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Czech Republic - Visit to Prague and Jindřichův Hradec:

© Text by Peter Lindop, Pictures by Tom Chaffin

Note - click pictures for larger image and caption.

2nd to 9th September 2001

Owing to privatisation of some overnight services on the continent and the subsequent loss of free and reduced rate travel on these services, the decision was made at council to fly to Berlin and then by train to Prague.  However the option for members to make their own way was left open.

Sunday 2nd September:

The main body of the party met at Liverpool Street station, in plenty of time for the 09.30 train to Stanstead Airport.  In fact we caught the 09.15, which gave us plenty of time at Stanstead to book in and dispose of our luggage and to be greeted by the news that our plane will be delayed, not by a significant amount at first, but this grew to 45 minutes late by the time we left the ground.  This was worrying as it made our connection time into our train at Berlin Schoenfeld very tight.

Percy Drummond, who had retired two days earlier as a driver from Watford after 50 years service, was flying for the first time and was treated royally by the flight crew.  Percy will certainly never forget his first ever flight.

Time was made up during our flight, to such an extent that we no longer had to worry about missing our connecting train.

Our train rolled into Berlin Schoenfeld station 10 minutes late and we duly made ourselves comfortable in our booked seats for the five-hour journey to Prague.  The scenery on the line to Prague and as far as Dresden is not inspiring but the route was familiar to those of us who had been on the 1980 visit to East Germany.

At Dresden we were joined by three of our German members, Rainer Schulenburg, Uwe Degenhardt and Gunnar Heyde.  We had also been joined in Berlin by a new member to the Institution Reece Jones who had travelled from Aberystwyth to be with us on this visit.

There was a dramatic change in the scenery after Dresden as we ran alongside the Elbe River for many miles through high hills and picturesque riverside towns and villages.  We also saw one of the Dresden-based paddle steamers tied up at a local pier.  Once over the Czech border and running on CD rails our pace became very pedestrian owing to very heavy and considerable engineering works over much of the route to Prague.  However despite all this and a delay in Dresden because the CD locomotive booked to take our train forward to Prague was not available (it was still at the border), our arrival in Prague was only 20 minutes late at 21.18.

Our problems had not quite finished though, as we could not find the mini bus, which was supposed to take us to our hotels.  I did some searching whilst Alan Spencer phoned the hotel.  We found the bus together.  Everybody was packed off to the hotels Andel and Bonaparte, our rooms allocated and after a brief wash and brush up a fair number of us went in search of refreshment (food and drink) which we found in a nearby all-night sports bar.  The wall-to-wall televised sport did not intrude as we chatted and refreshed ourselves before retiring at about 01.00.

Monday 3rd September:

Monday morning at 09.30 saw the main body of our party (still two missing who would arrive later) meet with our guide/interpreter to go to the Prague tram museum, our agenda I thought was for a tour of the Prague tram system on a vintage tram.

We arrived at the museum, which is located in a former depot some way out of the centre of Prague.  After walking all the way round the museum to find a way in, we were invited to take seats in the refreshment rooms because the museum staff did not appear to be ready for us.

After much waiting and sorting out of tram hire fee, our visit commenced with a tour of the museum, which is housed in a former tram depot.  The Prague tram system opened with horse-drawn trams in 1875.  The first electric trams entered service in 1891; this coincided with the opening of two funicular railways, one of which survives today.  The last horse-tram was withdrawn in 1905; its route had been over the Charles Bridge.  Bus transport started in 1925, an earlier attempt to introduce motor buses in 1908 had failed.  The first twin car trams appeared in 1930 and this was followed in 1936 with the introduction of the first single ended trams (one driving car) and this was also the year that trolley buses made their first appearance in Prague.  Trolleybus operation ended in 1972 after only 36 years in service.  The opening of the first sections of the Prague Metro in 1974 (cars similar to those in Moscow) saw the end of the remaining four-wheeled double-ended trams and trailers.  The last communist era vehicles delivered were the KT8 double articulated trams, which are still much in evidence on the streets of Prague.

Tuesday 4th September:

18 people, along with our city guide/interpreter, gathered outside our hotels at 09.30 before the short walk to the local Metro station. We caught the B line train to Náměstí Republiky, then walked through the city to the main station of Nádraží Holešovice.  Here we were met by, our 2 railway guides, who took us up to the control room for an introduction talk.

