The Day of the Macedonian Railway Workers was symbolically celebrated this year on the 9th of April. On this day in 1873, the railway traffic was first established between Skopje and Thessaloniki. 147 years since the beginning of the railways in this country, Macedonia, together with Albania, are the last countries in Europe that have no location where this occasion could be marked. There is no railway museum in this country, and the historical heritage of steam locomotives, various passenger wagons, photographs, publications, and railway artifacts are awaiting for the state to show any interest and to place them at one location.

Taftalidže area in Skopje hides rare railway artifacts

In a house with a big green yard in the Skopje settlement Taftalidze, we were greeted by Vladimir Petkov. He is the president of the Club of Railway Fans in Macedonia and is one of the longstanding initiators of opening a Railway Museum in Macedonia. As a passionate fan of trains, for the past three decades has been collecting various materials and artifacts from the historical railway heritage. His home, garage and basement are overflowed and live in the spirit of Macedonian Railways’ rich historical heritage.

– There are photographs, at least 5.000-6.000 historical photographs that I collected from all over the world. There are huge number of documents, books, pamphlets, special brochures from those times – said Vladimir Petkov for Meta.mk.

He had been out in the field when the old train wagons and locomotives were dismantled for sale as scrap. He had begged and had been granted permissions to keep the logos, the designations with the numbers of the locomotives and certain minor parts as artifacts for a future museum. Vladimir Petkov has traversed on foot all of the railway lines throughout the country and during their reconstructions, with approvals by the authorities, he was taking small parts for himself.

-It really is shameful not to keep such a rich history i.e. not to have a sense of preserving something – said Vladimir Petkov.

The passionate railway collector is not the only one. The Club of Railways Fans in North Macedonia has over 1.000 members, which are always ready to help volountarilly if help is needed. This goes for founding the Railways Museum, for which the state has no interest to provide financial and organizational support.

-Sometimes we have an understanding fror the directors of the two railway companies – Infrastructure and Transport, but not for long. New directors are appointed in quick succession, thus by the time we manage to achieve something, like repairing a locomotive, a new director will be appointed and we’ll start the conversations with him from the start – stressed the president of the Club of Railway Fans.

The initial idea was to build a new building for the Railway Museum at the railway depot Lisiche in Skopje. The empty field in the municipality of Aerodrom where the museum could be built would have two parts, where the most attractive one could become the active part of the Museum. It’s there where the restored steam locomotives and the luxurious train wagons would have been placed. In the remaining part of the museum building there would be a permanent exhibition consisting of photographs and other archival material.

However, they quickly understood it would take at least five years to build a museum while the state won’t be interested to provide financial help for the building. With the delay, the Club is seeking to find a temporary solution – to re-use one of the rooms at the Transport Center and turn it into a museum.

The club has applied at the Ministry of Culture for fund from the Annual Program for 2019, but the outcome was negative. The amount it demanded was 1.494.107 MKD, that the state didn’t want to provide in order to turn the former night club “Kastro” into a Railway Museum. The project’s partners would be the Museum of the City of Skopje, PE for Railway Infrastructure Railways of RNM and Railways of RNM-Transport.

-Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture rejected the project without any explanation. At least they could have given us any explanation such as lack of funds, it is not the right time, etc – said Vladimir Petkov.

With the failure of this idea, they started negotiations with the new management of the Railway Infrastructure of RNM to turn a location at the Transport Center to adapt into a museum object. This would be the location where the enormous archive would be exhibited as a historical railway heritage. The most attractive part would be the historical fleet which would be placed at the Railway station in Skopje.

The coronavirus epidemic has cut all of the negotiations regarding the foundation of the Museum, but Vladimir hopes he will cooperate with the authorities and start the procedure for founding the Museum as soon as the current health crisis is over.

The historical heritage is deteriorating at the Lisiche depot

Several kilometers from Vladimir’s house, in Kisela Voda area is the Lisiche depot. Most of the railway fleet that has traversed the Macedonian railway lines or still is traversing is located here.

Railways of RNM – Transport informed Meta.mk that it has a steam locomotive, class 033 that in the past was used for transportation of passengers including another steam locomotive for maneuvering. Apart from this depot, two other steam locomotives and train wagons were located in the Gjorche Petrov park and the railway station in Kichevo. Two other locomotives are located in front of the secondary school Vlado Tasevski and near the railway station in Gevgelija.

-Railways of RNM – Transport greets the Club’s idea and has provided suggestions and proposals. In order to achieve the idea of opening a museum, the Railways of RNM – Transport could participate with steam locomotives from the 033 series, steam locomotives for maneuvering including one locomotive from the series 731, 734, 667, that would portray the development of our railway – said the public enterprise.

This enterprise is ready to assist in the creation of a Railway museum in Skopje and by providing data about the history of the railways on the territory of this country.

At the Lisiche depot there are many hidden vehicle that can be placed in the future museum. There are passenger train wagons from the first half of the 20th century that were restored for the shooting of the “To the Tilt” film, but are left to deteriorate in the depot’s yard.

However, what attracts most at the Lisiche depot is the luxurious train wagon that was intended for the former Executive Council of the SR Macedonia, which was used by high ranking officials to various destinations throughout the former Yugoslavian federation. It’s a passenger wagon that is the same as the train wagons of Tito’s Blue Train. At the time, each republic received one train wagon produced by the same manufacturer where Josip Broz Tito’s “Train of Peace” was produced. On the outside, this train wagon is identical to Tito’s train but on the inside is less luxurious.

These train wagons were manufactured in the ’50s and during the ’60s of the previous century. The train wagon that is placed at the Lisiche depot is a historical heritage by itself – inside there is furniture, TV set, and various objects that were installed from that era. The train wagon was last used for travels more than a decade ago and it remains locked in one of the rooms at the depot. It remains hidden from the eyes of the public, waiting for better times when someone will be interested enough to invest assets into its renewal.

The neighbors know how to earn from the railway’ heritage

Unlike the response this heritage has received in our country, the countries from the former Yugoslavia are creating attractionsout of the historical railway fleet and history. The Bosnian railways rented their train wagons from Tito’s Blue Train for the Una National Park to be used for tourist joyride throughout this part of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Serbia is the country that went the furthest in making a commercial product. On its territory are the train wagons who were Tito’s second home. At the price of 4.200 EUR, daily, Tito’s luxurious train wagons can be rented to be ridden across Serbian railways. When not in use, the Blue Train remains i parked in Belgrade and the tourists can visit it at the price of 2.5 EUR. The state railway company is also managing the longstanding Railway Museum in Belgrade.

The sleeping cars from Tito’s train are put into use by Serbian railways on the line Belgrade – Bar, Montenegro line. As a real attraction for the tourists, the fee for each passengers in one direction is extra 20 EUR for a double cabin and 45 EUR for a single plus the standard ticket.

Back in Skopje, Vladimir Petkov concludes that even our country can preserve its cultural heritage, but also to earn from tourism. The railway Museum can finance itself by organizing events, visits and ticketing, especially through its location within the Transport Center. It would be managed by the Public Enterprise for Railway Infrastructure. On the other hand, a part of the exotic fleet can traverse the country with special tours. All of the wine cellars, most of the archaeological locations and natural landscapes are located close to our railways. The potential is enormous, yet unused.

-Each year, people from England, Germany, Austria call me to ask whether we have managed to organize a tourist train in Macedonia. So far, I have taken four tours with tourists who have rented train wagons abroad and they arrive riding such historical train wagons – said Vladimir Petkov, at the end of our conversation.

Author: Bojan Blaževski