transport for romania's carpathian forests: improved accessibility through technological change

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  • GeoJournal 22.4 409-428 1990 (December) by Kluwer Academic Publishers


    Transport for Romania's Carpathian Forests: Improved Accessibility through Technological Change Turnock, D., Dr., University of Leicester, Dept. of Geogr., Leicester LE1 7RH, England

    Extractive industries must frequently face the chall- enge of exploiting natural resources which are found in relatively inaccessible areas. Even when a transport system already exists it may be inadequate to cope with the volume of material which the new industry will generate, thereby restricting output or necessitating investment to improve the facility. But where there is no existing transport service then an entirely new infrastruc- ture will be needed and its cost may well be critical in determining whether the proposed industry can be pro- fitable. Mining ventures provide many examples of local transport systems geared exclusively to the conveyance of minerals to the main lines of communication (railways or seaways) with ample capacity to handle the additional traffic. Some of the more dramatic instances relate to economically backward areas with particularly poor transport provision: for example peripheral parts of the Habsburg Empire where the minerals of the Banat Car- pathians were opened up in the 18th century as part of Maria Theresa's defence policy against Ottoman press- ure in the Balkans. The foundations were laid for what is the oldest heavy industrial complex of the present Romanian state, with post-war interest in uranium and bituminous schists adding to the established workings for coal and ore. And, while the district is now fully inte- grated into the national system of roads, railways and air services, the landscape still shows the legacy of canals, funiculars and inclines (as well as roads and railways) which transported the riches of the Banat to the river Danube. These installations were also useful for the transport of timber which was taken progressively from virtually all parts of the Carpathians by the end of the 19th century. Moving raw material with high weight and volume in relation to value from a mountain belt which had for centuries comprised an imperial borderland posed serious problems. So the theme of forest transport

    in Romania deserves investigation. The least-cost solu- tion has been sought for each mountain district but the system has been subject to radical change becauses of changes in technology. Improvements in wood process- ing (Fig 1) have brought all the major tree species within the sphere of commercial operations while changes in transport technology have widened the choice of modes available. The study is divided into two periods with nationalisation of the forests and processing units in 1948 marking the watershed.

    Pre-Nationalisation: Floating Timber down River

    Large scale woodcutting dates back to era of Turkish suzerainty over the Romanian principalities. Tribute demands included wood, for shipbuilding and other constructional purposes, carried to Istanbul from the ports of BrNla and Gala[i. Considerable pressure was exerted on the nearest oakwoods on the hills of Covurlui and Tutova (also Dobrogea, then an integral part of the Ottoman Empire) which lay within carting distance. Oakwood was also cut in Wallachia and barrel staves were sent to the Danube from forests in Arge~ (for example Poiana Lacului) and Olt (Topana). The long wooden cart for carrying tree trunks (car de pddure) with solid construction, small wheels and strong axles is still much used today and sledges also constitute basic equip- ment in the winter months (known by various local names such as catarga and huristea in the villages of Tfilmacel and Gura Riului respectively). However such modes of transport have never been very satisfactory for long distances and the most intense exploitation of Carpathian forests occurred where fir and spruce wood could be floated by river to Gala[i (Antonescu-Romusi 1882). The river Siret maintained a discharge adequate

  • 410 GeoJournal 22.4/1990

    Production 1975 (million lei)


    Typ Furnitur

    Pape cellulos


    Proce acces


    - - - - F ]

    ~ C

    ~,~' Statistical area with extensive stands of spruce forest

    ~\ \~ Statistical area with ~, ,~ more than 70% woodland

    Ot Kilornet res

    1 ARAD [cl 34 Boldesti 2 BACAU (C) 35 Borsa ~ 3 BAIAMARE 36 Bre~oi 4 BISTRITA(C) 37 Busteni 5 BR~ILA'(C) 38 Caansebes (C) 6 BRASQV (C) 39 Carei 7 BUCHAREST (C) 40 Cehu Silvaniei (Cb)


  • Geo,Joumal 22.4/1990 411


    I1.t. Poiana Stampei


    Vatra Dornei

    [ Mainly spruce ]Beech~fir~spruce ~:i!!::: Reservoir


    Rivers suitable for f loat ing/raf t ing t imber

    with standard gauge rai lway

    ,, ,. ,, ~ ,, ,, ,, wi th narrow gauge railway

    watershed crossing

    Raft ing/ f loat ing base [ ] Raft ing/f loat ing base

    wi th population centre



    .............. Rivers not suitable for transport ing t imber

    - -~ Limit of Bistrita catchment

    Tirgu Neam~

    Topli Tarc,~u~.


    eamt \ -


    0 Kilometres 30 L

    Gheorgheni I

    Fig 2 Timber transport in the Bistrita valley

    \ ~'J@......

