General Electric 4036 – under restoration in France

Those of us who attended my haulage event at the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin (CFTR) in north-east France on Sunday 9th September 2018 did so primarily to enjoy haulage from ex-SNCF loco A1AA1A 62029, built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania in 1946.

However, this was not the only American-built diesel on the site.  During the visit, we were treated to a tour of their depot, in which we were shown and told about another very interesting locomotive from the USA.  I would like to share its story with a wider audience here.


4036 under restoration at Volgelsheim, 09/09/18 (JW)

To give a bit of historical background, the Second World War was in full swing when the decision to undertake an invasion across the English Channel was taken by the Allies at the Trident Conference in Washington DC in May 1943.  This invasion was to be the largest by sea that the world had ever seen, and would occur via the northern coast of France, in the region of Normandy.  Of course, we are familiar today with the D-Day Landings of 6th June 1944.

The year between conception and realisation of the plans allowed an enormous deal of planning to occur.  Railways were to form an integral part of the invasion, initially in terms of transportation of troops and equipment, and indeed since 1942 the USA had been shipping rolling stock to the UK for such an eventuality; this was stepped up a gear after the Trident Conference.  However the focus was not so much on the invasion itself but what came after; in an attempt to disrupt the invasion, the Germans rendered much of the French railway network entirely unusable, both in terms of infrastructure and rolling stock.  It was clear that whatever was provided to work in France after the invasion would need to be durable and able to operate in harsh conditions.

Among the American rolling stock was a fleet of 10 twin-engined diesel-electric “dropcab” switching locomotives manufactured by General Electric between March and May 1944, with works numbers 27528 to 27537, and given the running numbers 7228 to 7237 by the USATC.  As built, the locos had two 6-cylinder Cummins power units; these were later replaced by 8-cylinder veeform Baudouin DP8s.

The locos passed in 1947 to the SE (Société générale des chemins de fer économiques) for use on their Gironde network as 4028 to 4037.

Preservation of 4036

4036 was retired by the Chemin de Fer de Blaise et Der (CFBD) in 2011, when the operation was ended the locomotive was redundant.  It was saved by a member of the CFTR in 2014 who transported it to its new home shortly afterwards.

The future and how you can help

4036 is in the midst of a comprehensive restoration, and has already been started and moved under its own power.  However, there is plenty of work left to do before it can once again haul trains and form a mobile memorial to the events of 1944.

As with any other restoration project, the speed of its progress is dictated by the volunteers and funds available.  Although I am fairly sure that most reading this will be UK or USA-based and therefore unable to help with the former problem, we are able to help financially by making a donation into the project’s PayPal account at sebastien.kieffer(AT)

If you do choose to do this, please select the “send to friends and family” option and ensure that “4036” is included as a note/reference so that he can identify the transfer.  If you do not “do” PayPal, but would still like to help out, please get in touch with me and I can try to assist.

Additionally, as I know we have some supremely knowledgeable and well-connected people here – does anyone happen to know of any sources from where we might be able to obtain some (any) GE documentation about these machines for the team – particularly regarding, but not limited to, electrical wiring?  The lack of this is another thing that is hampering the progress of the restoration.  If so, please do let me know – I don’t mind following up even the most tenuous of leads myself.

33 years since the Sud-Express disaster

When I was a Class 50-mad kid taken to Portugal to experience their Iberian cousins by my Dad, I took in as much detail from my Portuguese crossing-off book (Fearless Publications’ excellent tome from 1991 – who else has that on their shelves?) as possible. One of the things that stuck out was the reference to both 1439 and 1961 having been written off in a horrific accident involving the Sud-Express.

In later life I learnt that this accident occurred between Nelas and Mangualde exactly 33 years ago this evening, on 11th September 1985, with the big Bombardier loco on the “Sud-Express” colliding head-on at speed with the EE/Sorefame machine which was on a regional train. The result indeed truly was horrific, with many of those who survived the impact killed by burning or asphyxiation in the resulting inferno.

On this worldwide day of remembrance, I’m also taking a minute to remember the 56 (officially, but estimated to be up to 150) people who perished in this accident. There are some truly shocking photos online of the accident, but instead I’m choosing to share this rare image of 1439 in happier days to accompany this little note.

