Up until 2011, the Peloponnese region of Greece was covered by a large metre gauge network, connecting the largest cities in the region. After the economic crash of the Hellenic Railways Organisation, all operations paused in the metre gauge network, except the Patra suburban rail and the tourist train from Katakolo to Olympia. In this series of articles, we will be covering one of the largest metre gauge rail networks in the world, and what it has been turned into, years after its abandonment.
Our small journey begins from Ancient Olympia, the site where the Olympic Games originate from. The museum is one of the most important ones in Greece, displaying the Hermes and the infant Dionysus sculpture by Praxiteles, the Nike of Paionios and many more. On the ancient site, you can visit the famous Philippeion, the Temple of Zeus and the original Olympic Games Stadium.
Closer to the village is located the central railway station, a small building with architecture reminiscent of the ancient structures (pillars, pediments etc.)
The Katakolo-Olympia train runs a few times a day, and may do some extra runs for cruise ship tourists arriving at Katakolon. Be sure to check the timetable at the station or call OSE to be sure about the departure times.
The building features a large marble sign at the front, mentioning the name of M. Liapis, the former transport minister. For the record, the same person was arrested in 2013 after he was found driving with fake license plates. Occurences like this are not rare in Greece.
The runs are being done by a metre gauge Stadler DMU, one of the many OSE bought to modernise the metre gauge network. Gladly this one is in decent condition, and comfortable enough for the short run.
With a few people onboard, the train sets off. The route consists mostly of green fields, some of them overgrown to the point where I can’t see anything else outside the window. The train stops several times at small stops, serving locals.
The main sight between the small stops is olive trees, a variety of which the Peloponnisos region is full of.
A fun fact: If you stay at the Amalia Hotel at Ancient Olympia, you’ll be hearing the train honking and passing through every morning as the level crossing is located across the street. A nice wake up call for railfans.
We are now approaching the first major stop of our journey, Pyrgos. Pyrgos is the capital of the Ilia region of Peloponnisos, the one which we are in, and used to serve many mainline trains until 2011. Now it has been turned into a “cemetery” for rotting trains and locomotives. The main building was designed by the famous architect Ernst Ziller, along with many other buildings in the town.
We hop back on our train and continue towards the port village of Katakolon. The village, home of famous Greek shipbroker Latsis, is mostly a tourist destination nowadays, with many cruise ships stopping by. One can enjoy local fish at the many tavernas and restaurants, or buy local products at the many shops. Upon arriving, it is noticeable that there is no actual station building for the train, but a small cement platform surrounded by grass. After roaming the village, I realised that there wasn’t any railway infrastructure at all, not even a sign notifying tourists of the train’s existence. After having a conversation with the train conductor, I was told that this line has been completely abandoned by OSE in terms of management, and the local bus and taxi owners are the ones taking advantage of the situation.
After the acquisition of TRAINOSE by Ferrovie Dello Stato in 2017, a marketing effort was done to promote this train as the “Olympian Trail”. A new livery was designed, leaflets, videos, on-board local snacks, but the project never made it past the point of presentation. We’ll see if anything gonna change this summer…