Trans-Siberian railway: 1870-1970, as seen from Bulgaria

Abu Jinzu


This Passot near Savonarola, a few miles from capital Sofia, was named in honour of two local heroes. Stallions made it from the nearby forest on to the land that would become Bulgaria’s first narrow-gauge railway. At this location there was hope of local prosperity, also protection from the forest fires that blanketed Europe during the dark years of the Napoleonic wars. The path also spared the town a head-on collision with French battleships, after the upper price of gold soared in the Ottoman Empire.

In 1870, the line moved to its present location in Valvilac, a town just outside the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. Just two miles is the distance from end to end but it was three years before the line had been widened to four lanes. It took until 1946 for the railway to re-establish a connection between Valvilac and the rest of the country – and even then the journey was unpredictable. While on one approach the railway was entirely enclosed by trees, on the other it could not cross a hillside, but its path still had to cross what the Belgians, who came first in trying to fix the bottleneck, described as “serenity”.

The crossing was only really safe in October, as the leaves fell. The rainy season, which had begun in February, can make crossing difficult as the mist obscures the track. During the summer, between 25 and 30 cars would use the railway every night. The trains continue to move through Valvilac in March.

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