I’m still working through the Bulgarian photos, so as this is likely to be of interest to those interested in proper GMs, here is the quick visit we had to Serbia mid trip.
To general surprise, the 2016 timetable has seen the reinstatement of the second Sofia-Belgrade train pair, largely it seems on the basis of the Sofia-Moscow through coach requiring a diversion away from Ukraine following events there. This daytime service has not run for about five years due to a claimed shortage of working diesels in Serbia.
We therefore planned a day to cover this as an out and back move from Sofia, hoping to score 2×661. There were a couple of things that could prevent this – dud 661152, ZS kicking out a 621 shunted vice 661, or the entire move going west due to border riots. BDZ held up their end of the bargain by providing one of Plovdiv’s finest skoda’s in 44169 (and its many dents) rather than a 46 and we headed west. Even I know that if you are going from Sofia to Moscow that is totally the wrong direction!
With load three being the RZD bed wagon and two Serb open aircons, at Dimitrovgrad we heard the 661 backing on whilst the Serbs were doing a much quicker border grip than the Bulgarians had done at Kalotina. Beyond Dimitrovgrad the feared “Serb Stagger” was nowhere to be seen and we were soon rolling into Pirot just a few minutes down.
On paper we had a plus 75 (plus late running) and with a few Serb pennies left over from previous trips took a quick wander into town to buy some ice cream, noting some absolutely hellfire old vehicles plying the roads. A truly heritage Bedford lorry where the metal poles to hold a load in had busted and been replaced by some twigs being the favourite! Being British we then decamped to the hotel opposite the station which had a decent selection of local beers and more importantly seats in the sun!
We wandered back to the station just before the booked 1424 departure, which naturally came and went with no train. We settled in the sun and with little noise other than birds and a few lizards storming around the ballast time easily ticked away before’that’ JZ GM horn in the distance meant that the train was coming about 45 down it wasn’t a shunter!
This time the stock was 2 declassified fresh air FKs so we grabbed an empty compo and enjoyed the run back to Dimitrovgrad again at a decent pace. 44169 was again waiting after the Serbs had done a brief handover. Sadly there were no 87s here as it’d be nice to see one in Serbia, where they do work regularly.
We sat for what seemed an age at Kalotina as the Bulgarians did their passport grip in the midst of a thunderstorm, our quick return raising more of a chuckle than suspicion. Eventually back on the move and waiting for a Desiro beyond Dragoman we rolled into Sofia just over an hour down.
However, it does seem the overnight will be withdrawn in December 2016 leaving just the daytime trains however this is far better for bashing purposes so to us at least is a great improvement and allows a fairly easy 661 bash, probably now the last stand of these EMD Veterans apart from some limited work in Macedonia.