The International Steam Pages
Three Russian Narrow Gauge Peat Railways (RIP)
This is the third part of James Waite's visit to Russia in early August 2009. The other parts are:
Russia has enormous tracts of peat bogs and the countryís first peat-fired power station was built near Orehovo-Zuyevo, about 50 miles to the east of Moscow, in 1912. An extensive 750mm gauge system developed which was used not only to carry peat to the power station but also to bring supplies and materials to the peat workings and to provide a reliable passenger and general freight service for the local communities.
One of the first decisions made by the Bolsheviks after the revolution of October 1917 was to provide the country with a proper electric system. Construction of a large peat-fired power station began the following year at Shatura, about 30km to the south east of Orehovo-Zuyevo. Hugely expanded over the years itís still a major provider of electricity to the Moscow region. Its 750mm gauge system around the peat bogs extended for more than 500km at its peak and in addition peat was brought in over the broad gauge from other peateries further away. The Shatura system was always recognised as one of the premier Russian peat railways and even boasted a purpose-built test circuit which was used for evaluating new locomotive designs for many years. Peat extraction in the Moscow region has recently been banned for environmental reasons. The power station at Shatura has been converted to run on natural gas of which modern Russia has an abundant supply and the railways are now very much in their death throes.
Steam traction was used until the mid-1960ís on most of the lines though some of the main routes at Shatura were electrified in the early 1950ís. Latterly most of the steam locos in use were members of the PT-4 family, over 5,000 of which were built between 1947 and 1960 when political considerations dictated an end to steam construction even though the country possessed no narrow gauge diesel design suitable for its replacement. The Tu4-type diesel hydraulic was designed in 1961 specifically to replace the PT-4ís though at 250hp it was considerably less powerful. It went into mass production and around 3,210 had been built by the time construction came to an end in 1972. By the mid-1970ís steam was a thing of the past on almost all the peat lines. Curiously a decision was taken in 1972 to end electric working at Shatura and so the diesels there had the unusual distinction of replacing both steam and electric locos.
The Tu7, a more powerful diesel hydraulic, went into mass production in 1972. More attention was paid to the cosmetic appearance of these locos than had been the case hitherto and the distinctive shape of their cabs and bonnets remained characteristic of Russian narrow gauge locos until their production effectively came to an end in the mid-1990ís. The Tu7ís and the Tu7Aís, an updated version, even spawned a broad gauge variant which went into mass production for some years. A metre gauge version was exported to Vietnam with adaptations to make the locos suitable for the moist, tropical climate there. Many of them are still very much in use both on the DSVN around Hanoi and in industry. On the DSVN theyíre classified as D4Hís and the railway has more than 200 of them. Locos were also exported to Bulgaria, where some survivors are still in use at Septemvri depot, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Cuba. Altogether about 3,200 were built until construction ceased in 1994 by which time the narrow gauge was in such severe decline that demand for new locos had dried up.
A lighter diesel-mechanical loco, the Tu6A, went into mass production from 1972 and 3,915 were built between then and 1986. At some stage during this period the external design of these machines underwent a cosmetic upgrade with a modernised cab and bonnet arrangement borrowed from the Tu7ís. A further 540 Tu8 class locos, a development of the Tu6ís and Tu6Aís, appeared until construction ceased in 1993. There were several variants of the Tu6ís and Tu8ís including the Tu6D and Tu8G which were fitted with a lorry-type platform with a hydraulic arm. 418 of these were built between 1979 and 1992. In Vietnam the steelworks at Thai Nguyen, to the north of Hanoi, has both metre and standard gauge versions of the Tu8eís, the export version of the Tu8ís.
Sergei Dorozhkov, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable director of the Pereslavl narrow gauge museum, very kindly took Thomas Kautzor and me to visit three of the last depots in the region where locos are still based on the last day of our Russian visit. We started at Ryazanovka, some 40km or so to the south of Shatura. The peat railway here is closed though the track is still in situ, at least in the vicinity of the depot. The main shed is an extensive affair with heavy lifting gear and clearly itís equipped to carry out major overhauls. Close by VP4-1425 is plinthed in a small copse, unfortunately in a position where itís difficult to photograph. Itís one of three survivors of this Russian-built variant of the PT-4 design fitted with a gas steam drier which is housed in a distinctive casing mounted on top of the smokebox. Itís difficult to be sure of the precise identity of many Votkinsk locos. Sometimes the works numbers coincide with the running numbers, sometimes not. At Votkinsk locos were assembled from the stores of ready-made parts so the boiler number, works number, running number and numbers of different parts could be very close but not the same. Another of the VP4 locos was preserved for several years in Shatura town. Unfortunately it wasnít being properly looked after there and to prevent further deterioration it was taken for storage at an army base in the town and canít now be visited. The only other surviving member of the class is at the Pereslavl museum.
Several diesels of classes ESU2 and ESU2A, Tu4, Tu6, Tu6G, Tu7 and Tu7a were in store in the main shed or in smaller outlying sheds. The ESU2 and ESU2Aís are ungainly-looking vehicles. Described as being self-propelled electricity generating stations they were designed to power cranes and other machinery out in the peat bogs and were also used as small railcars. Out in the yard was a good selection of peat wagons and more specialist vehicles including two snow ploughs. A little to the north are three rotary tipplers where the peat was transferred to broad gauge wagons for the journey to Shatura.
We drove on to Baksheyevo depot to the north east of Shatura, one of the depots serving the Shatura system. The shed here was much smaller and presumably major overhauls would have been carried out in the central workshops at Shatura. Again the track in the vicinity of the depot was still in situ but we were told that the track had already been sold for scrap and presumably dismantling was imminent. One of the occupants of the shed was a PD-1 passenger trolley, a small single-ended railcar with a fixed leading axle and drive through a trailing 4-wheeled bogie. More than 1,000 of these railcars were built between 1955 and 1974. This was the only one we saw in the Shatura district though similar machines have been preserved at the Pereslavl and Lavassaare museums.
Our next stop was at Kerva depot on the outskirts of Shatura town. Here a sorry sight awaited us. Scrap merchants were dismantling the track immediately outside the depot, much of which had been burnt down although the small engine shed was intact and still housed two Tu4ís. A sad end to what had clearly been a magnificent narrow gauge system.
We paused briefly to look at the headquarters building of the Shatura transport department system and the old passenger station, ate an excellent lunch at the Bat Restaurant in the town and headed back to the airport for the journey home.
Shaturtorf, Ryazanovka (railway closed, being dismantled):
Shaturtorf, Baksheyevo (railway closed and sold for scrap):
ESU-2A 710 dumped in yard, no engine
Shaturtorf, Kerva (railway closed and being dismantled):
Tu4D 745 in shed
A statue of a lady carrying a basket of peat outside the headquarters building of the Shatura transport department.