Mariazell Railway

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Mariazell Railway (Mariazellerbahn)
Mariazellerbahn 01.jpg
Special pilgrims' journey near Kirchberg an der Pielach
Locale Austria
Track gauge 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in)

The Mariazell Railway (German: Mariazellerbahn) is an electrically operated narrow-gauge railway (with a track gauge of 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in)) which connects the Lower Austrian capital Sankt Pölten with the Styrian pilgrimage centre of Mariazell.


Mariazell Railway lines

Valley Line (Talstrecke)[edit]

At the semaphore signal near Rabenstein an der Pielach

This 85-km-long stretch begins at the St. Pölten Central Station. Right after leaving the station, the line passes through a tunnel under the Leobersdorfer Bahn, another railway serving St. Pölten. The Alpenbahnhof that comes right after that is the railway's operational center. The rolling stock sheds, workshops, and the extensive freight facilities built later are found here. Next, the railway quickly leaves the town and passes through hilly, farmed land for the first few kilometers, south of St. Pölten from the Traisen valley into the Pielach valley. The route quickly reaches the biggest station on the line at Ober-Grafendorf, which includes the junction with the unelectrified branchline.

The mainline follows the Pielach valley through Hofstetten-Grünau, Rabenstein an der Pielach, the main center in the valley, Kirchberg an der Pielach, and 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 gauge in 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).

Mountain Line (Bergstrecke)[edit]

Gösing station, panorama with the Ötscher

A long-stretched double horseshoe curve in the line ascends out of 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 level is the line's highest point. The line exits the tunnel into 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. The 1893 meter-high Ötscher is visible from here. This panorama and the ease of reaching the spot on the newly built railway led to the building of a hotel just across from the station when the railway was first opened.

Winter on the Heugrabenviadukt
The Saugrabenviadukt

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 favorite starting point for hikes into the Ötschergräben, steep-sided, wooded gorges. After a loop around the lake, the line meets the Erlauf River. 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 at Mitterbach am Erlaufsee is reached. The next stop is the terminus at the pilgrimage center of Mariazell in Styria.

The line continued seven kilometers to Gußwerk, which was used mostly for freight traffic to a large sawmill. It has been out of service since 1988, and the tracks were torn up in 2003. 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 tram line from the railway station into town.

The Branchline (Krumpe)[edit]

5090-series Railcar near Kilb

The branchline begins in Ober-Grafendorf, known to locals as the Krumpe (Lower Austrian dialect form of the word krumm, meaning "crooked" in German). It is an unelectrified branch which leads through the foothills of the Alps in 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.

Passenger traffic on the Krumpe slowly diminished. The line from Wieselburg to Gresten was converted from narrow-gauge to standard gauge in 1998 due to extensive freight operations, discontinuing passenger operations. Before 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, passenger service on the line east of Wieselburg to Ruprechtshofen was discontinued in 2001. Regular service between Ober-Grafendorf and Mank continued from 2003 until 2010, when the line was closed down completely. There are plans to convert the "Krumpe" into a scenic railway.[citation needed]


Building and Steam Operation[edit]

The pilgrimage center 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 West railway opened 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. 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 (2 ft 5 1516 in), as with all narrow-gauge railway undertakings in the "Danube Monarchy", was made necessary by the military administration. Rolling stock used in military service on railways in Bosnia and Hercegovina was 760 mm gauge and 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 Fogowitz in 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 extended far enough for freight traffic to be taken through to Mariazell. On 2 May 1907, passenger service to Mariazell began running. 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 Seeberg and 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. Also, a connection to the Ybbstalbahn was never built.

On the Mountain Line, the service was for the time being run with series Mh and Mv steam locomotives specially designed for the line, 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 wood from the heavily forested mountain region. Wood remained the most important kind of goods on the Mariazell Railway right up until freight operations were discontinued. 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 Mariazell Railway 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.[citation needed] 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 tram-like 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 Mariazell Railway was electrified between 1907 and 1911, making use of the mountainous region's vast hydroelectric resources. The E-series locomotives (still used today as ÖBB 1099), were acquired at that time.

By implementing their intentions, many concepts were realized for which there had been no precedent. 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 is still seen in designs today. The power stations, necessary for the electrical supply, were built under the most difficult conditions in the mountainous landscape. They 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[edit]

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 Sarajevo in 1920.

The Krumpe branchline from Ober-Grafendorf to Ruprechtshofen, after building had been interrupted by the war, was 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 Österreichische Bundesbahnen took over the Mariazell Railway from the Lower Austrian State Railways, which had fallen into financial difficulties. After Anschluss in 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.

After 1945[edit]

Goods van loaded onto a transporter wagon (picture from the Pinzgaubahn)

After the Second World War, the former State Railway lines remained with ÖBB. The rolling stock was given a new number scheme in 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 diesel working 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 Mariazell Railway 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 carried in narrow-gauge wagons. On 31 December 1998, ÖBB ended transporter wagon service on the Valley Line and the remaining section of the branchline, thereby ending all freight service on the Mariazell Railway.

