The International Steam Pages

International Steam Books

Old book Reviews (3rd November 2005), Video reviews (12th April 2010),
Magazine Reviews (15th October 1999), CD-ROM Reviews (17th October 2001)
and  Web Site(s) Review

This page just faded away back in 2012 but I (RD) now have my own review of a book which is really a Traveller's Tale if ever there was one. Please don't blame Keith for the content!

Victor's Story

The Red Devil has been reprinted, contact publisher Camden Miniature as it is no longer on their website (25th August 2015).

Keith Chester writes (28th February 2007):

After a hiatus of some three years due almost entirely to my devoting the limited free time at my disposal to the completion of my own book The Narrow Gauge Railways of Bosnia-Hercegovina, I now hope it will be possible to resume reviews of railway books, DVDs etc on these pages on a more or less regular basis. As in the past, this will essentially cover those books on international steam which come my way: the choice is thus often rather arbitrary and, due to my living in Vienna, often has a German language flavour.

I am also, as in the past, happy to receive books, DVDs etc for review. I would however like to make one thing clear: my reviews are critical, offering an (inevitably subjective) judgment on the opus to hand, with the ultimate intention of assisting somebody who has not seen it to answer the question “Is it worth me parting with my hard-earned cash to buy this particular book/DVD?” What these reviews are not intended as is free and unquestioning publicity for somebody’s latest book or film. Please contact Rob Email: if you have something for me.

Book Reviews

Unless otherwise stated, all the reviews are by Keith. Those with brief information/details only are indicated thus @

Engineer of Revolutionary Russia
(29th March 2012)

Dampf getrieben
(January 30th 2012)

Patterns of Steam
(updated 4th September 2011)

Red Sea Railway
(2nd May 2010)

Gari la Moshi - Steam locomotives of the East African Railways
(29th January 2010)

K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg
(12th March 2009)

Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge Volume I
(12th March 2009)

Steam in Serbia
(13th January 2009 JW)

The Railways of Peru
(28th November 2008)

Steam Passion
(John Batwell, 24th August 2008)

Schmalpurig durch Ungarn
(12th August 2008)

The World's Last Steam Railway
(25th May 2008)

New Zealand 1950s Steam
(25th May 2008)

The Pulacayo Mine and Railway
(25th May 2007 CW)

(21st April 2007)

Thundering Smoke
(2nd April 2007 JB)

Eisenbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg
(28th February 2007 @)

Latvijas Dzelzceļu Lokomotīves
(28th February 2007 @)

Sitimela: A History of the Zambesi Saw Mills Logging Railway 1911-1972
(28th February 2007 @)

The Transcaucasian Railway and the Royal Engineers
(28th February 2007 @)

Railways of Bolivia
(28th February 2007 MW)

La Segunda Mula de Hierro
(28th February 2007)

Feldbahnen im Dienste der Landwirtschaft
(28th February 2007)

The Narrow Gauge Railways of Bosnia-Hercegovinia
(28th February 2007 CW)


Engineer of Revolutionary Russia Index
Iurii V. Lomonosov (1876-1952) and the Railways
by Anthony Heywood

Over the years many have bemoaned the predominance of the steam locomotive over virtually all other aspects of railway history, a reality that shows few signs of abating. Yet of the engineers, the men (or rather teams of men) who devoted their professional careers to the design and development of the steam locomotive, considerably less has been written. Indeed, many of the most talented of steam locomotive engineers, for example Austria’s Karl Gölsdorf, have never the subject of a biography, whilst the select few who have have by and large been treated either rather superficially or uncritically (witness the regular howls of protest in the British railway media every time some aspects of the work behind somebody’s favourite class of locomotives is questioned). Why this should be so is not apparent. Most of these men lived semi-public lives and source materials, both primary and secondary, should in most cases be readily available. Yet, though we live in an age fascinated by biography, good, critical lives of the great engineers remain few and far between. For this reason alone, we can only welcome Anthony Heywood’s recent volume 'Engineer of Revolutionary Russia' on the life of one of the greatest of them all: Iurii V. Lomonosov.

Born in 1876, Lomonosov’s formative years were shaped by the tumultuous final decades of Tsarist Russia, times of great social and economic upheaval, of corruption and reaction, of progressive politics and national humiliation. 41 at the time of the October Revolution, Lomonosov served the young Soviet regime for the best part of the following decade, only to spend his final 25 years in exile. His life thus neatly spans a fascinating and pivotal period in both Russian and world history. He was also a man of considerable talents who spent a goodly proportion of his working life in the upper echelons of Russian and Soviet railways, who knew Lenin and who was a larger-than-life character: in short, Lomonosov is an admirable subject for a biography and in Anthony Heywood he has an admirable biographer.

Lomonosov was a scion of the minor nobility. In family tradition he was sent to the Moscow Cadet Corps school but from an early age showed signs of the wilful obstinacy and rejection of authority which would accompany him through his life and, many would add, blight his career. Determined not to become a soldier, Lomonosov discovered engineering at 16 and studied at the prestigious Institute of Ways of Communication in St. Petersburg; it was a fortunate time to embark on such a career as Russia’s rapidly expanding railway system was seeking growing numbers of trained native born engineers. 

It was whilst studying at St. Petersburg that Lomonosov had his eureka moment, the first glimpses of his understanding that to improve upon the efficiency of railway operation and construction (a recurring leitmotif), it was first necessary to know how the steam locomotive functioned in its working environment, i.e. whilst hauling trains. From this developed the work he is perhaps best known for, his scientific road experiments on steam locomotives and the theories he drew from them. But as Heywood makes clear, road testing occupied only a relatively small part of Lomonosov’s time as he was laying the foundations of his career, first in academia and then, after 1907, for various railways.

A high flyer from the start, Lomonosov rose quickly through the ranks. But even in these early years, the contradictions in his character held him back. Heywood tellingly writes of the ‘centrality of conflict’ in his career. Lomonosov was never modest about his great talents and abilities and did not suffer fools gladly. Thus whilst he was able to inspire great loyalty amongst some, his career was littered with the rivals and enemies he made seemingly in droves. He was too much of an egotist and individualist ever to be a team player, yet here was a man who aspired to a career in the highest echelons of the enormous bureaucracy that was Russian, and later Soviet, railways.

In 1905–07 Lomonosov had actively engaged in revolutionary politics (Heywood devotes an entire chapter to this) and when the February Revolution took place in 1917, he openly supported change. (One rather suspects that his own wish for a scientific understanding of the workings of the steam locomotive in order to improve its efficiency made the quasi scientific underpinnings of Socialism and Marxism and their promises of a superior society very attractive to him.) In April 1917 the new Provisional government appointed Lomonosov head of a mission to purchase locomotives and rolling stock in the USA. Thus, he was not in Russia during the October Revolution but despite initial scepticism about the Bolshevik seizure of power, by mid-1918 he had thrown in his lot with Lenin. From then until he went into a voluntary but timely exile in January 1927, Lomonosov was close to the Soviet regime and for long nurtured the not unrealistic ambition of becoming Kommissar of the NKPS, the vast ministry responsible inter alia for the running of Soviet railways. This period saw him entrusted with several vital tasks. The purchase of large numbers of E class 0-10-0s from Sweden and Germany was, as Heywood points out, of the greatest political importance for the USSR as it demonstrated to the world that the pariah regime in Moscow could be a reliable partner. Lomonosov handled these negotiations and the subsequent organisational and logistical problems of getting these locos to the Soviet Union with consummate ease; this is a topic dealt with in depth by Heywood in his 1999 book Modernising Lenin’s Russia (CUP).

From 1920–21 Lomonosov was a leading advocate of developing main line diesel traction: again, that restless search for greater efficiency, the steam locomotive being notoriously thermically inefficient. Through his connections with Lenin he was able to secure in June 1922 agreement confirmation of his plan to order several experimental diesels abroad. At all stages Lomonosov was closely involved in their design and construction. When delivered, the first loco acquitted itself well on trial in 1924–25 (and remained in stock until 1954) and was instrumental in the development of main line diesel traction; the second, delivered in late 1925, was not successful. Yet, at this moment of apparent triumph, Lomonosov’s star was waning and by the end of 1925 his railway career was effectively over. With Lenin dead, his chronic inability to network and his enormous talent for upsetting his peers and superiors finally told against him. Rather than risk a worse fate in the USSR, Lomonosov spent the years between 1927 and his death in 1952 in exile. Like many others in his position he could find no new role for himself and, as a ‘non-person’ in the Soviet Union (he gets no mention in the 1955 edition of Rakov), he virtually disappeared from the radar screen.

In the quarter century he was professionally active Lomonosov packed an enormous amount into his extraordinary life, enough material for half-a-dozen biographies: a successful academic, a pioneer of scientific locomotive road testing and above all of diesel traction, a trouble shooter and highly talented administrator, a revolutionary, an associate of Lenin, an embezzler, a philanderer and an exile. He was a deeply flawed man personally: on account of his inability to work with others he never made it to the top and with so many enemies he faded quickly into obscurity. His was, in Heywood’s words, a ‘tale of potential unfulfilled’.

But it was never a dull life and Lomonosov is fortunate indeed to have finally found in Anthony Heywood a worthy biographer. This is a book aimed primarily at an academic audience and the use of Lomonosov’s life to illustrate various academic controversies is at times a little heavy handed. That said, Heywood, unlike many professional historians, writes well and the book is both well paced and very accessible. Lomonosov’s multifaceted life and work are lucidly explicated and put clearly into their political and social context. Admittedly, not every chapter (nor every one of the 63 photographs reproduced) will directly appeal to the railway enthusiast, but there is more than enough in this book to fascinate and inform anybody interested in Russian and early Soviet railways and steam locomotives, locomotive testing and the work of a true pioneer of diesel traction. Highly recommended.

Engineer of Revolutionary Russia
Iurii V. Lomonosov (1876-1952) and the Railways
by Anthony Heywood
Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited (, link broken 1st November 2019)
ISBN 978-0-7546-5539-8
Price £75.00

Dampf getrieben – 35 Jahre Dampflokjagd auf vier Kontinenten by Matthias Ahlke & Ulrich Nowak

Over the years I am sure that many of us have mused over the idea of producing a photographic album of our favourite steam shots. Few of, however, have been granted the opportunity and with, I am reliably informed, the market for such books in sharp decline, even fewer of us will. So, all power to two photographers, Matthias Ahlke and Ulrich Nowak, who have achieved such a goal, and to the publishers for producing their book at a reasonably priced € 34.