Halle (Saale) route S7 – East German nostalgia

Loco haulage on this route finally ended on 11th April 2018, but I’ll keep the article on the website for posterity as it has been popular – even though the S7 is now worked solely by EMUs, you may still like to visit this interesting corner of the former DDR!

Ironically, “Ostalgia” is big business.  Nearly 30 years after German reunification, nostalgia for communist East Germany has never been more popular. 

It seems that, with almost as much haste as the traces of the former country were wiped away following the fall of the Berlin Wall, people are now scrambling to experience what life was like behind it.  You can drive a Trabant car in convoy around East Berlin on an innovative sightseeing tour, then stay at painstakingly-styled themed hotels.  You can purchase clothes, food and all manner of other items of “reborn” Communist brands, recreated by popular demand.  You can have your photo taken at Checkpoint Charlie in front of a replica border hut, with men dressed up as border guards.

Yet all of these experiences are in some way synthetic. This part of the world has experienced so many changes since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, that it is nigh on impossible to recreate “everyday life” in any setting.  After all, this was a country where you could realistically expect your intercity train to be powered by steam right up until the late 1980s.  Today you can flash through the Sachsen-Anhalt countryside on some of the world’s most modern trains at speeds of up to 300 km/h.


143 043 arrives at Halle Silberhöhe, 30/09/13 (JW)

A small, but nonetheless very interesting exception exists in the vicinity of Halle (Saale), approximately 20 miles west of the city of Leipzig.  Halle (Saale) is a city with a history visibly stretching back centuries, and there is plenty for the tourist to see there.

The area around Halle is known as big centre for the chemical industry, with both the famous Leuna and Buna plants a short distance away.  These two gained particular importance in the post-war period when they were expropriated, expanded as part of the 1958 “Chemieprogramm” and used to supply the Soviet Union, jointly employing up to 50,000 people between them (equating to 1 in 350 of all the citizens of East Germany).

The mushrooming of industry here, the need for people to work there and the poor quality of housing elsewhere (much of it badly damaged by war) led to a fascinating East German project – the conception of a completely new and thoroughly modern city, known initially as the “Chemiearbeiterstadt West” (“Chemical Workers’ City – West”).  Later refined to “Halle-Neustadt”, this was to be a short distance to the west of the existing city.  Construction began on 15th July 1964 under the watchful eye of the architect Richard Paulick who oversaw the project.

“The laying of the foundation stone of Neustadt in 1964 was also that of the Halle S-Bahn network” Ralf Jacob, Halle city archivist

In stark contrast to the 700-year-old buildings of Halle, Neustadt was a futuristic (for the time) settlement consisting largely of grey concrete tower blocks known as “Plattenbauten”, synonymous with East Germany, designed to home over 90,000 people in total in nine Wohnkomplexe (“living complexes”).  Perhaps bizarrely, none of Halle-Neustadt’s streets apart from the main drag (the “Magistrale”) had any names – each block was identified by a number only – although this is one thing that has since changed.  Each Wohnkomplexe was intended to be pretty self-sufficient, featuring shops, restaurants etc, but the city’s primary function of a dormitory for the chemical workers was very close to the surface.


Basher’s eye view of 143 871 on the S7, 30/09/13 (JW)

Key to this was the creation of a public transport infrastructure to link the residential districts with each other, the chemical plants and also the original city of Halle.  The centrepiece of this was the S-Bahn, the first part of which opened in 1967.

Halle S-Bahn

It may perhaps be a little odd to the 2017 observer to consider that this S-Bahn – a term we now largely associate with rapid transit operated by electric multiple units – was initially operated with Deutsche Reichsbahn V180-type diesel-hydraulic locos (later class 118, and DB class 228 after reunification) with up to 12 double-decker carriages in push-pull formation.  These ran from the station now known as Halle Zscherbener Straße to Merseburg, Luna and Beuna and were supplemented by VT2.09 “pig taxis” to Halle (Saale) Hbf.

Electrification was soon to follow, along with new stations in the south of Halle-Neustadt as the city sprawled ever outwards and an extension through the Halle-Neustadt station (situated underground beneath the centre of the new city) through to Halle-Nietleben and Halle-Dölau.  This allowed an electric S-Bahn service to be operated in an inverted “S” shape through the adjacent cities, beginning at Halle-Trotha and ending at Halle-Dölau – a distance of 22.8 km by rail, but less than 7 km as the crow flies.  Traction for this was initially classes E11 and E42 (later DB class 109 and 142) electrics – as seen here in a rather impressive photo from after the fall of the Wall – and later the once-ubiquitous class 143 electric locos.


