Three routes in Greece that take visitors on a journey into the past

Three routes in Greece that take visitors on a journey into the past, through stunning landscapes.

  • Diakofto – Kalavryta Cog Railway

According to the original plan, the Kalavryta line would continue into mountainous Peloponnese, reaching Tripoli and joining the other line from Corinth. The budget for the construction of the 22km-long Diakofto – Kalavryta section was 1,5 million drachmas and it was to be completed in 10 months. However, in reality, it took five years and the cost was almost 5 million drachmas. The project therefore may have stopped at Kalavryta, but it proved pioneering and durable.

The route, which passes through the Canyon of the Vouraikos River, had to cover an altitude difference of 720 metres above sea level within 22 km. This called for a solution, as in some places the track cant was more than 3.5%, which is what conventional trains can withstand. In fact, there are points on the route where the track cant reaches 17.5% (over 100 metres, the track rises by 17.5 metres). In these sections, the line was completed by a third toothed rack rail, placed between the conventional rails along 3.5 km. The toothed rack rail provides extra grip to prevent the train from rolling down uncontrollably.

The cog railway technology has been developed since the early years of the rail, as in many parts of the world trains have come to solve problems of moving and transporting products to inaccessible areas. The cog railway of Kalavryta was built by French engineers, while workers from Italy and Montenegro worked alongside the Greeks. The rails cut through the mountain, next to ravines and waterfalls, and the difficulties faced by the workers of the time are obvious. Moreover, they also had to defend themselves from the bandits who were roaming the area and in the end, the construction company had to hire armed guards.

The routes began in March 1896 with the help of French locomotives (Cail), which pushed the wagon, always placed on the descent side. Steam dominated until 1959, when diesel railcars made their appearance. At a certain point, there were also discussions to electrify the line, using power produced by the waters of the Vouraikos.

The initial journey time was 2.5 hours, but today it takes 85 minutes. The cogwheel has been an important tourist attraction for decades without, however, reaching the level of similar trains in the Swiss Alps, other regions of Europe and America. In 1996, on the occasion of its 100 years of operation, one of the old locomotives that moved the cogwheel was repaired with the help of OSE pensioners. The locomotive carried out the anniversary route, but was never used again, and later some problems also appeared with the more recent but anyway old engines. OSE has begun a procurement process for new machines, but it has been withheld by state procurement procedures. The management of OSE recently announced that it would like to join with private individuals who would accept to invest through the creation of a subsidiary for both the cogwheel and other tourist trains.

  • The little train of Pelion

This train connects Volos with the village Milies on the mountain of the Centaurs, Pelion. Its manufacturers chose a very small line width of 60 centimetres to reduce the cost of difficult technical works. It is very telling that one of the bridges built for the train to cross the gorges of Pelion (Taxiarchis bridge just before Milies) is straight, but the railway line passes over it in a curve!

The construction of the line began in 1894 and it was completed in a year by the Railways of Thessaly without any state subsidy, to connect Volos to Ano Lechonia (a 12 km distance) and to bring revenue from the transportation of the products of the area. Soon, however, it was decided to extend it to the mountains, with the addition of the 16 km long section of Ano Lechonia – Milies. The line was operational in 1904, after achieving complicated technical works to prevent disasters from the torrential waters. 7 stone and one metal bridge, 2 tunnels, 5 stone overpasses, 78 gutters and many retaining walls were constructed in the mountainous area under the supervision of the Italian engineer Evaristo de Chirico.

The 28km route initially took 2 hours and 15 minutes, but later it fell below two hours. The operation of the line was interrupted on 20 June 1971 in the spirit of cost reduction and while the use of cars constantly gained ground. Nobody thought of using the line for tourist purposes, until in 1996, following many discussions, the line re-opened with the museum train and achieved great occupancy. Meanwhile, the rails were covered in many places by road structures and arbitrary construction on the section from Volos to Ano Lechonia. Thus, the routes run today from the Ano Lechonia Station, which was renovated without altering its characteristics.

  • Tourist train of the Nestos River

It is part of the railway line between Drama and Xanthi, but it runs parallel to the Nestos River. At one point, the river follows a serpentine course and the area has been designated a protected wetland. All conventional trains pass from this line without stopping at the Livera station. Taking advantage of the fact that there is no road access, OSE has decided to use the line for tourist purposes. Thus, it scheduled tourist trains leaving from Drama, bringing passengers to Livara and allowing them to access walk around in the beautiful nature next to the river. In October 1997, two old British steam locomotives, LV 962 and 964 (received in 1946 under UNRRA assistance), were repaired and rehabilitated in order to take the tourist train along the route Drama – Xanthi.