Dampf getrieben – 35 Jahre Dampflokjagd auf vier Kontinenten (Steam driven – 35 years of hunting steam on four continents) is in many ways a very personal work, revealing in its 230 photos, nearly all in colour, the odyssey of two young schoolboys who in their early teens began photographing steam locomotives in their native Germany in June 1975. Smitten by the bug, they then spent the next three-and-a-half decades running around the world seeking out and photographing the survivors of the species. It is a familiar tale and something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Though they started out relatively late in the steam era, Ahlke and Nowak have travelled widely and their book, which is divided into discrete country sections, includes photos from East and West Germany, Austria, Poland, Turkey, Paraguay, Argentina, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Pakistan, Vietnam, North Korea, Indonesia and China. Each section is prefaced by a short (German language) reflection on the country concerned and the experiences of the two authors. This is a real strength of the book for Ahlke and Nowak clearly approached the places they visited with an open-mindedness all too rare. (Given the generally appalling press Pakistan receives, it is a great pleasure to read their fond and sensitive memories of the country.) Many of the pictures themselves are generously printed one to a page and colour reproduction is of a high standard. Each photo has short caption (the focus is on the picture) and unusually the authors have chosen not to identify which of them took which shot. This is very much a joint work spread over 35 years.

This is also one of the most difficult books I’ve ever reviewed. There are some outstanding photos here. The authors know how to use colour and light better than most, whilst railwaymen and locals are integrated into their photos to excellent effect. Wide angle lenses are used creatively and this book contains some of the best wide angle shots I’ve ever seen. And nor do they put their cameras away when the sun goes in. There is a wonderful photo of Bad Doberan in the rain in 1990 which captures perfectly the drab dreariness of life in the former GDR.

Ahlke and Nowak are self-evidently very talented photographers. Yet, midst all the many genuine delights of Dampf getrieben, there are frankly quite a large number of photos, admittedly well executed and well reproduced, that are not much more than workmanlike record shots. And this seems to me to be the confusion at the heart of this book: it is not quite sure who is its audience. For, in addition to the pictures of steam locomotives and closely related subjects (eg machinery in workshops), some sections include purely tourist photographs of markets, mosques, old cars, highly decorated lorries etc.. These account for 46 (or 20%) of the 230 photographs in the book, and reaches its peak (or nadir) in the North Korea section where eight of the 12 photos reproduced are solely of tourist interest (pictures of a statue of the lamented ‘Great Leader’ or the DMZ). Without doubt these are often excellent photos per se and of considerable interest but the question is whether they have a place in a book of steam railway photographs. And if so, to what extent.

This is something everybody has to decide for themselves. My personal feeling is that there is a terrific book here struggling to get out from the morass of tourist photos and record shots. Dampf getrieben is in short an uneven work and would have benefited from a more rigorous selection of photographs. Despite this proviso, this book can be recommended – there is some great stuff here.

By Matthias Ahlke and Ulrich Nowak
ISBN : 978-3-402-12789-4
Published by Aschendorff Verlag (
Price : € 34

Red Sea Railway by Jennie Street and Amanuel Ghebreselassie  Index

Perhaps one of the strangest events of the last 15 years or so as the steam locomotive has spluttered its way through its final act has been the revival of the Eritrean railway with steam traction. This line, whose many splendours were brought to the attention of most enthusiasts by Charles Small in his almost legendary book Far Wheels (1959), was begun as a classic Italian colonial railway in 1887. It was destroyed and eventually closed in January 1976 as a consequence of the Eritrean armed struggle for independence for Ethiopia, a war of remarkable ferocity and bloodshed. But then in the mid-1990s came the almost incredible news that newly independent Eritrea, one of the world’s poorer countries, was to rebuild its railway without the benefits – and interference – of foreign aid. In effect the reconstruction was to be done almost entirely by refurbishing existing infrastructure and rolling stock, which inter alia involved the restoration of some of the surviving steam locos. Today, the combination of Italian narrow gauge Mallets running through truly spectacular scenery has made Eritrea an extremely popular destination for steam rail tours. Unsurprisingly, in recent years a number of books have been written on the railway. I have seen none of these, and can thus make no comparisons, but I do know that the railways of Eritrea have been well served by the authors of Red Sea Railway.

Railway history in Eritrea falls into five distinct phases, each of which is comprehensively and well described here. First of all was a ten-mile military line built to supply the British expeditionary force against the Abyssinian Emperor Tewedros in 1867–68; less than a year in operation, this used second-hand broad gauge rails and rolling stock from India and was perhaps the widest field railway ever. Then came the long Italian phase. In its bid for Great Power status, late 19th century Rome joined the land grab in Africa. The Italians took control of the port of Massawa on the Red Sea coast in 1885 and from this base began to spread their influence, declaring the colony of Eritrea in 1890. This was an age when colonisation and railways went hand in hand: troops and administrators were transported inland and the wealth of the country to the coast for export. In this respect the 306km-long 950mm gauge Eritrea railway, constructed in stages between 1887 and 1928, was a classic colonial railway. What set it apart was its bold engineering necessitated by the need to overcome the escarpment between the coastal plain and Asmara: by means of numerous tunnels, viaducts and horseshoe curves the railway climbed over 700m in 24km. In this it is reminiscent of its near contemporary, the Antivari Railway, built by the Italians for similar motives; however, unlike its Montenegrin counterpart, the Eritrean railway was superbly engineered and solidly built.

Italian control ended in 1941 when the British occupied Eritrea. They assumed responsibility for the railway in what the authors aptly describe as a holding operation until 1952 when by UN writ Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia. Promises of a new dawn were not realised and in the face of growing road competition the railway witnessed the familiar pattern of decline, a process greatly accelerated by the independence war which began in the early 1960s; by the time it was closed in 1976, it was carrying little traffic. Eritrea finally won its long struggle for independence in 1991. Thoughts quickly turned to rehabilitating its derelict railway, but with the economy in tatters and the decision to go it alone, this was necessarily a slow process. However, with the railway very much a symbol of the national renaissance and pride, the reconstruction of the 117km section from Massawa to Asmara was completed between 1997 and 2002.

This is the story very well told by Street and Ghebreselassie. In addition to the history of the railway, there is an historical overview which puts the railway into its context (something railway histories often fail to do); there is a full description of the line, a detailed exposition on its motive power and rolling stock, and comprehensive coverage on the industrial railways of Eritrea, as well as the 75km-long ropeway the Italians erected in the late 1930s. This is all accompanied by a vast array of statistical detail. In short, the book has everything there should be in a (very good) railway history. But Red Sea Railway has more. It places great emphasis on the people who have worked on and travelled over the railway, indeed the former have a whole chapter dedicated to them. This very much reflects current interests in oral history, but it did at times leave me wondering who the book was aimed at. Red Sea Railway is also characterised by extensive use of lengthy quotations. This I find in general highly laudable, but again at times it did seem we were perhaps getting a bit too much of a good thing; responses to this approach will I suspect be very individual.

Red Sea Railway has maps and gradient profiles galore and is superbly illustrated, not only with colour shots of modern steam specials, but with a full and representative selection of photographs from the very earliest days of the railways in Eritrea through to the 1976 closure. Given the turbulent history of the country, it is remarkable how much has survived and it is clear the authors have worked hard to assemble this collection. All in all, this is a highly commended tribute to one of the world’s most scenic railways and in its present incarnation, certainly one of its most unusual: as the authors note, seven years after reopening the railway has little traffic other than steam rail tours. Red Sea Railway should find a well-deserved place on the book shelves of many enthusiasts, whether their interest is in African railways or they are among those who have flocked to Eritrea in recent years. Recommended.

By Jennie Street and Amanuel Ghebreselassie
ISBN 978-0-9564317-0-7 
RRP £29.99
Available only through:

or from:
16, The Grove, Sheffield S17 4AS UK. Please check website for P/P charges as the book is at 1.3kg heavy. 

Gari la Moshi - Steam locomotives of the East African Railways by R. Ramaer Index

After the calamity of 1968 (the end of UK mainline steam! RD), like many others I began to be aware that there were steam locomotives other than the products of Swindon and Eastleigh. Among these were the legendary maroon class 59 Garratts of the East African Railways. Sadly, circumstances dictated that I never got to this part of the world, something I have always regretted, especially now as R. Ramaer’s “Gari la Moshi” (literally steam wagon) makes it abundantly clear what was missed.

The origins of the EAR lay in two distinctive colonial railways built to tap the mineral and agricultural wealth of newly claimed territories in eastern Africa. Though the British were the imperialists par excellence, in terms of railway building in the region they were pipped to the post by the upstart Germans, who in 1893 began constructing a metre gauge line from Tanga on the coast towards Lake Victoria. German inexperience in building railways in tropical climes delayed the project and it never even half-way reached its goal. Other lines followed, of which the most important was that between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma, intended to give the Germans access to the Katanga copper fields. Locomotives came in the form of typical German products of the period, which increased in size from small four-coupled machines to Mallet tanks and 2-8-0s as both lines grew in length. The prospect of through running to Kigoma led to Hanomag being asked for designs for suitable locos. It proposed a fat-boilered 4-8-2 or 4-10-0, both of which look to have been impressive machines, but sadly a quantum leap that never came to reality due to their weight and cost. After the Great War, German East Africa became the British colony of Tanganyika. The former German engines found little favour among their new owners and were replaced by 8-coupled locos of various wheel arrangements. Three Garratts were purchased in 1930 but the Great Depression put an end to any further development.

After initial indecision the British commenced construction of the Uganda Railway from the coast at Mombasa inland to the prized fertile lands of Uganda. This was begun in 1896 and five years later, behind schedule and way over cost, reached Kisumu on Lake Victoria, from where steamers shipped goods and passengers to Uganda. The metre gauge was chosen in the misguided belief that the railway could save money by purchasing second-hand locos from India. It did but the standard E class 0-4-2s and F class 0-6-0s were hopelessly underpowered and the UR had to buy dedicated motive power, with no savings and at the expense of the lost opportunity of a common gauge in the British African territories. North British 0-6-6-0s acquired in 1912-14 did not live up to expectations and the UR settled for a series of 4-8-0s for its traffic needs. The UR was renamed the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1926, the same year it obtained its first Garratts, a type that came to dominate the main lines of the region until the end of steam.

