It took us almost two years of negotiations, several trips to Minsk and literally hundreds of telephone calls, faxes and emails to receive permission to take pictures of the Belarus state railway system. Finally we managed to open a door which was closed for almost a full decade: access for railway enthusiasts who want to see regular services.
The joining of three neighbouring countries to the European Union, together with restrictive visa regulations for Belo Russian citizens and the ongoing bad reports in Western media are reasons for objections by the Belarus government. After several personal visits to the railway officials in Minsk and two years ongoing negotiations we have finally received the precious permit.
Take the chance and get a real insight into the current situation in Belarus. You’ll be surprised but positively! The reputation of Belarus as being the "preserved Soviet Union" is somewhat true if you are talking about free medical supplies, regular paid wages and pensions and low prices for food (which, incidentally, do not apply in our hotels, of course). But if you’re in search of the well known Soviet dawdling you may be disappointed. The road and railway infrastructure easily matches those of some new members of the European Union. You’d better expect to see colourful renovated houses, newly built and renovated orthodox and catholic churches, a well organized system of public transport and a low crime rate. In respect of the lack of natural resources the only minerals are potash and peat Belarus has developed efficient mechanical engineering and vehicle producing industries. Agriculture and peat equipment, MAZ trucks and buses are built to international standards, the "Belarus"-tractors are almost legendary!
Together with the oil processing industry, the railways of Belarus are a most important source of foreign currency. Transit traffic between Russia, Poland and Western Europe uses the electrified and double tracked main line (Smolensk Orsha Minsk Brést). Heavy freight trains to and from the Baltic harbours of Riga, Ventspils, Liepaja, Klaipeda and Kaliningrad can be seen frequently on mainly single tracked "Magistrals" heavy main lines.
Responsible for the traction are optically and acoustically (!) remarkable huge articulated 2TE10M and 2TE10U-Diesels (also known as “rolling earth quakes”). In addition we find members of the well known M62-family, of which Belarus has some modified versions on offer. Heavy freight trains are often following one behind another. Passenger trains with nearly twenty long-distance coaches are the domain of the wonderfully old-fashion shaped TEP60 from the early 1960’s, the much more modern TEP70 and the brand new TEP70BS from Kolomna Locomotive works. All together the "Belorus'ka Chyhunka" - that's the official name of the Belorussian railways show us a powerful Diesel spectacle.
For enthusiasts of narrow gauge railways we have obtained an official permit from the national peat producing trust "Beltopgaz" to visit the "Lidskoje" peat works. They operate an extensive 750 mm-peat railway network close to the city of Lida. We’ll also visit the narrow gauge children's railway in Minsk.
For enthusiasts of trams we’ll stay in the third largest city, Vicyebsk, and the capital Minsk. Important for both tram systems are the interesting American shaped RVZ-6 trams (Riga works). In addition you’ll find Czech Tatra trams and some Duewag's as "West German emigrants" in Minsk.
|07.09.||(Possible Departure Berlin Zoologischer Garten 15.13 hrs, Berlin Ostbahnhof 15.33 hrs, "Moskva-Express" D 247/71012/Pass 14, tickets can be arranged by FarRail Tours)|
|08.09.||(Arrival Orsha Centralna 13.30 hrs)Group meeting at the central station in OrshaWe’ll start with linesiding around Orsha, along the main line towards Smolensk and along the secondary line to Lyepyel', Hotel in Orsha|
|09.09.||Linesiding along the main lines from Orsha to Mahileou, Orsha Vitsyebsk and Vitsyebsk Smolensk, late afternoon visit to World-War-II-Monument in Vitsyebsk, Hotel in Vitsyebsk|
|10.09.||Taking pictures at the Vitsyebsk main station, visit to the city of Vitsyebsk with its tram system (old styled RVZ-6-Riga trams); in the afternoon we’ll make a visit to the "Magistral" Vitsyebsk Polatsk and Polatsk Verkhnyadzvinsk ( Indra/LV), line side shots.Hotel in Navapolatsk|
|11.09.||In the morning we’ll start with linesiding along the main line Polatsk Vileyka Or - if the weather is very good we’ll start in the very early morning with linesiding along the minor line Druja Sharkaoushchyna Varapayeva Hlybokaye Kruleoushchyzna. The afternoon is reserved for Smarhon' Maladzyechna, Hotel in Maladzyechna|
|12.09.||By charter bus to Lida and a visit to the Beltopgaz peat works "Lidskoje" (narrow gauge peat railway 750 mm), afternoon linesiding around Lida, Hotel in Maladzyechna|
|13.09.||Visit to the Children's Railway in Minsk (narrow gauge 750 mm) and afterwards to the tram system of Minsk (RVZ-6-, Czech Tatra- and German Duewag-trams). (Possible Departure by train Pass 13/17013/D 246 Moskva Bjel. Berlin, departure Minsk Pass. 15.26 hrs)|
|14.09.||(Arrival: Berlin Ostbahnhof 08.22 hrs, Berlin Zoologischer Garten 09.12 hrs)|
This 83 kilometre long “Diesel Magistral” runs through a little populated area with dense forests. Crossing marshlands the track is often laid on embankments. Roads are not parallel to the line, so we’ll take road access to the stations. The best opportunities for good pictures are in and around Bahusheúsk.
