The International Steam Pages

Linz to Leibnitz, tortuously – Austria 1970

Robert Hall writes of looking for steam in Austria most of a lifetime ago... Other parts of the holiday are covered elsewhere on this site:

There is a map of the route taken at the bottom of this page or click here to open the map in a new window.

Call me Scrooge if you will; but I have made it a, hopefully, lifelong work (successful for 45 years to date) to avoid seeing the film "The Sound of Music" - it having always struck me as the horrid ultimate in sugary, sentimental filmic goo. That aside: the country in which the schmalz-fest takes place, would seem to have some rather odd inhabitants who periodically, gruesomely get into the news. Notwithstanding this, on my only visit to Austria to date – a railwaying one forty years ago – it struck me as in the main, a delectable place. More steam would have been nice; but in Western Europe in 1970, you cut your coat according to your cloth.

My "trip to where they didn't trap the von Trapps" was in August 1970, and lasted a week. A frustratingly short time in the light of what was then available in Austria, and meaning unavoidably skipping many things which would have been wonderful to see; but one plays the hand which one is dealt. This was part of a fairly long Central / Eastern European bash with two gricing friends from university – different schedules for each of us, and my Austrian week was the only part of the expedition featuring the three of us together. For my part of our travels, Austria had to be balanced against attention to more exotic places further east – there was overall less time available, than would have been good to have, and Austria had to be allotted a beggarly week. Will refer to my two comrades as "Q." and "F.". Both have already featured in "Travellers' Tales". Q. was my companion later in this same grice, in Roumania; F. was the "Mr. Know-it-all" of the tour in France three years previously. Q. and F. had started their Austrian travels (for which we all used railrover tickets throughout) towards the west of the country, something like a week before me. They and I rendezvoused on a prearranged morning, at Linz Hauptbahnhof, that city's main station.

For the week which I spent in Austria, the three of us toured rail attractions in the eastern half of the country. I flatter myself that on the whole, I am blessed with an excellent memory for the events of "grices past". As regards summer 1970, however, the memory cells seem to be doing some letting me down – concerning this Austria tour, and more so for the succeeding week which Q. and I spent in Jugoslavia – which (what is remembered of it) I hope to recount in a future piece. Memory has served me perfectly well, concerning the final leg of the bash in Roumania – there's no knowing "how come". 

Regarding Austria, I remember which venues we covered; but some of the details of how we got between them, are rather obscured for me by the mists of time – and life's vicissitudes have meant that notes and pictures taken during the week, are long gone. This piece will be a matter of reconstructing as best possible, the nuts and bolts of the itinerary (which I recall our having devised as an intricate and ingenious one) – total accuracy not guaranteed.

My first sight of Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) steam proved to be a 4-6-2T of class 77 working a freight through Linz Hauptbahnhof – as it turned out, my only sighting of this class in my infuriatingly brief time in Austria. This first day of ours as a threesome, was dedicated to ÖBB's 760 mm gauge Steyrtalbahn: an all-steam-worked conventional narrow gauge line (i.e. not a mountain-rack job) with a regular passenger service – as at 1970, the only line in the country meeting those stipulations. Thus, a diesel-hauled departure from Linz as soon as possible, along the standard-gauge due southward: objective Klaus, junction and southern end for the 760mm line. Memory concerning most features of our visit to this system, is annoyingly vague. At this time its passenger service ran only between Garsten (northern end., junction with s/g) and Molln; a daily return freight working traversed the approx. 10 km from Molln on to Klaus. Trips in the brake-van of freights were possible to arrange with ÖBB – the previous week, my companions had done this on the steam-worked freight-only 760mm gauge line (as at then, soon to be abandoned) at Völkermarkt in Austria's far south. I seem to recall that it was hoped to travel thus on the freight from Klaus to Molln; but in the event, this was not feasible, for whatever reason – it might have been that my train into Linz had arrived later than scheduled. We had to content ourselves with a bus journey Klaus - Molln, seeing en route plenty of the narrow gauge line, which fairly closely followed the road. At Molln, we transferred to the Steyrtalbahn's quite generous rail passenger service. (Austrian narrow gauge was not characterised by that which beset many of its counterparts "beyond the Curtain" – very sparse passenger workings, to a tantalising / maddening degree.)

