INTERNATIONAL SUPPLEMENT TO BLN 1346 22 FEBRUARY 2020
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: Pete Skelton, 1 rue Traversière, 16450 BEAULIEU SUR SONNETTE, France
to whom all email contributions should be sent. Email: [email protected]
Postal Contributions should be sent to: Paul Stewart, 4 Clarence Close, MALVERN, WR14 3HX
Deputy International Editor: Derek Woodward, 68 Church Street, MATLOCK, DE4 3BY
 Austria – Achenseebahn under Threat
The Achensee Railway is a 6·78 kilometres long metre gauge railway running between Jenbach and
Seespitz on Lake Achensee in Tyrol. Within its length it rises some 440 metres in height, with the
steeper sections using the Riggenbach rack system. It is Europe's oldest cog railway which is still steam
This unique and scenic railway is under threat of closure and it is thought that it may not survive
through the 2020 operating season which commences in April, already with a reduced timetable.
 Austria – Infrastructure Projects
ÖBB-Infrastruktur, the infrastructure division of Austrian Federal Railways, has outlined several
priorities for the current year. The Pottendorfer Line between Wien and Wiener Neustadt will be four
tracked by 2023. This year works are scheduled for the second section near Ebreichsdorf station.
Also, the capacity of the Wien Meidling – Wien Mödling and Wien Hütteldorf – Wien Meidling lines will
be increased to allow more frequent S-Bahn services. Modernisation works will be continued from
Wien-Süßenbrunn to Bernhardsthal. Looking further ahead the Gänserndorf to Marchegg section is to
be electrified allowing electric traction all the way from Wien to Bratislava with train speeds up to 200
km/h on the Austrian side and up to 120 km/h on the Slovak side. ÖBB-Infrastruktur will continue with
the works to construct the Semmering Base Tunnel with completion planned for 2027.
The Entrance to Wien Meidling Station
 Austria – Zayatalbahn changes Ownership with Tourist Trains to come
The line between Hohenau and Mistelbach Lokalbahnhof, the Zayatalbahn, which ÖBB intended to
close, was taken over in December 2019 by the Zayatalbahn GmbH ZTB, founded on 26 August
2019. The new Landesbahn association initially plans to offer a trip each month between May and
October geared to wine and cycle tourism. Freight traffic is also to be resumed to warehouses in
Wilfersdorf and Dobermannsdorf. The line is generally in good condition, the only work required being
the replacement of 300 sleepers between Hauskirchen and Neusiedl to allow a higher line speed.
A Steam Special at Mistelbach Lokalbahnhof
 Belgium – Here’s One for Stay-at-Home Travellers!
Monopoly, one of the most famous games in history (since its first American version in 1935, it has
sold more than 275 million copies worldwide) has seen many adaptations depending on the city,
countries or themes. Since 05 December 2019 Train World (the Belgian Railway Museum) and
SNCB/NMBS have had on sale a novel version of the game. The object of this special version of the
game is to buy stations and trains then build depots and workshops (instead of houses and hotels) to
gain maximum rents. The game features trains from the earliest steam locomotives through Wagon-
Lits and Thalys to the most recent NMBS/SNCB stock.
 Czech Republic – Plzen Trams
(BLNI1344.031) The extension of route 1 in a one way loop beyond Slovany via Světovar and use of the
loop at U Synagogy have ended. A new timetable dated 04 January 2020 shows route 1 back to
normal and only route 2 serving Světovar; as the extension of route 4 beyond Bory to Univerzita
opened on 16 December 2019 there would be no reason why use of U Synagogy should have
continued beyond that date.
 Czech Republic – Tábor to Bechyně Reconstruction and Voltage Change likely to go ahead
The line from Tábor to Bechyně is unique in the Czech Republic being electrified at 1500 V DC. This
non-standard voltage has led to difficulties in supplying suitable stock; DMUs having operated most
services in previous years with elderly electric locos and stock plus a historic EMU currently in use.
