The International Steam Pages

To Denmark for a (Little) Steam 1991

Keith Chambers writes:

In the autumn of 1991 I lived and worked for a few months in Copenhagen. I had exchanged jobs with a Danish colleague and took my young family with me. My interest in steam had to have a low priority really but I did hope to seek out some Danish steam locomotives sometime. Danish steam on the nationalised railway system, the DSB, had of course finished; in the early 1970s in fact. But even after its final days some locos remained in stock and were not officially withdrawn until 1976. I was aware that quite a large number of DSB steam locos survived stored at various steam sheds and other sites for some time afterwards and this was still the case in 1991. Many of them were still the condition they were withdrawn in. There were also many at museums and preserved lines along with former industrial steam locos and I did find time to visit many of these. However this story is mainly about my favourite railway establishment, the steam shed. I didn’t know exactly where the surviving sheds were, let alone which had steam locos hidden in them but I did have some clues.

My residence for the duration of our stay in Copenhagen was a third floor flat in an early 20th century block in a street called Svinget, so called I think because it swung round a long steady curve following the line of a single track railway which ran along the centre of the street. On the far side was another line of flats. I could look down on all this from our balcony. I didn’t know at first that I was looking down at the Amager Railway (Amagerbanen), then operated by DSB, and a railway that was looked upon by Danish enthusiasts with the sort of affection that British enthusiasts might feel for the Somerset & Dorset or the Cromford & High Peak. It looked barely used and in fact farther out of the city most of it was already disused and lifted. One Saturday morning as I sat on this balcony drinking coffee I discovered that it was used. DSB MH class 0-6-0D no.408 crept past pulling a short train of oil wagons. This was a regular old loco on the line at this time and near the end of its working life. That weekend we drove down the coast to Køge, a coastal town about 40 km south of Copenhagen. After some time on the beach I walked across to a railway yard where I knew the Dansk Jernbane-Klub kept some locos. There was a small selection of interesting locos but what struck me about them was their appearance. Still in DSB livery they had that patina of everyday working steam locomotives and I found this very appealing. They still looked like ‘real’ steam locomotives. I had joined a library in Copenhagen and found a very useful guide there to DSB steam classes. Although in Danish I had worked my way through it with a dictionary and gained some knowledge of Danish steam. Three of the locomotives before me were familiar. They were class F (Litra F). Two of them, 500 & 663 were the F class that were a standard DSB shunting loco (the equivalent of the ‘Jinty’ on British Railways Midland Region or the 835 class of the Italian State Railways). The third F 428, looked very different however and was known as a ‘High’ F. The fourth steam locomotive was a numberless ex-industrial 0-4-0WT named ‘Gungner’. It had a familiar look and it took me some time to work out why. It had formerly been a DSB loco of a type that I knew, Hs class 368 which had spent some of its earlier life allocated to the long closed shed at Køge.

The weather was consistently sunny during the early part of that autumn and on another Saturday morning as I sat on my balcony I heard a steam locomotive. Before I had a chance to grab a camera D class 2-6-0 no.826 passed on a special train along the line below. Again what struck me was the ‘un-preserved’ appearance of this preserved loco. I did manage a photograph when it returned and I saw another steam special pass a few weekends later this time hauled by ØSJS 2-6-0T no.7. I had taken to going for an evening run around this time and that evening jogged past no.7 stabled alongside the DSB locomotive depot at Dybbelsbro which I recount a visit to in another ‘tale’. Every now and again an MH diesel would pass along Svinget with a short train of tanker wagons. The operation of the surviving section of the Amagerbanen was only taken over by DSB in 1974 and unbeknown to me I was watching its finale. Just a few years later it closed completely and walking along Svinget now one could be forgiven for not realising that a railway had ever existed there.

My first opportunity to ‘bunk’ a DSB steam shed came a week or so later. I had travelled to Roskilde to visit the wonderful Viking ship museum there and afterwards made my way to the former steam shed where I hoped the DSB still kept some steam locos in working order for specials. One of the useful features of continental semi-roundhouses is that their shape can be unmistakable on a large scale town map which is how I had made my way to where I now was. I was standing on a cinder path leading towards the unmistakable curve of the rear wall of a dirty red-brick 19th century roundhouse. It was a very evocative combination. I peered through a dirty window and could make out the silhouettes of steam locomotives inside. I walked around to the front to find that the doors to one of the shed roads were open. I was about to go in when I was confronted by a member of the shed staff. Such situations can have a number of outcomes but this employee was very friendly. He was also a breed of Dane that I had not met so far. Small nations such as Denmark whose language is only spoken in one small area of the world are usually populated by multi-linguists out of necessity. I had not come across a Dane so far who could not speak some English, so much so in fact that it had impeded my learning of Danish. This man however spoke no English which meant that I had to try to speak some Danish, and it worked, just about. He showed me into the shed and gave long explanations about the locomotives some of which I understood. He then allowed me to wander as I pleased. The locos were all in DSB black livery and sported their customary red and white chimney bands. Most were in working order and although none were in steam that day the place smelt like a steam shed. I was like a pig in muck. (The six steam locos present were C class 4-4-0 708, G class 0-6-0 625, R class 4-6-0 963, P class 4-4-2 917, Pr class 4-6-2 908 and my guide’s pride and joy apparently, K class 4-4-0 563.)

