With lovely views of rural Romania from the open window, taking the Transferoviar Călători (TFC) train to Slanic is slow travel at its best.
The train makes for the best way to get from Bucharest and Ploiești to Slanic, a town famous for its salt mine and therapeutic salt lakes.
Join us for the ride as we take the slow train to Slanic!
Bucharest Gara de Nord
The journey begins at the grand but rather derelict railway station of Bucharest Gara de Nord, the main station of the Romanian capital.
From here, trains depart to destinations all over Romania, as well as to neighbouring countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Moldova.
Most of these trains are operated by national operator CFR.
However, the trains to Slanic are run by a private company called Transferoviar Călători (TFC).
While there are one or two direct trains connecting Bucharest with Slanic each day during the summer season, you will probably have to change trains at Ploiești outside of peak hours and high summer.
A one-way ticket to Slanic costs approximately €4 to €5, depending on the exact train you take.
On board the train
In between the big trains of CFR, the small, dark-red coloured Transferoviar train was certainly the odd one out at Bucharest Gara de Nord.
These Transferoviar trains, officially known as the DH 2 (Diesel Hydraulic), were manufactured in Germany in the 1980s and were originally used by the Dutch Railways (NS).
In the Netherlands, these trains are more commonly known by the nickname “Wadloper” (which translates to “Mudflat walker” in English), as they were primarily used in the northern part of the country on the railway lines that run along the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea.
In 2011, Transferoviar Călători acquired some of these Wadloper trainsets, which are still in use on certain rural lines in Romania, most notably those around Ploiești and Cluj-Napoca.
Although the exterior may have been repainted in the colours of Transferoviar, the interior remains exactly the same as it was when this train was operating on the Dutch railways.
As I still remembered these trains from my youth in the Netherlands, it was certainly fun to see them being used in my adopted country of Romania!
If you are on a direct train, the journey north from Bucharest to Slanic will take around 2.5 hours.
As the rail distance between Bucharest and Slanic is only 105 kilometres, it means that the train has an average speed of only 42 kilometres per hour (26 mph).
Fast it is not, but if you come prepared and see the journey across southern Romania as a trip in its own right, then the Slanic train will be slow travel at its best.
This of course means that it’s vital to bring some drinks on board to ensure you stay hydrated.
The initial part of the journey from Bucharest to Ploiești may not be the most exciting, as this stretch traverses the flat and featureless Wallachian Plain.
It’s however still good fun to have a look at the rural stations on this stretch.
Just before the Transferoviar Călători train approaches the oil city of Ploiești you can see the cooling towers of the refineries in the distance.
You will also likely pass by some sidings with tanker wagons transporting oil, adding to the industrial scenery of the Ploiești area.
The train first makes a stop at Ploiești Sud station, the city’s main railway station on the mainline from Bucharest to Suceava.
It then reverses direction and continues its journey towards Ploiești Vest station, the city’s secondary railway station on the Bucharest-Brașov mainline.
It makes the Transferoviar Călători train to Slanic rather unique being one of the very few trains to stop at both of the Ploiești stations.
Off the mainline
Just north of Ploiești Vest, the Transferoviar train departs from the Bucharest-Brașov mainline and continues along the single track line that leads towards Slanic.
The scenery instantly becomes more beautiful as the train passes through sunflower fields and rolling hills start to emerge on the horizon.
The downside is that at this point, the relatively high speeds we enjoyed so far instantly decrease, as the track quality of this branch line is not the best, to say the least.
It’s not only the poor track quality that makes the train ride to Slanic excruciatingly slow, but also the lack of upkeep of lines like these across Romania.
At one point, the train passes through dense vegetation, creating the feeling that you are actually riding on a jungle railway somewhere in Malaysia instead of a slow train in Romania.
Some of the trees really could be trimmed down a bit to make it easier for the train to pass.
Be careful if you have the windows open, as some of the tree branches will come through the window and might hit you in the face!
Apart from the stretch through the dense vegetation, it’s otherwise a great pleasure to have the window open.
The open window not only provides a refreshing breeze on hot summer days but also offers a great opportunity for capturing photos more easily during the journey.
Single track line
The railway line to Slanic is single track only, although certain stations along the route have additional tracks to facilitate the passing of trains.
This is for example the case at the station of Plopeni Sat, where we had to wait for 10 minutes for the train in the opposite direction to arrive before we could continue our journey towards Slanic.
After the stop at Plopeni Sat, the Transferoviar train will cross a few rivers.