A Train leaving Bechyně
The South Bohemian Region Council was originally against the proposed conversion to the 25 KV 50 Hz
system proposed by the national infrastructure company, but the costs, both capital and revenue, of
providing new non-standard EMUs for the branch has changed their minds. Although not specifically
stated in the internal document it seems probable that the project “Reconstruction of the traction line
Tábor - Bechyně” will be submitted to the Ministry of Transport with a recommendation to proceed.
 Finland – Good News from the Kaskinen Branch
The long branch line from Seinäjoki to Kaskinen is experiencing a resurgence of traffic such that
the Finnish Väylävirasto ("Authority for Transport Infrastructure") is planning to continue maintenance
of the Ahonkylä (approx. Km 425·0) to Kaskinen (km 530·522) section.
On 5 December 2019 UPM and the Metsä Group announced that they wanted to start delivering wood
from Teuva to Pietarsaari and Äänekoski again after a long break. Teuva, which is already used for
timber loading, would become an important storage point but investment is needed to increase
loading capacity. Subject to approval a construction plan will be drawn up in early 2020 and the
ground will be cleared in spring with track laid in autumn.
The Southern Ostrobothnia Railway Association estimates that freight traffic on the route has
increased by more than 50% since last year. It mainly transports sawn timber, but also some
processed timber. At least one freight train operated almost every working day last year although the
volume transported did not increase proportionally, as much of the traffic consisted of short “semi-
trains”. The Port of Kaskinen also plans to increase the rail share of traffic in the port to one third and
thus to return to the level it was ten years ago. In the past year, freight traffic has grown by a fifth due
to pulp exports and 1·1 million tonnes of freight (worth €600 million) were transported through the
The Goods Station at Kaskinen
 France – Beauvais - Abancourt - Le Tréport re-opens after 18 months
After closure for 18 months this 104 km single track line re-opened on 03 February 2020 some seven
weeks later than planned. Rails, sleepers and ballast have been replaced, level crossings have been
renewed and signalling systems replaced. The stations at Aumale, Blangy-sur-Bresle, Longroy-
Gamaches, Eu and Le Tréport-Mers-les-Bains have been renovated and made accessible to all.
In stage 1, trains will operate from Beauvais to Abancourt from 03 February 2020; later the section
from Abancourt to Le Tréport will be re-opened. It is reported that through trains from Paris Nord to
Le Tréport will operate again, probably only during the summer. [Courtesy of French Railways Society]
The new track and crossing at St Omer en Chausée, in June 2019.
[Photo: Courtesy of French Railways Society]
 France – Le Havre Trams
A brief visit to Le Havre from Honfleur, where the Brittany Ferries ship ‘Pont Aven’ was making a ‘rare
water’ visit, gave the chance to experience the tram system which opened in 2012. Its special feature
is the sharp divide between the lower and upper town, a height difference of some 100 metres, which
the trams climb through a tunnel. There are two lines that separate at the Place Jenner stop,
immediately next to the top end of the tunnel. The lower-town section is roughly L-shaped with the
‘Gares’ stop (rail and bus stations) at the junction of Cours de la République and Boulevard Strasbourg.
Thanks to massive war damage in 1944, Le Havre has been rebuilt on a grid plan featuring long
spacious avenues where the trams run on dedicated tracks throughout. At the La Plage terminus the
trams run past the stop into a dead-end track and then reverse through a crossover to take up their
next duty. A 1-hour ticket costs €1·80 and a day ticket €4·20, both issued on a reloadable card.
Le Havre Tram at Gares Stop. [Photo: Julian Morgan]
Le Havre at the Hôtel de Ville. [Photo: Julian Morgan]
Le Havre at the terminus at La Plage. [Photo: Julian Morgan]
Le Havre Rond Point stop with the climb to the Tunnel in the Background. [Photo: Julian Morgan]
 France – Rail network returns to normal after severe industrial action
Following the longest period of continual industrial action at SNCF since the 1960s, rail services
returned to near normal from the 27 January 2020. The 8 week period of strikes which began on the
05 December 2019 was part of a wide protest at the Government's plans to replace more than 40
separate pension schemes with a single national scheme that would have increased the general
retirement age from 62 to 64. A poll in mid-January indicated that 60% of the population wanted the
plans to be withdrawn.