The political moves towards ever closer regional cooperation among Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika led in May 1948 to the amalgamation of the KUR and TR to form the East African Railways. There followed what in retrospect appears to be a golden age during which the EAR modernised its steam fleet (all painted in a glorious maroon livery) with powerful 2-8-2s and 2-8-4s, and a family of Garratts culminating in the famed class 59 4-8-2+2-8-4s. Even bigger ones were planned but the class 61 4-8-4+4-8-4 behemoth never progressed beyond the drawing board: it would have been the heaviest and most powerful steam loco ever built for the metre gauge. By the early 1970s, this was all falling apart. Dieselisation was on the horizon and, more importantly, political differences caused the breakup of the East African Community: the EAR were split up in 1976. Steam hung on on some lines into the 1980s with today memories revived by the occasional steam special.

This then in brief is the story excellently recounted by R. Ramaer in “Gari la Moshi”, a revised and much extended version of a book which first appeared in 1974. Ramaer, who lived and worked in Kenya in the early 1970s, has an intimate knowledge of the EAR and their steam locomotives. The book is authoritative and will long remain the definitive work on the subject. Interestingly, Ramaer, in comparison with earlier writers such as Dusty Durrant, is sceptical about the benefits of the Giesl ejector, widely used on the EAR, a view which chimes in with those of David Wardale. The book is generously illustrated in both black & white and colour, and line drawings of every loco type from Ramaer’s own pen, as well as copious locomotive lists. Rolling stock, especially that of the early days, is also given ample coverage. All in all this is a fine book to the usual Stenvall high production standards and can be thoroughly recommended.

Publisher : Frank Stenvall Förlag

ISBN : 978-91-7266-172-1

Price : € 36.00 or £ 32.00

Available from the publisher (post and packing extra) :

Frank Stenvalls Förlag, Föreningsgatan 12, Box 17111, SE-200 10 MALMÖ, Sweden

K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg by Dieter Stanfel Index

The crucial role of railways in warfare from the American Civil War to the Second World War has long been acknowledged, yet it has received comparatively little attention from railway and locomotive historians. If we take the major combatants of the First World War, generally regarded as the apogee of military railways, the picture is decidedly patchy: Keith Davies and Keith Taylorson have good background works on the WDLR, but we have no detailed locomotive history; French and German histories are like the curate’s egg, excellent in parts but with many gaps; there is one good monograph on the American contribution and a very brief introduction to the locos of the Russian field railways in my Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives in Russia and the Soviet Union (2003). But of Austria-Hungary there has to date been nothing.

This glaring omission has now been corrected by the publication of Dieter Stanfel’s K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg (which may roughly be translated as Austro-Hungarian military field railways in the First World War). To get the cliché out of the way immediately: this book fills a major gap and it does so, moreover, in a manner both admirable and comprehensive.

Austria-Hungary’s military use of railways dates back to its war with Italy in the 1850s. Railway units within the army were established in 1870 and a Railway Regiment was founded in 1883. This was headquartered at Korneuburg just north of Vienna, where a large training centre developed over the years. One of the Regiment’s two battalions was based here whilst the other was outstationed on the standard gauge Banjaluka–Doberlin railway in Bosnia. In 1883 began the first experiments with horse-worked field railways and it was at this juncture that 700mm gauge was adopted as standard for the military field railways in the Monarchy. The decision was to prove fatal: in times of war it was difficult to quickly obtain spare parts and new equipment for this unusual gauge; moreover, as the 600mm and 750mm gauges were standard on the military field railways of Austria-Hungary’s neighbours, it was impossible to borrow locos and rolling stock from friends or use the captured materials of foes.

Why 700mm was persisted with is unclear (perhaps there was a need to be different from the Germans?) but a clear opportunity to abandon it was lost in 1901 when Austria-Hungary somewhat belatedly (though by no means as late as Great Britain (1916)) began trials with locomotive-worked field railways. From these emerged some robust and by all accounts effective 0-8-0s, though experiments were also made with other forms of traction.

But as ever there was an enormous gap between Austria-Hungary’s pretensions to Great Power status and the realities of its lack of economic clout. The army, though voracious, was starved of funds and the Monarchy went into the Great War, a conflict which arguably it had done much to provoke, totally ill-prepared: with only 58 steam locomotives in stock the military field railways continued to rely heavily on horses for motive power.

Had the First World War indeed been over by Christmas, then this might not have mattered. But it wasn’t and by the late summer of 1915 the military field railways were feeling the strains of their being wedded to the 700mm gauge and, above all, of the acute shortage of horses. From early 1916 onwards the Austro-Hungarian military made ever increasing use of 600mm gauge locomotive-worked field railways. The requisite steam locomotives were either purchased on the open market or were especially manufactured for this purpose: the latter came in the form of the standard RIIIc 0-6-0T, the Austro-Hungarian equivalent of the German Brigadelok. Unfortunately production of the RIIIc did not really get into full swing until 1918, far too late in the day. In addition to its large fleet of 600mm gauge steam engines, the Austro-Hungarian field railways made extensive use of various internal combustion, battery and even electric locomotives.

This in brief is the story lucidly recounted by Dieter Stanfel in the first half of K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg; inevitably, a knowledge of German is necessary to get the most out of this section. But even those who do not read the language will find much to interest them in the second half of this excellent book, which is devoted to exhaustive locomotive lists (essentially of the approximately 700 plus 600mm and 700mm gauge steam locomotives employed by the military field railways as records for the other forms of traction do not seem to have survived) and to lengthy lists of all known field railways with accompanying maps. The book is richly illustrated, indeed it is worth purchasing for its pictures alone, though, on the negative side it has to be said that some of the reproduction is a little muddy by present-day standards.

K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg fills a massive lacuna in our knowledge. It is the result of decades of research in archives in Vienna and is clearly the definitive work; there may be the odd correction to be made here and there, but basically there is little more to say on the subject. We all owe Dieter Stanfel an enormous debt of gratitude for this important book: a “must-have” for any narrow gauge enthusiast.

K.u.k. Militärfeldbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg

by Dieter Stanfel

ISBN 978-3-937189-41-3

Price: €39.80 plus postage & packing

Availability: The book should in time be available from the usual sources or you can order it direct. With the typical Central European love of complication, where you do this depends on where you live:

Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, FYROM, Bulgaria & Romania:, Thymiangasse 1, A-2353 Guntramsdorf, Austria 
or order on line: (link dead by October 2014)
For the rest of the world:
DGEG Medien GmbH, Nordstraße 32, D-33161 Hövelhof, Germany
or order on line:

Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge Volume I by Johann Blieberger and Josef Pospichal Index

Austrian railway enthusiasts have over the years been poorly served by the literature available to them. Whilst there are books and magazine articles devoted ad nauseam to a few perennial favourites (eg the Mariazellerbahn or the class 310 2-6-4s), there are by way of contrast few standard histories of the main railway companies, not to speak of the minor ones, no serious study of locomotive development per se, no biography of the genius Gölsdorf, almost nothing on industrial railways. The Slezak books, which might have filled that gap, were all too often a hodge-podge of old, out of copyright material, reprinted without commentary or critique. But at least he was publishing – since his death a few years back few serious railway books have been published in Austria.

Into this vacuum has stepped a small group of enthusiasts dedicated to publishing quality books on aspects of Austrian railway history. The group trendily calls itself and functions as a non-profit cooperative, with the funds accruing from the sales of one book being ploughed back into financing the next. Their very first book, Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge by Johann Blieberger and Josef Pospichal, has recently been published and, though not without its teething troubles, augurs well for the future.

Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge is the first of four projected volumes to be devoted to the locomotives of the kkStB, the principal state-owned railway company in the Austrian half of the old Habsburg Monarchy. Almost unbelievably this is the first attempt to systematically deal with these locomotives. Volume I covers kkStB classes 1 to 228. Two or three pages are given over to each class, with a general history (in German), leading dimensions and what I would suspect will make the book of greatest value to most readers detailed lists of the locomotives themselves, including subsequent disposals and withdrawal dates. Each class is illustrated with one or two photographs and as far as possible the authors have chosen previously unpublished material; in many cases there are also line drawings. The locos are dealt with in strictly numerical order, which given the complexities of the kkStB’s numbering scheme throws up some strange combinations. Maybe there was a logic to the system, but it is not easy to discern and it is at times hard to track down particular locomotives. The authors helpfully provide a suggested order of reading but this looks almost like a depiction of the human genome. However, Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge is essentially a reference book, to be dipped into as required and the confusions stemming from the kkStB numbering system are perhaps not such import.

The teething troubles lie above all in the layout of the book. It is excellently printed on very high quality paper, very nice to the touch, but there are far too many large white blank spaces which could have easily been filled with additional pictures. Moreover, many of the drawings have reproduced poorly and again it would have perhaps been better in such instances to have replaced these with more photographs.

Nonetheless, it has to be said that has got off to an excellent start and, once it has got the problems of layout sorted out, should finally make available a series of well researched and well produced books on Austrian railway history, something which has been sorely lacking to date. Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge is heartedly recommended.

Die kkStB Triebfahrzeuge Volume I

by Johann Blieberger and Josef Pospichal

ISBN 978-3-9502648-0-7

Price: € 39.90 (plus postage)

The book is stocked by a few bookshops but is best ordered direct online: (link dead by April 2015)

Steam in Serbia 1882-2007 Index

This is the first English-language book to have come my way which deals primarily with the railway history of this fascinating country. Railway construction in Serbia did not get under way until the late 1870’s; the country’s independence was recognized by the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and it was obliged to build a line between the River Sava, which then formed the northern border, and the borders with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire to the south. The result was the construction of the railway between Belgrade and Nis which opened in 1884 and is still one of the country’s principal main lines. The first part of the book, a little under one third of the whole, is devoted to a history of railway construction in the country from this time until the First World War, the military railways built by the occupying powers during the war and the extensive reconstruction which was necessary after the damage suffered during the war. It continues with an overview of the motive power available to the pre-war railway and its incorporation into what became JZ after the formation of Yugoslavia and accounts of later railway construction.