As of about 2000, ÖBB was considering selling or abandoning the Mariazellerbahn. At present, the railway is still being run by state order at the state's expense. Since autumn 2003, 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, was considered.[citation needed]


In 2010, ÖBB handed the railway over to the provincial government of Lower Austria. The railway is now operated by NÖVOG, which is owned by the provincial government. The Mariazell Railway network is a part of the Verkehrsverbund Niederösterreich-Burgenland (Lower Austria and Burgenland Transport Association). There are plans to buy new rolling stock.[1]

Rolling Stock[edit]

A 1099-series locomotive at Mariazell station

For the opening of the first stretch of line in 1898, the Lower Austrian State Railways bought four U Series steam locomotives, already proven on the Murtalbahn. The locomotives along with the two-axle passenger coaches and goods wagons, which were customary at the time, formed the railway network's basic equipment. The fleet was filled out in 1903 by two-axle 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.

One of the Mariazell Railway's U series locomotives today runs on the Steyrtalbahn
Museum locomotive Mh.6 with tourist train
A modern ÖBB series 4090 multiple-unit train at Annaberg station
An ÖBB series 2095 diesel locomotive at the St. Pölten Alpenbahnhof

For the extension to Mariazell, an especially high-performance engine was needed. The Krauss locomotive works in Linz proposed to build a locomotive with four powered axles and a tender, four of which were built by 1906 and used superheated steam. They were designated Mh (nowadays ÖBB 399). In 1907, two locomotives with compound steam workings were acquired and designated Mv. The "h" stood for "Heißdampf" (superheated steam), and the "v" for "Verbundantrieb" (compound working). Since the latter locomotives did not prove their worth, the next order was for two further locomotives of the Mh series. Since many passengers were expected, a great number of four-axled passenger coaches were bought, which were comparable in comfort and accoutrements with contemporary standard-gauge coaches. Also in 1906, three bigger and stronger steam railcars were delivered.

Once electrification began in 1911, 16 E series locomotives 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 P and Uh series steam locomotives (ÖBB 199 and 498, respectively). The first diesel locomotive was tested on the line in the 1930s. This type, later described as ÖBB 2190, was only suited for light passenger trains. The self-powered luggage railcars (series 2041 or ÖBB 2091) were slightly better in performance.

In 1960, the electric locomotives, now known as series 1099, were given new bodies. The passenger coaches were likewise provided with matching steel bodies. In 1962, the steam engines were replaced by new diesel locomotives (ÖBB 2095). The series 399 locomotives went to the Waldviertler Schmalspurbahnen. The others were withdrawn from service.

Since 1994, two newly developed electric multiple unit (EMU) trains (ÖBB 4090) have come into service. For lighter runs diesel multiple unit trains (ÖBB 5090) are used on the main line as well as on the Krumpe, where series 2095 diesel locomotives are also used.

NÖVOG placed a €65m order in December 2010 for new rolling stock. The first of nine low-floor EMUs built by Stadler Rail was shown to the public on 16 December 2012 at Laubenbachmühle depot. The three-car articulated EMUs are designed to operate up to 80 km/h and are scheduled to enter service in December 2013.[2]

Service on the mainline today is primarily provided using the 100-year-old series 1099 electric locomotives along with the passenger coaches that are almost as old as the locomotives, operating at a maximum 45 km/h. 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.

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 Mariazell Railway employees who managed to fetch back the Mountain Line's original locomotive.

Power supply[edit]

Two generations of electric rolling stock in Mariazell

The Mariazell Railway 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 Mariazell Railway 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 Mariazell Railway and the region along the line, three 25 Hz multi-phase generators at the Wienerbruck power station were used with an apparent power of 6600 kVA. This accounts for the single-phase railway supply's apparent power of 4500 kVA. The equipment is driven 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 a backup 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 aging 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 Francis turbine.

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 its own equipment and 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.

Power Supply Facilities[edit]

Railway Substations[edit]

Facility Position
Gösing 47°53′24″N 15°16′49″E / 47.89000°N 15.28028°E / 47.89000; 15.28028 (Gösing Railway Substation)
Kirchberg (decommissioned) 48°01′29″N 15°26′02″E / 48.02472°N 15.43389°E / 48.02472; 15.43389 (Kirchberg Railway Substation)
Ober-Grafendorf (decommissioned)
Rabenstein 48°04′06″N 15°28′05″E / 48.06833°N 15.46806°E / 48.06833; 15.46806 (Rabenstein Railway Substation)
Wienerbruck (decommissioned) 47°51′18″N 15°18′41″E / 47.85500°N 15.31139°E / 47.85500; 15.31139 (Kraftwerk Wienerbruck Railway Substation)

Converter Plants[edit]

Facility Year of inauguration Power Kind of Facility Position
Erlaufboden 1924 2,8 MW Rotary Converter 47°52′49″N 15°15′55″E / 47.88028°N 15.26528°E / 47.88028; 15.26528 (Erlaufboden Rotary Converter Plant)

Power Plants[edit]

Facility Year of inauguration Power Kind of Facility Position
Erlaufboden 1924 2,8 MW Hydroelectric Power Plant 47°52′49″N 15°15′55″E / 47.88028°N 15.26528°E / 47.88028; 15.26528 (Erlaufboden Hydroelectric Power Plant)
Wienerbruck 1908 4,5 MW Hydroelectric Power Plant 47°51′09″N 15°17′17″E / 47.85250°N 15.28806°E / 47.85250; 15.28806 (Wienerbruck Hydroelectric Power Plant)


  • Felsinger/Schober: Die Mariazellerbahn, Verlag Pospischil, Wien (no ISBN), 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


  1. ^ "AUSTRIAN NARROW-GAUGE". Railways Africa. Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  2. ^ "Mariazellerbahn commissions a stairway to heaven". Railway Gazette International. Retrieved 5 Jan 2013. 

External links[edit]