Class 20s to Kosovo!

The "Train For Life" has been surely the most outrageous working of all time by any British locomotives and I feel truly honoured and privileged to be able to have traveled on,, photographed and reported on it.

Although the working of any British locos to the continent (and particularly class 20s) was bound to generate huge interest among the enthusiast fraternity, both at home and on board the train, it shouldn't be forgotten that its main purpose was to deliver supplies to Kosovo, and also t he three locos for use in the UN/K-FOR emergency operation. Included in the contents on board the wagons were

Derby Aid for Kosovo - (medicine, Winter clothes, prosthetic limbs)
Children's Aid - (Children's Playgrounds)
MOD Bicester (Winter Clothes and toys).
British Forces Germany (Winter aid, a complete set of school furniture).
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. - (Educational Toys).

The stated aim of UN/K-FOR is to deliver winterisation material so that every household in Kosovo has at least one habitable room throughout the winter (which is particularly harsh in this area). A rail operation requiring the movement of 800,000 tonnes of material has to be completed by the end of December - involving 14 trains a day, each and every day. The three 20s will form the backbone of the motive power requirements for this huge operation, which has been compared to the Berlin airlift. They will haul 700 tonne trains from Skopje in Macedonia to various locations throughout Kosovo.

In the following few pages I hope to be able to detail some of the background to the train, the huge job done by the organisers (Train of Events) and the actual experience on board. I'm sure many readers will appreciate the mammoth amount of planning needed to get an event like this off the ground, with complex negotiations between not only foreign railway authorities, but also the various rolling stock, infrastructure and safety bodies in our own country.

It is a testimony to the negotiating skills of the train organisers that the train actually ran at all with many setbacks at various stages, not the least of which was the money available, almost causing its cancellation at one stage.

The train had originally been scheduled to run in August (the 13th was quoted) and then early September but administrative problems in the MOD caused that to be put back to the 17th of September.

The train itself consisted of three class 20s, loaned by DRS, 6x50 tonne bogie vans from GE Capital Rail and nine more 50 ton wagons full of aid collected by British Services Families in Germany (and loaded by the British Army in Germany). The German wagons, together with passenger accommodation comprising a DB Couchette, Hungarian Restaurant Car (complete with Hungarian crew) and Support coach, were all attached at Aachen.

The actual 20s chosen for the working were 20901, 20902 and 20903, all three locos being part of the batch bought by DRS from Hunslet Barclay after they had been made redundant when Barclays lost the national weedkilling contract. Two of the locos, 20902 and 20903, had recently had a starring role at the Keighley and Worth Valley diesel gala, so they were no strangers to the limelight. In keeping with their roles as ambassadors for their owners, Direct Rail Services, they were repainted into DRS livery at Crewe.

20901,20902 and 20903 on the Train for Life at Decin (Czech Republic)

Actual loading of the 6 British wagon loads of relief material took place at Butterley on the Thursday and Friday (16th and 17th of September) with volunteers carrying out much of the heavy lifting work. The line's preserved locos helped out too with 20001 (D8001) and 40012 Andania in action - the 40 being used to carry the token to get back onto the Railtrack system and the 20 carrying out shunting duties.

Due to the non-availability of sufficiently qualified SNCF staff at the weekend to inspect the 20s to run 20901,2 and 3 were sent through the Channel Tunnel on the Thursday after being transferred from Willesden Brent Sidings to Wembley and then being comprised in the consist of 6B25, the 05.54 Wembley to Dollands Moor, leaving 4 hours late. On the Friday the train was hauled down from Butterley by another pair of DRS 20s (20313 and 20315) with a Press Conference held at Kensington Olympia with TV cameras in attendance.

The train progressed slowly through France, initially due to Brake problems (perhaps caused by a misunderstanding between the two DRS fitters on board and the French engineers) but also due to an 80 km/h (50 m.p.h.) speed limit imposed by the French authorities.. It appears that eventually a through train brake was acquired (after instructions from the British fitters) but then the Belgian train loco expired with traction motors flashed over! After a further delay awaiting an SNCF loco the train was held at Lille while a suitably qualified inspector was found and paperwork sorted out The DRS train crew aboard our Eurostar and the Belgian IC service to Aachen (and later as we ate in Aachen) were in constant contact with their colleagues, allowing us to keep up with the drama as it unfolded.