The impact of the strikes was wide-spread and, in particular, travel by rail in the Paris region was
severely disrupted since RATP employees also walked out leaving many of the 14 Metro Lines closed
for 6 weeks and the RER Lines A and B, jointly operated by SNCF/RATP, were badly affected. In the
absence of a "minimum" service, the 4.3 million Navigo season ticket holders will receive a refund for
December and probably part of January. SNCF issued a provisional timetable for the period 20
December - 4 January, although services were only actually confirmed at 17:00 on the previous day.
Participation in industrial action was strong during December and slowly diminished during January.
TGV drivers were generally the first back to work and a higher proportion of TGV's operated than in
any other division but they concern only a relatively small number of passengers. TER rail services,
particularly on rural lines, remained badly affected with large scale bus replacements often only
covering part of a route and with significantly extended journey times. Intercité trains were severely
reduced and SNCF operated lengthy rakes on infrequent services. There were no local rail services in
most of the Massif Central in December or January. The new Léman Express network at Genève
(Switzerland) opened on time in December but the 3 branches in France (Evian, Annecy and St Gervais)
didn’t open with through trains to Switzerland until mid-January.
Due to the involvement in the strikes of staff operating signal boxes and traffic control centres, private
train operators also suffered; Thello, the Italian operator of the overnight Venezia - Paris sleeper had
to cancel their train for the entire period from 05 December to the end of January, the weekly Moskva
- Paris sleeper was limited to Kehl on the east bank of the Rhine, neither of the sleepers from Paris to
Briançon or Rodez ran from 05 December to late January.
After an absence of nearly two months the 18:05 Paris Est - La Ferte Milon returned on 16 January2020, now one of
the remaining handful of diesel hauled passenger services in France. On 17 January BB 67515 waits to depart from
Gare de l'Est. [Photo: Erwan Quintin]
On Saturday 28 December 2019 the 14.01 from Paris-Bercy to Clermont Ferrand was cancelled. SNCF issued
replacement tickets by email for passengers to take the earlier 13.01, which was strengthened to a very heavy
seventeen Corails, including one corridor First. In the photograph opposite taken at Moulins Sybic 26138 (on the
left) has charge of the mammoth train, which managed to be on time. Not so the balancing service from Clermont
Ferrand, seen on the right behind sister loco 26042 with 14 on, which was running 64 minutes late.
[Photo: Chris Gwilliam]
The confrontation with the government is not finished since the new measures have to be processed
into law and many details remain undecided including sources of financing. Expect further actions by
the rail unions in the form of "spikes" of demonstrations and short regular strikes in the coming
months. [Courtesy of French Railways Society]
 Germany – End of the Hochwaldbahn
The Hochwaldbahn, also known as the Ruwertalbahn, (Line 3131) once ran from Trier to Hermeskeil
and then to Türkismühle. The northern section from Trier to Hermeskeil was closed in 1998 and then
dismantled; the southern section from Hermeskeil to Türkismühle was still used for freight and
museum rail traffic until 2012 but closed in 2014. The tracks from Hermeskeil to the border with
Saarland were dismantled in 2019. Recently permission was given for the remainder of the line to be
dismantled, along with the northern 3 km of the Primstalbahn from Nonnweiler (about halfway
between Hermeskeil and Türkismühle) to Mariahütte. This line once continued to Lebach and
Wemmetsweiler. Clearing work commenced on 28 January 2020 and a cycle path will be constructed
from Hermeskeil to Türkismühle.
Line 3021 (the Hunsrückquerbahn) once ran from Langenlonsheim to Simmern and Hermeskeil. The
last section closed in 2010 but the IG Nationalparkbahn plan to operate heritage trains between
Morbach and Thalfang and have extended the lease agreement to Hermeskeil. This means that soon
the Hunsrückquerbahn will be the last of the three lines which once converged on Hermeskeil.
