The International Steam Pages

Ukrainian Narrow Gauge, 2010

James Waite reports on a visit to Kiev or a few days in August 2010, he later returned to ride behind Gr 280 at Gaivoron, click here for some pictures of this visit on a separate page.

This page also includes (at the bottom) some pictures of the Borsava narrow gauge railway and preserved Gr 6 286 nearby, click here to go there directly.

There is a 157 class 0-8-0 preserved at Boyarka station in the southern outskirts of the city. These were built in the 1920's and early 1930's, the first Soviet narrow gauge design and those who know about these things there regard them as the most successful narrow gauge steam loco the country ever had. Strangely only a very few have been preserved and this is one of two in Ukraine.

On the Monday we made a very long day trip to Gaivoron, about 200 miles or so south of Kiev. It's the centre of a narrow gauge system with two surviving lines running out of the city - only one train a day on the lines most days. There are four of the TU-2 diesels retained there to work them, all in very smart condition. Gaivoron has a railway works despite being quite a small town a long way from anywhere and in the Soviet days was the central repair shops for all the TU-2's which is maybe why they still use them in preference to the more modern diesels of which Ukraine has, or at least had, a surplus as other lines closed. They're kept in very smart condition.

A ML class 0-8-0T which is the oldest surviving Soviet ng steam loco (built in the late 1800's) is now preserved on a plinth outside the main gate to the works. For most of its life it worked in Estonia until the Estonian narrow gauge was closed down in the early 1970's after which it moved to Gaivoron and spent its final operating years as the works shunter. It's the only surviving Estonian steam loco. The narrow gauge museum at Lavassare in Estonia would like to have it back but the Ukrainians won't part with it. There's a small market in the square where it lives and I took the first photo lying on my back in one of the stallholders' vans! The second one was taken later in the day when the sun had moved round to its other side. I wonder what the bigwig to the right (Ukraine's decidedly dodgy president) is saying about it!

Here is what is thought to be the oldest surviving Russian ng coach, over 100 years old and now converted to use as a track geometry testing car. Our hosts Serguei and Vladimir had arranged a trip for us in a railcar converted from a 1950's ZIM limo, the type that the bigwig comrades used to roll around in in the 1950's. There seem to have been quite a number of these conversions but apparently this is the only one still in use anywhere in the former USSR. The two ladies awaiting their conveyance are young Yuliana, Vladimir's wife and Margaret, my wife. All six of us piled in and there was plenty of room - the comrades clearly didn't like to be cramped! We then set off backwards on a run of 25km to the next village of any size called Bershad. The car runs as fast backwards as forwards, somewhat disconcerting! On the way the line crosses the Southern Buh river on this large girder bridge where we had a photo stop. Bershad was very hot and sleepy. At the station we were greeted by the station lady who solemnly walked the length of the platform to change the signal for the return trip although it was many hours since the service train had passed through - and also greeted by two tired looking ponies standing outside the station with their carts. Surprisingly for a place with so little activity there was an ice cream stall in the station forecourt, very welcome! After 15 minutes or so we all piled back in for the return run where the car, if anything, seemed to go even faster! The 25km took about half an hour which must have involved an average speed of 50kph, not bad for the 750mm gauge, and not bad either considering the clunky noises and general complaining which the car produced whenever it was coaxed into action! The car, incidentally, was made at the GAZ car plant in Nizhny Novgorod which was close to our hotel there when we visited the children's railway last year. It's a truly enormous place which still employs more than 300,000 people.

Back at Gaivoron we headed for the shed, home to the spare TU-2's and also to Gr 280 (LKM 15377/1950), one of the last ones still in working order though it seems only to be used for filming work now. It turned out that it had been so used the previous day and was still warm. The TU-2 which we'd just seen shunting in the station had just pushed it back into the shed when we arrived but the staff kindly pulled it out again for us. Apparently it's against the rules to leave it standing on its own without being coupled to a diesel and I suspect that the film work must involve a diesel loco pushing or pulling it along. After this it was time to set off on the long drive back to Kiev. 

Next day was Ukrainian Independence Day (which celebrates the country breaking away from the USSR) and a major public holiday. Gr 336 was in steam on the children's railway - definitely wearing an over-the-top paint scheme which would probably render Bernd Seiler speechless! Well, all the best domes in Kiev are golden so it would be unkind not to let Gr 336 join in the fun! Still I think I prefer the more modest attire of her sister at Gaivoron! The loco worked on the children's railway quite early on in her existence. She then moved on to one or more peat lines which have since closed and happily she was returned to the children's railway in 2005. She's only used two or three times a year and the railway has two TU-7 diesels for its everyday trains. As you'll see there's an impressive girder viaduct on the line.

We moved on early afternoon for another tour of the city which took in amongst other things the broad gauge 0-6-0T which is preserved at the city's polytechnic university and the enormous green 2-8-4 outside the loco shed which, according to our guidebook, is the locomotive memorial to the glorious Soviet locomen in WW2. Apparently it's the only one of its type that is still in existence.

On our way back to the hotel we called in at the children's railway again by which time the train had stopped running for the day and there was a BBQ in progress in the loco's cab. Clearly a line where they know how to enjoy themselves! In the evening there was a huge open air concert in the city centre followed by a firework show.

The Ukrainians are really hospitable people and our hosts in particular couldn't have done more for us. It was a great few days.

The preserved class 157 0-8-0 at Boyarka:

The ML at Gaivoron:

The old Russian coach and Gr 280 at Gaivoron:

Ladies at Gaivoron and the Zim at work.

Little (Class 9P) and large preserved broad gauge steam in Kiev:

Kiev's red and gold Gr:

For a children's railway it is unusually 'scenic':

Coincidentally, Jonathan Sutton was in the country in June 2010 and visited the diesel operated narrow gauge line between Irshava and Vynohradiv (known in the west as the Borzava narrow gauge railway). He has sent some pictures.

Steam locomotive Gr 6 286 was previously reported here but Jonathan found it at Kolochava (approx 58km north-east of Vynohradiv) where there is an open-air museum with a collection of narrow gauge railway items. He understands that there never was a narrow gauge railway here so it is an "artificial" creation by the owner of the museum. One of the goods wagons contains an exhibition of old photographs, tools and implements and a couple of young men appeared to be working on one of the railcars there. It is sad that the locomotive is separated from the Borzava railway but at least it has escaped the scrapper's torch and seems to be in a reasonable state of preservation.

Rob Dickinson