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The Prater Liliputbahn, Wien

This brief article concerns an interesting operation in Wien (Vienna), that will very easily fit into an itinerary of a family holiday as well as a trip purely for railway interest.

At 15 inch gauge (the same as the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch and Ravenglass & Eskdale Railways in the UK), this will not be for everyone and certainly features at the smaller end of bonafide narrow-gauge railways.  However, it is very good fun, highly recommended and does not take you far off the beaten track to do.

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D2 at Prater Hauptbahnhof, 27/10/19 (JW)

The Liliputbahn (see website here) – named after an island populated by miniature people in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – is one of two 15 inch gauge railways in Wien.  This was the first and was opened in 1928; the other – the Donauparkbahn – followed in 1964, built by the same company for the Wiener Internationale Gartenschau in 1964.  This will be the subject of a future article.

The Liliputbahn is located within the Prater park, a matter of minutes on foot from Wien Praterstern station on the Wiener Stammstrecke; this enjoys frequent loco-hauled service on this cross-city axis.  One of its intermediate stations – that at Rotunde – has an interchange with tram line 1 at its terminus of Prater Hauptallee, which at the time of my most recent visit in October 2019 still had many of its services provided by the 1970s-era SGP E2-type vehicles.

The Liliputbahn takes a 3.9 km (2.4 mile) circular route through the park, effectively a double-track railway with a balloon loop at each end.  The park is very sylvan in nature and makes it a very pleasant, scenic, family-friendly activity, particularly in Autumn when the trees are turning orange.

The operating centre is Prater Hauptbahnhof and it is fair to say that although there are three other stations (Schweizerhaus, Rotunde and Stadion – the stadium in question being the Ernst Happel Stadion, Austria’s national football stadium), there is not much to get off at any of the others for – although if you have a return ticket and there is more than one train in use, there is nothing stopping you breaking your journey at one of these stations and returning with a different one.

Prater Hauptbahnhof is in the middle of the Wurstelprater theme park (which is free to enter) and is effectively a ‘theme park ride’ as much as a railway.  It is located in the shadow of the famous 1897-built Riesenrad ferris wheel, and indeed combined tickets are available.

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Opposite Prater Hauptbahnhof station is the Republik Kugelmugel – actually a micronation, which declared itself independent in 1976…

A round trip generally takes 20 minutes, which means that a 30-minute frequency timetable is managed by one loco.  If resources and passenger numbers dictate, the service can be increased to provide a train every 5 minutes at very busy times, but 15 or 30 minute frequencies are the norm.  Generally if steam locos are going to be used, this will be in the afternoon, after 12:15.  Saturdays, Sundays and Austrian public holidays are the best times to find steam out.

There are two steam locos – Da1 and Da2, both 1928-built Krauss 4-6-2s – and four diesels (D1 to D4), all built to different designs between 1957 and 1967.  The diesels have been converted to run on vegetable oil which is all recycled from within the theme park.  Trials with a hydrogen loco have been carried out recently, however.

The Marschbahn

Due to some initial criticism that I was felt to be focusing on my favourite locos (which – if you weren’t aware – are Germany’s class 218 “rabbit” diesel-hydraulics), they haven’t received much coverage on this website to date.  However, I think it’s time that that was addressed.

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My all-time favourite loco, 1974-built Krauss-Maffei diesel-hydraulic 218 344, will hopefully see its 50th birthday in service on the Marschbahn, on which it has operated since 2009.  It is seen here at Niebüll with 218 389 on 20/04/14 (JW)

One of Germany’s most famous railways is that from Hamburg, via Itzehoe, Husum and Niebüll to the terminus of Westerland, on the North Frisian island of Sylt – the northernmost 107 miles of which, north of Itzehoe, are not electrified.  This is known as the “Marschbahn”.  That an unelectrified destination has retained a long-distance (Intercity) service to cities such as Stuttgart and Dresden is noteworthy, but is explained by the fact that Sylt is not only a tourist destination but one favoured particularly by the rich, famous and above all influential – indeed, the village of Kampen, on Sylt, is home to Germany’s most expensive residential street.  In this way, Sylt is frequently compared to Montauk, which may be familiar to those of you who have enjoyed the diesel locos on the Long Island Railroad in the USA.