143 871 at Halle (Saale) Hbf, 30/09/13 (JW)

Halle-Neustadt Today

Halle-Neustadt’s initial strength has also proved to be its downfall.  Conceived to home chemical workers, the plants are now shadows of their former selves, and this has had the predictable knock-on effect.

Home to 93,000 people at its peak, the turn of the century had seen Halle-Neustadt’s population reduce to 60,000, and now barely 40,000 live there.  A startlingly high ratio of those people are the old people who were the young target market of the project 50 years ago.  Many of the Plattenbauten lie empty, including those originally built for the families of the Soviet soldiers who built them.  Consequently, some have even been demolished.  Doubtless more will follow as the population gets older.  Some modernisation has occurred – including to Halle-Neustadt’s S-Bahn station which retained this dilapidated throwback as late as 2009 – but generally, its East German character can still be very clearly seen.

Neither the direct link from Halle-Neustadt to Merseburg (2007), nor the section of line beyond Halle-Nietleben to Halle-Dölau (2002) retain a train service – although part of the latter saw its first train in 15 years in April 2017 when the Freunde der Halle-Hattstedter Eisenbahn ran a track machine along it (see news article here).  For the meantime, though, the S7 route through Halle-Neustadt remains a little picture of a lost country.

The above is a link to a 9-minute YouTube video uploaded by user Berger Max neatly showing life on the S7 route in 2017.  The deplorable state of Neustadt station can clearly be seen.

Halle S7 today – loco-hauled

The S7 is the remainder of the Trotha to Dölau route, now cut back to serve only Halle (Saale) Hbf to Halle-Nietleben.  The section from the Hbf to Trotha has now been subsumed into an EMU-worked S-Bahn route from Leipzig.

Using East German traction (class 143) and East German-built double deck rolling stock, and running through as East German an environment as you are likely to find in 2018, this is probably as authentic as “Ostalgic” experience as any you could have.

Halle retains an allocation of five class 143s (143 034143 276, 143 810143 871 and 143 903) and the S7 represents 100% of their remaining booked work.  This is now an oasis in a desert of suburban loco haulage – modern class 442 “Talent” EMUs having recently replaced locos on all but this route – although January 2018 has seen a couple of impromptu vice-unit appearances by 143s on route S9.

Two sets are employed on the route, operating at 30-minute intervals (xx:20 and xx:50 from both ends).  If you simply wish to travel on both in the shortest time possible, then the “shack of choice” is Halle-Silberhöhe – you can depart from Hbf at xx:20, be at Silberhöhe from xx:28-33.  This +5 is guaranteed to “make”, as Silberhöhe is a single-platform station.  (It does, however, have the appearance of a former island platform – with a second platform face and ballast, but no track – this was never in fact laid, and was part of an uncompleted project to allow a 10-minute frequency along this route in the 1980s, such was the amount of usage that the line was getting).

This will get you back at the Hbf with both machines in your book by xx:41.  (To note, these trains now use the new platform 13a at the Hbf, which is a few minutes’ – signposted – walk from the main station).  However, if you have the time, I really would recommend a little wander into Halle-Neustadt.

Update 31/03/18 – From 18/04/18, the RE9 “Rhein-Sieg-Express” in the Köln area will have two class 442 “Hamster” EMUs replaced by two loco-hauled “Dosto” sets.  It is expected that these will be the two sets from Halle currently used on the S7.  This will mean that the 442s will move to Halle to work the S7, giving a common fleet in that area.  I would not expect the 143s to move with the stock, so if you want to ride behind them, best to move quickly…

An introduction to Luxembourg

3006_Noertzange_240217_J Wilcox

3006 departs Noertzange, 24/02/17 (JW)

One of Europe’s smallest countries remains a fair hotbed of electric loco haulage, and its entire network can be covered in a day.  Here is a brief introduction to the country.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, landlocked between France, Belgium and Germany, has a landmass of only 999 miles, and is home to approximately 576,000 citizens – roughly the same number as Sheffield.  It is the quintessential European country, with three official administrative languages (French, German and the local dialect of Letzeburgesch).

