Hello and welcome to edition 50 of the Railwaymedia blog covering another 5 day trip abroad, this time principally to Austria to see the Mariazellerbahn but with also a quick trip over the border to Hungary in search of former BR Class 86s and GYSEV Ludmillas. It will be a long blog and I make no apologies for the fact most of the included pictures will be of just one type of engine!
In a way, much of the information in this blog will be academic by the time you get to read it. The Mariazellerbahn, which is an 85km long narrow guage line running from St Pölten into the mountains to Mariazell, has for the last 102 years been operated by OBB's class 1099 electric locos dating from 1911, accompanied by an assortment of units and diesel locos. The regional Government took over the line from OBB in 2010 and have invested over €100 million in the line, not just on the infrastructure but also on 9 new units built by Stadler called 'Himmelsteppe' ('Stairway to Heaven'). The apparently silly name is a reference to the fact that Mariazell is a pilgrimage centre.
The influx of these units, due for completeion this December will mean the end of day to day running of the class 1099s; already there are no booked trains hauled by the 2095 diesel engines and the new winter timetable starting next week (28th October) will eliminate the last of the loco hauled workings, though the Otscher Bar tourist train (pictured above) will return for one round trip daily next summer. Despite there being just two 1099 return workings left I managed a fair few pictures of them over the 5 days, some will be included in this blog the rest can be viewed HERE.
The two loco hauled trains were departing St Pölten at 0730 and 0830, the first of which was an 'ordinary' train using an old OBB liveried 1099, the 0830 was the Otscher Bar. All week there were only 4 engines used, two for each train, generally running on alternate days. Each day I went up the line I caught the 0730. Boarding at the first stop St Pölten Alpenbahnhof it was barely light enough for a shot as the train ran in. Whilst the first train up came straight back at 1053 from Mariazell, the Otscher Bar waits until 1553 to return so the same problem was encountered by the time that got back to St Pölten, seen above not long after I arrived in the town from Vienna Airport.
My friend Richard had visited the line a month previously and had recommended Frankenfels as a photographic location about 80 minutes journey time up the valley. Even when I arrived there just before 0900 the sun was barely getting over the top of the valley sides. A lucky small dip enabled a sunny shot of the train I had just got off departing the station and it was then a case of hanging around for an hour for the following service. The resulting picture is at the top of this blog.
One advantage of going so late in October, despite the shorter days, is that if the sun comes out then the colours on the trees can be fantastic. Tuesday, my first full day, was also the only day where it was sunny virtually all day. It was a nice feeling to be able to get the shots I wanted on the first day as it took the pressure off the rest of the week. I had to hang round Frankenfels for a couple of hours to await the first loco to return from Mariazell but was rewarded with the shot below.
With 5 hours until the Otschbar 1099 returned I headed back to St Pölten to spend an hour or two on the Westbahn, which is the principal Austrian mainline linking Vienna and Salzburg. Historically only two tracked a lot of work has been undertaken, and is still ongoing, to upgrade the line. As a result many of the stations around Vienna and St Pölten have been upgraded too and so aren't very photogenic. I alighted at Markersdorf two stops west where it is still only double track. Unfortunately out of the 7 freight trains I saw in 90 minutes, 6 were going the wrong way and the one that did appear managed to coincide with some cloud and also only had two wagons!
Fortunately, during the afternoon at least, all the OBB passenger trains are loco-hauled with the engines on the correct end for the sun (the western end) including this odd working that I saw twice, the 1404 from Vienna to St Valentin, which is formed of a Taurus loco hauling double deck stock and also an older 1144 Electric on City Shuttle single deck stock both combined into one train.
I returned to the Mariazellerbahn for the returning 1553 Otscher Bar. I had previously spotted a small bar at the end of Ober Grafendorf station so with open countryside around I went in the hope the train would come just before the sun set. Alas it went behind the hills a few minutes too early. Maybe the week before I would have been able to catch the last of the sun on it as it headed out of the town. Anyway I retired to the station bar afterwards. Shame the last train was only an hour later.
