saclass20e - Long narrow gauge rail videos

This section being that which covers those long narrow gauge videos seen on You Tube. Most narrow gauge system videos are under an hour, however longer ones depicting the Japanese and Swiss can be found as well as on the Western Australia suburban lines. India, Russia and not even Ecuador, despite their lengthy narrow gauge systems, barely have any lengthy drivers eye videos of any sort! The longest videos however come from the granddaddies of the world’s narrow gauge systems – Japan, South Africa and Vietnam.

One of the narrow gauge systems I would have much liked to see would be that from Quito to Durán 474 km. This is the Ferrocarril Transandino (or Ferrocarril Ecuador) main line which traverses the Andes and described as ‘the most difficult railway in the world.’ Indeed what can be seen on You Tube are sections of the line including the indefatigable Nariz del Diablo – or in plain English the Devli’s Nose and it is absolutely fascinating. As well as the scenery and the thrill of the stupendous climb up this steep sided mountain there’s many on street sections too. Unfortunately there isn’t a long video on this line because some sections of line have not yet been reopened and driver’s eye videos on the most celebrated section of line seem non-existent.

But never mind, in terms of ‘most difficult railways’ the first in this feature happens to be one where its builders had once claimed that with enough money and dynamite, they could build a railway to hell!

Alaska

This can only mean one narrow gauge railway – the White Pass and Yukon! This three foot gauge line actually runs through Canada for most of its distance but since it begins in Alaska where it has its administrative headquarters and depots, its good enough reason to place it under that particular country.

The first part of the railway between Skagway and Carcross is open. The remainder of the line to the heart of the Yukon where the famous Klondike gold rushes were is currently not in use. I somehow don’t think it will be extended any further – first the scenery isn’t as stupendous and secondly, a number of sections of line through the city of Whitehorse itself have been taken up because of safety concerns. In 2019 consideration towards reopening some of the former route towards Whitehorse was being mooted – but I would think any such possibility is on hold for the moment.

This particular video is not a complete driver’s eye view, but edited highlights of the route as well as lineside views and to the left and right of the train itself. But I’ll tell you the scenery is just amazing! Its absolutely fantastic! The first part of the journey as far as Bennett is mostly along side huge and wide turquoise coloured lakes (its mostly Lake Bennett by the way) – and its just mind blowing view after view! There are other lakes – such as Shallow and Fraser, continuing southwards.

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The White Pass & Yukon at Bennett, at the southern end of Lake Bennett. Source: Twitter

But what comes after these, well, one needs to sit back and say, ‘wow!’ Wait until the White Pass summit is reached (incidentally its where the border between Canada and Alaska/USA is.) Thereafter the route is almost what one could describe as the North American version of the Nariz del Diablo. There isn’t a series of reversing inclines and the gradients aren’t quite as steep – but the scenery itself and the stupendous drops to one side is most impressive!

(Yes I know some of the North American railroads built difficult routes through the Rockies or the Cascades by way of a series of mind numbing trestles and switchbacks too, such as the Great Northern’s line through the Stephens Pass in Washington, but this is about the narrow gauge though!)

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Gosh! The mountain on the left’s similar in shape to the Nariz del Diablo one! Source: You Tube

Its not so obvious now but if one looks at the early pictures of the line a huge amount of construction work had to be undertaken in very difficult conditions. This was necessary to enable the line to climb three thousand feet in just twenty miles between Skagway and the White Pass summit.

What it means is in this driver’s eye video the steep drops are more apparent because this is the train making the descent, not the ascent. The difference in elevation between Inspiration Point and the remainder of the line much further down is amazing!

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The line near Inspiration Point amidst spectacular scenery. The lower section of line is evident down in the valley towards Skagway. Source: Twitter

From Inspiration Point – the railway forms a very long loop round the mountainsides which was necessary to gain the height difference required. Its an impressive descent (or climb if one prefers) and I have tried to show how it looks via Google Streets – but its not quite as impressive as actually viewing the route from the train itself – probably because this is the nearest point one can get by road to the railway’s route. The route of the line continues to unveil itself in dramatic form as the train descends towards Skagway.

