Short history of the Orava Forest Railway

Orava is a mountainous region whose greatest natural resources have been and still are its forests. The proceeds from exploitation of the forests were the most lucrative source of income. Commercial logging and transportation of timber to sales outlets acquired great importance in the Middle Ages.
The Orava Compossessorate, which originated as the heir to the historic Orava feudal nobility in the late 19th century, established itself as a modern business entity in forest management. In the context of the modernization of the entire forestry business a technically difficult task had to be resolved: the transportation of timber harvested in inaccessible mountainous terrain to customers. Traditional sleds and waterborne rafts were still used, but they did not have the necessary capacity and were dependent on the weather.
In the early 20th century, the management of the Orava Compossessorate decided to address the issue of transporting timber and for this purpose to build a forest railway, of 760mm gauge, capable of overcoming the rugged terrain. Forest railways in this period amounted to modern, but proven technology that were widely applied in a forested areas of Central Europe.
The new forest railway project was completed during World War I and on 3 to 4 July 1918, it obtained a permit. Using prisoners of war as labour, the track was put into operation as early as 27 July 1918. The new railway transported wood from the Orava forest through Zákamenné to Lokca. It allowed the export of timber from the forest administration of the Orava Compossessorate centred in Mútne and Zákamenné, but had no direct connection to the public rail network.
Three projects were developed in 1921 to resolve this problem. The most economical solution was the idea to link the Orava Forest Railway to a similar track in Kysuce. This solution was adopted in 1924.
The Kysuce Forest Railway began operating on 15 October 1918 and, unlike the Orava system, it had a direct connection to the strategically significant Košice - Bohumín railway siding in Oščadnica. and the two tracks were just 8km apart. The project to connect the railroads was created by the company of Dipl. Ing. E. & L. Gál from Ružomberok. The project included a technically outstanding and imaginative solution to the problem of the high elevation in the Beskid mountains which had to be overcome.
The selected option included 5 dead-centres, or switchbacks, with Chmura and Beskyd serving as stations. A connecting track was completed on 1 December 1926. An operating licence was granted on 15 February 1928 by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Railways. Together, the Orava and Kysuce Forest Railways formed a single integrated transport system in the main section Oščadnica - Lokca, more than 60km long. Commercial traffic was fully launched and over time branches were opened or closed in order to streamline traffic according to the actual needs of mining and forest maintenance.
The Kysuce-Orava Forest Railway served successfully during the period of the first Czechoslovak Republic and the wartime Slovak State. It did not entirely avoid the war; in the winter of 1945 it was damaged by partisans, who wanted to deny use of it to the occupying forces of fascist Germany.
After the end of World War II, the estate of the Orava Compossessorate was dissolved and its property divided between local municipalities and the state.
The state became the new owner of the forest railway. In the post-war period, restructuring of the former forest administration of the Orava Compossessorate also took place. Forest management work fell under Žilina Region forest management, which also controlled the timber plant at Zákamenné, to which wood was shipped using the Orava Forest Railway. In the 1950s the volume of commercial operations were at their peak.
In the second half of the 1960s the Kysuce-Orava Forest Railway experienced a crisis. New conditions meant that forest railways were losing their advantage: compared to road transport they were inflexible and expensive to operate.
The tracks and rolling stock still in use in difficult terrain were so worn that ČSD Vrútky, which was responsible for their maintenance and repair, refused to continue keeping the outdated equipment running. Maintenance was complicated by a continued lack of spare parts for locomotives, which had not been produced for decades.
For these reasons, on 28 June 1967 the Directorate of State Forests in Žilina asked for a ruling to terminate the forest railway factory in Zákamenné.

The Department of Regional Transport People's Committee decided to close the railway on 1 January 1969. The District People's Committees in Dolný Kubín and Čadca planned the dismantling of the entire railway in three stages in 1969-1971.
In the first stage the Breza – Mútne – Furandová and Breza – Zákamenné sections were dismantled. In the second stage removal work continued on the Zákamenné - Podrusnáčka section. The third stage saw completion of the removal of the forest railway lines, with termination of the sections: Oščadnica – Chmúra, Beskyd – Chmúra, Zákamenné – Ústrig, Ústrig – Gontkula, Gontkula – Beskyd and in the area of the timber mill in Krásno nad Kysucou.
The track was removed in portions, until on 31 December 1971 there was an official decommissioning.
The declaration, in 1972, of the Kysuce-Orava Forest Railway section Chmúra - Beskyd - Tanečník as a cultural monument averted, at the last minute, the complete destruction of this remarkable technical work. The section that remained, however, was only a small fraction of the original range of the track. From the original length of more than 110km of forest railway only about 8km was retained. This was the section built in 1926 to link the Orava and Kysuce Forest Railways.
The Orava Forest Railway maintained the area of Sedlo Beskyd - Tanečník station. It found itself without an owner and without guaranteed maintenance. Rescue of the decaying monument was left mainly to volunteers. The Orava Museum therefore assumed the preserved section in 1986 and in 1988 developed a conceptual plan for the restoration of these monuments, coupled with proprietary-legal settlement of the lines and buildings at Tanečník station.
In cooperation with volunteers, as part of the Tree of Life initiative in 1989-1993 much was done to save the monuments.
In August 1992 an agreement was concluded between the Orava Museum of P.O. Hviezdoslav in Dolný Kubín and the Kysuce Museum in Čadca on the general reconstruction of the entire preserved forest railway in both regions. General restoration began in Kysuce in 1993 and in Orava in 1996. As part of this work, railway troops of the Slovak Army repaired Beskyd station and a bridge near the settlement of Tanečník.
The promising cooperation was interrupted by adverse conditions. In 1997, track on the Kysuce side was severely damaged by floods and landslides. Existing resources were diverted to the repair and restoration of the damaged parts and renewal of the Orava Forest Railway was postponed indefinitely.
Systematic work by the Orava Museum of P.O. Hviezdoslav on the restoration of the forest railway began in 2003.
In 2004, the Orava Museum developed the project "Realising the potential of Upper Orava tourism by revitalization of the Orava-Kysuce Forest Light Railway by joining the Orava and the Severopovažský [Nothern Váh] regions" (project authors: PaedDr. M. Jagnešáková, PhDr. E. Kulášová, Bc. M. Rusnáková) for the rescue and recovery of the Orava Forest Railway and received from an ERDF fund and the state budget financial assistance amounting to 22,016,047.20 Slovak crowns, while the Orava Museum financed from its own funds 8.04 million Slovak crowns and the Žilina Self-Governing Region contributed funds of 9.2 million Slovak crowns. This realization and implementation project required professional guidance and specialized companies with competence in the reconstruction of railway lines and buildings, and therefore volunteers and enthusiasts were no longer required.