Harz Mountain Railways

The Harz Mountains host an amazing heritage railway line. There is plenty to read later in this blog but we start with a few pictures. Make sure to follow through all the videos including the one which finishes the blog after the links and references. Incidentally the last few links are all to video makers pages on YouTube and there are some stunning railway related videos to be found. But first, these pictures ……………


A beautiful snow bound picture (not the one immediately above) of a metre gauge railway loco straining the lift its load up through the Harz Mountains in Winter was on the front of one of the  Cards that I received at Christmas in 2017. It came from a friend who has visited the railway system in the Harz Mountains and it reminded me that the Harz Mountain Railways are on my bucket list of things to do.

I thought, as a way of relieving the need to travel, I would look at what I could find on-line. I discovered a rich tapestry of videos, photos and text and I plan to show some of what I found here in this blog post. Littered around the post are pictures and videos which often are stunningly beautiful, certainly dramatic! Steam, smoke and sometimes snow!

The railway system is extensive, it is the largest network of narrow gauge railways in Germany. The lines connect the principal cities of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg and several smaller towns in the area. There is, in all, about 140 kilometres of metre-gauge track. The lines have numerous steep gradients and run through areas of outstanding natural beauty as well as into the heart of one of an industrial city.

There are three main lengths of track, the oldest is the Selketalbahn from from Quedlinburg via Gernrode to the junction with the Harzquerbahn at Eisfelder Tamuhle. The earliest length of this line to open did so in 1891, that latest part of this line to open was in service from 1905.

This section of the system is more lightly used but does feature two branches to Harzgerode and to Hasselfelde.

The second line, the Harzquerbahn, opened from Naordhausen to Ilfield in 1897, and then in 1899, through to Drei Annan Hohne where it met the Brockenbahn.

The Brockenbahn between Werningerode and Schierke opened in 1898, and the length to the summit of the Brocken was completed the following year.

The company is mainly owned by the different local authorities that it serves and is an island of traditional practice within the wider, highly efficient German railway network. It runs a significant number of its trains with steam haulage, mostly employing 1950s vintage 2-10-2 tank locomotives, hauling traditional open-platform bogie carriages. It supplements the steam-hauled services with ones relying on diesel rail cars.

After the Second World War the entire network fell within the Soviet Zone of Occupation, later East Germany. The two main lines which now make up the system, the Gernrode-Harzgeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (GHE) and the Nordhausen-Wernigeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (NWE) were subordinated to the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn in on 1 April 1949.

After the fall of the communist regime in East Germany and the reunification of the country it did not take long  for a private railway company to be formed to run the Harz Mountain Railways. On 1 February 1993 the private railway company Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH (HSB) took over all stock, lines, staff, etc., from the Deutsche Reichsbahn and since then has acted as both the railway operating company (EVU) and railway infrastructure company (EIU).

The head office is in Wernigerode, where its workshops and locomotive depot are located. Today the HSB has the longest single network of narrow gauge railway in Germany, with a total length of 140.4 km (87 miles), 44 stations and halts. Trains run to a timetable and the company operates more than ten steam locomotives, seven diesel railbuses and three trams (on the Nordhausen Tramway).

The best-known line is the Brocken Railway which is worked by steam locomotive-hauled trains to a daily scheduled timetable running from Wernigerode via Drei Annen Hohne to the Brocken and back.

Regional services between Nordhausen and Ilfeld, on the other hand were transferred to diesel railbuses and (since 1 May 2004) trams, apart from one pair of steam trains. In addition the HSB still operates regular goods trains from Hartsteinwerk Unterberg (on the Selke Valley Railway) to Nordhausen Übergabebahnhof (on the Trans-Harz Railway) using diesel locomotives of Class 199.8 and piggy-backed standard-gauge wagons.

On 1 May 2004, a link line was opened in Nordhausen between the Nordhausen Tramway and the Trans-Harz Railway. Since then, the tramway between Nordhausen Hospital and the HSB halt of Ilfeld-Neanderklinik (Line 10) has been worked by electric and hybrid vehicles of the Combino duo class. On the Trans-Harz Railway (which has no catenary), motive power is diesel-electric, the trams being equipped with an on-board diesel engine.

Since 2004, the Nordhausen Nord station has become much less used and most traffic now operates out of what was the tramway stop of Nordhausen Bahnhofsvorplatz.

On 18 April 2005, work started on the extension of the Selke Valley Railway from Gernrode to Quedlinburg (length 8.5 km) after DB AG had closed this standard-gauge section and sold it to the HSB. First, the Gernrode terminus was converted into a through station. On 4 March 2006, the first narrow gauge train Quedlinburg station and, since 26 June 2006, there have been scheduled services by the Harz narrow gauge railways to Quedlinburg with at least two pairs of steam trains per day. In Quedlinburg the HSB stops at a shared platform with trains of the Harz-Elbe Express to Halberstadt.

Rolling Stock

The network is notable for its steam locomotives. We benefit today from a lack of investment during the period the line was in Deutsche Reichsbahn ownership, between 1945 and 1993. There are 17 2-10-2 tank locomotives, built during the 1950s and several older types as well which include four 0-4-4-0 T mallet compound articulated locomotives. The steam locomotives are assisted by a fleet of diesel railcars which supplement the steam services primarily for the benefit of the local population.


Links and References

  1. David Longman; http://www.david-longman.com/Germany_Harz_Mountains.html. Accessed 14th December 2017.
  2. Michael Williams; Is this the world’s greatest steam train?;  The Telegraph, London, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/rail-journeys/harz-railway-germany-most-beautiful-steam-train-in-the-world; 2nd September 2016. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  3.  Wikipedia; Harz Narrow Gauge Railways; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harz_Narrow_Gauge_Railways. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  4. Wikipedia; Broken Railway; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocken_Railway. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  5. Wikipedia; Harz Railway; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harz_Railway. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  6. Wikipedia; Selke Valley Railway; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selke_Valley_Railway. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  7. Wikipedia; South Harz Railway; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Harz_Railway. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  8. http://www.wernigerode-tourismus.com/sights/steam-trains.html
  9. https://www.hsb-wr.de/en/mehr-erfahren/das-unternehmen/about-us
  10. https://www.youtube.com/user/acw71000/videos
  11. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG-6mVK_U_f542Rn7QN-5qQ
  12. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRObtUIgdSaDGKr14eRB4pA
  13. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0g4k6excHUVu3f6FJavb2g


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