The International Steam Pages
To Austria for a Little Steam, 1976
Keith Chambers writes of a classic grice:
On 7th February 1976 I crossed the channel from Dover to Ostend after travelling down to Dover Marine on a British Rail boat train. I boarded an overnight train in Ostend which would take me to a country which I had never visited before & which still boasted a nationalised railway system that used steam power. The country was Austria & the rail system of course was the ÖBB. Unusually for me at the time this trip abroad was with the specific aim of seeing as much working (and stored and dumped) steam as possible in one of the last countries to the west of the iron curtain where it was still in daily use. My companion was as keen as I was to see steam in the few days we had there so there would be none of the distractions that usually occurred when I had scraped enough money together to travel abroad with friends in those carefree days before families and children. It was travel on the cheap. We didn’t bother with couchettes, no doubt regarding them as an expensive luxury.
We arrived in Vienna on a cold morning feeling sleepy but expectant. We quickly found a small and inexpensive hotel to stay in for a couple of days and then sat in the warm for a couple of hours drinking coffee and making plans from the limited information that we had with us. At the time the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group published a series of booklet guides to surviving steam in various European countries and we had the one for Austria - the information from its supplement is reproduced below.. (Funds from sales went towards the restoration projects on steam locomotives they had rescued in their final days on British Railways.) That end of steam on British Railways seemed a long time in the past to us even then, making its continued survival in Austria seem somewhat miraculous. My companion had the latest few issues of that now defunct newsletter “World Steam” which was the “International Steam Pages” of its pre-internet day providing the most up to date information we could hope for. We also had The Industrial Railway Society’s guide “Industrial Locomotives of Germany and Austria” and a small map of Austria’s railways. Information from such sources does of course become quickly out of date and this was especially true of railway systems that were systematically ending their use of the steam locomotive. The only other useful document we had with us was a permit to visit a certain establishment that I will mention later. My companion had arranged this and to this day I have no idea how he managed it.
By mid morning, somewhat revitalised, we headed off into the cold towards Wien (F.J.B.) shed. It was quite easy to find because it was right next to the station of the same name. We didn’t expect to find much if anything there because we knew that it had recently closed to steam so were pleasantly surprised when we entered the roundhouse via a small door at the rear. Nothing was in steam but the familiar engine shed smells filled our nostrils while shafts of light played on the cylindrical boilers of the unusual array of locomotives presented before us. There were only seven steam locos in the shed but of five different classes. Unsurprisingly there were three German 2-10-0 kriegsloks nos. 52.3446/5211/6084. We knew that we would see plenty of these. Then there was an 0-10-0 no. 257.605, an 0-6-0 no. 333.002, and a 2-4-2T no. 3071.07. But most surprisingly was a 2-2-2T numbered 010.87. The ‘010’ in the number signifies its use as a stationary boiler and one reason why a locomotive with such an obsolete wheel arrangement had survived for so long. The actual ÖBB running number of this old loco had been 69.02.
We then made our way to Wien (Nord) shed, also closed to steam by then, but again we found steam locomotives there. This time only two and in the shed yard, they were more kreigsloks nos. 52.3509/7576. What I found fascinating about these familiar locomotives was that Austrian hallmark, the Giesl ejector which many ÖBB steam locomotives carried to give them a distinctive Austrian look. Then we headed by train from Nord station to the village of Silberwald, a small place close to quite a large engine shed, Strasshof, the last working steam shed in the vicinity of Vienna and I suspect one where the best surviving locos were ‘pooled’ from other sheds in the area as had happened in the last months of steam in the north west of England. We were in Austria at a similar stage in the elimination of standard gauge steam. Strasshof was also solely a steam shed. No diesels darkened its doors. By the time we arrived there on this February afternoon it was almost dark. (Planning on this trip was fairly ad hoc.) We had a quick look around and realising that this was an easy shed to bunk and that it contained live steam locos, decided to come back the following day with the light more favourable for photography.
And so we did. There were thirty nine steam locomotives on Strasshof shed on 9th February 1976. Among them were the last working steam locomotives in the Vienna area. Nothing moved but several locomotives sizzled. They were in steam for some reason. They were predominantly of two classes, 52 class 2-10-0s (there were eighteen of these) and 93 class 2-8-2Ts (of which there were sixteen). The remaining five locomotives comprised 91.107 (a 2-6-0T), 30.33 (a 2-6-2T), 75.759 (a 2-6-2T), 58.717 (a 2-10.0) and finally a restored and preserved 4-4-0 numbered 372.
