Unsilenced Sumava

05 - 09 August 2009

Report by Duncan Cotterill


Three lines converge on Volary, a small town in the heart of the Sumava, the mountainous region in the south-west of the Czech Republic that borders Germany and Austria. There are a couple of freights that run all year round and, in summer, when tourists flock to the area, there are a few loco hauled passengers as well. Volary had been on my list of places to visit for a long time and I finally got round to going there from 5 to 9 August 2009.

The Lines

From a passenger perspective, the most important of the three lines serving the Volary area is the route from Ceske Budejovice, the regional capital. In common with many secondary lines in the Czech Republic, it’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride with steep gradients and sharp curves and obviously built to avoid expensive civil engineering wherever possible. Along the way it serves Cesky Krumlov, a town famous for its fine, well preserved, architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a real tourist trap. Further west, the line follows the north shore of the Lipno Reservoir, formed when the Vltava river was dammed in the 1950s and the closest the Czech Republic gets to a coastline, and the upper Vltava Valley, a glorious upland area popular with outdoor enthusiasts. The summit of the line is at Polecnice (alt 766m a.s.l) and the line remains at 700m or above all the way to Cerny Kriz, the junction just south of Volary where most trains from Ceske Budejovice terminate.

A second route leaves the electrified Ceske Budejovice to Plzen main line at Cicenice and heads south through increasingly hilly country, following the Blanice and Ziyny River valleys and serving the towns of Vodnany, Bavorov, Strunkovice and Prachatice. Further south, the valley narrows and the serious climbing begins, with the line crossing from one river valley to the next until, eventually, a summit of 842m a.s.l. is reached west of Spalenec. It’s then downhill all the way to Volary at 760m a.s.l. From Volary the line continues another 6 km south to Cerny Kriz, where there is a junction with the line from Ceske Budejovice, and then a further 8km to terminate at Nove Udoli right on the German border.

The third line starts at Strakonice, also on the Ceske Budejovice to Plzen main line and runs south through the towns of Volyne and Vimperk before climbing to a summit at 995m a.s.l. at Kubova Hut, the highest point on the Czech rail system, before dropping to Volary. This line wasn’t explored.

Passenger Services

The ubiquitous class 810 railbuses work most services on the lines from Ceske Budejovice to Cerny Kriz and Strakonice to Volary as well as the Volary – Cerny Kriz – Nove Udoli shuttles. Volary to Cicenice services are worked by 2-car class 814 units.

From the middle of June to early September there are also a few loco hauled services on the Ceske Budejovice line, worked by class 749 diesels. One loco works two pairs of Ceske Budejovice – Cerny Kriz and v.v. locals, usually with a pair of double deck coaches and a baggage van for bicycles. A second loco works from Ceske Budejovice to Nove Udoli with through coaches from Praha, then trips from Nove Udoli to Volary and back before returning to Ceske Budejovice in the afternoon. Outside the summer period there are no loco hauled passengers.

Freight Trains

Freight traffic is handled by a series of pick-up goods workings. The Cicenice – Volary line is served by two pairs of workings every day except Sunday. One pair of trains runs south overnight and returns north very early in the morning. Neither of these workings was seen.

The other pair, a morning southbound and an evening northbound certainly ran during the week I was there. Instead of the booked pair of class 751s, motive power was always 751233 on its own. Loadings were generally light with one to three wagons and a brake van. On Saturday morning, the southbound train didn’t show and I suspect that it didn’t run.

The Ceske Budejovice line is served by separate workings from either end, meeting at Kajov in the late morning before returning to their points of origin during the afternoon. The train from Ceske Budejovice is booked for a pair of 742s and runs Mondays to Saturdays. The train from Volary is booked for a pair of 751s and runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only.

The reality was somewhat different, at least as far as the motive power was concerned. The Ceske Budejovice train was seen on the Thursday and Friday, worked by a single 751, a distinct improvement on what I expected. On Saturday, a single 742 was stabled at Kajov at lunchtime, presumably after working in from Ceske Budejovice earlier. In theory, the loco works trips from Kajov to Zlata Koruna on Mo/We/Fr and to Polecnice on Tu/Th/Sa as well as working over the steeply graded branch from Kajov to Vetrni when required.

There is also a shorter working from Ceske Budejovice to Kremze and back on Mondays to Saturdays. This train is booked for a single class 742 but I never went far enough east to check whether it actually ran or not.

The Volary train was seen on Wednesday and Friday with a single 751 and on Friday, the locos of the CB and Volary trains swapped over at Kajov. The term 751 is used loosely as the loco that worked in from Volary on Friday was actually 749 018, complete with CD Cargo logos and “SOKV Ceske Budejovice” allocation code.

All the freights I saw kept strictly to their booked crossings even if they didn’t run exactly as per the timetable. Very useful when you’re trying to locate the train on a line that is often well away from the road.


This is a very difficult area to photograph effectively. There are quite a few good locations but many are more suited to winter photography when the sun is lower in the middle of the day. Both the Cicenice and Ceske Budejovice lines are very overgrown and there aren’t many places where you can get a clear view of the track. In many places, the problem is tall grass and weeds, which would die down in winter. Of course the loco hauled passengers don’t run in winter so that narrows down the options somewhat.

Access to the lineside is also an issue, whether you travel by train or car. A scenic 7km section of the Ceske Budejovice line, from north of Horice na Sumave to Hodnov and including the summit of the line at Polecnice, runs through a military reserve where access is strictly restricted if not forbidden altogether. My Czech didn’t stretch to fully translating the stern warning signs at the boundary but I know enough to recognise “vstup zakazan” (entry forbidden) when I see it.

