The 76cm gauge railways of Yugoslavia

Uskotracne (76-centimetarske) pruge bivse Jugoslavije

Dubrovnik to Sarajevo in 1965 by Charlie Lewis

During a five-week visit to Yugoslavia in August/September 1965, my wife, Melly and I spent the first three weeks chasing trains in an old London taxi across the length and breadth of the Balkans. Eventually the primitive rural roads proved too much for our ten-year old vehicle and it broke down at Split.  As Melly's leave was about to expire and I was between jobs, I stayed behind while the repairs were done, using spares that had to be flown out from England.

I used this time to travel by narrow gauge from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo, on the 'Ohrid Express' and on the Steinbeis Railway, each of which will be covered in turn in this website.  I have also included a page on the unique Klose locomotives.  We went to Yugoslavia again in 1967 but with the closing of the main line south of Sarajevo the heart had gone out of the narrow gauge, and this was noticeable even amongst the staff.

Between 1974 and 1982 all the remaining Yugoslav narrow-gauge lines were closed by decree from head office - apparently on advice from foreign consultants.  Those consultants did Yugoslavia and the world at large a great disservice.  Whereas Switzerland has long banked on the scenic beauty of its country to keep its narrow-gauge lines open mainly for tourism, Yugoslavia, with scenery that is arguably every bit as good as Switzerland's, could have been advised to do the same.  A by-product of such a policy would have been the retention of rural services to isolated communities.

Considering the tragic events of the 1990s, the rebuilding of the Mokra-Gora spirals over the Sargan Mountains, on the line which used to run all the way from Belgrade to Sarajevo, has been a heroic initiative to revive tourism in the area.  However, one cannot help but remember how much easier it would have been had the railway not been lifted in the first place. 

The 08:10 dining-car express from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo only three kilometres out of town but already high above an inlet of the Adriatic.  These bustling trains were operated very smartly and, because of the stupendous scenery, seemed to go much faster than they actually were.  Running time for the 270 kilometres to Sarajevo was a little more than twelve hours.  The pilot is the two-cylinder compound version of class 83, No. 83-148 built by Krauss-Linz c. 1908, and the train engine is class 85 2-8-2 No. 85-019.

For a narrow-gauge  enthusiast, travelling through the Dinaric Alps and over the Sargan Mountains from Dubrovnik to Belgrade via Sarajevo (with steam all the way) was probably one of the most fascinating journeys anywhere in the 1960s.  In 680 kilometres of 76cm gauge there were deep limestone gorges, fast-flowing rivers and streams, tunnels by the hundreds, spirals (at two different locations), a rack section, an incomparable array of motive power and plenty of traffic.  By catching the early morning trains from Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, in summer it was possible to travel most of the way in two days in daylight.

Because of being arrested at Titovo Uzice for subversive activities (photographing the Mokra Gora spirals), my journey took three days even though I only started from Gabela, the junction for Ploce. Many of the photos in this section were taken while touring by car for a fortnight before riding the trains.

The very first of a famous class that continued in production for almost fifty years, 0-8-2 No. 83-124 (Krauss-Linz, 1903) in her sixty-second year, is seen drifting downgrade between Brgat and Ivanica  heading a freight for Dubrovnik . In the middle distance is the village of Grbavac, while in the distance can be seen the scar of the ,then new, coastal highway above the bay of Tiha.

In this view near Uskoplje, junction for the line to Hercegnovi, No. 83-126 banked by 83-151 were working upgrade with empties for the bauxite mines at Hum.  Unfortunately the picture cannot reproduce the characteristic two-beats-to-the-bar CHUFF-chuff, very loud and quite regular, made by these wonderful engines, so obviously well maintained.

A freight train hauled by 0-8-2 No.83-126, passes through Sumet station, 10 Kms from Dubrovnik..

Beyond Mostar the line followed the limestone gorge of the River Neretva with the narrow gauge line just above the torrent.  Here, 83-159 crosses the river at Aleksin Han with the 09.00 local from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik.  Nowadays this section of the river is dammed by the Grabovacko hydro electric scheme.  The main span of the bridge is still in existence but normally hidden under water.

Until 1966, Sarajevo, capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina, population 500,000, was connected to its principal ports by a single-track 76cm-gauge railway.  This was tremendous for narrow-gauge enthusiasts but must have been a nightmare for shippers.  Construction of a standard-gauge link, engineered to a high standard, had started in the late fifties and by mid 1965 it was well advanced. Between Mostar and Jablanica both the old and the new lines needed many bridges and tunnels to thread the 500 metre deep Neretva river gorge.  While the narrow gauge stuck to the valley floor, burrowing in and out of the vertical cliffs at short intervals, the standard gauge soared boldly over high viaducts to maintain a flatter grade. 

Another view in the Neretva gorge of a class 83 on a long express.

During the 1950's a large dam was built on the Neretva River just above Jablanica. Removing the railway from the riverbank necessitated a long deviation, the first few kilometres of which were steeply graded to surmount the dam wall.  Consequently most northbound trains out of Jablanica had to be banked and in 1965 this duty was being performed by class 189 Klose-articulated inside-cylindered 0-6-2Ts dating back to 1885.  On the left is No. 189-032 built by Krauss in 1896, about to bank a freight from Jablanica to Konjic at the foot of the rack section to Bradina.  Drifting in on the right with the daily all-stations Mostar to Sarajevo is two-cylinder compound, inside-cylindered 0-6-4T No. 185-018 built by Krauss in 1901, with Klose mechanism removed.  In the middle is a passenger train waiting to depart the other way with sixteen-year old No. 83-173, one of the last series built by Djuro Djakovic, Slavonski Brod in 1949 - a case of modern and ancient in one photograph.  Today, restored and healthy, 83-173 hauls tourist trains in the Sargan Mountains of Serbia.

Dubrovnik to Sarajevo in 1965 by Charlie Lewis - page 2

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