On the Hochwaldbahn [Photo: Saarbrücker Zeitung]
 Germany – Forthcoming Gricing Opportunities
The Bamberg avoiding line will shortly enter use for a period due to construction works between Erfurt
and Eisenach. This west to north curve enables trains to run between the Schweinfurt and Saalfeld
lines without reversing at Bamberg Hbf. Some ICE trains between Erfurt and Frankfurt-am-Main are
diverted via this route 18 February to 9 March and 14 to 20 March 2020 with journey times extended
by at least 40 minutes. The trains in question may be found at EGTRE DE20/683.
It appears that the trains will also use the direct line between Gemünden (Main) and Waigolshausen.
Some other work must prevent this diversion 10 to 13 March, because trains then run via Oebisfelde,
Priort and Berlin Südkreuz, so will do the west to north curve at Genshagenger Heide. They probably
also use the route between Lehrte and Hannover Meße/Laatzen, but Braunschweig and Hildesheim is
Also of interest for gricers is that the railway press is reporting that the night train Berlin - Malmö will
run on certain dates via Rostock Seehafen (line 6448 Kavelstorf - Rostock Seehafen) instead of Mukran
(Sassnitz Fährhafen). The dates are 07 April 2020 Northbound only and 29 April and 13 May 2020
Southbound only. [There has been much discussion about the dates for this diversion but, following
confirmation from the operator, I believe these to be correct – Ed.]
Rostock/Sassnitz - Trelleborg Train Ferry: Ship FS Sassnitz
Southbound Train Ship Train FARE [SEK] as at 5/2/20
Wed 08/04/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Sassnitz 22:15 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 1249
Wed 29/04/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Rostock 00:30 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 1249 Note A
Wed 13/05/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Rostock 00:30 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 949 Note A
Wed 20/05/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Sassnitz 22:15 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 1249
Sun 13/06/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Sassnitz 22:15 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 949
Mon 15/06/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Sassnitz 22:15 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 749
Wed 17/06/2020 17:00 Malmo Trelleborg 18:00 Sassnitz 22:15 Berlin Hbf [Tief] 06:45 749
Then daily 21/6 - 29/8/20 All via Sassnitz
Northbound Train Ship Train
Tue 07/04/2020 21:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Rostock 00:30 on 8th Trelleborg 07:15 Malmo 08:35 499 Note A
Sun 12/04/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 1249
Sun 03/05/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 1249
Sun 17/05/2020 11:30 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 15:30 Trelleborg 19:45 Malmo 21:13 450
Sun 24/05/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 1249
Sun 14/06/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 499
Tue 16/06/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 549
Thu 18/06/2020 19:00 Berlin Hbf [Tief] Sassnitz 23:00 Trelleborg 03:15 Malmo 07:30 499
Then daily 22/6 - 30/8/20 All via Sassnitz
NOTE: A: ALL sailings, i.e also by ships other than train ferries on the 7th/29th April, 13th May are to/from Rostock
FS Sassnitz arrives Rostock at Midnight 7th/8th, and at Trelleborg [from Rostock, but no trains] at 08:15 on 29/4 & 13/5
On 1/9 & 2/9/20 FS Sassnitz sails to/from Rostock but currently there are no Snallgatet trains Timetabled
Hafas confirms the later departure on 7th and arrival in Malmo on morning of 8th April and the daytime transit on 17th May.
Berlin arrival time is unchanged using Sassnitz or Rostock
 Germany – Rottleberode Süd to Stolberg (Harz) Reopening
Passenger trains ended on the 14·9 km branch between Berga-Kelbra and Stolberg (Harz) at the
December 2011 timetable change and since then only the first 8 km to Rottleberode Süd have been
used for freight with the rest of the line to Stolberg (Harz) closed. On 15 July 2019 Tourismus und
Warnetalbahn GmbH, a railway infrastructure company (EIU), took over the section Rottleberode Süd -
Stolberg from DB. This company is part of an extensive consortium which is reopening this section of
the line for heritage train operation. Infrastructure repair is well advanced; a test train has run and a
special train is to run from Erfurt to Stolberg on Easter Sunday.