The Steyrtalbahn – then worked entirely by the delightful long-chimneyed 0-6-2Ts of class 298.0 / 298.1 – is remembered by me as having been found extremely pleasant. Frustratingly, though, almost all details of the experience have vanished from the memory-banks. Only a brief flash of recollection remains, of travelling on the front balcony of the train's first coach, contemplating the loco's smokebox and chimney as it hauled us bunker-first. This line lasted for another dozen years under ÖBB management, all-steam to the end. When the state railways called it quits, a preservation society saved, and still operates with steam, the route's 17 km median section from Steyr (n/g station) to Grünburg.

If I remember correctly, for this Austrian week we mostly stayed in youth hostels. My first night in the country, we definitely spent in the Y.H. in the picturesque town of Steyr, which had both narrow-gauge and standard-gauge ÖBB stations, widely separated – the lines of different gauges took different routes, to meet at the junction of Garsten. We made sure of travelling over the passenger-served part of the n/g line, in its entirety: the following morning, caught the 760mm train from the appropriate Steyr station, to Garsten. Southbound thence, on the standard gauge. Electrification on the s/g secondary routes in this corner of the country was at this time proceeding apace, but was not yet completely accomplished – some diesel, and a little steam, action continued under and amongst the advancing "knitting". Our goal for the day, was ÖBB's amazing steam-worked standard-gauge rack line across the mountains from Eisenerz to Vordernberg. Modern traction of whichever kind, initially took us southwards toward this "holy grail". A change of trains was necessary at Kleinreifling junction; while waiting there, we were regaled by a class 52 2-10-0 coming in on a freight. This was my first-ever meeting with one of the Third Reich's "go-anywhere-do-anything" World War II Austerity-type locos, which performed sterling work in a large assortment of countries for decades longer than their creators had envisaged (it is thought likely that as this is written, a few of the type remain in industrial service in Bosnia).

In ÖBB steam's later years, numerous locos were fitted with the performance-enhancing, but in my view hideously flattened-and-foreshortened Giesl ejector chimney; but a fairly big minority were spared this treatment, and this "Kriegslok" at Kleinreifling was one such. It became rather a keynote of the week, that as at 1970, relatively modern and ordinary standard-gauge steam types appeared to be getting scarce in everyday action on ÖBB, except in certain restricted areas – overall, it was the one-off oddities of various kinds that seemed to linger and even prosper. This phenomenon continued to hold good up to the very end – early 1980s – for steam in genuine everyday service on ÖBB. Conventional standard-gauge steam had finished several years before – a few "weirdies" of assorted kinds, lasted longer. Incidentally – many enthusiasts who visited Austria in this period, seem to have been struck by a tendency of ÖBB's steam locos, to be depressingly dirty – worse so, than in most countries with steam. Not a feature which strongly registered with me – and not that we encountered all that many active steam locos. Out of those whose acquaintance we did make, I seem to recall a couple quite lovingly polished, a couple filthy, and assorted intermediate stages between those extremes.

Austria is a land with much famously magnificent mountain scenery. However, one of the many frustrating things about steam's gradual decline worldwide, was the practicalities being such that in the main, spectacular and arduous mountain lines were selected for early conversion to modern traction; as an American enthusiast observed about his own country in the 1950s, "steam fared best in the flatlands". This was a tendency, not a universal rule. It obtained in Austria as elsewhere – my week in the country was spent mostly in not-super-impressive terrain; however, a couple of bits of mountaineering action were got – pre-eminently, on our day on the "Iron Mountain line" (Erzbergbahn).

