Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn loco haulage – Leipzig to Chemnitz

Possibly the least-visited area of diesel loco haulage in Germany at the moment – admittedly possibly in part due to the “blandness” of the locos concerned – is the route between Leipzig and Chemnitz, operated by Siemens Eurorunner class 223s.

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One of the locos from the pool – 223 055 – seen in a previous life, whilst employed on passenger duty on the Hamburg-Westerland “Marschbahn” route with the erstwhile Nord-Ostsee-Bahn.  Itzehoe, 19/05/12 (JW)

The area of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR; East Germany) is now a desert in terms of diesel locomotive haulage on passenger trains.  The cessation of through running to Szczecin by EC178/EC179 “Alois Negrelli” in Summer 2012 left Summer weekend-only 218-hauled Intercity portions on the island of Usedom as the only booked mainline diesel-hauled trains in the entire (former) country.

The December 2015 timetable change, however, brought something of an oasis to this desert, when the private Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB) took over the operation of one particular route from the incumbent DB Regio.

The unelectrified 38-mile cross-country route between Leipzig and Chemnitz links what were two of the four largest cities in the GDR – although, of course, Chemnitz was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt in those days.  Chemnitz cannot be described as particularly inspiring, being notable for having lots of Communist-era architecture, being the “fallback” target for Allied bombers in February 1945 if Dresden had been covered by cloud, and being widely believed to have the lowest birth rate of any city in the entire world.  The route will never win any scenery awards, although there is some interest in the area – for example, it passes within 10 miles of Colditz Castle, the site of the wartime POW camp that was the subject of a famous 1955 movie.

Anyway, back to the trains!

Motive Power

The trains are formed of Siemens “Eurorunner” class 223 diesels – noted for being almost silent! – and four- or five-strong rakes of GDR-era Halberstädter carriages, operated in push-pull mode.

The pool consists of the three machines that were in the fleet of NOB on the “Marschbahn” route prior to their replacement by the troubled 245.2 fleet223 053223 054 and 223 055 – plus two locos that were new to passenger work; 223 144 and 223 152.

However, at the time of writing, 223 152 had been hired to ALEX for use on diesel-hauled passenger services in the Bayern region.  In September/October 2017, it had previously been engaged on the island of Rügen with one carriage, replacing the usual class 650 single-car DMU on the shuttle from Bergen auf Rügen to Lauterbach Mole while it received works attention.

Moves

Three sets of stock (and, consequently, three locos) are in use 7 days a week between Leipzig and Chemnitz each day, and moves are very easy to put together.

Departures are hourly from each end (xx:20 from Leipzig and xx:31 from Chemnitz) with an end-to-end journey time of 59 minutes.

Heading towards Chemnitz, the “leaping shack” is Geithain (+5), and heading towards Leipzig, Narsdorf (+9) and Bad Lausick (+39).  Therefore all three turns can be covered in, for example, a “Leipzig > Geithain > Bad Lausick > somewhere” move in just over an hour.

The above is a link to a YouTube video uploaded by user SvenRailworld showing 223 054 making a sprightly departure from Leipzig Hbf in February 2016.

Controversy

Although pleasing from an enthusiast’s perspective to see a revival of loco-hauled operation an environment where it is otherwise in its death throes, it has not been universally welcomed by the locals.

The increased noise levels (not in terms of engine noise, but of wheel-on-rail and of the cast iron brakes of the stock) have gained much criticism in a country that culturally values silence – and that is not to mention that lack of air conditioning, slam doors etc that have generally been perceived as a backwards step by those that use them every day.

There have also been reports of trains with no serviceable toilets, as well as (unrelated to the rolling stock) driver sickness causing cancellations on the route.

The Future

The MRB have the franchise for the route until 2023 – at least – and it seems as if the class 223 locos and Halberstädter stock will continue in use until then, although it must be wondered whether the sheer weight of public discontent will force another solution sooner.

Update 31/03/18: The above words must have been prescient as it was announced in the last week of March 2018 that replacement coaching stock will be obtained ASAP.  Also, a further loco will be available after Easter 2018 to provide greater operational resilience, although its number is not yet known.

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