Slovakia 5-9 March 2016 <  >

Saturday 5-3-16

A fine morning [but read on!]. Away on time from TFC at 09:08 on, surprisingly, 2x2 LM 170s.Snow forecast for high ground later but (fingers crossed) I may get away from LTN before it gets there. On time at New Street, as was LM's 10:14 Euston, a rather shabby 350. Just 2 late at Coventry after an all (except Adderley Park) stations stagger from New Street. Wedged by Marston Green but a lot decamped at Irrational so now quite comfortable. 5 minute booked stop at Northampton, all on time, and still on time at Milton Keynes, 11:41. After checking bus stops, times etc. a short walk (8 minutes if that) to 'Spoon's enabled a trad breakfast to be ordered, with a pint of Concrete Cow Pail [ sic ] Ale, by 11:56. Both very good and with a CAMRA voucher, just under Ł5. Back to the station in good time for 99 bus at 12:55. Or not.

Bus was waiting nearby as I walked to the station, which seemed a good sign. The driver got in just before 12:55 then got out and disappeared. 12:55 came and went; the bus eventually rolled up at 13:15 by which time pax (including me) were starting to get a bit concerned. Heavy traffic in MK then when we turned on to the M1 the variable speed limit was on and the signs were indicating 'Congestion'. Happy days. Then it started to snow. Hard. We only actually stopped once though and despite horrendous traffic in Luton, arrived at the airport at 14:15, 'only' 25 late and still 2 hours before departure. Security was quite quick and there was still an hour's fester before gate time. Actual departure from the stand was spot on at 16:15.

Tail wind, 10 minutes early into VIE if you discount the bus faff. Plenty of time for a fool's errand to T1 because I thought I heard my name called on the PA, followed by a more useful errand to Spar (Billa has moved down the road) [and, I discovered later, there's one in T1 too] for a beer (Stiegl). The bus turned up early, prebooked ticket scanned on phone, all good.

The bus seems to take a mostly non-motorway route, stopping in one or two unlikely places, but was still early into Bratislava, taking about 50 minutes. A quick discussion with the ticket machine then over the road to get a 70 for two stops, ending up a few yards from Hotel Blue Garni. The receptionist spoke good English, bless 'er, and assured me she'd be there at 05:30 to let me out. The room was fine but very, very hot!

Sunday 6-3-16

Up betimes for a quick shower before being let out as promised. A perfectly good small hotel and reasonable enough at €38 with early bird and OAP discounts.
05:39 trolleybus to the bus station and another to the railway station where some foraging produced a small and unpleasant cup of coffee and a large baguette crammed with gherkins, peppers and mayo. Oh well, the whole lot was two quid and ať least it was breakfast.

And so to REX 721 with 361 105 providing haulage, air con stock with power sockets, and so far (B- Rača) not many pax. The downloaded ticket failed its first test when the gripper couldn't scan it, but he didn't seem bothered. All rather lethargic as far as Leopoldov, not to mention flat and boring, with at least one extra stop. 757 019 took over at Leopoldov.

A line of Cargo Grumpies having their day of rest at Prievidza on 6-3-16. From the front, 751 192/047/ 075/084/035.

Back on time by Topoľčany. It's a dreary grey morning, shaping up for a very unexciting hour's wait at Prievidza. Let's hope something's open. Southernmost track at Chynorany, vindicating the decision to get a through working to Topoľčany tomorrow to ensure getting physical connection from the Trenčín line.

757 016 passed just after Partizanské on REx 722. 751 128, 751 033 light engines at Zemianske Kostolany. 751s 192 047 075 084 035 stabled at Prievidza. Wandered round Prievidza for 15 mins (all it took) only to find the pub at the end of the station drive was open despite appearances to the contrary. Pleasant enough, the sort of clientčle you'd expect at 10:00 on Sunday (I claim extenuating circumstances) and at €1.30/0.5l you couldn't complain about Pilsner Urquell.

Electronic grip failed again on Os from Prievidza to Horná Štubňa. Gripper still not bothered. I'll try the phone next time. This is quite a scenic line, particularly as you get further east. Approach to Horná Štubňa requires a 180° loop, crossing the Vrútky line half way round and coming into HS from the north. We crossed over into P2; P1 was occupied by a Goggle with a Zvolen-Vrútky train. When that left, it left 3 coaches behind, rather to my surprise [ they were still there in the evening ]. There is a pension/restaurant at the bottom of the drive but having chosen to phot the Goggle, that was left unvisited. On then to Zvolen on Os 7507 with 757 006 (754 056 was the northbound Os 7528). The grip failed again, even with the phone.

754 056 with Os 7528 at Horná Štubňa on 6-3-16

Right time at Zvolen, so the +5 for Lučenec made easily as I had the sense to go into the booking hall and look at the display! This was a wedged 812+trailer, 3+2 seating. Old school! The Great Gripping Mystery was solved with the help of a young gentleman sitting opposite, who explained that my screen needed to be brighter. Bingo. You'd think the grippers would know this ...