(This website has two pages of pictures – summer and winter – of steam worked trains on this line. RD)

This was, I believe, "Austria proper" 's only section of standard-gauge rack railway – inaugurated in 1891 to carry iron ore extracted from the huge mine at Eisenerz (the name indeed meaning "iron ore") south-eastwards uphill-and-down-again, for it to be processed at the steelworks at Leoben / Donawitz.. The rack covered most of the 21 km between Eisenerz and Vordernberg, south of where conventional traction sufficed. This line was opened with steam in 1891, and was still doing its job with steam – principally, the class 97 rack-and-adhesion 0-6-2Ts with which type the route had been inaugurated –- in 1970. As well as the ore trains (usually 97s front and rear), there were three local passenger workings each way per day over the rack between Eisenerz and Vordernberg, with additional passenger runs on the short section Vordernberg - Vordernberg (Markt). All passenger was 97. There were less direct alternative non-rack lines, potentially linking the mines with the works: an outside observer might have conjectured that if efficiency at all costs had been ÖBB's goal, they could likely have got rid of the rack route "way back in history" – but, gift horses and all that.

Normal "adhesion" branch lines fed into the rack section at each end. Modern traction brought us to Hieflau, junction for the branch to the rack line's north-western extremity at Eisenerz. If I remember correctly, when we were there electric catenary was up, throughout the branch, but not yet switched on. The branch passenger train to Eisenerz was hauled by an ex-German State Railways 2-8-2T, some thirty years old, of class 86. We then enjoyed a slow but delightful journey with class 97 power, on the passenger train (three four-wheel coaches) "up the hill" from Eisenerz, with the loco propelling, engaging the rack where appropriate, to the summit at Präbichl; the 0-6-2T ran round there, and preceded its train downgrade and down-rack to Vordernberg, end of the "cogwheel stuff" and start of electrification. Magnificent scenery all the way.

Whereas line working on the Iron Mountain was very much the preserve of the venerable 97s, there were also three enormous and somewhat newer rack-and-adhesion 0-12-0Ts, class 197. These giants worked chiefly on shunting duties, predominantly at the Vordernberg end; we witnessed one performing said role at that point. Back again "over the hump" with 97 power, from Vordernberg to Eisenerz. The connecting local to Hieflau was, for certain, steam: I seem to recall, class 52 2-10-0, though this is one of the points where memory cannot be rated dead certain.

As often in Austria, the subsequent history of this – when we saw it, wonderfully anachronistic – line, was in part sad, but also (in this case, "I think") characterised by a silver lining. The steam position as described above continued for a few years after 1970, but assorted expedients which might supplant steam, were investigated and tried out. It was ultimately found that for passenger, diesel railbuses; and for freight, diesel locos if of sufficient power; could handle the route without need for resorting to rack The last regular steam workings ran in 1978; a couple of years later, some parts of the rack rail were lifted, making rack steam specials thenceforth impossible. In the late 1980s: electrification was extended over the short Vordernberg - Vordernberg (Markt) stretch; freight traffic over the ex-rack line ceased; and a couple of years later, its railbus passenger service was withdrawn too. However, a preservation undertaking, which had had an active interest in the line since the 1970s, was able ultimately to acquire the (still in situ) Eisenerz - Vordernberg line, which – it is understood (though this seems a very low-profile undertaking) – has been thus running as a tourist operation "in season", using ex-ÖBB railbuses, since 2003. Intending passengers cannot reach these workings by rail: the state railways' long-electrified branches to both extremities of the preserved line, are now without passenger services. One of the class 97 tanks is preserved static at Vordernberg.

