Saturday, November 10, 2007

Big Harz

1000mm gauge 'Combino Duo'
entering Nordhausen. Source: Wikipedia

Quedlinburg is the sort of name I could not come up with given a German dictionary, a thesaurus and three weeks to spare. Even if I could I doubt anyone would believe it. But last year Quedlinburg became the northernmost tip of an 8,5km extension of the Harzer Schmalspurbahn (HSB) in central Germany. Not only that, but this extension is along a standard gauge trackbed.

The narrow gauge used to meet the standard gauge at Gernrode, where the HSB have maintenance sheds and sidings, partly for their large fleet of steam locomotives that run all year round. After Gernrode the standard gauge skirted the northern side of the mountains, and eventually wound back to a junction in the town of Frose. In 2002 a bridge failed on the standard gauge line a short distance from Gernrode. Services from Quedlinburg ran as shuttles to Gernrode while the local government started a study to decide what to do about it. The study seems to have moved at the usual relaxed pace of government enquiries worldwide, and eventually decided that surprisingly, the narrow gauge should be extended to Quedlinburg.

Decision made, rebuilding began on18th April 2005. A metre gauge line was built which scythed through the standard gauge at Gernrode in a large ‘S’ to join the former standard gauge alignment, (you can find a track plan here
) and by the 26th of June 2006 regular services were running along the line.

At Quedlinburg the station was rebuilt with the narrow gauge replacing standard on one platform. (Track Schematic) The HSB has regular steam services so there needs to be a run-around, and a siding was added ‘just in case’, but that was all. One signal box controls the lot. I imagine a similar situation at Wildberg on the Körschtalbahn. I’ll bore you about that another time.

This is good news, in that the narrow gauge is being used for a public service, and economically providing a link people may actually want to use, but I can’t help feeling that the HSB is preserving what was, rather then developing further. I’m sure steam brings in the tourists, especially the amazing Br 99.23 & 24 2-10-2 tank engines the HSB has, but compared with the modern, low-floor, wide access units they are “replacing”, how attractive do the railcars or loco-hauled stock with a narrow door and steps look, say, for a mum with a pushchair shopping in Quedlinburg?

Fortunately, there are signs of further improvement in the town of Nordhausen, at the southern end of the system. The town has had a metre gauge tram system since 1900, but the long-desired connection to the HSB was not completed until 2004. For vehicles, Siemens shoehorned an 8hp BMW car engine into a combnio, and made the ‘duo’ which shares the low floor and wide doors of its conventional electric cousins, but which switch to diesel on the country section and run as far as Ilfeld-Neanderklinik. There is nothing ‘heritage’ about the three new units, so I doubt the tourists will go for them, but they are just what you need to go shopping or take your bike home in the rain.

Hopefully they will one day be joined by several more units running over the rest of the 140km system and into Quedlinburg.
They would also be ideal for the Körschtalbahn to run through trains to Spitzenwald. I wonder if I could make one in 7mm scale?

(For more general information in English, with a map of the Harz, Wikipedia has a page here)

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