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View of the Yukon line as seen from Alaska Route 98. This is where it ascends the White Pass. I marked the route in blue as didn’t want to spoil the scenery too much! Source: Google Streets.

Carcross to Skagway 1hr 20m.

The railway’s website has some impressive images of the line and I make no excuse for including their main feature image here. Its a fantastic one and shows the line on its upper levels with the lower section clearly seen further down. As the website says, one of the contractors person who built the railway in the late 19th Century had said ‘Give me enough dynamite and snoose, and I’ll build you a railroad to hell.’ And yes, this is what is most admirable about railways. Despite their obvious limitations they can – with sufficient vision and determination – be built through some of the world’s most difficult and inhospitable terrain!

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The White Pass & Yukon Railway’s lovely frontspiece image on their website. Source: White Pass & Yukon

Just a sort of ‘update’ to the White Pass & Yukon. Its hard working and ageing Alcos and MLW-Worthington locomotives are now being supplemented by ten brand new powerful National Railway Equipment locomotives and the first few of the batch have now arrived on the line. Below are the latest pictures of the new fleet.

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NER narrow gauge locomotive 3001 for the White Pass & Yukon, July 2020. Source: Twitter

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White Pass & Yukon locomotive 3002, July 2020. Source: Twitter

Austria

Steam on the Waldviertelbahn in the north west of the country. Very nice footage form the front end of the railways’ well maintained steam locomotive. The most powerful image from this video for me was evident from the very beginning and this was, ‘Christ, the UK’s railways, not even the narrow gauge ones, are ever going to look this clean or exceedingly well maintained!’ In fact it was almost an embarrassment to be watching this. As I have said before, the world’s railways are often superior in terms of cleanliness and maintenance compared to our systems! If you haven’t seen a railway as clean as this, you’re in for a jaw dropping experience! There’s other driver’s eye views in the reverse direction plus a continuation across into the Czech Republic – and these can be seen on Tim’s Video Channel.

Gmünd to Litschau 1hr.

India

Its somewhat disappointing that the country’s most fascinating narrow gauge lines such as the Darjeeling-Himalaya, the Shimla Kalama and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway don’t have any drivers eye videos despite their very lengthy journeys. There’s loads of lineside stuff however and these would make another post though!

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is one of my favourites – its the only rack operated line in India. Apologetically the only drivers eye view for this line is this rather short film shown below. Its take from the centre cab of the diesel and looks both ahead and back down the train as well as upon the spectacular scenery that unfolds. This is along 8 km of the adhesion section through the mountains between the line’s terminus at Udhagamandalam (otherwise known as Ooty) and Ketti. It shows the beauty of the line at its topmost end. The line of course continues to Coonoor where the rack section begins.

Ooty to Ketti 15m.

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A spectacular rocky outcrop on the rack section of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Source: Twitter

The very lovely Kalka to Shimla line is included here however its a speeded up version!

Kalka to Solan 23m

Solan to Shimla 23m

I really would have loved to have seen a driver’s eye video for the Darjeeling line because it is just so fantastic! Sadly there doesn’t seem to be one…

Japan

Japan is unusual because it has a massive 3′ 6″ gauge network. It can be understood why former British colonies (India, South Africa, Australia) have this gauge, but no-one seems to know exactly why Japan acquired this imperial gauge too and there’s been much debate how the country acquired it. There’s various theories of course but non yet so conclusive. The fantastic thing about Japan’s narrow gauge railways is they are so wide ranging and in fact consist of some of the most modern railways in the world which would put many others to shame – I must add the UK’s standard gauge lines look a tad less advanced than Japan’s narrow gauge lines!

Their technology has been developed to include double deck trains (yes on the narrow gauge – eat your heart out Great Britain when we try to say it can’t be done on our standard gauge!) Not only that in the last few years super fast express trains have been introduced on certain narrow gauge lines with speeds of up to 80 mph.