A few days later and I was in the town of Næstved. I knew exactly where the shed ought to be because I had passed this roundhouse many years before by train and seen a steam locomotive there. The roundhouse was still standing and a steam locomotive was there on this occasion too. This time the shed contained S class 2-6-4T no. 736.

By mid October I was due the one holiday from work that I knew I would have during my stay. We decided to travel around Jutland during the nine days I would have off and left on a Friday evening bound for Fredericia a journey which in those days still involved a ferry crossing so our arrival at our destination was late and the rest of my family headed for bed. At midnight I wandered past the station and came across the locomotive depot. I had been keen to find it as it had been one of the last steam sheds in the country. However it looked modernised and steam age traces had largely disappeared. Several diesels ticked over and a loco came on shed but that was all. The following day I did come across a reminder of the city’s steam connections. E class pacific no. 978 was plinthed in the middle of town, a reminder that some of this class’s last duties were here. The week of our holiday also coincided with a change in the weather from sunny and warm to cold, windy and often very rainy. We headed north to Aarhus and again I discovered a modern and busy depot. From there the next large town north was Randers. Here I was re-acquainted with brick built semi roundhouses reached by cinder paths. This DSB steam shed performed a similar function to Roskilde. Like Roskilde it housed preserved locos that still belonged to the DSB and serviced steam locomotives used on the main line so was effectively still a working steam shed. There were seven steam locomotives on shed that day, some in working order. Further north I came across another roundhouse at Aalborg. One of the three steam locomotives inside, 2-6-0 no. 34 was operational while also present were 0-6-0 no. 5 and a 2-4-2T no.1. This shed was well and truly locked and I could only glimpse the locos through windows. It was also a depot belonging to Limfjordsbanen, a reminder that many secondary railways in Denmark still operate independently.

A couple of days later I was inside another roundhouse, this time at Viborg where among a few DSB diesels was Q class 0-8-0T 345, the only survivor of this class in Denmark. And then I arrived at a little town called Vemb. There is a little old steam shed at Vemb, of the single track one road variety this time and it contained a 2-6-0T no.5 of the Vemb-Lemvig-Thyborøn Jernbane. At Lemvig I came across the same railway’s no.6 another 2-6-0T but this time plinthed. I had enjoyed looking around these old steam sheds with their steam loco occupants. There had been disappointments though. At both Aabendra and Kolding I had hoped to find steam sheds and steam locos but failed. As we headed back to Copenhagen and across Sjaelland we stopped at the little town of Tølløse. The steam shed here, a part roundhouse with three remaining tracks, contained a 2-8-2T no. 38. This handsome loco had for part of its life been a DSB engine, Df class no.130 when the company it belonged to was absorbed, but then later was sold on to another independent line.

My time in Denmark was coming to an end and I was due to return to the London on Christmas Eve. At that time Copenhagen was still within a few hours travelling time of some real working steam and it was with the aim of seeing some of it that one December weekend I travelled down to Lolland in southern Denmark by train. I arrived at the small port of Gedser where the station platform was adjacent to the ferry that I intended to catch to Warnemünde in Germany. At Gedser was another typical Danish roundhouse but I did not have time to investigate and walked straight onto the boat. For some reason I had not booked a through ticket and was pleasantly surprised to be issued with an Edmonson card ticket for my journey from there. I was headed for Rostock which was still operated by DR the former nationalised railway company of the German Democratic Republic. I had experienced the DR a couple of times during the year, once when I stayed in West Berlin at Easter and had crossed into the GDR to sheds at Schoneweide, Wustermark and Lichtenberg and later in the year when I had travelled from Berlin to the Harz mountains to see narrow gauge steam. These travels had taught me that any DR former steam shed was still worth investigating as at the very least it could house a dampfspender (heating locomotive). So with that in mind I made my way to what appeared on the town map to be a locomotive depot consisting of at least a roundhouse. I found the place and it was as I suspected a former steam shed now in use for diesels. There was a heating loco there too but disappointingly it was a diesel attached by piping to the shed buildings as a dampfspender might be. The real steam I sought was narrow gauge and there were two options from Rostock only one of which I would have the time to reach so I chose the nearest and planned my journey there for the following day and as it got dark went off to enjoy the Christmas market well wrapped up on a freezing evening.