As I mentioned, Sylt is an island, and it is connected to mainland Germany only by a man-made causeway – the Hindenburgdamm.  This causeway was completed in 1927 and only carries a railway, which was doubled in 1972 to accommodate the ever-increasing volume of traffic to and from the island.  The island does have an airport (GWT), which is served by mostly seasonal flights from German cities, and also an eight-sailings-a-day ferry connection to Havneby in Denmark.  Aside from that, the railway is the only method of access.

Intercity services

Intercity services run to Westerland year-round, but some of them are seasonal – which does not mean Summer-only, but holiday periods throughout the year.  These have been handled by diesel-hydraulics of the V160 family for nearly half a century.  In the last few years, attempts have been made to replace them on this work with modern TRAXX class 245s, but these have been wholly unsuccessful.  In short (and trying not to let my prejudices show too much!), breaking from a tradition that has served Germany well, the fleet was ordered without first trialling a prototype, and its new four-engine technology and computer control has not proven itself apt for this particular route – although 245 021 to 245 027 were delivered up there in 2015/16 with the plan drawn up in an office in a Berlin high-rise across Germany was that 1×245 can do the work of 2×218.  Consequently, they have been banned from the IC services on the route except for in emergencies, and pairs of 218s will continue for the foreseeable – currently predicted up to 2024/25.

The problem with this is that immediately after the arrival of the 245s – which coincidentally occurred roughly seven years after the incumbent 30-strong fleet of 218s had been overhauled and assembled at Niebüll, and therefore when the seven-year term of their overhauls expired – numerous perfectly good 218s were sent for cannibalisation and in some cases even scrap, rather than Bremen works.  This has meant that Niebüll has, for the last few years, had a severe traction shortage entirely of DB’s own making.  Worse than that, it has had – and continues to have – to make this up by hiring in a rolling cast of 218s from elsewhere in Germany to bolster its own fleet.  Some of these are from elsewhere on DB (e.g. class 218.8 “Abschlepploks” – a dedicated fleet of ICE rescue locos, as well as passenger-sector 218s from other depots), and some are hired in at top dollar from DB’s competitors.

The current native Niebüll 218 fleet is as follows: 218 307218 315218 321218 322218 341218 344218 345218 366218 369218 379 (although it’s been months since that one last ran, to my knowledge), 218 380218 385218 389 and 218 397.

Their Intercity diagrams are as follows:-

IC2311 09:26 Westerland – Itzehoe 11:43
IC2310 14:15 Itzehoe – Westerland 16:34

IC2314 10:14 Itzehoe – Westerland 12:34
IC2315 13:26 Westerland – Itzehoe 15:43

IC2072 12:14 Itzehoe – Westerland 14:34
IC2073 15:26 Westerland – Itzehoe 17:42

IC2375 10:56 Westerland – Itzehoe 13:10
IC2374 16:42 Itzehoe – Westerland 19:04

IC2375/IC2374 are largely seasonal trains.  In the current timetable (May-December 2019) they run on an occasional basis as push-pull sets with a single 218, usually drawn from 218 307218 321 and 218 322 or occasional hire-ins) to and from Hamburg Altona.  The 218 works throughout in both directions.  At the time of writing, there are only three days left of operation that way (12th-14th December 2019).  From the December 2019 timetable change, when they run, they should run as above.

Of interest, at least one of the above turns is worked by a Hannover crew, who have signed the route specifically to keep 218s on their traction cards in order to drive the 218.8 that is stabled in that city as a rescue loco if required.

A Niebüll 218 (again drawn from 218 307218 321 and 218 322 or hire-ins) works the push-pull set on the IC trains to and from Fehmarn Burg, too.

Car trains

As mentioned above, there is no road access to Sylt.  However, the island does have a fairly extensive road network!  The ferry service is relatively sparse and links Sylt only to Denmark, and therefore the solution to road travel to and from mainland Germany is a frequent car-carrying train shuttle (“Sylt Shuttle”) from Niebüll to Westerland.  The car train terminal at Niebüll is directly linked to Bundesstraße 5, and is not far from Bundesautobahn 7, the 1000km-long motorway that links the German/Danish border to the German/Austrian one – so it is effectively part of the road network as much as it is a rail service.  The high season timetable sees car trains up to every half an hour in each direction, and they are often full.  These carry not only private cars but also coach trips, lorries, etc – they are a real lifeline to the island.

