The International Steam Pages

The Great British Basher in Bosnia, 2012

David Thornhill, in the long defunct magazine, World Steam, used to glorify 'the Great British Bashers' who would visit some of the further flung parts of the planet armed with not much more than their wits and a sense of humour. In other words, the way I always used to travel. Mark Palmer reports on the pleasures of an old-fashioned independent bash using public transport, there is lots of information here for those who have a more leisurely schedule and a relaxed attitude to life than the car hirers and tour bus riders... See also Gareth David's account of a June visit which gives local advice. Both have now been back in September 2013 and you can read their update.

In a visit to the Tuzla area of Bosnia at the end of February/beginning of March 2012, I saw (although only briefly in some cases) steam locomotives in use at Sikulje, Dubrave and Banovici, and under overhaul at Bukinje. The fact that I was a first-time visitor to Bosnia, on my own and without a car, did not prevent me having a worthwhile visit, so don't be scared to try it. If you want to be sure of seeing lots of steam action, you're probably better off with an organised tour, or a UK preserved railway, but the great attraction of a self-organised trip to Bosnia is the chance to see 'real' steam working -- you just need to be patient and go with the attitude that, rather like looking for rare animals in the wild, even a brief sighting can constitute success. Of course Bosnia is an interesting country quite apart from its steam locomotives, and the fact that steam locations tend to be off the tourist trail adds to the interest. For details, including practical information such as how to get to and from the steam locations, read on:

Tuesday 28 Feb 2012

Train from Zagreb to Doboj and on to Tuzla. I'd been unable to get any Bosnian marks before entering the country, and Zagreb station had been able to sell me a ticket only as far as Doboj. The train from Zagreb was about half an hour late due to track upgrading work, leaving only 15 minutes for the Tuzla connection; Doboj station had no cash machines (when I spent longer there a few days later, the nearest one I found was about 10 minutes walk away in the town centre), the ticket office wouldn't take euros and the kiosk wouldn't change them, but when I boarded the train anyway, it turned out that the conductor was happy to take payment in euros. A 33 class (Kriegslok) 2-10-0 was standing near the loading equipment at Sikulje mine as my train went by at about 16.30.

In Tuzla I stayed at the Pansion Rudar (, link dead by October 2014) ; 52 marks per night), which was quite satisfactory; I'd established contact by e-mail beforehand and they said they had plenty of room so there was no need to book. Some staff spoke English. To reach it from the station, turn right (west) along the main road, and at the next traffic lights it's just up the hill to the south. (To reach the Kreka mines HQ, turn right (N) at these traffic lights, and after you cross the railway and the river, it's the next large building on the right).

To reach the town centre from the station, walk E along the main road for about 10 or 15 minutes (on the way, there are cash machines at a modern shopping complex just down a street to the left) to a pedestrian-only bridge with a statue at each corner; cross this and walk up the street (effectively a left fork with respect to the main road), and you soon come out on the main square. There is a map of the town centre on a wall near the downhill end of the square.

Wednesday 29 Feb 2012

The bus station (adjacent to railway station; map of town on wall inside) gave me the times of 4 buses to Banovici (I presume these are the ones leaving from the bus station itself). I went into town again and found the tourist office, somewhat hidden away beyond the downhill end of the main square (of the 2 staff on duty, one spoke English). They gave me details of much more frequent buses to Banovici, basic maps of Tuzla and (unprompted) a postcard of a steam loco at Banovici. A taxi to Banovici would have been about 25-30 marks each way, if I remember rightly. Much of Tuzla is quite modern and industrial but there are various interesting old buildings in the centre, and a park with (in summer) a salt swimming lake.

I then walked to Bukinje (about half an hour from the station area -- I walk fairly briskly). Take the main road W out of town on the N side of the river, and soon you can diverge onto a parallel minor road. Eventually you come to the level crossing by the power station described by an earlier correspondent, and walk up the side valley for a few hundred yards till you see the sign at the works entrance. I asked a man if I could look round ('mogu li razgledati?' or something like that); he beckoned me in and summoned the manager, who spoke English and was very friendly. After phoning HQ for permission, he gave me a permit (just for Bukinje) for 25 euros (some might think this quite a lot for the size of the place, but it is one of the last 'real' steam workshops in Europe and I thought it well worth it). Passport details are needed, but a photocopy will do (fortunately, as my passport was in the pansion). The manager then showed me round. He was happy for me to take photos, and asked if I could send him some when I got home. 33-236 (I think) was undergoing a minor overhaul, another 33 was undergoing a major overhaul, and a 3rd was in working order ready for the monthly swap with one of the working locos.

