Return to Praha

01 - 05 July 2009

Report by Duncan Cotterill


It had been almost two years since I’d photographed at Praha hl.n. and in the meantime, the new northern approaches have been completed and the platforms under the overall roof have been rebuilt. The station is at its best in the morning and evening light so the long days of early July seemed a good time for a return visit. I had also hoped to photograph some diesel hauled freights in the Kladno and Kralupy areas, north of Praha, and on the Nymburk – Mlada Boleslav line but that didn’t work out.

Wed 01 July 2009

I flew from Heathrow to Praha with Czech Airlines, picked up a 5 day ticket for Praha Transport then took the usual No.119 bus to Dejvicka and the metro into town. After checking into my hotel (the Plaza Alta near Holesovice) and buying my Sitove Jizdenka, it was time for some railway action. The weather was hot and sticky with plenty of sunshine and a few scattered clouds.

Line 120 is currently closed between Masarykovo and Dejvice for a big road construction project, so I took one of the few trains from Hlavni Nadrazi to Hostivice via line 122, the steeply graded “Praha Semmering”, and walked out to a spot where line 120 crosses under the freight line from Rudna u Prahy to Podlesin. My train was an 810 railbus in case you’re wondering. The direct line across the top has been out of use for some time judging by the size of the trees growing between the rails but the chords from Rudna and Podlesin directions to Hostivice are still in use. The train I was after was the daily limestone drag from Nucice to Kadan-Prunerov, booked out of Hostivice around 16:40, but there were three 714 hauled passengers from Smichov to Kladno to photograph as well.

By the time the limestone train was due, the sky was beginning to cloud up. By the time it passed, 20 minutes later than expected and with 753755 and 753753 on the front, there was no blue sky left. I did manage to get two of the 714 hauled passengers from Smichov in the sun but decided not to wait for the third as the sky was looking very threatening. Before I got back to Hostivice it had started raining and a torrential downpour followed. The rain continued off and on for the rest of the evening, something I would get used to over the next few days.

I took a train (914+814) back to Praha-Gymnasijni, the temporary terminus of line 120, close to Dejvicka metro station, and returned to the hotel by metro and tram. Gymnasijni is just a temporary wooden platform built beside the line with no run round facilities. All the trains I saw were either 814s or 854s with driving trailers, allowing easy reversal at Gymnasijni. No doubt this is also why the 714s are only used on the trains to Smichov at the moment.

Thu 02 July 2009

The forecast for Thursday was grim everywhere, so it was a good opportunity to do some exploring. I had a carefully honed plan for the day but it fell apart at the first hurdle. My chosen train, R1244 to Ceske Budejovice via Zdice and Protivin, has become a weekend only working so I had to switch to Plan B and endure R633 on the Misery Line via Tabor. The train's engine, 363037, arrived late, we left even later and then ground to a halt before the back coach had cleared the platform. More time was dropped at every opportunity until Ceske Bud was finally reached 30 minutes down and long after my intended +12 connection had departed. On the way, 141001 was seen waiting to leave Vrsovice depot, 749252 was waiting to leave Tabor with Os8258 to Benesov u/P, 749100 was on Tabor shed and 749263 on Veseli n/L shed. However, the most interesting sight was 740561 coupled to a derailed ballast train that was completely blocking line 210 at Cercany. Oops!

Now onto Plan C, things started to look up and a pleasant run was had from Ceske Bud. to Cerny Kriz, up to Volary and on to Cicenice on the Ceske Bud. – Plzen main line. Train Os8153 to Cerny Kriz was an epic 810+810+010+015+809 combo that ground it’s way uphill and bucked and swayed wildly downhill, taking 2 hours 40 minutes to cover 88km, but at least it arrived on time. On the way, Os8148 was passed at Kremze with 742087 on a string of 010 trailers, instead of the booked class 749. 751233 was stabled at Kajov with a crew on board, presumably waiting to work the pick-up goods back to Volary in the afternoon. At Cerny Kriz, 749241 was working Os 18550 from Volary to Nove Udoli, as booked. My train to Volary was a more mundane 810+015. Another freight engine, 751223 was stabled at Volary. My next train, Os18013, from Volary north to Cicenice, was an 814+914 set and was so comfortable that I soon dozed off and didn’t see a lot of this scenic line. What I did see was rain falling in massive quantities, the river overflowing its banks and lots of flooded fields. A plaque at Cicenice marks the rebuilding of the line after it was damaged by floods in 2002 and I wondered if there would soon be one for 2009 as well.