Its “European-ness” is underlined by the fact that it is home to the village of Schengen, on the banks of the river Mosel, where the territories of France, Germany and Luxembourg meet.  It was at this point on this river on 14th June 1985 where the Schengen Agreement, the European open-borders travel agreement, was signed.  Luxembourg survives and thrives on free movement across the borders that surround it.


3002 at Luxembourg station, 24/02/17 (JW)

History and Geography

Officially neutral, Luxembourg was overrun by Germany in both world wars; it was actually annexed into Germany from 1942 until its liberation in 1944.  It ended its neutrality in 1948, when the Benelux customs union between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands came into being, and it joined NATO the following year.  Despite its modern alignment with these two countries, Luxembourg has closer ties to France and Germany both historically and culturally.

The country has two distinctive regions – the northern third, known as the “Oesling”, is a part of the Ardennes massif, a sparsely populated, hilly and forested area that was the setting for much of the fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and 1945.  The larger, flatter, more populous southern portion of Luxembourg is the “Gutland”, part of the scarplands of Lorraine.  It is relatively urbanised and contains the country’s eponymous capital.

The face of the country has changed dramatically in recent decades.  As late as the 1970s it was virtually dependent on the steel industry, and belying its tiny size, it was the world’s ninth largest producer of steel prior to the 1974 steel crisis.  However, its manufacturing industry has never been great; much of the steel it produced was exported, massively aided by the arrival of the railway in 1859.  The events of the mid-70s meant that its importance as a steel nation has diminished, although the world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, is based there.

4004_Berchem_240217_J Wilcox

4004 pauses at Berchem with an evening commuter train out of Luxembourg City.  24/02/17 (JW)

Luxembourg was forced to reinvent itself.  With little else by way of natural resources to fall back on, it has turned to banking and finance, which now comprises of over a third of its GDP.  It is now a formidable financial centre, being home, for example, to the European Investment Bank.  However, you don’t need to look too hard in the Gutland to see evidence that steel-making remains a prominent activity.

The development of Luxembourg is non-stop, and construction of new facilities continues apace – locals apparently joke that Luxembourg’s national bird is the crane!  Luxembourg now has the second highest GDP per capita in the world after only Qatar, but despite this, the country was ranked second unhappiest in the world (second only to the African corruption-riddled failed state of Chad) in the “Happy Planet Index” in 2016.

Railway network

The railways of Luxembourg are operated by the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL).  The majority of its 170-mile network is electrified (including all of its passenger routes), most of which see at least some loco-hauled services.

All routes radiate from Luxembourg City, the station actually being situated over a mile from the city centre itself, with the bus station on its forecourt.

Here is a link to CFL’s online passenger route map.

Rolling stock

An intriguing factor of CFL rolling stock is that it does not possess any truly unique mainline designs – it tagging orders on to bigger ones from neighbouring countries or taking small batches of “off the shelf” designs.

There are two predominant types of electric loco that, between them, handle all of these hauled services.  The older of the two is class 3000, 7,000hp Alstom “Tractis” dual-voltage machines dating from the late 1990s.  20 of these were built – 3001 to 3020 – as part of a joint order with the Belgian Railways for their 60 class 13s, which can themselves be seen operating to Luxembourg on Intercity services from Brussel and Liège, as well as freights.  3001, however, did not last long in service – having entered traffic on 31st July 1998, it was withdrawn with fire damage after only a year’s use, and was finally cut up at the end of 2011.

More recently, CFL has procured a fleet of 20 class 4000 locos (4001-4020), Bombardier TRAXX machines that are a passenger version of DB’s class 185 and SBB’s class 482 designs.

Both types are also seen on freight work, and using their dual-voltage capability, can be seen operating internationally on such duties – the 3000s into France and Belgium, and the 4000s into Germany.

The rest of CFL’s passenger fleet comprises of multiple units – of three types: class 2000 (based on SNCF’s Z11500s), class 2200 “Coradia Duplex” units (as SNCF Z24500) and class 2300 “Stadler KISS” units (as used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and further afield).

CFL do retain some diesels – some shunters, as well as slightly bigger MaK 1000BBs and Vossloh G1206s for working freights on the small number of unwired routes and sidings.


