Enthusiast Holidays can trace its origins back to 1975, as the “Magic of Steam in Poland” – part of the émigré Polish travel organization “Fregata” – running trips to that country at a time when photographing trains, or even writing down their numbers, without the necessary permission – could get you arrested!
Later, a joint venture with David Thornhill’s “World Steam” information magazine made perfect sense, as contributors reported to WS about current steam operations around the world, so making planning tours relatively easy, an advantage that made some of “World Steam Tours’” rivals a little envious.
Veteran railway enthusiast and photographer Vic Allen then added the Enthusiast Holidays brand to his Trainseurope Ltd. portfolio, which throughout the ‘eighties, ‘nineties, and early 2000’s, was experiencing massive demand for international rail tickets (rail travel being cheaper than air at that time), and funded the enlarged programme of railway enthusiast tours which included all the favourite destinations of the period – Cuba, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Romania etc. – and introduced some new countries, like Eritrea, as viable steam operations were discovered.
British Railways’ use of steam on its regular services ended in 1968, and over the next 40 or so years, most other countries followed suit. It was therefore necessary, when arranging a tour, to augment travel on such steam-hauled service trains as remained, with charters, in increasing proportions as time went on, inevitably putting up the cost, but particularly in Eastern Europe, it wasn’t too exorbitant, and the opportunity to reproduce what was no longer possible in ordinary service, was irresistible.
Some countries’ railways, realising the commercial potential, went on to maintain fleets of heritage steam locomotives – Romania was an excellent example during the 1990’s – today, the country which is perhaps in the forefront of preservation of active steam, is Bulgaria, and a tour using most of the restored steam locomotives will be Enthusiast Holidays’ main focus at the end of September.
The line-up includes recently overhauled G7 0-8-0 26.26; the massive 2-12-4T 46.03; 2-8-2 01.23 and 4-8-2 03.12, plus narrow gauge 2-8-2T 607.76 over the mountainous Rhodope line. But, recognising that these days, the number of “Classic Traction” devotees probably exceeds that of diehard steam enthusiasts, a parallel tour using ex-British Rail Class 86 and 87 electric locomotives and the elderly Henschel n.g. diesels, with many depot visits and a tour of the extensive
Maritza Iztok mining complex, with its diesel and electric locos. is on offer too – see ad in this issue.