The Mariazellerbahn ("Mariazell Railway") is an electrically operated narrow-gauge railway of the Österreichische Bundesbahnen with a track gauge of RailGauge|760 ("Bosnian gauge") which connects the
Lower Austrian capital Sankt Pöltenwith the Styrian pilgrimagecentre of Mariazell.
Valley Line ("Talstrecke")
This 85-km-long stretch begins at the main
railway stationat St. Pölten. Right after leaving the station, the train passes through a tunnelunder the "Leobersdorfer Bahn", another railway serving St. Pölten. The "Alpenbahnhof" that comes right after that is the railway's operational centre. Here are found rolling stock sheds, workshops, and the extensive freight facilities built later. Next, the railway quickly leaves the town and finds itself passing through hilly, farmed land for the first few kilometres, south of St. Pölten from the Traisen valley into the Pielach valley. The traveller quickly reaches the biggest station on the line at Ober-Grafendorf. Here is also where the unelectrified branchline begins.
The mainline follows the Pielach valley through Hofstetten-Grünau, Rabenstein an der Pielach and the main centre in the valley, Kirchberg an der Pielach, on to the station at Loich, which was once of special importance to freight operations. The tunnel further along was built with only the railway's own
loading gaugein mind, making freight transport by transporter wagons impossible. From here, the valley narrows considerably, and shortly before the next station, Schwarzenbach an der Pielach, the line passes through the "Weißenburgtunnel", thereby leaving the Pielach valley and coming out into the Nattersbach valley, which narrows rather like a gorge. The line reaches first Frankenfels, and then the station at Laubenbachmühle. The line after this point is known as the "Mountain Line" ("Bergstrecke").
A long stretched double horseshoe curve in the line brings it to a much greater height in the Nattersbach valley. After passing by stations at Winterbach and Puchenstuben, the line reaches the longest tunnel, the 2-km-long "Gösingtunnel", which with an altitude of 891.6 m above
sea levelis the line's highest point. Here also, the line switches to the Erlauf valley, which it then follows until just before the end. After the tunnel comes Gösing station, about 350 m above the settlement of Erlaufboden. Here the traveller gets his first view of the 1 893 m-high Ötscher. This panorama and the ease of reaching the spot on the newly built railway led even at the time when the railway was first opened to the building of a hoteljust across from the station.
From there, the railway follows a wooded, steep mountain ridge on a slight downhill gradient. It passes over the "Saugrabenviadukt", the railway's highest
viaduct, and reaches Annaberg station on the saddle. Just beyond the Lassing Reservoir, which feeds the Wienerbruck power station, lies Wienerbruck-Josefsberg station, a favourite starting point for hikes into the "Ötschergräben", steep-sided, wooded gorges. After a loop around the lake, the line meets the river Erlauf. This stretch of the line is said to be the railway's greatest highlight for those with great romanticism for the wild: In between, along a row of short tunnels, the traveller gets a look into the "Zinken" ("tines"), as the craggy Erlauf gorge is called here. After the halt at Erlaufklause, the last stop in Lower Austria, Mitterbach am Erlaufsee, is reached, shortly after which the narrow-gauge railway reaches its terminus at the pilgrimage centre of Mariazell in Styria.
A further stretch of seven kilometres to Gußwerk, which was used mostly for freight traffic to a large
sawmill, has been out of service since 1988, and in 2003 the tracks were torn up. The standard-gauge "Museumstramway Mariazell-Erlaufsee" is planning to take over a short part of the right-of-way for a project to build a tramline from the railway station into town.
In Ober-Grafendorf begins the branchline, known to locals as the "Krumpe" (Lower Austrian
dialectform of the word "krumm", meaning "crooked" in German). It is an unelectrified branch which leads through the foothills of the Alpsin a roughly westerly direction by way of Kilb, Mank, Sankt Leonhard am Forst and Ruprechtshofen to Wieselburg an der Erlauf, where it meets the standard-gauge railway line running through the Erlauf valley between Scheibbs and Kienberg-Gaming.
The formerly narrow-gauge extension from Wieselburg to Gresten was converted to standard gauge in 1998 owing to extensive freight operations, and passenger operations were discontinued. Until then, the standard-gauge goods wagons were loaded onto transporter wagons in Wieselburg for the trip along this stretch of line. In connection with this gauge conversion, the stretch of line lying east of Wieselburg leading to Ruprechtshofen was discontinued in 2001; since 2003, there has only been regular service between Ober-Grafendorf and Mank.
