The Czech Republic

If you have ever wondered what life in the UK was like before political correctness, the blame culture, cotton wool safety and all things customer charter became a National obsession a good place to look is the Czech Republic. Once 'out in the sticks' (a word of warning - never venture into central Prague around the weekend as it is full of drunken British scum whose conduct makes one ashamed to be British) one can marvel at people going about their daily routine with the bare minimum of fuss. The railway system is quite efficient and mostly minus huge steel fencing, contract security bods who reckon you cannot take photographs and over zealous have a nice day types.

The Czech Railway system is very labour intensive and there are some quite fascinating procedures to be seen a few of which would cause our beloved (?) Health & Safety people to have a huge apoplexy. Regrettably in some ways this (and a lot of other things) will no doubt change with the entry into the rule infested European Union in May 2004.

Most stations have a 'red cap' who is in charge of many things of which train despatch and signalling arrangements are two key responsibilities. The delightful signalling cabins are occupied by a signal operator who follows orders from the 'red cap'. As a train passes these operators must present themselves at the cabin window wearing their official cap. Equally should a train be booked to pass through a station the same applies and the 'red cap' must also be on the platform to acknowledge the driver - some older hands actually salute the driver as the train passes. In comparison to the British way of doing things it is very reassuring when the train you are on is actually seen by competent people on a regular basis instead of once or twice over a considerable distance.

On some single lines there are unmanned stations and passing loops. Before proceeding from the final manned station the driver signs for a bunch of keys which the guard will use to release the points. Any oncoming trains are called on using a red flag (!) At the next manned station the driver hands the keys to the 'red cap'.

It seems that single line tokens are in the form of an official slip, again the driver signs for these.

At some locations the procedure for detaching a locomotive involves the shunter handing his identity card to the driver in exchange for the locomotive desk key, this is needed to release the train heat cable where used. Once the loco is uncoupled the shunter returns the key to the driver and gets his ID card back.

There is a sizeable locomotive fleet and different types tend to have their own areas in which they work. The main reason for this visit was a conversation or two following the (then) recent demise of Class 25s on the British system.

Czech Railways operate two classes (numerically) of Bo-Bo diesel-electric locomotive powered by a CKD 6 cylinder 1476HP engine the first two prototypes being outshopped during late 1964 from the CKD (Ceskomoravska-Kolben-Danek) works. These currently run as 749s and 751s. The 749s are equipped with electric train heating (converted from 751s and 752s) whilst the 751s were built with steam heat. As far as is known only 751-001, 002, 004 and 007 retain operational boilers although that on 007 may be isolated. 

The 752s were built without any train heat (fridges!!) although some did acquire a steam heating boiler going on to become 751-231 to 751-239. The rather more interesting feature of these locomotives is that all bar the final 90 examples were built without an exhaust silencer - as far back as 1969 751171 - 230 and 752053 - 082 were built with silencers, a number of these have been swapped around (probably following withdrawals) and there now seems to be a campaign to silence further examples.

Careful observation by a good number of British visitors has resulted in a list of which examples are still loud. There are probably two comparisons where the sound the loud ones make is concerned. Some sound like a BR Class 37 when they take power which then gives way to the sound of a Sulzer Type 2 once full power is reached. At idle there is an unmistakable resemblance to a Sulzer 6 cylinder engine.


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