Czech Spring 2


27 April - 01 May 2011 & 13 - 16 May 2011

Report by Duncan Cotterill

Introduction


After my trip to the Czech Republic and Slovakia in late March and early April, I thought I’d do it all again in late April and early May. This time I went to a couple of very scenic lines in the north of the Czech Republic where the motive power has changed recently; Liberec - Cernousy - Zawidow and Sumperk - Hanusovice - Jesenik. On both lines the aim was to photograph different locos at some of my favourite locations. Travel was by air to Praha and then by hire car.

This section of the report summarises what was seen. For train by train details with loco numbers etc, go to the Day by Day pages. Details of the Slovakian part of the trip can be found here.

Line 037 Liberec - Zawidow

(27 - 30 April)

It's difficult to find heavy, diesel-hauled freights in the Czech Republic these days as most traffic is routed over electrified lines, even if there's a much shorter route available. Finding scenic, diesel worked lines with much freight is even more difficult. The route from Nymburk through Mlada Boleslav, Turnov and Liberec to the Zawidow, in Poland, is one of the busiest, particularly south of Mlada Boleslav. Traffic is lighter at the northern end of the route but that's where the line is most photogenic and that's where I went for four days at the beginning of the trip.

The line has an excellent passenger service by Czech standards. There are hourly trains from Liberec to Frydlant throughout the day on weekdays and a few extra services run during the morning and afternoon peaks. At weekends there are some two hour gaps at quieter times, such as Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. The service north of Frydlant to Cernousy, the last station before the Polish border is basically two-hourly with hourly trains at the busiest times, principally weekday afternoons. There are no passenger services across the border to Zawidow.

The service is operated by 4-wheel railbuses of classes 810 and 814. Two 3-car 814s cover the main Liberec - Frydlant service, running through to Cernousy in the afternoons. Morning services from Frydlant to Cernousy are worked by 810s, which also cover the additional trains between Liberec and Frydlant and services on the branches from Raspenava to Bily Potok pod Smrkem and from Frydlant to Jindrichovice pod Smrkem.

Freight traffic isn't heavy by any standards with between one and three trains each way in daylight. Traffic patterns used to be fairly similar from one day to the next: northbounds would leave Liberec from mid morning to lunchtime and southbounds would return during the afternoon. There was rarely anything very early and rarely anything going north after about 14:00.

This time things appeared to be a bit more random, both in terms of the number of trains and when they ran. Wednesday afternoon was very quiet with no freights, only a pair of light engines. Thursday was better with two northbounds and one southbound in daylight. The second northbound was unusual in running in the late afternoon. Friday saw two northbounds, both in the morning and one unusually early, and four southbounds, including the Frydlant - Liberec pick-up that used to run every weekday but hadn’t appeared on Thursday.

This line was the last stomping ground of the original class 753 diesels, which Liberec depot kept going for many years after they'd disappeared from the rest of the Czech system. Following the introduction of class 753.7 rebuilds, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the 753s. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair on a Nymburk - Liberec freight in October 2009 but never thought any would survive into 2011. Remarkably, 753.187 and 753.301 are still in use and were seen heading north light engine on 29 April. Unfortunately they didn't return with a train before sunset.

The passenger trains aren't of much interest photographically but they do serve a useful purpose, occupying track capacity and forcing the freights to run in well defined paths. Although you can't predict when a freight will run, it's almost as useful to know when it definitely won't run so you can change position or stock up at the local potraviny (shop) with some confidence you won’t miss anything important.

When there's an hourly passenger service between Liberec and Frydlant, there's only one freight path in each direction every hour and every freight has to cross the passenger in the opposite direction at Mnisek u Liberce. When the service is two hourly there’s a bit more uncertainty over when freights will run. During weekday afternoons, when there are two northbounds and a southbound passenger every hour, it should just be possible to squeeze a southbound freight through although a northbound would struggle. I saw no freights in either direction during this period.

Many of the locations I’ve used in previous years have become overgrown but there are still more than enough good spots to satisfy the most demanding photographer.

Line 086 Liberec - Ceska Lipa

(1 May)

This scenic line still has a handful of loco hauled passengers with a class 750 covering two return trips on Liberec - Usti nad Labem fast trains, the last booked working for an unrebuilt class 750 in the Czech Republic. I visited the line briefly on the Sunday morning to photograph 750.118 on the morning eastbound train before setting out on the long drive to Slovakia.

Line 340 Brno - Uherske Hradiste

(1 May)

A class 850 railcar was seen as I drove past Nesovice. 850.021 was working train Sp1728 from Stare Mesto u U.H. to Brno. There aren’t many of these old railcars around these days and, as far as I’m aware, they don’t have any booked work.