After the scenery-orgy of the Iron Mountain bash, it was "farewell to the mountains" for the next few days, as we proceeded to work our way gradually towards Vienna, following the basic west-east course of the river Danube. In the roughly 150 km stretch of country between Linz and Vienna, there is the main trunk line (electric, and was so in 1970) south of the river; and a long secondary route doing essentially the same thing, but north thereof. Adhering to the cherished gricing principle of "not the quick and sensible way, but the slow and weird one", our gradual progress toward the capital, was on the north-bank secondary line. At this time, passenger services on this route were handled by diesel railcars – ÖBB came across as a system which liked this mode of passenger transit, and made much use of it. In 1970, ÖBB's railcars sported a rather nice dark-blue-and-cream livery. Off we went by railcar, from St. Valentin junction, through Mauthausen of evil memory, and eastward along the valley – between quietly-impressive hills – of the always-in-sight broad, not very blue, and decidedly mucky Danube. Disembarked at the halt of Rollfähre-Melk, and over the river on the eponymous ferry, to the south-bank town of Melk, with its magnificent Benedictine abbey – and the first of two nights in Melk youth hostel.

The following day was a narrow-gauge-plus-trams-dedicated one, south of "Anduin the Great River". Electric along the main line, east from Melk to St. Pölten. F. was a very big tram fan – so on arrival in St. Pölten, first order of business was a comprehensive bash of the odd little standard-gauge tram system which then served the town. "System" perhaps gives the wrong impression – if I remember rightly, it was just a single north-to-south route linking town with suburbs at either end. We duly travelled the length of the line, at a sedate pace in its four-wheeled red and cream tramcars. Next on the list, was narrow gauge – again, Federal Railways' sections thereof. ÖBB had a 760mm gauge system based on St. Pölten – still largely in business "one way or another – privatised" as this is written: essentially two branches, one electric, south into the mountains to Mariazell and a little beyond – spectacular and performing marvellous acrobatics; one non-electric, basically westwards initially through pleasant but undramatic countryside, terminating at last after a run of something over sixty kilometres, at Gresten. The two lines divided at Obergrafendorf, about 10 km out of St. Pölten. Everything was electric-loco-hauled as far as Obergrafendorf; there, for the Gresten line, other traction (as at 1970, exclusively diesel) took over.

Our goal being narrow-gauge variety within a small compass, rather than scenery: we set off with electric traction as far as Obergrafendorf, alighting there. In those years, this place was the location of a dump of withdrawn ÖBB 760mm steam locos. We walked out from the station a few hundred yards along the track to the dump (Austria was splendidly relaxed about actions of this sort). There were present at least a dozen locomotives, of a wide variety of classes – duly admired and recorded, though as described, my records are long gone. "Barry" comparisons were and are irresistible – even down to a large proportion of the specimens concerned, ultimately being saved for preservation.

When we visited, steam's only presence on this system was – as above – dead at "OGD". Our train on westward was diesel-loco-hauled – by what I think was a class 2095 B-B. In British eyes to which "abroad" was fairly new, a curious-looking machine with the oddity of coupling rods on its motor bogies. We trundled in leisurely fashion behind the B-B for an hour-plus, through quietly eye-pleasing rural scenes, with many intermediate halts including Mank, as per latest information the western limit of operation on this line. We alighted at – to give it its full title – Wieselburg an der Erlauf. The 760mm train went on its way toward Gresten, while we transferred to the connecting standard-gauge branch. This line, basically north-south between Pöchlarn and Kienberg-Gaming, had been all-steam with class 93 2-8-2Ts not many months previously; but our journey on it was in a diesel railcar. Since I recall no "shock, horror" factor or copious profanity, I conclude that we must have been aware either that the line had gone diesel, or that we were likely to find this the situation. Our railcar took us via further agreeable if low-key terrain, and a number of stops, to the main line at Pöchlarn; a short electric run thence, back to Melk. 

In those times Austria was chock-full of narrow-gauge, both ÖBB and independent: conventional railways (pretty well invariably 760 mm gauge), outfits more in the rural electric-tram bracket (could be 760 mm gauge, or metre), and rack lines (for which metre gauge was favoured) – with varyingly steam, diesel, and electric traction (nothing horse-hauled, that I recall !) A pleasingly large amount of all this, survives today  – or in a couple of cases, did so until very recently – whether in a "real", or "tourist / preserved", context. With the wretchedly short time available to me in Austria – the day's journey just described, and the Steyrtalbahn, were my entire experience of narrow gauge action in the country. At least I was able to sample all three modes of traction, and see some highly interesting steam derelicts. None of the three of us was the kind of gricer for whom if it isn't active steam, it is just absolutely no fun; so we enjoyed our circular tour, "traction irrespective".

