The International Steam Pages
The Murtalbahn, Austria 2013
James Waite reports on a visit to a line with limited steam operation.
The Murtalbahn, from Unzmarkt to Mautendorf, is the longest and probably the most scenic, of the narrow gauge lines operated by the Steirmarkische Landesbahnen (StmLB), the Styrian regional government's organisation for operating railways within and around the state. It was set up in 1890 and, in addition to various standard gauge lines, has over the years had responsibility for the Preding-Stainz, Kapfenberg-Au, Weiz-Birkfeld-Ratten, Mixnitz-St. Erhard, the Murtalbahn and, in Lower Styria, the Pöltschach-Gonobitz, the Cilli-Wöllan and the Windisch-Feistritz lines.
At the end of the First World War Lower Styria became a part of Yugoslavia and today forms the north east of Slovenia. The three lines there all closed many years ago as has the Weiz line beyond Birkfeld and the Kapfenberg lines. The StmLB still operates freight trains from Weiz as far as Oberfeistritz and tourist trains go from Weiz to Birkfeld. These mostly use the StmLB's huge 0-10-0T Kh101 (Krauss Linz 1419/1926) which once worked coal trains from the colliery at Ratten and was overhauled by the Zillertalbahn at Jenbach in 2012 or ex-JZ 83-180 (DD 136/1949) bought from the Banovici railway. The StmLB also operates freight trains over the Mixnitz line, which has always been electrified, some of the locos there being vintage machines. The local authority at Stainz runs a long-established tourist service over the line to the town from Preding, currently using ex-OBB 298.56. Club 760, which has long acted as a support group for the StmLB, runs tourist trains over the St. Andra-Mauterndorf part of the Murtalbahn which lies in Salzburgerland after the regional government there withdrew its financial support in the 1970's and the line west of Tamsweg was closed. Today only the Murtalbahn sees non-tourist passenger traffic, mostly operated by a series of modern railcars, along with some surviving freight. There's also a steam tourist service during the summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Details are on the railway's website at http://www.stlb.at/nostalgiefreizeit/dampfzugfahrten/fahrplanmaessige-dampfbummelzuege/, (link dead by April 2015)
The Murtalbahn started out life in 1894 and was run by the state-owned kkStb until 1st July 1921 when the StmLB took over. It's notable as being the line for which the first of the classic Austrian U class 0-6-2T's were built. The StmLB has always maintained the old kkStb numbering system so the locos still carry their U class numberplates. The steam trains run between Murau, the line's operating HQ, and Tamsweg. The scenery for the whole of this stretch is little short of spectacular. It runs mostly along the Mur valley before turning abruptly to the north at Madling and climbing 50 metres over the next 8km to Tamsweg. The track remains in situ for the 1.5km from Tamsweg to St. Andra from where Club 760's tourist trains run at weekends for a little under 8km to the old terminus at Mauterndorf. The scenery here is more open but is still scenic. Mauterndorf station is little changed with a substantial main building and, at the line's furthest point, a small one-road loco shed.
I called at Murau on a Thursday hoping to see the late afternoon steam train to Tamsweg which was due to leave around one hour later . There's a note in the timetable to the effect that it would only run if at least 30 passengers showed up and the staff had clearly decided that they weren't going to achieve this as the loco was back in the shed, still warm and dripping but with no fire. This is maybe a line to ride and to enjoy the scenery rather then to photograph as the five coaches still standing in the station carry some of the most varied and garish paint schemes anywhere. Why do some railways believe that this attracts custom? Comments I've heard during my travels suggest that the vast majority of visitors to heritage railways, and not just enthusiasts, would much rather see something more appropriate to a heritage operation. That said the staff at Murau were most accommodating and happy to let me wander freely around the running shed where four of the line's steam loco's reside as well as a storage building a little down the line where U43, the fifth loco, is kept.
I called in at Mauterndorf the following morning and found Club 760's volunteers raising steam in 0-6-2T S12, one of three of these locos bought by the StmLB from the late and much lamented Salzkammergut Lokalbahn after its closure on 30th September 1957, the others being no's S7 and S11. S12 has the melancholy distinction of having hauled the SKGLB's last train. The design pre-dated the U class and on the SKGLB the locos had always run with short side tanks. The StmLB rebuilt S7 with long tanks reaching to the front of the smokebox in U-class style, as it also did with its ex-German army 0-8-0T no. 19 which it had bought from the SKGLB in 1955. Puzzlingly the StmLB renumbered this loco 699.01 which must have caused endless confusion with the OBB's 699.01 which had been a similar loco before the SKGLB one was rebuilt. The OBB's 699.01 was bought by Club 760 in 1973 and is another working loco at Mauterndorf. The StmLB's 699.01, meanwhile, had been sold in 1969 to the Welshpool & Llanfair. It's still there as no. 10 "Sir Drefaldwyn" but sadly it hasn't run for many years.
S12 was sold in 1972 to a museum near Marxell bei Karlsruhe in Germany and moved on in 1996 to the SKGLB museum at Mondsee which is still home to the other three surviving SKGLB 0-6-2T's It was bought by Club 760 in 2003 and restored to working order at Ceske Velenice works in the Czech Republic. It now looks magnificent. Tucked away in the gloom at the back of the shed was 0-6-0T no. Z6 "Thörl". The Z stands for Zell-am-See and both the Pinzgau and Murtal lines were worked by similar 0-6-0T's before the War. It has been in working order up until quite recently and may still be now though it doesn't look as though it's moved for a while. It looked to be in an almost unphotographable position but the volunteers kindly offered to open the rear doors of the shed to let the light in. We wrestled with the doors for quite some time before they reluctantly agreed to open, something which I guess they hadn't done for a long time! There are other locos at Mauterndorf which are housed in a modern building at the far end of the site along with the society's coaches which, sadly, rival the StmLB's stock for their variegated paint scheme. The train wasn't due to run until some hours later and as the volunteers were busy I decided not to ask them if they could unlock the building and moved on.
S7 and S11, the other two SKGLB 0-6-2T's bought by the StmLB, have also survived and both now belong to Club 760. S7, still with its long tanks, lives in the club's storage/museum building at Frojach, a few km along the Murtalbahn to the east of Murau. The building only opens to the public on a few days each year so the loco is not easily visited. S11 ran for many years on the Stainz line but is now one of the locos in the big storage shed at Mauterndorf.