The final country for the European leg of the world-tour was Spain. I'd previously purchased high-speed rail tickets from RENFE and was looking forward to using them.
Time in Spain was to be shared between Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid. Valencia was visited briefly; the goal there was to head out of town to 'La Tomatina'... I can only recommend that NOBODY bother doing this... ever. Barcelona then received the most time and Madrid got one night.
We landed in Barcelona from Athens and headed straight for Barcelona Sants. We had a connecting train from there to Valencia in 'Preferente Class'. This happened to be first class and was purchased very cheaply!
Before we knew it we were speeding south to Valencia.
The rail system around Valencia was quite nice, it seems they had recently extended the high-speed there and built a new station (or were in the progress of converting an old one.) The old Valencia Nord station was also very impressive.
As the main goal was a daytrip to La Tomatina in Bunol, there wasn't much time to check out the freight yards in the south.
I'd seen a lot of freight action near Tarragona from the train to Valencia and wanted to check it out. A day was spent on the rail around Barcelona and, due to a late start, I decided that Tarragona was a little too far. Instead I made it half way south through to Sitges and Cunit.
There wasn't a freight train to be seen and hardly any high-speed stock, mainly just standard EMUs floating around. I therefore decided to go to Martorell in the north of Barcelona where, via google maps, I'd seen that freight, passenger and high-speed converged.
Fortunately I chose to stop through Garraf on the way through. This town is on the coast just above Sitges and has a beautiful old station building. There is a tunnel to the south and it all provides a great backdrop for shots.
Especially when a high-speed consist comes through...
At Martorell I was instantly greeted by a freighter heading west.
I then wandered from the station to the high-speed line around one kilometre north. I only had to wait 5 minutes to see a train bolt past.
I then returned to Martorell station and was greeted by a SEAT Car Carrier.
I'd also seen via google maps that there was a nice tunnel/castle/vineyard area one stop east of Martorell. The station was known as Castellbisbal and was easy to get to. I caught the next service east and wandered up to the road overpass of the high-speed.
I then wandered back to the station.
When I last expected it a freight came through heading west.
And that was it for the daytrip...
The final trip was 'Touriste Class' to Madrid. This was on the ICE-3'looking rolling stock from Barcelona Sants to Madrid Atocha. The service was non-existent compared to First Class, but the train was great. Unfortunately the track condition along the way lead to a few rollercoaster-like experiences. At one point we even had to hold on to our drinks! I couldn't believe they were running the train at 300km/h over the rough patches.
The final stop was Madrid Atocha. This was a newly rebuilt station, full of concrete. At least it was quite clean.
We stayed near a station called 'Principe Pio'. It seems to have two sides, one which they have rebuilt with the other falling into disrepair.
And that was it... the next day saw a flight to Hong Kong. They've since stopped freight to Hung Hom and so there was no real advantage to chasing trains. I vowed to do more upon returning to Oz.
The second last stop on the list of train-hunting was Athens. Greece, as we all know, has copped a beating globally over it's recent financial issues and this shows throughout the city. Many shops are closed or damaged, leaving a very solemn feeling with anyone travelling through. This also extends to the railways; the Goverment-owned TrainOSE has been progressing the redevelopment of the main regional railway line (known as Proastiakos) but this seems to have been put on hold.
Larissis Station (aka 'Athens Central', 'Larissa Station')
This is where everything starts to get very confusing; there is no direct Wikipedia reference to this station and, depending on which site you're browsing through, everyone has a different name for it. I've come across two reasons for this: firstly most people translate the Greek language into English differently and secondly it seems that the area used to have two stations for two different destinations. Peloponnisou, the second station, was closed in 2005, but I can't determine when the new Larissis station development started. Either way, as you can see below, it hasn't finished.
As I arrived a DMU was departing the original Larissis Station. The station was quite busy as the train was approaching.
The yard was looking pretty dismal... the track had been skewed to allow more point installations and there was a lot of material lying around in stockpiles.
I then did a lap of the area to see what had become of the new development. A track machine and a rail train were stabled in the empty platforms. I don't know how long 55-213 had been parked there, but there was absolutely no evidence of work being carried out at the time.
At the other end of the station you could see the tunnelling that was partially in use. It was also made obvious that there was a lot more work to do on the station.
Finally, the underpass to the shopping area and Metro station had some nice artwork of days gone by.
That was it for Athens... the rest of the time in Greece was spent driving a Nissan Micra in Santorini on the wrong side of the road.
The next stop was to be spain; it was finally time to use the Renfe tickets I'd previously purchased.