Back in Vienna there was still time to find Wien (Ost) shed in the hope that some dumped steam might survive there. It did in the form of several 52 class 2-10-0s stored alongside one of the shed buildings looking only recently withdrawn. But outside a second shed building was a surprise, a 93 class tank engine and it was in steam at a depot that was closed to steam.
That evening in a Vienna bar we ordered a meal hoping that it would be sufficient fare after a tiring day. A short time afterwards a feast arrived, each of us being presented not with a plate but a large wooden board filled with delicious and warming food. We slept well that night.
The following morning we left Vienna. We were heading towards another surviving enclave of standard gauge steam, the private Graz-Köflacher Bahn. This company had for some reason never been part of the ÖBB and had its own station at Graz close to but at right angles to Graz Hbf of the ÖBB. Our journey to Graz involved climbing some spectacular grades over the famous Semmering Pass but unfortunately we were too late to experience those climbs behind steam. A reminder that steam was on its way out was passed at Metendorf, that familiar scene of an impromptu lineside scrapyard a decade earlier seen in Britain at places like Bridgend or Chesterfield, when the number of locomotives needing to be scrapped exceeded the capacity of the railway’s own scrapyards. There were a few 52 class of which I identified 52.1339 as we hurried by. We stopped at Murzzuschlag a name I recognised as once being the home of some class 91 2-6-0T engines which worked the branch line to Neuberg from there. And there was one, albeit plinthed at the station, a reminder that this was one of the last places that these attractive little engines worked from. It was 91.32. We arrived in Graz before dark and had a brief look at the GKB which we intended to visit the following day. It looked promising. There were a lot of steam locos and some were in steam.
The survival of steam at Graz was because of the railway’s function in serving local mines. Passenger services were performed by small diesel railbuses. The steam locomotives were mostly ex ÖBB and included three classes which were no longer used by that organisation. One was the 152 class 2-10-0s which were a bar framed version of the 52 class and for all intents and purposes looked the same. The second class were class 50 2-10-0s. The third were the classic 56 class 2-8-0s which were an older Austrian locomotive class which had been widespread but survived only here in western Europe in daily use. On the morning we walked down to the GKB shed for a proper look around it was overcast and snowing. Not good conditions for photography. A few locos were in steam and predictably they seemed to be the more modern 152 class. But there was one 56 class in steam and then right on cue another passed the shed light engine. It was gratifying to see these old engines still in use. A shape and form that I recognised from flicking through my father’s Railway Magazines many years before not thinking that I would ever see one working in its very last days of use. In all there were eight of the class dead and alive along with nine 152s and two class 50s.
The GKB had been a depository for a number of old types it seems. Two of the locomotives I had seen at Strasshof had come from this railway, namely preserved no. 372 and the 2-6-2T no 30.33 which had also been earmarked for preservation and moved there. Another one of the latter class was at Graz that day, 30.114, withdrawn along with a row of 56 class. There was another ancient locomotive still in working order at Graz, a preserved 0-6-0 numbered 671. This, like 372, was a former Südbahn locomotive and when purchased by the GKB in 1920 was already sixty years old.
Later travelling from Graz we got off at Bruck a. d. Mur. We hadn’t originally intended to but as we swept around a curve at a junction to the north of the station the previous day we had seen a row of kreigsloks and wanted to identify them. Not only that, we knew that there was an interesting industrial tank engine at a factory close to the station and were intent on trying to see and photograph it. We succeeded in discovering the numbers of the four 2-10-0s but not in seeing the tank engine. We couldn’t get near it and our appeals to a security guard at the factory gate fell on deaf ears. My ticket onward to Leoben cost twelve schillings, a fact I know because I still have it. We arrived there and after an abortive attempt to see if there were any steam locomotives at the shed we hunted around for a hotel for the night. We failed in this as well. We needed to be in the town as we had a nearby appointment the next day but decided that the next best option would be to catch a train to that nearby mecca for steam enthusiasts, Vordernberg where we got off at the wrong station. We were tired and with our heavy bags trudged uphill in the dark to the centre of the town where we knew there were places to stay. It was very cold and I remember that walk as a real effort. We arrived in the town square looking forward to warmth and rest. No such luck. The recommended enthusiasts’ guest house was full so we tried the second one in the square. That was also full so we didn’t hold out much hope when we tried the only other one we had seen. But we were in luck. Too late for any refreshments we went for well earned sleep.