Historically, they have not conveyed accommodation for the casual “foot passenger”.  Occupants remain in their vehicles for the journey (you can see a video of a journey with hydraulic power on YouTube here).  In the past, haulage enthusiasts have had to resort to thumbing a lift with strangers or clubbing together to hire a car.  However, this changed in 2015 with the advent of the “Sylt Shuttle Plus”.  In effect, this was a path raid when DB’s monopoly was challenged (see below) and ever since its creation, has caused the utmost controversy, which rages on even now (see news article from late 2019 here).  It consists of class 628 two-car DMUs being added to car trains across the Hindenburgdamm – trains with ‘D’ classification in the DB journey planner – which generally then run on from Niebüll down to Bredstedt, change ends, and return to Niebüll to be added to another car train back to Westerland.  Not every car train conveys a DMU, and it has been known that the DMUs can simply fail to turn up.  They generally carry around fresh air, as thanks to the shunting required at both Niebüll and Westerland, they do not really provide an attractive alternative to the “normal” passenger to the standard service.  In an attempt to remedy this much-maligned waste of diesel in these Greta Thunberg-inspired times, a special fare has been introduced for use solely on Sylt Shuttle Plus services, but that has not fully precluded mass cancellations of the DMUs – even if they are shown as running on the departure boards.  Consider yourself forewarned, but if you can manage to pin one down, it allows you to see a very interesting operation from a closer vantage point.

The car trains can be powered by single 245s or pairs of 218s; although swaps onto ICs can occur occasionally at Westerland in order to take those “outstabled” at Itzehoe back to depot for maintenance, the locos on car trains generally do not work on ICs on the same day.

As I mentioned, DB’s monopoly on the car trains was challenged in 2015 – with the arrival of the American firm RDC (Railroad Development Corporation).  These now run a competing service using the same terminals, using Siemens “Vectron” class 247 diesels – 247 908 “Debbie” and 247 909 “Anne” – under the “AUTOZUG Sylt” brand.  This generally requires both to be available for service on a given day as two sets are used simultaneously at certain times.  As a result, class 251s (ex-NSB Di6s) – variously 251 002 and 251 003 – are kept on hand in order to cover for unavailability.  However, these trains do not convey walk-on accommodation, so you are back to the old fashioned method of thumbing lifts or hiring vehicles if you’d like to get these in the book…

Regional Expresses

Between 2005 and 2016, RE services on the line were operated by the Nord-Ostsee-Bahn (NOB) – and, despite the fact that this displaced my beloved 218s, I have to say that they were a very good operator, using a mixture of class 251 and 223 power with Bombardier “Married Pair” stock.  2014, however, marked the beginning of a deterioration.  The organisation that co-ordinates public transport in Schleswig-Holstein – now known as “NAH.SH” – decreed that a fleet of 15 brand-new Bombardier TRAXX class 245.2 locomotives (245 201245 215) would be procured by the investment company Paribus for use specifically on the Marschbahn regional trains, regardless of operator.  These entered traffic from late 2015.  At about the same time, it was announced that the franchise would be returning to DB Regio as of the December 2016 timetable change, using the 245.2s and the existing stock.

Problems with the 245.2s were legion from day one.  Initially, they suffered from frequent overheating issues and required fire brigade attendance worryingly often.  Software problems were frequent and oil and coolant issues have been frequently reported as the cause of failures too.  In October 2017, it was announced that they must again go through a rolling programme of works visits for software updates, which took many months to complete.

The 245.2s are back in service, but reliability does seem to continue to be an issue.  They continue to be supplemented by “red” 245s – which at least spares some of DB’s blushes by finding some gainful employment for 245 021 to 245 027 – which also have a very leisurely turn on Intercity work between Gotha and Gera, in the former East Germany.

Summing-up

The Marschbahn is one of my favourite railways, and one I feel very comfortable on – and not only because one of the major towns along it, Husum, is twinned with my home town of Kidderminster! – although nowadays it is a very challenging one to bash, and whether you are after lots of different numbers in the book or lots of miles behind particular locos, the moves never seem to be ideal.