The city of Istanbul of two sides, separated by the Bosphorus River. It turns out that the western half is known as the 'European Side', as it's phyiscally a part of the continent of Europe, and the eastern half is therefore the 'Asian Side'. Locals don't actually use the terms as above; they simply say 'opposite side' depending on the context of the conversation.
Sirkeci, the European side
Right next to the Blue Mosque is the Sirkeci Railway Station, the end of the line for the railway coming from Europe. It used to be the initial station/final destination for the Orient Express when it was still in operation. Turkey does not yet have a rail tunnel from the European to the Asian side and so travellers must transfer to a different mode of transport here to continue their journey east.
Turkey operates a varied amount of electric rolling stock, most of which can be seen at this station. At ~8:00am each morning the international train will also arrive bringing in tourists from far afield. In the end, I failed to take a shot of the actual station itself... I seemed to have been too keen on the trains this trip rather than the infrastructure.
Speaking of infrastructure... freight trains do actually have a method of getting across the Bosphorus. Turkish Railways still operate a train ferry from Sirkeci to Haydarpaşa Station. The boats seem to be able to carry around 6 wagons; unfortunately I never got to see one in transit. Note that the last shot below is from the platforms of Sirkeci station. You can see the pipe train in the background which had been taken off the ferry in the few hours that I'd been on the other side of the river.
Haydarpaşa, the Asian side
It was nice to finally see some infrastructure and rolling stock after a pretty quiet western side. Haydarpaşa Station is the final station on the eastern side and all services heading into Turkey and further initiate there. There are a lot of loco-hauled passenger services and that means there is a lot of consist rearranging in the yard. There is also quite a bit of freight action visible as the ferry terminates just north of the station.
And then you have the other end of the train ferry... The final shot below was taken as our ferry was back to Sirkeci; there is now a different load on the boat.
Halkali, back on the European side
I had google maps'd this location and saw a freight yard. It was the last freight yard before the line narrowed into Sirkeci station and seemed to have a lot of rolling stock. I jumped on an EMU from Sirkeci which took 40mins to get around to the yard. Once there, there was not a sound to be heard... no one was working in the area and then the call-to-prayer came over the PA system. This was the final stop for the service I was on, so I held on to my train 'token' (they used coins as tickets in Turkey) and waited to return on the same consist.
Fortunately, while I was there a rail tractor shunted a ballast rake. There was also a rail consist stabled without locomotives.
And that was it for Turkey... the next stop was Greece.
I'd seen from Google Maps that Split had a main railway station on the water and the line seemed to be the southern-most point of the entire Croatian system. There was quite a bit of freight infrastructure around the base of the harbour, but it was hard to tell from Google if it was still in use.
We landed by plane from Berlin and caught the bus into town. The single line could be seen paralleling the highway, but there was zero traffic. Closer in to town there was a selection of freight stock around an industrial plant, but the larger freight yards further into the city weren't visible from the road.
Split wasn't high on my railway-viewing list; the main reason was to check out the beaches and the town. Therefore the shots taken below were all done within a 20minute segment at Split Station at around 7am on a Wednesday.
First up was 2062 110 shunting the autorail into the station platform.
Next 2062 038 departed with a passenger service, presumably North.
2062 110 then ran back around to it's consist.
DMU 7122 001 arrived with a whole bunch of backpackers... this service gets close to the airport... they may well have been smart enough to only take a taxi a short distance and a train the rest of the way.
2062 110 then shot off north.
Dubrovnik used to have a connected railway line... but... politics prevailed and it was cut off in 1975. It was narrow gauge too! They also used to have a tram in the city, but this was cancelled around the same time.
The beaches though... the beaches are fantastic! Take an island tour... amazing. Unfortunately, the 'old town' is a bit of a disappointment. The shops are all nastily commercial and you have to pay to even get on the city wall.
This place was great... I hadn't expected much from Zagreb; all the reviews were that it was a drab city from the dark ages, but this turned out to be its charm. The city has a railway line through the south and also a large tram network.
There's a funicular tram and also a cable car up in the north which wasn't running the day we were in town.
The main station is known as Zagrebački Glavni kolodvor (Zagreb Main Station). All local and regional railway services start from this location meaning it is quite busy at all times of the day. International services also arrive/depart here and there were often a lot of annoyed backpackers hanging around for late trains.
I then headed west via Tram to the next station along the line. I can't remember the exact name, but it's definitely not in use anymore. The most action seen was the red diesel shunter heading further west.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the abandonded? freight yards to the east of Zagreb Station. There are some interesting 'garden' communities here where it seems everyone gets a plot of land and a shed to grow small crops. The line to the west is also quite busy!
I also took a trip out to Dugo Selo (further east) to see what would pass through. It was a pretty desolate station, but there were people waiting for the train. A loco-hauled service paused briefly in the yard, but it seemed to just collect papers from the station master. Passengers did try to get on it though, obviously faster than the EMU.