    Sources: Atlas RSR; Anania 1900 and Vlad-Popovici 1942

    using the traditional controlled method (flotaj dirijaO involving the construction of an articulated raft (plutd mladioasd) with three sections: the more slender logs were placed in the leading section and the longest were laid on the outside. Quantities varying from 60 to 170 m3 were taken down the narrow defile.

    The annual traffic on the Bistri~a varied between 0.3 and 0.5 million tonnes during the first half of the 20th century but after the First World War only small amounts of timber were taken by water beyond Bac~u all the way to Cosme~ti and Gala~i, involving a ten day journey. River transport became a more localised phenomenon, but one that persisted into the post-war period when the construction of a dam and power station at Bicaz imposed a new downstream limit. Nevertheless since the standard gauge railway stopped short of the

    dam (with an extension of the Piatra Neaml branch to the new town of Bicaz in 1951) it was considered desirable to float timber as far as the dam where a mechanised terminal was built (at Potoci in 1959) to transfer timber to lorries for the journey to the Piatra Neam~ mills or (in the case of wood destined for more distant factories) to the railway station just S of the dam. Up to one million m3 was handled in this way each year during the 1950s falling progressively to 200,000 tonnes during the 1960s. After c. 1970 road transport was used throughout, but the fuel crisis has led to a restoration of the traditional system and the Potoci terminal is again active, providing a thread of continuity running through the entire history of commercial timber working in Romania. No further change is likely in the immediate future and the rafting of timber is now being encouraged as a tourist attraction. Although standard gauge railways

  • 412 GeoJournal 22.4 /1990

    . . . . . Frontier : : : . : : :Spruce forest

    ~ Lowland area

    ............. Rivers


    State , , , , , , - , Funicular

    . . . . . Forest - - Forest- Projected

    1 Curtea deArges , , , t ~ 2 RlmnmuVdcea 3 Cfmpulung 4 Voineasa " ~ 5 Riusor ~ / \ ~ \ \

    \MSngstiur Mal

    6 Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej (Onesti) 7 Ctmpulung Moldovenesc . .

    ,Oradea " " , ,~ ~"~ U '~[ ," "

    \ ? ~ Zal~

    ,0~0,~m.~_ :_+::: :4 ~ o X~ ~ ...',~t'y:,,....,'::t,....,.~ :....--..

    / ,. ~o . ...'.....,..

    Sebls . .t.. 0~, '.... e ; . ' .

    j \ / /-, " . . . . . . . . . b , - ..:.:Hunedoara/ , J .~ \ ,x " ,~ )~- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _ ! ' , . . ;

    ~le , / / ' " ' " J .~ :,Vois,0va 7

    o / . . * , / ~ : ) . " ~! '~ Bocs~ ~"- '~ , . ,. '. ~ .:::-~:'. ~ C.aranseues&.,Balta SN[atN. ~." { , " : :.: 2.'.~1 :V r

    r, "...v.:~ . '~J'..., .7,,.:.: :.~.~.: ~ ,.: :.:.: : :!~o~2 ~ . . . . . . . ) . . . .


  • GeoJournal 22.4/1990 413

    Carpathians, including the Arge~, Bisca, Dimbovi~a and Olt, as well as the Bistri~a in the Eastern Carpathians noted above.

    Several general points may be made in connection with this local river transport of timber. First, due to the shortness of the journey and the constraints imposed by the rivers themselves (shallow depth, winding channels and occasional rapids) individual tree trunks were des- patched downstream in preference to the formation of rafts. This relatively crude system is referred to by the Romanians as the rood salbatic to differentiate it from the more controlled method of flotaj dirigat. Another verbal distinction is made by the reference to transport prin plutit (by floating) as opposed to prin plut~rit (by rafting). An exception was the Olt where the first rail links were provided downstream at Caracal (for Stoe- ne~ti), Slatina and Turnu Mfigurele. From c. 1890 timber was taken in rafts down the Olt (and the Lotru and Sadu tributaries) with the help of rafting specialists (~iptaH) from Austria and Bohemia (also Italy in the case of the Sadu). Second, a number of installations were needed to operate the system efficiently. At the downstream end it would be necessary to divert the logs into a channel (canal de plutire) from which they could be taken to the sawmill deposit but more importantly at the upstream end it was often necessary to install wooden dams (opu- sturi) so that a consignment of timber could be sent on its way with the assistance of a considerable head of water. Further dams might be needed at intermedi