Coming soon! „Lithuanian draisines and motor locomotives in 1919–1940“

In early 2015, my new book dedicated to the history of the manufacture and operation of draisines and motor locomotives on the interwar Lithuanian Railways will be published by UAB Zidex. This is a logical sequel to Steam Locomotives of Lithuanian Railways 1919–1940 by Toms Altbergs published by the same publishing house in 2012. The book by Altbergs was devoted to steam locomotives, whilst my book tells the story about the rest of the rolling stock – everything that was powered by internal combustion engines rather than steam.
In the interwar period there were plenty of draisines and diesel trains on European railways which successfully replaced passenger steam trains in various areas. The Baltic States were no exception. Draisines appeared in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania almost at the same time. They were different in design and type, but the economic reasons for their introduction were the same: all three countries needed an entirely new type of rolling stock which would be more efficient, faster and more comfortable to compete with road transport in the field of passenger transportation.
The gradual studying of the sources put all the facts into a clear picture. At first it was a chaotic mix of many facts which turned into a clear general evolution of the emergence and operation of the rolling stock with internal combustion engines on Lithuanian railways. The introduction of motor wagons with internal combustion engines dates back to 1932. In that year the first motor wagon for narrow gauge railways of primitive design and with a weak petrol engine was built in Kaunas. After five years, Lithuania was the first of the Baltic States to have purchased and started operating the fast German MAN draisines which could reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour, and became a leader in the introduction of advanced railway transport technologies. Achievements related to motor locomotives have not been that evident. In 1929–1931 Lithuanian Railways bought seven 1435mm gauge motor locomotives and operated them until 1941. Even though they were of rather simple design and had low-power engines, the motor locomotives were reliable during the entire period of their operation. Lithuania had more locomotives than Latvia and Estonia together. Thus, even though during the said period Lithuania was the least developed country in the region, it out-performed Latvia and Estonia in the pace of the introduction of advanced rolling stock.
I have experienced a number of pleasant discoveries while looking for pictures to illustrate the book. I found quite a lot of previously unpublished photos of interwar draisines at the Lithuanian Railway Museum. I would like to thank heartily the staff of the Museum and personally the Director Vitalija Lapėnienė for great assistance and invaluable services. I was able to find some relatives of the former draisine drivers. Their families had carefully stored quite valuable photographs which I was kindly allowed to use in the book. It was a great success that just before the publishing of the book I had an opportunity to get acquainted with Saulius Avižonis who lives in Kaunas and is the son of the narrow gauge draisine designer Jonas Avižonis. Saulius has carefully preserved some of his father’s photo albums of the 1930s which captured all the stages of building draisines in the Kaunas workshop and subsequent testing phases. He allowed me to publish the photographs in the book. These photographs were not known to railway historians or enthusiasts previously, so it makes them even more valuable. The book includes more than a hundred archival photographs, most of which are published for the first time. Despite that, the visual material in the book could not be regarded as comprehensive, because, for example, not a single photograph of a broad gauge motor locomotive has yet been found, which is especially surprising in view of their long-lasting operation on Lithuanian railways.
Each copy of the book has a CD with visual material included. During the preparation of the book, a colour film dating back to 1939 was found. This footage on railways also captured the German MAN four-axle draisines. The documentary shots were taken by Lithuanian emigrants to the United States when visiting Lithuania. These short film frames are an extremely valuable and unique artefact. Suffice it to say that the other Baltic countries have had nothing like that and it is even unknown whether such an attempt to film Estonian or Latvian motor wagons was made in the 1930s.
In conclusion, I would like to say that this research topic is far from exhausted. A number of pages in the history of Lithuanian railways remain unturned and awaiting their researchers. Having finished my work on this book I will continue exploring the history of Baltic railways. Naturally, we anticipate new discoveries in this field.
To order the book, please refer to info@railbaltic.eu post.
By Ivan Rudnev