The final afternoon was spent at the main station... there's always something going on.
They also even pay respects to bygone eras via a plynth out the front.
The entire album from Croatia is available here.
The Netherlands was the Motherland; Germany is the Fatherland. It was time to visit where my Grandparents came from and check out Berlin and the Rhine at the same time. The trip had started from Venlo in Holland and, after a single change at Viersen, ended at Bochum Hauptbahnhof.
Being located in the North-Rhine area, Bochum is right in the mix of the Ruhr area known for it's large industrial complexes. From the train, this was immediately obvious; we passed freight train after freight train heading in and we also saw a lot of freight yard infrastructure. I was more than impressed with what I saw and was even happier to find a large freight yard in the middle of Bochum.
Checking in to the Ibis Bochum City was painless and the view was straight onto the train tracks... Unfortunately, due to 'non-smoking rooms' the window was sealed to prevent air-con wastage. I therefore headed straight out for a lap of the station to see what was going down. It turns out there is a good view of the platforms in the afternoon light from the south-west of the station... there also happens to be a carpark with minimal fencing that you can take some good shots from.
Proceeding onto the station platforms produced some better results. Due to the multitude of private operators involved, it seems that tickets are all checked on-board trains rather than having gated platforms. This meant that there was easy access to all platforms.
It turns out that the DB loves the loco-hauled end-cab-control system as well. The whole concept is that the motive power is all in the locomotive at one end, but the train can be controlled from the far-end passenger car as well. This would never happen in Australia as we have very strict operating rules; I also wouldn't want to be in an accident where you have an extremely heavy (not to mention powerful) locomotive pushing tin-foil cars in to eachother. Then again, having the loco hit something first means the passenger cars have free will to fly around... I suppose the point is not to be in an accident at all!?
From the station I continued on-foot around the yard to the north-east. There is a branch from this yard further north-east, but it looked pretty abandoned. Google maps shows that there are cars and relatively new-looking infrastructure... I didn't follow the line to confirm this.
Instead I continued around to a road-bridge over the east-end of the yard. Here came fun! After a few passengers services at the south end of the bridge..
I then heard a diesel pulling in to the yard. Here I saw a V90? diesel shunter pulling a small consist into a loop. It then proceeded to run around, getting ready to pull the consist back in the direction it came. In the meantime though, 3 other trains came through; two continued on, but the third dropped more load for the shunter to pick up and continue on with.
I'd spent a good few hours on the bridge and decided to return to the hotel... Fortunately there's good visibility of the rail all the way back.
The rest of the time in Bochum was spent checking out the city. It's quite old and, I suppose cold? It's hard to explain, but it was the underlying theme to the rest Germany as I was to find out. There wasn't much graffiti around and the buildings were quite clean, but the architecture was all very similar and there was a lot of concrete. Fortunately the people were very friendly and accepted our very limited knowledge of the German language. There also happened to be a festival on in the middle of town which went on well in to the night.
A 24-hour trip to Berlin [aka 'The Comedy of Errors']
This was always going to be one of the highlights of the time spent in Germany. The goal was simple; start from Bochum, get as far down the Rhine as possible and then intercept the overnight train and travel to Berlin. What happened in the end was nothing short of disastrous but, in the end, was a great trip and a good story to tell. We boarded a train south from Bochum and started our journey. There was meant to be an initial stop in Cologne, but a late start saw us skip this and head straight for the Rhine.
As the train was snaking through Wuppertal I noticed a large amount of infrastructure looking something like a monorail track. It wasn't until I saw the vehicle hanging from it that I wished I'd stopped. Unfortunately, Wuppertal hadn't been on my radar for a visit, but if I'd known that monorail existed, then I'd have definitely checked it out!
It turns out it's called the 'Wuppertal Schwebebahn' or 'Wuppertal Floating Tram'. It was built over a century ago and, although it's had a lot of 'modernisation' work, still carries 25 million passengers a year! Wuppertal was built through the valleys alongside the Wupper river of which actual monorail was built suspended above.
After switching to VIAS GmbH at Koblenz, we proceeded across the Rhine in the direction of Frankfurt. The goal was to stop at a river-side station somewhere down the line to eat and check out the scenery. This railway has an interesting mid-way 'terminal' style station at Wiesbaden. The trains then reverse and head on to Frankfurt where they then turn around and bounce back to Koblenz.