The following day, back over the ferry to the Danube north bank line, and an eastbound railcar following the river. By dint of journey-details now lost to memory (but involving, for fairly sure, no steam) we arrived around lunchtime at Vienna (Franz Josefs Bahnhof). F. was something of a "Renaissance man", passionately interested in and knowledgeable about everything on rails, and likewise re many other aspects of life – heaven knows how he found the time to study or sleep. (And, he was somewhat of a "lady-killer". Some people – don't you just hate 'em.) As per the above, F. was a strong culture-buff – a thing which could not have been said of Q. or myself. And, he had the force of personality to get railfan companions to go along with him on cultural interludes in the grice. We thus spent the afternoon on one such – an excursion to the (indeed splendid) former imperial palace of Schönbrunn, a little way west of Vienna. At that time, there was a little steam passenger working out of the capital, but nothing hugely intensive or impressive. If it had been "hugely.", it is greatly probable that I at any rate (Q. maybe a "floating voter") would have waved the culture contingent off on its palace trip, with a "see you tonight". 

With F. having got his imperial-pomp-fix, the following day was a solidly gricing one – spent in the corner of the country north-east of Vienna, close in places to the border of Czechoslovakia: this district called, if I have things rightly, the Weinviertel. At this time, said area – with low-lying, pleasant enough but unspectacular, landscapes – housed a most splendid system of country branch lines which was also a bastion of steam, in the shape of 2-8-2Ts of class 93 (the type which, if our holiday had taken place a little earlier, we would have met on the Pöchlarn line). This day furnished my only concentrated experience in Austria, of "ordinary and normal" steam.

"Continental Railway Journal" for December 1972 splendidly describes the Weinviertel scene. "The whole dense network of lightly-trafficked railways in thinly-populated agricultural country is well worth a visit for its unique branch-line atmosphere. Many trains are mixed, and consist of perhaps two four-wheeled coaches followed by any number of wagons; the schedules are very slow, but often not slow enough to allow for the protracted shunting at wayside stations which gives passengers (never, it seems, more than a handful) rides over quite long sidings, and ample opportunity for photography. The network would probably not survive five minutes if Austria were ever to appoint a Beeching."

Our day in this "land that time forgot" – a situation which in one kind of railway enthusiast, would arouse drooling, nostalgic delight; in another kind, scathing contempt and an ardent desire to cry "havoc !" and let slip the demolition trains – began diesel-hauled from Vienna (Praterstern) station early in the morning, along the main line toward the border at Břeclav, with what in those simpler times was Czechoslovakia. Nowadays, Břeclav is a frontier point with the Czech Republic. We en route, were able to look out to our right, into what was then Czechoslovakia – but is now, Slovakia. All honour to the Czechs and Slovaks for parting on good terms, without bloodshed; but for us West European types blessed with relative simplicity over such things, that business can make for getting-head-around problems. We left our main-line train at Hohenau, and transferred onto the secondary system.

There followed a number of delightful hours on leisurely branch trains hauled by class 93 2-8-2 tanks – then ÖBB's second most numerous steam class, after the 52s. To my mind, quite attractive locos, with tallish chimneys where those were left "as should be", and not replaced by Giesl ejectors. Our experiences that day confirmed in hearts and spades, CRJ's account quoted above; and reinforced the "general picture got", that Austrians are laid-back characters who don't take life too seriously. CRJ and other learned works inform us that in those times, a minority of workings on these lines were railcar: if any such were witnessed by us, they have disappeared from my memory. Our journey over the system was by three successive 93-hauled workings.