Until 1990 signal control was by electro-mechanical equipment, then relay based control was introduced, Points were still mechanically changed until seven years ago, although they did have remote locking. In March 2001 this new control room was opened, using computers. At present only, the main station area is under this control. It will be extended when funds permit. Automatic headcode reporting is installed, but as this is the first, and at present only one, its time has yet to come! All adjacent stations are major, each currently has its own boxes for control. 5 people are on duty during the day; the station is worked in halves. with a couple of dispatchers (one reporting to H.Q. to co-ordinate loco and stock changes), and an operator who works the public information indicators and makes announcements. The main signal screen is French, but the computers are from an established Czech company. The cost was 30 million Koruna, plus another 3 M Kč due to heritage reasons.

In summer, 500 trains run through the station a day. There are 8 cameras positioned around the station, although some low ones on the platforms have been stolen! Up to six outputs can be viewed at one time, on the bottom right corner of the main screen. The split second, rather than continuous output, gives an unusual view (but you get used to it).

Some signal boxes are still operating to a small degree around the station. A control room dispatcher sets up most routes, but the old box actually pulls the points and gives the signal. The station is unbalanced, in that there are 6 approach tracks on one side, but only 2 on the other. Signal heads have 6 single aspects in a vertical row, 5 operating with 1 spare. They operate in a complicated order. Out on the main lines, normal signal spacing was 700 metres; this has been increased to 1.3km (plus ATP). There was a rule that to pass some red signals you had to wait three minutes. This was brought down to two. then one. Now they can be passed With caution, but the signal repeated on a display in the cab, this should reduce the risk of accidents. The system is a form of advanced AWS, rather than full ATP. Track circuit failures occur because thieves keep stealing the copper wires!

After some questions, we then left the control room and went out to the platform. At the end, we paused for some more questions, and then walked straight out to a signal box. While we checked there were no trains moving in the area, nobody was wearing any, form of high visibility clothing, but not a problem here-yet!

The box, a brick built, three storey high building, was in need of a repaint. But with a shortage of funds, and overdue replacement, understandable. The frame is still original, although the levers have been removed, and some electric switch boxes added on. These currently, only work the signals, the points changed by the control room. Staff will be redeployed, rather than made redundant, when the box closes and is demolished.

By this box the railway crosses over a road on two steel bridges, which date from 1890. They are examined and repaired as necessary, but the engineers gave a replacement date of the end of this year-at the latest. A rebuilding plan was drawn up, using concrete beams, starting in the spring (2001). This would also straighten the approach tracks, raising speeds from 20 kph to 40 kph. Unfortunately the Green Heritage party have protested and delayed the project. They claimed it would spoil the view in Prague, no trains should be allowed in the city centre, and work shouldn't start-even if it means the trains have to stop! Hopefully these differences have been finally sorted out, and work can start soon-the bridge examiners allowing just a final short extension to the deadline! There is another plan to build a four track, 100 kph line through the hill, but the cost (and no doubt the Green party) mean at least a five-year wait!

We then walked back to the station, alongside or across tracks, still without any thought to wearing high-vis clothing! Here we were able to view the cab of electric locomotive 363 082-9, waiting to work the 12.41 Domažlice service. The driver spoke good English, and was able to explain/demonstrate the controls and gauges. After a final few questions, we then left our guides and went to the station cafe for lunch.

The afternoon was free time; people went off in all directions! 1 went with Percy for some city sightseeing and present buying, and had a snack in the old tramcar cafe in Wenceslas Square. We then headed back to the station to meet up with several others on an early 1960's rounded end single car dmu. (820 057-8). This was working a late afternoon commuter service out to Holešovice. The sight and sound of this vintage vehicle climbing the twisting up-hill line to the southwest of the city was something to remember! After a short wait, our return train came roaring in. This was a loco plus three trailers for a journey around the north of the city to Masarykovo nádraží. Then, trying to avoid the rain, it was the Metro journey back to the hotel for a freshen up.