Apparently the four 62 class 0-6-0Ts outside were in working order and for sale (the manager wasn't sure of the price but thought it might be about 200,000 euros each). He wasn't sure how long steam would last, but he said that even a second-hand diesel would be very expensive (but see Keith Strickland's report saying that it is planned to get one). The working day at Bukinje starts and finishes early, which is presumably why an earlier correspondent found it shut by mid/late afternoon.

The Kreka HQ had apparently said that they couldn't issue me a permit for all their sites as they were too busy that day and the next day was a public holiday; the Bukinje manager said that trains would be running at Dubrave, with one probably about 8 a.m., and further workings depending on demand.

I returned to Tuzla by bus; there is a fairly frequent service (but take care crossing the main road to get to the stop). On buses around Tuzla you buy tickets from the driver, who can give change (within reason, I presume). Ticket prices mostly seem to be in multiples of 50 pfennigs, which keeps the change fairly simple. You could probably get to Bukinje by bus if you could identify the right one; ring the bell as soon as you see the level crossing barriers and hopefully it will stop near the turning for the works. Back in Tuzla I went for a walk up the Dubrave road (see below).

Thursday 1st March 2012

By bus (08.35) to Dubrave. Unlike most Bosnian bus stops, the one outside the railway/bus stations and the one near the bridge with the statues have timetables. I can't remember the number of the Dubrave route, but I think the buses run to Kalesija; they leave Tuzla going west (do not confuse with the other Kalesija route which sets out eastwards as you'd expect Kalesija-bound buses to do). Service intervals seem to vary between about 30 minutes and 2 hours. The 'e' in Dubrave is pronounced as in 'bed', not a generalised 'er' sound -- it took a while for the driver to understand where I was going! At Dubrave, the bus turns left at the junction with the Zivinice road and soon passes under a bridge which I think carries a conveyor belt; the larger structure of the washery (?) and loading point is soon after that. I rang the bell to no apparent effect, and eventually managed to get off the bus half a mile or so further on when someone else did.

Back at the loading point, a class 33 (no. 248 on closer inspection) was visible in steam behind some wagons. I asked a man if I could look round. His first answer was 'es ist verboten', but he then suggested that a few marks might enable a short visit. After handing over more marks to various people (I was asked if I had a permit, but as mentioned above I didn't), I got to visit the footplate, and the loco was moved up and down a few times for me; I was then (very courteously) ushered out, feeling that I'd had some success but perhaps not my full money's worth. Following directions given by the staff (in our limited common language of German), I made my way to a level crossing on the headshunt about half a mile to the east (if I remember rightly it's the second turning on the right, east of the mosque) where they said the loco would be shunting at 11.00 or 12.00. I waited for it here (fortunately the weather was warm and dry), but by 12.30 it hadn't moved and a local resident, on discovering that I wanted to photograph it, said that it wouldn't be coming that day as it was a holiday. I remained hopeful of seeing some activity as it seemed unlikely that several people would come to work on a public holiday just to mind the loco, and the staff had mentioned a departure at about 15.00.

Returning to the loading point and viewing it from the road I saw the loco moving slowly underneath some of the buildings, but nothing much appeared to happen until after 14.00 when a long line of wagons moved slowly westwards, stopping before the loco came into view, and soon afterwards the loco ran briskly westwards past them. In the hope that this indicated an approaching departure, I took up position by the level crossing on the Zivinice road, and soon a man came walking down the track to unlock the derailer and stand by to operate the barriers. He also spoke German and was friendly (and made a point of not wanting any money), and told me that there would be a train soon, returning about 20 minutes later. A long train of coal wagons was duly taken towards Ljubace a bit before 15.00, with the loco returning light engine not long afterwards.

Not knowing the bus times, I walked back to Tuzla; you need to keep your wits about you on the road, but it wasn't busy enough to feel dangerous, and the scenery is pleasant. It took me about an hour and a half. The main road comes out a bit west of the station, or you can take a short cut down steep side streets to come out further east.

Friday 2nd March 2012

08.05 bus to Banovici (about 50 minutes). At Zivinice, the railway towards Durdevik appeared not to have been used for some time. An English-speaking fellow passenger asked if I was going to Banovici to see the railway -- it seems they're getting used to foreign enthusiasts, but I found when I got there they're not set up for casual individual visitors. I left the bus near the level crossing, and found the works by following the road west parallel with the tracks, but the man on the gate directed me to the company HQ (go back to level crossing, turn right across it, and it's a large building that you soon come to on the right), and the man on reception there tried to send me back to the works. When I tried to explain that I'd just been sent from there, he hailed an English-speaking employee, who (accompanied by another) took me upstairs; various phone calls were made, and I was introduced to at least 2 different directors. The eventual decision was that my 2 guides would accompany me on a visit to the works and I would get a permit (issued at the works office; passport details again required) for free.