Most remarkable is the system by which they run the trains: Orsha Vicyebsk is a single tracked line. But on 22 kilometres in the middle of the line there’s a double tracked section. The dispatchers start four or five trains one after each other in Orsha and Vicyebsk at the same time. In the double track section around Bahusheúsk trains meet each other without crossing stops.
On the line Orsha Vicyebsk Nonosokol’niki (Russia) you’ll find plenty of international passenger trains with good chances to see the famous old TEP60. The Orsha Centralna station is one of the most beautiful station buildings in Belarus. Because the main route Brést Minsk Orsha Smolensk is electrified, we can take pictures of Russian/Belorussian ChS4T in front of passenger trains and VL80S with endless freight trains as well. Orsha is also a terminus for local passenger trains. We may see the interesting DRB1-DMU’s from the loco depot at Mahileú. This class is a rebuild based on 2M62/2M62U sections.
If time allows on our way to Vicyebsk we’ll make a short detour to the single track freight line Vicyebsk Liozna Smolensk (Russia) in the section Kopci and Krynki.
As a part of the main freight “Magistral” of Smolensk Daugavpils (Latvia) or Vilnius (Lithuania) and Kaliningrad (Russia), is this 101 kilometers long single track section, forming one of the highlights of our tour. The line offers much variation and can be accessed from the nearby highway. Train stations have road access, so train crossings are within our reach. Several opportunities to get typical local buildings in the picture are available around Shumilina and Obal’. By the way, maps from the early 1980’s show narrow gauge peat railways in these two cities as well.
Heavy freight trains with 2TE10M and 2TE10U predominate in the broad gauge scenery, completed by rebuilt 2M62(U)-DMU’s class DDB1 from Polatsk.
From Polatsk the line heads northwest. After 85 km it crosses the Latvian border. From Polatsk to Borkavichy the line passes dense forests. Close to the river Drysa valley the landscape opens and becomes more interesting. All stations have (paved) road access. We’ll find many of the huge 2TE10M/Us in use on this line. Locos will not be changed between Polatsk and Daugavpils, almost like in old Soviet times.
This typical branch line shows us a 138 km contemplative railway service at it’s best! First we’ll visit the far end of the line between Miory and Druya. Druya station is two kilometres outside the small town, the opposite bank of the river Dzvina because they couldn’t afford to build a bridge over it. Under Polish administration there was even a narrow gauge railway to the Lithuanian Dukshtas (Dukszty).
Today there is only one passenger train to Druya left. But this operation is of some interest. It’s an overnight train which connects the rural parts of the country with Polatsk and Vicyebsk. The train offers workers, students and soldiers the possibility of getting to their work early in the morning, with a little bit of sleep in a “Platzkartnyj“ coach (a couchette with open compartments). “Passenger 687/88“ consists of two parts. One serves the “main line” while the other is scheduled to Lyntupy close to the Lithuanian border. The train splits at Varapayeva. This is a typical Russian rural countryside railway service! We’ll wait for the train on the way to Druya around 6.20 in the morning and follow the train by charter bus over its next 20 kilometres. If it is a rainy day we’ll enjoy a train ride of about 30 minutes.
Later in the morning we’ll search for local freight trains and follow them along the line. Alongside the line we’ll see wooden houses, old churches, ponds in the middle of the villages with ducks and gooses as well as goats, dogs and cats. There is a lot to discover.
