Albanian railways consists of a 450 kilometres network: from Durrës – the main terminal – the infrastructure runs north to Shkoder and Kashar (in the suburbs of Tirana), east to Librazhd and south to Valona. Czech locomotives built in the Sixties generally haul two or three second-hand coaches, revived from demolition and formerly built for German and Italian railways. The windows are broken and the engines don’t even have the lights. Back in the seventies, national railways found themselves in financial troubles and had to trade some mountains of chrome with the manufacturer, in order to purchase the locomotives.
On Albanian trains passenger must employ a great deal of patience to enjoy a slow, very slow trip. Never exceeding 30 km/h, trains move forward on the rails, hidden by grass and surrounded by chicken, donkeys, horses and cows. 3 hours and 40 minutes for a 110 kilometres journey, impossible not to get acquainted with other passengers. Once upon a time, the train for Librazhd reached the shores of Ohrid Lake, not far from Macedonia. Nowadays the economic crisis forced the suspension of passenger service, making it impossible for Albanian railways to pay the Diesel for locomotives.
When the train starts its trip leaving the crowded city of Durrës, a calm countryside slowly flows out of the windows. In the station of Rrogozhine, an old woman sells cigarettes and balls, slippers and snacks. When the train comes along, she leaves her stall, holds the signalling disk and wears the railway hat. She’s the station manager, forced to roll off the salary with her shining stand.
A handful of kilometres to the east, the rails reach the station of Elbasan, an industrial city of Central Albania. Here, it seems to be in a park, with lots of children running and playing while the trains are manoeuvring. A few metres after the station, the railway goes on running between buildings and the stalls of an extemporary market. The train passes through the crowd as if it was nothing, honking the horn and raising a cloud of dust.
Valon, the train master, works everyday on this route, leaving Durres at seven in the morning and coming back home ten hours later. Despite working conditions are tough, he loves this job and hopes that his son will follow his path in the future.
After Librazhd, the unused rails go on towards Macedonia up to Prrenjas, crossing a stunning landscape coloured with red rocks and green vegetation. In Prrenjas, only a big train graveyard holds out. After many decades of honourable career, the withdrawn locomotives became a shelter for dogs, wild boars and foxes that live in the surrounding woods.