Filippo Ricci reports on an August 2012 visit to the well known narrow
gauge railway in south-west Austria. See also his report of the
adjacent Achensee Bahn.
Above: 83.076 approaching Zell am Ziller taken from the last coach of the train.
The Zillertalbahn has an excellent website (http://www.zillertalbahn.at/page.cfm?vpath=index&switchLocale=en_GB) where you can gather information on the timetable, history and motive power of this railway.
Here I will examine only the steam services not the busy half-hourly regular services.
On most summer days there is only one steam diagram covering the 10.30 Jenbach to Mayerhofen, watering and servicing there, 13.34 to Aschau and return finishing with the 16.34 to Jenbach.
Note that the 13.34 from Mayerhofen and the 15.02 return are scheduled to work as far as Kaltenbach-Stumm but due to ongoing double tracking they are terminated at Aschau during this summer.
On summer Fridays there is another, somewhat elusive, steam service: the so called Hobby Train of which more in the last paragraph.
The Not so Good Part
If you are a die-hard enthusiast seeking authentic steam operations this isn't your railway at all.
The 10.33 from Jenbach to Mayerhofen takes one hour and three quarters to cover 21 miles and as you can guess most of this time is spent at stations waiting to cross or be overtaken by modern trains.
Most coaches on the train are reserved for group tours so you have limited choice where to seat and this lead to overcrowding on occasions: I once arrived in Mayerhofen in a coach filled by about ten adult passengers and no less than twenty noisy kids!
There are two good aspects however: the rolling stock and the scenery.
Below: no.2 shunting then departing from Jenbach.
The locomotives are very impressive: I saw no.2 departing Jenbach and enjoyed the company of 83.076 aka no.4 for the best part of two days and both are spectacular performers and always well-polished.
Below: some portraits of 83.076.
The coaches are an hotchpotch of designs, each unique both inside and out; I recommend a complete tour of the train.
A most welcome aspect is that the morning and evening trains consist of ten to thirteen coaches or about 200 tons tare counting 10t for a 2axle coach and 20t for a bogie one.
This means that the locos have to work hard to shift these loads on the gradients and curves of the line; as the engine wheel diameter is very small when the train reaches its 25 mph top speed you have the impression to be hauled by an express loco in full cry with rapid and loud exaust beats.
Below: a part of the long and varied consist.
The scenery on the line is splendid: big mountains and tidy villages aplenty plus cosy stations with flower baskets everywhere.
Below: the village of Ried and a flower basket in Zell am Ziller station.
I didn't attempt to take pictures along the line but this shouldn’t be a major problem as the main road connecting all the centres in the valley is never far from the railway.
The best spot is surely the Ziller bridge at km 23 between the Erlach stop and Zell am Ziller station: apart from the bridge there are also many very sharp curves in this stretch and as you can see below you can have a good view of the loco even from the second coach!
Zillertal Mystery Train
The Zillertal Bahn sells short driving sessions which are expensive and should be reserved well in advance; however everyone could board these trains for a small fee without a reservation.
There is a timetable here: http://www.zillertalbahn.at/page.cfm?vpath=nostalgie/hobbyzug.
So on Friday 17th of August at 8.30 am I presented myself at Mayerhofen station for the 8.40 departure to Zell am Ziller but things turned out to be a little more unpredictable than expected.
The departure board showed correctly train D260 8.40 to Zell am Ziller but no sign of smoke or any rolling stock were present; at 8.40 the train was simply deleted from the board.
I assumed that the Hobby Train wasn't running that day so I boarded the 8.48 to Jenbach to connect with the 10.30 steam departure to
Then at Uderns we crossed the "mystery train" and I managed to get some rather poor shots (above) ; the day then went on as planned and I was back in Mayerhofen by 12.20 where I found the Hobby Train ready to leave for Zell am Ziller at 12.40.
I didn't board it because in the meantime I had met a friendly French enthusiast so I decided to go with him on the 13.34 to Aschau; as you can see above I had plenty of time for pics however.
I finally sighted it standing in Zell am Ziller around 14 o’ clock.
I suspect that this train is run only if sufficient demand exists and the itinerary and times could be changed to suit the needs (and wallets!) of the driving session customers.
This is a very busy and efficiently managed railway with substantial commuter and tourist traffic.
Accordingly it has an half-hourly service from 8am to 7pm with a few scattered runs as early as 6am and as late as 8pm.
They are slow, taking 50 minutes for 21 miles, 24.5mph, but they are punctual, clean and comfortable.
Freight traffic consists of timber from a sawmill in Uderns which is loaded into standard gauge bogie flats carried on 2ft6 gauge special wagons.
Although during the time I was there I saw no freight train or shunting the freshly loaded packed timber you can see above on the sawmill siding confirms that this traffic is well alive, probably only suspended for national holidays which coincided with my visit.
There is an OBB shunter, 2068 class, based in Jenbach to shunt the exchange sidings with the Zillertal Bahn and a cement plant siding, the latter served daily even during holidays.
The most common motive power on the line are the very modern (2004-2007) locos D13-D16 (above), which are not very exciting from an enthusiast's perspective: they have a very effective silencer so much that even sitting in the nearest you can hardly hear any sound from the loco while the aesthetic could only be described as boxy.
Two locos, D15 (above) and D16 (below), carry advertisements and while the former is in my opinion even uglier than the plain red ones the blue livery with eagle heads enhances D16 appearance a lot.
There are also two DMUs in regular traffic formed by two motor coaches and a centre trailer: I like their narrow bodies and despite being half the power of the locomotives they are twice as noisy!
The prize for cuteness must however go to D12, a small shunter which is used to remarshal the steam trains at Jenbach and perhaps shunts the wagons at the exchange sidings.
In the pic below you can see that even if it was built in 1960 it has been fitted with a state of the art remote control, note the control unit hanging from the shunter’s neck.
The Jenbach Dump
Directly opposite to the Achensee Bahn sheds and easily visible from OBB platform 3 there is a yard containing a large number of stored wagons, mainly vans, and a pair of stored diesels, D11 and the larger D8 (below).
f particular interest is this twelve axle well wagon (below), a real giant on a very small gauge!
Despite some derogatory remarks, mainly dictated by my enthusiast nature, I think that this railway is very well managed and deserves admiration.
It offers a frequent and reliable service tits modern day customers but hasn't forgotten its heritage.
An excellent example of how a narrow gauge railway could meet the challenges of the 21st century!