station claims to be at a height of 3,031 feet A.S.L. Reversal here starts the ascent of a much
longer zig zag than at the Zit Zat Reverse, and by the time the top is reached the height above sea level has
increased to 3,237 feet. Despite the major town of Kalaw being to the east, the train heads relentlessly
south before reaching Hsin Taung station. Just south of here the railway curves through 180 degrees,
rising all the time, so it is possible to walk up a steep path from the station to reach a viewpoint on the
railway lnie above the town and observe the departure of the train from the station and photograph its
arrival a few minutes later. Another photostop was made a few miles later at the mouth of a tunnel, above
which an inscription commemorated the year of the tunnel opening. This was January 1913.
At 12:30 another sign, this one wooden, proclaimed that the summit had been reached at 4,608 feet A.S.L.
The train was now on the plateau and before long reached Myindaik. Loco DF2014 was already present
with the Yangon train, and the station was the scene of considerable activity, so it was 20 minutes before
the two trains managed to depart. From here it was only 8 miles to Kalaw, where twenty rice and chicken
lunches had been ordered, and these were delivered to the train neatly wrapped and still hot. The station
building has a mock Tudor look to it. Kalaw was a popular Hill Station in the British colonial era and today is
a centre for trekking into Hill Tribe territory. At 4,297 feet A.S.L. it gets cold at night – the hotels light log
fires for their customers! The scenery had now changed considerably, with expansive views and limestone
crags in places. The next major town is Aung Ban (also spelt Aungpan) with its vast echoing station
building. This is the junction for the line south to Loikaw. The branch opened in 1992 and is either 102 or
104 miles long (sources differ) with a single train pair each day. The next hour was spent travelling over
the plateau through an open landscape of conifers, fields of yellow sesame and red lateritic soils. At 15:30
the train passed the entrance to Heho airport, but Heho station itself is some distance away. Colourfully
clothed hilltribes people wait for passing trains to sell their wares, and all trains stop for at least ten
minutes. Soon the line is descending steeply through forest. The rate of descent is sufficient to warrant a
spiral, which makes a good photostop and runpast location. A nearby road offers easy access, and young
Burmese were in evidence taking pictures of the train from the viaduct and generally getting in the way.
The descent continues for another ten minutes until the line reaches the floor of the broad valley in which
Schwe Nyaung stands, 2,934 feet A.S.L. This small town is the gateway to the much larger town of Nyaung
Schwe at the north end of Inle Lake, a major tourist attraction and the destination of the PTG group. The
railway continues from Schwe Nyaung, which is a junction station. A line goes north for 198 miles to Mong
Nai (also called Moe Ne). This opened in 1995, connecting with the formerly isolated Banyin line. Owing to
the poor track, steep gradients and a good competing road, the army-built line is only used for freight.
Another line proceeds east in a huge Z shape to Lawksawk (or Yat Sauk – take your pick), 35.5 miles away.
This has a single passenger train pair each day. The day had been absolutely delightful and was a fitting
end to the PTG groups railway travels in Myanmar.
[B29] Myanmar - Yangon launches light rail line
The first phase of a light rail line in Yangon was officially opened with a ceremony on January 10.
The 4.8 km east-west route from Linsadaung to Wardan Jetty uses a newly electrified on-street freight
railway running along Strand Road, and a three-section ex-Hiroshima tram with capacity for 180
passengers. Myanmar Railways operates six services per day in each direction between 08.00 and 16.00
and charges a fare of 100 kyat.
Funding for the project has come from the Ministry of Rail Transportation and West Japan Railway, which
signed a US$3m investment agreement in July 2015. Extensions from Wardan to Kyeemyindaing and from
Linsadaung to Pazundaung would bring the route to 11·3 km and are due to be completed this year.
These would allow interchanges at both ends with the 46 km Yangon Circular Railway, which is to be
upgraded with the help of a US$250m soft loan from Japan. The upgrades would include refurbishment of
the 38 stations on the route, new rolling stock, and signalling and track upgrades.