The 812 emptied out reluctantly but I did get a window for about half the journey. At Jesenské we crossed to the northernmost platform - very sociably the 813 for Utekáč went from the southernmost, crossing over the layout to assure physical connection at a later stage.

Off then to Utekáč, a branch of contrasts. Fairly dull at first but eventually into some reasonably serious scenery with a lot of climbing. Odd bits of industry here and there, but some really down at heel property in the farming bits. Track seems to be in poor condition on the upper reaches (as do passenger numbers). There's a serious climb nearing Utekáč which must really tax the early trains in frost or snow. The 813 wasn't happy and it's only damp today.

Only 3 minute booked turnround and I only just managed phots both ends. The gripper's just been round and clearly (possibly rightly) thinks I'm barking mad.

The trailer unit of 813 005 at Utekáč, facing south, on 6-3-16.

And now I know he's right. Made the +6 at Lučenec OK, more or less on time at Zvolen. R841 was showing 5 late (meaning more than 4, less than 10). +8 at Banská Bystrica, no way out if it wasn't held. Alternative? Os via Horná Štubňa to Vrútky, +5 there and 30 mins later arriving. Went for that. R841 went 7 late, my Os 6 late. We shall see. Vrútky is taxi distance [from Žilina] at worst, Banská Bystrica isn't.

They kept me on the edge of my seat all the way. Well, they might have, had I not been watching a documentary on the tablet. 8 late at Horná Štubňa, with an 8 minute booked stop. 2 late from there after waiting for the Prievidza connection to cross in front of us (we were in P2 as per this morning's kart from Prievidza, so contiguous track albeit dark). Then dropped back to 4 down but picked up again by Martin. Rolling in to Vrútky on time, then ... signal check. Luckily quick and I ended up with 3 minutes to nip through the subway for the Žilina connection. Loco hauled at last, though not noted.

Žilina closed as expected, even McD's, at 21:45 on Sunday, but the hotel was functioning and made me not particularly welcome. As did their WiFi which barely worked and even then only if you stood at the top of the stairs on the second floor.

Monday (thank goodness) 7-3-16

Woke reasonably refreshed, navigated the broken shower door and went down for a barely average breakfast. WiFi  just about functioning in the restaurant. Altogether a poorly named Grand Hotel. Down to the station for R602 at 09:19 which arrived on time and left 7 late. Miraculously it was on time at Púchov. Good job I booked a seat, too. Haulage was 363 146. 757 008 also photted, with an arrival from Banska B.

Arrival at Trenčin was only 1 late, so I had time to make my way to the Orange shop and get a SIM card at what seems to be a very advantageous rate. Time will tell. Back to Trenčianska Teplá on the next R, also on time, with 362 009. Then a long fester, starting with phots of the narrow gauge, still running occasional Sundays, the next one being in three weeks time. Nothing much else to do then but visit Bistro Katka just outside the station, where half a litre of Steiger 11° cost me a fearsome €0.80. Dark and sweetish, not unlike Holden's Old though not 7.5%.

The depot for the 760mm gauge tramway just outside Trenčianska Teplá station

350 008 on R604 'Dargov' at Trenčianska Teplá on 7-3-16

Luckily I decided to leave 15 minutes before train time. The bar is at the east end of P1, as is the subway. After visiting the facilities at the Trenčín (west) end of P1, walking back to the subway, and along P2 to the front of the 13:25 train there wasn't a whole lot of time. It's a long station! The train was bizarrely, but as booked, formed of 813, 811, 011, 011, 813 - 7 in all, with 5 locked out. I can only assume it's some sort of stock positioning move. As guessed it left Trenčín from the up side loop platform so vindicating the decision to start from TT. The number of passengers was surprising with the leading 2-car 813 nearly full until a mass exodus at Bánovce nad Bebravou, a quite large town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Quite few joined there, probably a third to a half of the number who left.

A train of Transcéréales wagons at Rybany possibly accounts for at least the southern end of the line remaining open. Middle road at Chynorany - the connection to the southernmost one was shiny so trains obviously do cross there. Drivers swapped trains at Bošany - had I known of this practice I might have planned my day differently! Much to my surprise all but the leading unit had disappeared when we got to Topoľčany - I've no idea where. Perhaps a look at the timetable would reveal all.
Just a 15 minute wait at Topoľčany before an 861 (3-car low floor unit) arrived from Prievidza. This took me through to Nitra for a 40 minute wait to go on to Šurany, hopefully in another 861. I had enough 'bins yesterday and suspect more tomorrow.
A brief fester in the excellent grocer-cum-pub outside Nitra station for a surprisingly enjoyable Corgon 12° then back to what was indeed an 861 to Šurany. A visit was paid to the Railway Inn next door for Zlatý Bažant and a look at their mostly British model locos.

Finally (I hope) R843 to Zvolen, on time so far (Nová Baňa). Well, OK, 1 minute late.
No problems with that, plenty of room so I was able to sit in a nearly empty open with power points. Hotel Academic is two minutes from Z-mesto, if that. It served up a very welcome supper but I was too tired for beer sampling.

