Santa Special

A seasonal return to the Öchsle Railway for a ‘Santa Special’ train, although being in the depths of Catholic Bavaria, it’s a “St. Nikolaus Special”, hence the well dressed bishop joining the train at the first stop instead of a fat man in red.

They are as popular here as in the UK judging by the eleven coach train, not bad for a tiny preserved railway, or an 87-year-old 0-5-0 for that matter. I really like the brass band on the station at the end of the video: only in Bavaria would people consider Oompah music to be part of a train ride.

I lived four happy years in Bavaria not too far from this railway. Watching this video makes me wonder why I left.

For my Christmas present, I want a bell like the ones on these locomotives when they run around the train…


‘Ostalgie’ is the German term for people getting nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ of East Germany, aka the German Democratic Republic or DDR, and the secure way of life in a socialist country*, and as October is the month of reunification, (actually it is celebrated on the 3rd, late as usual) it seems appropriate to have a look at the railway system in the former DDR.

The video is taken in 1990, so the two systems would still be operating separately, although there was freedom of movement between the two countries. The west German coaches in Oberhof train still stand out in their turquoise colour scheme.

I am the sort of person that finds it interesting how many of the locomotive classes still operate, variations on the DR class 130 variants (built in the Ukrainian October Revolution Locomotive Works, no less) are still used in Germany and abroad in DB and private ownership, while many small railways and track maintenance companies depend on rebuilt V100 locomotives. On the other hand the Class 119/229 were absolute puddings and were known as U-Boats, partly because of the porthole like windows, but mostly because they spent most of their life submerged in the workshops.

*Forgetting of course the state surveillance of citizens, repression of dissent, imprisonment without trial, unaccountable government and illegal invasions of other countries for spurious reasons… hang on a minute…

The 750mm Ochsenhausen-Warthausen railway is a few kilometres from where I lived for about four years before coming to our current home. Typically, I didn’t go there when I lived close by.

The line was built in 1899 from Warthausen on the standard gauge main line between Ulm and Memmingen, to Ochsenhausen and then extended alongside the main line for a few kilometers to Biberach an der Riß. It crossed the main line on the level, like the Welsh Highland in Porthmadog, but that was removed after the war and the line now stops in Warthausen again, making it about 19km or 11.8 miles.

The line survived the war despite some bombing in Ochsenhausen and a severe accident on the crossing with the main line when a train travelling to Ulm ran through a signal set at danger and ploughed through the narrow gauge train at speed killing 12 and injuring a lot more.

The newly formed Deutsche Bahn took over in 1945 and did what they usually did with narrow gauge railways: ran down services while running busses in competition. To be fair this must have seemed a sensible option as the railway makes a large ‘U’ and the road was straight, but still. A preservation group took over in 1985, and had to close the line in 1991. A consortium of shareholders, mainly local governments and a bank, ran services again from 1996 until the line was closed by the transport ministry in 2000 because the track was such a mess. The local governments stepped in again, kicked the bankers out, and reopened in 2001, which shows the financial clout of local governments in Germany. In the UK it would be a cycleway by now.

The video shows 2-10-2 Class 99 tank locomotive number 99 788 bought in 2001 from Deutsche Bahn, who presumably were keeping it on the off-chance they might need it. Part two is here.

Information from Wikipedia Germany.

The Höllentalbahn (Lit: “Hell’s Valley Railway”, cheerful people they must have locally) was built in 1882 from Freiburg im Breisgau to Neustadt, and later to Donaueschingen. This was considerably later than the State of Baden built their railway line to Freiburg because it was one thing to make a railway down the broad, flat Rhine valley, but quite another to push through the much lumpier Black Forest, especially when the other side of the hills was Württemberg, which was foreign territory, so who wanted to go there? Then some bright spark came up with the idea that this could become part of a trans-European route from Paris to Vienna. At the time Vienna was the centre of a the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Paris was going through a series of bloody conflicts so connecting the two would presumably cheer everyone up a bit.

The pan-European route never really worked as planned (although the same idea has since been invoked for a massive rebuilding of Stuttgart main station) but it was at least part of the reason the line through the Höllental was finally completed. The line climbs from 278 m (912 ft) in Freiburg to 607 m (1,991 ft) at the summit. The maximum gradient is 5.5% or 1 in 18, (compared to a mere 1 in 37 or 2.65% for the Lickey Incline, the steepest main line railway in the UK network).

At first the line was a rack railway using pretty diminutive IX Class locomotives and just to be on the safe side, dual air and vacum braked trains. The locomotives were replaced by bigger versions, the IXB class on the rack sections in 1910, with normal locomotives on the adhesion only sections. Finally in 1933 the massive 2-10-2 Br 85 tank engines and better brakes did away with all this complicated messing about and simply ran up the whole route on adhesion only.

The Br 85 locomotives were themselves replaced almost immediately as the line was electrified at 20kv, 50hz as far as Titisee-Neustadt and operated by B-B Br E44 locomotives although the remainder of the line to Donaueschingen remained non-electrified. This continued until the end of World War two, when the German army and Militia blew up several bridges and tunnels. This caused some cancellations to local services but it did slow down the invading French army.

After the war and rebuilding Deutsche Bahn decided to reelectrify the line at the new standard of 15kv, to Titisee-Neustadt. This was less to improve the Höllentalbahn than to give the occupying French a convenient test track for the system where they could just blame the Germans if it went wrong. The French used the system in France afterwards, so they were clearly impressed.

The line was modernised in the 90’s and currently operates with Br 143 locomotives and double-deck coaches operating push-pull trains between Titisee-Neustadt and Freiburg im Breisgau, and diesel powered multiple units to Donaueschingen. I may do a blog entry on that another time.

The videos are a general introduction to the line (above) which is actually a trailer for a longer DVD you can buy. You don’t need to listen to the German commentary to appresiate the pictures. I also dug up a film made on a train running towards Neustadt through the most dramatic bit of the route.

The second one is for me as much as anything: I’ve travelled the line twice and both times it was chucking it down with rain and I hardly saw a thing.





The Hohenzollernische Landesbahn (HzL) dates from the period when Germany was a lot of little states that were theoretically independent of each other, and ruled by various ‘noble’ families who shared an affinity for pointy castles and a fairly small gene pool. The Province of Hohenzollern was splattered across a very lumpy part of south Germany, between the larger states of Württemberg and Baden (map here) and by the time railways were a part of the picture it was a tiny isolated part of the Kingdom of Prussia, with two main towns of Hechingen and Sigmaringen. These were connected to the Württemberg State railway network already, so the HzL concentrated on links to other places in the state and managed to build the current network in two years, finishing in 1901. The whole 107.5 km (66 mile) network still exists and they have eight locomotives and fifty-six railcars, although some of the railcars are used on franchise operations outside of their own network. I’ll look at the passenger operations another time.

The video above is of a couple of freight trains running in the general direction of Ulm. The longer train runs from the salt mines in Stetten to Ulm on the DB network. The salt mines in Stetten are one of the main traffic sources for the company and the video shows some of the route they follow, and the gradients they need to climb. There are also a couple of shots of the railcars that make up the HzL’s passenger services.

The video is a little old now, and unfortunately the long salt trains are no longer as regular; usually three wagons trundle to the hub in Gammertingen and are tacked onto some of the regular freights to the north. They have also aquired a couple of new diesels which I think were bought on economic rather than aesthetic grounds. You can see one below hauling a bulk cement train.

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.


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