In recent years, it has gained the nickname among some less charitable enthusiasts of the “Farcebahn”, which is driven by the poor punctuality displayed by many trains along it.  Although I clearly have my partisan loyalties, being realistic this is almost entirely nothing to do with the long in the tooth but reliable 218s, and everything to do with a needlessly over-ambitious timetable (to accommodate the largely unused SSP services), delays to long-distance services that in some cases have travelled 500 miles by the time they reach Itzehoe on a DB that is no longer a byword for punctuality, and indeed issues with the problem children 245s.  Everything has a knock-on effect, though, and it is not uncommon for your plan to disappear out of the window due to missed connections.

Despite those negatives, I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit.  It will be the last bastion of class 218 haulage, and although the stock is all air-conditioned with few (if any) opening windows, still allows you to enjoy them working hard at design speed.

Sunday 18th August 2019 – Diesel haulage event at Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs, Belgium

The fourth European Traction rare haulage event occurred on Sunday 18th August 2019 and was at the Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs preserved railway in Belgium.

It is becoming something of an annual tradition that I organise a low-key diesel haulage event in Belgium on the weekend of the “Festival” event at the Chemin de fer du Bocq.  This was the third; 2017 saw us visit Stoomtrein Maldegem-Eeklo for 7408, 8040 and 9131 and 2018 the private depot of the PFT/TSP at St Ghislain for 6106, 7005, 7358, 8320, 8428 and CFL 806.  These events are useful in encouraging more people to visit the Bocq – as they provide an even more attractive weekend with even more potential “lines in the book” for haulage enthusiasts that helps seal the deal to get them to Belgium for the weekend – and they also raise significant sums of money for our hosts.  From those two events alone, over €4,000 was donated.

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9109 and 9105 (photo: Ryan Tranmer)

August 2019’s add-on European Traction event went through several iterations, which included a possible visit to Kinkempois depot for some GM and shunter haulage over short distances, but this was placed on ice when a visit to the SDP railway came on the cards.  Available for our use were 9105 and 9109 – the former being due to leave the railway at the end of the month for an uncertain future (and required for haulage by most), and the latter a new arrival that I believe was required by everybody.

I negotiated with the railway that the locos would work as a pair, in tandem, top-and-tail with the booked steam loco on the first round trip; 11:45 from Baasrode-Noord to Oppuurs and 12:40 return.  The initial plan was for the 91s to power the return leg from Oppuurs to Sint-Amands, at which point the steam loco would run round to work back to Baasrode-Noord – but in the event, late running meant that the 91s worked through.

The standard fare of €12 applied.  77 (mainly British) enthusiasts travelled as a result of my “fix”, which meant that €924 reached the farebox that the SDP would not otherwise have seen; I trust that this more than covered the extra outlay they incurred in hosting us and accommodating our wishes.  When extra refreshment sales are included, I can confidently state that not only did we bring more than €1,000 into the railway, but our total that we have raised for Belgian preservation over three events now exceeds €5,000.  I am very proud of that, and very grateful that you all continue to support my endeavours; I am always painfully aware that it takes a lot of trust to be placed in me to pitch up at some quiet foreign backwater at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning simply because I have promised you that something will happen!

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9105 and 9109 (photo: Howard Lewsey)

So, what next?

I am not anticipating a “Bocq Sunday” event in 2020, mainly as I will be on my honeymoon as I am marrying my fiancee a week or so before the “Festival”!  However, I would very much encourage you to support the PFT/TSP in their aims in 2020; I am led to believe that there will be at least one VERY interesting development…

Those of you who attended this event will doubtless have noticed two things: 1) that there were other locos there that we did not use, due to weight restrictions on the line, that hopefully will be lifted very soon; and 2) that I wasn’t there!  (I was volunteering on a footplate experience turn on 40106 at the Severn Valley Railway).  Consequently, for both of those reasons, I anticipate that a return to the SDP will be on the cards at some point.  Obviously, this would be far too late for 9105, so I stand by my conviction that this event was the right thing to pursue this year, even if I will almost certainly now never ride behind it myself.  I also wish to reinstate the Kinkempois idea.  If not shackled to the Bocq event, my current thinking is that I will create a whole weekend Benelux itinerary myself, with at least two different rare haulage events, for a different point in the year that hopefully will be attractive to you.  Leave that one with me, but I will give as much advance notice as I can.