Passenger accommodation on these trains was indeed four-wheeled coaches with slatted wooden seats – far from the only experience of same during my week in Austria. Our first run on the system was on a Hohenau - Mistelbach mixed train, behind a bunker-first non-Gieslised 93. We were easily able to negotiate unofficial footplate rides, with the friendly loco crew. They turned out to be interested in Northern Ireland's "troubles", which they'd heard about on the news; imparting a worthwhile amount of information – in any language – about that labyrinthine subject, proved to be beyond me. In this part of the journey, we were intrigued to see numerous oil-pumping apparatus, nodding away against an incongruous backdrop of green fields. The small oilfield here, supplied a tiny percentage of Austria's total requirement of the commodity – a parallel with the British equivalent in Dorset.

We reached Mistelbach, the system's mini-Crewe, and location of the depot where its 93s dwelt; and embarked on another mixed, heading southward from Mistelbach towards the main-line junction of Gänserndorf. The 93 heading this train, was afflicted with a "Giesl funnel". Plenty on this run, to delight Colonel Stephens and enrage "lean and mean" efficiency experts. There was a lengthy session of shunting wagons at Gaweinstal; and at Pirawarth, one of the system's numerous little junctions, the booked timetable was overrun a little, for train crew and passengers alike to engage in picking ripe plums in a tempting orchard adjoining the station. All could have been from a script deliberately written "for them as likes that sort of thing"; Titfield comes to mind. Onward a few kilometres to the next junction, Gross Schweinbarth. We left the Gänserndorf train there, to await one expected in a while, which would bear us most of the way back to Vienna. 

The late-afternoon sun bathing the landscape's gentle undulations northwards, and the general "feel-good" quality of the day's travels, combined to produce a benign and sentimental mood – I could even perhaps have endured, for once, Julie Andrews and the brood showing up, carolling away fortissimo. what did come along out of the mini-hills to the north, was the marvellous combination of two 93s (both "Giesl-less"), and two four-wheeled coaches. That really got to me – consist and scenic backdrop felt like a wondrous distillation of what the steam-age Central and Eastern European rail scene was all about – thoughts of the film "Doctor Zhivago" – they should have shot its railway scenes in the Weinviertel, instead of the outlandish places that they actually used.

At Gross Schweinbarth, the assemblage hooked up to two more four-wheelers, and set off with us aboard – turning sharp right at the junction immediately after the station, on to the branch to Stammersdorf, in Vienna's far-northern suburbs. It was subsequently learnt that the double-heading was daily standard operating procedure, and in fact made sense: after reaching the terminus at early-evening commuting time, the 2-8-2Ts took on different outbound trains, to different destinations, departing within a few minutes of each other. Part of this line is, to the best of my knowledge, still in diesel-worked passenger service today; but the final stretch into Stammersdorf is no more. We said a reluctant farewell there to "93-land", and took a long tram-ride back to the city centre.

This – in my eyes heavenly – scene, carried on with little change, for a couple more years after my visit; the area proved in fact to be one of ÖBB's final locations with conventional steam in service. Steam's very last knockings here, after a few years' step-by-step decline, were about the end of 1976. It can be inferred that the hypothesised "Herr Beeching" did his number in the Weinviertel, around the late 1980s; as regards passenger services, anyway – some freight apparently lasted longer. Plus (as touched on above) some bits of the system in the part of the region closer to Vienna, survived – now, seemingly, carrying passenger traffic solely; enough to allow modern-traction re-enacting, of only a sadly small fragment of our 1970 day's travels.

The next day was Q.'s and my last in Austria – planned to be a long and action-packed one, conveying us from Vienna to the Jugoslav border for an overnight run into "Photters' Hell", pausing en route to take in a couple of Austrian attractions. F. would be with us for some of the way, after which we would part company, and he – a self-confessed Austria-junkie – would spend another week or so in the country, covering scenes hitherto missed out on. Also, F. was reluctant to stray outside of Western Europe. He was something of a "cold warrior", thus chary of any direct involvement with the Communist world – even the eccentric Jugoslav part thereof. And one of the innumerable things which he was "into", was part-time soldiering; which might present problems of a practical kind, if he were to venture "into the enemy's camp".