The route through France and Belgium was via Calais Frethun, Hazebrouck, Lille, Valenciennes, Jeumont, Namur and Liege.

On arrival at Aachen we were directed to our Liegewagen (couchettes) which were to be our home for the next few days. With such a small contingent on board we were able to spread out with only two people per compartment - accommodation had already been allocated with the names on the compartment doors. I found myself sharing a berth with Major Poyntz and he proved to be excellent company, with more than a few tales to tell from his years of experience on the railway. The sleeping coach was attached next to the locos at all times, being better for the smooth running of operations, but also for the media crew such as myself giving us the added bonus of hearing the motive power more clearly.

The make up of the trains 14 occupants read almost like a veritable who's who of British railways (apart from myself obviously!) and included

Joyce Hughes - Executive in charge of European Train Movements for the British Army.
Ray Trowell - CM and EE of the NRM, acting chief engineer.
Major John Poyntz - Chief Inspector HM Railway Inspectorate
Neal McNicholas - DRS Operations Manager
John Thompson - Virgin Trains Route Operations Manager NE - Acting Traction Inspector
Neil Howard - Train Director
John Morris - Media Affairs
Colin Marsden - Railway Magazine Correspondent
Bob Sweet - Official photographer
Andy Pearce - Safety Officer
Andy Kennedy - Oakwood Video cameraman.
Andy Flowers! - Traction Magazine Correspondent

After retiring to the pub at Aachen we learned that the train was even further delayed at Liege Yard when the yard foreman pointed out that he only had authorisation to release the train locos and six loaded wagons whereas the train was actually half a mile long due to a large number of additional wagons attached at the rear for extra brake force. After the relevant paperwork had been faxed through the train was on the move again - arriving at Aachen at around 5 o'clock, with a very tired DRS crew. After the British portion of the train had been attached to the German one 20903 and 20901 were fired up in the yard at Aachen - the first time that the distinctive English Electric whistle had been heard in Germany. The sound of the 20 being gently powered certainly woke me and the other cranks on board, and also much of the local populace.

A class 140 (DB Bo-Bo Electric freight locomotive) was attached and we then progressed onwards to Berlin. Neil Towell had managed to successfully negotiate 100km/h (62 m.p.h.) running with the German EBA crew (train inspection) and the class 140 put in an excellent performance on what was by now a very long and very heavy train, being composed of 22 vehicles.

A crew change in Hamm yard gave us the opportunity to don our HV vests again and get down on the track for some photography. Certainly a strange sight on a Sunday morning, - a marshalling yard in the heart of Germany, a class 140, three class 20s and several well known British Railway photographers buzzing around.

The fun and games were set to continue later in the day - after making good progress through Germany we arrived at Berlin Lichtenberg in the afternoon were our party split into two for a few hours. Colin, Andy Kennedy, myself and the DRS crew stayed with the 20s as they were dragged by a class 345 diesel shunter on to the Bahnbetriebswerke (depot!) for fuelling. At this point I was given the job of explaining to the depot crew (in pigeon German) just what our requirements were.

Above all we needed to ensure that 20903 was the lead loco from Berlin onwards (it being fitted with the unique headboard bracket) also it was thought desirable to have 20901 coupled inside as it is without the extra fuel tanks of its two sisters (and if running low on fuel could be shut down).

After much bilingual tomfoolery I thought I'd managed to get our message across, and 20901 was duly uncoupled and turned on the Drehscheibe (turntable!). Oakwood Video now have some truly remarkable footage of a class 20 on a turntable in front of a fully functioning German roundhouse.

One of the DB crew asked when the 20s had been built, when I replied 57 his reply was "1857?".So much for the theory that Germans have no sense of humour!

