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The Bulkan Circular By
Private Charter Train
RAILFAN/RARE MILEAGE TOUR
September 29-October 7, 2018
We return to south east Europe for an interesting circular tour encompassing four countries. Starting in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, with our private charter train comprising of three compartment coaches, we will make a roughly counter-clockwise journey through some varied and impressive scenery including river valleys, deep gorges and mountain ranges and take in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Our train will travel over many branch lines and secondary mainlines. Motive power will be diesel traction throughout, with a selection of Bulgarian Railways (BDŽ) class 06 and 07, Serbian Railways (ŽS) class 661 and 666, Macedonian Railways (MŽ) class 661, and Greek Railways (TrainOSE) class A-451 and A-501 locomotives.
THE DIFFERENT CLASSES OF DIESEL ENGINES THAT WILL BE USED TO PULL OUR CHARTER TRAIN
BULGARIA CLASS 07 BUILT BY
SERBIA CLASS 661 & 666 BUILT BY
GM EMD OF THE USA
MACEDONIA CLASS 661 BUILT BY
GM EMD OF THE USA
GREECE CLASS A451 BUILT BY
MONTREAL LOCOMOTIVE WORKS IN CANADA (ALCO)
GREECE CLASS A501 BUILT BY
MONTREAL LOCOMOTIVE WORKS IN CANADA (ALCO)
Day 1 Saturday September 29:
Arrivals at Sofia, Bulgaria and hotel check-in.
Day 2 Sunday September 30: (B)
Boarding our special diesel hauled charter train with passenger cars that have opening type windows, we leave Sofia behind a BDŽ class 06 or 07 locomotive and we first head north on the Mezdra line to Ilyantsi before reversing, and then taking the freight only line to Voluyak where we join the mainline to the Serbian border. Following border formalities at Kalotina Zapad (Bulgaria) and Dimitrovgrad (Serbia), and a change of motive power to a ŽS class 661 or 666 locomotive, we continue towards Niš through the Nišava river gorge. The passenger service on this once important route is currently reduced to just a single summer-only train in each direction, although it retains considerable freight traffic; perhaps the proximity of the E80 motorway provides the reason for its decline. Rather than take the direct route into Niš, we turn right just after Palilulska Rampa to Crveni Krst (Red Cross) and then travel via Niš Ranžirna yard into Niš, where we stay the night. Hotel check-in. Niš is one of the oldest towns in the Balkans tracing its roots from at least 279BC, and is now Serbia’s third largest city and an important center for electronics and engineering. Its large student population ensures a lively night life, and an evening spent in town is a worthwhile experience.
Day 3 Monday October 1: (B)
We start the day by completing further curves in the Niš area. First we head to Crveni Krst then on to Trupale, where a reversal sees us travel south through Niš Ranžirna and then directly onto the mainline towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM). Much of this journey is spent traveling through the Morava valley, a region that was once known for textiles but is now mostly devoid of industry. We cross the border at Preševo (Serbia) / Tabanovci (Macedonia) and after a locomotive change continue south passing through Macedonia’s capital Skopje, and then on to Veles. Here we diverge from the mainline to traverse the highly scenic branch to Bitola. The line meanders and climbs as we journey towards Prilep, the largest intermediate settlement, then enters the Pelagonia Valley before arrival at Bitola, which is overlooked by Baba Mountain located in Pelister National Park. At one time, the line continued beyond Bitola to Kremenica and over the Greek border to Néos Káfkasos; we visited this outpost in 2014 on our ‘Rail Wonders of Northern Greece’ tour. Aspirations to reopen this route for international traffic have so far proved unsuccessful. Arrival and hotel check-in.
Day 4 Tuesday October 2: (B)
Following a night in Bitola we retrace our route back to the junction at Veles affording us a second opportunity to view the impressive scenery this line offers. After reversal, we set forth towards Greece, and after 17 miles reach Gradsko where the branch to Šivec veers off to the right. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to traverse this line as it is reported to be closed. For much of the journey through Macedonia we have been traveling along the valley of the River Vardar, and at Demir Kapija both rail and road must squeeze through a narrow gorge known as the ‘Iron Gate’. We reach the border station of Gevgelija and its Greek equivalent, Idomeni. By now we will have a Montreal (Alco) diesel (either an A-451 or A-501 class) on the front as we power towards Thessaloniki. We stay the night in Greece’s vibrant second city which offers numerous bars and restaurants, many along its seafront promenade on the Thermaic Gulf overlooked by the ‘White Tower’, the most prominent surviving bastion of the Byzantine-Turkish city walls of this ancient settlement. Arrival and hotel check-in.
