The International Steam Pages

Travels in Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia. 9th to 12th April 2018 

Tom Short reports on a truncated visit to parts of the former Yugoslavia.

My original plan was to have three nights in Belgrade and three in Tuzla but after booking two friends died and to attend funerals I came home two days earlier than planned. 

With only one day in Serbia I had to choose one of the locations and had a feeling about Vreoci as it had seemed to have more activity on two gauges. The bus from Belgrade took about an hour and I walked to the mine from the village. My good feelings proved to be unjustified. Nothing was evident in steam although as I passed the level crossing on the way from the village I thought I saw smoke, but that was mistaken. The place was busy and several electric locos were working on the narrow gauge. At the gate I was refused entry. There was either one or two locos dumped-it was hard to say due to angles and I was not sure if I was seeing one from different angles or two. The people were adamant and said “Sutra” (tomorrow), I presume meaning office staff could give permission the next day, though so many people were working that it did not seem like a bank holiday. I had several appropriate value sterling and euro notes distributed in various pockets, and if seeing or not seeing working steam had been at issue would have brought them into play, but not for dumped locos. I wished afterwards I had gone to Kostolac as there might at least have been the chance of the loco mentioned previously as a stationary boiler. In fact there was a bus to Kostolac at 4pm and if the bus back to Belgrade had been on time I could have got it, but due to massive traffic jams the journey back to Belgrade took 2 hours instead of one. 

Electric locos noted on the narrow gauge were 12, 13, 15, 16, 17. On the standard gauge on the other side of the road were shunting E443-10 and E443-04. Both seemed to be permanently coupled with match trucks. Some of the standard gauge trucks are very short wheelbase-I wonder did JZ or its successors purchase any from Britain-people who read this will know better than I. 

Next morning, 10th April, I got the bus to Tuzla, and as soon as I arrived caught the 11 bus to Dubrave. The loco was near the gate of the mine but just out of sight, visible far away from the football ground. I went to the gate and was refused entry but the man made it clear the football ground was ok. It was 3.15 and I asked by hand signals if he thought that by 4.15 the loco would move up the line. He indicated maybe. I waited and at about 4.30 distant activity was apparent and about 4.45 my patience was rewarded and 33.248 brought a load of empties up to the head shunt and pushed them down for filling, did a bit of shunting and then disappeared to the far end of the yard again. 

On 11th I got the train from Tuzla to Duboj to experience the whole branch line, one of the things I had planned for this visit. The stations closer to Tuzla produced few travellers but overall the train was well patronised especially as we moved towards Duboj. A few of the stations seem to be new halts and have freshly gravelled platforms and seem unstaffed but stations nearer Tuzla have a very pre Beeching feel with quite a few staff. Tuzla station has an air of faded glory with heroic murals and seems large for the traffic now carried. From Duboj I took a bus back to Lukavac and walked to Sikulje. Long before the entrance to the mine I walked over the tracks and walked on the other side of the JZ line, a fairly well worn path I used last year, and came up to track level where the loco was parked. It was lunch time and it was simmering quietly with no crew, who must have been in the group of men sitting in the sun right on the other side. I was able to enjoy 33-064 sitting quietly in the sun. Eventually the crew, I presume, sauntered over from the other side of the tracks and shouted over: “What are you doing?” I said I was looking at the loco and taking a photo to which they said: “You have to pay for photos.” I replied that you do not have to and that I was leaving anyway, and he said: ”Leave then.” I was not even on Kreka land but did not fancy arguing the point and left. I was quite surprised the crew were so hostile, most people I have met in Bosnia have been friendly. I got the later train back from Lukavac to Tuzla. I notice that the same locos were at the same mines as were last year. Is 248 considered a Dubrave loco and 64 a Sikulje one? 

The loco on the train to Duboj was 661-276 pulling two compartment coaches, one smoking, one non-smoking, and on the branch, and at Tuzla depot later, was passed 661-322. The late train to Tuzla on 11th was a railcar. The late train sits in Tuzla station overnight and forms the early train to Duboj. 

The following morning I got the 7am bus to Zagreb and from there got a train to Ljubljana, an awkward journey, but as I said above, I needed to return home earlier than planned. The train journey was interesting. On one station a 62 is plinthed but as I started walking down the train to get its number the train moved off, maybe a signal rather than a station stop. As we came into Ljubljana I saw the fireless at the power station and thought it was on charge. It was pouring when I got to the station. I got the 25 bus out to the power station and walked through the allotments. The rain stopped. When I got there at 6.15pm the loco was in fact working and moved quite a bit. The end of a train was being discharged. Although I was outside the gates the driver saw me and as he moved the loco down for more wagons blew the whistle and opened the cylinder cocks. Then, as the rain started again, the loco pulled a long train up out of the gate. The driver was friendly and offered me the use of his umbrella but I was almost ready to go for my flight.

At this point the security guard came running up and although I was, and had been all the time, outside the gate he said that outside the gate is also a security zone. As people cross from allotments on one side of the track to allotments on the other and park cars in the area I feel he was making it up as he went along. 

Anyway, as a result of my visit, I can say that steam is alive and well at Dubrave, Sikulje and Ljubljana. I did not get a chance to visit Banovici or Bukinje. 

Rob Dickinson