The International Steam Pages

Çamlik Railway Museum in Turkey is faced with closure

Alan Castle reports that the future of one of Europe’s major steam collections is under threat. The content of this feature and accompanying illustrations, was to be published in the 12 May 2011 issue of ‘Heritage Railway’ magazine and is reproduced by permission of the author.)

Keith Smith tells me (17th June 2011) that he has been told informally that closure and dispersal of the collection is unlikely, the major issue in the short term is likely to be a lack of security which would permit petty (or worse) theft from the exhibits.

With most of the particular authorities concerned continuing to adopt a distinctly lackadaisical attitude towards railway preservation in general, the breaking news emanating from Turkey during the first week of May 2011 appeared to suggest that the facility containing one of the largest steam engine collections in Europe may very well be faced with possible closure, and even disbandment, and all this might even have occurred literally within days.

The Çamlık Outdoor Museum had been inaugurated in 1991, at the very end of steam in Turkey, with most of the exhibits joining the collection shortly after being retired from service. The father of today’s museum director, Attila Mısırlıoğlu, was the first signalman employed at the station, so the place very clearly retained a very sentimental significance for Attila. After the decision to establish the country’s first major collection of steam exhibits had been reached by three regional offices, TCDD (the Turkish Railway Company) then proposed that Mr Mısırlıoglu should be offered the opportunity to undertake the job of setting it all up, with him then being offered a 99-year lease on the site, complete with the loan of all of the locomotives present today. Mısırlıoğlu knew that the collection was a major one, and resolved to establish a museum that would be worthy of it.

Although in a rural location near to a village of less than a thousand inhabitants, Çamlık was considered to be perfectly located, being but a few minutes away from Turkey’s most-visited historical site at Ephesus. It sits on the premises of the former Çamlık station, now disused because of a local realignment of the Izmir to Aydın main line, but with all the original buildings still in-situ, these including the small three-track engine shed that once housed the allocation of banking engines in the steam era. Furthermore, about half of today’s magnificent display is arrayed around a 14-road turntable that, with its superb rural backcloth, provides a timeless and authentic vantage point for photography.

Notwithstanding such apparently promising prospects, earlier this year several sources had already reported that Mr Mısırlıoglu had become so discouraged with his lot that he was possibly intending to surrender his post in the very near future. That possibility now appears to have turned to a probability and, although details still remain unclear, it does appear that his enterprise has gradually come to bankrupt Attila with the result that he is now faced with no other option but to offer the 80 years remaining on the lease at minimal cost to anyone at all that would take on the responsibility of continuing to run the facility. 
Although the land, the buildings and the collection are all believed to remain the property of the TCDD, appropriate funding is known to have long been an issue and it is very much a fact that the operation neither attracted the patronage that Mısırlıoğlu had initially expected, nor, far more surprisingly, was any support whatsoever ever provided by any official body … this, not even from the TCDD itself! Indeed, many were those visitors in recent months who did wonder whether the current income from admission fees was sufficient even to pay the wages of the tiny staff currently employed, let alone to finance any essential preventative maintenance for the priceless exhibits. As things stood in early May 2011, it was confirmed that the little remaining cash still available would not even stretch to purchasing paint and could only provide a minimal amount of grease to continue protect moving parts from the elements.

Should the lease be surrendered, a local carpet-making factory has already expressed an interest in taking over the site, and, although it is said that this undertaking did not propose to convert it into merely an extension of their existing warehouse, the stated plans apparently were to retain a tourist facility within a new retail leather outlet-cum-storeroom, but did not extend to retaining any part of the locomotive collection.

It has been only too obvious for a very long time that the Museum really did need to source some expert advice from parties far more accomplished in marketing matters and, the crux of the matter does appear to surround the fact that the Turks seem to possess little idea of how to attract visitor numbers to a sufficiently high level that will permit the significant investment vital to maintain their country’s now seriously threatened transport heritage. In that no effort at all appears in the past to have been made in the past to establish a souvenir shop, a regularly operating refreshment stall or even to produce any form of printed visitor guide … all of which would have generated considerable revenue, it is transparently clear that a lot of work had failed to have been undertaken in these vital areas. Finally, although considered elsewhere in Europe as an essential commodity to achieve success, the assistance of volunteers here was another valuable aspect that does not appear to have been investigated.

