Other narrow gauge
MORAVIA / SILESIA
Written by Petr Mitacek on the occassion of the line's 100th anniversary.
"In the Osoblaha Peninsula, in the fertile countryside, where the rugged massif of the Hruby Jesenik Mountains gradually gives way to the rich Silesian Lowlands by the border of Poland, lies perhaps the most noteworthy line of Czech Railways, somewhat neglegted, but today, the only narrow gauge line of Czech Railways, leading from Tremesna ve Slezsku (in Silesia) to Osoblaha. A lonely and melancholy land of rich fields and forest huts periodically interrupted by the "trainling" out of some fairy-tale, wandering along on its 20 km pilgrimage.
No, this isn't a land of mushroom-pickers, even if we can count the number of regular travellers on our narrow-gauge trainling on one hand. Our "Osoblazka" is part of our landscape, and is loved by all as a member of the family. And so here, on the train in place of tourists, you'll hear the chatter of children on their way to school, discussions of moms and dads hurrying on their errands, or the thoughtful silence of the oldest grandmas and grandpas on their way to the doctor's or on a family visit.
Here, in the shadow of the main line, time passes somewhat slower, and haste has no place. And yet it's hard to believe that our little line is already celebrating its one hundredth anniversary. Let's wish it together much strength and many satisfied travellers in the years to come.
Don't hesitate, take a seat and we're off together on our way. Certainly it'll be a pleasant and singular experience for all. Over the monotonous click-clack of the trainling's wheels, the sentimental observer will be met with the beautiful silhouette of the Maiden's Castle (Divci Hrad), the ruins of Fulstejn Castle, and the meanderings through the romantic valley of the Osoblaha River."
Welcome to the Osoblaha Peninsula, a tiny piece of the Czech Republic which sticks up into Poland, in the northeastern part of the country. The pictures below all come from the centennial anniversary celebration (October 10th - 12th 1998) of the Tremesna ve Slezsku to Osoblaha line. The diesels on this page were built by CKD Prague in the mid 50's. They use a 12 cylinder CKD engine of about 51 litres displacement and 344 h.p., driving an electric generator, which supplies current to 4 electric motors. The motors are the same as those used in CKD tramcars. The Czech Rail designation for them is "TU 47": "T" is for diesel-electric power, "U" indicates "uzkorozchodne", or narrow gauge, which in this case is 760 mm (as opposed to the standard 1435 mm). This engine has also seen service on other Eastern European countries.
The line is 20 km long, and passes through 8 stations on its way from Tremesna to Osoblaha, as follows (The German Name was used when the Czechlands were part of the Austrian Empire, and again during the Nazi occupation):
In 1898, the trip took anywhere from 65 to 85 minutes; in 1998, it was around 40 minutes.
Here's a little map to give you some idea of where the Osoblaha Peninsula is, and where the stations are on the line. Click on the map to see an enlarged view, and then use your browser's back button to return.
In 1872, Osoblaha was a village of 4300 souls, mostly employed in agriculture. It was located on the edge of the "Osoblaha Penninsula", a tiny far-flung corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The main industry - in fact, the only industry - was a sugar refinery, which used the produce of the local farms (sugar beets) to produce sugar.
1872 was a significant year for this region, for it was in that year that two railway lines were put into operation, the line between Olomouc and Krnov, about 20 km to the south, and Leobschutz and Neustadt, some 6 km north. However, this second line, although closer, lay on the other side of the state boarder in Prussia, under the control of the German Empire.
Soon after, the owners of the sugar refinery decided they could expand production if they had a railway line running into the village, which could more efficiently bring in sugar beets and take out the refined sugar. So, with the support of the local inhabitants, who also favoured a rail link, they applied to the imperial Ministry of Transportation for a railway to join up with the northern line, as it was a shorter distance from the village. It was turned down, because the main line lay across the boarder. A branch was planned from the southern line, but the refinery and village council were able to raise only about 10% of the construction costs, so those plans were shelved until some solution could be found.
The refinery again applied for a branch to the northern Prussian line, and this time it was accepted, but only on the condition that it would be used purely as an industrial line and not by the general public. This solution was rejected by the refinery.
