The International Steam Pages

The Drachenfelsbahn 2015

Thomas Kautzor writes about one of Germany's four remaining rack railways.

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That evening after the charter at Brohl I quickly crossed the Rhine by car ferry and drove up to Königswinter to ride the metre gauge Drachenfelsbahn ( rack railway to take some photos. Opened in 1883, this 1.5 km line with a maximal gradient of 200°/°° connected the Rhine-side town of Königswinter (69 metres) with the Drachenfels (“Dragons’ Rock”, 289 metres), a mountain with the ruins of a castle on top. In 1889 another even steeper (260°/°°) rack railway was built from Königswinter (60m) up to the neighboring Peterberg (331m) where a hotel had been built, at first over a distance of 1.35 km, and extended in 1920 to 1.75 km. In 1913 both railways ended up in the hands of the same owner, who merged them in 1923 under the name “Bahnen im Siebengebirge AG (BiS)”. In Königswinter they were connected by a 100-metre long track.

At first each railway operated its own fleet of 0-4-0RT steam locomotives:

  • Drachenfelsbahn No. 1-3 (Esslingen 1982-1984/1883), which later received replacement boilers (No. 3476/1908, 3532/1909 and 3566/1910);
  • Petersbergbahn No. 1-2 (Esslingen 2308-2309/1888).

Between 1926 and 1929 these five locos were replaced by five 0-4-2RT from the same builder, for use on both lines:

  • No. 1” (Esslingen 4225/1929), used on Petersberg- and Drachenfelsbahn, scrapped in 1958;
  • No. 2” (Esslingen 4185/1927), used on Drachenfelsbahn, withdrawn in 1958 and plinthed at Königswinter in 1968;
  • No. 3” (Esslingen 4187/1927), used on Drachenfelsbahn, destroyed on 14.09.1958;
  • No. 4 (Esslingen 4220/1928), used on Petersberg- and Drachenfelsbahn, scrapped in 1958;
  • No. 5 (Esslingen 4161/1926), used on Drachenfels- and Petersbergbahn, sold to Niederwaldbahn, Rüdesheim in 1938, withdrawn in 1939 and scrapped in 1952.

Each loco was allowed to push up to three coaches or wagons up the mountain. In 1953, the Drachenfelsbahn was electrified (750 V =), however at first the only electric railcar ET I (Rastatt/BBC 1953) would still share the line with the steam trains, but over the years additional railcars were acquired from Rastatt/BBC (ET II in 1955, ET III in 1957, ET IV in 1959 and ET V in 1960). Then, on 14th September 1958, the last downhill train of the day with 160 passengers on board three coaches ran away and derailed on a curve owing to the negligence of the crew (overloading and brake failure folowing a drop in the boiler pressure), 18 people perished and another 112 were injured. As a result, all four remaining steam locos were withdrawn and scrapped, except for No. 2” which was plinthed at Königswinter station in 1968 and restored in Poland in 2005. It has been classified as a cultural monument.

Unrelated to the accident, the decision had been made to close the Petersbergbahn, which it did on 21st September 1958 at the end of that year’s season. Its track remained in place until around 1970, when it was lifted. Still standing in an abandoned compound which is now part of the Lemmerz factory grounds at Königswinter is the Petersbergbahn’s three-track loco shed and workshops. After the Drachenfelsbahn’s ET I was withdrawn in 1963, it was stored for some time in that depot before being sold.

The Drachenfelsbahn is still operated by BiS to this day. In 1978 a fifth railcar identical to the other four was built in its own workshops and numbered ET VI. In 1982 the railcars were renumbered ET 2 – ET 6. At peak times they operate in pairs, crossing each other at the intermediary Drachenburg (“The Dragon’s Castle”) station which has a loop. An unnumbered flat car is used for work trains. The modern covered station at Königswinter has three tracks which end in the glass-enclosed workshops. Today the Drachenfelsbahn is one of Europe’s busiest rack railways, transporting 35 million passengers per year. Together with the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, the Wendelsteinbahn and Degerloch railway in Stuttgart, it us one of only four remaining rack railways in Germany.

The Petersbergbahn’s three-track loco shed and workshops.

Rob Dickinson