In the northern part of Romania lies Maramures county, part of the international Maramures region. It's a land of exceptional natural beauty, with lots of mountains and thick forests. As a consequence many of the locals work in the wood processing industry. In the northeastern part of the county, close to the Ukranian border, at the confluence of the Viseu and Vaser rivers, you can find the small town of Viseu de Sus. One may find many interesting things in this small town, but for the railway enthusiasts the most important place to visit is the mocanita station found here (address: str. Cerbului nr. 5.):
The mocanita term denotes the small Romanian narrow gauge (760 mm) forest railway which runs trough the Vaser Valley. It is named after the locals, in Romanian language the people who inhabit these mountain regions are called "mocan" (mocanita means something like "little mocan railway").
The mocanita of the Vaser Valley is said to be the last remaining real forest railway in the world which still regurarely operates steam trains for the purpose of wood transportation and is the last Romanian narrow gauge forest railway which was not disaffected. It is definitely a tourist attraction that is worth visiting. The Vaser Valley is part of the "Muntii Maramuresului" protected natural park.
The narrow gauge railway of the Vaser Valley spans a distance of nearly 60 kilometers from Viseu de Sus to Coman end station, close to the the Ukranian border. The small steam locomotives make use of the local resources: they burn wood to generate steam so that they can pull the train cars through the beautiful wild valley. They travel through tunnels and over small bridges, very close both to the river and to the rocks, traversing a land where humans can go only by this train (there are no roads), a land where no people live, just bears and wolves (the map is available here).
The explotation of the forests began in the first part of the 18th century, during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian settlers transported the wood down the river by rafts. In 1932 the construction of the narrow gauge Vaser Valley railway was initiated and by 1935 the line was complete. It represented an enormous technological progress compared to rafting. The line had to follow the river's course, this is why narrow gauge was used. The 760 mm model was chosen because it was the gauge used throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The locomotives did not need to be very strong because they only pulled empty train cars and workers up the hill, where the cars were loaded with wood and the train went back to Viseu de Sus using only the brakes. The tracks were partially destroyed by German troops during the Second World War, but they had quickly been rebuilt.
After 1950 the forest railways were gradually replaced in the whole world by forest roads, but in Romania they withstood the test of time. In 1970 Romania still had a network of over 3000 kilometers of narrow gauge forest railways and in 1986 steam locomotives were still built for these lines. In the late 80s more than 15 forest railways existed in the country. Unfortunately, since then, due to lack of money and poor administration, they were disaffected, all, except theVaser Valley forest railway, the mocanita from Viseu de Sus.
Today this little railway has become a private railway. It is operated by R.G. Holz Company SRL for the purpose of transporting wood, but since 2005 it has been open to tourists. The locomotives are mostly owned by the company, while track is the property of the state. Since the year 2000 the railway is being helped by the Swiss non-profit foundation "Hilfe für die Wassertalbahn" by restoring damaged locomotives, bringing new wagons and renewing the station.
In the summer of 2008 the tracks were washed away by a great flood but, again, the line has been quickly rebuilt. By the spring of 2009 the mocanita was up and running again.
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