My latest blog posts can be found here, but plenty of other articles are to be found elsewhere throughout the website – I suggest using the Country List as a starting point!
Fans of the 1963 movie The Great Escape may find a little of extra interest to see whilst exploring southern Germany with 218 power. An astonishing number of seemingly disparate scenes were filmed in and around the pretty town of Füssen, and the station itself was where the scene involving the death of David McCallum’s character Ashley-Pitt was filmed.
However, the true story on which the film was largely based also has links to the region, and specifically to routes and areas that the 218s have been synonymous with throughout their careers. Although the camp, Stalag Luft III, was situated about 500 miles away – in the now-Polish town of Żagań, east of Cottbus and south of Poznań – two of the escapees actually made it all the way by rail to Bavaria.
Four days after the escape, on 29th March 1944, South African airmen Johannes Gouws and Rupert Stevens had almost made it to their destination – neutral Switzerland. But they could not evade the Gestapo for long. One was apprehended on a Lindau-bound express at Kaufbeuren, the other on a local train between Mühldorf and Rosenheim; history seems unclear which was which. That they had dodged capture for so far and for so long was clearly against all odds, and it is tragic to consider that had the first managed to remain unidentified for just a little while longer on his train, then he would have reached Lindau, and actually been within clear sight of Switzerland and safety.
218415 at Füssen. In the film, the character of Ashley-Pitt collapsed in a heap about halfway down the length of the train, whereas one of the real escapees was apprehended just 25 miles away in Kaufbeuren. 17/01/15 (JW)
Of the 76 men who escaped the camp, 73 were recaptured, of which 50 were executed on Hitler’s direct orders. Gouws and Stevens were to be among them. Little is definitively known about their capture and what happened next, other than the fact that the Nazis are thought to have taken the cost of their cremation out of the money found on them when they were captured. Urns containing their ashes were sent back to Stalag Luft III with only the date of 29th March 1944 and the location of München noted upon them. Both men are buried in the Old Garrison Cemetery in Poznań.
If you are flying between the UK and continental Europe – particularly if you are taking advantage of low cost flights – the chances are that you will be travelling on one of a fairly small number of narrow-body aircraft types.
However, if you know where to look, there are numerous opportunities to fly short-haul on bigger aircraft types, including those that are usually only to be found on much longer (and more expensive) routes.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most useful for those of us travelling to, from and around the Continent for rail-related reasons. Some only run on certain days of the week, these are shown in brackets.
Iberia – BA522 18:30 Heathrow to Madrid (7 days a week – can be either A330 or A340)
Iberia – IB3166 15:50 Madrid to Heathrow (7 days a week – can be either A330 or A340)
Air China – CA961 06:55 München to Athinai (W/S)
Air China – CA842 11:25 Barcelona to Wien (M/F/Su)
Swissair – LX1574 07:10 Zürich to Wien (F)
Swissair – LX1575 09:40 Wien to Zürich (F)
Swissair – LX1018 12:50 Zürich to Düsseldorf (F)
Swissair – LX1019 14:55 Düsseldorf to Zürich (F)
Swissair – LX1026 17:45 Zürich to Düsseldorf (F)
Swissair – LX1027 19:50 Düsseldorf to Zürich (F)
Finnair – AY832 10:20 Heathrow to Helsinki (M/W/Th/F/Su)
Finnair – AY831 08:00 Helsinki to Heathrow (M/W/Th/F/Su)
British Airways – BA456 06:20 Heathrow to Madrid (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA428 06:45 Heathrow to Amsterdam (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA902 07:05 Heathrow to Frankfurt (M/T/W/Th/Su)
British Airways – BA632 11:55 Heathrow to Athinai (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA780 13:15 Heathrow to Stockholm Arlanda (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA460 13:50 Heathrow to Madrid (M/T/W/Th/F/Su)
British Airways – BA558 18:20 Heathrow to Roma Fiumicino (M/T/Th/F/Su)
British Airways – BA551 08:00 Roma Fiumicino to Heathrow (M/T/Th/F/Su)
British Airways – BA429 10:25 Amsterdam to Heathrow (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA903 10:55 Frankfurt to Heathrow (M/T/W/Th/Su)
British Airways – BA457 11:10 Madrid to Heathrow (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA781 18:00 Stockholm Arlanda to Heathrow (7 days a week)
British Airways – BA461 18:25 Madrid to Heathrow (M/T/W/Th/F/Su)
British Airways – BA633 18:30 Athinai to Heathrow (7 days a week)
There are also a number of domestic UK flights using BA 767s, on the Heathrow to Glasgow and Edinburgh routes. The oldest of these planes dates from 1989 and they are scheduled for imminent withdrawal.