I still don't remember why I chose St Goarshausen as a location for lunch and freighters, but it did pay off in the end... unfortunately it was also the place of initiation for the proceeding comedy-of-errors. We got off the train in a hurry, which vaguely reminds me that the location was chosen quite randomly, and made it down to the Rhine. Here we ate lunch and saw the tour buses and boats proceeding up and down the roads and river. All was swell until I got up to walk back to the station. It was time to see what ran on the line and it wasn't until I went to pick up my two bags that I realised I only had one! At that point I remembered that I'd thrown my 'carry on' bag on the rack above us in the train and had not remembered to take it back down as we were getting off.
It occurred to me that there was not much I could do after a few deep breaths... We paid for lunch and headed back to the station. Unfortunately it was well-abandoned and all the numbers to call weren't working from my Dutch Lebara sim card. The next VIAS train wasn't for an hour... so... I took photos of freighters as I had the camera around my neck.
The next service came and we boarded, waiting for the conductor. After checking our Eurail pass, we asked her what we should do. It was Saturday and her answer was to call Lost&Found on Monday. She was also finishing shift at the next stop and a new conductor coming on might be able to help. Unfortunately he spoke less english, asking if we spoke french.
We ended up at the terminal in Wiesbaden where we were meant to switch to DB and head on through to Freiburg. Unfortunately, without my bag (containing train tickets for the overnight train), we weren't going anywhere fast. The goal at Wiesbaden was then to find a station office and determine what the best plan of attack was. 5 minutes before arriving we decided that we might also continue on VIAS to Frankfurt, as the train we were originally on should have been cleaned prior to turning around?
We chose to alight at Wiesbaden and headed to the ticket counter to find an office. We expected that they could call Frankfurt to check the train we'd been on... I'd taken a photo of the train and knew the actual loco number. As we approached the end of the platform I noticed another VIAS train (amongst all the DB stock) was hanging in platform one. It had already bounced back from Frankfurt and was about to head off for Koblenz! I passed my luggage to my friend and bolted for it... I still feel sorry for the passengers waiting to depart as I stormed through the carriage looking for the shelf that I'd left my bag on. Unfortunately, it wasn't there.
Meanwhile, my friend had intercepted the conductor who was just finishing his shift and wandering down the platform. The language barrier had prevented him from getting the message through, but I rocked up and just used sign language to describe my bag. He all of a sudden realised what we meant and took me back to the drivers compartment. It turns out he'd seen it on the shelf at Frankfurt and put it in with the driver, expecting to return it to Koblenz and store it there. I could not believe my luck when he returned my bag back to me with my laptop, camera lenses, phone charger, train tickets, travel documents, etc... etc... in it.
Not Freiburg you say? Not Worms either? I still can't give you the correct answer as to how we got here. We printed the 'travel advice' from the DB machine showing the connections... we went to the right platform... we got on the train that we thought was to take us in the correct direction and we ended up in Stuttgart. Now that I look at the map I realise that we headed south-east instead of due south.
It was getting to late afternoon and this foul-up meant that we wouldn't make the night-train intercept at Freiburg! I went to the station office and told the attendant my dilemma. I suggested Karlsruhe as an alternate intercept point and she indicated this would be fine... I also then assumed the train conductor would be informed. We then caught the next train to Karlsruhe after a snack.
We got here in good time for the intercept... I decided to practise night-time photography and tinkered with my camera.
We had a full meal at the station and, before we knew it, the night train was approaching.
We boarded the train and attempted to enter our cabin... it was locked. I let out a yelp, but then tracked down the conductor. He looked at my ticket and grunted... disappearing somewhere in the wrong direction. Before long he returned and proceeded to give me an ear-full about being late and informed me of their policy on re-selling rooms if the original passenger no-shows more than 2 stations beyond there original joining point. It turns out that, now when I look at a map, we should've continued further south to Offenburg... although I can't remember if that would've been possible. I think the lady at Stuttgart would've recommended that if it had been the case?
Either way, he pulled out his keys stating that he thought our cabin was no longer available... whilst still walking us towards it. He unlocked the room and we all saw that it wasn't occupied. He then continued the rant that we should have gotten on earlier and that we were making his job difficult. I explained the story and he stated that the DB station staff had no ability to contact train conductors if/when there are issues. We thanked him for his help and he went on his 'merry' way.
After 3 fails, we finally had somewhere to sleep and were on the way to Berlin.
So... 0700 hours... off the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Amazing station! How the hell do we get to Rosa-Luxemborg-Platz? It's amazing how dependent you get on technology... specifically data connections on mobile phones and google maps. We navigated the maps and jumped on a train to Alexanderplatz. This turned out to be another great station. We then transferred to the U-Bahn and ended up at the correct station. It was now 0800 and we dropped our bags... it's Sunday... turns out nothing is open!? So...
This city needs to be re-visited... there's a lot more to check out!
This city needs to be re-visited... there's a lot more to check out!