 Germany – Schwedt Port to get new Connecting Line
Line 6764 runs from Angermünde to Schwedt, continuing through the town centre and the premises of
the LEIPA Paper Mill, to the port of Schwedt which has plans to expand, but faces opposition from the
town and LEIPA which is also expanding.
The solution is to extend freight line 7318 which runs from Passow to Stendell, continuing as an
industrial railway to the PCK oil refinery a few kilometres northwest of Schwedt. A new line east from
here to the Port of Schwedt would create a new connection allowing the port to expand and also an
alternative route for oil products from PCK; 60% of the refinery’s products leave by rail, so the
increased security of a second route via Schwedt is an important strategic objective. There is even talk
that the new connecting line could be extended into Poland. The city of Schwedt is committed to the
project but there are as yet no timescales.
 Germany – Trial Service between Tornesch and Uetersen
Between 20 and 25 February 2020 NEG (Norddeutsche Eisenbahngesellschaft mbH) will operate an
hourly trial service from Tornesch, on the Hamburg - Elmshorn line, to Uetersen. Departures from
Tornesch are hourly from 05:12 until 22:12 and returning from Uetersen at 05:38 and hourly until
22:38. Use of the service is free of charge! Passenger services on the branch are believed to have
ceased in 1965.
 Germany – Unterbreizbach to Vacha to reopen
Line 6703 ran from Bad Salzungen (on the Meiningen to Eisenach line) to Unterbreizbach where it
connected with lines 3815/6707 which take potash traffic north to Gerstungen (on the Bebra to
Eisenach line). 6703 has occasional wood products traffic and, more recently, to the Brühl wagon
plant in Vacha. On 16 December 2019 a contract was signed between Regiobahn Thüringen GmbH
(RbT) and K+S Minerals and Agriculture GmbH to reopen the Unterbreizbach to Vacha section.
Vegetation clearance should have started in January 2020 and recommissioning is planned for the
fourth quarter of 2020 at which point there will be direct access to the wagon workshop of the Brühl
wagon plant in Vacha.
Vacha is situated on the former border between the West Germany and East Germany
A secondary benefit, after clearance and reconstruction of the line between Vacha and Bad Salzungen,
is to give an alternative to the heavily used line via Gerstungen. There are already suggestions for
passenger trains Gerstungen – Vacha – Bad Salzungen, but don’t hold your breath on this.
 Russia – Каринская Железнодорожный (Karinskaya Railway)
For those tempted by Russian narrow gauge but a little uncertain, a member has passed on the
information below aimed at foreign visitors for the Karinskaya Railway in Kirov Oblast. There are more
trains than mentioned and it can be done independently and if anyone is tempted here’s some info.
Take night train number 32 from Moskva Yaroslavsky train station to Kirov city. The train departs daily
at 20:05, arriving at 08:33. Tickets can be bought at https://pass.rzd.ru
The alternative way is to fly from Moskva Vnukovo Airport to Kirov with low cost carrier Pobeda
Airlines which operates brand new B737s.
After arrival by train make a short walk to Kirov bus station (Gorkogo 57, you can find it on Yandex or
Google maps) and then take a bus 103 to Kirovo-Chepetsk. The bus runs every 20 minutes and the
journey will take around 1 hour 15 minutes. Alternatively you could take a Yandex taxi instead of the
bus (about £8 per car) to Alexeya Nekrasova Street 4, Kirovo-Chepetsk. Novy station is located nearby
and you need to be there before 10:15. The narrow gauge train departs daily at 10:25.
Noviy Station on the Karinskaya Narrow Gauge Line
Tours to another peat narrow gauge line near Kirov can also be arranged and tours with an English-
speaking guide are available on request.