British Airways – BA458 07:25 Heathrow to Madrid (Summer 2017 – details TBC)
British Airways – BA459 11:45 Madrid to Heathrow (Summer 2017 – details TBC)
Korean Air – KE933 18:10 Wien to Zürich (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday)
Air France – AF1681 09:40 Heathrow to Paris CDG (until October 2017, daily except Wednesday)
Air France – AF1680 07:30 Paris CDG to Heathrow (until October 2017, daily except Wednesday)
Ethiopian Airlines – ET725 19:30 Stockholm to Wien (Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Sunday)
LATAM Chile – LA704 15:05 Madrid to Frankfurt (7 days a week)
The situation with aircraft is far more fluid than that with trains. I’ll endeavour to keep this list as up-to-date as possible, but if you’re aware of any amendments that I need to make, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
EA3022 and ME1513, Østerport, 20/03/17 (JW)
I woke up in my own bed in Birmingham, travelled behind 18 mainline diesel locomotives and 1 electric (equating to exactly 50% of a country’s passenger locomotive fleet) and returned to my own bed that same night. All for half the price of your average enthusiast railtour.
København, or Copenhagen, is the capital city of Denmark. It is very much the engine room of the country, containing approximately a quarter of its entire population, and contains some true architectural gems.
The view from København’s Rundetaarn, 15/02/16 (JW)
The city sits on the west side of the Øresund Strait, which separates Denmark from Sweden. Since 2000, the two countries have been connected by a fixed link across the Øresund that is in fact part suspension bridge and part tunnel, carrying both a railway and a motorway. With the journey time by rail between København and the Swedish city of Malmö being just a shade over half an hour, cross-border traffic is heavy.
Aside from via this bridge, Denmark’s only land border is with Germany, although travel between the two countries via this route is time-consuming. A far quicker way of reaching Germany is via the through train (sadly, formed of a DMU these days) to Hamburg which uses one of the last three passenger-carrying train ferries in Europe: that between Rødby and Puttgarden – however construction of a fixed link replacement is expected to commence in 2019.
Loco Haulage on Passenger Trains
To the UK enthusiast, one of the most attractive aspects of the København railway scene is the intensive loco hauled passenger service that it enjoys, and so this will form the core of this article. The Danish state railway operator, Danske Statsbaner (DSB), operates two classes of main line locomotive: one diesel (class “ME”) and one electric (class “EA”).
There are currently four MEs painted in the new “helrød” livery – here, two of them (ME1528 and ME1521) sit side by side at Østerport, 20/03/17 (JW)
The MEs were built by Henschel in Germany and entered traffic between 1981 and 1985. They are six-axle, 175 kph (109 mph), 3,300hp diesel-electrics with 16-cylinder General Motors 645-series power units. 37 were built (numbered ME1501 to ME1537), with 33 remaining in service. ME1502, ME1507 and ME1510 have all been scrapped, and the doyen ME1501 is in the collection of the Danish railway museum at their facility in Randers. Their days are now sadly numbered; DSB announced last year that they will be purchasing 26 new electric locomotives with the express aim of replacing the MEs from 2020. When that sad day comes, it will not only mark the end of the type in DSB service, but also the end of the bond between DSB and GM which dates back to the procurement of the first “MY” class Nohab loco in 1954.
ME1522 departs København H, 20/03/17 (JW)
As someone who spent a lot of his formative years travelling on the railways of Ireland, the MEs immediately bring to my mind the sound of the “traditional” big GMs over there. The booming roar is reminiscent of the 071 Class machines of Iarnrod Eireann and (particularly) their Northern Ireland Railways 111 Class cousins, although the MEs have the 16-cylinder version of the 12-cylinder power units of the Irish machines. If, like me, you are still mourning the loss of regular passenger work by these fine machines, then a trip to Denmark will be very rewarding indeed!
EA3022 at København H, 20/03/17 (JW)
Built to a largely identical exterior design as the MEs, the EAs are 5,400hp electric locos and appeared on the scene at roughly the same time, to coincide with Denmark’s first main line electrification project. Initially comprising of a fleet of 22 machines, 16 have been exported (12 to Bulgaria and 4 to Romania) and one has been scrapped, leaving just 5 in service in their home country (EA3004, EA3007, EA3010, EA3020 and EA3022).
EA3022 departs Høje Taastrup, 20/03/17 (JW)
Denmark has had a largely multiple unit-operated railway for many years, the remaining loco haulage being concentrated on a small number of routes radiating from the capital on predominantly commuter-based traffic. There are no longer any hauled overnight services. The MEs handle most of the services on two lines, that from Østerport to Holbæk and Kalundborg, and that from Østerport to Næstved, Nykøbing and Rødby Færge (see map below). The remaining EAs see use on the route from Østerport to Slagelse.
