The 76cm gauge railways of Yugoslavia

Uskotracne (76-centimetarske) pruge bivse Jugoslavije

The 60cm Ohrid line in 1965 by Charlie Lewis

Link to timetables and map of Ohrid line

After some lazy shunting on a warm August afternoon, the 15:30 departure from Ohrid had been marshalled and, ready for almost any eventuality, No. 99.4-027 was about to head out of town. The four officials were driver, fireman, porter and guard. This seemed to be the laid-down establishment for all the trains, regardless of how few vehicles there were in the consist.

In August 1965 I rode on the 60cm-gauge Ohrid railway. By that time it had been cut back to the section from Ohrid to Gostivar - a distance of 167km, last remnant of a military line laid by the Bulgarians using German equipment during the First World War. The section onwards to Skopje had been widened to standard gauge several years previously. The only reason why the line was still operating was that it traversed the rugged Macedonian mountains for most of its distance, which in a straight line was little more than 80km. Other than donkey tracks leading off from the stations, I saw few roads.

Trains took over seventeen hours from one terminal to the other and the little Feldbahns had to refill their tanks about every ten kilometres. We changed engines five times en route, sometimes from quaint-looking sub-sheds. Each of the 0-8-0Ts (JZ 99.4 series, 1914-1918) was the same class but each one had been radically individualised. Although the line once had an assortment of 0-4-0Ts and 0-6-0Ts, I did not see them.  Maximum speed was about 15km/h, so in order to see the whole line one had to catch the 15:30 mixed from Ohrid and sleep over at a village called Novo Selo.

Very early next morning, reasonably on time, the overnight mixed (nicknamed The Ohrid Express') took me on to Gostivar where I caught a steam stopper to Skopje followed by a diesel express to Belgrade.
In 1966 the Ohrid railway was closed.

Soon after leaving Novo Selo the line entered the foothills of the magnificent and remote Macedonian mountains. Wayside business seemed to be handled by donkey power. The locomotive on the left is 99.4-055 in the loop for a southbound freight with two loads of ash and a characteristic gabled grain wagon, legacy of the line's military origins.  At Vrbjane, fourteen kilometres beyond Novo Selo, we swapped No. 99.4-055 for No. 99.4-104.

On the Ohrid line, departures were usually quite reliable but arrivals could be erratic.  Crews and engines were equipped to handle anything from obstacles on the track and derailments to engine failures and empty water tanks, exemplified by No. 99.4-104 at Presak being prepared for some serious climbing to the summit at Popovec.

Note from the front: acetylene lamp (about two candlepower) - mainly for warning stray donkeys; spark-arresting chimney; two strong jacks; fire rake; big sand dome; bigger spare drum of sand covered with oilcloth, held down by a slide chair; spare suction pump; two cans of lubricating oil; large toolbox; spring-loaded safety-valves (adjustable according to steepness of the grade); suction pump and hose with pipe for drawing water from streams; coal bunker; whistle.

The steepness of the thirty kilometre-long gradient from Novo Selo to the summit was uncertain.  All I can report is that speed was frequently down to walking pace and engines took water every few kilometres, usually from mountain streams, but rarely from gravity supplies.  No. 99.4-104 is sucking up water at an unknown rural pond while passengers come and go. In the background are some bogie wagons being loaded with logs and on the hillside towards the top of this view another level of the line can be seen as it twists and turns in the convoluted alignments necessary to maintain grade to the summit at Popovec.

With speed occasionally down to a crawl it was possible to get lineside pictures by jumping off and jogging ahead of the train.  Slogging up the bank to Popovec was No. 99.4-104 - again.

Having climbed continuously for about four hours we broke through the clouds at the summit, the 1,466-metre high station for Popovec,  The stationmaster is seen rushing over to change the triangle points. On the right, waiting to be turned is 99.4-104, exhausted after dragging our train up the mountain. On the left is 99.4-141 ready to take us on to Kicevo.

On the last lap to Gostivar: an unidentified engine is seen pulling away from the
halt at Djonovica in the late afternoon.

A trip to Dubrovnik in 1972 by Jim Horsford

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