Further west, the last 21km section from Nova Pec to Cerny Kriz and on to Nove Udoli lies within the Sumava National Park. There is a parallel road most of the way but it’s closed to motor vehicles. Access at intermediate points is difficult and 21km is a long way to walk. Travelling into the park by train and then walking is certainly an option but services are infrequent so you have to get there a long time before the train you intend photographing and you’re stuck there for a long time after it’s gone.

The Cicenice line isn’t much easier. It doesn’t run through any restricted areas but it does traverse remote country where there aren’t a lot of roads. Even on the northern section where the landscape is gentler and the population greater, the line follows the winding river valleys while the roads tend to take shortcuts over higher ground some distance away.

On the positive side, the trains are so slow that chasing by road on the accessible sections is ludicrously easy, even for the expresses. The pick up goods trains are even slower and could probably be chased by bicycle at a push. Don’t even think about it unless you’re really fit, the hills are long and steep.

The weather was a bit mixed during my trip but there was a fair amount of sun every day and some gloriously clear light on occasions. Just as well, as you don’t get many shots in a day, even when the weather is favourable.

In order to do them justice, the Volary lines need plenty of time. You need to visit in summer to make the most of the passengers and in winter to get the best of the freights. Inevitably, there’s also a lot of time sitting around while nothing happens for hours on end.

Despite the complications, there is something special about the area. It’s difficult to pin it down exactly, but it’s very appealing. It might be the scenery or it might just have something to do with unsilenced 749s and 751s. To stand by the lineside in the middle of nowhere and hear the train you’re waiting for erupt from a station several km away is simply magical. Looks like I’ll have to go back several more times!


I flew from Heathrow to Praha with Czech Airlines and hired a car from Praha Airport for the duration of the trip. My base for the trip was the 14th century Hotel Parkan in Prachatice. The building has undergone some modernisation since then and is a comfortable place to stay although lacking in some mod-cons, such as internet access. Prachatice is a small town with a beautifully restored medieval centre and an impenetrable one-way system. Staying there gives the option of intercepting the morning freight from Cicenice near Bavarov or heading south to do the passengers on the Ceske Budejovice line.


Wed 5 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type
751212 Mn88737 12:19 Kajov - Volary 16:29 Goods
749241 R940/1 16:07 Nove Udoli - C. Budejovice 18:43 Psgr
749263 Os8155 14:54 C. Budejovice - Cerny Kriz 17:33 Psgr
751233 Mn88853 18:13 Volary - Cicenice 21:32 Goods

Thu 6 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type
751233 Mn88850 08:05 Cicenice - Volary 13:06 Goods
751316 Pn68842 15:56 Kajov - C. Budejovice 17:38 Goods
749241 Os8155 14:54 C. Budejovice - Cerny Kriz 17:33 Psgr
749262 R940/1 16:07 Nove Udoli - C. Budejovice 18:43 Psgr
751233 Mn88853 18:13 Volary - Cicenice 21:32 Goods

Fri 7 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type
751233 Mn88850 08:05 Cicenice - Volary 13:06 Goods
751316 Mn88723 10:15 Zlata Koruna - Kajov 10:44 Goods
749018 Mn88732 05:50 Volary - Kajov 10:51 Goods
742348 Os8148 10:52 Cerny Kriz - C. Budejovice 13:21 Psgr
751316 Mn88737 12:19 Kajov - Volary 16:29 Goods
749263 R940/1 16:07 Nove Udoli - C. Budejovice 18:43 Psgr
749241 Os8155 14:54 C. Budejovice - Cerny Kriz 17:33 Psgr
751233 Mn88853 18:13 Volary - Cicenice 21:32 Goods

Sat 8 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type
749241 R943/4 09:13 C. Budejovice - Nove Udoli 11:36 Psgr
749263 Os8148 10:52 Cerny Kriz - C. Budejovice 13:21 Psgr
742284 Pn68842 15:56 Kajov - C. Budejovice 17:38 Goods
749263 Os8155 14:54 C. Budejovice - Cerny Kriz 17:33 Psgr
749241 R940/1 16:07 Nove Udoli - C. Budejovice 18:43 Psgr
751263 Os8154 18:27 Cerny Kriz - C. Budejovice 20:59 Psgr

Sun 9 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type
749262 R943/4 09:13 C. Budejovice - Nove Udoli 11:36 Psgr
749241 Os8148 10:52 Cerny Kriz - C. Budejovice 13:21 Psgr

A Flying Visit to Table 200

On my way back to Praha on Sunday, I stopped off at Mirovice, on the Zdice – Protivin line, The shot there isn’t brilliant but at least there’s a shot, something this line is sadly lacking in generally.

Everything ran as expected, with Praha based class 749s on the fast trains and class 842 railcars on the stoppers. Timekeeping was really poor and the first train was so late that I was thinking of giving up and going to the station to check there wasn’t a line occupation when I heard a horn in the distance. After a couple of hours at Mirovice, I moved on to a spot south of Zdice for one last train before heading for the airport and my evening flight home.


Sun 9 August 2009

Loco Train From/To Type


13:08 C. Budejovice - Praha hl.n. 16:25 Psgr
749011 R1250 13:36 Praha hl.n. - C. Budejovice 16:45 Psgr
749180 R1253 15:08 C. Budejovice - Praha hl.n. 18:25 Psgr
749258 R1254 17:36 Praha hl.n. - C. Budejovice 20:45 Psgr