You’ll be hard-pressed to find a train journey as spectacular as that of the rack railway that links the seaside village of Diakofto to picturesque Kalavryta in the northern Peloponnese.
For the last 120 years, the 22.5k journey has been inextricably linked to the 20k-long Vouraikos River at the Chelmos-Vouraikos Geopark. Its anniversary is will be celebrated from May 7 through to June 5 within the framework of European Geoparks Week (EGW).
By spotlighting the 68-minute Diakofto-Kalavryta train journey, arguably one of the most beautiful in the Balkans, Greek authorities hope to contribute to the goal of the EGW to raise awareness of geo-conservation and the promotion of the geological heritage in Europe.
Enjoy natural wonders
In a journey where nature and history are intertwined, the train chugs along a dramatic 0.75-meter narrow ledge that overlooks waterfalls that rush below. The jagged tracks switch to and fro beneath canopies of plane trees that gently brush by as the two carriages move through towering cliffs, on their way towards the tightest point of the journey as it squeezes through a tunnel known as “Doors”.
There are stops at the station of Mega Spileon (Large Cave) at the picturesque hamlet of Zahlorou as well as two other tiny stations on demand.
A number of hikers take the train to Kalavryta and then return by following the tracks through the Chelmos-Vouraikos Geopark. An organized opportunity to do this will be offered during the 36th Annual Crossing of the Vouraikos Gorge on May 8. Hikers will be led down Path E4, the route that inhabitants used before the track was created 120 years ago. It is an impressive six-hour downhill hike that takes you through the impressive gorge of Vouraikos, passing the beautiful Cave of Lakes, the cool springs of Aroanios River, the mythical waters of Styx, with numerous geological formations to admire along the way.
How it all began
The wild natural beauty that surrounds the striking cog-train journey through the Chelmos-Vouraikos Geopark is matched by an equally remarkable history. The idea to link Diakofto and-Kalavryta with a railway was boldly conceived by the Greek modernist prime minister Charilaos Trikoupis in 1889.
His decision was motivated more by practical concerns than by a need to showcase the stunning beauty of Greece. Aware that transport of a pound of grain from the port of Aigion to mountainous Kalavryta cost twice as much as the amount needed to bring it all the way from Russia, Trikoupis launched the ambitious project. It is a noteworthy fact that he was the same leader who notoriously uttered the phrase “Regretfully, we are bankrupt!” when addressing Greek Parliament on December 10, 1893.
Considered an engineering feat in its time, the cog-wheel mechanism is used on the steepest sections of the track to allow for the ascent of 750 meters. The unique construction by the French company commissioned to complete the work took five whole years to complete and cost 4.8 million francs instead of the million of drachmas that had originally been earmarkedfor the work. Initial plans to extend the line another 90k all the way to Tripolis were scrapped due to a lack of funds.
The grand opening of the track took place on March 10, 1896, just 20 days before Trikoupis died in Cannes, France. The reformist prime minister, who presented the “Who’s to Blame?” manifesto that named Greece’s king as the one responsible for the country’s woes, would have been disappointed that the first passenger on the line that he had envisioned was none other than King George I.
Since then, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge and the track that once was the lifeline for the residents of Kalavryta is now a major tourist attraction for rail enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
MAY 7 | Celebration for 120 years of the rack railway train at the traditional building of Palaiologina, Municipality of Kalavryta
MAY 8 | 36th Annual Crossing of Vouraikos Gorge
MAY 14 | Workshop titled “The rack railway train as a tool for local development, tourism and culture” at Kalavryta Station
MAY 14 | Musical event at Kalavryta
MAY 18 | Celebration for World Museum Day includes a festival for the promotion of the rack railway
MAY 21 | Workshop on the promotion of local products
MAY 21 | Concert with the Philharmonic Youth Team of Kalavryta
MAY 22 | International Day for Biological Diversity celebration. Workshop on the protected area of Chelmos-Vouraikos National Park and Geopark at the municipality of Diakofto
MAY 28 | Musical event at Kalavryta
MAY29 | Book presentation titled “The rack railway train Diakopto-Kalavryta on the time machine, 1986-2016” at Diakofto
MAY 29 | Concert by the Aigion Philharmonic Orchestra
JUNE 5 | Celebration for World Environment Day. Events for the natural environment and the promotion of the Chelmos-Vouraikos UNESCO Global Geopark
MAY-JUNE | Educational activities and hiking tours on geotrails
For more info, visit the site of the Management Body of Chelmos-Vouraikos
DIAKOFTO -KALAVRYTA MUSEUM
The Rack Railway Train Museum is being renovated In the framework of promotion in the region and will soon be open to the public.
Artifacts to be displayed include historic relics, documents and more from its history and the surrounding region.