The final train of the day was R1255, a class 749 hauled, Ceske Bud to Praha working via Protivin and Zdice. If Table 220 is the Misery Line then this has to be the Totally Despondent Line. Inevitably, the train was 10 minutes late arriving behind a hideously disfigured 749039. This used to be one of my favourite engines before it was vandalised by the official graffiti artists. For some reason, the driver stopped at every unguarded level crossing on the way and then began calling at every station as well, irrespective of whether we were supposed to stop or not. Needless to say, nobody got on or off except at the places we were supposed to stop. However, at one unadvertised stop, someone tried to get on but when we left he was back on the platform. Who knows what was going on there! All these stops plus a very lengthy wait for an empty 810 at Cizova did nothing for the timekeeping and we were exactly one hour late by the time we reached Zdice. En route, 749008 was seen stabled on two coaches at Vraz u Pisku, presumably a caped R1252, which we hadn’t passed up to that point and, while we were there, an 842 departed southwards, presumably on some sort of replacement. Another former Chomutov favourite, 749102, still looking good in red and yellow, was on R1254. Underneath the ghastly paint job, 749039 must still be a cracking engine and made a spirited run in from Beroun, pulling back 10 minutes of lost time so we finally arrived at Praha a mere 50 minutes late.

Fri 03 July 2009

There was plenty of blue sky around to start with but my plan for the day had already gone in the bin. I had hoped to spend the morning around Zakolany on the Kralupy – Kladno line, photographing heavy diesel hauled freights. CD Cargo and OKDD both operate 753.7s on the line and there are still some CD 751s in use as well. Unfortunately the local train service is designed not to connect at Kralupy, so I would have had to leave the hotel before 06:30, missing breakfast, to get there in time for the prime freight at 09:20. There is a limit to what I will do to get the phots and after missing out on dinner the previous evening, missing breakfast was a step too far.

As an alternative, I travelled to Mlcechvosty, north of Kralupy on the electric line to Usti nad Labem. Fortunately the place is a lot easier to get to than it is to pronounce, with direct local trains from Praha-Masarykovo every couple of hours. I hadn’t appreciated how much the local services on this line had changed over the past few years. New class 471 double-deck EMUs have displaced most of the old class 451 and 452 units from the Praha – Kralupy – Roudnice trains and many services now run all the way to Usti nad Labem. One of these was even operated by a class 451, which must have worn the poor old thing out. As well as the units, Mlcechvosty also sees class 162s on Praha – Decin and Praha – Cheb trains, class 371s on international services towards Dresden and several classes, including 122, 123 and 163, on freight.

After a couple of hours, the sun was getting too high and I returned to Praha before heading out to look for afternoon spots on the Nymburk – Mlada Boleslav line. A very welcome sight awaited at Nymburk, 751219, resplendent in CD Cargo blue livery. There must be some hope if they’re repainting 751s in the new colours.

Another welcome sight, and sound, awaited at Mlada Boleslav, 749006 on train R1144 from Praha to Tanvald, not booked but I wasn’t complaining. The temptation to go for a ride was great but, as there was still the hope of getting some pictures, the Nymburk line took priority. Before I got back to Lusenice, where there were some potential photspots, the weather had changed and it looked like rain again. Oh well, time to find something else to do for the afternoon.

I travelled through some very heavy downpours from Nymburk to Usti nad Labem zapad on R720 behind 163099, then took a local down to Usti hl.n. It was here that the extent of the changes to local services really became apparent. There used to be a small fleet of class 460 EMUs that worked locals on all the electrified lines around Decin and Usti but they’ve all been sent east to join their classmates around Ostrava. Trains from Decin towards Most and Chomutov were all 163 hauled, as were locals and fast trains towards Lysa nad Labem and Kolin, while locals on the line to the south were all Praha based EMUs. 750258 was also seen at Usti, working R1165 to Liberec. The return trip from Usti to Praha was on EC379 from Binz to Brno, an unusual pairing if ever there was one. 371005 arrived spot on time and I was hoping for a fast run back to Praha. However, we crawled through pouring rain all the way to Lovosice, where there was an unscheduled stop and some sort of paper order was handed to the driver. Then we were off again, proceeding at a snail’s pace to Bohusovice nad Ohri before getting back up to normal speed again. A very fast run then followed and we were only 20 minutes down by the time we got to Holesovice.