On Wednesday the weather forecast was poor both around St Pölten but also in my intended destination of Hungary. There is a two-hourly Railjet train from St Pölten to Budapest so I used this to get to the border station of Hegyeshalom. On my trip to Hungary last year we had failed to get a picture of any of the former British Rail Class 86s now in use with Hungarian open access operator Floyd, though passing we had seen a pair stabled at Hegyeshalom. There was one stabled down the yard and as is common abroad there was no trouble walking down to get a PICTURE of it. An added bonus though as I stepped off the Railjet was that an enthusiasts tour was just in the process of changing engines from a MAV Class 431 electric to this ex East Germany Class 01 steam engine, now preserved and owned by the Austrian rail history group OGEG.
I spent two hours at Hegyeshalom but little else was moving during my stay, so caught the local unit that connected with the following Railjet south to Csorna where four routes meet, mainly operated by the cross border passenger company GYSEV. The target here was the two diesel diagrams they operate hauling portions of Inter City trains from Budapest on the non-electrified route to Szombathely. Recently GYSEV have acquired a handful of Ukranian built Ludmillas from Deutsche Bahn to cover their few diesel routes. One arrived just after I did and I was suprised to see it then disappear off light engine back to Szombathely. I was later to realise why.
With the weather dreadful, an icy cold wind was blowing and it was threatening rain, I went to find a cash machine in order to get some Hungarian Forints to enable me to find a bar to shelter in whilst I waited 2 hours until the next Ludmilla was due. A mixture of forgetting what the exchange rate was and a schoolboy error in conversion meant I got out the equivelent of near enough £80 worth instead of the £20 I wanted! I did however find a German style Gasthaus which enabled me to have some dinner and some beer. I had to change the rest of the money back when I got home.
Having not read the timetable properly I thought the next Inter-City arrival from Szombathely wasn't until almost 1800. There was however a departure the other way at 1600, hence my suprise when the loco had disappeared. There is a good level crossing 15 minutes walk from Csorna station on the Szombathely line which I had planned to go to. I was just approaching it when an Inter-City I hadn't been expecting went past. Not just highly annoying in itself but I also missed a one-car DMU that was literally right behind it whilst I was trying to work out what I had just missed.
Being philosophical about things, I hadn't expected that other train to run so I didn't miss anything I was hoping to photograph. Despite the poor weather the shot of the Ludmilla coming back out from Csorna worked well and was what I had gone there for so I can't complain too much. I walked back to the station; I would have liked to get the shot of the next inbound IC here but it would have been pushing it to get back to the station to catch my train back to Hegyeshalom and Austria. Annoyingly the setting sun came out as it was due so it would have been a nice shot at the crossing. I had to, in the end, settle for a back-lit shot as it as it entered the platform with the red sun behind.
My original plan was to do just the one day on the Mariazellerbahn. I found out though that whereas a return from St Pölten to Mariazell (in effect a day ticket) is about €29 a ticket for the whole line for all week is only €33 so it seemd churlish not to take advantage of this. Like on the Tuesday I went up the line on the 0730 train, got picture of that and its return, and also the 0830 Otscher Bar, then spent the afternoon down on the mainline before returning for the evening return 1099.
Thursday was a right mix of weather. It was thick fog when I walked down to the station. One of the lines 2095 diesels was just about to depart the Alpenbahnhof for Ober Grafendorf. There is an old depot there where the line's steam engine is housed. There were cranes on site so some vehicle was obviously to be shunted out and removed by road for some reason. I went beyond Frankenfels this time to the lines new HQ at Laubenbachmüle where a massive new visitor centre, conference and office rooms, and two three-road sheds to maintain the Himmeisteppe units has been all built in a large construction that takes up a significant part of the valley floor. The sight and sound of the 102 year old 1099 departing from underneath this massive new building was odd.
Despite the prescence of the visitor centre and cafe, most of the hourly trains from St Pölten terminate 8 minutes down the valley at Frankenfels so, with 3 hours until the next southbound train, I walked the 7 km back down the valley along the road through the gorge. Halfway between the two villages is another, Boding, where I sheltered in a convenient bus shelter to await a photo.
I enjoy walking and it was pleasant in the not too warm, not too cold drizzle, but I was a little wet by the time I boarded the unit at Frankenfels. This took me downhill to Kirchberg, the principal town in the Pielach valley. There is a cycle path running south alongside the railway and I utilised this for a shot of 1099-014 as it returned down the valley. I found a nice little kebab 'hut' in the town which served well for dinner. Not that it is something I eat often but Donner Kebabs in Europe always seem nicer than in Britain, plus of course in England you can't usually enjoy a beer with one!