The evening started with a mini-bus journey from outside the hotel. We thought we were going straight to the river for a cruise, instead we went through the city to the travel agency, office. Here, at a time when we expected to be at the river, the driver just seemed to leave us sitting in the mini-bus! After several minutes our guide came, and we were off, unfortunately still through the rain. The riverbank road was interesting - subsidence meant some big puddles, and careful driving needed! We boarded our boat, "Šumava", built in the 1950's, and licensed for about 200 passengers. We all took our seats, and headed off up the River Vitava at 19.00.

Drinks were ordered, some free, some bought (at a high price, but then you have no alternative!). The extensive buffet lunch was put out, a queue quickly formed, and people started getting their first plate full! The food was a good selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. During the meal the waiters continually came round clearing the tables. A four piece Jazz band played most of the evening. Time quickly came when the boat slowed, and turned round.

Again our table was cleared, this time 1 thought more thoroughly than 1 would have expected, and then suddenly WHAM!! A cake appeared on the table and the band struck up Happy Birthday. Percy's face lit up with surprise as the rest of the crowd joined in with the band. Today was a double celebration, his 65th Birthday and retirement from the railway after FIFTY YEARS OF SERVICE (and all at Watford Depot). Once the singing had died down John Lunn was given the honour of cutting up the cake. This was distributed amongst our group, and duly consumed! Following this Percy was presented with a retirement card signed by everyone with comments, and an ASLE&F Presentation Plate by Alan Spencer. During all this time numerous photos were take to record this happy event. Percy gave a short thank-you speech.

To get a breath of fresh air and stretch our legs some of us took a walk on the top deck, as we went through the lock and under the city bridges. By now it had stopped raining so we were able to enjoy the city sights by night. The boat turned again, moored up, our very enjoyable cruise over. The mini bus was waiting for us, but instead of going straight back to the hotel we were given a tour of the old city, including the Jewish quarter. After about 20 minutes we called back at the travel agency office where we said goodbye to our guide who had made the evening a lot more interesting.

Wednesday 5th September:

Wednesday was transfer day, but the transfer to Jindřichův Hradec was to be via České Budějovice and a certain well-known brewery located in that town. Small groups of members made their way to Praha Hiavni Station, some members who travelled with me managed to choose an underground train that failed enroute. We were however impressed with the way the failed unit was removed and the next train, only a few minutes behind arrived and swept us all up, very efficient.

The party regrouped in our reserved seats, we made ourselves comfortable for the journey, which was booked to take 2hrs 44 minutes. Sometime into our journey our Guard/Conductor, who spoke good English declared his interest in railways and a desire to visit the UK, we in turn spoke of the institute and our respective jobs in he UK. It would appear that a new friendship has been formed and a possible Second member in the future.

Our Continental Tour Organiser (Alan Spencer) was invited into the cab from Tabor until the last stop before our destination. In České Budějovice we were meet by my good friend Petr Mercv, many of the arrangements for our weeks visit had been made by Petr, he would remain with us for the rest of our stay in the Czech Republic.

With our luggage stowed safely in the luggage office we went out to the brewery by bus, where after the prelimaries we went for a well earned lunch in a modern building that forms the reception area for the Budva brewery. The restaurant was built to resemble a beer cellar and carried the illusion quite well, there was some problems getting food ordered, but a litre of Budva beer smoothed the way.

The visit itself whilst interesting was done in conveyer belt fashion, being conducted by a young lady who had many facts & figures at her fingertips. The visits started in the bottling hall where 75,000 bottles per hour are filled with beer and pasteurised, pasteurising take about 20 minutes at a temperature of 62 degrees centigrade. A bottle lasts 6 or 7 refills before it either self-destructs or is rejected. The bottle hall that we viewed from an upper gallery was very hot and noisy place.

The Brewery produces over 10.000.000 hectolitres of beer per year, water being supplied from two artesian wells, 300 metres deep, and Zatec hops from Northern Bohemia are use along with malt from Southern Moravia. Hop pellets are used rather that whole hops, both malt & hops being delivered by train. There are no addictives or adjectives added to Budvar Beer, just Hops, malt, Yeast and Water are used.