The Mariazellerbahn network is a part of the "Verkehrsverbund Niederösterreich-Burgenland" (Lower Austria and Burgenland Transport Association)
Building and steam operation
The pilgrimage centre of Mariazell was one of
Austria-Hungary's most visited places by foreigners in the 19th century. Much thought was already being given to building a railway from St. Pölten to Mariazell even at the time when the Austrian Western Railwayopened in 1858. Many variations on the idea of extending the standard-gauge line through the Lower Austrian foothills of the Alps were considered. Only after the Lower Austrian State Railway Law was passed in 1895 did work begin on the project, and owing to the difficult terrain that the railway would have to cross, it was decided to build it to a narrow gauge. The gauge of 760 mm, as with all narrow-gauge railway undertakings in the "Danube Monarchy", was made necessary by the military administration, as rolling stock used in military service on railways in Bosnia and Hercegovina – which used the 760 mm gauge – would need to be brought in. The railway's alignment would be built to a minimum curve radius of 80 m. In 1896, building work by the Lower Austrian State Railway Office began with acting director Engineer Josef Fogowitzin charge.
The mainline from St. Pölten to Kirchberg and the branch to Mank were opened on
4 July 1898; the operators were the state's own Lower Austrian State Railways. As of 1902, building was continued and in 1905, the stretch through the Pielach valley as far as Laubenbachmühle and the branchline extension to Ruprechtshofen were completed. In 1906, the Mountain Line was pushed through far enough for freight traffic to be taken through to Mariazell. On 2 May 1907, passenger service to Mariazell began running, and that same summer, the stretch through to Gußwerk was brought into service.
The "Lower Austrian-Styrian Alp Railway" ("Niederösterreichisch-Steirische Alpenbahn") as the railway was known in Austro-Hungarian
officialese, was thereby complete. Far-reaching plans for an extension over the Styrian Seebergand a connection with the likewise narrow-gauge Thörlerbahn, and thereby with the Styrian railway network, had no work done on them owing to the outbreak of the First World War. Likewise, a connection to the Ybbstalbahn was never built.
On the Mountain Line, the service was for the time being run with
steam locomotives specially designed for the line of series Mh and Mv, which very quickly turned out not to be up to the job. The rush of passengers was so great that for a time, the railway, which had become enormously popular overnight, did not even bother with advertising. Among the various kinds of freight carried on the railway were agricultural products, ores from local mines, and above all wood from the heavily forested mountain region. Wood remained the most important kind of goods on the railway right up until freight operations were discontinued on the Mariazellerbahn. As early as 1909, standard-gauge goods wagons were being transported along the Mariazellerbahn on transporter wagons, insofar as the railway's narrow loading gauge would allow it.
Several scenarios having to do with raising the railway's performance were considered, among them double-tracking and the acquisition of an even stronger type of steam locomotive. At this time, the acting director of the State Railway Office, Engineer
Eduard Engelmann jr., brought forth the suggestion that the Mariazellerbahn be electrified using single-phase alternating current.
This suggestion was said to be revolutionary. There had never been a railway line of such length, meant to handle mainline traffic, that had been electrically operated. The only electric traction at this time was to be found on tramways and light, local railways, which used only direct current (DC) throughout. Only the more tramlike Stubaitalbahn in Tyrol, built in 1904, was even actually run using
alternating current(AC). Despite great opposition, Engelmann managed to implement his vision. So, the Mariazellerbahn was electrified between 1907 and 1911, making use of the mountainous region's vast hydroelectric resources. At that time, the locomotive series E (now ÖBB 1099), still used now, were acquired.
By implementing their intentions, many concepts were realized for which until then there had been no precedents. The experience garnered from the electrification proved to be the benchmark for later projects of the same kind. Unlike tramway electrification, the wires were hung using massive wire gantries and steel masts. Also, the design of the
locomotives with two separate powered bogies conformed even then to the customary design still seen today. The power stations, necessary for a power supply, and built under the most difficult conditions in the mountainous landscape were also used to supply the region with electricity, thereby laying the groundwork for the Lower Austrian state energy company NEWAG, now known as EVN.
From the First World War until 1945
During the First World War, quite a number of steam locomotives and a great number of wagons were temporarily confiscated for wartime duty, among them the locomotives Mh.1 to Mh.5. The last one was returned from
Sarajevoonly in 1920.
The "Krumpe" branchline from Ober-Grafendorf to Ruprechtshofen, after building had been interrupted by the war, was only extended to Gresten in 1927, but not electrified. All other expansion projects, even though some were still being discussed even after 1945, were never realized.