140629 carried on as our train loco down to Dresden, with one added complication, the driver would need to switch the compressor in and out manually due to the brake arrangements on the train. While the drivers earlier in the day had done this themselves (with a hand written piece of card with word "Luftpressur" - air pressure, to remind them, the new driver wanted an extra pair of hands in the cab to keep an eye on things. John Thompson and myself (as interpreter) then traveled in the cab down to Dresden (about 3 hours) with much fun and games to be had!

Unfortunately, due to us having to be up front we missed the evening meal but, as ever, the team quickly organised a solution and sandwiches and mineral water were brought up to the cab. Looking out of the cab window a bizarre sight appeared - Andy Pearce carrying a plate of sandwiches in the style of a waiter walking down a platform at Berlin Lichtenberg! - if only I'd had my camera.

Entering Dresden Hauptbahnof (main station) at night with the huge overall glass roof lit up and the masses of complex and multicoloured signaling was a sight that won't be forgotten in a hurry. At Dresden our faithful Class 140 electric was replaced by a Czech class 372 (Bo-Bo electric loco built by Skoda!). I was put on standby to go up front again if our interpreter didn't turn up - I speak a bit of Czech too for my sins!. This was preventing the start of my evening drinking session but thankfully the interpreter duly appeared. In fact his English was so good he could have acted as interpreter to the rest of the team for my Yorkshire drawl!!

At Decin, just over the border into the Czech Republic, the real fun and games began as the Skoda was removed and the three 20s were fired up. After yet another very long delay, due to more problems with paperwork, we made the historic first move behind the class 20s on Czech soil with a spirited (and very loud) run to Prague at a top speed of 80km/h (50 m.p.h.) as authorised. Welcome assistance came from Petr Psota, our English speaking Czech driver (acting as pilotman from Decin to Breslav). Petr stayed with the train through to Breclav. he told us that his two main hobbies were "Beer and speaking English" - I noted that they were my two main hobbies also.

There were many logistical problems to be overcome in order to run the 20s under their own power, not the least of which was understanding the signalling. Thankfully Petr relayed the instructions well and the drivers coped admirably with them without needing to know all the complexities of the Czech signalling system. The most memorable comment came from John Thompson - "I think we're alright, we've got a blue!".

The atmosphere on the train was very professional at all times, but also very good humoured, with gentle fun sometimes being poked at the operating practices and cultures of our European partners. One particularly lengthy station announcement in an Eastern European language led to choruses of "Boutros-Boutros Ghali", "Chris Waddle, thehthethehthehtheh" and "Scorchio!"

From Prague we were dragged for a few hours by yet another Skoda electric before the 20s again took over from Svitavy down the recently electrified, and very scenic, line to Brno

Train: "Train For Life"

Load: 15 Bogie vans, 1 Liegewagen, 1 Speisewagen, 1 Support Coach,

Train Weight: 740 tonnes












Hradec nad Svitavou








Brezova nad Svitavou




Moravska Christova












Letovice zastavka












Skalice nad Svitavou




Doubravice nad Svitavou








Dolni Lhota




Blansko mesto








Adamov zastavka








Babice nad Svitavou








Brno Malomerice

         .                43.5



Apologies for the formatting of the above table (some bizarre bug? - perhaps a trained computer type person could let me know what went wrong!)

Speeds were maintained very well over this section, initially at the permitted 80 km/h for the locos and later in the run the 70 km/h (43.5 m.p.h.) line speed. Train speed varied little from these maxima, very good driving indeed on such a heavy train, on a stretch of line that the crew had never even traveled on! In fact over the course of the trip line speeds were maintained closely with no overspeeding, a testimony to the skills of the crew - it being relatively easy to let speed rise, on a train of this length, where unexpected down grade sections appear.

A truly memorable day was spent thrashing through the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian countryside behind the three 20s, with many of the occupants almost refusing to believe it was happening! The reactions of passengers as the train passed by varied from complete apathy and disdain to utter shock with train crews appearing en masse for a look at many stations and sheds.

Hammering all three locos through Bratislava station there were many passengers waiting on the platform for their trains as we passed through. There was also one solitary trainspotter writing down numbers, upon seeing and hearing the 20s his jaw dropped visibly almost to the floor. We had visions of him scouring bookshops for weeks on end looking for a book with the 20s numbers in it to underline.