The greater part of the book is devoted to the country’s surviving industrial steam and the preservation scene. There’s a detailed account of the history and restoration of the Mokra Gora line and its extension over the Bosnian border towards Visegrad, and the history of the railway museums in Belgrade and Pozega. The author gives us a detailed history of all the JZ classes which ran in Serbia and of which examples survive either in preservation or in industry along with all other surviving Serbian locos.

Of course for many years the history of the country’s railways, and especially its locos, has been entwined with that of other parts of the former Yugoslavia. Of necessity the book deals with many locos with a Serbian connection which survive beyond its borders and not just those in present-day Serbia. Thus there’s a detailed section on JZ 72-018, the last survivor of a series of 76mm gauge 0-6-2T’s built for the pre-WW1 Serbian railways which ended its commercial service at a factory in Sarajevo. It owes its survival to the enlightened approach to preservation adopted back in the 1970’s by the railway authorities and individual enthusiasts in Slovenia. CSD 76mm gauge 0-4-4-0 Mallet tanks no’s U47.001, which survives today at the JHMD in the Czech Republic and U47.002 which is preserved at Presov MPD in Slovakia, are also covered. They also originated in Serbia but never returned after being removed by the Austro-Hungarian authorities in WW1.

The whereabouts of all of Yugoslavia’s surviving Kriegsloks (class 33) is fully covered, not just those in Serbia. There are paragraphs on all surviving members of the ubiquitous 62 class 0-6-0T’s, some of which have travelled as far as Canada, and on the 76mm gauge 83 class 0-8-2’s which are preserved today as far afield as Austria and Macedonia. The present-day locations of the ten CKD 76mm gauge 0-6-0T’s built for Banovici colliery are also listed even though the class’s only tenuous connection with Serbia is that one of them, no. 25-27, ended up being preserved in the country after its working days were over. However the book does not deal with Yugoslav steam in its entirety. Thus you won’t find any reference to the JZ 06 class 2-8-2’s which ran solely in Slovenia and survive there in preservation other than the briefest mention that their boilers and other parts were standard with the 05 class Pacifics which, being a Serbian class, are covered in detail.

The author expresses the hope that some of the country’s exiled locos may one day return to Serbia. The country’s preservation activities today are impressive, especially the reconstruction of the Mokra Gora railway. However there’s still a lack of a good representative museum collection such as the excellent Ljubljana museum in Slovenia or even the fledgling Zagreb collection in Croatia. It’s sad to see pictures in the book of some of the country’s unique locos in what look like advanced stages of dereliction. It’s sad, too, to read of industrial locos which have been scrapped within the last three or four years when in some other countries their survival would be more or less assured.

Towards the end of the book the author there’s an account of the SINVOZ repair shops at Zrenjanin which, sadly, became a victim of the credit crunch after the book went to press and useful chapters on the surviving narrow gauge industrial lines at Kostolac and Vreoci, the latter including useful information about the fleet of Bo-Bo electrics, some of which are considerably older than the well-known Decauville 0-6-0T’s built between 1952 and 1954. Finally there’s an interesting list of the distribution of locos throughout the southern Yugoslav republics in 1949-50 on the standard gauge and on the 76mm and 60mm gauges.

Throughout the book is copiously illustrated, all in colour apart from some historical black and white material – the majority taken by the author who is clearly a competent photographer. There are a few misprints and others have referred to the occasional factual error which is probably inevitable given the vast range of material covered here most of which has never appeared in print before. However these do little to detract from what is a most valuable source of information. This is an excellent book which will be essential reading for the increasing number of enthusiasts visiting Serbia and for all with an interest in its railways.

James Waite, January 2009

Steam in Serbia 1882-2007 by Zoran Veresić, translated by Predrag Sibinović
200 pages 21.5 x 22.5cm, colour and black and white photographs, ISBN 978-86-911587-0-5.
Published by The Royal Railway Society of Serbia Price 35 euros including postage throughout Europe and available from the author at 

Volume 2 – The Central and Southern Lines

By Robert D. Whetham

Peru is a country I have never visited and about whose railways I know virtually nothing. So I was pleased to receive Volume 2 of Bob Whetham’s “Railways of Peru – The Central and Southern Lines”. To my surprise this is rather different in content to Volume 1, which appeared in 2007 and focussed on the north of the country where short and industrial railways predominate. Volume 2, in contrast, is very much concerned with the main lines into the mountains for which Peru is justifiably famed, the much lauded Andes class 2-8-0s and the three-foot Huancayo line which was steam worked into the early 1980s and attracted many enthusiasts.

By that time, however, the other railways described here had either been dieselised or closed. So we are more than fortunate that Bob Whetham was active in Peru in the mid-1960s just before its railways were overwhelmed by modernisation. Not only did he make a comprehensive photographic record of the railways, including the last of steam, of that now lost era, but he has also devoted the intervening years to delving widely into their history. He is thus well placed to tell the story of Peru’s railways and rises to the task admirably.

At the heart of the book lies the standard gauge FC Central whose 346km-long main line ran from Callao on the Pacific coast to Huancayo high in the Andes. To reach its summit of 4781m required steep gradients, tight curves and numerous switchbacks. The railway was built to tap the great mineral wealth of the Andes. Begun with great ceremony on 1 January 1870, progress was delayed by corruption, and predatory (but, admittedly, visionary) entrepreneurs such as Henry Meiggs. It wasn’t until 1908 that Huancayo was finally reached. This was the line for which the Andes class was developed. Nothing bigger than this compact and powerful 2-8-0 was ever used on the upper reaches of FC Central as the length of the switchbacks was a constraint. Fortunately, these were locos in which everything seems to have come right, leaving some modestly successful Garratts restricted to the lower sections in contrast. Other railways receiving attention in the book are the FC del Sur, the FC Huancayo–Huancavelica and the FC Cuzco á Santa Ana, familiar to the thousands of tourists who visit the ruined city of Machu Picchu. All short lines and industrial railways in the southern half of Peru are also considered.

The text is well written and very readable. At times it is perhaps a little cursory though in some cases (but not it must be said in all) this no doubt reflects the paucity of information available on what are some rather obscure railways. Rosters, as complete as possible, are provided for each railway. The great strength of the book is its wonderful selection of superbly reproduced black & white and colour photographs, ranging from the earliest to the most recent times of the railways of Peru. These illustrations, which almost alone make the book worth buying, come primarily from the camera and collection of the author Bob Whetham, and the collection of the publisher, Christopher Walker.

Mention of the latter brings me to my final point. This book was eagerly awaited not only for its subject matter but also because it is the first produced under new management at Trackside Publications. I can reliably report that, bar a few minor teething problems, the excellent reputation of this small publishing house, established over many years by Donald Binns, to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude, is in the very safe and capable hands of Christopher Walker. We can only look forward to future volumes from Trackside. In the meantime, both volumes of “The Railways of Peru” can be strongly recommended. 

THE RAILWAYS OF PERU, Volume 2 – The Central and Southern Lines

By Robert D. Whetham

Retail prices: Hardback £26.95 / Limpback £20.95

And specialist booksellers /mail order houses.

Steam Passion by Paul Hloben Index

If one ‘Googles’ Paul Hloben’s name, one will associate this local writer with volcanoes! Not too surprising then that the dramatic emissions from these natural phenomena should have some appealing correlation with the dramatic steam and smoke effects of the railway locomotive!

It is some years since a glossy steam book on South Africa’s steam history and heritage has appeared on the coffee table and Steam Passion in 2008 is a most welcome addition to one’s picture book library. It is not just a “wow picture book”. Hloben has approached the book from a layman’s and enthusiast’s point of view. He has avoided getting too technical in the copy, but has struck an effective balance in still appealing to the locomotive guru.

The publication is split into carefully thought out and appealing chapters – from the introduction of steam traction, and technical innovations, on the international front down to the specifics of the various South African mechanical engineers who contributed to local locomotive development. The demise of steam traction on the former South African Railways is photographically documented and considerable emphasis quite rightly is placed on today’s contribution of the various steam preservation organisations and museums that deserve all the kudos and accolade in ensuring that a major contribution to the country’s transport development and history is preserved operationally and statically for generations to come. Hloben is himself part of the preservation movement, being a member of Reefsteamers, the very proactive Germiston-based preservation group.

Paul Hloben has included an innovative chapter on footplating on steam and being a passionate stills-photographer and video man has included a section on how to photograph successfully these wonderful machines in action at all times of day. Besides his own superb photographs, the author has drawn on the records of other South African photographers whose pictures complement the timeline of this form of motive power in the land – the ‘steam paparazzi’ as he calls them in the book! One of these line-side photographers, Mike Wright, has been capturing South Africa’s steam through the lens for forty years – back in that heady, heyday period of umpteen steam engines working all over the place! 

A few typographical errors and erroneous facts do jump off the page at the reader, but all in all, this new publication does justice and is a testimony to the dedication of the men and women who give so much of their time to ensuring this eye-catching element of the country’s transport heritage is kept alive and burning. This limited edition (1 000 copies) is well priced in this day and age.

John Batwell

STEAM PASSION by Paul Hloben
160 pages 31cm x 22cm hard cover, colour and b & w photographs, ISBN 978 0 620 39106 1.
Published by Rexxon, Bryanston South Africa, price R260, and obtainable from Paul Hloben at:; and Jean Dulez at: 

Schmalpurig durch Ungarn Index

It is hard to believe that it is now almost twenty years since the Soviet Empire collapsed and the Iron Curtain lifted. For steam enthusiasts it was just a little too late for the switch to diesels and electrics had already been completed in virtually every East bloc country; nevertheless a few spots of steam action remained and the early 1990s were a wonderful window of opportunity to photograph steam in total freedom first in Poland and then on the Romanian forestry railways.

One country where it was too late was Hungary, which had more or less abandoned steam by the mid-1980s. This was a great shame as the Hungarians had developed a classic school of locomotive design, one which has never really received due attention in the West. Equally neglected have been the narrow gauge railways which grew up in the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the mid-1880s. Indeed, if anything, the Hungarians were the more enthusiastic about narrow gauge railways, but lost the majority in the post-1918 carve-up of Europe, leaving relatively few in rump Hungary.

