The 76cm gauge railways of Yugoslavia

Uskotracne (76-centimetarske) pruge bivse Jugoslavije

Dubrovnik to Trebinje in 1975 by Tom Burnham

Sadly there are no photographs to accompany this article, Tom had them confiscated after he was reported to the police by an over-zealous fellow-passenger at Capljina.


After the Second World War, the construction and reconstruction of railways was again given a high priority, and 148 km of narrow gauge lines were built between 1945 and 1959.  Pre-war services were also gradually reinstated; the Belgrade-Sarajevo-Dubrovnik railcar service began again in May 1950.

However, the greatest emphasis was on the creation of standard gauge links between all parts of the country.  Among the first were the lines to Sarajevo, which took the form of new construction from Banja Luka and Vrpolje to Doboj, replacement of the narrow gauge line from there to Lašva and the building of a standard gauge line parallel to the existing one to Sarajevo, where a new terminus, Sarajevo Novo, was used.  The narrow gauge branches to Vareš and Tuzla were subsequently converted to standard gauge, while others were closed.

By 1963, work had begun on a standard gauge line from Sarajevo to Ploče, which opened in 1966.  The line was designed for electric traction, but this was not brought into use until 29th May 1969.  I first travelled over this new line in September 1968, when trains were being hauled by the big General Motors Co-Co diesel electrics of class 661, although many of the overhead structures were in position and sidings along the route were filled with new ASEA designed class 441 25kV electric locomotives.  Between Bradina and Konjic the line descends into the gorge of the Neretva river by a spectacular series of loops down the hillside, which replaced the last Abt rack section on the old narrow gauge line.  The new standard gauge line is generally higher up the side of the gorge than the original narrow gauge line which can be seen winding along by the river.  Despite heavy engineering works and frequent tunnels, the speed limit on the new line is 80 km/h.  Near Mostar we passed a maintenance depot for the “šinobus” licence-built Uerdingen 4-wheel railbuses that work the main-line stopping trains.

When we reached Čapljina, we found waiting in the narrow-gauge bay an 83 class 0-8-2 tender engine, with a wide firebox for burning the local brown coal, on a local train of bogie coaches.  This soon pulled out and its place was taken by a smart new silver and blue diesel unit which was immediately packed with holiday makers and their luggage.  The seat reservation tickets issued at Sarajevo were disregarded, but everyone was very friendly and apples were soon passed round.  It was, in a way, fortunate that we had not come a month or two earlier when the branch from Uskoplje to Herceg Novi and Zelenika was still open, as the 4-car diesel set was divided and two coaches sent to each destination.  Progress down the line was slow with trains, mainly heavy passenger or goods trains behind 83 class locomotives, to cross at nearly every loop, and a particularly long wait at Hum for a train which had toiled slowly up the gradient from Dubrovnik.

There was a general sense of relief when the passengers first caught sight of the blue waters of the Adriatic.  At Dubrovnik, one of the little yellow trams was waiting with a toastrack trailer to take the passengers to Pile at the gates of the old town or to Lapad.  North of the station by the sea were conveyors for transhipping bauxite and the stone-built engine sheds – even then partially unroofed – with more of the ubiquitous 83 class 0-8-2s and a surviving but derelict 0-6-4 articulated rack tank.

A second visit in September 1975 showed a sad state of decline.  The yellow trams had been replaced by yellow buses and more buses operated from a new concrete bus station, well away from both the railway station and the harbour.  There were no steam locomotives in sight, and standing outside the remains of the shed were a couple of 740 class B-B diesel hydraulic locomotives.  Forty of these were built by the Duro Daković works in 1970, with 600hp MGO engines; some have steam heating boilers for passenger work.  The 802 class railcar sets were still in use although they had obviously suffered a good deal of hard use and neglect since the days when they were the pride of the line.  The timetable was also much reduced and could only be ascertained by studying the departure indicator at the station, as the tourist office in the town centre would admit to knowing of no trains except those from Ploće.

One day we made a day trip to Trebinje, a town on the Trebišnjica river a few miles inland.  We took the 12.05 Čapljina train as far as the junction at Hum, where we found the mixed train to Trebinje, consisting of diesel locomotive 740-021, a single bogie compartment second coach, and eleven wagons, several loaded with coils of steel sheet.  As there were only a couple of other passengers, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the wooden seats as the train ambled along through the karst.

Arriving at Trebinje, we were surprised to find a modern station with colour light signalling controlled from a little CTC office.  While we were looking at this, 740-021 left the coach in a siding and carried on towards Bileća as a freight train.  When we walked round the town, we found the reason for the reconstruction.  The Trebišnjica river flows along the Popovo polje, a long fertile valley parallel to the coast and separated from it by a range of hills.  The river eventually disappears underground and makes its way through fissures and caverns in the limestone to come gushing out of a rock face near Dubrovnik.  The river is swollen by the winter rain and rapidly rises in September to flood the valley floor, while in the spring it almost disappears.  Various works have been undertaken to regulate its flow and the effect of these is to permanently raise the water level at Trebinje.  A new railway bridge was provided, and the railway realigned to link up with it.  The old alignment is now a footpath by the river, and from this we saw the afternoon railcar from Nikšić; at this time there was only one passenger train each way beyond Trebinje, a railcar at 23.15 from Čapljina, arriving at Nikšić at 5.35 the next morning, and returning at 13.18 to arrive at 19.42.  The line beyond Nikšić to Titograd has been converted to standard gauge and connects with the new main line from Belgrade to Bar.

The 19.20 train back to Hum was another 740 class engine and two coaches.  It carried a number of schoolchildren who were set down at halts consisting only of a lineside nameboard.  The lights in the carriage were turned out, and the slow journey through the strange limestone scenery, lit only by flashes of lightning, was an eerie experience.

Next page: Photos by Ron Fisher from 1966

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