After almost 10 years of arguments and negotiations, a solution was finally reached. A line would be built from Albrectice to Osoblaha, with a grant from the Moravian regional government. Construction was sheduled to begin in July 1896. Nothing happened, and a year later, the plan was revised to start from Tremesna on the main line. Construction actually began in the spring of 1898.
After so many years of waiting and arguing, the track was laid in record time. In December 1898, regular operations began. The first scheduled train departed Osoblaha unceremoniously at 3:50 in the morning of December 14th. It departed from Tremesna for the return trip at 11:30, with considerable fanfare. In attendance were all manner of local dignitaries, honourable persons, the clergy, and railway officials. More than 100 guests attended the reception which followed.
The enthusiasm was soon replaced by disappointment, however, as the line had been constructed with a narrow gauge, of only 760 mm, as opposed to the standard gauge of 1435 mm, which the general population had expected. The constructors argued that the narrower gauge better utilized the terrain and resulted in reducing construction costs by two-thirds. But this also resulted in a lower operating speed and reduced cargo capacity.
From the beginning, the narrow gauge line was operated by the Austrian State Railways. The original roster included 3 steam locomotives, 4 passenger cars, 2 service wagons, 3 covered and 4 open goods cars, and 4 adapter trucks, to be used in carrying standard gauge cars on the narrow track. Three mixed freight trains operated daily, until 1911, when a 4th train was added. From the end of 1989, the train also carried mail.
The Osoblahans, however, never gave up the idea that the track could be rebuilt into standed gauge. In 1907, a local newspaper reported that a delegation of the local village councils visited the Railway Ministry to push the proposal, but were not successful.
Just before the Great War, travelling times were listed as 60 - 75 minutes from Tremesna to Osoblaha, 65 - 85 minutes from Osoblaha to Tremesna.
Operations of course were reduced during the Great War, as they were on every other line in central Europe. After the declaration of the independent Czechoslovak state in 1918, the Germans living here began to agitate for a separate Sudetenland. From November 27th to December 20th 1918, an independent Sudeten Railway tried to operate, but this soon fizzled out. In the Osoblaha region however, the German inhabitants quietly accepted the political changes, and the "Osoblazka" resumed normal operations, running three mixed frights a day.
In the late 20s, owing to increased demands, the decision was made to begin using motorized coaches, which at that time were referred to as "railbuses". The village councils along the line put together 40000 Czechoslovak crowns to purchase 2 motor coaches and 1 unpowered car. The motor coaches (or "motoraks", as they are referred to today) were designated M 11, a narrow gauge variant of the of the unusual M 130 built by Tatra Koprivnice. They were often called "submarine", because there was a kind of "tower" in the centre of the car like a submarine's coning tower, in which the motorman sat. These began regular operations in December 1928.
In 1931, the Osoblazka met its first economic crisis, with a decline in passengers and goods, and competition from road transport, but after a few years, its fortunes began to reverse, and the line's economic health improved. In 1938, when British Prime Minister signed away the Sudetenland to Hitler in exchange for "peace in our time", conflicts arose between the Czech and German inhabitants of the Osoblaha region. Angry Czechs attacked the trains and even fired shots at the motor coaches. At the end of September, all Czechs in the Sudetenland were forced to leave.
During the Nazi occupation, attempsts were made to speed up rail service, but to little avail. Trains were restricted to a speed of 30 km/h, and had to wait a full 2 minutes at each stop. As the front line drew closer in 1944, the number of trains on main lines were restricted, and service on all branch lines stopped completely. The last train on the Osoblazka left Osoblaha March 17th, 1945.
The Osoblaha region suffered drastically from the ravages of the war, in Osoblaha itself, 70% of the houses were destroyed or heavily damaged. In contrast, the rail line remained almost completely intact, and stations and depot buildings suffered only slight damage. The engines however, were damaged, and all three motor coaches burned up in Tremesna.
