Do you want to take a trip back in time to an era when trains were pulled by steam locomotives? Then you should go to Viseul de Sus, in the northern part of Romania, to ride the Mocanita. There may be still a few steam locomotives running in the world. But Mocanița is not only a steam train, it’s the only narrow gauge lumber train left in Europe.
Mocanița simply means “Coffee Machine” and is basically a term of endearment that Romanians use for any narrow-gauge steam engine locomotive. Why? Because their driving gear is reminiscent of an Italian-style espresso machine.
A Brief History of the Mocanita
Before the narrow gauge railway were invented, logs were transported from the forest down rivers either freely or on wooden rafts. After the invention of the steam locomotives, people began building narrow-gauge railways which took up less space and allowed tight curves to be laid, which were good for the mountains.
In the 1930s Europe there was a boom of narrow-gauge railroads, but by the end of the 1960s they had practically disappeared from western Europe. There are only a few countries in Eastern Europe – like Russia, Hungary and Romania – where a few forrest railways survived. And Mocanita is one of them.
And almost 90 years later, this train still crosses the bridges and tunnels that take it into the gorges of the Vaser Valley to haul wood. But the Mocanița also hauls nostalgic tourists who love revisiting the steam engine trains. It’s also a great experience for young folks, who have never seen what a steam engine looks like.
What to Expect at the Train Station
The train station is located in the middle of the town, at the end of a little bumpy road. As you pass by the metal gates of the train depot, you find yourself in the middle of a big yard which looks more like an open-air museum, with a colorful display of steam powered locomotives and old wagons. The old, charming building of the train station serves now as the main office. Here you can buy your train tickets and some souvenirs. To the right side of the station there is a little café that sells snacks, coffee and drinks.
Aboard the Mocanita
The train ride starts in front of the station and climbs up for about 30 kilometers into the mountains. The tracks follow the roadless Vaser River Valley. Before going into the forest, the Mocanița passes by a small village with colorful houses.
You can see men working their yards. Women doing their laundry in the river. Children going to school. Railroad workers standing by the side of the road. They all seem to be part of the landscape, like if they weren’t present you’d miss them. Some wave at the moving train as if it’s an event. Others don’t even seem to notice it. After all, the train passing is business as usual.
On the way up the mountain, the Mocanița makes a couple stops (halts) to replenish the water for the steam engine. They are called water stops. To produce mechanical motion the steam engine needs boiling water. The steam moves the pistons which are mechanically connected to the locomotive’s main wheels. Cheap, simple and efficient!
The railway goes deep into the forests of the Maramures mountains to the tiny hamlet of Coman. The Vaser River is about 60 kilometres long, but the train turns around after 31 kilometers. The landscape is absolutely spectacular. The river forms a dramatic canyon-like valley, with steep cliffs and dense forests. It’s a bucolic landscape, with rapid water springs and beautiful meadows.There is so much to see and photograph!
At the end of the ride, Mocanita stops for about an hour. That’s just about enough time to get off the train and enjoy a good meal or a snack. The picnic area is in a very beautiful setting, on the river bank.
Mocanița provides the only access to the settlements up the valley. On the way back, the train stops a couple of times. You can hop off to take pictures or stretch your legs.
Mocanita, a Flashback in Memory
There’s something so impressive about a locomotive blowing up steam while rolling down the tracks. Like a dreadful fire-breathing dragon: “choo, choo, choo… black smoke, white smoke, choo, choo, choo… I couldn’t have enough of that image, reminiscent of my early childhood years. I could almost see our family at the train station, waiting to board the train to go see my grandparents.
Tips for the Mocanița
It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance. Being the only train of this kind in Europe, the Mocanita is very popular and for this reason always crowded. Sometimes the Mocanița offers special event trips for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or concerts, photography trips etc. If interested in one of these special events, you should call the office to book your tickets in advance. The train operates from spring to fall, from Thursday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m. For a more updated schedule you should click on this link: www.CFFViseu.ro.