Sofia to Serbia for a Kennedy or two

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87015

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This is a slightly enhanced version of what appears on my website, which features the phots a shade larger (as my ability to do the links in here properly is somewhat low) https://87015aewn.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/a-serb-sortie-may-2016/

To general surprise, the 2016 timetable has seen the reinstatement of the second Sofia-Belgrade train pair, largely it seems on the basis of the Sofia-Moscow through coach requiring a diversion away from Ukraine following events there. This daytime service has not run for about five years due to a claimed shortage of working diesels in Serbia.

We therefore planned a day to cover this as an out and back move from Sofia, hoping to score 2x661. There were a couple of things that could prevent this - dud 661152, ZS kicking out a 621 shunted vice 661, or the entire move going west due to border riots. We'd not attempted this before, in fact the only ZS 661 had been on the overnight we'd done throughout so it was a bit nervy especially as buying tickets took twenty minutes due to various faff's in the ticket office. At about 10 euro each (FIP Return) however it was cheap even with the usual cross-border ching! We were pleased to see BDZ had provided one of Plovdiv's finest skoda's in 44169 (and its many dents) rather than a 46, so the track could be scored for these heritage, hellfire skodas and we headed west. Even I know that if you are going from Sofia to Moscow that is totally the wrong direction!


44169 at Sofia.

With load three being the RZD bed wagon and two Serb open aircons, at Dimitrovgrad we heard the 661 backing on whilst the Serbs were doing a much quicker border grip than the Bulgarians had done at Kalotina. To be fair the Serb opens were in decent knick, and the hopper windows were hinged allowing a decent flow of air as the air con was working but weak. Would prefer proper stock if I was strapped in for Belgrade mind! Beyond Dimitrovgrad the feared "Serb Stagger" was nowhere to be seen and we were soon rolling into Pirot just a few minutes down.


661112 at Pirot. This GM works from Dimitrovgrad to Nis, for a ZS electric forward.

On paper we had a plus 75 (plus late running) and with a few Serb pennies left over from previous trips took a quick wander into town to buy some ice cream, noting some absolutely hellfire old vehicles plying the roads. A truly heritage Bedford lorry where the metal poles to hold a load in had busted and been replaced by some twigs being the favourite! Being British we then decamped to the hotel opposite the station which had a decent selection of local beers and more importantly seats in the sun!

We wandered back to the station just before the booked 1424 departure, which naturally came and went with no train. We settled in the sun and with little noise other than birds and a few lizards storming around the ballast time easily ticked away before'that' JZ GM horn in the distance meant that the train was coming about 45 down it wasn't a shunter!


661154 brings the 0735 Belgrade - Sofia into Pirot

This time the stock was 2 declassified fresh air FKs so we grabbed an empty compo and enjoyed the run back to Dimitrovgrad again at a decent pace. The EMD567 power unit may not be everyones favourite but '154 put in a half decent account of itself whilst not getting into 'booming' mode the driver appeared keen to make up time and there was no Serb broken signals/crossings to make it the feared absolute stagger. 44169 was again waiting after the Serbs had done a brief handover. Whilst this was taking place the 661 was glued straight onto a set of cargovans and proceeded to be left wide in engine only presumably to build up air with the GM noise reverberating around! Sadly there were no 87s here as it'd be nice to see one in Serbia, where they do work regularly.

We sat for what seemed an age at Kalotina, literally a temporary platform deep in the gorge, as the Bulgarians did their passport grip in the midst of a thunderstorm, our quick return raising more of a chuckle than suspicion from both sets of border forces thankfully!! Eventually back on the move and waiting for a Desiro beyond Dragoman we rolled into Sofia just over an hour down.

However, it does seem the overnight will be withdrawn in December 2016 leaving just the daytime trains however this is far better for bashing purposes so to us at least is a great improvement and allows a fairly easy 661 bash, probably now the last stand of these 1960 'Kennedy' EMD Veterans apart from some limited work in Macedonia. Strange to think that some of these locos were US funded (Marshall Plan), built and then destroyed by US/Allied forces during the Yugoslavian wars. Time changes things... The remaining Serb locos hopefully have a half secure feature as works attention is ongoing - 55 years young and working "International Express Trains"!
 
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While I'm not at all familiar with the countrys involved, let alone the trains, it sounds like quite an adventure!
 
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