All of these services cover the section of line between Østerport and Roskilde, therefore this route sees a very intensive loco-hauled service. The three easternmost stations – Østerport, Nørreport and København Hovedbanegård (Copenhagen Central, usually shortened to “København H”) – are situated very closely together in the city centre area, with Nørreport being actually underground. Consequently, this section of line is useful to travel behind a large number of locomotives in a short period of time, should that be your primary area of interest.
ME1529 at København H, 20/03/17 (JW)
However, this would not allow you to experience the machines really being put through their paces. The “racing stretch” from København through Valby and Høje Taastrup is excellent for this, with the locos’ maximum speeds being taken full advantage of. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that fuel economy is a key consideration for DSB and, as a result, its drivers do not drive purely in accordance with the linespeed, but also with the guidance of an in-cab computer system that matches a train’s progress to its schedule.
All trains are worked in push-pull mode with the locomotives on the “country” end, and are formed of double-deck Bombardier-built stock of the same type found in Germany, Luxembourg and Israel. This stock is air-conditioned with no opening windows, however it’s still perfectly possible to hear an ME from inside the train, even two or three coaches away!
DSB double-deck stock interior, 20/03/17 (JW)
DSB loco hauled routes, March 2017 (JW)
Before you go
Denmark is not in the Eurozone; it is still using the krone. The exchange rate at the time of writing (March 2017) is £1.00 = DKK 8.58. I found it was certainly worth exchanging my money before I travelled (DKK 300 was more than enough for me, in terms of my travel ticket, snacks and drinks) as cash machines do charge you to withdraw money when you’re there.
The official language spoken is (predictably!) Danish. However – as horrendously “Little Englander” as this sounds – it is not imperative to learn the language to get by. English is widely spoken and understood, particularly around the capital, and the majority of station signs are in both Danish and English. However, as with any foreign travel, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few key words of the local language before you travel.
ME1503 at Østerport, 20/03/17 (JW)
København is very easily accessible by air from the UK, with flights generally taking approximately 1½-2 hours. My criteria of a “day trip” is that it should not be necessary to book any overnight accommodation, and therefore the only airports that would currently provide an early outward and late return service to København are Heathrow, Luton and Stansted. However, there are also direct flights from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle among others.
The routes from the UK are well served by a number of the low cost carriers (chiefly, easyJet and Ryanair) and, perhaps unusually given this, the airport is very close to the city that it pertains to serve! It takes just 13 minutes on the train from the airport station to København H; trains (all worked by multiple units) depart from platform 2 every 10 minutes or so during the day. Alternatively, the metro station is upstairs and Nørreport can be reached this way in 15 minutes.
Validity in København
For a day trip, the best ticket to use to travel around is a 24-hour all-zone ticket. These are rovers which cost DKK 130 (£15.15 as of March 2017) and are valid from the airport into København, out as far as Roskilde on the loco-hauled route, and on the unit-only lines north of the city. It is also valid on local Metro and bus services in the city area.
The easiest place to purchase them from is from a large bank of red ticket machines immediately outside “Arrivals” at the airport. These take cash (in the form of notes and coins) and also cards. They are touch-screen and handily have an “English” option! It’s literally a 10-second process to get yourself a ticket; you can select the DKK 130 day rover by pressing the buttons on screen as shown below:
Day rovers, easy to purchase! (JW)
Should you wish to travel further out of København than Roskilde, your best bet would still be to purchase one of the rover tickets as above (it works out cheaper than an airport to Roskilde return!) and then rebook from Roskilde, although the price does begin to ramp up – for example, a return from Roskilde to the end of one of the branches at Kalundborg will set you back DKK 200.
If you are lucky enough to be eligible for FIP travel, then one of the boxes on your DSB coupon will cover you on all loco hauled trains mentioned here. However, FIP is not valid on the trains between the airport and the city, nor on the Metro.
I mentioned in the introduction to this article that this was a relatively cheap day trip to make, so here are some numbers to back that up. Flights were booked approximately two weeks prior to travel on the Ryanair website. I travelled on a Monday in March – flights on weekends and in school holidays do tend to be more expensive.
Outward flight ticket (Ryanair) = £21.00
Rover ticket = £15.15
Return flight ticker (Ryanair) = £13.00
Total = £49.15
I’ve elected to leave petrol, parking and sustenance out of the equation, as these would be costs associated with most days out regardless of destination. I’m sure you’ll agree that £49.15 compares favourably with a day on a UK railtour!
