The International Steam Pages

Orava Forestry Railway, Slovakia 

James Waite reports on a visit to one of Europe's lesser known steam attractions, the 760mm gauge Orava Forestry Railway in north western Slovakia in May 2019.

The main section of the Orava railway was built during WW1 but was of limited use as it didn't connect with a main line railway. In 1926 it was extended west over the Beskyd pass or saddle at an altitude of 935 metres to join up with the Kysuce Forestry Railway which did have a main line connection. The extension climbed steeply up to Beskyd summit and then dropped down the western side by a series of Z reversals. The combined railway was about 61km long and ran until closure in 1971, when the then Czechoslovak government declared the section over the Beskyd summit to be a listed monument. The western side reopened a few years later as the Vychylovka Museum Railway with two Hungarian-built locomotives from the old railway and I think it's quite well known in the UK but the eastern side, the Orava railway, wasn't restored until 2008. I had heard little of the Orava line until a chance mention in an exchange of emails with a Czech enthusiast friend last month.

The summit separates two administrative regions and the two sections are run by their respective museum authorities. The Vychylovka section seems to have management problems and has been without a working steam locomotive during the past few years. The eastern section, based at Tanecnik, is much more go-ahead and had a locomotive refurbished a few years ago. It's CKD D 76-90 class no 1441/1928 and worked on the old railway for many years until the closure - and also worked the last train. It's called "Gontkulak" after the mountain which overlooks Tanecnik and for many years before 1971 had the name prominently painted on its side but now it's back in its original nameless state.

After finding out about the railway I wrote asking for details of the running dates and was told that there would only be three this year as they are trying to conserve the locomotive. Sunday was the first of them. Rather with my tongue in my cheek I then asked if they would be willing to pose the locomotive with their timber wagon in the station at the end of the day as the ordinary tourist coaches aren't very photogenic. They readily agreed to do this but in the event they ran a special train for me with the wagon about halfway up to the summit and apologised that they couldn't go all the way to the top as they were running out of fuel - and all without any charge and they wouldn't even accept a tip. Really kind people. The weather varied between bright sunshine and heavy rain with a little hazy sunshine during the evening run.

The decorations on the front of the locomotive were part of the region's traditional May celebrations, the central part of which is the construction of huge maypoles by stripping off nearly all the branches and also the bark from tall conifer trees, leaving just the top two branches which are then decorated with ribbons. These were plentiful in the villages we passed through, often with several of them just a few metres apart, and small decorations of branches and ribbons were everywhere. The event was the railway's May celebration and there's another celebration in the district on 1st June when the poles are taken down. The crew kindly took the decorations off for the evening run.

Margaret and I came back home on Monday evening, starting with a 3 hours drive to Vienna airport. It was just as well we didn't stay longer as there was snow in Slovakia on Tuesday and I suspect that the winding mountain road out from the town wouldn't have been passable!

Certainly a weekend with a difference, made all the more memorable by an amazingly good small family-run hotel just along the road from Tanecnik station with brilliant food and local wine and lots of interesting flora and fauna all around. One of our best weekends ever!

This was just as we arrived on Saturday afternoon and the crew were polishing the loco ready for Sunday's runs. Note the white sheets keeping the wheels and motion clean. This is clearly a well-pampered machine! 

A decorated pole is beyond the locomotive.

The locomotive with its traditional May decorations.

These pictures were taken during the special run, the crew parked the locomotive for the third picture so they could take a souvenir one for themselves!

These last four pictures are of the two Hungarian locomotives in store at Vychylovka engine shed, the green one is a 0-8-0T (MAV 4281/1916). The rusty locomotive in the background in the second picture is a Krauss Munich 0-6-0T (15791/1939) from the old line which has never been restored. Maybe some of these locomotives will be back in action one day.

The black one (U34 901) a 0-6-0T (MAV 2282/1909) looks to me to have a disproportionately short wheelbase.

Rob Dickinson