The International Steam Pages
A Day out in Albania, 2008
I have long waited for a first hand account of
Albania, its railways and in particular its steam survivors. James Waite
reports on his trip in June 2008:
"Success with the locos at Skhozet shed and works at Durres. They're all still there though in pretty poor shape really - hardly surprising considering that they've been standing out in the open now for more than fifteen years.
I arrived at the depot about 7.30am. Showed the security man a photo which one of my friends had given me - he was there in 1991 not long after they locos stopped work - and was waved through immediately. I was then taken on a tour of the premises by a most helpful person though after the first loco we were stopped by a very garrulous individual who was presumably his superior. He was plainly drunk despite the early hour (slurred speech, tendency to shout aggressively and strong smell of alcohol on his breath which smelt like slivovice but was more probably raki, the local tipple of choice). Equally plainly he disapproved of me being there. He became quite agitated about some photos of the yard from Google Earth I'd put in my itinerary after he had grabbed it off me and started looking through it. Eventually he reached a copy of a letter I'd written to the railway's HQ a month or so ago asking for permission to visit and which had never produced any response. This worked wonders and he calmed down and grudgingly let us carry on - maybe he thought it was actually a letter from the railway giving me the permission!
There are seven surviving steam locos. Five of them are Polish-built 2-8-2Tís There were originally six of them, no's 01 to 06. They're an export version of the PKP Tkt-48 class but look quite different as they don't have smoke deflectors. 01 and 02 were built by Fablok of Chrzanow, works numbers 2922 and 2923/1951. 01 was scrapped many years ago, this is 02:
Noís 03-06 were built by J. Stalin works at Poznan. 03 is Stalin works no. 1684 of 1952, 04 is 1681 of 1952, 05 is 1682 of 1952 and 06 is 1683 of 1952. They spent the end of their working lives, at least, shunting at Durres docks where they were last used in February 1991. No. 02 was restored to working order in April 1991 with a view to its future use for enthusiast charters at a time when the country was emerging from its years under communism. However there was sporadic civil unrest in the country during the next few years and nothing came of the idea. Some of the locos still carry small cabside numberplates. It also looks as though some of them formerly carried very large painted numbers on their tanks. This inside the old steam shed with 03 on the right. You can just about make out the outline of 31, the fireless loco, hiding in the fig tree to its left.
Thereís also 0-6-0T no. 72, Esslingen works no. 4472/1941. It was originally owned by Dynamit Nobel AG of Troisdorf, Germany. I don't know when it arrived in Albania or how it comes to be there.
No. 31 is a fireless 0-6-0, Henschel works no. 25271/1940. It originally worked at Cerrik oil refinery on the Durres - Elbasan - Pogradec line.
All the locos are painted mid-green though after so many years in open store much of this has gone.
Skhozet depot is about 2km along the line east of Durres station, just before the junction between the Tirana and Vlore lines. Itís a few blocks back from the main dual carriageway road heading eastwards from the town centre. The turning off is on the left hand side about 1km after a motorway flyover and junction. Itís marked by a replica loco wheel on the corner though itís easy to miss this with parked traffic and pedestrians. If you reach the Prishtina Hotel youíve gone too far. Thereís no gap in the central reservation and you have to do a u-turn at the next gap.
The building nearest the gate is the diesel repair shop. There were two locos inside when I was there.
No. 02 is away to the left next to a traverser which once served a wagon repair shop. The other six locos are all at the roofless shell of the old steam shed. The shed is the farthest building behind the diesel repair shop, next to the main line but separated from it by a high, solid-panel concrete fence. Noís 03 and 31 are inside the shed and the others are just outside. No. 31 hides behind a fig tree growing through the shed floor and no. 72 is rapidly disappearing behind another fig tree. All the 2-8-2Tís are relatively accessible though the wheels and motion are lost in the undergrowth. No doubt more would be visible in the winter when the fig trees have lost their leaves and the undergrowth has died down. The locos at the shed all face east. The 2-8-2ís would probably be more easily photographed later in the day when the sun has gone round to their southern side. I got there about 7.30am, partly because I thought there might be a better chance of getting in before the start of the working day.
Later I drove down to VlorŽ in the south of the country. It's the southern terminus of the main line and there there used to be a two narrow gauge railways here, one inland from Vlore itself and one serving salt flats at Narte a few miles to the north. Both lines closed many years ago. According to some reports on the web there may still have been some Swedish diesels in store at the main line yard at Narte and two Lyd 2 diesels in at the salt factory. They weren't any locos at the yard. I couldnít get into the salt factory but couldnít see any sign of any railway items from outside. The railway at VlorŽ also used to have three Polish-built Px-48 class locos, two of which may have reached Albania second-hand via China. The remains of one of these languished inside a wagon at Skhozet for many years but I didnít see any sign of it. On the way back to Durres in the afternoon I passed a main line freight train heading south, the only train I saw in action.
Altogether a most successful day and a new country for me. Delightful and hospitable people with the exception of the drunkard at the shed but terribly poor - and most of the industrial infrastructure from communist times seemed to be just abandoned and derelict. Everywhere there were donkeys pulling carts or just overladen with grass or hay. Any country where donkeys wander along the airport approach road can't be prosperous! Flocks of domestic geese wandering across the motorway minded by small children provide another driving hazard!
There's a lot of new road construction going on funded by grants either from the EU or from Italy but I didn't see much sign of new industrial premises. Maybe there's more in Tirana, the capital. I didn't go there. There was a lot of newish tourist development along the coast at Durres which I guess must provide some employment though there weren't many international flights at the airport. There were numerous Italian cars on the roads. There are car ferries from southern Italy which run into both Durres and VlorŽ. I guess some of the Italian cars must belong to tourists though probably some of the large Albanian population working in Italy must have returned home on holiday. There were also numerous English-registered cars though the ones I looked at more closely were left-hand drive so again I guess they belong to ex-pat Albanians. Down near VlorŽ (not so far from the Greek border) there were quite a number of large Greek cars mostly well filled with families who perhaps were tourists as well.
The railway was extremely run-down and I wonder how long it will last with the road network being modernised. There were lines and lines of derelict diesel locos, coaches and wagons at Durres and many more wagons lying around at Narte yard, mostly stripped of their axlebox brasses. They belong, or belonged, to either the SNCF or to DB. I wonder if they know what's become of them! The only working locos now are a series of Czech-built T669.1 class Co-Coís which were supplied to the country in exchange for chrome ore. The only passenger coaches I saw were all ex-FS. This is a freight train hauled by a class 669.1 crossing the River Shkumbini near Rrogozhina and again a little further on
Good clean hotel on the beach at Durres and excellent food. The beer was excellent as well and I'm now the proud possessor of a Tirana Brewery label. Awarded a gold medal at New York in 2003 for excellence and business efficiency. Not many beer bottles can claim that! The red wine was good, too. Didnít try the white.
Thereís a good enthusiast site for the railway at http://www.angelfire.com/ak/hekurudha/index.html which has a lot of very detailed info. The railwayís official website is at http://www.hsh.com.al (link dead by 26th April 2014)with current timetables and a good railway map. It worked a month or so ago when I first planned this trip but doesnít work as I write this. http://www.seat61.com (Seat 61) also has passenger timetables.