100 Jahre Lokalbahn Arad-Podgoria (1906-2006) - Andreas Mausolf


At the base of this history were used information gathered and published by the German author Andreas Mausolf in the book”100 Jahre Lokalbahn Arad-Podgoria”

The beginnings

The”Green Arrow” or the electric train, as it was called by those who travelled with it, made its first run on December the 1st in 1906. At that time it was not yet green and it was not even electric train in the true sense of the word.

The construction of the metric gauge Arad – Podgoria rail began on November 11, 1905. The works were financed both from public and private funds. The rail was first tested a year later on November 18. After another round of trials that took place on November 30, the inspectors from Budapest agreed to be open to the public, which happened a day later.

By the time it was opened to circulation, the Arad – Podgoria railroad had a total length of 58,3 kilometers. The route was split in three sectors: Arad – Ghioroc, 22,3 kilometers long, Ghioroc – Pancota, 22,2 kilometers long and Ghioroc – Radna, 13,9 kilometers long.

The construction work was made by Henning, Hartwich & Co. from Berlin which besides the actual rail construction also handled the necessary rolling stock. The owner of the railroad was “Caile Ferate Motrice de Interes Local Arad-Podgoria S.A.”  The Local Interest Motric Railway Arad – Podgoria Corporation. The shareholders were business men from Arad and Budapest, private individuals but also Town halls from localities along the route.

From 1906 to 1913 the railroad used for traction benzo electric railcars and wagons built by the Johann Weitzer Factory from Arad. The solution wasn’t a great one. Or at least it wasn’t efficient enough for the Arad – Podgoria railroad. The railcars malfunctioned frequently and had problems especially on the uphill sectors between Ghioroc and Pancota. In the early years, there were many moments when the trains were able to climb the slopes only after they were towed and the passengers descended the carriages. The company who run the railroad bought in 1907 two steam locomotives to be used for freight transports but these were used also for towing the passenger trains anytime it was necessary and they were off duty.

The Electrification

The problems caused by the benzo electric railcars determined the management of the company who run the Arad – Podgoria railroad to decide in 1910 the electrification of the track.

The works started a year later and were done by 1913 when on April 4th the railroad was inspected by the Superior Committee from The Hungarian Ministry of Commerce. Six days later, on April 10th 1913 at the same time with the departure from Arad of the first passenger train, the 1000 mm gauge railroad Arad – Podgoria became the 8th electrified railroad in the world an first from Eastern Europe.

At the same time, this modernization also made changes in the rolling stock.Although they were capable to function under the new conditions, being easy adaptable to be powered from the power line, the Weitzer railcars were put to an overhaul and transformed into trailer wagons. For traction the Arad – Podgoria Company bought 15 Ganz electric railcars, made by the Ganz factory from Budapest. These new railcars had 4 electric motors which powered all the four axes of the bogies, two more than the Waitzer railcars.

From the outset the investment shown to be successful! During the first year the Ganz railcars didn’t have a single recorded incident. The electrical energy was provided by de Power Plant from Arad but because the railcars worked with direct current (DC) a 1500 V rotating rectifier (dynamo) must be installed. This was placed in the middle of the track inside the Ghioroc depot. Alongside the rectifier a giant battery was installed. Composed of about 800 elements this huge accumulator was back then the biggest installation of this type in Hungary. In case of malfunction, the battery could provide the power for the whole track for about 24 hours.

In 1918, the last year of World War One, the railcars and their wagons were painted in green. Over the years this change will lead to the train’s popular name given by locals – “Green Arrow”. The circumstances and the reasons behind this change are still unclear. It seems that there were some camouflage reasons but the explanations in this regard are quite few. We don’t know even if all the trains were painted that way. Pictures from those times are black and white which does not help us to realize this. It is certain that by the 1960’s, since we had the first colored pictures, there were still whole gaskets painted in the original color, that is, gray.

The electric train after World War I

After World War I, with the connection of the area around Arad to Romania, the Arad – Podgoria line appears registered as being administered by the  Societatea Anonimă a Căilor Ferate Electrice Arad- Podgoria /Anonim Society of Electric Railways Arad – Podgoria”, a private structure subordinated to the Department of Railways of the Ministry of Public Works and Communications

The information about the railroad and it’s exploitation during those times comes from bookkeeping which show important numbers of passengers and goods being transported down the track. A capital repair of the railroad was made around 1934. Otherwise, the Ganz railcars were functioning fine and didn’t require any complex reparations. We can’t say though the same about the old wagon trailer which were sent more and more often to be repaired in the railroad’s harbors. Until 1935, after multiple stages, the rectifying station in Ghioroc was modernized. A new mercury vapor rectifier made by the German BBC manufacturer was installed. This will work till 1991 when the track was closed.

Fortunately World War Two didn’t do much damage to the Arad – Podgoria railway. The political changes that happened in Romania during this time will have a major impact on the Railway which will pass under Romanian State control in the first years after the war.

The Green Arrow goes to CFR

The Local railway Arad – Podgoria was nationalized and passed in the patrimony of the Romanian State owned by the Railroad Company (CFR) in 1948 (June 19th).

