The Greek railway system is a bit skeletal, but consists of two systems; standard gauge lines running north from Athens, and metre gauge running westwards towards Corinth, thence in a large circle around the Peloponnese, with odd short branches to e.g. Olympia, Nafplio. The Greek railway system is quite slow, but very cheap, and all of the track looks recently re-laid. From Diakopto on the north coast (between Corinth and Patras) a narrow gauge rack-and-pinion railway climbs about 2000 feet into the mountains, southwards to Kalavryta. the gauge is probably about 650mm – sorry, didn’t have my ruler with me.
The line was built to bring bauxite down to the coast, by the Italians, at the end of the nineteenth century. It was steam-hauled, and one of the locos is preserved on the platform, three others rather less well-preserved are round the back of the station building. The line is now diesel-powered; 2 Decauville driving-coaches with a small separate diesel unit between them. You get the best view from the first-class compartments, at the ends of the coaches by the driver. First class is 50% more than ordinary fares, but both are excellent value for a journey of well over 12 miles, and no-one collected the supplementary fare anyway.
The line climbs quickly through spectacular mountain scenery (eat your heart out, Festiniog!), through 14 short tunnels, and over as many viaducts. The rack and pinion is engaged in the steepest parts, some up to 1 in 7. The journey takes about an hour or so, in both directions – be prepared for some vibration!
There is an intermediate stop at Megalostili, a tiny village where the tavernas virtually touch the track. There is a monastery high above it on the mountainside. A journey crying out for a cab-ride DVD, not to mention a good souvenir shop! Timetables are in Greek and English. Since the Olympics, everything is in English; if you are going by car, there is a good motorway west from Athens, which hugs the coast and gives spectacular views. There are about 4 trains a day, and I went in November.
Kalavryta, at the top, is quite small. It was the site of a German massacre in 1943 or 44, and there is a memorial which needs to be treated with respect, as local feelings are still quite raw. A journey to enjoy.
The modern meter-gauge train
Old stock in sidings at Diakopto
Steam loco preserved on the platform
The sheds, with the train
Over the viaducts!
By Steve Cobb