It seems unlikely that there will ever be a travel offer again as generous as the month-long €9 ticket offered this summer on German public transport, so having bought one for August in order to re-visit the Harz (HSB) narrow gauge system, I felt compelled to return and sample some more narrow-gauge steam action with my €9 ticket.
My destination this time was Dresden, where I planned to stay four nights in the northern suburb of Radebeul and spend a day each on the 16.6km (10.4 mile) Lößnitzgrundbahn nearby, the 26.1km (16.3 mile) Weißeritztalbahn to the south-west of Dresden and at a third 750mm gauge railway, the 16km (10-mile) long Zittauer Schmalspurbahn.
Arriving fairly late in the day at Berlin Brandenburg (BER) Airport on 23 August 2022, I was not keen on spending over three hours on a succession of regional services getting to my destination (Radebeul Ost) using the €9 ticket, so opted for a €17.90 super sparpreis ticket on a direct InterCity train from BER (21.01) to Dresden Neustadt, from where it is an 8-minute ride on a S1 suburban service.
Working locos during my three days in the area were 99-1793 on the Weißeritztalbahn, 99-1749/60 on the Zittauer Schmalspurbahn and 99-1761 on the Lößnitzgrundbahn. Like their metre-gauge counterparts on the Harz (HSB) system, all the locos are immaculately maintained and timekeeping was pretty good, considering the exceptionally high passenger numbers.
For those unfamiliar with this marvellous corner of Germany and its narrow gauge railways, all three are professionally-run and operate a steam-worked timetable all year round using powerful 2-10-2T locos that are either “altbau” locos dating from 1928-33 (99-749/60/61) or “neubau” locos, such as 99-1793 that dates from 1957. They are typically hauling trains of eight or nine coaches plus a guard’s van.
Day one of my three day tour of the 750mm systems in south-eastern Germany (24 August 2022) was a trip to the longest of the trio and the charming Weißeritztalbahn, which is an easy trip of about 40 minutes on a S1 train from Radebeul Ost to Dresden Hauptbahnhof then four stops on a S3 service.
There was a huge crowd of people alighting with me off the S3 service at 08.47 who were headed for the 09.25 narrow gauge departure, and its nine coaches were completely rammed by the time we left, with even more joining on the 90-minute trip up the valley to Kurort Kipsdorf.
As I wrote following my visit to the line last year, services are pretty sparse with just two full length journeys each day to the terminus at Kurort Kipsdorf and an early evening return as far as the main intermediate station at Dippoldiswalde, so it does seem that there could have been some boosting of summer schedules to cope with the huge influx of 9-euro-ticket holders.
Day two in SE Germany (25 August) sees me change again at Dresden Neustadt, this time onto a RE2 service bound for Liberec in Czechia, that gets me to Zittau in 80 minutes and makes a good connection with the 09.07 Zittauer Schmalspurbahn departure for Kurort Oybin.
The management of this line has been rather canny in its acceptance of the 9-euro-ticket by requiring all holders who wish to travel to pay a €5 historic vehicles tax. It is valid for a whole day, so after so much rail mileage for my €9 I’m not complaining!
What had been noticeable on the first two days of my latest German adventure was a growing number of mask-free travellers – with none of the stern rebukes I endured earlier in the month on the Harz NG system – and there must be some hope that when the current deadline expires in 23 September Germans will be formally spared the tyranny of mask wearing on public transport.
Departing Zittau it seemed that this system was not seeing the crowds that I had encountered yesterday, but many more passengers joined as we made our circuitous exit of Zittau and the three more stops around the town, so that the train was full by the time we arrived at the junction station, Bertsdorf.
Having been robbed of the chance to witness a double steam departure here two years ago, when there was only one steam loco in use, I took the chance to capture the unique sight of parallel steam departures at 09.46 to the two termini, Kurort Jonsdorf and Kurort Kipsdorf (top photo).
Before continuing on to Kurort Oybin I wanted to try to photograph a train passing the only one of three semaphores controlled by Bertsdorf Signal Box that I had not got to on my previous visit, but with trees obscuring a rear view of the Kurort Jonsdorf up home the only shot possible was from a nearby road bridge, as seen above.
Once at Kurort Oybin I felt it was only right to sample the on-train catering once again, so went straight to the diminutive dining car and enjoyed a pleasant, through rather sweet, bottle of Lausitzer Porter (4.4%/€3.50) on my return trip to Zittau Vorstadt.
I had chosen to alight at Zittau Vorstadt in order to get photos later of the next Kurort Oybin-bound service departing this remarkably attractive and intact station. It is on the SW side of the town and is a pleasant 30-minute walk through the historic town centre to the main rail station, where a kiosk on the station had cold bottles of a less sweet dark beer called Eibauer (4.5%/€2.40).
Day three of my narrow gauge travels (26 August) began with something of a disappointment when I discovered that the working loco on the Lößnitzgrundbahn (99-1761) was sporting a curious ice cream cone-shaped headboard, apparently prior to some special event the following day.
Setting aside my disappointment, I took a short tram ride to Weißes Roß station where I got a shot of the arriving train as it ran parallel to a road, before boarding it and travelling to the main intermediate station, Moritzburg, in order to photograph its return to Radebeul Ost and then await its return.
Continuing north on the sparsely-served section of route to Radeburg it was interesting to note large numbers of passengers alighting at the remote intermediate stations, presumably to begin a day’s walking in this rather attractive rural area.
Not wanting to spend 4½ hours waiting for the only other departure of the day from Radeburg, I returned straight away from the terminus and travelled back as far as Weißes Roß, in order to have a beer and lunch at the delightful Lößnitztal-Schänke restaurant that is immediately alongside the railway just to the north of the station.
Keen to get one more action shot of the loco and its Cornetto headboard I then travelled back up the line to a small village called Berbisdorf, just south of Radeburg, where I was able to get a reasonable shot of the departing train before waiting around 30 minutes for its return.
As on the Weißeritztalbahn and the Zittauer Schmalspurbahn, passenger loadings on the Lößnitzgrundbahn were heavy, though the long trains meant that there was always the chance of finding a seat, unless you wanted to ride in the ever popular open carriage that was a feature of trains on all three of the NG lines.
Returning to the UK after a multi-modal trip to Dresden Airport on S1 train, 7 tram and 77 bus, due to the airport station being inexplicably closed, I reflected on how the 9-euro-ticket experiment would be judged.
Trains on both the standard gauge and NG were heavily-loaded and I saved a small fortune in the fares I might otherwise have paid, so owe a big thank you to the German taxpayers for funding two really memorable trips!
What really matters though is whether this bold three-month gesture to virtually give away public transport across the country achieves any lasting changes in people’s travel habits, and that holy grail of transport planners, namely modal shift away from car dependency. I for one will be fascinated to read what lessons are learned from the 9-euro-ticket!
More detail and photos of the Zittauer Schmalspurbahn can be found in my July 2020 feature, while there is more on the Weißeritztalbahn and Lößnitzgrundbahn in my September 2021 blog.
I spent four nights at the Radisson Blu Parkhotel, which is confusingly sold via Booking.com as the City Hotel Dresden, and is an easy 15 minute walk from Radebeul Ost station. My sumptuous room here cost just £55 a night, which seemed like another remarkable bargain!