The train will first cross the small Mislea River, followed shortly by the crossing of the Vărbilău River, which has a much wider riverbed.
At this point, the Carpathian foothills seem to draw nearer with each passing moment.
The train ride to Slanic may be slow, but if you travel in spring or summer you will at least enjoy the views over the lush countryside.
Apart from green hills, fields and forests, the train will also pass through a couple of small villages.
Right next to the small Vărbilău station, there was a little farmers’ market that seemed to catch the interest of car drivers passing by.
Arrival in Slanic
A short while later we approached the outskirts of Slanic.
We passed by another Transferoviar Călători train parked at the sidings and eventually arrived more or less on time at the small terminus station of Slanic.
The train station of Slanic is located right in the town centre.
Just a short 5 to 10 minutes’ walk away from the station you will find the famous thermal lakes and salt mine of Slanic.
I’ve detailed my visit to Slanic in another article, so check that out if you want to learn more about this town and its sights.
The Slanic station building houses a small shop selling swimming inflatables and beachwear, which can be handy if you take your children to one of the lakes.
However, I was instead rather tempted to buy a small inflatable pool from the shop and fill it with water from a tap at the station.
It would have been a refreshing way to cool down at the station platform while waiting for my train back!
After a fun afternoon in beautiful Slanic it was time to head back to Bucharest.
Following a short wait, the Transferoviar train arrived at Slanic Station, swiftly completing its turnaround to commence the return journey.
This time, the train would only travel as far as Ploiești, where I would need to change trains in order to reach Bucharest.
I took a seat on the opposite side of the train from where I had sat on the outbound journey, allowing me to enjoy a different view on my journey back.
As the summer temperatures were absolutely soaring it was a welcome relief to be able to open the windows of the Transferoviar train.
I probably spent half of the time hanging out of the window enjoying the fresh wind in my hair.
It also made for a great way to absorb the environment and all the train sounds from the rickety rails, accompanied by the frequent honking of the train driver.
Another reason why rural train rides can be slow in Romania is the presence of unguarded railway crossings.
Trains inevitably slow down as they approach these unguarded level crossings to ensure they avoid any collision with a car driven by a careless driver.
The return journey was a highly pleasant ride as well.
Despite the slow speed of the train journey, I always find great joy in observing the traditional train station scenes in Romania, where uniformed station masters wave off each train.
Arrival in Ploiești
After a while we rejoined the Brașov-Ploiești mainline again just before Buda station.
Although Buda station is certainly not as grand as magnificent Budapest Keleti Palyaudvar in Hungary, it doesn’t look that bad for a minor junction station in the countryside.
We eventually pulled into the station of Ploiești Sud bang on time.
Ploiești Sud station
At Ploieşti Sud, I had 30 minutes between the arrival of my train from Slanic and my connecting train to Bucharest.
I certainly didn’t mind the long wait as it provided a great opportunity to buy some much-needed Fanta and water to cool down a bit more in the scorching summer temperatures.
Ploieşti Sud is quite an impressive station and certainly isn’t a bad place to change trains.
Being situated on the railway line connecting Bucharest to north-eastern Romania (the region of Moldavia, to be precise), Ploieşti Sud has always been the city’s most important station.
Historically, the station of Ploieşti Vest, situated on the mainline to Braşov in Transylvania, held less significance as that region only joined the (then) Kingdom of Romania after World War I.
Back to Bucharest
My train back to Bucharest was a Transferoviar train that originated in the city of Buzau.
The train was already quite full when it arrived at Ploieşti and I was happy I had a reserved seat and didn’t have to stand.
It was bloody hot inside the train on the final stretch to Bucharest and I was quite envious of the women seated diagonally opposite me who was smart enough to bring a small fan with her!
We eventually arrived back at Bucharest Gara de Nord with a 10 minute delay.
From the station, I walked for 20 minutes through a leafy suburb with magnificent interbellum houses to Cișmigiu Park.
In the park, I treated myself to a refreshing cold beer to recover from the wonderful yet exhausting day trip to Slanic.
Although the train ride to Slanic may be slow, it makes for a wonderful journey through the scenic countryside of Romania.
From the open window of the Transferoviar train you can enjoy some superb views of sunflower fields, forests, rolling hills and rivers.
It was good fun to see DH 2 ‘Wadloper’ trains being used by Transferoviar on the railway line to Slanic, as I still remember these old trains from my youth in the Netherlands where they were originally used before the company acquired them second-hand.