I got back off at the Alpenbahnhof to have a look round the adjacent depot. I asked a driver in my pigeon German if it was OK to go across the tracks to get some pictures. I probably didn't need to ask really as it is a very laid back place. There are several lines of both 1099s and 2095s in the yards, some of which probably haven't been used for some time. They are all apparently on some kind of lease-back arrangement from OBB so there may not be a rush to scrap any of them once the main loco operations cease. I assume the Alpenbahnhof depot will be kept operational to maintain the two engines needed for next summers Otscher Bar trains as I can't see the brand new workshops at Laubenbachmüle having the facilities to work on these locomotives.
Loosdorf was my destination for the afternoons brief mainline photographic jaunt. This isn't a bad station to photograph from the end of during the afternoon but unfortuantely a new section of line commences just before you reach this station meaning all the IC and Railjet trains bypass it, as did one westbound freight. Yet again most of the goods trains were going the wrong way. I returned later to Ober Grafendorf for a shot of the returning 1099 and a few beers in Gunthers Bar.
For the week I stayed in the Pension Elisabeth in St Pölten. It was cheap enough, also a bit out of town and not of the highest standard, though it did the job. This was my first major European trip on my own so I needed really somewhere not too busy so I could sit in a corner quietly. The Hotel Alt Wien served food until around 9pm and I ate there two nights. Not the cheapest grub I had but it served my purpose. It is much more conveniently located than the Pension Elisabeth for the Alpenbahnhof; the rooms seem more expensive too but if I went again I would perhaps consider using that as a base instead. Of course there are plenty of hotels in the City Centre itself which would be even better located as a base for reaching the Hauptbahnhof each day.
Between the Alt Wien and the Pension Elisabeth along the main road heading south was the best bar I found (excepting Gunthers at Ober Grafendorf). Bar Tritsch-Tratsch doesn't look very good from the outside, more like a roadside cafe, but it was the only one I came across serving a slightly different beer from the usual Lager/Pils, that being the excellent Hacker-Paschorr on draught.
Anyway, back to transport. The final day I needed to get over to Salzburg for my Ryanair flight back to Stansted. At £23 this was very cheap, much more so than the £70 Easyjet gatwick to Vienna flight earlier in the week and, to be fair to O'Leary, it actually left and landed early. I still had time for one quick run up the Mariazellerbahn to Rabenstein, pictured above. I am certain that will be my last ever ride behind one of those engines. I wonder if now that they have, or shortly will have, finished in regular daily operation that the Hythe Pier Railway I visited last month (see Blog Number 48 ) is now running the oldest electric locos in daily service in Europe (dating from 1913)?
There is a regualr service from St Pölten to Salzburg, although the journey time is over 2 hours. Salzburg Hbf is being redeveloped at the moment and is really not much good for photography. I decided instead to have a quick hour sight-seeing. The line west from Salzburg crosses the River Salzach near the Old Town. I waited for a shot of an S-Bahn unit crossing the bridge. Rather fortuitously a cloud came over whilst it did, so I waited for the next one. Before that could appear two freight trains crossed which otherwise I wouldn't have seen, the first being hauled by one of OBB's class 1163 centre cab Electric engines, the second by a EuroRunner diesel.
By the time I had hung around the river for 20 minutes it was time to get the Trolleybus to the airport. Salzburg as a City is somewhere I very much would like to visit again and see properly.
To conclude, as I said at the beginning, much of this blog may not be of much use as the main reason for any Enthusiast to visit the Mariazellerbahn is now all but gone. I have visited Austria three times now, though twice only in passing through. There are still plenty of loco hauled trains to see, though the locomotive selection is in general quite limited with OBB and Open Access operators mainly using Taurus Electric locos. The 1142 and 1144 Class electrics still working on many local services are well worth photographing. I actually saw a MAV (Hungary) Taurus on a Salzburg local OBB train. I have no idea how or why, but proves there is still some limited variety.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope it is of some little use to someone planning a visit to the St Pölten area, or even to western Hungary. I'll leave you with a picture that shows in a small way why train companies in Continental Europe seem to just do things generally better than in the UK. In Britain, even on long distance Inter-City trains, the name of the game is to try and cram as many seats in as possible (try getting on a First Great Western HST). When building the Austrian Railjets, not withstanding the massive legroom they have in comparison to our trains even in Second Class, they also found room to 'squeeze' in a small cinema for children! Bye for now.