Maps & intro
Adapting Wikipedia's Czech Republic locating map, here is Moravia in Europe, with Prague and the two ends of my bike tour drawn in:
Adapting Trainspotting Bükkes's map of the Czech Republic, here is the part I biked across, with the most important cities along the road in large fonts, and my route drawn in:
Green is diesel lines; turqoise DC, blue and red AC electrified. Red dots mark my bike route
After WWI, a serious independent rail industry developed in Czechoslovakia, which got to be a major exporter in Comecon times, and survived even the regime change. (In fact, had I had more days for holiday, and had I set out on bike from Prague, I could have visited the Velim test circuit just when the TGV successor AGV was doing circles there.) Electric traction in particular was a technological world of its own, worth a few notes below the photos.
Day 1: eastern Bohemia's model railway landscape
Serious model railroading always involves landscape, and likes to focus on unique and adventurous solutions to geographic preconditions. The real-life inspirations are disappearing across the world due to line closures and/or modernisations, but ČD's east–west central artery still contains untouched gems. One is the giant cutting at Choceň (German: Chotzen).
Above: 123 004 with a 16-car freight train towards Prague. This fifties front design (as well as the electronics) was maintained across several freight and non-express passenger types until the end of the seventies
Below: 362 119, bearing the advertisement of a Czech bank, with Ex 574 PETROV from Brno to Prague. General-purpose class 363 introduced this edgy look (and 50% more power) in 1980, class 362 is a Czech-Republic-era rebuilt version, slightly uprated for light expresses
ČD's current flagship is class 680, a member of Fiat Ferroviaria's (now Alstom's) famous Pendolino tilting train family. After massive teething problems, they seem to run fine now. I travelled in one the previous day.
Tilting train technology is impressive, but from what I saw, the benefits weren't too clear. From the Prague Meetup to Pardubice, I 'won' four minutes vs. the normal EC train – but the latter makes an extra stop. (On the more curved section from Brno to Pardubice, the win is 12 minutes, but again with one stop less.) On a recently upgraded section near the Slovakian border, all trains could "bend into" a tight curve at full speed because of extra outer rail superelevation. Against such little gain, the cars' comfort is reduced by narrower cross-section and windows.
Above: a Czech Pendolino as SuperCity 505 to Ostrava. While motor car 681 005 is about to tilt left, the fourth car is still tilting right in an S-curve after Choceň
Below:Inside (video still). Quite cramped, aint' it?
A defining fact about the Czechoslovak rail network is the north–south divide between 3 kV DC and 25 kV, 50 Hz AC electrification. Consequently, newer Czechoslovak (and thus Czech and Slovak) electric loco types had three versions: DC (class 1xy), AC (class 2xy) and dual-system, i.e. capable of change-over (class 3xy).
Brno–Prague is something for the dual-system locos. However, all the dual-system "Gorilas" went to Slovakia (SR, nowadays SSK). Thus the heavy international EuroCity trains are pulled by the Slovakian locos all the way from Budapest to Prague.
Above: Behind my bike, SSK 350 008 pulls EuroCity 170 HUNGARIA, consisting of cars of the Hungarian State Railways MÁV, towards Prague; near Brandýs nad Orlicí
Below: photographer's luck. 163 213 and a sister on an empty run eastwards meet 162 035, as it hauls R 872 towards Prague. 162.0 and 163 are the DC sisters of 362/3 (see second photo at the Choceň cutting); 163.2 is a product of cross-type organ transplant: to have more 362, ČD just had bogies exchanged between some 162 and 363
Another "model railroad scene" is the eastern end of the station of Ústí nad Orlicí (German: Wildenschwert). Here, two streams draining a wide north–south valley unite in a T-shaped confluence into a narrow valley, which is narrowest right at the confluence. Yet just there, two rail lines follow the two streams, and unite only after side-by-side stations separated by a road. (Google Map).
Diesels run here, too, with local freight. Heavy six-axle freight loco 770 526 and former branchline passenger loco 742 506 with a long train of oil tank cars. You can witness a not too rational dispatching operation: the train is passing the opposite tracks to a siding – thereby holding up a EuroCity (waiting to my back)...
The city of Česká Třebová (German: Böhmisch Trübau) grew next to one of the most important rail junctions of the Czech Republic: where the mainline from Prague branches to Ostrava (–Kraków) and Brno (–Vienna). North-east of the main station is another "model railroad scene": a flyover within an S-curved cutting.
163 043 passes the city and the flyover non-stop with R 1540 from Ostrava, while another 163 waits with a cement train below
I'm ashamed of the crude alignment and timing mistake in the last train photo for the day, but I have to include it – for the background!