Japan is most fortunate to have had a long history of rail stabilisation (specialist ultra stabilised bogies, highly accurate track geometry and the rest of it) because of the Shinkansen. Prior to that famous high speed line being built, the early experiments to bring about better and faster trains were conducted on the narrow gauge, and it has benefited too. In fact I would say Japan’s narrow gauge stock is far more stable and smoother than our own UK standard gauge trains!

Kakegawa to Shinjohara 2h 50m.

Japanese special rapid service trains:

The first is my favourite of the special rapid services. This is new video just over a month old. Compared to the others this one has some good long sections at 80mph – and those speeds are quite consistent. One of my fav bits of this is the section between Kyoto and Takatsuki starting at 53.00. Its consistently the top speed – not only that look at all the huge multi tracked rail layouts, flyovers, depots, varieties of train, freight trains, the high quality of the infrastructure and so on. When one views scenes such as this one soon realises Britain’s lines are nothing more than tinpot railways!

The main stops on this route are also served by the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen and the high speed railway is regularly intersected by way of the narrow gauge express passing under the numerous elevated Shinkasen sections.

Maibara – Kyoto – Shin-Osaka – Osaka – Kobe – Himjei special rapid service 2hr 22m.

Yamatoji Rapid from Kizu to Osaka 56m.

Namba – Kyōto Rapid service 1 hr 33m.

This older video (and shorter too) does show one of the earlier special rapid services. What is of interest here is the video is also provided with a speedometer and a gradient profile and distance map, thus one can see exactly what this particular train is doing in terms of performance. It doesnt always reach 130kmh, mostly its 120 to 125kmh or thereabouts. But in terms of narrow gauge railways, its still impressive. These Japanese narrow gauge trains, usually fourteen carriages in length, are clearly no slouches of any sort!

Sannomiya to Osaka Special Rapid Service 21m.

Mallorca

Undoubtedly this will be the island’s historic and famous railway – the three foot gauge Ferrocarril de Sóller. Originally steam operated the line was soon converted to electric operation because of the stiff grades and long tunnels. And it is of course the electric railway with its wonderful wooden bodied motor coaches and trailers that’s stayed the grade ever since.

Its a world famous line with a stupendous route through the Sierra Tramuntana mountains on the northern side of the island. What is endearing is the first part of the run is through the rather flat part of the island containing its classic orange and olive groves (thus giving the railway its alternative name of ‘The Orange Express’) whilst the second part of the journey is through the mountains.

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Spectacular views from the Sóller train. Source: Twitter

After the longest tunnel on the line the route has to take a considerable descent from high up in the mountains in order to reach Sóller and it is this section that is the line’s pièce de résistance. There is of course a road over the mountains and that, with its numerous hairpin bends, too is extremely spectacular – as well as a new road tunnel somewhat paralleling the railway’s own – however the railway scores huge points with a route offering stupendous views of Sóller right down in its spectacular valley, surrounded by the mountains.

The other draw of the line is of course the section through streets in the city of Palma. Its a problematic section of course because of fast moving traffic (and the motorists often try to race the train – there have been accidents.) There’s been calls for this to be replaced by a dedicated route. The problem is where would that go? Fortunately it seems common sense has prevailed and the line’s traditional route out of the city is safe for now.

One point must be mentioned in regard to the following video. The section through the longest tunnel has been edited to shorten the film’s duration, apart from that the line is shown in its entirety.

Palma to Sóller 51m.

There are a couple of Sóller to Palma videos (including one from PENNULA who made the above film) however I prefer this one by Custom N Scale. Its a complete view of the journey southward and includes the entire length of the line’s longest tunnel. Its also a considerably faster journey than usual – normally its the northbound journey that takes the least time – however the train in question tackles the rather stiff ascents out of Sóller quite quickly (its a evening journey thus was probably very lightly loaded.) What I like about this is its filmed from nearly at the front of the motor coach, which gives a nice feel to the atmosphere. Its a driver’s eye view with a difference!

Sóller to Palma 53m.

Queensland

Tim’s Video Channel with two narrow gauge videos from the outbacks of Australia’s north eastern state – labelled fake driver’s videos because they are in fact reversed. These cover the middle bit of the eastwards journey of the Spirit of the Outback from Alpha to Emerald (though they were in fact filmed the other way round!)

