I'm thinking of visiting Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Lithuania at the end of September, has anyone any recommendations of Scenic lines, good haulage (diesel and steam prefereably), decent spots for ale.
On a brief visit to Lithuania, Vilnius station was busy with all types of traffic. I took a local train to the second city, Kaunas and it was amazing to see some of the small stations it stopped at The 'class' within Lithuania refers to the train itself, rather than the seats, second class trains being faster than third. There are three large trains per day to the third city and chief port, Klaipeda, but it is a very circuitous route.
There are international trains, roughly daily or twice daily to Russia, Belarus and Kaliningrad. But for your plans, there is surprisingly only one train a day to Latvia, and if you want to travel on to Tallinn, you have to stay overnight at a place beginning with D whose name escapes me. The coach is much more convenient.
There is a plan for a high speed Baltic link, but how this is proceeding at the moment I do not know.
Trip Advisor is surprisingly good for local train queries.
Vilnius was a smashing little city and I intend to go again this year. Prices not dear at all.
Latvia is still operating the stock that was inherited on independence, though some of the EMUs have been radically refurbished.
Service on most lines has been muich reduced. Outside the Riga suburban electric system, most lines only see a couple of trains per day. Some even less Liepaja (third largest city in the country) only has two trains per week ! All internal services are run by either the ER2 family of EMUs or DR1 Family of DMUs. The only loco hauled passenger trains are the overnight ones to Moscow, St Petersburg or Minsk (?), which use TEP70s.
Freight traffic is predominately transit traffic from Russia / Belarus to the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils. These use classes M62, 2M62 and 2TE10. All such traffic must cross either the main river bridge at Riga, or go through Jelgava. Krustpils (where the routes divide) is also a good place for freight. The main freight yards and depot in Riga are on the line to Krustpils / Daugavpils. There is a footbridge next to Daugmale station from which you can see most action. Main loco works are in Daugavpils, where you can also see locos from Belarus and Lithuania (not sure how frequent these are though).
There is one narrow gauge line in use, from Gulbene to Aluksne. There are two trains per day normally TU2 diesel loco, but they may have finished restoring a steam loco (on loan from museum in Estonia). Steam would only be used on special workings anyway. On summer Saturdays there is a special train from Riga to Gulbene which allows you to do a round trip to Aluksne. Gulbene is very difficult to get to otherwise.
There is also a preserved section of ex Feldbahn line in a park at Ventspils.
There is a small railway museum in Riga check opening hours before visiting. Latvian Railways has two preserved L class 2-10-0s which are occasionally used on special trains.
Riga has large tram and trolleybus fleets. The tram fleet is a mixture of brand new Skoda T15 and ancient (but refuirbished) Tatra T3 and T6. The trolleybus fleet is almost completely modernised, mainly Skoda / Citelis 24Tr and Solaris Trollino18, but still a few old Skoda 14Tr / 15Tr.
There are also tram systems in Daugavpils and Liepaja. Daugavpils has 3 routes, and is the last place in the world still using RVZ trams, also KTM5 and ex German Tatras. [They are reported to have ordered new trams from St Petersburg] Liepaja has only 1 route and is 100% operatedby Tatra KT4.
Sigulda has the gaiss tramvajs (literally air tramway) a cable car across the Gauja river valley.
Riga has a very standardised bus fleet. Mainly Solaris and Citaros of various lengths, plus some Ikarus E91 midibuses and Mercedes O345.
Been on all routes now in Estonia and none are particularly scenic. The local trains run for about an hour to 90 minutes in all directions calling at all stations (bar a few peak fasts) and are all old electric stock that hit about 70mph in places. There is a 6 euro day ticket for all electric lines.
Lines to Viljandi and Tartu have one coach of first class with a buffet that is about a euro more than the wooden benchs of second class. The Tartu line first class does sell out though so reserve in advance. Viljandi first class is like UK second class but Tartu first class was more interesting with ex Bristish Airways seats complete with seat back tables being used. Viljandi line has just finished being rebuilt and so in places is now 70 mph but most of the way is slower. Tartu is 70mph much of the way and is a good ride on the fast BA trains!! Beware as the entire Estonian network is being upgraded including the platforms in readiness for a complete fleet replacement beginning next year. All electric and diesel trains will be replaced by new Stadler 100mph units. This means many lines/bits of lines are either running slower or replaced by buses entirely or in part for the next few months so check online timetables which are right. Once the new units are in service all lines will see increased frequencies and line speeds reducing journey times quite substantially.
One last thing is to beware as many stations are just strips of tarmac in the middle of nowehere that are completely unsignposted and not near that places bus stop or main area so before you get off there check them on google.
Another good site for bus/rail travel in Estonia is http://www.peatus.ee/#route_search which shows almost all bus services, all rail services and maps of the route and stops each one takes which should help you find any stopping point.