The International Steam Pages


Steam in Sardinia

James Waite was in Sardinia in May 2009, you may also want to read his account of the Monserrato Railway Museum. See also Clive Hepworth's visit in June 2017.

Here are some belated notes and photos from our trip to Sardinia. We stayed at Arbatax, the eastern end of the long branch line through the mountains from Mandas. We were hoping to see some steam action in connection with some RTC charter trains but info about the train movements was hard to come by. The lady at the hotel assured us that the stationmaster there still attended the station full-time even though the line is only open now for tourist trains and in the winter months can go by without any train running. Off we went and sure enough he was there, a most helpful person who explained that although the RTC trip wasn't due to start for several days the loco and train would start their journey as empty stock from Mandas the following morning and that two days were allowed for the empty stock working. Helpfully he gave us all the timings for the station stops en route.

We decided to spend the day driving over the route to Mandas and finding suitable photo spots. This turned out to be a very worthwhile exercise as many of the places are at the ends of long dead-end roads and there would never have been time to explore them when the train was running. There weren't actually that many suitable spots as the line runs generally northwards and out of the sun for a train starting at the Mandas end. Reached Mandas mid-afternoon and sure enough the loco was standing outside the shed having some maintenance done to it. We drove back to Arbatax for the night via Sorgono for a change of scenery and saw a dead 2-6-0T there.

Up again early the following morning for the drive to Mandas (a 110km trip which takes rather more than 2 hours as the road is very bendy) ready for the 10.00 departure. Rather surprisingly the train wasn't empty at all but was occupied by a coachload of tourists. All went well for the first 35km or so of the trip until around 11.30 when we could see the train a couple of miles away on the opposite side of the valley from our next spot. Suddenly it stopped, just after Villanovatulo station and the loco gave ten short blasts on its whistle. I'm no good at whistle codes but this didn't sound at all promising so we drove over to see what was going on. Sure enough the leading wagon had derailed. No-one seemed to be making any attempt to rerail it even though the loco carries two rerailing jacks so we drove on to the next village, found a supermarket and bought the constituents for a lengthy picnic lunch. Back to the train to find that the passengers had been offloaded via some improvised steps cut into the embankment. The train was only about 100 metres or so from the road, lucky considering how remote the line is for most of its length. No sign of anything going on so we went off to find a place for our picnic and returned mid-afternoon. Still no sign of life save that a man appeared from the roadside with a large sack and proceeded to fill it with coal from the leading (derailed) wagon, dragged the sack down the hill into the back of his 4x4 and was off! Next thing we were invited into the carriage where a party seemed to be in full swing for the train crew and the mirto (a local liquer made from myrtle berries, 30 degrees or so proof) was flowing freely. All I managed to get from them was that maybe an "SOS party" would arrive later from Mandas. We set off for Cagliari after this.

I think that we got to the majority of worthwhile phot spots at this end of the line. There's a reservoir close to where the derailment occurred after which the line climbs up away from the rolling countryside where we had seen it and into much wilder mountain scenery. There are few roads there and it's a line which really needs to be ridden on to be seen to best advantage.

The loco made some of the most extraordinary noises I've ever heard from a steam loco - each puff produced a loud shriek and what sounded like a nasty cough. It seemed to go OK, though. Maybe the noise has something to do with the Caprotti valve gear.

Made a quick visit to Monserrato museum Thursday morning and came back home in the afternoon. A pretty successful trip all things considered! Perfect weather throughout. I'm glad to have seen steam in action in Sardinia at last. We only visited the southern system, running north from Cagliari and I think it's now the only line which has any steam locos at all. There used to be no. 43, the SLM loco (works no. 857/1894) and the two 2-6-2T's 400 and 402 (Reggio Emilia works no's. 133 and 135/1931, the most modern locos on the Sardinian ng) all running out of Cagliari. Now this loco, no. 400, is the only runner. Six years ago there were six working locos spread out between the three ng lines in various parts of the island but now that seems to be just history. Stafano Paolini tells me that there's an intention to restore no's 43 and 402 when funds permit but that there seems no longer to be any plan to restore the 2-6-0T's which ran on the Macomer and Sassari lines until a few years ago. Instead some of the 1950's diesels have been repainted in something like their original paint scheme for use with the tourist trains there.

Sardinia was altogether just delightful. The scent of wild flowers is just everywhere in May, the scenery is spectacular and the food and wine just great. Another recommended destination!


FCS (Ferrovie Complementari della Sardegna, the forerunner of the current Ferrovie della Sardegne before it became bankrupt and was nationalised) 2-6-0T no. 3 (Breda works no. 1539/1914) dumped at Mandas depot. Mandas is about 60km north of Cagliari and the main depot on the southern system other than Cagliari Monserrato.

FCS 2-6-0T no. 1 (Breda works no. 1537/1914) dumped at Sorgono station, the northernmost point on the southern system and more or less in the centre of the island.

FCS 301 (OK works no. 5759/1914), one of four 2-8-0T's which originated as Klien-Lindner articulated 0-8-0T's built for the Mandas - Arbatax line (very hilly and bendy!). The line started with the Swiss 2-6-0T's of which 47 were built, the largest ng class. They weren't powerful enough for the hilly route. The railway then experimented with 0-4-4-0 Mallet tanks but they didn't succeed either. The OK locos weren't very successful at first and were rebuilt as 2-8-0T's in 1916. In 1927 the locos were again rebuilt with Caprotti valve gear. They worked until the 1960's and amazingly all four still survive, the other three being dumped in very derelict condition at Cagliari. 

400 brewing up at Mandas depot. Note the three dumped steam locos on the left. The railcar is a Fiat/Brown Boveri diesel electric built in 1957, no youngster! The majority of services are operated by this class. 

The train shunting at Mandas station.

400 at a viaduct about 10km out of Mandas. It was the only worthwhile bridge I found on the part of the line before the scene of the derailment.

Near Nurri, just before the derailment.

The derailment - note the angle of the leading wagon.


Rob Dickinson

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