Tuesday 8-3-16

Another grey day, in contrast to the Academic which is brown. Carpets, doors, furnishings, tiles, ... Breakfast buffet was quite comprehensive. Off to Banská Bystrica on a loco hauled Os (363 144) then old school wheelie bin (812 and trailer) to Brezno mesto. Bert had jobsworth written all over him and sure enough when he came round we had to do the whole rigmarole, passport and all.

Brezno mesto proved a good choice, not only ensuring contiguousness (it's just a platform on a single line) but also a very short walk to the town centre, with which some effort has been made. It seems to have free town WiFi, something I didn't spot until right on the edge of its range. The Co-op provided travel supplies and an Orange shop gave me some gen on the SIM card which I forgot to ask yesterday.

Os 6753 consisted of a single 812 from Brezno mesto, going on for a spectacular climb and similar descent, from Brezno-Halny to Tisovec, where the 5 minute connection proved to consist of coupling 'my' 812 to the rear of another one. Rather less inspiring and more industrial thereafter, ending up with a long flat stretch to Rimavská Sobota. Here the 22 minute connection consisted of detaching 'my' unit from the front one, which then became 13:17 to Fiľakovo. With me so far? I'm sure it's all carefully matched to passenger demand, utilisation of the bins, etc., but it does seem odd. Handy for contiguous track though - if you invoke the 'any part of the train you're on' convention, it's all contiguous!

This armoured train is on display in a park between Zvolen os. st. and the earlier defensive position in the background - Zvolen Castle

All a bit of an anticlimax after that. Made the +2 at Fiľakovo, which, thank goodness, was loco hauled. It staggered along, all stations to Zvolen os. st. and got there on time. After a few phots, nothing for it but to wait it out with a Radegast in the desperate bus station bar. I've been in worse (just today!) but wouldn't choose it. Plenty of room on R842 (haulage) but no open coaches. Still, I had a compartment to myself all the way to Brats, arriving spot on 19:59 and after getting a 24hr ticket, just in time to hurl myself into an 84 bus to Dubová for Patrónsky Pivovar. Their expensive (€1.80) svetly was deeply unimpressive to my taste. Ticked yes, but it's kind of nice to enjoy them!

Back on the 84 to Zochova to clock in at the Ibis, just across the tram lines. It's an Ibis - nothing to add, m'Lud. Also conveniently situated right opposite the Ibis is Zámocký Pivovar. A half litre of their 12° and a swiftly provided goulash and dumplings just fitted in a tenner, and very nice too. Though quite basic, I found it much more welcoming and with better beer than Patrónsky.

Wednesday 9-3-16

Up at stupid o'clock yet again and off to Zochova. Inevitably, having allowed for just missing both buses, I walked straight on to an 80 at Zochova and waited less than a minute for a 206 trolleybus at Kollárovo námestie thus ensuring a long wait for the bus to VIE. This turned up at 06:50 accompanied by a delightful young lady who checked tickets and generally kept order. No problems getting to VIE, arriving just before 08:00 for a McD's breakfast and a very long pre-flight fester. The Airbus has just left the ground, at 10:51! 115 mins flying time so 12:05 into the terminal at Luton is just about feasible.

And indeed it was. Immigration was quickish and I scuttled outside to find the 12:05 no. 99 to Milton Keynes just going, but a kindly driver let me on and I got to MK at 13:05. Then the fun started.

It appears there was a great deal of rain recently, on to saturated ground so rapidly followed by a great deal of flooding in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northants. London Midland were cancelling all over the place and advising pax not to attempt to travel between MK and Rugby, even by road. Virgin were struggling with everything very late or cancelled. Phone discussion with Mrs EG ensued and it was agreed I'd go and have some lunch in 'Spoon's and see how things were looking.

While in 'Spoon's I discovered the half hourly bus service to Bicester, and then that Chiltern and XC between them should be able to get me from there to Birmingham Irrational. By the time I'd finished the WCML had been declared a disaster area for the rest of the day, so the 14:25 bus took me to Bicester, and the 15:26 Chiltern kart to Banbury. Unsurprisingly this was full, standing and then some. Then on to 15:57 XC to Irrational on which I even had a seat. At the moment I'm on ATW's 17:09 Irrational-Llandudno, with a seat although it's got a fair few extra pax today due to LM cancelling the 16:30 stopper from Coventry and Virgin appearing only infrequently. Large crowds were awaiting Virgin's 16:40 Euston - unfortunately for them this was a 5-car Voyager from Shrewsbury. It left after a certain amount of riot, with 'Mumbai rush hour' loading and leaving quite a few behind.

The ATW kart spent some overtime at New Street, possibly due to the numbers. It left very full, though not much worse than a normal weekday, and arrived at Telford without further incident. Mrs EG was waiting with the car – after a tedious journey, 'grateful' hardly covers it!

A very successful 'clear-up' trip although the quirks of the timetable and the general slowness of most services meant it took three days to do not all that much! Enjoyable nonetheless and just one more trip is needed to finish off the regular passenger services - subject of course to strikes, delays, moleworks and all the other things which can beset the innocent trackbasher...








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