Aside from that, based on the types of event that I have successfully delivered so far, what would you like to see?  I am obviously not going to swoop into the market with a multi-day main line railtour, but I think I am making something of a niche for myself in a currently untapped area, and I’m more than happy to continue in this vein for as long as you are prepared to support that.

Over to you…

FUC Class E190 – Udine to Villach

The Ferrovie Udine-Cividale (the unfortunately-abbreviated FUC) have a fleet of two Siemens Eurosprinter electric locos, which have a daily passenger diagram between Italy and Austria.

E190 301 and E190 302 are the two machines concerned; both “class 1216s” obtained by FUC in 2011 largely for the “Mi-Co-Tra” (“Miglioramento dei Collegamenti Transfrontalieri” project, the EU-funded upgraded operation on the cross-border artery from Trieste, through Udine to Villach.

Two round trips between Udine and Villach have been provided daily since Summer 2012 as part of a joint operation between FUC and ÖBB, powered by one of the E190s.  Only one of the locos is planned to be used in passenger service each day.  Other trains on the cross-border route are formed of Railjets with very similar ÖBB class 1216s.

These trains generally convey a bike van in their short formations, and indeed cyclists out to pursue their hobby in the middle of the Alps account for a significant chunk of the trains’ clientele.  On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, these services are extended through to Trieste, an Adriatic port city.

The diagram

The diagram for these workings is as follows (Sat, Sun and public holiday variations in brackets):-

Train 1820, 07:14 Udine (05:45 Trieste) – Villach 08:54
Train 1821 09:45 Villach – Udine 11:30 (Trieste 12:59)
Train 1822 17:22 Udine (15:50 Trieste) – Villach 19:07
Train 1823 19:29 Villach – Udine 21:13 (Trieste 22:39)

The timetable document can be found on the FUC website here.

These services form something of a local stopping service through Villach’s suburbs, so can be covered entirely in Austria with very little time outlay should you just be interested in getting the loco “in the book”.

Various dates in 2020: The Reblaus Express

May 2020 will see the return of the popular Summer loco-hauled nostalgic train on the branch from Retz to Drosendorf, in the far north of Austria near to the border with the Czech Republic.

The “Reblaus Express”, as it is known, makes three round trips from Retz to Drosendorf (24.75 miles each way, and quite steeply-graded in places) each Saturday, Sunday and public holiday between 1st May 2020 and 1st November 2020.  I have not yet seen a timetable for 2020, but previous years have seen departures from Retz at 09:25, 13:25 and 16:25 and returns from Drosendorf at 11:55, 14:55 and 17:55.

Motive Power

The Reblaus Express actually begins on Saturday 21st March 2020 and runs until the end of April with a diesel railcar.  However, after that, loco-haulage will be the order of the day.

Usual loco haulage is an ex-ÖBB class 2143 diesel-hydraulic, and 2143 070 had virtually sole charge of the Reblaus Express in both 2018 and 2019.  On one occasion where this loco was not available, an ÖBB class 2070 deputised, whereas sister machine 2143 056 took charge for a very short period during August 2019.

The above is a link to a video uploaded to YouTube by user Andreas Suck of 2143 070.

Tickets

A single ticket costs €14 and a return (which acts as a day rover) is €19.  Children under 6 are free and adults over 62 qualify for a concessionary rate.  There is no UK rail staff travel privilege fare and Interrails etc are not valid.  More detail can be found in a PDF here.

Getting there

Retz lies just 3 miles from the Czech border, and is on the route from Wien to Znojmo, which sees an (electric) loco-hauled service to a roughly two-hour frequency.  Wien to Retz is about an 80 minute journey.

Combining it with other haulage opportunities

This is not the only regular nostalgic train that operates in Austria in the Summer.  The “Nostalgieexpress Leiser Berge” (to be the subject of a separate article in the near future) operates also with ex-ÖBB class 2143 power and makes a round trip from Wien Praterstern to Ernstbrunn, usually every Saturday between May and October.

