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 Mocăniţa - Last of the Carpathian Forestry Railways

„Sometimes known as the Vaser Valley Railway, the forestry railway of Vişeu de Sus is a unique example of technical cultural heritage. Travelling over a network of some 60 kilometers of narrow-gauge track, you can still find wood-burning steam locomotives running alongside several diesels and railcars. ”
CFF VIŞEU DE SUS 2014
Maintenance crew for steam train
Rafting - the principal methos of timber transport untill 1930
CFF passenger Coach in the 1930´s

1932

In the 18th century, extraction of the valuable timber resources of the Vaser Valley began at Vișeu de Sus - the forests at that time belonging to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. German-speaking colonists opened up the virgin forests and brought timber down to the sawmills of Vișeu de Sus by rafting. The work in the remote forests of the Carpathians, as well as the log rafting itself, was not just hard but also very dangerous.

In 1932 construction work began on a railway, a huge technical advance in comparison to the rafting.

Narrow gauge logging railways had become popular all over Europe, especially in the Carpathian region. Their operational principle was simple: tight curves followed the water courses, hence the need for a narrow gauge! The lines were planned in such a way that the empty timber wagons could be pulled uphill by small locomotives, while the heavily loaded trains could roll downhill under gravity to the sawmills.

Wooden statue of a German soldier on the Miraj cemetery bridge

1914-1918

In the 18th century, extraction of the valuable timber resources of the Vaser Valley began at Vișeu de Sus - the forests at that time belonging to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. German-speaking colonists opened up the virgin forests and brought timber down to the sawmills of Vișeu de Sus by rafting. The work in the remote forests of the Carpathians, as well as the log rafting itself, was not just hard but also very dangerous.

In 1932 construction work began on a railway, a huge technical advance in comparison to the rafting.

Narrow gauge logging railways had become popular all over Europe, especially in the Carpathian region. Their operational principle was simple: tight curves followed the water courses, hence the need for a narrow gauge! The lines were planned in such a way that the empty timber wagons could be pulled uphill by small locomotives, while the heavily loaded trains could roll downhill under gravity to the sawmills.

 General Richard von Conta (far left), Vişeu de Sus 1917
Transporting a carved wooden statue of Jesus Christ to the Miraj Cemetery, 1917
Steam locomotive belonging to CAPS, interwar period
Construction of CFF Bridge at the mouth of the Novicior
Shunting wagons in the CAPS depot at Vişeu de Sus

1944-1954

In the autumn of 1944, the German and Hungarian armies were still in Maramureș, trying to establish a defensive line in front of the Red Army. Defensive engineering works were also carried out in the Vaser Valley and their remains can still be seen today. When the army retreated, the forest railway was partially destroyed and several bridges were blown up in order to slow down the Russian advance into Maramureș.

The forest railway was rebuilt by C.A.P.S. between 1946 -1948 and placed under the management of the Vișeu de Sus Forestry Administration (I.F.).  After the repair work was completed, the forest railway was extended between 1950 and 1954 with branches being built in adjacent valleys, thus furthering the development of logging in the Vaser Valley.

Steam locomotive in operation

1961

By 1961 the logging industry was at its peak and the CFF Vișeu de Sus consisted of a complex network of lines, totalling 79.095 km. For hauling the rolling stock, only steam engines were  used - for both 760mm narrow gauge and the standard gauge of 1435 mm. There were 7 narrow gauge steam locomotives, with a power output of between 50 and 150 hp, most of them built in Reșița during the 1950's. The rolling stock consisted of 137 bolster wagons and 51 flat wagons.

Technical description of a steam locomotive / Reșița
Forest workers and train at Făina, deep in the Vaser Valley
"The way of loggers"
Steam locomotive propellingflat wagons with passangers
Train communication between stations, 1990

1990

The economic changes following the Revolution of December 1989 had a devastating impact upon the formerly state-owned “CFF” (“Calea ferată forestieră”) narrow gauge forest railways of Romania: within just a few years almost these railways were closed and dismantled.