The mash is boiled for about 4 hours, there being 8 brews per day, with 4 brewing kettles in use at any one time. Fermentation takes place in Stainless Steel conical Fermenters lasts for 20 days in total, and at 2 different temperatures. This process is computer controlled Laagering at 2 degrees C takes 80 days, there being 672 laagering tanks In 20 sections. After maturation beer is run off to either be bottled or to fill barrels for draught beer. This concluded our tour of the Brewery; all that remained was to visit the Brewery shop before returning to the station by trolley bus. After collecting our luggage, there was time for a beer (Budvar of course) before joining our train to Jindřichův Hradec and the Pension Perle (6.50 per person/per night B&B). After sorting the rooms out we opted to stay in for our evening meal, however this posed a problem, the menu was in Czech, but with the help of Gunner Hayde one of our German Members we managed to order.

Although we finished eating rather late, a goodly number of us decided to take a look at the town, to see the sights & perhaps a nightcap before turning in.

Czech Electric Loco

Jindřichův Hradec

Thursday 6th September:

A rainy start to the day saw us assemble at Jindřichův Hradec railway station, on the narrow gauge side, the Jindřichohradecké Railway has a 760mm gauge. The normal service is diesel hauled, although steam does regularly operate, both on service trains and specials. Branches go north 46 kilometres (2 8. 5 miles) to Obratah (opened 2 5 December 1906), and south 3 3 km (20.5 miles) to Nova Bystrice (opened 1 November 1897). This is South-Eastern Bohemia, an area called Czech Canada due to the woods, hills, and many lakes.

We started our day on the railway with a visit to the locomotive depot. Here we were introduced to our guide for the day Petra Vochozkova, who does some office work for the company as well as some public duties, She gave us some history and background of the company. As well as operating trains, the railway prints cardboard tickets from presses at two stations. These are printed not just for the RIMD, but also for at least four Europe railways. The tour inside started with us seeing diesel loco 705 906, which had the engine removed as part of its overhaul. At a bench in front of the loco a fitter was electric welding, with no screens, ignoring the fact of us walking around - we made sure not to look at the are! These Bo-Bo diesel locos were built in 1954-58, in Prague by the state company CKI). They have a maximum speed of 50 k.p.h., and are now the oldest working diesel locos in the country. A total of 21 were built, of which 9 survive on the line (with 4 on another railway). They have a red livery (except one in blue), with assorted coloured and sized stripes. There are two steam locos on the line. U46 001 was built in 1958 for a Transylvania gold line. It come to J~ in 1999 in a very bad way, and has slowly been having an overhaul, and is expected to be in service in 2002. The other steamer is U47 001 (used on our special), a Mallet loco built in 1907 by the Henschel & Sohn Company, Cassel for Serbian railways. It came to Bohemia at the end of World War 1. Both locos are in black livery. Also in the shed were diesels 705 911 and 705 920.

At the back of the shed is the diesel refuelling point, and alongside is the interchange siding. Here standard gauge coaches and wagons are put on special narrow gauge wagons, to allow onward movement around the system. The line doesn't have any freight vehicles of it's own.

We then walked back through the shed, and then out to the station to join our special train. Sidings alongside the station held brake vans used as barrier vehicles for freight trains, coaches, and a class 705 on accommodation bogies. Our special was made up of five four-wheel vehicles; a luggage van, three passenger coaches, and a brake van, and headed by U47 00 1. These wooden carriages were built around 1900-1908. Carriages used on normal services were built in 1966. At 10. 5 5, slightly later than planned, we left. Although we had hired the train, some local enthusiasts joined us. Just outside the station we joined the main line for a short section of dual gauge running, complete with overhead wire. After 15 minutes we stopped in the middle of a field, it then became obvious this must be Jindřiš, our first photo stop!

 Most passengers got off, tramped across the grass, and formed an orderly curve to take their photos. The loco crew got a large wooden handled screwdriver and began pushing the brush gear on the generator, after a bit of flickering the three marker lights became bright (with a round of applause from us)! The train then backed up out of sight, whistled, and then came roaring past - smoke billowing out and its lights bright in the rainy gloom  As we turned as the train pasted, it everything went dark, as the loco left a black smoke trail behind it!  I hope the washing in the nearby farm was not ruined! When the smoke lifted, the train backed up and we all boarded again.