As soon as the Czechs began returning to the region, they made preparations to resume normal rail sevice, and operations began again among much fanfare on Oct. 28th 1945. Although industry and agriculture in the Osoblaha region was damaged, freight transport was a priority, as hundreds of new families were moving into the Osoblaha region from Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and even Romania, and the Osoblazka had to bring in potatoes and grain for the rapidly (re)growing population. The two steam engines couldn't cope with the workload, and the transport of passengers was aided by two Dodge trucks, given over as part of the UNRWA assistance. This still wasn't sufficient, and another engine was added to the roster from the Jindrichuv Hradec line, which also contributed an M11 motor coach later on.
The population fell sharply - to roughly half - with the expulsion of the Sudeten German in 1946, which caused serious problems for the Osoblazka, as well as for the farmers in the region. The area suffered severe snowstorms that winter, and a lack of manpower prevented the railway from being able to run regular train service, and this same lack of manpower also prevented many farmers from finishing their harvests. At the beginning of 1948, 2 new M21 motor coaches from Tatra Studenka were finally delivered, and the older M11 was retired.
It became more and more difficult, however, to keep the older steam engines running properly, but the situation was improved with the addition of two engines, one (U58.001) in 1948, and another (U47.003) in June 1955. The difficulties were finally resolved in 1958 with the delivery of 4 diesel engines (TU47.0) in 1958. At the beginning of the 60s, the motor coaches were retired and replaced with passenger coaches drawn by the new diesels.
Three times in its life, the Osoblazka came close to being abandoned due to unprofitability. Once at the end of the 1950s, again in the mid 70s, and the third time in 1985. Fortunately, each time enough reasons were found to keep it running, and during the period of 1985 to 89, the line underwent general repairs. Today the line and all equipment is in good condition, and ready for many more years of operation.
At present, the Tremesna - Osoblaha fleet consists of:
4 diesel engines class 705.9 (formerly TU.47.0) of which 3 are operational,
8 passenger carriages,
6 service wagons,
and 30 adapter trucks.
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These photos were taken during the festivities to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tremesna ve Slezsku - Osoblaha line. (October 10 - 12 1998) Again, click on the pictures to see an enlarged view, and then use your browser's back button to return.
|Tremesna; the arrival just arriving, the departure waiting to depart.|
|Waiting to depart from the Osoblaha station.|
|It was a sunny, if somewhat cool weekend, and a festive atmosphere prevailed.|
|The 12.15 from Tremesna meets the "Mixed Freight Special" from Osoblaha at Bohusov. The mass of black dots on the grass is a bunch of photographers.|
|The Mixed Freight pausing at Divci Hrad.|
|Adaptor trucks used to carry standard gauge cars on the narrow gauge track.|
|A wagon of the Mixed Freight making use of the adaptor trucks.|
|The U47 arriving at Tremesna.|
|Resting in front of the maintenance shed in Osoblaha.|
|The end of the line in Osoblaha.|
These pictures come from the celebration of "Narrow Gauge Day", June 26th,
The 8.50 preparing to leave Tremesna
The M21 Dayliner. The big P means "Predni", "front".
One of the open goods wagons, now an open observation car
Shifting the M21.
The M21. The big Z means "Zadni", "rear"
One of the regular engines sitting in front of its shed.
The engine of a regular unit.
And the generator.
These pictures come from the celebration of "Narrow Gauge Day", June 26th, 2004.
|M21.||The remains of the town walls in Osoblaha.||The fountain in the square of Osoblaha.||The preserved Jewish cemetery.||From the observation car.|
|From the observation car.||From the observation car.||The observation special in Tremesna.||The M21 at the Tremesna station||The standard gauge M131 Hurvinek, which took us home.|
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Northern Moravia, with its Jesenik and Beskyd Mountain ranges, is a fine place to spend a holiday, not only for railfans, but for anyone looking for a quiet getaway. The area abounds in hiking and cycling trails, castles and other historical sights, and attractive countryside. The Osoblaha region escaped the Communists' obsession with industrial development, and so it retains its quiet, rural charm.
JUNE 26TH is Open House Day in Tremesna, and includes special rides and celebrations. For information, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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JHMD This link will take you to the Czech Republic's other, private, narrow gauge line in Jidrichuv Hradec.
Mladejov This link will take you to a narrow gauge museum line, the former industrial railway in Mladejov.