These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Čermeľ: All aboard!

By James Thomson

Another of Košice's claims to fame is that it has Slovakia's only children's railway. This operates from the Čermeľ station at the edge of the city, via a 4.2-kilometre-long, 1,000-millimetre narrow-gauge track, out to the Alpinka forest recreation area.

Despite being intended primarily for the amusement of children (and their parents), the railway is a full working replica of a normal railway system, with points, three stations and a live level crossing over the main road to Gelnica. It was formerly used to instruct railway staff, and the two current drivers were among the last class of Slovak locomotive engineers trained to operate steam engines.

Which is just as well, since the pride of the three-engine fleet is steam locomotive U36.003, more affectionately known as Katka. She was built in Erfurt, in Germany, in 1884 and spent some time in a railway museum in Spišská Nová Ves before an overhaul in the 1990s allowed her to re-enter service here. She is ably assisted by diesel engines T29.002 (Danka) and T29.003 (Janka), as well as a set of historical rolling stock.

The system was built by volunteers between 1955 and 1956, using rails and points from defunct narrow-gauge railways, some of which were manufactured in Hungary more than 100 years ago, making the system a relatively significant piece of industrial heritage.

Those who man it now take their jobs seriously: the engineers, who drive and service the trains, in overalls and the conductor in full uniform. Their love for the trains is obvious.

The first departure of the year, during Košice's so-called 'City Days', on May 1, traditionally involves a Wild West-style attack by 'Red Indians' on a train full of squealing children. But kids (and the young at heart) will enjoy it at any time.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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