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.