Line 341 Stare Mesto - Luhacovice

(1 May)

I spent a few days on this line on my previous trip and called in again briefly on my way to Slovakia on 1 May. The line was closed for engineering work between Ujezdec u Luhacovic and Luhacovice with the fast trains terminating at Uhersky Brod for a bus forward to Luhacovice. I’d hoped to find two of Brno’s more attractive locos working the line but both engines were in the new livery so I quickly moved on.

Slovakia

(2 - 12 May)

The report covering my trip to Slovakia can be found here.

Line 292 Sumperk - Jesenik

(13 - 16 May)

This is probably my favourite Czech line with numerous good photo positions in excellent scenery, several loco hauled passengers and a few freight trains.

The passenger service has changed a little this year, meaning more weekday loco hauled trains than last year but less at weekends. The basic service north of Hanusovice is now a fast or semi-fast train every two hours with a stopper making the service hourly at busier times. In practice the fasts and semi-fasts call at most stations so there’s little difference for passengers.

There are four loco hauled fast trains in each direction daily, covered by two class 754 diesels. On Saturdays and Sundays there’s an additional train in each direction, worked by a third class 754. In theory there’s a chance of a class 749 substituting but everything was 754 hauled during my visit. The daily trains are services from Brno that split at Zabreh na Morave with a couple of coaches going to Sumperk behind the electric and the remaining three coaches being diesel hauled to Jesenik, so most trains are fairly short. The exceptions are the additional weekend trains, also Brno services, where the entire five coach set goes through to Jesenik.

The semi-fasts that make up the remainder of the 2-hourly service are worked by a class 843 railcar with two trailers. Most of the stoppers are class 810 railbuses, although a 3-car class 814 set was seen on one train. Class 810s also cover services on the branch from Lipova Lazne to Javornik ve Slezsku.

The old class 831 and 851 railcars that used to make things considerably more interesting were nowhere to be seen this year, a sad loss. The loco hauled trains that used to run across the border to Poland at weekends have also been discontinued.

Undoubtedly the biggest attraction on the line these days are the freights, largely hauled by unsilenced class 751 diesels. A second class 751 often banks loaded trains up the hill from Lipova Lazne. Two trains run regularly in daylight, Mondays to Saturdays, a mid-afternoon northbound and an early evening southbound. The northbound used to leave Hanusovice around 14:30 but always departed around 15:10 this time, crossing R906 at Branna and Os3612 at Ostruzna (Mo - Fr only). The southbound also left Lipova Lazne later than previously, departing after the arrival of Os3613 at 17:50 and crossing R907 at Ostruzna.

A third daytime freight has also been noted this year, although it only ran once during my visit, on the Monday. It carries traffic from the Javornik branch to Hanusovice and may only run when there’s too much traffic for the regular late afternoon southbound train. When I saw it, it arrived at Lipova Lazne at 12:00 then waited for over an hour before following R904 southwards. This delay may have been to avoid a cross with R903 at Ostruzna as there was engineering work there at the time. Other visitors have seen it leave Lipova Lazne almost immediately.

The loco hauled passengers are well timed this year, crossing at Hanusovice and Lipova Lazne, at either end of the most scenic section and leaving few long gaps and few periods when you really want to be in two different places at the same time. This almost makes up for the lack of old railcars that admirably filled the gaps in previous years. The freights were a little disappointing this time with no really heavy loads and none of the gorgeous red and blue engines that photograph so well. They’re still around but it’s years since I managed to photograph one on a train. The passenger engines were also a disappointment with only one attractive engine out each day, 754.028, a former Plzen machine in that depot’s superb blue, white and yellow scheme, worked the first three days and 754.020, in the same livery, worked on Monday. The other two locos in use, 754.031 and 754.065 were in the standard grey/green livery and rather scruffy.

Comments and Conclusions


It can be disappointing to go back to a favourite line after a change of traction and find that the new order isn’t half as satisfying to photograph as the old guard used to be. Fortunately that didn’t apply on either of the lines I visited.

For years it looked like the Liberec 753s would be replaced by pairs of 742s, coupled cab to cab, as unattractive a combination as it’s possible to imagine. The takeover by class 753.7s is infinitely preferable. They aren’t as exotic as the locos they replaced but they are kept extremely clean and make a very nice photograph in their smart two-tone blue CD Cargo livery. You need patience though, as there are some very long and unpredictable gaps between the freights.

The Sumperk - Jesenik line is a much more predictable affair with a number of loco hauled passengers and freights running at similar times every day. There’s also more variety with classes 751 and 754 in regular use, although some locos are more photogenic than others, and the scenery is every bit as good as on the Liberec - Zawidow line.

Both lines are highly recommended for anyone who wants to photograph attractive trains in excellent scenery. Spring is an excellent time to visit, before the lineside vegetation recovers from the snows of winter and while the trees are still a myriad of different shades of green and the meadows are full of wild flowers. I certainly intend going back.