The International Steam Pages

Bashing the Iron Mountain - Part 1 Summer 1971

James Waite write about his visit to the Erzbergbahn in July 1971. Click here for Part 2 Winter 1976

This standard gauge Riggenbach rack line in central Austria was a favourite gricing destination until its operation was taken over by adhesion-only diesels in 1978 and the rack was removed. The line was opened in 1891, running some 19.6 kilometers from Vordernberg northwestwards to Eisenerz. Its raison d’etre was to carry iron ore away from an open cast mine at the huge Erzberg mountain, principally to the steelworks at Vordernberg and to an even bigger steel plant at Leoben-Donawitz, a little further to the east.

All the line’s steam locos were built at Floridsdorf. The original motive power consisted of a series of eighteen 0-6-2RT’s built at Floridsdorf between 1891 and 1908. They were known as the 69 class in pre-WW1 days and were later OBB’s 97 class. Five have survived into preservation. They include no. 97 217 at Vordernberg Markt, near the start of the line and 97 208 in working order at the Austrian NRM at Strasshof. Another one is sectioned and on display at the National Technical Museum in Vienna.

Golsdorf produced an extraordinary 0-12-0RT design for the line. Three of these locos were built in 1912. Originally class 169 they became OBB’s class 197. One is preserved at the Austrian NRM at Strasshof. The line’s final steam locos were what became OBB’s 297 class, two 2-12-2RT’s produced in 1942 when there was an urgent need to increase the line’s capacity as part of the German war effort. However the locos were not over-successful. No. 297 402 was withdrawn as early as 1949 and used as a source of spares to keep its sister in traffic until it, too, succumbed in 1969. Today it’s preserved at Vordernberg Markt.

I made a day trip to the line on a very hot day in July 1971 while I was staying in Vienna. All services were being worked by the 0-6-2RT’s – something of a disappointment, this, as I had been hoping to see one of the 0-12-0T’s which had acquired an almost legendary status. The line appeared to be running to capacity handling the ore trains and a few passenger trains which at that time were also steam worked. Additional passenger trains went from Vordernberg’s main station as far as Vordernberg Markt only. A few months later the passenger workings were taken over by diesel railbuses.

The line climbed from Vordernberg to a summit at Präbichl station at an altitude of 1,204 metres. Here it disappeared into a lengthy tunnel and emerged near the iron ore mines before dropping down to Eisenerz. Now the iron ore traffic has stopped completely. OBB closed the line in 1988 and it was taken over in its entirety as a preserved railway two years later. It now operates between July and September usually with two return trains daily. Four railbuses are available for these services, attractively restored in OBB blue and cream livery but the whole place inevitably is now only a shadow of its former splendid self. The preserved railway’s website is at

97 209 waiting to leave Vordernberg station while what was, even in those days, an ancient electric loco waits to take a train eastwards.

A view from the train window of 97 212 waiting to leave Vordernberg Markt with a short working to the main station.

A view from the train between Vordernberg Markt and Präbichl.

A busy scene with four locos on three trains at Präbichl, followed by more views of Präbichl.

A view looking down over Präbichl station from the top of the chairlift there.

A view over the iron mountain from the same place.

We walked back from Präbichl to Vordernberg and met this train midway. It's headed by 97 201 which clearly has steam to spare despite the steep climb.

Rob Dickinson