Comparatively little is known and even less has been published on these railways in the West. For this no doubt the pre-1989 barriers and the Hungarian language – one of the most inaccessible in Europe – can take their share of the blame. This is a great pity as apart from certain technical standards (eg the 760mm gauge and couplings) the narrow gauge railways in Hungary had little in common with their counterparts in Austria. However, thanks to the efforts of a young Dutchman, Paul Engelbert, this unfortunate situation is now being rectified. In 1999 he published in English 'Forestry Railways in Hungary'; and this has now been followed up by a volume in German, 'Schmalspurig durch Ungarn', on the narrow gauge railways operated by the MÁV; both books limit themselves to the Hungary of the post-1945 borders.

The railways covered in the latest volume basically fall into two categories: common carrier local railways and the “Gazdadági vasút”. The latter are normally rendered in English as economy or economic railways, though whether either is an entirely happy translation I am unsure. The primary purpose of these cheaply built railways was to open up poor and sparsely populated rural areas by offering a means of transport for their products – these were usually agricultural, but include minerals or timber. However, as economic development was also part of their remit, they had a limited function as a common carrier railway, conveying passengers and all types of goods. Most were built in two separate waves after each of the two world wars when Hungary was suddenly confronted with new geo-political and economic challenges and at a time when roads and lorries were few and far between. Some were opened by private landowners, some by towns wishing to promote their hinterlands, and after 1945 by the state. In the Communist era the more important “Gazdadági vasút” were operated by the MÁV and it is these that are described in this book.

In 'Schmalspurig durch Ungarn' Paul Engelbert outlines the origins, the growth of a round dozen common carrier and “Gazdadági vasút”; this total also includes the well-known Budapest pioneer railway. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases he also describes their decline for most have fallen victim to the Hungarian transport plan of 1968 (an ominous year) which foresaw widespread closures of lesser used railways. Amazingly, however, a few lines still cling to life today and, even though steam disappeared in the early 1960s, they are still worth a visit by any lover of the narrow gauge (but go quickly). Paul Engelbert’s book is the perfect companion for any such trip: it is well illustrated in black & white and colour, beautifully printed in the Stenvall tradition, graced with clear maps by Eljas Pölhö and is rounded off by extensive locomotive lists. Even if your understanding of German is limited, this book thoroughly deserves a place on your bookshelf. 

Schmalpurig durch Ungarn by Paul Engelbert

Publisher: Stenvalls, PO Box 17111, S-20010 Malmo, Sweden 

ISBN 91-7266-169-1
Hardback. 176 pages, 153 monochrome and 65 colour photographs, 35 maps and drawings. 16.5 x 24.3 cm.
Price from the publisher: £19.95 / €28 plus p&p £7 / €10 to European destinations. 

China – The World's Last Steam Railway Index

When I first heard about this book several months back, I must confess my heart sank a little: not another book of pictures of China with page after page of QJ’s plodding up Jing Peng pass in sub-zero temperatures. Upon opening it, the first two pictures I saw – the almost obligatory view of the iced-up wheels and motion of a QJ (albeit very nicely executed in black & white) and a rather mundane shot of a QJ on Singing Sands viaduct – seemed to confirm this sense of déjà vu.

But these initial impressions were deceptive. As I dipped into the book for the first time, I noticed here an interesting composition, there a stunning one, then another and yet another. I went back to the front and went through it again, but this time slowly. One gem followed another, not only were there hardly any duff shots in it, but there weren’t that many unimaginative ones either. Now, a couple of weeks after receiving my copy and having repeatedly returned to it in that time, I think I can say, hand on heart, that China – The World’s Last Steam Railway is the best railway colour album I have ever seen, as well as being the best collection of photos of Chinese steam produced to date. 

China – The World’s Last Steam Railway is the work of three British photographers, John Tickner, Gordon Edgar & Adrian Freeman, who between them have clocked up a total of 35 visits to China since 1997. As the authors admit, they went late in the day though this had the advantage of allowing them almost total freedom of movement in China, something photographers in the 1980s could only dream about. Against this was the ever-diminishing number of lines using steam. In the late 1990s China Rail was rapidly eliminating its steam fleet, a task accomplished by the beginning of 2003, and most of the classic locations for viewing Chinese steam, like Zhongwei, had long since been dieselised or electrified, whilst others had disappeared without any steam enthusiasts ever knowing of them. This left only some provincial railways and industrial lines as the last bastions of steam traction in China. 

The limited number of steam-worked railways and an even more restricted range of steam locomotive types in China in the last decade present anybody compiling a steam-in-China photo album with a considerable challenge – how to avoid a repetitive work of similar locos in similar (and often familiar) locations. To this challenge the authors have risen admirably. This is not just a collection of photographs endeavouring ponderously to cover every steam-worked line in China (though they do range widely), rather they took steam where they found it and tried to photograph in an imaginative and creative manner; it is the image itself and not the loco or location which is of primary importance.

In this way the three authors have emulated the work of Colin Gifford, Ian Krause and the other exponents of the so-called “New Approach” four decades ago. Faced with a similar situation in the UK, they too found that something more was needed than just recording another Black 5 working a freight in Lancashire. This gelled into an attempt to photograph the steam railway in its workaday context, with people and the working environment often well to the fore. At the same time they also understood form, using the industrial landscape, the exhaust of the steam locomotive, a railwayman, whatever, to create a visually interesting and stimulating image. This approach, long despised, has now come of age in China – The World’s Last Steam Railway.

It is not without significance that Tickner et al acknowledge the work of Colin Gifford (as well as the Dutchman Hans Steeneken) as their inspiration. China – The World’s Last Steam Railway is a photographic album very much in the tradition of Gifford: it records a gritty, industrial China with its coalmines, pollution and its people (everywhere people), but does so with photographs that have been thought about and worked at. They even manage to make Jing Peng pass look different.

But the book is more than just Colin Gifford does China: its triumph is its use of colour. For, as far as I am aware, this is the first time anybody in a single album has consistently and seriously applied an understanding of colour to Gifford’s conception of form: this is colour meets Gifford. Tickner et al have not put together a collection of photographs in colour, but a compilation of colour photographs (and there is a big difference). These guys understand form and colour in the way Gifford understood form and black & white. The result is a superb photo album with one magnificent photograph after another.

The three photographers have been excellently served by their publisher and the colour reproduction is of a very high standard. The selection of photos includes some in black & white and some in monotones of various hues. A minor quibble is that a few of the colour photos appear to have reproduced a little too darkly and that some otherwise excellent images are marred by being printed across two pages. Most of the 195 photos are printed to full page size. Captions, in true Gifford tradition, are minimalist – they are almost superfluous.

China – The World’s Last Steam Railway is then, like my much thumbed copy of Each a Glimpse, a book to return to again and again; one to savour in the steamless years ahead and one to remind us all why we spent years chasing around the world to phot steam. Everybody involved in this project is to be unreservedly congratulated. China – The World’s Last Steam Railway is a must have, even if you have no great interest in Chinese steam. 

A3 size prints of individual pictures in the book may also be purchased at £125 plus £5 p&p (UK).


by John Tickner, Gordon Edgar & Adrian Freeman

Price £30

ISBN 9781904332800

The book is available from Amazon or direct at a discount from the publisher, Cameron Brown (check out his website as below). The book can be sent to addresses within Europe for €35 (incl. p & p) paid via Paypal to or cash in an envelope to the address below:

Church Farm House, Wisley, Surrey, GU23 6QL, UK
Phone +44(0)1932 341 206 mobile +44(0)7811 276386 (link broken by December 2021) and (Link broken by December 2023. RD) 

New Zealand 1950s Steam in Colour Index

Compiled from the Derek Cross collection

The North and South Islands of New Zealand are blessed with superb scenery and, in the days of steam, with some very distinctive motive power, giant 4-8-2s and 4-8-4s that belied the national “standard” gauge of 3ft 6in, but which were necessary to overcome New Zealand’s rugged, mountainous terrain. It all came to an end in 1971 and I wish I had seen it.

One of the lucky ones who did was Derek Cross. A Scotsman by birth, he spent the years 1953 to 1959 in New Zealand working as a government scientist. His job involved a lot of travelling and he always had his camera with him. Weekends and holidays were not infrequently devoted to more serious gricing, “photographic expeditions” as Cross called them. In the course of his seven years in New Zealand, he photographed NZR steam with an intensity few others have ever matched. An album of his black & white photos appeared in the mid-1970s in one of the better volumes of the Bradford Barton series and now, 30 years later, we have an album of his colour work, compiled by his son David and Geoff Churchman.

The album covers the heavy main line action with the cream of New Zealand steam, as well as delightful rural branches with older and smaller motive power, interspersed with some shots of the first diesels to sully New Zealand’s rails. Cross also pointed his camera towards industrial railways and, for me personally, these provide some of the most interesting photos in the entire book. The New Zealanders had some real gems working their industrial lines.

Cross, like colour photographers everywhere in the 1950s, had to contend with incredibly low speed films, at first just 8ASA and only later the new fangled Kodachrome 25. Consequently, most of the photos were taken on sunny days, apparently not such a common occurrence in New Zealand. The colours of 1950s slide film also lacked the range of today’s films and digital cameras; inevitably, too, there has been some deterioration of the original slides in the intervening 50 years. So, do not expect from this book the colour renditions we have become used to; nor should you expect stunning, dramatic shots: Derek Cross was a prolific but very much a conventional photographer. That said, New Zealand 1950s Steam in Colour can be warmly recommended to anyone with an interest in New Zealand steam at its zenith. 


Compiled from the Derek Cross collection

Price: £30 or €42

ISBN: 978-1-877418-03-7

The book is being distributed in Europe by Frank Stenvall; all trade and retail enquiries to:

Frank Stenvalls Förlag, Box 17111, S-20010 Malmö, Sweden  

Patterns of Steam by Shane McCarthy Index

This review was originally uploaded on 25th July 2011, it has now been updated with information on an 'alternative format'.