I will never forget the feeling of awe as I looked out of the guesthouse window the following morning. A sheer face of rock greeted me soaring almost vertically upwards hundreds of feet from the base of the spectacular valley we were now in. On our dark and cloudy arrival the night before we obviously had gained no sense of the landscape we had travelled into. After breakfast we made our way to the nearest station and a train back towards Leoben for the one pre-arranged part of our trip. Our destination was the ÖAM steelworks at Donawitz. We arrived at the main gate armed with the permit that my companion had somehow arranged despite his almost complete lack of knowledge of the German language. We were welcomed and taken to see what we were hoping for, the 790mm steam worked narrow gauge internal rail system. It was magical. Several little 0-4-0WTs kept us amused for the hour or so of our visit which included going inside the steelworks and seeing first hand those scenes of giant retorts and rivers of molten steel that I knew from BSC cine films shown in geography lessons at school. The I.R.S. booklet listed twenty narrow gauge steam locomotives at the works and we managed to see sixteen of them. It may have been all that survived. Although superficially similar they came from different builders, were of a variety of ages, some were second hand and some had been rebuilt from other gauges. Two of them, 170.1 and 170.2 were 0-4-0Ts rather than well tanks. Of the locos we saw that day the oldest was 60.2 built in 1911 and the newest 170.2 built in 1952. 100.2 had been purchased second-hand from a steelworks in Czechoslovakia while 100.5, also secondhand, had been rebuilt from 900mm gauge. I cannot recall why we did not visit the standard gauge engine shed which could have contained a number of industrial steam locomotives. In any event we made our way back to the station and headed back to Vordernberg to see the steam rack locomotives which worked up the mountain to Präbichl and Eisenerz.
I do not need to describe the wonderful engines that worked from Vordernberg shed at that time and continued to do so for a couple more years. We made our way to the shed expecting to see several of the 97 class 0-6-2RTs and maybe a couple of the 197 class 0-12-0RTs. As we arrived at the ancient roundhouse with its wooden beams all was quiet and several engines were in steam. I think that Austria was quite a conservative country at the time and our appearance, in both senses of the word, was greeted with hoots of laughter, my companion especially taking the brunt of it with his shoulder length hair and Afghan coat, typical of the 1970s. However we were allowed to wander around freely in what was very much a working steam depot with no sense that its days were numbered. The allocation at the time was ten class 97 and one or two class 197. On shed that day however were eleven 97 class and no sign of any of the 197s. One was certainly in use after that date and I suspect that it may have been at Knittelfeld works for repair. Also present were two other locomotives. One was 297.401, a huge 2-12-2RT which was dumped near the shed and 2-10-2T no. 95.112, a loco that would have been employed a few years earlier moving freight between Leoben and Vordernberg or perhaps banking on the Semmering route. We spent the remainder of the day watching and listening to trains of empty ore wagons being worked up the mountain with a 97 at each end. (Amazingly I - RD - visited to Vordernberg in exactly the same month and you can see my pictures, including a working 197, elsewhere on this site.)
