We are sorry to note the demise of the rural Albanian rail route that until recently served the western shores of Lake Ohrid. This was truly one of Europe’s great rural rides, a journey so peculiarly full of character that we had already been wondering about including a fuller mention of it in a future edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers. We wrote a short account of a journey to Pogradec here on the European Rail News pages.
We have checked with our regular Albanian sources, and part of the Pogradec route is still open. A single train each day runs up the Shkumbini Valley as far as Librazhd. The latter is a pleasant enough spot, and enjoys a great location in a strikingly beautiful part of the valley. But it’s not a patch on the magnificent scenery around the shores of Lake Ohrid, and nowadays travellers bound for Pogradec and the Ohrid region must continue east from Librazhd by bus. The best part of the rail route was that beyond Librazhd.
A day trip from the Albanian capital Tirana to Librazhd is still possible. The service leaves Tirana at 06.00, reaching Librazhd at 11.01. The return service to the capital departs Librazhd at 11.55 and reaches Tirana at 19.00.
When we were in the Ohrid region last year, local officials were talking about a project to link the Macedonian and Albania rail networks on the western shore of Lake Ohrid. Curiously, this was a plan that the Italians had hatched back in the 1930s, when they evaluated the possibility of creating a through route from Skopje and Tetovo to the Adriatic coast of Albania. Various rail routes were built in the territory of what is now Macedonia, including a narrow-gauge mineral railway that ran north from Struga. That latter line has long been abandoned.
In 2011, we were struck by the local vision of creating a new standard-gauge line to link the two countries. So the withdrawal of the last remaining passenger train to the Albanian shore of Lake Ohrid seems to us to be not the smartest move. It is an ill-judged step that will now make it even more difficult to create a new east-west rail corridor through the southern Balkans.