Date 20/9/99

Train: "The Train For Life"

Locos: 20901 20902 and 20903 Bratislava hl. st. to Bratislava Vinohrady

 20901 and 20903 Vinohrady to Senec

Load: 15 Bogie vans, DB "Liegewagen, MAV "Spiesewagen" and MAV Support Coach - total 740 tons.





Bratislava hlavni stanice




Bratislava Vinohrady




Ivanka pri Dunaji








Velky Biel








A very fine performance by the 20s with the heavy train being accelerated right up to the maximum allowed speed in less than five minutes. Line speed was more or less maintained, even with 20902 not powering after Vinohrady, (making a total trailing load of about 810 tonnes).

At Breclav there was time to visit a shop on the station and stock up with chocolate, beer etc (two large bottles of beer came in at a very reasonable 15 crowns - 30p!). While there a Class 749 (my own favorite class of Continental European loco) was parked next to our stock. These locos, while looking very dissimilar to anything found in Britain, do nevertheless sound very much like our own class 37s when powering hard. Its garish livery provoked a very funny comment from one of the train crew (see photo).

Gradients on most of the routes used were very easy and most of the time only two of the locos were actually powering the train - with one dead 20 a total trailing load of about 810 tons!

Over the Hungarian border we had the best running of the day with all three locos working well and 100 km/h (62 m.p.h.) sustained for long periods. The noise from the 20s working so hard on such a heavy train was reflected from many of the cuttings on the route and was absolutely deafening at times. The noise and the views were best observed lying flat out on a couchette with the large compartment window down (you had to be there to experience it!). The entertainment was only curtailed for a moment as John Thompson threw open our sleeper compartment door, shouted "sad b****ds" then retired to his own sleeping accommodation to do something similar.

At Budapest we were split from the wagons and marshalled into Kelety station (the main terminus). after some very strange shunting movements and a grand tour of some of the marshalling yards and freight lines of Budapest - rare track for class 20s indeed.

After a trip to a very salubrious pub with the rest of the team, and a very short period of sleep back on the train I had to leave back to Britain. Mr. Pearce had prepared a shopping list of provisions for the days after the train passed into Macedonia (where the restaurant car was due to be detached) and was hoping that the local branch of Tesco's (yes, really!) would deliver all of it to the train at Kelety station.

The 20s were due to head through the rest of Hungary after one days rest there with refuelling again in Bucharest (Rumania) on the 23rd. On the 23rd they were due to pass through Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia with arrival in Kosovo Polje on the 25th of September. The media was then to be given a tour of K-FOR 79 Railway Operations site and the preparations for the K-FOR "Railbridge" project. The DRS/Train of Events crew were then to start a driver familiarisation program.

As things turned out even more severe delays were encountered, particularly in Macedonia where the railway authorities were reported to have demanded 5,000 to let the train pass into Kosovo.

I headed back to Prague to meet up with my old friend Pavel Cap, I'd be staying round his house and photographing a few "Zamracene". Another couple of great days cranking was had there, which in itself would make up another article. In summary

a) Managed to photograph one of the early (original) Zamracene on a freight

b) Found out I'd got a job as British Correspondent to the railway magazine "Draha" - my first job is preparing an article about Deltics! (I'd explained about D9000 and shown them the photos and they were all very impressed, look out for Czech cranks on Deltics over here soon!).

c) Drinking far too much beer and talking about, and looking at photos of, Deltics and 20s with a load of Czech enthusiasts.

d) having a cab ride from Prague with Pavel in a Zamracene which expired in spectacular fashion with a main generator flashover filling the cab with smoke.

The rest of the trip back after all that was fairly uneventful.

In summary " the best rail trip of my life" would be the only way to describe it, then multiply that by ten. In fact the enormity of it all probably won't sink in till I read this in print.

In conclusion I'd like to thank all those involved in the running and organisation of the train, particularly Neil Howard, Joyce Hughes and John Morris but not forgetting the DRS crew (very professional and great company) and also John Thompson, - basically just a top bloke! I hope to see them all again some time.

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