In 1922, the old "Österreichische Bundesbahnen" took over the Mariazellerbahn from the Lower Austrian State Railways, which had fallen into financial difficulties. After
Anschlussin 1938, the narrow-gauge railway, like all Austrian railways, became part of the Deutsche Reichsbahn. During the wartime years 1944 and 1945, there was wartime destruction and damage in many places, especially around St. Pölten.
Second World War, the former State Railway lines remained with ÖBB. The rolling stockwas given a new number scheme as of 1953. In the following years, there were some alignment corrections on the line. That, and the rebuilding of the rolling stock in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the changeover to dieselworking on the branchline were the furthest-reaching modernization measures undertaken on the railway. In 1984, the last "Rollböcke", the more primitive type of transporter wagon using forks to hold the standard-gauge wagon's axles, were replaced with "Rollwagen", the more advanced type resembling a wagon with a short stretch of standard-gauge track onto which the standard-gauge wagon is fastened.
In the wave of secondary-railway abandonments in Lower Austria, even the Mariazellerbahn was affected. Freight traffic using narrow-gauge wagons on the Mountain Line was completely given up, and the short stretch of line between Mariazell and Gußwerk was abandoned in 1988. Freight service still continued for a few years as far as Schwarzenbach an der Pielach after it had been discontinued to Mariazell, but it was limited to wood, borne in narrow-gauge wagons.
31 December 1998, ÖBB also ended transporter wagon service on the Valley Line and the remaining section of the branchline, thereby ending all freight service on the Mariazellerbahn.
As of about 2000, ÖBB was considering selling or abandoning the Mariazellerbahn. At present, the railway is still being run by state order, and at the state's expense. Since autumn 2003, one of the many future scenarios being considered is conversion to standard gauge for the Valley Line between St. Pölten and Kirchberg an der Pielach, a stretch of line important for commuters and schoolchildren, and furthermore for the rest of the line, more strongly tourist-oriented marketing.
For the opening of the first stretch of line in 1898, the Lower Austrian State Railways bought four locomotives of Series U, already proven on the Murtalbahn, which along with the two-axled passenger coaches and goods wagons customary at the time formed the railway network's basic equipment. The fleet was filled out in 1903 by two-axled light steam-powered
railcars, which took over less-used trains. For the opening of the next stretch of line between Kirchberg and Laubenbachmühle in 1905, and in view of the Mountain Line through to Mariazell, a compound steam engine and a superheated steam engine were acquired as further developments of the U series.For the extension to Mariazell, an especially high-performance engine was needed. The Krauss locomotive works in Linzbrought forth a proposal to build a locomotive with four powered axles and a tender, four of which were built by 1906 and which used superheated steam. They were designated "Mh" (nowadays ÖBB 399). In 1907 followed two locomotives with compound steam working. These were designated "Mv". The "h" stood for "Heißdampf" (superheated steam), and the "v" for "Verbundantrieb" (compound working). Since the latter locomotives did not very well prove their worth, the next order was for two further locomotives, this time of the Mh variety. Since many passengers were expected, a great number of four-axled passenger coaches were bought, which were comparable in comfort and appointments with contemporary standard-gauge coaches. Also in 1906, three bigger and stronger steam railcars were delivered.
Once electrification began in 1911, all together 16 locomotives of series E were delivered between 1911 and 1914. Thereafter, steam trains disappeared from the mainline after only five years. All steam railcars were sold, and most of the steam locomotives remained on the unelectrified branchline. A few were sent to the Waldviertler Schmalspurbahnen.
With the extension of the branchline to Gresten came new steam locomotives of the P and Uh series (ÖBB 199 and 498 respectively). In the 1930s, the first diesel locomotive was tested on the line. This type, later described as ÖBB 2190, was however only suited for light passenger trains. The self-powered luggage railcars (series 2041 or ÖBB 2091) were slightly better in performance.
As of 1960, the electric locomotives, now known as series 1099, were given new bodies. The passenger coaches were likewise provided with matching steel bodies. As of 1962, the steam engines were replaced by the new diesel locomotives (ÖBB 2095). The series 399 locomotives went to the Waldviertler Schmalspurbahnen. The others were withdrawn from service.
Service on the mainline is today still mainly done using the now nearly 100-year-old series 1099 electric locomotives together with passenger coaches not much less old than the locomotives. The class 1099 can therefore claim to be the world's oldest electric locomotive still running on the line for which it was originally built.
Since 1994, two newly developed electric multiple unit trains (ÖBB 4090) have come into service. For lighter runs diesel multiple unit trains (ÖBB 5090) are used, as well as on the "Krumpe", where series 2095 diesel locomotives are also used.