MaK 1100BB, no.1505, shunts some coaches at Luxembourg, 24/02/17 (JW)

Times and fares

Timetables for the Luxembourg railways can be found in PDF form here.  All public transport in Luxembourg is fairly heavily subsidised, and therefore it’s quite cheap to get around.  The day rover (“Dagesbilljee“) valid on all trains and buses is great value for €4/day; Luxembourg using the Euro, as does all of its neighbours.

Those lucky enough to be under the age of 20 enjoy free public transport in the Grand Duchy, so long as they are carrying ID that proves that.  However, with effect from 1st March 2020, travel on public transport is set to become free for everyone.

How to get there

There are a couple of options to get to Luxembourg from the UK.  To do so by rail, it is easiest and quickest to catch the Eurostar to Brussels and then change onto one of the hourly Intercity services direct to Luxembourg – which are generally shared by AM96 EMUs and class 13 electric locos.  Alternatively, it’s about a 4½ hour drive from Calais.

The country has one airport, which is currently served directly from Birmingham, London City, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, and Manchester.  It served as a Luftwaffe base during World War 2, and has now carved a niche as a major European airfreight hub.

The number 16 and number 29 buses both link it to the main station, with a journey time of approximately 25 minutes.  The latter stops at Cents-Hamm station, on the route to Trier, on the way.  Traffic congestion is an increasing problem in Luxembourg, which has the highest car ownership level in the world (661 per 1000 inhabitants), although the new tram system, currently under construction, will eventually serve the airport.


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“Flüchtlingszüge”, October 1989

Railways have been key to facilitating many of the major historical events of the last two centuries, but it is rare that the trains have been the subject of the world’s attention.  This is the tale of two nights in 1989 when, for a series of trains, that was indeed the case.

The Background

The German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, was a Communist state formed in 1949.  Mainly due to the comparative lack of its own naturally-occurring industrial resources, it never managed to match the “economic miracle” that occurred in West Germany after the Second World War, and indeed the flow of people from East to West in search of a better life was stemmed only by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.  Ten years later, the man who masterminded the project – Erich Honecker – became the country’s leader, and ruled with an iron fist.  Many citizens dreamed of leaving the country, but the very existence of the Wall – as part of the Iron Curtain that bisected the continent – steadfastly prevented them from doing so.  Their international travel was limited to a small number of fellow Warsaw Pact nations.

As the 1980s progressed, disquiet diffused throughout the Eastern Bloc.  Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, Moscow no longer got involved in the Warsaw Pact states’ internal affairs, and amid this atmosphere, the first crack in the Iron Curtain showed on 11th September 1989 when Hungary dismantled its border with Austria.  Thousands of East Germans began travelling through Czechoslovakia to Hungary for “holidays”, then simply crossing to Austria and beginning a new life in the West.  Unsurprisingly, this situation was not allowed to develop.  As a bid to cut off the flow of people, Czechoslovakia closed its border with Hungary to GDR citizens.

This left thousands of East Germans stranded in Czechoslovakia.  Rather than return home, many headed straight to Prague and congregated at the West German Embassy, 3,000 people cramming themselves in the baroque palace and its gardens, seeking asylum in the West.  West Germany did not have grounds to protest – according to its own Basic Law, they were all German citizens.  Eventually, almost double that number presented themselves.

This had the potential to cause extreme embarrassment to the GDR regime, who were gearing up for lavish celebrations in the first week of October to mark the 40th anniversary of their country’s formation.  At a time when they were preparing to demonstrate that everything was rosy in the East, they really did not need a high-profile diplomatic incident in which significant numbers of their citizens would rather live in borderline unsanitary conditions in corridors and cupboards than make a life in their country.

The decision to let them leave for the West was therefore an obvious one that suited all parties.  However, Honecker wanted the last word.  He could have let them all simply leave on service trains directly to the West German border.  However, in revenge for potentially tainting his highly-anticipated anniversary celebration, he wished to humiliate them.  He also wanted to portray them to the world as traitors, as undesirables that were being expelled by the glorious GDR rather than fleeing it.

Honecker’s self-serving solution was to insist that all 5,490 refugees travel in sealed refugee trains – or Flüchtlingszüge – from Prague, transiting through the territory of the GDR, whereupon Stasi officials would confiscate their ID papers and effectively render them stateless, before depositing them just across the border at Hof.

