The Little Engine that Still Can: Greece’s Rack Railway Train Returns to Service

The little rack railway train known as "Odontotos". (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Stefanou)

KALAVRYTA, Greece – The little rack railway train known as “Odontotos”, covering the picturesque Diakopto-Kalavrita route through the mountains of north Peloponnese, returned to service on Thursday after landslide debris was cleared off the tracks.

Greece’s unique train uses a toothed rack rail for part of the journey through forestland in the Vouraikos gorge and runs on a daily basis year-round. It covers the Diakopto-Kalavryta distance of 22.3 km in an hour.

Construction of the world’s narrowest-bodied train began in 1889 when a French contractor was given ten months to build a small railway line between Diakopto and Kalavrita, at the initiative of then prime minister of Greece Charilaos Trikoupis. Italian labourers were contracted to work on the difficult terrain because of their experience in building railways in the Alps.

Eventually the line was to take five years to build, with changing contractors and rising costs before it was inaugurated in March 1896. The accrued cost was so high – partly because of difficult technical issues – that it nulled plans to also extend the line to Tripoli.

The train specifically covers a total distance of 22,350 metres, with the toothed section covering 3,400 metres. The maximum incline in the toothed parts is 175 o/oo, compared to the maximum incline in the sections with simple adhesion of 33 o/oo.

The little rack railway train known as “Odontotos”. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Stefanou)

In recent years, the toy-like original engine and its wagons were replaced with a newer train with a more powerful engine and larger passenger capacity.

Immensely popular with Greek and foreign tourists, the train is run by Italian-owned TrainOSE, a former branch of the Hellenic Railways.

Kalavrita Mayor Giorgos Lazouras said “the interruption of the schedule for nearly a month due to landslides in Kato Zachlorou was a blow to our area’s tourism, reducing the number of visitors.” He said the train visitors bring revenues to the area, especially when the Kalavrita ski resort is out of operation.

Currently Odontotos makes three runs on a daily basis, both from Diakopto and Kalavrita, and service is expanded on weekends to accomodate Kalavrita region visitors.