It is said that the market has gone out of the traditional album of photographs of steam locomotives – which given much of the dross which has been published over the years should perhaps come as no great surprise. Patterns of Steam throws all this received wisdom out of the window. It is a classic photo album of exceptional quality, one which breaks many rules of modern taste and yet which succeeds brilliantly. The subject matter is main line and industrial steam locomotives at work in Australia and New Zealand between 1964 and 1985, so it reflects the years of decline and then of preservation, represented here in the form of main line steam specials. The 350 photos are all the work of one man, Shane McCarthy, a clearly talented photographer whose style lies somewhere twixt that of C.T. Gifford and W.J.V. Anderson (no mean achievement).

The fact that the Australian-based author began photographing late in the career of steam inevitably determined the relatively limited number of both locomotive types and locations depicted here, as well as the predominance of Australia over New Zealand. Yet this is an irrelevance. The focus is (almost) entirely on the image itself, many of which are stunning and nearly all of which are well above the standards of most photo albums. Just a few don’t make the grade. These really stick out in an album of so many outstanding photos and I was left wondering why the author, who patently has such a good eye for a photograph, included them.

The format of the book is very reminiscent of Colin Gifford’s 1970 classic Each a Glimpse. Many photographs are given a generous full page (300mm square) treatment and all the photos of each double-page spread are thematically linked. Another link to Each a Glimpse is the use of minimalist captions. These essentially do not extend beyond identifying the locomotive, location and date. As in Gifford’s work the pictures are expected to speak for themselves. This is hardly fashionable in these days of extensive captions, but in Patterns of Steam it works perfectly: the fact that I sometimes did not know whether I was looking at a picture taken in Australia or New Zealand came simply not to matter at all. 

The other rule which Shane McCarthy shamelessly breaks is that Patterns of Steam consists solely of black and white photographs, indeed the only colour in the entire book is the red used on the front cover for the title and author’s name. How refreshing it is not to have to view photo after photo in glorious full colour, especially when all too many of them display little feeling for or understanding of colour. Our fascination with technology and the advances in colour printing seem to have obscured the fact that colour per se does not make a mundane photo anything more than a mundane photo. In the right hands, such as those of Shane McCarthy, black and white is a powerful interpreter of the steam locomotive and its contemporary neglect can only be regretted.

In one aspect, however, we should be eternally grateful to modern printing techniques. Patterns of Steam is perhaps the most beautifully printed black and white railway photo album I can recall ever seeing. We can but hope it will inspire publishers everywhere.

The photo album is dead! Long live the photo album! As long as it is as good as Patterns of Steam. The book is unreservedly recommended.


by Shane McCarthy

ISBN : 9780980301908

Available from the author at

PO Box 103, Richmond, Vic., 3121, Australia

Price was A$125, now A$49.95, plus postage

The Pulacayo Mine and Railway [Bolivia] - A Short History and Guide by Jerry Graham  Index

Jerry Graham discovered Pulacayo almost by accident in 1998 when he met a Bolivian railway enthusiast in the famous locomotive graveyard at Uyuni who told him of older locomotives resting in the former silver mining town of Pulacayo.

Pulacayo is now much diminished in population from its heyday as a giant mining enterprise dating from the early Spanish colonial era where in the nineteenth century it sponsored the first railway in Bolivia; a 2 feet 6 inch gauge line reaching down to Antofagasta on the coast and the predecessor of the Antofagasta-Chile Bolivia Railway [FCAB]. In the late 1920s the FCAB re-gauged to one metre, but what was now a branch to Pulacayo remained two feet six inches and became remained a rather isolated home for cast-off equipment and ancient steam locomotives that were too small and obsolescent for the main lines.

Pulacayo’s boom period extended through much of the nineteenth century and intermittently up to the 1940s before a decline which saw final closure in 1959 with the railway following a few years later.

The author has ably conveyed his impressions of Pulacayo and its surroundings in a bleak corner of the high Andes where his sympathy and understanding of the people, their history and environment, is very well conveyed. The dry climate has preserved much that had been abandoned, and this succinct account of the history of the town places mining and its railways in a single context, also chronicling what the community has sought to do to regenerate itself in recent years including preservation of parts of a railway infrastructure and roster that date back to the nineteenth century. The nearby, now abandoned, community of Huanchaca and its silver smelters is also included. He contrasts what was originally there with what survives today where the climate and recent conservation efforts mean that all is not just rusted relics and can be easily compared with what was still in operation in the 1950s. The folklore that Pulacayo associates with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their robbery exploits with a Baldwin 0-6-2ST is recounted although how accurate it is dating from an era of lawlessness remains questionable!

A small book which crams a lot into a text, supported by useful maps and some evocative line drawings which is expanded from an earlier edition without a CD-Rom. Where the book ends, the CD Rom begins with 122 images; a few from historical sources and many from his trips there, illustrating all aspects of the railways, as well as the town and the mines. A bonus is some photos of the metre gauge Uyuni graveyard with their gaunt remains as well as a few locomotives that remain intact.

This is a really splendid effort to add to the literature on Latin American railways where Jerry Graham has got around the production viability problem by creating the CD which is worth the admission price in itself.

The Pulacayo Mine and Railway [Bolivia] - A Short History and Guide by Jerry Graham

Second edition; 2007, Jerry Graham Publishing, 
28pp A5 size and also including a CD-Rom photo disc with 122 images.

Price in the UK: £8.50, postage and packing £1.00

Overseas buyers can contact the author/publisher by email to arrange payment, including by Pay Pal, current cost of air mail shipping to Europe £1.50 and Rest of World £2.

ISBN 978-0-9555533-0-1

Christopher Walker May 2007

Yatakli-Vagon: Turkish Steam Travel by George Behrend & Vincent Kelly Index

Yatakli-Vagon is a book of which I have over the years heard many a tale but one which I had never read. Co-authored by George Behrend and Vincent Kelly, it was first published in 1969, two years before I began buying railway books. It was only in 1975 when I made what turned out to be the first of four visits to Turkey that I realised what a fantastic place it was both for steam and for travelling – unfortunately, by this time Yatakli-Vagon was out of print. Living abroad, a second-hand copy never came my way and the book remained unread. Now, thanks to Paul Catchpole, Yatakli-Vagon has been reprinted under the Locomotives International imprint and can be savoured by all those who like me had never supped of its pleasures before.

“Yatakli-Vagon” means sleeping car in Turkish and the book is essentially a distillation of a number of journeys the two authors made in the mid to late 1960s to and around Turkey using the sleeping and dining cars of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL). This should be put into some sort of context: when Behrend and Kelly travelled the Company was still responsible for such services in Turkey. And though the world of Yatakli-Vagon is very much one in which everything is as it should be, there are repeated hints in the text that the CIWL might lose the contract. It very soon did and thus the authors unwittingly documented what the publisher’s blurb describes as the “tail end of the era of de-luxe travel”, not only in Turkey but also in Europe.

And de-luxe it certainly was. Behrend and Kelly recall a world of sumptuous meals, of comfortably appointed sleeping quarters, of all-knowing company servants, of high-ranking officials and mysterious pieces of paper that make things happen. In short we are given a glimpse into the privileged world of the wealthy and the luxury train travel that they once took for granted. The rich are of course still with us, but wouldn’t today be seen dead in a railway station; our trains have become utilitarian and democratic. However, whilst my head tells me the loss of privilege is no bad thing, my heart wishes I too could have shared some of the delights provided by the CIWL when I spent my month in Turkey in 1975 riding and sleeping in hard and dirty third class carriages (which was all my student’s budget ran to).

Yet privilege and luxury are only one aspect of Yatakli-Vagon. What the authors do well, very well in fact, is record and bring to life their impressions of non-tourist Turkey. While reading the book I kept saying to myself, “Yes, that’s exactly how I remember it.” For a bash in Turkey wasn’t only about the steam – even if in the mid-1970s the TCDD operated a largely steam-worked railway – but an assault of experiences: a constant stream of sparks pouring out of the chimney of a Skyliner as it hauled the night train to Zonguldak; a Beyer Peacock 2-10-0 stalling on a bank literally in the middle of nowhere and being surrounded by food and drink sellers within minutes; an impromptu saz concert in a cramped and packed compartment as a Middle Eastern 2-8-2 roared out the rhythm section; dysentery; the wonderful kindnesses and openness of the Turks themselves (though we shouldn’t forget the amazingly hostile shed foremen); near asphyxiation as I naively crossed the Taurus Mountains in the leading carriage behind a smoky ex-German class 44 2-10-0; the menace of the omnipresent military; the superb food … The list could go on and on, but however hard I try I could never describe it all as well as Behrend and Kelly. And so we should be doubly thankful to them, for not only do they write superbly but they also capture a Turkey which, like the world of privilege and de-luxe train travel, is no longer with us. The steam locos have been scrapped and Turkey itself has moved on and modernised.

Yatakli-Vagon is not without its faults. There are a number of small factual errors and the lazy observations on the communist countries through which the authors travel, though common of the time, are ultimately irritating – and stand in stark contrast to their generosity of spirit and open-mindedness when it comes to Turkey and the Turks. Proofreading also leaves something to be desired. But these are minor misdemeanours for, unlike many semi-legendary works, Yatakli-Vagon fully lives up to its billing as a classic and is a wonderful read. George Behrend and Vincent Kelly clearly had a lot of fun in Turkey and then writing their book about it: you will have a lot of fun reading it. So let us all thank Paul Catchpole for making it newly available and support him by purchasing it: perhaps he even might be persuaded to reprint George Behrend’s paean to the old Great Western Railway, Gone with Regret?

Yatakli-Vagon: Turkish Steam Travel by George Behrend & Vincent Kelly

Published by and available from:

Locomotives International, The Haven, Trevilley Lane, St. Teath, Cornwall, PL30 3JS, England

Price: £16.95 (incl. post and packing in UK; for other destinations, please enquire)

ISBN: 1-900340-19-4 

Thundering Smoke by R. G. Pattison Index

The book was written with real passion – the passion for one of Southern Africa’s great railways, that of Rhodesia and subsequently Zimbabwe. This is just so evident from the author, now late, who has been most affectionately called “a beavearing historian” by a fellow writer. George Pattison wrote with such enthusiasm about railways, which he began experiencing in this part of the world as a traveling schoolboy. He commuted by train between Rhodesia and Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape sixty years back. As an adventurous singleton, George’s love of railways took him all the way to East Africa. He loved the trains then and wrote reflectively about his youthful love. On the subject of love, George met the love of his life – a friendship and companionship that spanned thirty-nine years - on a train, his late, dear wife Geraldine. Not too surprising then that Thundering Smoke should be dedicated to Geraldine and their three offspring, Susan, Richard and Gillian.

