By Bruce Anderson and Yana Kirpel; photos by Mr. Anderson
Deep in the Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, chugs a little train from another era: the narrow-gauge “Carpathian Tram.”
On summer weekends, this unique, tiny train allows tourists to admire the Carpathian Mountains’ natural beauty, visit remote villages, pick mushrooms, drink mineral water, and experience local Ukrainian culture.
The original line was built in 1873 by Austrian timber merchant Baron Leopold to haul lumber from the forest. Many of the beautiful wood homes in the region are reminders of his efforts.
Originally there were 84 miles of 750-mm track. A 1990 flood reduced that length by about half. Today, the Carpathian Tram is the Ukraine’s only remaining narrow-gauge forestry line in regular use.
The same company that built the railway also developed spa resorts. The region remains a major holiday destination — one that continues to provide passengers for the train’s tourist operation. The tram typically runs from the village of Vygoda to Gorgany, a distance of about nine miles.
We took our Carpathian Tram tour during spring break. We rented a single railcar for our exclusive use, and we’re glad we did. The railcar’s cozy seats took up the rear three-quarters of the vehicle, with the driver’s compartment up front. That made it easy to chat with our friendly driver. (He even let us blow the whistle!)
A noon whistle blast, in fact, signaled our departure. Soon we were on our way, winding and climbing along the bank of the Mizunka River. We would cross four of the line’s more than 30 bridges during our day-long adventure.
We made several stops en route. The first was to sample mineral water from a natural spring. This water is said to have healing properties and is highly recommended for good health.
A bit further down the line, a local resident invited us to her house for a typical Ukrainian breakfast: bacon, potatoes, bread, herbal teas and vareniki (a Ukrainian specialty of dumplings filled with meat, potatoes and mushrooms). There was also — of course — vodka, made in part from the local mineral water!
During our breakfast, a real, working, narrow-gauge log train passed us on its way down to the mill.
Our last stop was at a small hanging bridge where we walked across the river to pick flowers and admire the natural beauty of the region. We wanted to go further. But all too soon, we had to return to Vygoda to end our trip before dusk.
Practical Information: Vygoda is about two hours’ drive south of Lviv in Western Ukraine; it can only be reached by car over very rough roads. However, it’s very easy to arrange a private transfer from Lviv for the day. Cost for the tram is about $19 per person, not including the breakfast. We charted the entire railcar for about $125. Summer trips typically last a bit longer, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with more stops along the way and an open-air car included. For further information, contact The Society of International Railway Travelers.
(Bruce Anderson is a frequent IRT contributor. His friend Yana is a resident of Kiev.)