The Evacuation

The decision had been made late on Friday 29th September.  Things got moving the following evening.  Prioritising those with small children, the first tranche of passengers were marshalled onto buses outside the Embassy and driven to Praha-Libeň railway station.  To say that the atmosphere was tense would be an understatement.  There was suspicion that the East German authorities would not let the train proceed beyond their territory.  Nobody knew how this would play out.

At 20:50, hauled by a class T478.3 “Goggle” diesel loco, the first train pulled out of Praha-Libeň.  In total, another five trains followed at two-hour intervals.  Ironically, the reason that the requisite coaching stock – six rakes of at least 10 vehicles apiece – had been able to be cobbled together with such a short lead time, was that scratch sets had already been assembled at various locations across the GDR in readiness for working reliefs in connection with the 40th anniversary celebrations later that week; it was these rakes that were sent to Prague.  True to Honecker’s promise to himself that he would humiliate the passengers, however, they were unheated and in various states of disrepair.

The trains proceeded via Dĕčín to Bad Schandau, where they lost their Czechoslovakian motive power and gained both Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) locos and Stasi border officials, who confiscated the paperwork of the passengers.  The trains then continued via Dresden and the “Sachsen Magistrale” route through Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and Zwickau, then finally across the border to Hof, the first one arriving at 06:14.

The journey was not a smooth one.  Most of the trains were booked a crew change at Dresden Hbf – the main station of the third-largest city in the GDR.  Obviously, the GDR was not publicising the fact that the trains were running, but the West Germans were, and although it was illegal to do so, East Germans in some areas could pick up Western TV.   Ironically, the area around Dresden was known as the “Valley of the Clueless”, the geography of the region blocking out TV signals from over the border.  During the brief crew change on the second train however, at least three young people were able to jump aboard.  Many arrests were made further along the route as others tried.  A dramatisation was made for the 25th anniversary featuring 231 012 of WFL, some of which is on YouTube here.

The locos used to power these illustrious trains through the night in the GDR were as follows:-

Headcode DR Loco(s)  
23360 250 192 Bad Schandau – Reichenbach
132 478 Reichenbach – Hof
23362 132 285 Bad Schandau – Hof
23366 132 059 Bad Schandau – Hof
23364 132 696 Bad Schandau – Hof
23368 132 695 Bad Schandau – Hof
23370 132 701 Bad Schandau – Hof

The Consequences

The scenes of the trains’ arrival at Hof were shown on TV screens across the world.  Millions saw the big Russian class 132 “Ludmilla” diesels (later DB class 232, after reunification) lumbering along the crowded platforms at Hof, illuminated by blinking flashguns as they came to a halt and their excited and relieved passengers alighted.

Of course, amongst those millions were large numbers of East Germans – who, their resolve strengthened by the feat of successful escape by their fellow countrymen, then immediately made their way to the West German Embassy in Prague in an attempt to emulate them!  Almost as soon as it was emptied, the old building became full of East German refugees again.

Eventually, 7,607 people shoehorned themselves into the Embassy.  There could only be one solution.  However, Honecker persisted with his insistence that they be removed on trains that pass through the GDR.

The Second Operation

This time, eight trains were required to convey them.  The first departed from Praha-Libeň at 18:34 on the night of Wednesday 4th October, the last seven hours later.

This time, the locals in Dresden were prepared.  5,000 people crammed themselves in the Hbf, with 10,000 outside, all with the hope of getting aboard one of the refugee trains that was due to pass through. What ensued was nothing short of an all-out riot; described afterwards as the greatest example of civil disobedience in the GDR since the 1953 uprising.  Many were injured, including one man who lost both of his legs when he fell underneath one of the trains whilst trying to climb aboard.  Severe damage was caused to the station.  Police used water cannons in an attempt to quell the disturbance but thankfully, in contrast to 1953, no shots were fired.

After the first three trains had passed Dresden, and amidst escalating chaos, the remaining five trains were diverted away from the city.  This was no mean feat, with them having to travel further through Czechoslovakia, entering the GDR by way of Bad Brambach.  The use of this route necessitated a reversal at Plauen.  During a run round here, a further seven people succeeded in sneaking aboard one of the trains, but ultimately, these diversions were a success.