This line makes quite a contrast with the last. This double track line was build for connecting countries and is today a part of the “Magistral “ Minsk Maladzyechna Vilnius Kaunas Kaliningrad / Radvilishkis - Klaipeda. The line takes the shortest route, so the Ashmyany station is some 15 km away from the town. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the line became a transit corridor between three countries and further development was interrupted suddenly. The planned electrification was stopped. The section from Minsk to Maladzyechna and from Naujoji Vilnia to Kaunas was electrified already, but “our“ section is still diesel operated with no overhead electic wires to disturb the photo spots.
Due to the excellent teamwork between the two railways Belarus’ka Chyhunka and Lietuvos Gelezhinkeliai, the old Soviet locomotive rosters without any loco changes at the border are still in place. That’s why we can see not only Belarus 2TE10M and 2TE10U but also can expect some Lithuanian 2M62 and Kolomna reconstructed 2M62K as well. The Kaliningrad transit passenger trains can be hauled by different express classes - TEP60, TEP70, TEP70K or TEP70BS. There is also a Lithuanian DR1A Riga built DMU to Minsk. The local passenger service on the Belarus side is served by original six-coach-DR1A from Baranavichy. Local freight may be hauled by M62.
The charm of the line comes from the wooden station buildings and Russian styled water towers. It’s likely that these buildings will disappear as soon as the railways can afford to complete the electrification.
The Republic of Belarus’ is a basically agricultural country, part of the Soviet Union successor Commonwealth of independent states. Despite some trouble between Russia about prices for energy supply there is a vibrant trade industry between Russia and Belarus as well as a customs union.
Because there are only a few tourists going to Belarus, the tourist infrastructure is rather basic. The hotels come up to the requirements of the domestic businessmen who profit from state subsidies. Western tourists are charged double prices but often don’t get delivered the usual standards we expect (for instance toilets and bathrooms outside the rooms).
If you follow the western press you may get a wrong impression about Belarus. You need to go there personally to get a different picture. The people are friendly, the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world (however, you should watch your photo equipment like in every other country in the world).
Taking pictures of railway is a totally unknown behaviour in Belarus. We have all necessary official permits for linesiding and taking pictures in stations, but there can be no general guarantee. Local authorities may have another idea about taking pictures in their own area, and we may need to have “discussions” in some locations. For filming and photographing it will be a big advantage if the group stays close together. Railway workers and police can easily misunderstand the checking of manufacturer’s numbers on the frames of locomotives. So check the individual situation and talk (via our guide) to people in advance if you want to note builder’s numbers etc.
There are no restrictions for filming and photographing of trams in public areas in Belarus.
The Belarus people are very friendly and helpful. Official language is Belarus, but almost everyone can speak the (to them) familiar Russian language. Only a small number of people speak any other foreign language.
The journey is arranged on a full board basis. Breakfast and lunch may be served as a packed meal, depending on train movements and photo opportunities. Beverages are not included in the tour price.
Electricity (220V, 50Hz) is available in all our hotels. You may need an adapter for the sockets. Mobile phone coverage is good in and around larger cities. Belarus uses central European mobile phone standard. Please keep in mind that there will be expensive roaming fees charged (check with your provider).
You need a visa for entry into Belarus. You’ll need to arrange your visa in your country of residence, however, FarRail Tours will provide the necessary documents (invitation/reservation) for the embassy.
You need a valid health insurance which will be checked by the Belarus authorities. The insurance must be issued by an authorised health insurance company. Please check with your embassy which companies are accepted by the Belarus officials. Internet print outs are not accepted, a stamped paper original is required.
Credit Cards are generally not accepted. Please take cash with you. You can easily change Pounds, Euros, US-Dollars and other convertible currencies at the so called “abmen valut“, which can be found in and around stations and airports. Taking local currency across the border is prohibited.
The tour starts at the Orsha Centralna station September 8th, 2008 13.45 hrs and ends at the station Minsk Passashirskyj September 13th, 2008. 13.09.2008 15.00 hrs. FarRail Tours can arrange railway tickets for the sleeper coach from Berlin to Orsha Centr. and from Minsk Pass. back to Berlin. The price will be around 210 Euro.
|Belarus Magistral-Diesel||9 and more participants||
|08. 13.09.2008||8 participants||
|single room supplement||
The tour price includes:
Not included are: