The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Unexpected Gems at Innsbruck, July 1980

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

In today's electronic age it's sometimes hard to remember there was once a time when information wasn't so freely available. Today we use our favourite search engine and hey presto instant information but back in 1980 it wasn't quite that easy.

Travelling round Europe that summer my information sources were tourist office brochures, a travel guide for folk with a lot more money than I had and a Thomas Cook Continental timetable. What steam railway information I did have had been gleaned from English railway magazines who believed then, and probably still do today, that there's nothing worth reporting beyond British shores. No doubt though they, like other countries magazines, are catering for their target audience first and foremost. As an aside it took me another year before discovering the Continental Railway Journal which then became my principal source of railway information for the next twenty years or so until I found the internet.....but I'm digressing from my tale.........

The plan was to spend a few nights in the Alps, on my way from Italy to Germany, and Innsbruck sounded like as pleasant a spot as anywhere. I had no plans to do railway things as wasn't aware there was anything interesting in the area but what a surprise I was to get.

The first morning I visited the castle on the city outskirts and then, as my tourist office map showed a train station nearby, decided to catch the train out to the tourist orientated village of Igls a few kilometres away at the end of the line. The 'train' turned out to be a tram seen here soon after leaving Igls and heading for Innsbruck.

Later that afternoon a goodly crowd waited at the Igls terminus. The indicator board on the tram roof shows it's Line 6: this number is still being used to this day to depict the route although the trams themselves are a much newer model.

After the Igls gem I decided it could be worthwhile to check out the other, 'branch railway' my map showed. With its own station on the outskirts of Innsbruck this line turned out to be a tram as well.

Destination this time was Fulpmes : a village about eighteen kilometres away with the journey taking an hour. Once out in the countryside the tram was completely dwarfed by the magnificence of the surrounding scenery.

At one of the tram stations I'd seen a poster advertising a train called a 'dampfzug' running at Jenbach, about forty kilometres from Innsbruck. There was no picture on the poster but dampfzug sounded as if it could be a steam train and the owner of my guest house confirmed it was a 'railway engine not electric, not diesel, but wood and coal.' That was good enough for me and I headed to Jenbach the following day. Imagine my surprise to find steam locomotives on both sides of the Austrian Railways line with the nearest having three in steam!

This line, I learnt, was called the Achenseebahn and it became my first experience with a cog railway. To a New Zealander their locos were certainly strange looking beasties looking unlike anything I'd previously seen.

Minutes later though when a train headed off onto the rack what, on the flat, had been a peculiarity now became a hardworking engine displaying a noisy and sure footed capability.

Back at the rack lines station I discovered there were regular services all day but the other line only offered two steam trains daily I headed there. The Zillertalbahn turned out to be a pleasant enough ride but offered little in the way of steam noise or photo opportunities. I was glad to get back to Jenbach and the prospect of sampling the rack line.

The journey up the rack was exhilarating.....especially when standing on the open platform next to the locomotives smokebox! At the top of the rack the loco runs round the trains and then pulls it to Achensee. Here No1 heads into the loop whilst the following train reaches the top of the rack.

Journeys end at Achensee where passengers can take a boat cruise on the lake. The train on the left is loaded and waiting to leave while, on the right, a second train has just finished unloading and is about to push back into the loop.

Three trains: one leaving and two waiting in the loop for their turn to load at the platform. From the left the locos are No2, No1 and No3. The line had four engines all built in Austria by Floridsdorf in 1889.

It has taken me from the time of my July 1980 trip to just recently to bother finding out more about the Achenseebahn and this is certainly a case where the internet is so useful. Wikipedia tells us: The Achensee Railway is a 6.78 kilometres long metre gauge railway running between Jenbach and Seespitz on Lake Achensee in Tyrol. Within its length it rises some 440 metres in height, with the steeper sections using the Riggenbach rack system. It is Europe's oldest cog railway which is still steam operated.

The railway itself has a particularly interesting website, that's worth having a look at if you want to know more about this delightful Austrian gem. You can find it at

See also on this website James Waite's historic pictures and Filippo Ricci's photoreport from Summer 2012.

Rob Dickinson