The following morning I left Rostock Hbf for Bad Doberan the junction for the narrow gauge branch to Kuhlungsborn West. I was about to spend the next few hours experiencing a very special steam worked line operated with ‘real’ steam by DR. In fact the line was still totally steam worked. I didn’t catch a train immediately but wandered into the town where the line ran through the streets. I found a bar and had lunch overlooking the line. A train passed, bell ringing as it eased its way slowly through the narrow street hauled by 2-8-2T no. 99.2321. Some time later I made my way back to the station and caught the next train to Kuhlungsborn West hauled by another 2-8-2T no. 99.2323. Once it had passed through the streets of Bad Doberan the train passed through open flat country of winter fields and roads lined with tall trees. Some have claimed that D.R. narrow gauge steam of this period was not ‘real’. I have to disagree. The fare on this winter timetabled train was a few pfennig and collected by the guard. There were only a few passengers. The coaches were tatty but functioning and reasonably clean. Just along from me sat an elderly woman dressed against the cold and carrying a bag of vegetables. She had possibly made this journey for decades, or so I fancifully thought. This was still a railway serving local communities and subsidised by the state. At Kuhlungsborn West I found the loco shed. It contained two dead locomotives 0-8-0Ts nos. 99.2331/2. The loco ran around the train and I was soon travelling back to Bad Doberan standing on a coach balcony in the cold winter air. By the time I was back in Rostock it was dark and I caught a train to Warnemünde for the ferry back to Denmark. The little harbour was busy with fish being landed and a variety of seabirds in attendance. At Gedser the last train back to Copenhagen was waiting to depart in ten minutes or so with an MZ diesel at its head. Just time to cross the line on the boarded crossing at the platform end in front of the loco and quickly investigate one last Danish roundhouse. Inside was what I had hoped for, a steam locomotive, Skive-Vestsalling Jernbane 2-4-0T no.1. In those few minutes inside the shed two things happened. Firstly a DSB diesel shunter came on shed from the turntable. Secondly the shuttered door to a shed road, the only one open, through which both the shunter and I had entered, began to close mechanically. By the time I had reached it I had to bend down to hurry through. I ran back to the platform and my train, slipping on the icy boarded crossing as I went. Slightly relieved I boarded the train which left shortly afterwards and deposited me safely just before midnight back at København Hovedbanegård.

Today DSB still has four depots which house and service working steam locomotives, Roskilde and Randers being two of them. Passenger trains no longer run from Copenhagen to Gedser. A few years after my nocturnal visit, the old roundhouse at Gedser was bought by a preservation group from DSB, and now houses two additional steam locomotives, ØSJS no.7 and Hs class no.368. (Gedser had a ‘back of beyond’ feel to it back in 1991. Aficionados of ‘The killing’, the Danish crime drama will know Gedser as the town that Sarah Lund is banished to when she is in disgrace.) The shed at Tølløse stands empty and is threatened with demolition and no.38 has been towed away for restoration. The line from Bad Doberan was privatised when the D.R. ceased to exist and is now a well used heritage line but with no regular winter service. You can no longer travel the length of the line in December for the equivalent of about 20p as I did about twenty years ago.

6 at Lemvig in October 1991

F class no. 500 at Køge 

F class n. 633 at Koge.

Roskilde shed, a typical Danish roundhouse

G class inside Roskilde shed


Amagerbanen -  an old semaphore arm at Kastrup, the former passenger station at Kastrup and a view along the line at Uplandsgade, followed by the author's flat and 2-6-0 D826 passing by:

The sheds at Viborg (upper) and Tølløse (lower):

Two tired industrials, Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST at Helsingor which was formerly at a gasworks in Copenhagen and a narrow gauge 0-6-2T number V formerly of the Faxe Railway and seen waiting restoration at Hedenhusene near Roskilde.

Finally in Denmark, a plinthed H class 783 outside Copenhagen central Workshops:

A set of Edmunson tickets from the Bad Doberan trip:

A little bit of real steam to finish off, with the charming 900mm gauge system at Bad Doberan:

Rob Dickinson