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IGE Special to Kosovo
21st to 26th August 2009
by Elmar Pfannerstill

The IGE Balkan tour to Kosovo from 21st to 26th August was advertised as "NOHAB Express" and consisted of 5 carriages of IGE rolling stock and Diesel My 1125 in "Santa Fe" livery.

It was planned that this loco should pull the train all the way to Kosove Polje (near the Kosovo capital Pristina), sometimes assisted by other diesels of the railway companies en route.

As it turned out, this was only partly feasible. Here is the itinerary and some of the main events:

Day 1: Augsburg - Nürnberg (dep. 11:15h, about 40 mins late) - Passau - Linz - Wien-Hütteldorf - Traiskirchen/Aspangbahn - Wiener Neustadt - Sopron. Though its maximum speed was "only" 130 km/h the train was allowed on some sections of the new Austrian high-speed line. Heading south from Wien, the "Aspangbahn" was used, which is a single track, non-electrified line, where some photo stops were made.

Day 2: Sopron - Györ - Vasuttörteneti Park (Budapest Railway Museum) - Kisszalas - Kelebia - Subotica (Hungarian/Serbian border) - Beograd. The train started double-headed with My 1125 + Hungarian NOHAB 2761 017 and went directly into the Budapest railway Museum.

Here the locos met her "sister" M61 020 giving photo opportunities in front of the round house. From Budapest a little detour east led via Cegled and Kecskemet on a single-track, electrified line before getting back to the main line reaching the Hungarian border station Kelebia.

From here My 1125 was no longer allowed to pull the train, but Hungarian (to Subotica) and Serbian (to Beograd) electrics came in front. During a few photo stops the latter one (444 022) was taken off the train for some "unspoilt" photos with My 1125 only.

Day 3: Beograd - Lapovo - Kragujevac - Kraljevo - Raska - Lesak (Kosovo border control) - Zvetcan (end of Serbian Railways) - bus transfer to Mitrovica (beginning of Kosovo Railways) - Kosovo Polje.

The train was headed by the aging Serbian GM diesel 661-248. After Lapovo the line was single-track, non-electrified and the landscape became more and more of what to expect: "Balkan gorges", traversed by tunnels and bridges.

A nice event was a "picnic stop" before Raska, with an invitation from Serbian locals (who had lived in Germany before) offering a free flow of Slivovic, coffee and blueberry juice in combination with white bread, butter and honey.

After thus having blocked the line for considerable time we headed towards Lesak for Kosovo border control (there is no Serbian control post, because Serbia does not recognize Kosovo).

Obviously a list of names and passport numbers was sufficient for Kosovo border police and the train consisting of Serbian diesel + My 1125 and IGE coaches continued on Kosovo territory.

However, as it turned out, some unsolved issues in the wake of Kosovo independence gave a severe blow to the original plans: Some 30 kilometres of track in the north of Kosovo are controlled by Serbian railways, but there is no traffic on a 3 km section of "no-man's land" between Serbian and Kosovo railways. So the last station of Serbian railways at Zvecan was also the final destination of the IGE Balkan Express, because it got no permission to continue any further.

Busses took us to the northern end of Kosovo railways at Mitrovica, from where we continued with a special consisting of diesel 007 (ex Di3.641), a goods van (for the luggage) and two Swedish second-hand coaches (which were a donation by the "Swedish International Cooperation Agency") to Kosove Polje, the "railway hub" near the capital Pristina.

Day 4: Kosove Polje - Ferizaj - Hani Elezit (Macedonian border) - Kosove Ploje - Drenas - Kline - Kosove Polje. This covered the southern and (partly) western branches of the Kosovo rail network with Kosovo Polje in the center.

The train consisted of the same carriages as the day before, however, traction force was loco 008 (ex Di3.643) and 006 (ex Di3.633) for the tour on the southern branch, loco 007 (ex Di3.641) for the western branch. As a result of financial and physical support from some German NOHAB enthusiasts 006 and 008 carry a new (though different) red and yellow livery. Various photo stops and run-pasts were made on the single-track lines.

Day 5: Kosovo Polje - Mitrovica - bus transfer to Zvecan - Lapovo - Beograd - Subotica - Kelebia - Budapest Nyugaty pu. A long journey back again in similar manner as before: Kososvo railways special with diesel 005 to Mitrovica, bus transfer to Zvecan, where the IGE train was waiting for the group. Serbian diesel and electric resp. MAV electric locos pulled the train throughout.

Bad luck struck the tour as just that very day Serbian railways had a line closure north of Beograd due to track works: Near Stare Pazova, where the line forks between Zagreb and Budapest, a missing switch prevented the train from going further north directly, but it had to go round a huge triangle - as many other regular trains, resulting in congestion and delays. Budapest was reached 3 hours late, which meant 2:30h at night.

Day 6: Budapest - Hegyeshalom - Wien-Hütteldorf - Melk - Passau - Nürnberg - Augsburg. The IGE special was headed with My 1125 all the way, a short photo stop and run past was made at Melk. After many delays throughout the tour the train reached Nürnberg about 15 mins ahead of schedule at approx.19:15h.

Comment: Obviously a special train to the Balkan is not to be expected running in a clock-work like "Swiss Travel System" manner - delays are to be accepted as part of the adventure. Even considering that, the time schedule proved to be rather ambitious, resulting in late arrivals at the hotels and some 5-6 hours sleep only for the group (with the extreme of only 3 hours for the last night in Budapest). Some participants were reminded of the IGE steam special to Istanbul. Some advertised events (e.g. industrial steam in Kosovo) were cancelled or a disappointment (e.g. a "Kosovarian evening").

Even though, thanks and admiration to the organizers, who always did their very best to solve all sorts of problems and in discrepancies on this extraordinary tour! A definite advantage was the IGE restaurant car (in combination with the large storage capacity of the attached ex-postal van), so food and drink supplies were never a problem! Note on the places mentioned: Some Kosovo stations carry new Albanian names instead of the former Serbian ones.

Final remark: If you would like to have the strange sight of a Swedish train with a Danish NOHAB diesel in original livery on the Balkan you would have to hurry up: NOHAB enthusiasts plan to support Kosovo Railways with a new loco painting in next spring!

IGE special to Kosovo with My 1125 during a photo stop at Traiskirchen/Aspangbahn in Austria on 21st Aug. 2009  
IGE special to Kosovo headed by MAV 2761017 and My 1125 at Ikreny in Hungary on 22nd August 2009  
MAV 2761017, My 1125 and MAV M61.020 at Vasuttörteneti Park (Budapest Railway Museum) on 22nd August 2009  
IGE special to Kosovo headed by MAV 2761017 and My 1125 at Kisszallas in Hungary on 22nd August 2009  
Special train Kosovo Polje - Hani Elezit for the IGE Kosovo tour consisting of Kosovo Railways NOHAB diesel No. 008 (ex Di 3.463) in front, second-hand Swedish SJ coaches and diesel No. 006 (ex Di 3.633) at the back during a photo stop at Bablak on 24th August 2009  
Special train Kosovo Polje - Kline for the IGE Kosovo tour with Kosovo Railways NOHAB diesel No. 007 (ex Di 3.641) and second-hand Swedish ex-SJ coaches during a photo stop at Dritan on 24th August 2009  
Special train Kosovo Polje - Mitrovica for the IGE Kosovo tour with Kosovo Railways NOHAB diesel No. 005 (ex Di 3.619) and second-hand Swedish ex-SJ coaches on 25th August 2009 at Mitrovica, which is the Northern terminus for Kosovo Railways