The International Steam Pages

Dampfkleinbahn Bad Orb, 17th May, 2015:

Thomas Kautzor writes:

Although at 6.5 km in length the ‘Dampfkleinbahn Bad Orb’ (DBO, is the longest steam-operated 600 mm gauge line in Western Germany and the third longest in Germany (after the Waldeisenbahn Muskau (WEM) and the Berliner Parkeisenbahn (BPE)), it is not well known even among German narrow gauge railfans. Some of it might have to do with the fact that its locomotive and rolling stock are not “authentic”, but also with the fact that it is not a museum railway, but officially offering a public service, even though it only operates two pairs of trains on Sundays and holidays from Easter to the end of October.

Hohenzollern type ‘Fuchs’ 40 hp 0-4-0T No. 4382/1925 had been delivered new to the Eichelgrün Brothers in Köln and later saw use at the Annawerke ceramic factory in Coburg, in northern Bavaria. In 1937 it was sold to building contractors Wischnewsky & Göbel of Coburg and used on construction sites for the Berlin – Hof motorway. In 1972 it was plinthed in a children's playground in the city park at Rödental near Coburg, from where it was retrieved by the ‘Museumseisenbahn Paderborn (MEP)’ in 1987 and resold to Rolf Jinowetz of Schlüchtern (30 km NW of Bad Orb) a year later.

Rolf painstakingly restored the locomotive over the following few years, turning her into a tender locomotive  in the process. In 1995, the locomotive, now No. 1 and named “Emma”, was put in service on the specially-built ‘König-Ludwig-Bahn’ in Bad Brückenau, a Bavarian thermal resort 45 km east of Bad Orb. As it was impossible to extend the line all the way to the town’s major thermal bath owing to a land dispute and a lack of support from the municipality, the line at Bad Brückenau became a failure and in 2000 Rolf moved his equipment to Bad Orb (most of the extensive trackage at Bad Brückenau remains in place to this day).

Also a thermal resort (in Hessen), Bad Orb was linked to Wächtersbach, on the main line between Frankfurt and Fulda by a private standard gauge railway, the ‘Bad Orber Kleinbahn AG’, which was operated with three other local lines since 1937 as part of the ‘Gelnhäuser Kreisbahnen’. In 1995 the branch to Bad Orb was the last of the four to close, it had until then been operated in passenger service with three MaK 0-6-0DH, of which VL 11 and 12 (MaK 240 C No. 220036-7/1957) are now preserved at the Darmstadt-Kranichstein railway museum together with the two-coach reversible trainset, while VL 13 (MaK 240 C No. 220060/1959) was plinthed at Birstein station.

After a few failed attempts to reopen the line, a solution was found by regauging it to 600mm and having Rolf Jirowetz operate it with his steam locomotive. From Bad Orb, the line was converted in stages by moving one of the two rails closer to the other. On May 26, 2001 a first section of 1.4 km was reopened to the halt at Aumühle and in August 2002 over half of the line, including the tunnel under motorway 66, to the now disused halt at Aufenauer Berg. Between this point and the junction with the double-track DB line between Frankfurt/Main and Fulda, there are three bridges, a concrete bridge over road 276, a steel bridge over the Kinzig River and another steel bridge over a small local road. At first it was unclear if it would be safe enough to again let the railway operate over those bridges, but on 29th October, 2006 the railway was reopened all the way to Wächtersbach. For one kilometer it runs parallel to the DB main line, which is extensively used by ICEs on their way to join the high-speed line at Fulda. At Wächtersbach the line ends at platform 21, after arrival the train is fly-shunted into the loop by the loco, which then proceeds to run around it. Services connect with RegioExpress (42 min.) and RegioBahn (54 min.) trains from and to Frankfurt/Main via Hanau.

The four bogie coaches in use on the DBO were built by Rolf Jirowetz using the frames of Czech 760mm gauge six-wheel wagons (Akc. Fabryka Wagonów I Maszyn w Sanoku. 1911), Heeresfeldbahn bogies and side panels from German standard gauge passenger coaches. Green coaches No. 101, 102 and 104 have 24 seats, while red coach No. 103 is a bar coach with 18 seats and only one end platform on one side.

Also on the railway are two LKM 30 hp Ns2f four-wheel diesels, No. 248638/1955 and 262948/1958, both obtained by Rolf from an East German brickworks (1994 and 1991 ex VEB Thüringer Ziegelwerke Erfurt, Betriebsabteilung Höngeda/Seebach Nr. 02 and 07). On the day of my visit the first one was heading a works train, while the second one was used to shunt the empty stock to the station platform at Bad Orb, but they could also be used as spare locos in case the steam loco might have a problem.

At Bad Orb, both the 1901 two-track loco shed which is used to house the DBO’s stock, and the 1925/26 station building, which houses a restaurant, the DBO’s ticket office, a kiosk and an exhibition hall on the ground floor and apartments on the first floor, are listed historical buildings.

There are no specific captions for the pictures, the context should be obvious from the text above.

Rob Dickinson