The International Steam Pages

The Septemvri - Dobrinište railway, Bulgaria

James Waite reports on his visit which was designed to coincide with a steam charter organised by the Railway Touring Company.

This 760mm gauge railway runs from Septemvri, a station on the main Sofia-Plovdiv-Istanbul railway, through the Rhodope mountains to Dobriniště, 124kms away to the south west. It dates from the 1920's and is now the only public narrow gauge railway in the country.

After a few miles of open countryside alongside the main road the line reaches Varvare where a branch, now derelict, heads off towards Pazardzhic, a large town to the north east. Here the line enters the gorge of the Cepina river, a highly scenic stretch, and the climbing starts in earnest. The line twists and turns through the gorge for some miles. After a level crossing over the main road the valley broadens a little until the line reaches Dolene, a lonely spot some miles from the main road. Here the line crosses the river, makes a 180 degree turn and heads off along a side valley, eventually reaching the large spa town of Velingrad. West from here the railway climbs to a summit at Avramovo station, 1267 metres above sea level and the highest station in Bulgaria. The climb here and the descent beyond involve spirals and numerous tunnels. The line passes Razlog, the site of a large paper factory which used to provide the railway with much freight traffic and Bansko, now a rapidly developing tourist resort, before reaching the terminus at Dobriniště.

There are four daily passenger trains covering the whole route and an additional train as far as Velingrad. Most trains are worked either by the 75 class Bo-Bo diesel hydraulics, ten of which were built by Henschel for the line in 1965 or by the 77 class, mechanically similar but with a less stylish bodies, built by Faur at the 23rd August works in Romania in 1988. Originally there were ten 77's but five were sold to the RFIRT line at Rio Gallegos in Argentina in 1996 to replace the Mitsubishi 2-8-2's there. There are also a few of the 76 class, generally similar to the 77's and built in 1977 for the Cerven Brjag - Oriahovo railway, another 760mm gauge line which closed in 2002, the 81 class, Russian TY-7 class locos used for shunting and 80 001 a solitary 6w diesel hydraulic built by Henschel in 1966 and currently languishing at the back of Septemvri depot. There is currently no freight traffic.

For the opening ten 0-6-2T's, latterly 176 to 1076, were supplied by Rheinmetall of Dusseldorf in 1922 based on a Serbian design. After withdrawal in 1964 1076 saw further service at Razlog paper factory until withdrawn in 1971. It was preserved at Bansko until 1998 when it moved to Plovdiv. It has recently returned to Septemvri and is currently in open storage at the back of the depot. Sister loco 176 is preserved at Ruse railway museum in the north of the country. 

These locos proved underpowered for this steeply graded line. The first of a series of much larger 0-10-0T's latterly numbered in the 50176 series was built by CKD in 1927. Three are preserved, 50376 at Cerven Brjag, 50476 at Bansko and 50676 at Ruse museum. The first five examples of the final steam design, the 60076 series, arrived from Germany during the Second World War and were more or less a direct copy of the Saxon 750mm gauge 2-10-2T's, post-war examples of which still run on the old East German narrow gauge. Ten more were built by Chrzanow in 1949. The class survived until replaced by the 76 class diesels in the late 1970's. 60976 was restored to working order in the early 2000's. 61076 and 61176 recently arrived at Septemvri after many years storage at Cerven Brjag and are now stored at the back of the depot with 1076. There's a suggestion that one of them may soon be restored to working order so that longer special trains can be run using both locos. 61376 is preserved at Bansko.

This is a spectacular line. It's well worth visiting, particularly when a steam special is running. Assen Stoyanov from Sofia acts as an interpreter for many visiting tour groups and is happy to pass on details of forthcoming steam runs. He can be reached at . He's also a knowledgeable tramway enthusiast. Sofia's probably a good place for him to live. They have both standard gauge and metre gauge trams there.

Bulgaria used also to have a number of 600mm gauge lines whose origins lay in Feldbahn railways built by the German army during the First World War. Some 267km were built by the Germans and additional lines were later built by the Bulgarians. 93 Feldbahn 0-8-0T's were taken into BDZ stock along with 3 0-4-0T's and 9 0-6-0T's. One of the 0-4-0T's has been preserved in Bulgaria, 20260 (Borsig 5912/1906). It's now at the BDZ depot at Stara Zagora. Three of the 0-8-0T's are preserved in the country, 47060 (Henschel 15065/1917) at Ruse museum, 48960 (Smoschewer, Breslau 776/1925) at Dupnica BDZ depot and 47960 (Henschel 16012/1918) which has been on display in the concourse at Sofia station since 1999 and was previously preserved at Radomir. Four other ex-Bulgarian Feldbahn 0-8-0T's are preserved elsewhere in Europe, two in Germany and one each in Austria and Norway.

BDZ 0-8-0T 47960 in the concourse at Sofia station - if you're there look out also for 47.05, a standard gauge Maffei 0-6-0T tucked away at the northern end of the station behind the main building.

0-6-2T 1076 stored at Septemvri depot.

2-8-2  01.23 (SLM 3593/1935) and 60976 at Septemvri depot.

60976 in the Cepina gorge.

60976 in the Cepina gorge.

60976 crosses the River Cepina at Dolene.

60976 at Velingrad station waiting to leave for Bansko. This was its first run in preservation beyond Velingrad.

A service train making its way down the Cepina gorge.

Rob Dickinson