The Vaser Valley railway was not excluded from this process. However, since the timber industry in Vișeu de Sus never closed completely and since there was no road up the Vaser Valley that could be used by timber trucks, the railway managed to survive

Vișeu de Sus CFF station at the start of tourism

2000

Starting with the year 2000, the forest railway received support from abroad. A Swiss organisation was established, with the goal of saving of the Vaser Valley railway. With the help of the Swiss and all over Europe, several disused steam locomotives were put back to work, new passenger coaches were bought, and the locomotive depot and historic railway station building were renovated.

Steam Train in the Vaser Valley
Steam locomotive "Măriuţa"after restoration
The full CFF Vişeu de Sus staff team
Charter train for a special event

In 2005, scheduled passenger trains were introduced for carrying tourists. In addition, infrastructure has been developed around the station in Vișeu de Sus, that responds to the needs of the tourist railway operation. The CFF Viseu de Sus Travel CompanyLtd., organises steam trains for tourists from May to October, following a predetermined timetable. In addition to regular trains, tourists can enjoy special events including a Maramureș Brunch, Full Moon trains, concerts of classical music and New Year’s Eve parties. For railway enthusiasts they organise special photographic trains throughout the year. The duration and complexity of these can vary from a straight forward steam charter, to a complex program including an over night in the Vaser Valley, a camp fire, catering services, and a traditional working timber train.

Steam Train at the start of tourism activity in the Vaser Valley
The railway merely adds to the splendour of the Maramureş Mountains
Maramureş Mountains Nature Park
Vinderel glacial lake
Maramureș Mountains Landscape

Since 2007 the Vaser Valley has become part of the “Maramureș Mountains Nature Park”, under European protection. The main reasons for this designation are their specific landscape of mountains covered by forest alternating with mountain meadows, the presence of classic Carpathian flora and fauna in still-stable ecosystems, the existence of large expanses of natural habitats,and also a traditional way of life, directly dependent on natural resources. The Vaser Valley basin, a typical example of the natural and cultural values ofthe Maramureș Mountains Natural Park, covers 36,000 hectares. The River Vaser flows through this spectacular valley in which the scenery alternates between dense forests, steep cliffs, and meadows with mineral water springs, and since 1933 it accompanies a 46 km long narrow gauge forest railway, the only one in Europe still working for the purpose it was originally intended. Along with heavy logging trains, thesteam locomotives puff under the weightof passenger cars filled with tourists,eager to hear the stories and to admire the beauty of the place. Hence the steam train has become a symbol for the region and athing to be proud of.

Welding repairs to distorted rail ondamaged sections of track

Severe storms at the end of July 2008 led to flooding of a large part of the Vaser Valley and the town Vișeu de Sus. As a result the railway track was badly damaged. Afterwards much of the railway had to be completely rebuilt.

Damage to the forestry railway at several locations
Relaying the track near Cozia station
Steam Train passing under traditional wooden gateway
Youth folk - music group at CFF Vişeu de Sus station
Cabin from The Hotel-Train "Carpatia Express"

Currently, the Vaser Valley railway is used both for tourism and as a forestry line for the transport of timber. The dual use makes this the last active forest railway still operating in Europe. The Vaser Valley forestry railway is enjoying a growing number of visitors, becoming the principal tourist attraction of Maramureș and one of the largest attractions in the Country.  To maintain the steam locos in good condition as long as possible for tourist traffic, most of the production trains are operated by diesel engines.                                                                                                              Additional to the steam train, the “Carpatia Express” provides unique accommodation for railway enthusiasts and those who are looking for an unusual experience. The train is positioned next to the CFF railway station in Viseu de Sus. The train consists of a steam locomotive built in Romania, two sleeping cars and a dining car of the former East German Railway.

The Hotel-Train "Carpatia-Express"
Credits: Exhibit

Wassertalbahn Association — "Vaser Valley Railway Association"
CFF Vişeu de Sus — Maramureş  / Romania
Coordinator — Ioana Coman Karlstetter
English Translation — Colin Shaw
Editor — Daniel Andreica
Text — Andres Marques, Tiberiu Andruşcă
Info Association — www.wassertalbahn.com

Credits: All media
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