What of the future then? Well, at least under Mr Mısırlıoğlu’s watch, the 33 superb locomotive exhibits have so far remained relatively safe from theft, vandalism and graffiti and one has to wonder what the TCDD would do if the place really did have to close and the collection dispersed. Without doubt, as one Turkish enthusiast has already observed, with the railways themselves already in a very parlous state - along with the nation going to the elections in June - in the shorter term, it is felt highly unlikely that anyone within the railway administration, or even the in state government, will be interested in helping Çamlık Museum out of its plight.

The potential for disaster, therefore, is now a fast approaching reality and should not be under-estimated by anyone at all, for, as a worst possible scenario, one has only to consider what is currently happening in South Africa - and where a similar lack of funding exists to provide even basic security from scrap metal thieves - to realise what potentially might very well occur!

Any person or party who might be interested in investing in the Çamlık operation is now urgently requested to contact Atilla Mısırlıoğlu at Çamlık Buharlı Lokomotif Müzesi, Çamlık Köyü, Selçuk- İzmir, Turkey Tel: 0090 232 8948116 Fax: 0090 232 8948021 (N.B. There currently does not appear to be an e-mail or website address.)

Current Main-line Steam Prospects remain Problematical

On the main-line in Turkey, steam also hangs on by a very slim thread indeed. Preserved 1943-built 2-10-0 No 56548 (the former DR ‘Kriegslok’ No 52.7429) was steamed in late 2010, and again earlier this year, for filming contracts. However, although subsequently being put in-the-frame to work subsequent enthusiast charters in April and September 2011, it is almost certainly the only serviceable engine in the country currently available for line work.

The sheer fact that no other back-up steam motive power can be called upon in the event of failure, permits the continuance of such tours to operate on an extremely precarious basis. Indeed, despite 56548 being overhauled in 2008, many UK enthusiasts continue to say that they are reluctant to travel such distances as that to Turkey; being particularly conscious of the fact that a tour which had operated in the past for a German group had been assisted everywhere by a diesel, with the latter having only being removed from the train at a few photo locations.

There are locomotives in various states of disrepair dumped at around 8 or 9 known locations widely-scattered around the country, but the future for these remains far from assured, unless that is, as with the recently repatriated Stanier 8Fs, someone can come along with both plenty of ready cash and also the will to privately restore them. Such aspirations would seem unlikely and, although there was gossip recently circulating that there may be a possibility of a museum being opened at Usak, the origins of that probably lay rather more in fantasy than in fact.

Another rumour abounding at one time, but which also leant more towards sheer fiction, was a proposal to operate regular steam excursions over the steeply-graded and highly-scenic route between Selçuk and Çamlık. Selçuk is a major town of the region and an important tourist crossroads, situated right on the doorstep of the world-renowned archaeological site at the ancient Greek, and later major Roman, city of Ephesus. Should such a plan still ever come to fruition, of even more significance, perhaps, is the fact that all the locomotive watering facilities at this town’s railway station are still very much in-situ and do appear to be maintained in fully working order. 

Bringing the masses to Çamlık by steam train from Selçuk, or even from the city of Izmir – which is but a relatively further short hop to the north – as part of a regularly-scheduled day-out package, is something that really should now be seriously considered by the region’s tourist authorities … if not the TCDD itself – whose heritage artefacts are now under serious threat. Sadly, however, in the current absence of such entrepreneurial visions at such a level as this, the destiny of the Çamlık Museum - and for working Turkish steam - may already be sealed.

Pictures, again from Alan Castle:

Amidst such splendid rural surroundings, part of the threatened Çamlık collection awaits its fate in August 2010.

During May 2011 questions were being asked around the world as to how secure might the future be for the 33 locomotives in the Çamlık collection? Very clearly perhaps, if the museum was forced to close - as appeared to be a probability at the time - the essentially complete Stanier 8F No 45161 could be a prime contender for repatriation back to the UK. Without doubt, even back in August 2010, the signs were already there that neglect was setting in, with, as can clearly be seen, flaking paint and rust already much in evidence.

Rob Dickinson