Exploited as a normal train railway, the Arad – Podgoria rail was keeping some characteristics that made it special. First of all: it was electrified! Untill December 1965 when the Brasov – Predeal electrified rail was opened, the Arad – Podgoria rail was the only electrified line in Romania. Another interesting fact was that except the places where it intersected the main railroad, the Arad – Podgoria rail didn’t have any signaling signals! The train maneuvering was done by telegraph until 1961 and then by the telephone!

At the level crossings where the line intersected the main rail road there were barriers installed. Each such intersection had a dead line, which the Arrow had to pull over in case of emergency if the mechanic noticed that he could not stop the gasket in time. The system was rudimentary but effective, proof that no incidents were recorded in those places. This safety system is still operational even today on the track currently operated with street trams.

The changes made to the Arad center in the early of 1960’s have also led to important changes in the route of the “Green Arrow” through the city. In 1964, the “Podgoria Square” in the center of Arad is radically transformed. The old electric train stations as well as the administrative buildings of the line are demolished. Starting this date, the “Green Arrow” will have a terminus point in Arad “Vama Micălaca”, a station located in the eastern extremity of the city.

Between 1966 and 1977 the CFR makes the last repair of the railway. For reasons that can no longer be explained, repair did not include changing rails or rolling stock. The railcars and the wagons were showing more and more their age. Given that their maintenance was getting difficult and costly, these were hardly getting up to legally required standards for their class of vehicles.

The construction of the Chemical Plant from Vladimirescu by the mid-1970s produced another change in the railroad’s exploiting strategy. Because the working force for the Plant came from the city of Arad but also from the region, it became clear that the Arad – Podgoria railway’s infrastructure, available at that time, wasn’t performant enough to satisfy these new requirements.

Starting in 1977, year when the Plant was opened, the line section from Arad to the Chemical Plant was modified to be exploited with urban trams. The first phase of this project marked the relocation once again of the Green Arrow’s terminal stop, from Micalaca Customs to Micalaca depot, situated by the pier of the passage over the Arad – Timișoara railroad. Then, starting in 1978 the old electric train was taken out of the city for good, having its final stop moved to the Chemical Plant situated in the eastern part of Vladimirescu city.

The railroad takeover by the IJTLA (Întreprinderea Judeţeană de Transport Local / The Local County Transport Enterprise)

CFR handed over the Arad – Podgoria railroad to IJTLA starting with the 1th of January 1983. The takeover of this was seen like a burden on the Enterprise’s shoulders. CFR didn’t maintained the tracks and the rolling stock in the last years preceding the hand over and on the other hand IJTL was already coming to the end of its tether after the doubling of the track to the Chemical Plant and the beginning of its exploitation with urban trams.

            To increase performance, until 1984 the Arad – Podgoria railroad was modified and adapted for urban trams up to Ghioroc. With this, IJTLA has even reached its limits in terms of resources so that a possible continuation of the investment with the modernization of the line to Pâncota and Radna turned out to be impossible. The work fastened the Green Arrow’s banishment to the vineyard (Podgoria). With trams covering the sector from Arad to Ghioroc, the old Ganz railcars and their wagons were used only on the sectors between Radna – Ghioroc and Pancota villages.

In the second half of the 1980s, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Green Arrow would no longer resist on the route. The railcar and wagons fleet was decaying even more, provided that the spare part shortage caused by the technical evolution made their maintenance almost impossible. Practically speaking the Ganz railcars and the old Weitzer as well were in service since the railroad was built by the beginning of the century. Both were now more museum material then rolling stock. Back then the Ganz railcars were already on tracks for more than 70 years and some Weitzer carriages for even 80!

Another problem that came was the degradation of the tracks. Last repairs made by CFR expired and local financial resources could not sustain an investment for another capital repair. The last repair done by CFR expired and local financial means couldn’t sustain a new investment for an overhaul. The interceding done towards the central administration although taken into consideration weren’t promoted further. By the end of the 8 decade, except the sections upgraded for trams, the Green Arrow’s track was so wrecked that small repairs weren’t sufficient to keep it in exploitation. The end was near.

It came on September 30, 1991. That day the last Arrows circulated between Radna – Ghioroc and Pancota villages. There was no place anymore for any kind of compromises. The line and the trains operating it had so far been so advanced in degradation that they were no longer safe for those who used it. The Ganz railcars and their wagons were drawn to depot and busses were sent to operate on their route.

For a short time thereafter, the modernization of the line and its transformation to be used by tram was discussed. However, the length and high maintenance costs did not make it cost-effective. The passenger’s number decreased by the beginning of the 1990’s with the closure of production capacities in Lipova and Pankota. Subsequently the tracks and the power line ware scrapped.

At present, the rails are still visible in the asphalt where the “Green Arrow” line crossed the road. Likewise, there are also some pylons of the power line. Until Ghioroc, the line continues to exist and is the only extra-urban tram line still under exploitation in Romania. For a few lei (Romanian currency), how much a ticket costs, you can still make a trip on the historic route. It’s worth it!