You can have both locos on the same day, either as a (fairly long) day trip from Wien if you so wish, or as an interesting way to get from Wien to the Czech Republic.  In previous years, it has been possible to catch the “Nostalgieexpress Leiser Berge” from Wien Praterstern to Korneuburg, going forward after a bit of a wait on an electric loco-hauled regional express to Retz, from where the “Reblaus-Express” can be taken to Drosendorf and back at 13:25, arriving back at Retz at 16:05 – sadly too late to get back to Korneuburg have a second run with the Ernstbrunn train back into the capital, but it did connect nicely onto a regional train across the border into the Czech Republic.

Combining it with a family holiday

Clearly the shuttle nature of the operation lends itself quite nicely to permitting a day trip to one of the stations along the line; heading up on the first round trip, having a few hours there away from the trains and then returning on the Reblaus Express later.

The most obvious destination for this would be the end of the line at Drosendorf itself, a historic town and the only one in Austria with a fully-preserved city wall.  As the town’s website itself states: “Drosendorf has all the ingredients you need to dream; a lot of nature and a bit of town, a castle and a river, sunny meadows and shady avenues, blooming gardens and wooded rocks. But also inns with beautiful terraces, solid accommodations and many ideas for the future“.

However, the train also makes stops at various other points along the way, many of which have merits of their own – check out this official PDF (in German) for some detail on this.

The Wiener Stammstrecke

Most European capital cities are good for loco haulage between a number of urban stations in close proximity to each other, and the Austrian capital of Wien (Vienna) is no exception.

The route that this article focuses on is the Stammstrecke, the trunk line that stretches largely beneath the city’s feet on a north-south axis.  It covers 10 stations in just over 8 miles – from north to south, these are Wien FloridsdorfWien HandelskaiWien TraisengasseWien PratersternWien MitteWien RennwegWien Quartier BelvedereWien HbfWien Matzleinsdorfer Platz and Wien Meidling.

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Although I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this route, I don’t appear to have any photos worthy of sharing! – a mixture of being on “fast” leaps and most stations being dingy underground affairs.  Here is 1144 243 at Wels, then – a loco I last saw working through Wien in October 2019 – 12 years prior to that, on 31/08/07 (JW)

Traction

The route is used both by the S-Bahn – which uses class 4746 “Cityjet” EMUs – and also by longer-distance regional services, which as a general (but not infallible) rule of thumb are formed of push-pull sets powered by electric locomotives.  Wien Mitte is also served by the City Airport Train (CAT), and the private operator Westbahn also features with a number of through trains to Salzburg (all EMUs) – although the latter will temporary withdraw from the route at the December 2019 timetable change while it goes through a fleet renewal.  In general, with the exception of the CAT at Rennweg, all trains stop at all stations through which they pass.

The locos concerned are all electrics: class 1016 and 1116 “Tauri” and class 1144 “Howling Gales” – roughly 30 different machines in a day, the split of which is generally in the region of 10 : 20.  As these machines are equally at home on long-distance workings and are generally drawn from common pools, this gives a good opportunity to get them in on “scratch leaps”.  Obviously, this is not the only route in Wien, and plenty more locos can be hoovered up in and out of the ‘upstairs’ platforms at Wien Hbf, as well as out of Wien Westbahnhof and Wien Franz Josefs Bf too.

Diagrams can be found in the files section of the European Rail Gen gen group.  As ever, please note the etiquette that if you benefit from the gen, please pay the favour back by posting your sightings back to the group.

Other railway-related things to see and do

Just a short work from Praterstern station, in the Prater park, is the Liliputbahn 15 inch gauge railway which is well worth half an hour of your time.

Ex-ÖBB shunter 2060 009 is plinthed at Stammersdorf, a 13-minute tram ride from Wien Floridsdorf station.

Ticketing and Practicals

Obviously, as bonafide mainline passenger trains, Interrail rovers and FIP are valid on the ÖBB services.

However, there is also local rover ticket which covers the loco haulage through Wien’s central core.  The local transport organisation Wiener Linien offer 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour, weekly and monthly rovers which offer good value and cover all public transport in the Wien city area (boundaries listed here); at €8.00 for 24 hours, this clearly makes it much better value than ‘blowing up’ a full day’s rover for some local travel.

25th April 1988 – ME 1535 and the Sorø accident

It’s true that an inordinate amount of the historical articles on this site are related to railway accidents.  However, often these are some of the most noteworthy events to occur to a class during their careers.