A SSK 350 (in all likelihood the same as above, on its way back) with ČD cars (as EC 177 to Vienna) reaches the watershed between North Sea and Black Sea at Svitavy-Lačnov (German: Zwittau/Mährisch Lotschnau), with half of the Anenská Studánka windfarm on the horizon (the two Fuhrländer FL250 [250 kW] and one of four DeWind D6 turbines [1250 kW])
Day 2: level crossings in the upper Svitava valley
The streams on both sides of the watershed carved themselves into the sediment of a wider, ancient valley (see photos in previous diary). The villages are in the mini-valleys, the gentle slopes of the ancient valley are in heavy agricultural use. Occasion to photograph industrial-era pastoral scenes.
A tractor and a backyard-retrofitted koda Favorit wait at a level crossing near Hradec nad Svitavou (German: Greifendorf) while a ČD Cargo-owned 363 passes on an empty run to Česká Třebová
In this rural area, the light early afternoon local traffic on the electrified mainline is carried by railbuses.
814 049 as local Os 4776 to Česká Třebová in the "real" valley south of Hradec nad Svitavou. Czechoslovak railbuses were a ubiquitous Comecon "export hit", class 814 "RegioNova" is a twinned, heavily modernized version (something SSR also tinkered with in Slovakia, see my photo of a class 813)
In the towns that followed, with their old houses and old industrial facilities tightly packed in the narrow valley, I again felt like on a model railway – especially at level crossings.
Right above the steep shore of the Svitava river, Os 5002 to Pardubice leaves the stop of Moravská Chrastová (German: Mährisch Chrostau) across a "level" crossing
From Letovice, Brno's commuter trains appear. Unlike Prague's, they are all older trains.
242 233 reaches Sasina's Y-shaped level crossing with Os 4729 from Letovice. Class 242 is a late (1975) AC member of that family with the fifties design (see first photo in the Choceň cutting)
In the late afternoon, I crossed the wide basin north of Blansko that cuts the Moravian Karst in two. There, I met upon one of the normal long-distance expresses that still run alongside the elevated-comfort (and elevated ticket price) EuroCity and SuperCity trains.
The very last rays of the Sun fall on the 362-headed Ex 571 SLAVKOV near Dolní Lhota
Day 3: in the "canyon" of the Svitava, Brno, way home
Beyond Blansko, the mainline passes the narrow part of the Svitava valley with several bridges and tunnels. For some reason, the two tubes of the third tunnel were dug far apart. The road passed above, with an excellent morning vista of the adjacent bridges.
A SSK 350 with ČD cars (as EC 279 JAROSLAV HAEK to Budapest) reaches the western bridge. Above the western tunnel were two train-spotters, the only ones I met upon during my trip – in the German-speaking countries or Hungary, they would be everywhere
Brno's commuter trains include electric multiple units. (EMUs, like locos, come in DC, AC and dual versions: 4xy/5xy/6xy.) No commuter trains without graffiti pollution.
560 023, with its late sixties boxy design, on the railway dam in resort town Bílovice nad Svitavou
There are two mainlines connecting Prague and Brno. Apparently, there is a division according to train types, because I saw one single freight train after the Česká Třebová bifurcation.
ČD Cargo's 363 004 reaches the last bridge in the narrow valley with a mixed freight. Brno's residential area begins right at the invisible end of the bridge
After WWII, Czechoslovakia bought the license of a landmark type, the American bogied tram PCC, and two state companies developed it into the Tatra product line – and became the world's biggest tram manufacturer (until the nineties that is).
No wonder then that Brno is the only city I have been to where the diversity of trams matches that of Budapest. There was apparently no money to replace older trams, so all Tatra families (and one koda) are represented, plus all-around modernised versions of these.
#1551 on Náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square). This (well, at least some parts of it) was a T3, a sixties type which was the most-built in the world with over 14,000(!) units. As a near-total reconstruction type T3R.PV, it even has a low-floor section in the middle
When I climbed the Cathedral's hill (on bike for reasons explained in the previous diary), I found a park on the edge of the precipice, with great panoramic view from east to south-west...
A SSK 350 with ČD cars (as EC 278 JAROSLAV HAEK from Budapest) reaches Brno main station. Behind the more distant mountain range visible (which features up-close on the last photo of the previous diary) is the border with Austria
On my train ride home, in the then under total reconstruction station of Břeclav (German: Lundenburg, the last city towards both Austria and Slovakia), a sad sight greeted me: the on-going scrapping of an old type. One I fondly remember for cross-border freight runs in my childhood.
Two cabs in the light of the setting Sun. They belonged to class 230 locos, the freight version of the first major AC family from the sixties. Just one of the characteristic large bent plastic windshields is still in place, which gave them the nickname Laminátka
On the goodbye photo, you see the station sign of the last stop of my train in Slovakia.
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