Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Ride on the Piraeus, Athens, and Peloponnese Railway

As I wrote in the previous article, the Piraeus, Athens and Peloponnese Railway was a narrow gauge (1.00-meter) line that once connected small towns in the Peleponnese area of Greece with Athens. Let's take a trip down memory lane, riding the rail from the west end of the Gulf of Corinth to Athens.

The circles show locations of photographs. Background maps from ESRI Maps and Data.

This is the station at Kato Achaia, a farming community west of Patras. It has a sleepy land-that-time-forgot look to it. The water tank for steam locomotives still stands. As I recall, the train was delayed and we sat at a café for an hour or two.

As of 1997, the train consisted of modern but well-used diesel-electric rail cars. The windows were open and the train trundled along through vineyards and orange groves.

In Patras, we had to change trains for the main line to Athens. This was a busy station because tourists from Italy disembarked from ferry boats and many boarded the train here.

You see some refugees or gypsies on a bench. A historical note: After the Communist Bloc collapsed in 1989, thousands of Greeks from Bulgaria, Romania, and other countries were finally free to return home. Some had been stranded in the Soviet Union since the 1917 revolution. In Czarist Russia, Greeks were an important part of the merchant class and traveled throughout the vast land, but when the Bolsheviks imposed Communism, the Greeks were unable to leave. Many of their descendants spoke no Greek and had not been able to worship in Orthodox churches. After 1989, Gypsies (the Roma) also were able to travel across borders that had formerly been sealed. Finally, Albania, once a forbidden dictatorship every bit as secretive as North Korea is now, collapsed, opening the borders to thousands of impoverished Albanians who desperately wanted to find work in Greece. The people on the bench may be gypsies. These refugees have caused major disruptions to Greek society and its fragile economy.

This "Splendid" hotel was across the street from the Patras rail station. It was probably clean enough but noisy; I will pass.

The next major junction was Diakopto, where tourists could take the famous rack train up the gorge to Kalavrita (subject of a future blog).

This is the station in Kiato, closed as of 2011 because the new, regular-gauge train had been extended this far west. This station looked clean and modern, and the Ο.Σ.Ε. administration must have spent money on it only a few years before it was superseded by the new line.

Further east, we see the station at Nerantza, probably not used in decades. I used to vacation near here, and from my sister's house we would hear the trains periodically rumble by. One engineer was distinctive because he tooted the horn more than other train drivers. Continuing east, the train would have stopped in the city of Korinthos, featured in the previous blog article.

Then the train crossed the narrow Corinth Canal (Διώρυγα της Κορίνθου), which connects the Gulf of Corinth (Korinthiakos Kolpos) with the Saronic Gulf (Saronikos Kolpos). The canal, dug in the 1890s, is narrow and mostly used by cruise boats. This photograph, looking down on the railroad bridge, was taken from a relative's helicopter in 1999, using Kodachrome 25 film in a Leica  M3 rangefinder camera with 50 mm f/2.0 Summicron lens.

Finally, after chugging through the industrial suburbs of west Athens, we reached the Peloponnese Railroad Station on Sidirodromon Street (built in 1889). It was pretty sleepy in 1997 and some men were sitting around playing backgammon and drinking coffee (Greek gents do a lot of this). I think the station is now unused and am not sure what its fate will be.

For some photographs of abandoned steam locomotives from the Peloponnese system:

Photograph notes: The square black and white frames are scans of Kodak Tri-X Professional film exposed in a Rolleiflex 3.5F camera (medium format 120-size film) with 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Planar  (5-element) lens. I developed the film in Kodak HC-110 developer at dilution B. Tri-X has a characteristic look that has never been excelled. The Kiato photographs were from an Olympus E-330 digital camera. Digital is much easier, but film is more distinctive and requires a methodical approach.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely. I took a train from Patras to Athens in 1994, and a week or so later back down to Navplion (from memory as far as Argos by train).

    The scenery especially over the Corinth canal was fantastic. I didn't get any photos at the time so grateful you have posted yours!