Inside was a serviceable-looking 0-6-0T (no. 25-30); outside, 83-159 (a 0-8-2) and 55-99 (a tank loco) looked in quite good condition, and there were more locos (including at least one diesel) in various states of disuse. Diesel activity included a coal train coming down the main line. When asked if I wanted to see anything else, I asked if a steam loco was working at Oskova, and after some doubt my guides spoke to someone who said that it was and they were about to go and mend it. A car and driver were procured from the HQ and took us down the valley to Oskova (at maybe 2 or 3 km it could be walked) and then up to the top level above the washery (on one's own it might be quite hard to find the way up through the complex to the narrow gauge lines). 83-158 was in steam; I didn't see it actually doing any shunting, as it was undergoing running repairs (involving removal of some bolts near where the piston rod emerges from the cylinder), but it was moved up and down for me, and I was allowed to visit the cab. There seemed to be plenty of diesels around -- I wonder whether maybe the boss has a soft spot for steam locos.

I was then taken back to Banovici (the disadvantage of a guided tour is that you can't wait around all day for something to happen if your guides have to get back to the office), where my guides declined to take any money (I think they were glad of a couple of hours out of the office and a chance to practice their English), and I had lunch in the cevapi place recommended by a previous correspondent. I thought I'd just missed a bus due to its being early, but another turned up not long after I was expecting it -- I think there may be two companies involved and I only had times for one.

Back at Tuzla, I thought I'd try my luck at Sikulje, although I wan't surprised to find that I'd missed a working. The timetable on the bus stop made no mention of buses to Lukavac (possibly because they're run by a different company), but I'd seen quite a few, and sure enough one appeared after a few minutes and took me past Bukinje to Lukavac bus station (where a timetable indicated a roughly half-hourly service. to Tuzla) in about 30 minutes. The main Lukavac railway station isn't the one by the level crossing that you see from the bus station; to reach this, continue NW on the road some way to the NE of the railway (my bus had turned off this to reach the bus station), take the left fork by the mosque, and you get to Lukavac station in about 20 minutes on foot (some buses go this way if you can find the right one).

When I arrived at about 14.50 a diesel loco was shunting loaded coal wagons; I asked one of the station staff if the steam loco worked there, and he replied 'bila' ('it was'), which I took as confirmation that it had been and gone. Continuing west (noticing a small diesel loco shunting in the sidings at the chemical works) and taking the road under the railway, I found that vegetation limited views from this side, although a track takes you to within about 100 yards of the loading point (if you negotiate the unofficial rubbish dump where it joins the road), and further along the road, past a new light-industrial building, there is a more distant view of the western end of the sidings. In any case there was no sight or sound of the loco. In the slightly scruffy edge-of-town area near the mine I might not have wanted to spend too long standing around looking like a rich western tourist, but perhaps this is being over-cautious -- the nearby gypsy encampment looked pitiable rather than threatening. The road continuing NW on the N side of the railway takes you too far from the mine (which is adjacent to the railway as it curves left), and I didn't try walking up the drive to the mine entrance (presumably the most I'd have seen would have been a stationary loco in the distance). I returned to Tuzla by boarding the afternoon train from Doboj at Lukavac (don't leave it too late to buy a ticket, as they obviously don't sell many and it takes several minutes; but you can probably buy one on the train).

Saturday 3rd March 2012

By train to Doboj and then on to Sarajevo for some more conventional sightseeing. At Sikulje at about 10.45 the class 33 was standing (more obviously in steam this time) by the loading point. At Zenica I don't know whether there's any chance of seeing a steam loco from a main line train, but I didn't; at Kakanj two class 62s (?) were standing, not in steam but not obviously derelict, near the junction with the main line (if I remember rightly they were under the shelter mentioned by other correspondents).

Two final points:

It's not unusual to meet people who speak English or German, but you can't rely on them being available when you need them, so I'd advise taking a phrasebook and learning a few words of Serbo-Croat.

For anyone wondering about bringing or hiring a bicycle, although Dubrave, Bukinje and Lukavac are all within easy distance of Tuzla, I didn't notice anywhere hiring out bikes and there didn't seem to be much space for them on Bosnian trains (I don't know what the rules are); the Dubrave road is hilly and the direct route to Lukavac involves a busy multi-level main-road junction. Banovici is rather further and the roads are quite busy.

Rob Dickinson