Radio silence

The lack of posts over the last weeks have not just been due to yet more exams rolling in, and the tax office deciding that I’d taken on an extra and lucrative freelance job and needed to tell them how much I was earning. This was news to me: I don’t have the time for an lucrative freelance job with a forty hour week plus studying and family.

Apart from this, if I did have a lucrative freelance job I probably wouldn’t be spending those forty hours a week feeding chipboard into machines for pocket money.

No, the lack of posting is because I’ve managed to lose the cable for the camera and therefore can’t delight you with pictures of my adventures in south Germany. It turns out that absent mindedly putting the cable on the nearest available surface when I’ve finished with it, isn’t a good long term strategy (see also: gloves, hats, cellphones, forks, etc) The only reason this doesn’t happen with the bikes is because they’re too big to put something on top of them by accident. I’ve got a couple of things to write about but without pictures they’d be a bit boring.

Normal service will be resumed soon. When as I find the cable…

The metre gauge Kirnitzschtalbahn is a tramway running from Bad Schandau to the Lichtenhainer Wasserfall (Lichtenhain Waterfall) Originally planned to go from the town centre to a village now beyond the Czech border, it stopped at the waterfalls and wasn’t even allowed into the town because of protests from local shopkeepers and guesthouse owners who hadn’t twigged that having a way to transport people to their business would be a handy thing.

The remaining line is about 8 kilometres long and has the interesting feature for a bidirectional single track line of running along the roadway, so drivers approaching the waterfall can be confronted with a tram coming from the opposite direction. The trams run as pairs with a driving motorised unit pulling a trailer, which they have to run round at each terminus. This opens the intriguing possibility that they could just as easily haul freight wagons, although I’m not sure what they would carry, so maybe scratch that idea.

The first train ran on the 27th of May 1898 and was late because it kept falling off the track,  The service trains had a similar tendency to nosedive into the road causing damage to the traction motors and the stereotype of perfect German engineering.

The tramway survived derailments, dodgy current collectors and a fire in 1927 that wrote off all six of the original trams, which arguably solved the other problems in one fell swoop. They struggled on with borrowed stock but would have been closed down if it wasn’t for the Second World War. As it was the Bad Schandau end was cut short by another 450 metres in the fifties, as it was getting in the way of the glorious motorised socialist future.

After a head-on collision 1972 some bright spark came up with the idea of dividing the line into sections with a baton giving drivers authority to cover a section of the line, which still works today. The transport authority tried to close the line in 1986 but after much protesting they were persuaded to renovate the railway instead, and after the reunification the state government invested in the infrastructure and modernisation of the now rather elderly trams. There has been a trial run with a more modern low floor tram but the whole route would need aligning for it to fit, so that idea was forgotten.

Then in 2010 much of the rainwater from the western Czech Republic came down the Elbe at once, as well as the road, tramway and depot alongside. Thankfully attitudes have changed from the past and not only will the system be repaired, but there are plans to extend the line beyond the waterfall into the national park, and through Bad Schandau to meet the ferry across the river to connect with the Dresden S-Bahn system, still with the original four-wheeled trams, and I am delighted to report, still down the ‘wrong’ side of the road.


A while back I mentioned having a rather fun day playing with someone else’s trains at our local church. The people concerned used the FREEMO system of putting modules together which I’ve explained in a previous entry here.


The idea has stuck in my head a bit since, possibly because I realised this as the nearest I’ve been to playing on my own model railway since Westerooge became too unreliable, and partly because I’ve reached a point in my carpentry apprenticeship where I’d be able to make a baseboard complete with a box to keep it in like the FREEMO ones below.


We have no spare space in our 96m² (1000 sq ft) apartment for a railway, so the box would have to be just the right size to go in the loft or nice enough to be used as a normal piece of furniture as well as a model railway box. The second idea seems better as I’m not keen on dragging things in and out of the loft all the time. I’m not sure what sort of furniture can hide a model railway though.

I’ve got a design for ‘Spitzenwald’ that could just about fit in a box like those, if I split it in two, but Eldest Son does very much want a model we can build together as well, so I think that would be first on any list.

On the other hand, one of the things about being a carpenter is that people come with ‘suggestions’ for things to make. I’ve just finished a pine bed for Youngest Son, and Beautiful Wife has pointed out that several pieces of ‘Furniture’ are still cardboard boxes with sheets over them, so it may yet be a while before the model railway box makes it to the top of the jobs list.


Perhaps I could solve both at once: “It’s a new coffee table for the living room. What? the bit that opens into a conveniently model-railway-sized flat board? You know, I never thought of it like that, but as you mention it, I do remember some designs that may fit…”

Does anyone else have problems of needing to ‘hide’ your model railway when it isn’t in use? How do you deal with it?

Pigs tail railway

The Sausachwänzlebahn (pigs tail railway, officially the Wutachtalbahn or Wutach valley railway but I prefer the nickname, who says Germans have no sense of humour?), cost a great deal of money and took a great deal of time and effort to link two places in the middle of nowhere, purely to avoid Switzerland for the sake of fighting the French.

The towns in the Wutach valley would probably have liked a link with the outside world a lot sooner than the 20th of May 1890, when the line opened, but it wasn’t ‘economicaly viable’ to build a railway until the military decided it needed a new way to carry guns in the south of Germany. In the war with France in 1870-1871, railways had been useful in bringing weapons to the front, and the military decided they could do with a railway in the south on the ‘just in case’ principle. There was a main line across the bottom of Germany following the Rhine, but that went through Switzerland, and it was considered bad form to carry armies over neutral territory.