One notable aspect of the day was the number of freight diesels seen around Kralupy on the three occasions that I passed through. CD Cargo 751219, 228, 236 & 354 were seen as well as OKDD 753713, 714, 729, 734, 735 & 737. Additionally, OKDD 753727 & 736 were seen on a coal train south of Litomerice. Good to see former Letohrad stalwarts 751236 and 354 again.

Sat 04 July 2009

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky until late morning and a very productive time was had at Praha hl.n., photographing the comings and goings at the newly “refurbished” station. Although platforms 1 to 4 have been reopened, the job only seems to be half finished with new high level platforms but little or no obvious work done on the overall roof. The glass in the roof is still filthy and the steelwork hasn’t been repainted either. Instead of minimising the visual impact of the overhead by suspending it from the roof structure, standard poles have been erected between each pair of tracks. Not very clever for a showcase station really! The main concourse area is only half completed but the bits that have been done don’t look that different to what was there before. The lighting has been improved and there are some fancy new shops and a new travel centre in the basement where the left luggage office used to be but that’s all. The superb old “Fantova” station building still looks like it’s about to fall down and the only noticeable change is a huge car advert draped across the southern end of structure. The pigeon problem hasn’t been addressed either and the guano deposits are building up nicely on the new platforms. I even saw a pigeon picking up crumbs from beneath the tables inside the new Burger King on the main concourse but wasn’t sure whether it was employed as a cleaner or was an escaped menu item.

Enough ranting, back to the railway proper… With the south end of the station disfigured by giant advertising hoardings, the best shots were of trains leaving the unspoilt northern end, which gets the best light during the morning. By the time the sun gets round on the north end in the evening, it’s too low to clear the new platform canopies.

Despite what I said above, I am going to have another rant but only a small one. The north-eastern approaches to Praha hl.n. and Masarkovo stations have been a serious bottleneck for years with a maximum of two single track lines funnelling trains from several different directions into hl.n. The layout was such that speeds were low and it was difficult to avoid conflicting movements. Any delays could cause total chaos. All that is history now, with no less than four new lines into hl.n. and two into Masarykovo. They're grade separated, with flying junctions eliminating most conflicting moves, and aligned for much higher speeds. Now that it’s so much easier to use the northern end of the station, CD has virtually stopped sending trains that way. Everything heading eastwards now goes out via the south end and the painfully slow goods line via Vrsovice to Becherovice. I know that this is only a temporary measure while the line from Liben to Becherovice is upgraded but wouldn’t it have been a good idea to do this at the same time that the northern approaches were being rebuilt? That’s it for the ranting, honest, well for a few paragraphs at least.

Most trains to the east are currently using the newer, and less photogenic, platforms on the east side of the station so they can leave via the tunnels leading to Vrsovice. The stock is brought in by the same route so very little actually happens at the northern end, particularly under the overall roof at the northern end. As a result, I didn’t get any good shots of 150s or 151s during the morning. The hourly fast trains to Hradec Kralove and two-hourly fasts to Cheb via Usti nad Labem were the exceptions and provided a number of 162s ands 163s for me to photograph under the roof. A number of trains to and from the Plzen line continued empty-stock to Vysocany to run round and lay over so there were a few 363s as well but it was difficult to predict what would terminate and what would run through.

The motive power highlights were actually at the south end where 141001 worked Os9207 to Cercany with a dead 749 sandwiched in between the double-deckers, ready to continue to Svetla nad Sazavou. I didn’t note which 749 (it wasn’t one of the interesting ones) because I’d just spotted 749006 arriving with R1137 from Tanvald at platform 3 and didn’t want to miss it. There were several locos around in non-standard liveries including 163030 in “flashover” orange and silver (good), 363127 in savings bank red and yellow, fortunately with the red end leading (goodish but only because it was the right way round) and 363084 in cartoon chicken livery (hideous), supposedly promoting the Help the Children Foundation. In my opinion, it’s the designer of the livery that needs help!