For nostalgic runs, the Mh.6 steam engine stationed in Ober-Grafendorf is brought in. This was a private initiative in the 1990s by several Mariazellerbahn railway employees, who managed to fetch back the Mountain Line's original locomotive.
The Mariazellerbahn is the ÖBB's only electrified narrow-gauge railway and is historically run on a power supply of 6.5 kV with a frequency of 25 Hz. Since this kind of power supply is available from neither the Federal Railways' network nor the public network, the Mariazellerbahn has at its disposal its very own electric supply, for which the ÖBB itself is not responsible (even though the railway has belonged to them since 1922), but rather the EVN power company.
For the power supply of the whole Mariazellerbahn and the region along the line, three 25 Hz multi-phase generators at the Wienerbruck power station were used with an
apparent powerof 6 600 kVA. This accounts for the single-phase railway supply's apparent power of 4 500 kVA. The equipment was, and is, driven hydroelectrically by water from the Lassing and the Erlauf. The railway current generated at the Wienerbruck power station at 6.5 kV was partly fed directly into the power lines near the power station, and also partly stepped up to 27 kV to be transmitted to the substations at Kirchberg and Ober-Grafendorf. As insurance against power outages, a power station consisting of two diesel generators, each producing 420 kVA single-phase apparent power, was built at the "Alpenbahnhof" in St. Pölten.
Right from the beginning, the power cables for public supply and those for the railway supply were mounted on crossbars above the catenary on the wire gantries. Even today – although the public supply has been changed to three-phase at 50 Hz – about 21 km of community power lines are still in service. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, a separate 20-kV line was built between Loich and Frankenfels by the power supplier EVN, which is responsible for public power supply in the area, leaving only the 27-kV line for the railway and the catenary itself on the wire gantries.
In 1923, below the Wienerbruck power station, the Stierwaschboden Reservoir and the Erlaufboden power station were built with three generators. In the second half of the 1960s, the ageing power generation and distribution system was renewed. The railway power is now usually generated by the 2.8-MVA equipment at Erlaufboden power station. It consists of a synchronous machine for 25 Hz single-phase AC, 50 Hz multiphase, and a
An old, smaller inverter set in Erlaufboden and two old 25 Hz machines in Wienerbruck power station serve as reserves for the railway. Two further generators in Wienerbruck and three in Erlaufboden with all together 11.5 MVA generate 50 Hz multiphase current.
The railway network's backbone nowadays is formed by the 27-kV loop between the two power stations and the newly built Gösing substation as well as the transmission lines from there to the newly built Rabenstein substation. After these facilities went into operation, the direct catenary feed at Wienerbruck and the substations at Kirchberg and Ober-Grafendorf were taken out of service. This improved the power supply on the mountainous section of the line considerably.
Nowadays, the switch room at Erlaufboden power station controls, along with its own equipment, also that at Wienerbruck power station. The substations at Gösing and Rabenstein are run and overseen remotely by the EVN system operator in Maria-Enzersdorf near Vienna.
* Felsinger/Schober: "Die Mariazellerbahn", Verlag Pospischil, Wien (no ISBN), [http://www.mariazellerbahn.at/freunde/felsinger.htm weblink]
* Hans P. Pawlik: "Technik der Mariazellerbahn", Verlag Slezak, 2001, ISBN 3-85416-189-1
* Hans P. Pawlik: "Mariazellerbahn in der Landschaft", Verlag Slezak, 2000, ISBN 3-85416-188-3
* Kroboth, Slezak, Sternhart - Schmalspurig durch Österreich, 4. Auflage, Verlag Slezak, 1991, ISBN 3-85416-095-X
* Slezak, Sternhart - Renaissance der Schmalspurbahn in Österreich, Verlag Slezak, 1986, ISBN 3-85416-097-6
* Strässle - Schmalspurbahn-Aktivitäten in Österreich, Verlag Slezak, 1997, ISBN 3-85416-184-0
* [http://www.mariazellerbahn.at/ Friends of the Mariazellerbahn]
* [http://www.promariazellerbahn.at/ IG pro Mariazellerbahn]
* [http://www.mariazellerbahn.at/zeitung/inhalt11_07.htm Article about Mariazellerbahn power supply]
* [http://www.mariazellerbahn.at/zeitung/inhalt13_06.htm Article about Mariazellerbahn overhead catenary]
* [http://album.eisenbahnen.at/bilderalben/mariazellerbahn.shtml Photo page about Mariazellerbahn in natural landscape]
* [http://www.ebepe.com/html/mariazell_d.html Photo documentation of the Mariazellerbahn in several parts]
* [http://www.museumstramway.at Mariazell Museum tramway]
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