Alpha to Bogantungan 1 hour 28 minutes.

Bogantungan to Emerald 1 hour 52 minutes.

Tim’s Video Channel does actually covers the Spirit of the Outback in its entirety (well the edited highlights) between Brisbane and Longreach with these somewhat shorter guard’s eye views – eg from the rear of the train!

Brisbane to Maryborough 55 minutes (first few minutes is a look around Brisbane.)

Maryborough to Blackwater 1 hour 17 minutes.

Blackwater to Anakie 55 minutes.

Anakie to Mamboo 1 hour 10 minutes.

Mamboo to Longreach 1 hour 12 minutes.

South Africa

South Africa has some excellent railways and still uses steam on a number of specials and that’s despite it being perhaps the world’s biggest 3′ 6″ gauge system. Some of its steam locomotives were gigantic workhorses designed for the difficult mountain sections. The country also has other gauges though not to any such great extent as the Cape Gauge system. One of the most notable was the former Port Shepstone to Harding line (the Alfred County Railway) of two foot gauge – and whose Beyer Garrat locomotives (eight of these from working to under restoration) now reside on the Welsh Highland Railway.

In terms of the Cape Gauge, the longest driver’s eye view is Matjiesfontein to Cape Town at 5h 47m (although the actual journey is over six hours as part of the very long Hex River base tunnel traverse has been cut out) This is the most substantial driver’s eye view from South Africa’s substantial 3 foot six inch (‘Cape gauge’) railway network showing a trip down from the Karoo plateau to the city at the foot of Table Mountain from the cab of the ROVOS ‘Pride of Africa’ train. The route takes in a good part of South Africa’s celebrated Blue Train route as well as the new Shosholoza Meyl train. (The total journey now takes some 27 hours, somewhat less than before the upgrades including several new sections of line plus electrification between De Aar and Beaufort West.) This video is easily the longest of the 3′ 6″ rail videos.

There are nice scenic sections however the terrain is somewhat bare thus the going has been considered rather mediocre at times whilst the pace of the train isn’t very sprightly. Its mostly single track until the last hour and half when the route joins the northern extremity of the complex Cape Town suburban rail network – curiously there are semaphore signals in this latter section – but those have since been replaced.

There’s more than one route between Paarl and Cape Town, however as a rule the trains from Johannesburg/De Aar take a slightly longer route from Bellstar Junction via De Grende and Paardeneiland to avoid route conflicts with the numerous suburban trains in and out of Cape Town – this route gives the trains direct access to their own dedicated platforms on the west side of Cape Town station.

The slight let down is the fact the Hex River Valley section is no longer part of the route this spectacular stretch of line was superseded by the new Hex River tunnels in 1989. For those who didnt know what the Hex River railway pass was, here’s a video of that now closed section of railway… (I too wrote about the Hex River Pass just six months ago!)

Trans Karoo over the Hex River Pass in 1989 – 8m.

Some commentators complain the train is quite slow, this is a ROVOS service – these are somewhat laid back luxury touring specials – its probably doing fifty at the most. However if these trains are really behind time they seem to be allowed something like 70mph with special authorisation.

Ironically South Africa’s 3′ 6″ gauge railway holds the world’s record for rail speeds on the narrow gauge. Experiments in the 1970s saw specially adapted trains achieve speeds of 150 miles per hour although with later locomotive design it was thought speeds could reach 186mph (300kph) In the eighties there was a high speed service between Johannesburg and Pretoria on the 3′ 6″ gauge called Metroblitz which achieved almost exactly the same times as the newly built standard gauge Gautrain service of 2012 between the two cities, both having maximum speeds of 99mph.

Video showing the near 100 mile per hour South African Metroblitz train services (as well as the record breaking attempts.)

Countries from Switzerland to the USA are covered in the second part of this feature: Long narrow gauge rail videos #2


This and the other posts in this series will be updated from time to time during the 2020 coronavirus lockdowns.

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