Day 5 Wednesday October 3: (B)
Our travel today consists of a straightforward journey along the Thrace main line to Alexandroupoulis, a 278 mile jaunt during which our MLW locomotive should provide plenty of entertainment! Owing to the limited number of passing sidings we expect there to be a few times during the day where we will have some time in the sidings allowing time for photographs and refreshment. The single line first heads north through Kilkis and Doirani, where we skirt the FYRoM border, then turn eastwards after Mouries through Rodopoli to Strimon, junction for the line to Kulata and Bulgaria. Onwards through Serres and Drama, we eventually enter the beautiful narrow Nestos Valley as we continue towards our destination. The final act of the day is reversal from Alexandroupoulis station down to the more conveniently situated Port station in the town center. Arrival and hotel check-in.
Day 6 Thursday October 4: (B)
Today’s itinerary marks the start of our return to Bulgaria. After ascending the incline between Alexandroupoulis Port and Alexandroupoulis stations we enter the Evros Valley and eventually reach Pythio. Sadly, this junction station no longer has passenger services to Turkey, visible on the opposite bank of the river Evros. Originally the line from here to Svilengrad actually passed through Edirne in Turkey before turning back into Greece and onto Bulgaria, but in 1975 a new 4 mile direct line was opened between Nea Vissa and Marassia which removed the need for these additional frontier crossings. (Similarly, four years earlier Turkish Railways had opened a direct line from Pehlivanköy to Svilengrad thus avoiding Greek territory.) At Svilengrad our locomotive is exchanged for a BDZ class 06 or 07 diesel. Firstly, we travel to Simeonovgrad over this recently electrified line, before branching right and traversing the long freight only route to Nova Zagora. There are several minor spurs off this line which primarily exist to serve three power stations. At Nova Zagora we rejoin the electrified network, and after reversal end the day at Stara Zagora. In 1877 the population here was massacred and all public buildings (except the Eski Dzhamiya mosque) destroyed by the invading Turkish army. Happily, liberated two years later on 5th October, the date is now celebrated with multiple events. Arrival and hotel check-in.
Day 7 Friday October5: (B)
The penultimate day starts by heading to Mihaylovo and then taking the secondary line to Dimitrovgrad. We now traverse the long non-electrified DMU only operated line to Momchilgrad, home to Bulgaria’s largest Turkish population, and the terminus of Podkova, a village nestling in the eastern Rhodope Mountains. After a break, we return to Dimitrovgrad where we stay for the night. This modern city founded as recently as 1947 and named after communist leader Georgi Dimitrov, is regarded as one of the greenest cities in Bulgaria with its spacious streets and large parks. Arrival and hotel check-in.
Day 8 Saturday October6: (B)
Our final day sees us follow a gentle itinerary traversing the mainline diesel-hauled under the wires all the way to Sofia. We continue across the upper Thracian plain where the first section to Plovdiv has recently been rebuilt and is now authorised for 100 mph running. Leaving Bulgaria’s second city, due to become ‘European City of Culture’ in 2019, we continue to Stambolijski where the line to Peshtera branches off to the left and then reach Septemvri, changing point for the wonderful narrow-gauge line to Bansko and Dobrinishte. Our tour is now almost over as all that remains is the final 61 miles of (hopefully) fast running back to the capital which will provide us with the chance to reflect on what we hope will prove to be an enjoyable week traveling around this fascinating region of Europe. Arrival and hotel check-in. Optional farewell group dinner.
Day 9 Sunday October 7: (B)
Coach transfer to the airport for our return flights.
ALL PRICES ARE PER PERSON
DOUBLE ROOM OCCUPANCY$2,145
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$295
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE CONFIRMED$500
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY MAY 29, 2018
EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT BOOK BY DECEMBER 15, 2017-$200
TOUR CONDITIONS FOR 2021 **PLEASE READ CAREFULLY**
Tour Price: All tour prices are subject to change without notice, at any time. All prices based on double room occupancy. Those people that use a credit card for payments a 3% conveyance fee will be added to the tour price. We reserve the right to change tour prices if necessary without prior notice.