The International Steam Pages
The Hartsfeld Museumsbahn, 2018
James Waite writes about one of Germany's lesser known preserved railways.
This metre gauge railway ran for 55km between Aalen, in eastern Baden-Wurttemberg, and Dillingen in Bavaria and took its name from a plateau across which it ran for most of the distance. It opened between 1901 and 1906 and was closed in 1972, being dismantled during the following three years. Its early locomotive history was complicated and initially involved some tram engines but it settled down to operation with three 0-4-4-0 Mallet tanks built by Hohenzollern and then bought two superheated 0-4-0Tís, noís 11 and 12 (Esslingen 3710 and 3711) in 1913. One of the Mallets was requisitioned by the German army in 1916 and was lost in the fighting at Verdun. Diesel railcars took over in 1956 and the two remaining Mallets were promptly scrapped but the 0-4-0Tís were kept in reserve until 1963 and have both been preserved. They were built as mixed traffic locomotives and not as shunters as I originally thought, and they regularly worked many trains, especially after the loss of the Mallet in 1916.
The railway started out with a series of bogie coaches but later bought second hand ones from several other lines including the Brunigbahn in Switzerland and a rack railway in Stuttgart. The chassis of two of the bogie coaches were reused with new railcar trailer bodies after 1956 - one of them is the red and cream vehicle in the first of these pictures - and all the other old coaches were scrapped.
The preservation society got going in 1985 and their operations have always been based at Neresheim which was the old lineís principal intermediate station. Initially they set up a museum there and relaid some of the track within the station limits. No 12 first ran again in 1996. The society later rebuilt about 4km of the line to the south and opened it in 2001. Since then they have been rebuilding a further stretch and it is likely to open within the next couple of years. They have acquired a coach from the Brohltalbahn which is almost identical to the original bogie coaches, two from the Stuttgart rack line and one from the Brunigbahn and so can operate a good-looking train even though all the coaches have come from elsewhere. I canít help thinking of O gauge Hornby clockwork trains whenever I see an 0-4-0T working a train but this one is authentic in every way.
The fourth picture shows no 11 which has been undergoing restoration for many years. It has never run in preservation and the railway is hoping that its old boiler can be fixed though this is still some time away. The railcar out of use in the shed in the fifth of these photos was built by MAN in 1960 for the Sudharz Eisenbahn which was a part of the Harz system and connected with the Nordhausen - Wernigerode line at Sorge. Most of it ran on the western side of the East/West German border and it stopped running in 1962, soon after the border was closed. This railcar arrived on the Hartsfeldbahn in 1964 and became its no T37. It is stored awaiting restoration. The railcar in the sixth photo, no T33, was built by Wismar in 1934 for the Bremen - Tarmstedt line. It arrived in the late 1950ís and was fitted with a new body at Neresheim in the early 1960s. It first ran again after restoration in 1994. Here it is leaving the engine shed during a relatively bright spell of weather to work the last service of the day.
The large building on the hillside at Neresheim in the first photo is a Benedictine abbey, with an enormous baroque church built in the late 1700ís which is bigger than many cathedrals and is a major attraction in this part of Germany. The third photo is one that wouldnít be possible on a sunny day as it is looking more or less due south and shows the line squeezing through the space between the old engine shed, the half-timbered building, and what was once a railway workshop though itís now let out. The old station building at Neresheim is still there, now used as a good and inexpensive restaurant, but the site of the tracks and platform is now occupied by a car park and the railway is confined to what was the yard.
The railway used rollbocke for standard gauge wagons and the van in some of these photos is fitted with sg buffers and couplings, as are the railcars as the railway never had a diesel locomotive and so the railcars had to haul the freight trains after the end of steam.
The staff very kindly left the locomotive outside the shed until it was dark, 3 hours or so after its working day had ended, so that I could take some night shots, which more than made up for the dismal weather during the day! Very helpful and generous people. This shed is only just big enough to house one of the 0-4-0Tís and isnít original but was built as the ďrealĒ shed had been taken over as a council depot and they didnít give it up until quite recently. The volunteers were incredibly friendly. The trains were packed out with passengers but there was no-one else there who was obviously an enthusiast - though I guess this could just have been because of the poor weather. Itís a brilliant little line.
We stayed at the Landhotel zur Kanne at Ohmenheim, only about 2km north of Neresheim in a delightfully rural and informal location with excellent and reasonably-priced food and run by a friendly family. Excellent local beer, and relatively local wine, is also on offer there. Highly recommended.