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Fairy Trains
Once upon a time, in the summer of 1995, in the Western Carpathians. After a few adventures we reach the train station in Turda, the old Transylvanian town, from where we were supposed to take the train to Campeni. And then, as if emerging from the ancient tales with fairies and dwarfs, here it is the little green train on its narrow gauge, which we heard about, but never saw. Tiny, clean and neat, winding along the picturesque Aries Valley at a pace of about 20 km per hour, the little train takes us into the legendary realm of the Western Carpathians. We talk to the locals, simple-minded and friendly people, used to run to and fro between the mountain villages, and we can hardly believe we aren't dreaming. About 4 hours it takes to cover the less than 100 km from Turda to Campeni, but I can assure you we didn't know where all this time went !
In 1999 we were traveling on the same route, but this time with the local bus, because the narrow gauge train didn't exist any more. Perhaps it didn't make business sense.
But there is hope: in July 2005, a part of the railway Campeni - Abrud was reopened, I just don't know for how long. And the rumor is that the railway Abrud - Vidolm will be reopened too.
Also in July 2005, about 4 kilometers of the old narrow gauge railway from Moldovita uphill were reopened, through the fairy tale landscape of the land of old painted monasteries. This railway had been closed too, when I was there in the summer of 2003, one could see pieces of the old railway winding through one of the wildest and most picturesque Romanian regions. I don't know what's the status of the 4 kilometers now, but the news is good.
Another good news is that the old narrow gauge train route along the Hartibaci Valley, from Sibiu to Agnita will be reopened for tourism, after it was closed in 2001. This would be an outstanding achievement, considering also that Sibiu is designated the European City of Culture in 2007. In fact, with non reimbursable funds from the European Union, such a project has a big chance of success. A trip with the narrow gauge train along the Hartibaci Valley is a wonderful leap back in time, leading you through the magnificent Transylvanian Plateau with the old Saxon villages spread all over.
In 2003 and 2004 volunteer camps were organized to restore the narrow gauge railway at Comandau, which climbs into the Vrancea Mountains.

Besides these restoration projects, fortunately we still have maybe the last narrow gauge train in Europe still in use not for tourist purposes. It is the train route along the Vaser Valley, of a unique charm, starting at Viseu de Sus and climbing the picturesque valley, the train led by an old steam engine and carrying wood and forest workers. A trip with this wonderful train is an unforgettable event !
In 2004, the narrow gauge train route on Band hill was reopened for tourism, from Targu Mures to Band, covering 27 kilometers. Here also they use old steam engines and it seems another narrow gauge railway will join (if it hasn't already happened), from Targu Mures to Sovata.
Another picturesque route, though not on narrow gauge, is the little known Oravita - Anina, perhaps the first mountain railway in Romania. The old wagons, with wooden benches, the beautiful landscape and the friendliness of the locals are as many reasons not to miss this adventure.
And since we are talking about old little trains still in use, let's not forget the narrow gauge industrial railway between Govora Plant (near Ramnicu Valcea) and the limestone quarry at Bistrita, at the foot of the spectacular Buila range. Even though it's used for industrial purposes, it seems you can still get a ride from Tatarani (near Babeni). Here it's also a fairy tale land, with old and beautiful monasteries, hospitable people and magnificent landscapes.
I stop here with the counting of the narrow gauge and picturesque train routes I know about, including those I've heard were reopened. If you happen to know something about these wonderful toys for children and grownups alike, don't hesitate to tell me. Until then I wish you all Carpe Diem !

Sorin Cristescu, June 2006

For any comments, suggestions, ideas, stories, please contact me at sorin AT incogniterra.com or leave a message below.


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