The International Steam Pages

Steam in Germany 2004

Despite extensive privatisation, most German narrow-gauge lines are commercial operations with paid staff, providing a year-round service, often when hardly a single tourist can be seen - especially on early and late school/commuter trains. Most of the eight lines are 750mm-gauge and use versions of the standard German 2-10-2T.

'Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB)' (metre-gauge):

Germany's most extensive narrow-gauge system, with a main line from Wernigerode to Nordhausen and a linking secondary line from Eisfelder Talmühle to Gernrode, plus branches to Harzgerode, Hasselfelde and Brocken. Many trains are now diesel railcars, but the Brocken mountaintop is besieged with tourists throughout the year, so this service is generally 100% steam. A limited steam service runs over the rest of the 131.24-km network, except between Eisfelder Talmühle and Stiege. Steam turns out of Gernrode are likely to be behind a 2-6-2T or if lucky 0-4-4-0T Mallet. On Fridays and Saturdays in summer both are often in action, as the railcar service cannot cope.

One train is worthy of note until 30 April 2004, the 06:43 Nordhausen - Ilfeld and 07:10 return. The frequent Nordhausen - Ilfeld shuttle is railcar-worked but on schooldays in Thüringen the 07:10 is packed with students and a locomotive-hauled train has to be used, complete with 2-10-2T! This is as 'real' as it gets! Alas from May 2004 this duty too will become railcar.

Looking ahead to 2006, this system will be even bigger! The standard gauge connection through Gernrode closes during 2004, however money has already been allocated towards converting a 9-km section of this line to metre gauge. This will link Gernrode and HSB with the important tourist centre of Quedlinburg (UNESCO World Heritage site).

Ostseebad Kühlungsborn West - Bad Doberan (900mm-gauge):

This Baltic coast line runs an early-morning commuter/school service on working days, with regular passenger trains throughout the day. Three 2-8-2Ts and one 0-8-0T work the 100% steam service.

Lauterbach Mole - Putbus - Göhren:

The island of Rügen has always been a major tourist hotspot, but this line also runs trains long before the visitors are out of bed. There is a variety of locomotives here, with 0-8-0T, 2-8-0T and 2-10-2Ts, although there is one 'main line' diesel.

Cranzahl - Kurort Oberwiesenthal

Zittau-Kurort Oybin/Kurort Jonsdorf:

Both these Saxon lines now see a fairly restricted service with no early-morning commuter trains, but the daily service remains 100% steam-worked.

Radebeul Ost - Radeburg

Perhaps the most 'real' German line, being operated by German Railways (DB), but not for much longer. DB tried to dispose of the line to bus company BVO (operator of the Cranzahl line) in time for the new timetable that started 14 December 2003. Negotiations were not completed in time and BVO will not take charge until 01 April 2004. Until then a much-reduced 'one engine' service will be operated.

At least the 04:50 M-F Radebeul Ost - Radeburg and 06:04 return survives for the school traffic. This train only runs when the schools are open.

What BVO plans remains to be seen, but they are supportive of steam, although if the 'real' trains survive is another matter and the timetable could be reduced to the times that tourists are likely to travel.

Freital-Hainsberg - Kurort Kipsdorf:

Another DB line, but unfortunately the terrible floods that hit central Europe during mid-August 2002 destroyed the Freital-Hainsberg line. Reconstruction work is more talked about than progressed and seeing trains operating once more is receding way into the future.

At least local supporters are not allowing the line to be ignored and most weekends and holidays they operate a shuttle between Dippoldiswalde and Seifersdorf, but this is hardly 'real' steam action.

Travel Tip:

Fares on the steam trains can be fairly expensive, but most of the lines offer weekly runabout tickets, which can be very good value for money. Even if only taking a small number of rides over a couple of days, a weekly ticket is likely to be worth buying.

Rob Dickinson