They also now have a Facebook page that might make contact easier and tempt you further -
https://www.facebook.com/railwaymuseum.ru/ - this page is in Russian but the auto-translation is
 Spain – Bilbao Atxuri Closed
The EuskoTren terminus at Bilbao Atxuri appears to have closed on 09 September 2019 when trains
to/from Bermeo were diverted to run to Matiko via Metro L3 effectively withdrawing the remaining
service between Atxuri and Kukullaga. The section between Atxuri and Bolueta may be converted into
a tram route but onwards from Bolueta to Kukullaga does not appear to have a future.
Trains at Bilbao Atxuri [Photo: Ian Mortimer]
A Tram outside Bilbao Axturi [Photo: Ian Mortimer]
 Spain – Sevilla Suburban Services
Sevilla has four Cercanias (Suburban) services; of which two run on routes not used by main line
C2 starts from the main station of Sevilla Santa Justa and uses the Huelva line as far as San Jeronimo
from where it takes the short branch to Cartuja. This line was built for the 1992 Expo which was
located at the end of the branch. Cartuja station has four long platforms of which only parts of two
are in use, plus a massive canopy, which looks out of proportion in relation to the rest of the station,
even though it is half the size that it once was, as only the metal support structure remains for the
rest. The branch has an hourly service which requires a single EMU. The 17:04 service from Santa
Justa had just a handful of passengers on board of which a couple stayed on to Cartuja, the same
number as boarded the train for the return journey. There is one intermediate station, Estadio
Olimpico, situated alongside a rather sad looking stadium which, despite its name, was never used for
the Olympic Games and now sees only occasional use, but this generated no business in either
direction. The line runs along the outskirts of the town with no residential areas and little industrial
development so one wonders what its purpose is nowadays.
Above: Three Images of Cartuja Station showing the partly removed Canopy. [Photos (3): Ian Mortimer]
C4 is a half-hourly, unidirectional, service which runs north from Santa Justa and takes the curve which
connects into the southbound avoiding line, on which there are two stations, before using the recently
built curve to run back north and complete the circuit. The early evening train taken was busier than
C2 but not a great deal more. Again, the stations it serves are on the very outskirts of town but seem
to be in more developed areas. Whilst proceeding round the south curve a high speed service was
observed running on to the avoiding line; this turned out to be the 17:28 service from Cádiz to Madrid
which is booked non-stop from Jerez de la Frontera.
 Sweden – Passenger Service over the Åstorp to Kattarp Line
According to the latest official SJ (Swedish Railways) timetables, some trains between Stockholm and
Malmö and vice versa are booked to call at Helsingborg; these services will be routed via
Åstorp and Kattarp, thus this line will see some passenger traffic.
Kattarp Station in 1898
 Switzerland – Deviation on the Berner Oberland Bahn
The Berner Oberland Bahn starts from Interlaken Ost and runs to either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald
via Wilderswil. Approaching Wilderswil the railway passes close to Interlaken Airport; two phases of
upgrading for this section are planned with a deviation up to 100 metres away from the old line to a
new park and ride station near the airport terminal planned to open in April 2020.
REST OF THE WORLD
 Australia – Freight Lines Precarious Existence
Freight branch lines lead a precarious existence in outback Australia unless they are carrying extracted
minerals in bulk, for example coal for export. Those which rely on agricultural produce have been as
hard hit as farmers by the continuing drought in many inland areas. These have succumbed in recent
New South Wales: Those branches deemed 'necessary' (to handle, in particular, agricultural
movements) are designated Country Rail Network and in the north west of the State, the 83 km line
between Camurra Junction (near Moree) and Weemelah saw its last revenue traffic from the grain
silos at Weemelah in February 2018. Not only have crops been poor, but farmers in the area have the
option of using two silo operators just over the Queensland border. The line has relatively light weight
rail and heavier, second-hand CWR (continuous welded rail) had been brought in, but not installed, to
secure the line's future. Alas, it was not to be; the lack of traffic meant that the CWR was taken away
again in January 2019 for reuse on the Junee - Griffith line which carries a twice-weekly passenger
service as well as freight; the whole Weemelah line was effectively put out of use from 01 February
2019 - nominally temporarily but with no plans for fettling the line. The extension from Weemelah to
Mungindi has been closed since 11 January 1974.