The following day was our last day in Austria and our plan was to pick up the Vienna – Ostend train at Linz that evening. This would mean travelling over the mountain via the rack line and then travelling northwards to Linz stopping off en route at Garsten. We had hoped for steam haulage over the rack but had to make do with a diesel railcar instead. We saw some working steam in the shape of 97s on ore trains of course and eventually arrived at Hieflau. In the shed here was a solitary 2-8-2T of the classic German 86 class. Another reminder of a class used until recently on a local branch line. We travelled on to Garsten where we hoped to see some ÖBB narrow gauge steam working passenger trains. The Steyrtalbahn is a 760mm gauge line running from Garsten to Klaus. At the time of our visit it was entirely steam worked. On arrival at Garsten we were greeted by the sight of a small tank engine in steam outside a small engine shed. We made our way to the shed yard and found 0-6-2T no. 298.25 being watered in preparation for its next duty. Inside the shed were two more locos, another 0-6-2T no. 298.56 and an 0-8-0T no. 699.103 which was the last working survivor of its class. We consulted timetables and concluded that we had no time to journey behind steam that day so had to be satisfied with watching departures and arrivals from Garsten. Some time later a third 298 class trundled in with a passenger train this loco sporting green livery rather than the usual black. Finally 298.25 chuffed away with another passenger train before we boarded a standard gauge train north. We passed through St. Valentin where there was a recently closed steam shed. The shed appeared empty but 2-10-0 52.3557 stood outside. We arrived at Linz with time to spare before our evening departure. Linz shed had closed to steam recently according to our information but we had noticed rows of withdrawn locos there as we passed so that is where we headed for our last look at Austrian steam. We arrived as the light was fading and I felt that my first priority was to use up the last few frames of 35mm film as quickly as possible. Most interesting were three locomotives numbered in the 010 series so therefore former heating units of some sort. They were 01042, which was formerly ÖBB no. 658.2122 a Prussian G12 class 2-10-0, the last of which had been withdrawn by ÖBB ten years earlier. The others were 01053 and 01054 ,which both appeared to be tenderless 4-6-0s but were actually former 4-6-4Ts with side tanks, tenders and bunkers removed. They were ÖBB nos. 78.625 and 78.620 respectively. Apart from that there were fourteen 52 class, another 86 class no. 86.476 and finally 77.28 possibly the last working member of its class. Interestingly 52.7593 sported the then new ÖBB symbol on its smokebox door. This seemed a bit like an 8F in its final days at Lostock Hall carrying the British Rail double arrow symbol. Both were symbols for the post-steam age.
We headed back to the centre of Linz for a meal and then caught our train towards home. The journey was not entirely uneventful. At Passau, the border with Germany, customs officers decided that they wanted to take us off the train and search our baggage while letting the train go without us. Much sign language and pointing later and we were allowed to stay on the train. Our tickets had a curious validity which only allowed them to be used on every third day and I think this realisation on the part of the officials helped our case.
Did we expect to see any more steam on the journey? Probably not although we were aware that DB steam still hung on in the north west of West Germany. In the event we didn’t wake until across the border into Belgium, Liège to be precise and it was still dark. As we passed some carriage sidings our jaws dropped. Behind a row of carriages was what sounded like and appeared to be a steam locomotive in steam. We guessed that it might be a heating locomotive but Belgian steam had finished so long before that it hardly seemed possible. The solution to our puzzle came some time later as we neared Brussels. This time there was no mistaking what we saw. At Schaerbeek we had a clear view of a 2-8-0 locomotive in steam and then just to reinforce the point we passed another. These were Belgian class 29 locos which although withdrawn some ten years earlier still performed heating duties every winter at several locations in Belgium. (We had obviously missed the issue of Continental Railway Journal that listed them all.)
Keith has now written a little bit more about this (12th January 2012).
It had been a good few days and we had managed to see a wide variety of what was left in Austria. Of the working ÖBB steam we missed, the narrow gauge at Gmund & rack lines at St. Wolfgang and Puchberg all survive as working railways with some steam. Of the steam we did see much has been preserved, some in working order. The modern steam shed at Strasshof is now a museum where working steam locos can be seen and steam locos working on the main line are serviced. It is no longer possible to catch an ÖBB passenger train from Leoben to Vordernberg but there are serious plans to reinstate steam rack working up the mountain from Vordernberg using restored 97 class tank locos, a sight not seen for over thirty years.
NORTH EASTERN LOCOMOTIVE PRESERVATION GROUP
AUSTRIAN STEAM SUPPLEMENT
INTRODUCTION Austrian Railways Runabout Tickets are no longer available in this country so far as we know and must now be obtained from Austrian Stations on arrival.
Here are some pictures sent by Keith:
52.3681 at Strasshof:
52.7393 at Strasshof:
52.7593 at Linz:
Inside Strasshof shed:
0-1054 at Linz:
298.25 at Garsten:
56.3297 at Graz:
152 shunting at Graz:
152.1367 at Graz:
A selection of tickets from the trip:
Click here for some pictures of the Iron Mountain in February 1976.