It looks hopeful that the Danish Henschel-built, GM-engined diesel-electric class ME might just about clock up its 40th year in front-line service before withdrawal in favour of new Siemens Vectron electrics.  Although the class has not been defined by involvement in accidents – so far, not one machine has been withdrawn as a result of a collision – they have been involved in their fair share.

Probably the most significant of these occurred at Sorø on Monday 25th April 1988, when a Fredericia to København IC train hauled by ME 1535 derailed at speed (link to a 28-minute documentary, in Danish, here).  8 people died.

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ME 1535 pauses at København H, 20/03/17 (JW)

Due to engineering work at Sorø, the train was diverted ‘bang road’, but took the crossover at an estimated 100 km/h instead of the prescribed 40 km/h.  Due to its low centre of gravity, the loco remained upright, but destruction reigned further down the train.  The driver was convicted of gross negligence.

This accident is largely credited with forcing through the development of automatic train control on Danish railways, although this did not happen quickly.

Just something to have a think about the next time you catch up with ME 1535 in Denmark!

City Airport Train – Vienna airport to the city

The City Airport Train (CAT) is a loco-hauled, non-stop express passenger service which acts as a city transfer from Wien airport (VIE).

Operated jointly by ÖBB and the airport authority, it has run since 2003 between Flughafen Wien station and Wien Mitte.  The 12-mile journey is booked to take 16 minutes.  CAT services run every 30 minutes, 06:09-23:39 from the airport and 05:37-23:07 from Mitte.

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CAT logo on the bodyside of 1016 014, 31/10/19 (JW)

Traction

The CAT is worked in push-pull formation by a (semi-) dedicated fleet of ÖBB class 1016 “Taurus” electric locos painted in the green and grey CAT livery: 1016 0141016 016 and 1016 036.  Very occasionally, red locos can deputise, and equally rarely, the green ones can escape onto other work.

There are two diagrams per day, worked in such a way that all the xx:09s from Flughafen and xx:37s from Mitte are worked by one set, and the xx:39s from Flughafen and xx:07s from Mitte by the other.

The 1016s have been a more recent deployment on the CAT.  Initially, the service kicked off with three 1014s (1014 005, 1014 007 and 1014 008), later replaced by two 1116s (1116 141 and 1116 142).  However, sensibly, the dual-voltage 1116s were swapped for the pure 15kV ac 1016s in 2012.

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1016 014 at Flughafen Wien, 31/10/19 (JW)

Ticketing and Practicals

From reports I read online, some haulage enthusiasts do not always use the CAT.  Let’s start with the potential reasons why not: maybe the restricted scope of different machines that tend to appear on them, maybe because neither rover tickets or FIP are accepted on them (specific tickets need to be purchased – see below), maybe because it drops you in the city centre and not at the main station – although Wien Mitte is on the Wiener Stammstrecke which itself is a hotbed of intensive loco-hauled activity! – or maybe because there is a cheaper loco-hauled alternative in the Railjet services which do directly serve Wien Hbf.  These are all valid; not everyone’s travel itineraries are the same.

However, I would certainly highly recommend the CAT to you above the alternatives, and there are a number of (very) good reasons for this.  Very usefully, they guarantee that if you miss your outward flight from VIE due to a delay of more than 30 minutes on the CAT, they will reimburse you the cost of a new plane ticket; that kind of ‘insurance’ when using public transport to an out-of-city airport is potentially worth its weight in gold (although even the airline staff use the CAT, such is its reliability).

Free left-luggage lockers at Wien Mitte are also provided, as well as the ability to check hold luggage in there too (for Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Eurowings, SWISS and Brussels Airlines only) – these are then conveyed in a special compartment in the lower deck of the Steuerwagen.  Also, my fiancee – who I can safely say does not like trains quite as much as I do – liked it, which is a very important point to consider if on a ‘normal’ holiday!  The trains are a premium product, essentially an all-first-class offering, with leather seats, power points, WiFi, information screens, free magazines and a lot of luggage space.  We found it worked well as an introduction to the city, giving us some time and resources to familiarise ourselves with the capital on the short journey into its heart.

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CAT Dosto interior, 31/10/19 (JW)

A single ticket on the CAT, purchased at the station costs €12 single or €21 return (valid for six months).  However, if you purchase your ticket online, you make a small saving: €11 single or €19 return.  Children aged 14 and under travel free.