The DR locomotives involved on the second night were as follows:-

Headcode DR Loco(s)  
23358 132 478 Bad Schandau – Hof
23362 132 655 Bad Schandau – Hof
23360 132 596 Bad Schandau – Hof
23366 132 701 Bad Brambach – Hof
23356 132 285 Bad Brambach – Hof
23364 132 059 Bad Brambach – Hof
23368 132 696 Bad Brambach – Hof
23370 132 643 Bad Brambach – Hof

Here is some footage on YouTube from Hof as these trains arrived.  Again, after seeing the scenes from Hof, thousands more East Germans descended on the Embassy in Prague.  This time, however, they were loaded onto a much lower-key special train on 3rd November and simply taken via Cheb directly into West Germany.  The GDR regime had learnt from their mistake, but – as with many things in their short history – it was too late.

The Locos Today

The route to Hof is now electrified.  The border has gone.  There are no longer two Germanies or a border between them.

However, most of the locomotives that found themselves thrust into the world spotlight over those two nights in 1989 still exist.  The fates of the nine class 132s that performed on the refugee trains over the two nights are as follows:-

Loco No. Final No. Current Operator Current Status
132 059 232 059 scrapped
132 285 233 285 DB Cargo operational
132 478 233 478 DB Cargo operational
132 596 233 596 DB Cargo stored at Chemnitz
132 643 233 643 DB Cargo stored at Chemnitz
132 655 232 655 scrapped
132 695 232 695 scrapped
132 696 233 696 DB Cargo stored at Cottbus
132 701 232 701 Leipziger Eisenbahngesellschaft GmbH stored at Delitzsch

Even the class 250 that worked the very first train out of Bad Schandau – 250 192 – still survives, as DB Cargo loco 155 192, stored at Sassnitz-Mukran on the island of Rügen.

The part that these locomotives played has not been forgotten.  PIKO produced a G-scale model of 132 478, the loco that brought the first train over the border, and Lok Magazin have made a couple of calls for the loco, now DB Cargo’s 233 478 and still in traffic, to be preserved as a memorial to the events.

Another of the locos, 132 701 – now 232 701, recently purchased by the private freight operator Leipziger Eisenbahngesellschaft GmBH (LEG) – has attracted attention.  The Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper dubbed it “die Lok der Freiheit” (“the freedom loco”) and expressed the editorial opinion that given its status as “ein Stück Weltgeschichte” (“a piece of world history”) it should be brought back into action – it currently remains stored at Delitzsch.  ‘701 did not haul the ground-breaking first train, however the interest in it might well be explained that its arrival at Hof was later in the morning, after daybreak, and therefore it appears in far more photographs from the day.  (Edit 08/2018 – the loco has been put through works in Latvia and has now returned to Germany, hopefully to re-enter service with LEG shortly).

The Historical Impact

There is a credible interpretation of history that says that these fourteen trains over two nights in autumn 1989 irreversibly changed the world.

Routing the trains via the GDR was a gamble that did not pay off.  Intended to act as a show of State strength, it only served to strengthen the resolve amongst many of those that remained in the GDR to emulate the passengers in their journey west.  Public unrest spread like wildfire, and the numbers taking part in the peaceful demonstrations springing up across the GDR swelled.  According to politician Günter Schabowski, Honecker’s decisions regarding these trains were the major catalyst that swayed the Politbüro to force his resignation on 17th October.  It was amid this background of spiralling social and political chaos that the Berlin Wall was opened on 9th November.

From there, the domino effect was unstoppable.  The general anti-Communist sentiment that had taken hold across the Eastern Bloc throughout 1989 gained renewed strength.  Bulgaria’s leader Zhivkov was ousted the very next day; the government in Czechoslovakia had been overthrown in the “Velvet Revolution” by the end of the month; Christmas Day saw the violent deposal, fleeting trial and summary execution of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu.  These events effectively rendered the Warsaw Pact null and void, and it was dissolved in 1991; in this act, the Cold War was arguably ended on the spot.

Perhaps, then, if anyone would have been lucky enough to have been stood at the lineside on the “Sachsen Magistrale” on those two nights almost three decades ago, they would have not only witnessed a procession of powerful Russian diesels howling over the steep gradients with their heavy trains, but they would have been witnessing true history in the making.