In the same area, similar lines which do remain open for traffic when any is on offer but external
stocking areas seen recently from a passing rail tour looked empty... (one can't see what's in the silos,
of course) are Narrabri to Walgett (165 km) and the branch off it from Burren to Merrywinebone (53
km) formerly to Pokataroo. These lines are all standard gauge.
Victoria: Echuca has a passenger service from Melbourne via Bendigo, and also a secondary freight
route from Toolamba (65 km) on the passenger route to Shepparton (not the same spelling as the
Thames-side town!). The freight line has had an on-off career closing from 29 January 2009 but
reopening in 2013. However, it has been used only by rice trains from Deniliquin which can equally
run via Bendigo and, with deteriorating sleepers forcing a speed restriction of 30 km/h, the line was
taken out of use again from 09 August 2019. These lines are 1600 mm gauge.
A Grain Train near Geelong, Victoria
Maroona (near Ararat, on the standard gauge South Australia - Melbourne line) to the Port of Portland
was converted from 1600 mm to standard gauge from 23 May 1995 but has had a rocky existence
since then; container traffic was conveyed on grain services twice a week but, due to drought, there
were no grain trains so rail services were suspended in 2004. In September 2008 it was announced
that freight traffic would restart over the line, with a multi-million $ deal for carrying containerised
mineral sands to Melbourne. It is not clear what traffic had been passing latterly but by June 2017
"infrequent rail traffic movements" required special precautions to be taken at all level crossings and,
eventually, from 26 September 2019 the line was temporarily closed to all rail traffic.
The line between Maryborough and Ararat (87 km) - converted from 1600 mm to standard gauge from
28 April 1996 has had an even shorter 'career' - it has been out of use since 17 December 2004.
 Australia – Sydney Light Rail Line 2 Opens
After a long and sometimes troubled construction phase, the L2 of the Sydney Light Rail System from
Circular Quay to Randwick opened for traffic on Saturday 14 December 2019. The service is provided
by Alstom Citadis cars running as coupled sets but the star of the opening day celebrations was
121 year-old C class tram Number 29 which was one of the cars that ran on the opening day of the
original Sydney Electric Tramway 120 years ago 08 December 1899.
Transdev, the operators of the line, approached the Sydney Tramway Museum a few weeks ago about
displaying the car on the opening day. Arrangements were made to secure transport and funding,
then on the Thursday night the little car made its way into the city from Loftus. It was displayed over
the weekend and returned to the museum on the Sunday evening.
 Australia – The Inland Rail Project
The route is being developed primarily for through intermodal freight traffic although, obviously,
localities that presently have rail service will continue to be served. Of the projected route, Melbourne
- Junee and Narrabri - Moree currently have passenger services.
That part of the route south of Illabo, near Junee, is the existing Melbourne - Sydney main line. From
there to Stockinbingal there is an existing route via Cootamundra but this includes the tortuous
Bethungra spiral on the main line and a branch from Cootamundra to Stockinbingal which would both
be avoided by 37 km of new line. From Stockinbingal to Parkes is 169 km of existing cross-country
freight-only track via Forbes which is being up-graded to take heavier trains. At Parkes the line
intersects with the line between West and South Australia via Broken Hill and the Sydney area; here,
the first new line - all 5·3 km of it! - of the project has recently opened to provide a link that allows
trains to run direct between west and north (and vice versa), avoiding reversal at Goobang Junction. A
plan of the Parkes/Goobang layout is at page 7 of https://is.gd/hDgcTY - the new link, with triangles at
each end, is at top left and marked North West Link.
From there, 98·4 km of existing cross-country freight-only track (through the appropriately named
locality of Trundle) is currently closed, but should reopen mid-2020, to enable relaying and the
replacement of wooden underbridges with concrete to take the heavier axle-loads. From about 9 km
south of the junction at Narromine (west of Dubbo), some 300 km of completely new line will be
required to reach Narrabri, avoiding the existing meandering route via Dubbo and Werris Creek.