By late morning, the sun was getting too high and clouds were starting to appear. The weather forecast was better for the east, so I took EC121 to Ceska Trebova with 150202 in the hope that the sunshine would last there and I could spend the afternoon at Parnik. Indeed, when I arrived, it wasn’t looking too bad but the cloud built up rapidly and by the time I left, an hour later, there was very little clear sky left. Parnik is not a good place to be if it rains as there’s nowhere to shelter. I took 151016 on EC234 back to Praha passing through a spectacular thunderstorm west of Kolin. Back at Praha, the rain had stopped and there were a couple of sunny breaks during the late afternoon, including one that coincided with the magnificent 151001 departing with IC581 to Trinec.

Sun 05 July 2009

The day started with another trip to Praha hl.n. but the clouds were less co-operative and I only got a couple of shots in sun before the light died. To fill in some time, I took R608 to Usti nad Labem behind 162018, this time without the crawl through Lovosice. 751154, 219, 228, 354 and 364 were all seen around Kralupy. At Usti, Viamont 753723 and 750199 passed through the station light engine while I waited for R1159 to Liberec (843). 750258 was out again and passed at Benesov n/P on R1160. A bit further on, Decin based 475179 looked very nice simmering in the station at the curiously named Horni Police.

At Ceska Lipa I transferred to R1113 to Kolin and was pleasantly surprised to find former Letohrad pet 750333 on the front of a 954+854+053 formation. Despite a 10 minute late departure from C. Lipa, we had made up most of the deficit by Mlada Boleslav and were on time into Nymburk where the 750 was removed and the railcars continued unassisted. I returned to Praha on R794 behind 163039. By this time the sky was starting to clear and quite a few sunny shots were taken during the late afternoon, including former Letohrad favourites 749008 and 749011 on Ceske Budejovice trains. 151020 and 151027 also co-operated on IC531 and IC581 to Cesky Tesin respectively and 749006 even put in its customary appearance, this time on Os9515 from Mlada Boleslav.

It was then time to go home and I used the AE bus from outside the station despite the driver being unhappy that the Sitove Jizdenka didn’t specifically say “to the airport” on it. The following day was a public holiday so traffic was lighter than usual for a Sunday evening and the journey took less than half an hour. By metro and bus 119 usually takes around 40-50 minutes but services are more frequent and less affected by traffic conditions.


It was interesting to return to Praha hl.n. after almost two years but disappointing to see how little progress had been made with the restoration of the station, particularly the visually important overall roof and the Fantova building. Praha hl.n. is the only station in the country with a large overall roof and is therefore quite unique, so you would have thought the effort was justified. Hopefully it will be done one day.

Despite the lack of progress, the station has survived the modernisation works to date reasonably well and is still a good place to photograph trains, in mid-summer at least. The new platform canopies at either end cast rather large shadows and may make things more difficult when the sun isn’t as high in the sky. Railway photography in the Czech Republic is still largely a hassle free process. Despite the presence of a number of police and plenty of railway officials, nobody gave me any grief at all.

Away from Praha hl.n., it was difficult getting to the right place at the right time by train. I do prefer doing my trips by rail but the dearth of local services, particularly between 07:00 and midday, makes it almost impossible to reach many potential locations, even within 30 or 40km of the capital. It’ll have to be a car next time.

One of the great attractions of the Czech Republic is the variety of liveries on offer. The observant will have noticed that every loco or unit pictured on the right is in a different livery and there were almost as many again that weren’t photographed for various reasons. Pleasant though the new CD and CD Cargo liveries are, it will be a sad day when everything looks the same.

Generally, trains ran with the expected motive power and I've mentioned most of the exceptions above. There were some more, such as a Slovak 362 substituting for a 350 on one EC train but there was too much going on to identify and record everything. One thing worth mentioning is that there was no sign of DB or ÖBB motive power between Praha and Decin. All the EC trains were worked by class 371s or occasionally 372s.

Although it wasn’t the most rewarding trip I’ve ever done, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. I got a number of shots that I'm very pleased with and it provided a useful opportunity to check out some locations in the Volary, Nymburk and Usti nad Labem areas.

The price of flights to Praha was pretty steep by the time I was ready to book but I got the Czech Airlines flight and Hotel through Last for a good price. For turn-up customers, the hotel was asking €150 per night or €600 for 4 nights, approaching double what I paid for the hotel and flights combined.