Thundering Smoke is the culmination of over twenty years of research and studious pen-pushing documentation. Yes, it does cover the wealth of locomotives that were instrumental in the development of the country’s rail system from 1892, but its distinct uniqueness lies in the passion and enthusiasm of writing about the locomotives – from footplate or cab experiences – to the men who ordered certain types and those who drove them with a tremendous likeness or dislike. Pattison cultivated friendships with many of the men on the system and as a result gleaned much about the nuances of individual locomotive types. Unlike any other author, Pattison resided in Rhodesia-cum-Zimbabwe most of his life with his finger on the pulse of every development in the country – widespread dieselisation, the appearance of South African steam and diesel locomotives on the system, the intriguing economic sanctions’ era with its below-the-counter motive power acquisitions, the large-scale refurbishment of steam and diesel locomotives, the emergence of Zimbabwe Railways and the post-independence innovation of electrification.

Pattison spent hours and hours in the NRZ Headquarters’ building researching the operational history files of individual locomotives in particular classes and the mileage contribution of these locos – steam, diesel, electric – have all been documented. George Pattison unashamedly credits locomotive types which were real stunners in their contribution to the Rhodesia Railways and latterly National Railways of Zimbabwe. The North British 12th Class, Beyer Peacock 15th Class, the English Electric DE 2 and the General Electric DE 6 classes all come to mind in the accolades. 

The personal accounts and anecdotes which appear in the book make it different. George, who was a school teacher and then a principal in several government schools, recalls taking his soccer boys for a practice in Marandellas (east of then Salisbury) one afternoon and everything coming to a standstill as the horn and growl of an unknown source of motive power permeated the air. It turned out to be the first of Rhodesia Railways DE 2 Class diesel units from the English Electric company back in 1955. Everyone watched it go past the school boundary.

Pattison provides early in the publication a most useful preamble concerning the construction of the system, the terrain, the track, the weather, operating aspects, trains’ working, depots and crew working and the chief mechanical engineers and their individual contribution to motive power choice and development. This publication is not just for locomotive aficionados – it’s a commentary on the social and economic fabric of a vibrant young country down near the bottom of “the stretch of Africa”.

The text is complemented by black and white photographs and tables of data. Regrettably the quality of photo reproduction detracts from an otherwise riveting read. The publishing of the book in the United Kingdom was undertaken enthusiastically by Mr Tony Morkel, a former pupil of the late author! At GBP/£24, 50 Thundering Smoke is a superb addition to one’s railway shelves and a tribute to one of the most prolific researchers of the railways in the old colonial African sub-continent. [George Pattison’s untimely death was in early 2005.]

Thundering Smoke by R. G. Pattison ISBN 0-9549488-1-5

A4, soft, laminated cover in colour, 240pp, 164 b/w photos, colour photos only on cover, 2 maps, steam and diesel spec. tables, mileage tables for most locomotive classes.
John Batwell

Eisenbahnen im Ersten Weltkrieg by Andreas Knipping (2004) ISBN : 3-88255-691-9 Index

An ambitious book by the prolific and ever interesting Andreas Knipping, exploring the far from insignificant role of railways in the Great War via an extensive and well-researched text and a superb collection of photos (for which alone the book is worth buying). The book tends to concentrate on the western front (from largely a German perspective), but other theatres of war are also dealt with in varying degrees and there are also contributions from British and Russian authors. The text ultimately suffers from its own ambitions: a true balance is not achieved, the subject matter being simply too big for its 400 pages of high quality art paper.

Latvijas Dzelzceļu Lokomotīves by Toms Altbergs (2005) ISBN : 9984-19-693-3 Index

From the pen of Toms Altbergs, the doyen of Latvian railway historians, comes this 188-page large format book dedicated to the history of Latvian locomotives down to 1945 when the country was swallowed up by the Soviet Union; the emphasis is thus very much on steam. For such a tiny country, the variety of motive power was considerable, all the more so as in the interwar years the LVD operated lines of no fewer than five different gauges. Printed on high quality paper and lavishly illustrated, the book includes full and detailed rosters and is very much the definitive work. For those who cannot read Latvian, a brief English summary is provided.

Sitimela: A History of the Zambesi Saw Mills Logging Railway 1911-1972 by Geof M. Calvert (2005) ISBN 0 7974 2837 2. Published in Zimbabwe and distributed through the CRC.  Index 

Not being particularly interested in Africa’s railways, this is a book I almost didn’t buy: I am glad I did. It is an excellent account of the almost legendary ZSM railway with its amazing collection of vintage African steam locomotives. But it is more than that: the author was a professional forester who worked for the ZSM in the early 1960s and provides his readers with a vast amount of background information on forestry, the why and wherefore of the railway and the manner in which it was operated. Sitimela offers us by far the best insight into a forestry railway yet published. Unfortunately, the photos are rather small and suffer from poor reproduction.

The Transcaucasian Railway and the Royal Engineers by RAS Hennessey (Trackside Publications 2004) ISBN 1.900095.22.X Index

In essence this is the story of the brief intervention of the western powers in the Russian Civil War in the Caucasus between 1918 and 1920 and the operation of the Transcaucasian Railway by the British Royal Engineers. Oil and so-called strategic interests lay at the heart of this little known escapade (do we learn nothing?), which is commendably brought to life by RAS Hennessey, who also provides us with a considerable amount of background information on this railway and its locomotives. Its principal main line connected Baku on the Caspian Sea coast with Poti and Batum on the Black Sea and in doing so traversed the formidable Suram pass; motive power came in the form of a fleet of large Fairlies for the heavy oil traffic. The book is well illustrated, notably (though not exclusively) from the camera of WHC Kelland, who served on the line with the RE.

Railways of Bolivia by Christopher Walker and Donald Binns Index

Christopher Walker has followed his Railways of Latin America in Historic Postcards and Narrow Gauge in Colombia with this largely pictorial history of the railways of Bolivia. His co-author is Donald Binns and together they form a formidable team when it comes to knowledge of the railways of South America. This book fills a further gap in the English language publications of railways on that continent. The authors’ passion for the subject is reflected in their considerable research and comprehensive collection of photographs, drawings, maps and diagrams that form a significant part of this publication. The photographs are supported with detailed captions and few have been published previously. The 12 colour photographs are a taster, leaving a desire to see more of them.

The railway history is covered in seven chapters covering the western network of lines, one on the eastern network and a chapter on the industrials. The lines are covered in sequence. The history is necessarily complicated by virtue of Bolivia’s landlocked position necessitating connecting railways through Peru and Chile for access to the Pacific ports, Argentina and Brazil for access to the Atlantic. There were also changes of gauge, mining and industrial lines, and attention is paid to lines that were proposed but not built. This inevitably means that the book is not a light read but is crammed full with relevant detailed information. The fascinating collections of photos tell the story, and alone justify frequent forays through the pages.

Bolivia adopted metre gauge as their standard. There were some industrial lines and early construction on 750mm gauge. The number of manufacturers and locomotive types, often built in small numbers, more than compensated for the lack of gauge variety. There was no allegiance to the builders of one country, with locomotives produced by seven British, eight American, seven German, two Belgian, three French and one Japanese builder. The types ranged from 0-4-0 to 2-10-2, with 4-8-2 2-8-4 Beyer Garratts, 0-6-6-0T mallets (2 ex-Nordhausen-Wernigerode) and 2-6-0 0-6-2 Beyer Peacock Meyers. Other unusual types included two Shays and an allocation of 3 Brazilian Chapelon designed 2-8-4’s. The 2’6” gauge boasted a 4-2-4-2T built by Robert Stephenson with a Webb system of compounding and a variety of wheel arrangements from American builders. Other metre gauge interest stems from a 3 horse powered trolley; railcars from Schindler, International and Wickham; some quaint 1930’s rail buses made from US components and rail mounted Buicks from the same period and the variety is as impressive as it is interesting. The diesel and electric scene brings their story from 1930’s to the present time. 

The publishers have followed their traditional format and produced a high quality publication with sharp and clear photographic reproduction. The layout makes maximum use of the page – there are no blank spaces!

The book reflects good value and is an essential addition to the libraries of aficionados of the narrow gauge, unusual locomotives or the romance of South America’s railways.

Mike Willis

Railways of Bolivia by Christopher Walker and Donald Binns published by Trackside Publications
ISBN: 1.900095.27.0 at £19.95 laminated limp back
ISBN: 1.900095.28.9 at £25.95 laminated hard back 
272 x 210mm, 132 pages, 195 mono photos, 12 colour photos (includes 4 cover), 44 drawings, 5 gradient profiles and 18 maps.

La Segunda Mula de Hierro by Gustavo Arias de Greiff Index

Colombia, notorious for its drug cartels, mafia bosses and rightwing death squads, has such a negative image in the media that the casual observer might be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the greater part of the population lives a normal life, that some of its citizens are interested in railways and that a few of them are deeply knowledgeable about them. Into the latter category falls Gustavo Arias de Greiff, a Colombian railway engineer and manager and an aficinado of Colombian railways to the core, who has recently published La Segunda Mula de Hierro. This translates as The Second Iron Mule, the second because the author’s first seminal work on the railways of Colombia, La Mula de Hierro, appeared in 1986.

This is an opulent book and covers much ground in its 374 high quality art paper pages. It begins with an outline of the history of railways in Colombia interspersed with some fascinating historical views. The very first line was the 5ft gauge Panama Railway constructed in 1852–55, which was lost in 1903 when (at US instigation) the province of Panama was detached from Columbia. Yet this railway did not prove to be the way forward: mountainous, poor and sparsely populated, Columbia was ideal territory for narrow gauge railways. From 1871 onwards a number of private and state-owned 3ft, 3ft 6in and metre gauge lines were opened and by the mid-1920s some 1,800km of track had been laid. In the following decades the state actively promoted the expansion of the system (financed in no small part by the compensation belatedly received from the US for Panama) and by the early 1960s the network was approximately 3,150km in length and the long held dream of a through Atlantic–Pacific route was finally realised. This was also a period of amalgamations and the gradual nationalisation of all the railways in the country. Disaster struck in the late 1970s. Mismanagement, a lack of investment and the voracious advance of road transportation saw a collapse in traffic (freight declined by over 50% between 1978 and 1982, and plummeted to under 100,000,000 t/km in 1991, less than what had been carried in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression). A wave of modish privatisations has since led to a mini revival on some lines, but it is no longer possible to speak of a system and de Greiff estimates that Colombia’s surviving railways are operating at about 10% of capacity. This story the author recounts in the first 100 pages or so of the book in a section that is solely in Spanish.

