The 76cm gauge railways of Yugoslavia

Uskotracne (76-centimetarske) pruge bivse Jugoslavije


Monday 16 September 1963 - Train Dubrovnik to Sarajevo by Robin I. Morgan

A train typical of the period that Robin travelled headed by a Class 85 2-8-2 at Sarajevo.

The 2 foot 6 inch gauge Dubrovnik - Sarajevo line was built by the Austrians after they occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina in July 1878.  It closed in 1975 although most of the line had been replaced by a new standard gauge line in 1966. 

Up early, paid our bill and said goodbye to our landlady.  We walked north from the town past President Tito’s palatial yacht in the harbour, to the railway station, a narrow gauge affair like that at Llanfair Caereinion: lots of tracks in muddy and messy condition, old railway buildings and bits and pieces of old rolling stock, some of it in working order.  Like our train.  We had allowed ourselves half an hour to buy our tickets for the morning train to Sarajevo.  We went into the booking hall to be faced with a long queue of locals and country folk in traditional costumes trying to buy tickets from the one open window.  It was not moving: the purchase of railway tickets was, as so often, a complicated affair.  About the time the train was due to depart we were ushered to the front of the queue and bought our (Edmondson) tickets for Sarajevo.  Clearly buying railway tickets was no big deal for us, but we weren't seeking the best discount for our families and furry ones.  Still, the tickets were very cheap. 

We went onto the platform where the train simmered.  At the head was a squat rectangular class 85 2-8-2 steam engine of great age with a large spark arrester.  It had lots of brass work, outside pipework, and complicated bits of gadgetry.  It was pulling a rake of equally antiquated wooden open saloon coaches with drop windows, wooden seats and open gangways with verandas straight out of any Western you care to name.  In the middle was a restaurant car.  The train was at least civilised, and I didn't notice many passengers carrying livestock.  They carried lots of other things.  It was crowded but we found some seats and put our rucksacks onto the racks. 

The train started more or less on time, so I can only assume that many people in the queue didn't make it.  Making real railway sounds and heavily polluting the atmosphere we clattered out of the station through the back end of the town and then started climbing.  We must have climbed eastwards up the side of a coastal inlet, then turned north and inland as we went through a wide green valley.  Part of the valley was flooded with the grass disappearing into the water.  We wound round green but treeless valleys taking miles to go short distances.  At times it would have been quicker to walk a direct line. 

The railway went north east parallel to the coast but inland as far as the valley of the Neretva, where it turned north away from the coast and climbed towards Mostar.  The scenery was stunningly beautiful.  As we approached Mostar the countryside became drier and flatter.  We passed young girls in traditional Turkish dress (baggy trousers tied at the ankles) and I thought how well people lived together nowadays.  I knew of the famous arched bridge of Mostar but we couldn't see it from the train.  Mostar station was large and open and we saw other steam engines at work there. 

From time to time we walked up the train, or stood on the veranda watching the scenery and the sparsely populated countryside go by until we got too many smuts in our eyes, when we returned to our seats.  Our companions kindly offered us food, which we gratefully accepted.  After a time most fell asleep.  We also had a snack in the restaurant car, but were somewhat wary of what was on offer, not being able to understand the menu. 

At one stage climbing up a narrow part of the Neretva we could see the works of the standard gauge line being built to the coast.  The days of one of the world's great narrow gauge lines were drawing to a close. 

After hours climbing up and up we came to a halt at a high mountain station in the middle of nowhere.  It was dry and deserted.  There were no platforms, and the decrepit station buildings were set back from the tracks.  Some way in front was a tunnel mouth with a single track running into it.  People piled off the train to stretch their legs and to stick their heads and mouths under a standpipe.  Eventually we did the same.  An old woman was selling hot pasta-like substances from an unsanitary-looking mobile heating unit (on the oil drum cooker principle), and doing good business.  As nobody seemed to suffer immediate ill effects we, being hungry, partook.  (Throughout the tour we suffered no gastric problems even though we took no special precautions, apart from not eating).  After a while the down train thundered out of the tunnel belching smoke and steam.  People were still at the standpipe when our train pulled out - it was moving as I clambered on.  I am surprised we didn't all asphyxiate in the tunnel! 

The other side the landscape became more cultivated with small farms dotted here and there.  The valley widened and flattened for the final run into Sarajevo, which we reached in the dark.  We walked from the darkly lit narrow-gauge platforms into the main station, and to one side found a booking office.  It appeared there was a train leaving shortly for Zagreb.

Next page:
Dubrovnik to Trebinje in 1975 by Tom Burnham

Return to the index page