It is obviously best used for its intended purpose as an airport transfer service, but you could if you so chose certainly pitch up at Mitte, buy a return, have one loco out to the airport, wait there for 45 minutes, and come back with the other – total time for the round trip being 1 hour 18 minutes.  The trains pass through Wien Rennweg and the ‘main’ part of Wien Mitte station, so it should be no problem for you to see which individual locos are in use whilst spending some time travelling up and down the Wiener Stammstrecke.

Saturday 28th March 2020: A railtour with a loco from the GDR Governmental Train

Saturday 28th March 2020 will see a railtour operated by the Lausitzer Dampflokclub from Cottbus, via Dresden into the Czech Republic, with the destination of Luzna (home of the Czech railway museum).  This is advised as being intended to be hauled by class 228 diesel-hydraulic loco 228 552 (back carrying its pre-reunification number of 118 552) and steam loco 03 2155; the exact split has not been advised yet but a similar tour last year kicked off with the 228 which then provided insurance/rear-end assistance to the Pacific for the main chunk of the tour.

Notably, this loco, as V180 052, along with sisters 048 and 050 were built for the Deutsche Reichsbahn as the dedicated fleet for the GDR governmental train.

This tour has not yet been opened for bookings, but keep an eye on the operator’s website for more details.

Below is a link to a photo showing 052 along with 048 over the inner-German border in Bebra in May 1970, hooking off from that train which was conveying GDR Prime Minister Willi Stoph to Kassel to a landmark meeting with West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, an event that held the world’s attention in the midst of the Cold War. This loco will have doubtless carried out many more equally prestigious jobs in its time.

18th August 2019 – Diesel haulage event at Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs

Just a quick update that I have reached agreement that ex-SNCB diesel locos 9105 and 9109 will feature (powering) on the morning normal public service train at Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs on Sunday 18th August 2019, along with the steam loco.  The format will be:-

Steam loco – 11:45 Baasrode-Noord to Oppuurs
9105 & 9109 – 12:40 Oppuurs to Sint-Amands (distance of approx 4 km)
Steam loco – 13:10 Sint-Amands to Baasrode-Noord (arr 13:30)

This will be available at the standard fare of €12.  My friends at the railway have arranged for a suitable selection of Belgian beers and refreshments to be on sale, and I hope you avail yourselves of this!

The use of the steam loco in each direction is due to the understandable steam-orientated nature of the railway and their need to cater for their core clientele too.  We are lucky that they are able to accommodate us and our needs at all, and this is after a lot of discussion!

This should be considered as a last chance for 9105 as it is planned for it to leave the railway at the end of August.  9109 as far as I know is required by ‘everybody’.  There are other diesel locos on site which are currently too heavy to operate passenger trains on the railway, but this situation will hopefully be resolved soon and we will be welcome to return when this is the case – but of course 9105 at least will be long gone by then.

This has been arranged to coincide with the “Festival” at the Chemin de Fer du Bocq, also in Belgium, the idea being that enthusiasts can visit that on the Saturday and this on the Sunday morning before travelling home or onwards.

Getting there

Access to Baasrode-Noord is by public bus, route 245:-

10:40 dep Dendermonde station, perron 4 > 10:53 arr Baasrode-Noord (destination Brussel)
or
10:07 dep Brussel Noord station perron 1 / 11:05 dep Buggenhout station > 11:11 arr Baasrode-Noord (destination Dendermonde)

Return times:-

13:37 dep Baasrode-Noord > 13:49 arr Dendermonde station (destination Dendermonde)
or
14:53 dep Baasrode-Noord > 14:59 arr Buggenhout station (destination Brussel)

This obviously isn’t ideal, but there is also a 13:30 no.252 bus from Sint Amands station directly to Dendermonde station (arrive 13:52) that will be much more comfortable for you and still allow you to get the winners in.

What you need to do

As this is the normal public service train you do not need to book or pay for anything in advance – but PLEASE email me if you are planning to attend, as I need to supply the railway with expected numbers so they can tailor the train formation accordingly (and I will also tee up De Lijn, the bus operator, for how many people they can expect).

Many thanks for your support and interest.