Ironically, the existing line to just south of Narrabri is fit for heavy export coal trains to the Hunter
River wharves and it is on the un-revamped 188 km section north from there through Moree (terminus
of existing passenger service) to North Star that work is now starting on relaying heavier grade track
for Inland Rail; beyond Moree the traffic is grain, hard hit by several years of drought. Beyond North
Star the lifted line (completely closed since November 1987) to Boggabilla and the Queenland border
will provide 23 km of the alignment, plus 16km of new build. Beyond the border, however, some 330
km of new standard gauge track will be required (the internal Queensland system is 1067 mm gauge)
of which 175 km will be completely new alignment, the remainder using existing 1067 mm alignment
as dual gauge. The new line will join the existing standard gauge line from Sydney at Kagaru, south of
the Brisbane area.
A Container Train crosses the Outback near Coondambo, South Australia
A word of background: like the UK, Australia some years ago divorced ownership and maintenance of
infrastructure (track) from train operations. Australian Rail Track Corporation is responsible for those
sections of line which are regarded as part of the inter-State rail network, leaving individual States with
responsibility for track regarded as of 'local' interest - in other words, commuter services round the
main conurbations, intra-State mineral traffic (esp. export coal in NSW and QLD) and some
meandering branches to grain silos in those areas where rail service for grain (including rice) traffic is
regarded as politically 'essential' (usually to put off local agitation about heavy trucks destroying local
roads.... some might call it pork barrel but that doesn’t concern us). This explains why ARTC already
has the various lines that would play some part in the Inland Rail project but which look otherwise
rather outside its scope.
 Laos – A Quick Visit from Thailand
The short section across the Friendship Bridge from Thailand is currently the only operational railway
line in Laos.
To cross this border from Thailand into Laos a visa has to be purchased at the border and a passport
photo is required. A return ticket from Nong Khai in Thailand to Thanaleng in Laos costs 40 Baht and
before boarding the train passports are examined at the customs post.
The morning train to Thanaleng, Laos arrives in the station at Nong Khai, Thailand……
…and over the border at Thanaleng
The Friendship Bridge is a combined road/rail bridge and all road traffic is stopped while a train is
crossing. There is nothing at Thanaleng apart from a few sidings which seem to be out of use.
For the return journey, it is not possible to buy a visa to re-enter Thailand at the station, this can be
obtained only from the border control point at the Friendship Bridge, a strange arrangement at a
border station. However, obtaining a visa at the bridge is no problem and, if you don’t want to do the
long trek back to the station, there is a bus service from the Laos end of the bridge back into Thailand.
 USA – California: SMART Larkspur-San Rafael Opening
The Northern California Sonoma/Marin agency responsible for the SMART (Sonoma-Marin
Area Rail Transit) DMU service between San Rafael and Sonoma County Airport opened a 2·2 mile
extension south from San Rafael to Larkspur on 14 December 2019. The new line segment includes a
tunnel (just north of Larkspur) and an adjacent bicycle/foot path and allows the rail service to connect,
with a fairly lengthy walk including a hill, with Golden Gate Transit's Larkspur Ferry to San Francisco
On the Opening Day a SMART Train stands at Larkspur Station [Photo: Douglas Zimmerman]
A new schedule from 02 January 2020 has increased service to provide a 30-minute rail headway
during weekday rush hours. The new schedule allows 20 minutes connecting time between trains and
ferries given the distance and climb up to the rail station.
The SMART line was formerly part of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.
 USA – Feasibility Study into New Suburban Line in New York
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York has announced in a press release that it is
launching a feasibility study into providing a passenger service on the currently freight-only line
between Bay Bridge/Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens. The study will evaluate the
feasibility and cost for subway, light-rail, heavy-rail or bus service to run in conjunction with the
existing freight service.
Long Island Rail Road owns the southern end of the route which is used exclusively by freight trains
operated by the New York & Atlantic Railway and CSX Transportation owns the northern end. The 16
mile long line crosses or passes near 19 New York Transit subway lines with potential for connections
or interchange with these.
MTA Stock in New York [Photo: MTA Facebook]