F.'s way of carrying others along in his wake willy-nilly, applied to things on rails, as well as "not". He was an ardent tram fan – Q. and I, tunnel-vision-afflicted bores that we were, liked the odd bit of tram action, but a fairly small amount of same went a fairly long way with us. There was then – and to the best of my knowledge, still is now – an independent undertaking called the Wien - Baden Lokalbahn, running a long-distance standard-gauge "interurban" tram route from central Vienna, some 20 km south to Baden. An experience which F. hankered for – so early in the morning, off we went on a unit of this outfit, Baden-bound. Presumably F. was in seventh heaven: the other two of us found this hour's tram-trundle through Vienna's seemingly endless southern suburbs, not the most thrilling experience of our lives. End of the route reached, we transferred on to ÖBB – thence on the electric main line south-westward. On the flat for a while – then (some valedictory Austrian mountain delight) up via the twists and turns and tunnels of the renowned Semmering ascent into the final eastern reach of the Alps.

We detrained at Mürzzuschlag, up in the mountains. This point was the junction for the short branch to Neuberg. Another case of "the strange one-offs lasting": this branch was the last refuge on ÖBB, of the class 91 compound 2-6-0Ts with their marvellously ancient appearance. A very small handful of these, performed on the Neuberg line. By 1970, the 91s did not even have a monopoly of the branch trains – many were worked by small diesel locos. If memory is not totally fouling me up, our trip to Neuberg and back was one way behind one of these, the other way behind a prehistoric-looking 2-6-0 tank loco with two large domes linked by a steam pipe (something much favoured on the Austrian Empire's railways around the dawn of the twentieth century). The 91s were wonderful to behold – but as to why ÖBB hung on to them in just this one location, to work only part of a service? – sometimes, regarding such things, the only logical hypothesis seems to be, "to please and attract the gricers" – but that's one of those supposedly rational explanations which feel more far-fetched, than outright crazy ones. Water under the bridge, anyway – the Neuberg branch 91s strutted their stuff for the last time in early 1972, and the line is now closed.

F. and I shared a weakness for direly laboured trans-lingual wordplay, and we had fun with Mürzzuschlag. He rendered it as "Mür on the whipped cream ( 'Schlagsahne' - 'Schlag' for short)". I preferred "the supplementary fare ('Zuschlag') paid by Mürt". Austria is full of comical place-names, especially if one is an Anglophone. There come to mind, Rottenegg and Rottenmann. Also, a town served long ago by a branch (abandoned pre-World War II) of the Steyrtalbahn, called Bad Hall – which given my surname, I have always found a hopefully unmerited slur. Not to mention the twin holiday resorts of Mutters and Natters, near Innsbruck. Or that one of the several 760mm gauge lines of the independent Steiermärkische Landesbahnen, in the south-east of Austria, ran from Weiz to Ratten – the railway from Wheat to Rats (let's hope the rats appreciated it). And the flights of fancy, of towns on the rivers which flow by them – Bruck an der Leitha, Spittal an der Drau, and, up on the Czech border, Laa an der Thaya.

On along the main line to another "an der" job, the junction of Bruck an der Mur (not very far off "full circle", with Vordernberg only a shortish way to the west). We parted here from F., and Q. and I headed southward, electric-hauled, to Graz – a city which was the site of another hoped-for gricing "good thing": one of Austria's many non-State lines, which flourished on both standard and narrow gauges. This one was standard-gauge – the Graz - Köflacher Bahn. It ran (still runs nowadays, without steam) basically west and south-west of the city, splitting en route into two branches. The GKB had long been famous for "collecting" second-hand steam locos, chiefly off the ÖBB, some of great antiquity. It was known that by 1970, all passenger on this private line was diesel (either railbus, or diesel-loco-hauled); but freight – chiefly coal, from mines "up the line" –- was solidly steam.