Readers whose knowledge of that language is, like my own, even more tenuous than Manuel’s (of Fawlty Towers fame) grip on English should not be put off by this. The heart of the book now follows: pages 121 to 289 are devoted to photographs, three to a page, of the motive power of the common carrier railways of Colombia to the present day. This consists of 424 pictures of steam locos (of an all-time fleet of 931) and 87 of diesels (out of 250), some of the latter in colour, an exceptionally high ratio. These photos, nearly all either works photos or roster shots, are, like the rest of the book, beautifully printed. Knowledgeable and informative captions are provided for each photo in both Spanish and English. This is the real strength of the book, allowing the reader with no Spanish to gain a clear insight into the development of Columbian motive power, not only in the broad sense, but also in its nooks and crannies. Even if some of the locos were fairly typical products of their country of origin (and in the early years, Britain, Germany and the US featured heavily), there was a number of types deserving of anybody’s attention: the Giradot Railway’s Kitson-Meyers, the Armstrong Whitworth “articulated locomotives” (Garratts in all but name) and the streamlined six-engined Sentinels to mention but the obvious. Due attention is paid to the standard design evolved by the almost legendary British engineer, P.C. Dewhurst, from the 1920s onwards. The book is concluded with 17 colour reproductions of watercolours of Colombian steam in action and 50 pages of exhaustive locomotive rosters and locomotive lists. These again are in Spanish only, but easily interpreted.

Not only has de Greiff devoted a lifetime to the study of the railways of Colombia but he has also been ably abetted in this excellent book by his collaboration with Dewhurst’s son, Peter, who holds his father’s papers and photographic collection. La Segunda Mula de Hierro should, in the words of the cliché, be on the shelves of anybody interested in South American railways; even if your interest, like mine, is only passing, it is still a highly desirable book to have placed there.

by Gustavo Arias de Greiff (in collaboration with Peter K. Dewhurst)
ISBN : 958-33-9731-8
Distributed in Europe (retail & trade) by: Stenvalls PO Box 17111, S-20010 Malmo, Sweden -
Price : £50.00 or €75.00 plus postage.

Distributed in North America by Wayne Weiss of Roundbell Hobby Products - BOOKS.html.  

Feldbahnen im Dienste der Landwirtschaft by Reinhard Richter Index

Many years ago there was a short series of articles in the CRJ on narrow gauge lines in Poland which made reference to the systems serving sugar beet factories and the quite amazing variety of steam locomotives then still active on them. Unfortunately, like, I suspect, most enthusiasts, I never visited any of these lines and now a book has appeared which very much makes me feel that I should have: Feldbahnen im Dienste der Landwirtschaft (lit. field railways in the service of agriculture).

Using the process developed by one Franz Carl Achard, sugar was first commercially produced from sugar beets in 1801 in Silesia. This first sugar factory in Europe was soon followed by many more, with the flat areas of the north and central German plain with their abundant cheap labour proving particularly attractive locations. But operations remained small scale. Like any industrial process, the production of sugar from sugar beets depended on the regular and guaranteed supply of beets to the factory during the campaign. However, as long as the only means of transporting the beets to the factory was horse or ox-drawn carts over roads barely worthy of the name and which became a morass of mud in the autumn and winter rains and snows, the fields of beet had to be close to the factories which perforce remained small.

Enter in the decade after 1870 the narrow gauge field railway, which very soon became locomotive worked: beets could now be transported from fields at far greater distances from the factory than had previously been feasible. This meant that each factory now had readily available not only a regular supply but also far greater quantities of beets to process each season, which in turn justified investment in the large scale sugar factories we know today. The key to all of this was the field railway, which held sway from about 1880 till the years after the Second World War when, like the rather similar forestry railway, it began to be replaced by road transport. This then is the topic of Reinhard Richter’s excellent Feldbahnen im Dienste der Landwirtschaft, which deals comprehensively with the Rübenbahnen (lit. beet railways) in Germany (by which is meant that of the pre-1918 borders). 

It begins with an overview of the development of the sugar industry in Germany, the vital importance of field railways and their operations, and also examines the industry which grew up to supply field railway equipment to the sugar beet factories. The six remaining chapters are devoted to detailed histories of selected Rübenbahnen in various geographic areas of old Germany. These ranged from a 7km-long 400mm gauge horse-worked line at Nörten to what became probably the largest of them all, the sugar factory at Kruschwitz (better known today by its Polish name of Kruszwica), which ultimately developed into a system 271.3km in length. 

To derive maximum benefit from this work, some knowledge of German is necessary, but this should not deter any non-speaker. The 312-page book is blessed with full locomotive lists (for the systems described), very clear maps and a magnificent selection of beautifully reproduced photographs (it is quite amazing to the modern eye what was once deemed an appropriate subject for a commercial postcard). These not only cover locomotives and rolling stock but also include many views of the factories themselves and their operations.

Sadly, this wonderful book must also stand as a tribute to Reinhard Richter, who died shortly after the completion of the manuscript at the far too early age of 45. It deals with a topic hitherto almost completely ignored and is both far more interesting and far more worth anybody’s money than yet another book on the narrow gauge lines in Saxony or the Harz Mountains, which is all most German publishers seem capable of producing these days. Thoroughly recommended.

by Reinhard Richter
ISBN : 3-933254-65-5
Published by: Verlag Bernd Neddermeyer, Berlin
Contact details:

The Narrow Gauge Railways of Bosnia-Hercegovinia by Keith Chester Index

This substantial book hit the desk with a thud and its weightiness in all senses has taken some time to digest but the effort has been well worth it. 

Bosnia-Hercegovinia as a separate entity was obscured in history from almost the beginning of its railway development through absorption into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and subsequently throughout the era of a nominally united Yugoslavia until its collapse and the tragic events that ensued. Keith Chester recounts in great detail and full context the development of a railway network of a very narrow gauge chosen almost by chance. This was no collection of isolated lines, but a mature main system that had to overcome difficult terrain, as well as the politics and rivalries of often remote masters. 

Over a century from the late 1870s a state-owned 76 centimetre gauge system evolved from an initial military line as an expedient alternative to a wider gauge. It reached a maximum extent of around 1000 kilometres in 1914, only going into serious decline after 1945 with the last public line closing in 1978 when finally modern standard gauge replacements and road usage eclipsed it. A lack of finance and fragmented political support characterised development, but by the Great War it was a system of considerable refinement and technical ingenuity where linking the Adriatic coast with Sarajevo and the interior was the principal function- and at high speeds for the gauge. From the 1920s new initiatives faded away and the system was to remain largely unchanged physically to the end. Steam was the dominant form of motive power although electrification plans were mooted, and a degree of dieselisation occurred. 

Each phase of railway development is given its own chapter and the narrative firmly places it in context with initial proposals and the inevitable political scheming, accompanied by numerous illustrations of the lines, locomotives and rolling stock, supported by maps and paper ephemera such as timetables. The scenery can be spectacular and the engineering was substantial including some rack sections. The disruptions of the two world wars get detailed coverage where traffic demands were severe and inflicted serious damage as well as resulting in a new influx of equipment adding to the variety. Industrial railways get similar in-depth treatment where some were of other narrow gauges.

The locomotives get a chapter to themselves – almost a book in its own right. The most distinctive aspects are around the “main line” designs for working long distances at relatively high speeds on this very narrow gauge, and the enthusiasm for complex solutions to building bigger engines that could get around tight curves with big payloads. The “Klose” system of articulated drive and also compounding found favour and into the twentieth century were succeeded by conventional eight-coupled “standard” designs when heavier rails were installed, and they were to be built for over 40 years, supplemented by fast 2-6-2s. If this gives an impression of a uniform fleet it was far from the case where different sizes of rack locomotive seemed to consist of every complication imaginable, and unsatisfactory compound mallets were a totally different proposition. Dieselisation started in 1938 with what look like very advanced railcar sets from Ganz of Hungary which could ignore the rack sections, and much later at the end of the 1960s more railcars and diesel-hydraulic B-Bs arrived for the last few years of operation. There are extensive rosters, allocations and details of rolling stock which will satisfy the closest scrutiny.

The illustrations are a remarkable gathering of diverse sources dating from the early years right through to the end, supported by official material from builders. It is a testimony to the author’s research over a decade as is the formidable bibliography which occupies five pages. Other appendices even cover the standard gauge railways of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the narrow gauge in adjacent Serbia. 

What is there to criticise? In such a work of real substance there is little to say and in the end it is about making marginal choices about presentation and cost. The geography is complex and there are various maps including excellent end-papers, but it would have been nice to see a few more large scale maps in a common format through the chapters to help fit the geographic pieces together. The sheer volume of quality pictures brings a problem of size where they all add to the understanding, but some of them might have benefited from being in larger formats to show more detail: a difficult trade-off to manage.

This is not a cheap book in any sense and Frank Stenvall is to be congratulated for venturing into such a substantial undertaking where he has been ably assisted by Eljas Polho in its layout and maps. It is rare to be able to say with confidence that a book is the definitive work on a subject, but that is the case here where it is hard to imagine it could ever be bettered. Certainly there is nothing to compare with it. All the text is in the English language which probably gives it the widest appeal. Highly recommended where I understand the print run is limited and demand already high.

Christopher Walker
January 2007

The Narrow Gauge Railways of Bosnia-Hercegovinia
by Keith Chester
Publisher: Stenvalls PO Box 17111, S-20010 Malmo, Sweden -
ISBN 91-7266-166-6
Hardback. Heavyweight glossy 416 pages including back & white pictures on virtually every page and 20 pages of colour. 21.5 x 29.8 cm.
Price from the publisher: Around £32 / €52 plus p&p £7 / €10 to European destinations.

Rob Dickinson