The first station stop was at Střížovice. By now refreshments were being served in the brake van by Petra; beer and lovely sausages, done on a small calor-gas cooker! Thoughtfully proved in the carriages were beer bottle holders, although standing out on a veranda with your beer was just as enjoyable! Unfortunately the dull weather spoiled the views, on what is a very scenic area.  Deep woods, fresh meadows and large lakes make this a very popular area for tourists, with walks and cycle trails from most stations (some have no road access).  Our next run past was out in the fields, the line being on a right-hand curve and on a small embankment.  A fire watchtower stood nearby. A few people got off, traipsed across the wet ground, and took  photos/video in the poor light.  It appeared to be late evening, rather than midday.  At Hůrky we crossed a service train, diesel loco 705 911 plus one coach.  Alber was the final run past, we got off at the station, the train backed up, and then came steaming across a fine brick-arch/ steel girder bridge, whistling all the way! An out of use water column is on the bridge.

Two hours after leaving Jindřichův Hradec, we came to end of this branch - Nová Bystřice. After taking a group photo by the front of the train, we went down the town for lunch, to a Hotel in the main square. Having been well fed and watered, and a quick look around the square, we slowly walked back to the station. Time was then spent at the station, before boarding the train. We left at 15.30, just after the arrival of a service train.

The crew apparently wanted a quick return, so we were told the photo stops on the return had been cancelled. Therefore there we were unsure what was happening when the train stopped at the forest halt at Kaproum. It then became clear that it was a photo stop after all! A quick five min stop allowed some scenic photos to be taken in the pine forest. Then it was back on board until Střížovice station, when we stopped again - another photo stop! A short stop at Jindrig to obtain permission, and then we went on the dual gauge section on the approach back to Jindřichův Hradec. Arrival was at 17.05. While watching the shunting of our train, the 15.02 from Obratan came in two diesels and one coach! The second loco was started, and then both did the shunting of the station ready for the morning. With no fixed timetable now, most people looked around the station, and then walked back to the hotel.

A quick freshen up, and then everyone went in groups walking around the town sightseeing, passing from time to time! The Castle, lake and some fine old buildings were seen. Dinner was taken at various places around the town.

Friday 7th September:

The account of this day, which included a visit to the ŽOS České Velenice works and a steam railway in Austria is currently missing from our archives, though photographs are available, see below.  We will endeavour to find the missing text and add it to the page.

Saturday 8th September

The journey home started with a ride on a four-wheel d. m. u., the 10. 53 from Jindrichuv 1.1radec being 809 208. At Veseli nad L=icwe we changed into the 11, 08 to Prague, an 8 coach express train. On arrival at Prague Hlavani Nadrazi station, most people had lunch and a drink at the cafe, which now uses the old booking office. This is in the original entrance, a fine semi-circular area with a high ceiling, (with local area crests painted on), and a view down to the underpass.

We made our way by Metro across to Holešovice Station, and at 15.00 train number EC 172 pulled out of Prague, hauled by 3 71015. This train is a Wien (Austria) to Hamburg (Germany) cross-Europe train. On our section of it, we had a set of modem DB coaches. For most of route through the Czech Republic, a large amount of upgrading and new investment was seen. A lot of the time was spent on single line, changing from side to side. New platforms, and even new stations were also viewed along the route. For a long time we followed the River Elbe, sometimes in a gorge, which the looked very scenic in the afternoon sunshine. A wide variety of bridges were seen crossing the river, both old, and very modem. On the train Alan Spencer handed round a questionnaire about the holiday. This caused a fair bit of discussion, as well as bringing some ideas for future holidays! CzechGerman electric locos were changed at Bad Schandau.

We arrived at Dresden about 18. 00. Two of our German members, Rainer Schulenburg and ? went and got their cars, and ferried us to our Hotel. This occupied a couple of floors in a modern office block style building in the southern part of the City.

For an evening drink and meal, some decided to return to a restaurant the Institution had visited on a previous holiday. However when we got there, we found it fully booked. Across the road was a bar, serving meals, so we went in. Food and drink was ordered, and we settled back for the evening. After some time the food started arriving. While almost everything ordered came from the kitchen, it took a long time, and was not necessarily in the right order! The food was good, and certainly became a talking point of the holiday!