A day trip to København can cater for a variety of railway interests, and I would certainly not be presumptuous enough to expect that everyone would wish to approach their day in the same way I might.
ME1518, Ringsted, 01/09/07 (JW)
However, my intention on my most recent trip on Monday 20th March 2017 was to spend my time purely in search of loco haulage within the boundary of my rover, and I certainly felt I was successful. In order to give the day some structure, I elected to spend the first half of my time in the city area travelling behind as many different locomotives as possible, and the second half enjoying them at full speed on the “racing stretch” of the main line out of the city.
My total score for the day was 18 different MEs and 1 EA – exactly half of DSB’s 38-strong passenger locomotive fleet – although it’s fair to say that if I’d made my trip on a weekend, these figures would have been significantly lower. Two more MEs (ME1515 and ME1534) were also seen in traffic on the day.
For interest, my “move” and the loco numbers involved is shown below. At the time I travelled, DSB’s fleet of “IC4” multiple units had been taken out of traffic, so there were a number of their usual services which were worked by MEs – some of which I travelled on. However, this did not seem to affect the total number of MEs that were in service.
|Luton Airport||0840||EI-EVJ||FR7404 08:40 Luton – København|
|Københavns Lufthavn||1204||EMU||R1351 12:04 Lufthavn – Nivå|
|Østerport||1228||1234||ME1505||R1549 12:34 Østerport – Kalundborg|
|Nørreport||1236||1246||ME1503||R4549 12:43 Østerport- Holbæk|
|København H||1250||1259||EMU||S 12:10 Frederikksund – Klampenborg|
|Østerport||1305||1314||ME1516||R2553 13:14 Østerport – Holbæk|
|Nørreport||1318||1321||ME1521||R1532 11:46 Kalundborg – Østerport|
|Østerport||1325||1334||ME1528||R1553 13:34 Østerport – Kalundborg|
|Nørreport||1335||1346||ME1511||R4553 13:43 Østerport- Holbæk|
|København H||1350||1355||ME1529||R2232 11:59 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1357||1403||ME1532||R2253 14:00 Østerport – Nykøbing|
|København H||1407||1418||ME1530||R1536 12:46 Kalundborg – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1420||1426||ME1533||R1257 14:23 Østerport – Nykøbing|
|København H||1430||1438||ME1517||R2536 13:35 Holbæk – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1440||1446||ME1535||R4557 14:43 Østerport – Holbaek|
|København H||1450||1455||ME1509||R2236 12:59 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1457||1503||ME1521||R2257 15:00 Østerport – Nykøbing|
|København H||1507||1524||ME1513||R1240 13:47 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|Østerport||1531||1543||ME1503||R4561 15:43 Østerport – Holbæk|
|København H||1550||1555||ME1518||R2240 13:59 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1557||1603||ME1517||R2261 16:00 Østerport – Nykøbing|
|Høje Taastrup||1625||1633||ME1522||R2244 14:59 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|København H||1649||1710||ME1518||R2265 17:00 Østerport – Nykøbing|
|Høje Taastrup||1725||1733||ME1527||R2248 15:59 Nykøbing – Østerport|
|Valby||1743||1757||ME1503||R4548 17:05 Holbæk – Østerport|
|København H||1802||1827||ME1530||R2573 18:14 Østerport – Holbæk|
|Høje Taastrup||1841||1856||EA3022||R4354 18:04 Slagelse – Østerport*|
|*via Hvidovre – Ny Ellebjerg – Sydhavn|
|København H||1913||1918||ME1509||R1556 17:46 Kalundborg – Østerport|
|Nørreport||1920||1941||ME1537||R2556 18:35 Holbæk – Østerport|
|Østerport||1945||2000||ME1532||R2277 20:00 Østerport – Rødby|
|København Airport||2200||EI-DHA||FR7407 22:00 København – Luton|
Note (March 2018): 2018 has not got off to an auspicious start for the class, with the discovery on 26th January of cracks in two ME wheelsets resulting the grounding of all 33 machines and the sending of each axle to the workshop in Aarhus for detailed examination; a process that is taking a long time as there is simply no room for all 198 ME axles to be in Aarhus at the same time. Currently, most of the fleet remain out of traffic and some of the wheelsets have been found to be write-offs, and Bombardier may not be able to supply new ones until September. A number of MEs remain in traffic (those which have been examined and signed off as OK), but currently their availability – and consequently the number that are in use each day – is considerably less than the plan requires. It should be pointed out – although without comment – that the damaged axles found in January are said in various news reports to be from ME 1532, which had failed in some style between Holbæk and Regstrup on 13th September 2017 (with an axle defect) whilst working a passenger train, and was then dumped in Roskilde for some months.