Q. and I "did" the GKB in and after that day's last few hours of daylight. We looked round the line's Graz locoshed (if I remember rightly, with the Austrian pleasantly relaxed approach to life, no pre-arranged permit was needed: you could just show up, introduce yourself, and be turned loose to wander round). Several of the railway's renowned incredibly ancient machines – 4-4-0 and 0-6-0, centenarian or near-so, even in 1970, I believe – were present, and technically still on the active list. At the time we called in, though, freight trains were handled by two relatively newer ex-ÖBB types – class 56 2-8-0s from something over half a century back; and, youthful in comparison, a "Kriegslok" variant – class 152, recently extinct on ÖBB, but some sold out of service to the private railway. It is gathered that "straight" 52s had plate frames, but 152s had bar frames; ÖBB at any rate, thought the distinction important enough to commemorate it via class designation. In our time on the line, we observed class 56 in freight action. We took a ride to Köflach and back, through pleasant but unexciting scenery – "up" in the last proper daylight, back in the gathering darkness – assuming memory's co-operation, this working was by two "multiple"-running railbuses. 

The GKB was reckoned – certainly if Graz was in any case on one's route – a "must". For some reason, though – "steam working museum" or not – on first-hand experience, I didn't enormously take to it. Maybe because of sad frame of mind about having to leave Austria after so little time there, with so much undone – who knows? At all events –- back to ÖBB, and onward in the dark with diesel traction, to – if memory is not betraying me – Leibnitz, Austria's "last outpost of civilisation" before one hit Jugoslavia. A couple of hours' wait here, enlivened by a 52 coming through in fine style, on a northbound freight. At this time, "IIRC" as they say on the Net, on this main line south of Graz passenger was diesel, 52s ruled freight-wise.

Department of hindsight and useless regrets, always much in evidence on this scene – I could wish to have done a few things differently on this tour. Bitterest single one in that category: would acutely wish to have gone to Gmünd, on the Czech border some 100 km north-west of Vienna. At this location, Czechoslovak 2-10-0s of class 556 worked daily across the border for "Aus / Czecho" haulage handover purposes; thus giving a chance for free photography of these machines, which was not available in their homeland. Plus, Gmünd was the centre of a three-branch ÖBB 760mm gauge system, worked partly by diesel locos, partly by the remarkable Engerth type semi-articulated 0-8+4Ts of class 399, then found, I believe, nowhere else in the country. And a little way east of Gmünd, the main line was joined by a cluster of branches, running through quite scenic terrain and worked 100% by class 93 2-8-2Ts – which also played a minor role on the main line at the border-point and eastward. (The whole Gmünd 760mm system remains operational today, partially still under ÖBB aegis, with a mixture of diesel, and steam – including class 399 – haulage; but this is now in an entirely tourist-workings context: somehow, "it isn't the same".) In retrospect, I would happily have forfeited our Melk / St. Pölten day's circuit (pleasant and interesting though that was), and also, if worst had come to worst, the idyllic Weinviertel, in order to go to Gmünd-and-east-thereof, instead. Assorted ingenious ways to accomplish that, now come to mind – someone ought to abolish hindsight, it accomplishes nothing positive. At the time, we let F., our acknowledged Austria guru, call the shots; and what was done, was what was done.

If memory serves me rightly, the express which we awaited – from Vienna and probably beyond – arrived at Leibnitz at its scheduled late hour of the night; we boarded accordingly. A short diesel-hauled run to Spielfeld-Strass, the border point on the Austrian side; where the train was taken over by a Jugoslav Railways (JŽ) class 06 1930s-vintage mixed-traffic 2-8-2. This was another location where steam locos from Communist countries with photographic difficulties – in the case of Jugoslavia, "and how !" – could be "photted without tears" on Austrian soil. (The same could be done with Hungarian steam working into Austria. Leitmotiv of this visit: so many possibilities, so little time.) Forbidden-fruit-photography was irrelevant to us, in the middle of the night. our journey was a "crow's" 100km-odd to Zagreb –- JŽ's considerably further, by a circuitous route; over which our 06 brought us finally into Croatia's chief city in the early light of next morning.

Rob Dickinson