And so the Wutachtalbahn was suddenly worth building. It was forced through the hills forming the Rhine/Donau watershed between 1887 and 1890 and massively over engineered to carry the longest trains possible with six tunnels, five viaducts, three horseshoe curves and the only spiral tunnel in Germany in order to keep gradients to a minimum: tanks are heavy, after all. The line was even built ready to take double track in case things really got busy.

Ironically the railway was hardly used, except as a diversion route in 1923 when the French occupied Offenburg, and for hospital trains in the retreat of 1944. Despite this NATO decided it was worth a complete rebuild of the line after the war, and the defence ministry paid fifty thousand marks a year to keep the unused railway in top condition until 1974, after which the line was closed.

After 1976 the line was taken over by a preservation company and the local government, and now hosts a regular steam service between Blumberg-Zollhaus and Weizen. A passenger service runs from Blumberg-Zollhaus run by the Hollenzollerische Landesbahn, while Deutsche Bahn eventually started running services on weekends to connect with the steam trains in Weizen.

The video above doesn’t show the full extent of the horseshoe curves. Bonus video of one of the horseshoe curves with viaducts below:

Official Website (German) http://www.sauschwaenzlebahn.de/

On a good day…

Life is intervening, again. The last few weeks have been a right thumper of an exam session because all the tutors decided that with the half-year report due very soon, they need to have a test at the same time, so I’ve been doing lots of revision, amongst other things about an hour of maths each night which is not very exciting blogging material, hence lack of posts, and replies to comments.

I’ve been feeling slightly guilty for a while about this post giving the impression that our local transport system was run by incompetents or possibly monkeys and that isn’t the case. (Having grown up in the UK I have experience of a transport system run by incompetents, or as they are known ‘politicians’. I think monkeys could do better) so in the interests of balance here is a ‘normal’ commute home.


When things are working, the last lesson finishes about ten minutes before the train and gives plenty of time to walk to he station. Even better the German rail system runs proper trains with class 143 locomtives with double deck push-pull trains made by (I think) Bombardier.


The novelty of being on a top deck coach will never wear off. Bay seating fortunately hasn’t gone out of fashion in Germany.


Large amounts of bike space and a massive disabled privy downstairs. The things I photograph for you, honestly. This is in the driving coach (Driving Van Trailer in UK parlance). In the UK these are kept as luggage vans but in Germany they are a bit more relaxed about this.


Cavernous bike and push chair (stroller) friendly doors. Loco hauled trains have a future here: DB has ordered some sets of double deck coaches and locomotives to work local services as push-pull trains, so hopefully there will be real trains around for some time yet.


Off train and on to bus which leaves exactly six minutes later. The bus takes longer to cover the next five kilometres than the train needed for 20, but saves me cycling 200 vertical metres so we’ll gloss over that. I can get off at the next village to ours and comfortably ride the last few kilometres straight over the fields, while the bus goes off on a tour of local landmarks, so I save about ten to fifteen minutes and I can start on assignments fresh and awake from the ride.

I don’t of course: I faff about and end up trying to solve maths problems when I’m half asleep before rushing to get ready for the next day, but never mind.

Half year reports are coming next week, so the pressure should let off for a bit.


I keep meaning to visit this railway so maybe blogging about it will remind me to get myself over there sometime.

The Härtsfeldbahn was essentially a social railway, to provide transport for a mainly agricultural region between Aalen in Württemberg and Dillingen in Bavaria. Even Before it was built in 1901 the first petition to the state railway ministry was rejected on the basis the line would be ‘uneconomical’ which shows economists have been missing the point for at least a hundred years.

In 1953 the Härtsfeldbahn was showing signs of age and in a rare flash of common sense the state government commissioned a study to look at the social and economic case for the railway, which concluded that modernisation would make more sense than building more roads, and the railway was rebuilt to allow 40km/h running and new railcars were ordered. Unfortunately the rest of the country was building roads with enthusiasm and the line gradually lost traffic, although it would have lost less if the company had actually run more than one train a day instead of setting up a competing bus service.

Eventually the local towns began to withhold ‘subsidy’ for the railway and in 1972 another report was commissioned. This time the authors were instructed to ignore the social issues and came back with required answer. The line was closed to all traffic on Sept 30th 1972, despite a rearguard action to retain it as a preserved railway, and that was supposed to be that.

Then some enthusiasts began a charity in 1985 to rebuild the section from Neresheim to Dillingen. So far they have managed a small section from Neresheim to Sägemühl and work continues on the section to Dischingen.

Apart from this the company is refurbishing passenger and freight rolling stock as well as some very interesting railcars and this splendid diesel Krokodil. They also have a very informative English language web page with some quite unfortunate aesthetic design. There is also a Wikipedia entry in German.


Playing trains


In the last weeks before December our local church hosted an ‘N’-gauge ‘Freemo’ model railway as part of the Christmas market, I went with Eldest Son and we got to play trains for an afternoon.

‘Freemo’ is a very popular system for model railways in Germany, based on standardised, carefully engineered module ends so people from all over the country can meet up and build their modules into one big model railway system and it will all fit together perfectly.

Germans are good at this sort of thing.


I have to admit it is fun to play with trains that are scale length and don’t have to keep stopping to avoid crashing through the buffer stops: it took about five minutes to drive a train end to end of the model at scale speeds.


Each module had a ‘Theme’, including this one which was ‘Cornwall’, complete with UK Style overhead wires, a farm with a red phone box and a morris minor estate on the left hand side of he road. I waited until the most appropriate train went past before taking a picture.


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