Harz Narrow Gauge Railways

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Harz Narrow Gauge Railways
(Harzer Schmalspurbahnen)
Steam locomotive 99 7247 at the summit of Brocken
Steam locomotive 99 7247 at the summit of Brocken
Map of the HSB network.
Map of the HSB network.
Line length: 140 km (87 mi)
Track gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge
Wernigerode Westentor
Wernigerode Hochschule Harz
Steinerne Renne
Thumkuhlenkopf Tunnel(70 m)
Drei Annen Hohne
Bad Suderode
Eisfelder Talmühle
Ilfeld Bad
Ilfeld Neanderklinik
Ilfeld Schreiberwiese
Niedersachswerfen Ilfelder Strasse
Niedersachswerfen Ost
Niedersachswerfen Herkulesmarkt
Nordhausen Krimderode
Nordhausen Ricarda-Huch-Strasse
Nordhausen Altentor
Nordhausen Hesseröder Strasse
Nordhausen Nord

The Harz Narrow Gauge Railways (German: Harzer Schmalspurbahnen) or HSB is a network of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre-gauge railways in the Harz mountains, in central Germany (formerly East Germany). It connects the principal towns of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg and several smaller towns in the area with about 140 kilometres of track, much of which is steeply graded and picturesque. The most popular destination on the network is the Brocken, an old Soviet listening post on top of the tallest peak in the Harz mountains, accessed by a spiral railway line, the Brocken Railway. The railway is notable for running a significant number of its trains with steam haulage, mostly employing 1950s vintage 2-10-2 tank locomotives, hauling traditional open-platform bogie carriages. The network is currently operated by the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH, whose members are chiefly the various local authorities whose territories it serves.


The present-day narrow gauge network emerged as a result of the merger of originally separate railway lines which belonged to two different railway companies:

In 1887 the first narrow gauge line in the Harz, from Gernrode to Mägdesprung, was opened. It was owned by the Gernrode-Harzgerode Railway Company (Gernrode-Harzgeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft) or GHE. In the years that followed, the line was extended and the network enlarged. The GHE network included the railway lines from Gernrode to Harzgerode, Hasselfelde and Eisfelder Talmühle. Because the line followed a section of the valley of the Selke, a small river, it was also nicknamed the Selke Valley Railway (Selketalbahn). Another pet name was the Anhalt Harz Railway (Anhaltische Harzbahn).

In 1896 a second railway company was entered into the commercial register that wanted to build a narrow gauge railway through the Harz. On 22 December 1898 the Nordhausen-Wernigerode Railway Company (Nordhausen-Wernigeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft) or NWE opened special services on the line from Wernigerode to the Brocken (Brocken Railway). The so-called Trans-Harz Railway (Harzquerbahn) from Wernigerode via Drei Annen Hohne to Nordhausen was fully opened to traffic on 27 March 1899.

After the Second World War the entire network fell within the Soviet Zone of Occupation, later East Germany. The GHE and NWE were subordinated to the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn in on 1 April 1949.

The HSB period[edit]

On 1 February 1993 the private railway company Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH (HSB) took over all stock, lines, staff, etc., from the Deutsche Reichsbahn and since then has acted as both the railway operating company (EVU) and railway infrastructure company (EIU). Shareholders in the HSB are the districts of Harz and Nordhausen, the communes along the railways, the town of Quedlinburg, the municipality of Tanne and the spa company of Braunlage. Its head office is in Wernigerode, where its workshops and locomotive depot are located. Today the HSB has the longest single network of narrow gauge railway in Germany, with a total length of 140.4 km (87 miles), 44 stations and halts.

Its trains run daily to a timetable and it operates more than ten steam locomotives, seven diesel railbuses and three trams (on the Nordhausen Tramway). All the lines are worked by steam trains, only in the winter timetable does the Stiege–Eisfelder Talmühle section of the Selke Valley Railway have no regular steam services due to its relatively low workload at that time of year.

The best-known line is the Brocken Railway which is worked by steam locomotive-hauled trains to a daily scheduled timetable running from (Wernigerode –) via Drei Annen Hohne to the Brocken and back. Regional services between Nordhausen and Ilfeld, on the other hand were transferred to diesel railbuses and (since 1 May 2004) trams, apart from one steam train pair. In addition the HSB still operates regular goods trains from Hartsteinwerk Unterberg (on the Selke Valley Railway) to Nordhausen Übergabebahnhof (on the Trans-Harz Railway) using diesel locomotives of Class 199.8 and piggy-backed standard-gauge wagons.

On 1 May 2004 a link line was opened in Nordhausen between the Nordhausen Tramway and the Trans-Harz Railway. Since then, the above-mentioned tramway between Nordhausen Hospital and the HSB halt of Ilfeld-Neanderklinik (Line 10) has been worked by electric and hybrid vehicles of the Combino duo class. On the Trans-Harz Railway (which has no catenary), motive power is diesel-electric, the trams being equipped with an on-board diesel engine. As a result of the connecting track to the Nordhausen Tramway, the station of Nordhausen Nord, in particular, lost its significance. Apart from one pair of steam trains from Nordhausen and a few HSB railcars all trains since then have terminated at the tramway stop of Nordhausen Bahnhofsvorplatz.

On 18 April 2005, work started on the extension of the Selke Valley Railway from Gernrode to Quedlinburg (length 8.5 km) after DB AG had closed this standard-gauge section and sold it to the HSB. First, the Gernrode terminus was converted into a through station. On 4 March 2006, the first narrow gauge train Quedlinburg station and, since 26 June 2006, there have been scheduled services by the Harz narrow gauge railways to Quedlinburg with at least two pairs of steam trains per day. In Quedlinburg the HSB stops at a platform with trains of the Harz-Elbe Express to Halberstadt.

In 2009, with the support of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, the standard-gauge steam engine no. 95 1027 was overhauled at the Meiningen Steam Locomotive Works. It was used on the HSB and is now running museum railway services on the Rübeland Railway.

On 30 November 2009 construction was started in Nordhausen on a new halt (Schurzfell). This halt is intended to further improve access to the railway network for the population of Nordhausen. Building work continued until shortly before Christmas 2009 and was mainly carried out during the overnight pause so as not to interfere with services. The new halt was opened in time for the summer timetable in 2010.

In 2009 Lower Saxony tried to co-finance a connection of the town of Braunlage to the HSB network using an accumulation of capital from the economic stimulus package, Konjunktur II. (see also South Harz Railway). This initiative was shelved on 29 April 2010 due to the unacceptably high costs that were predicted.[1]


The network can be divided into three principal railways, which are interconnected:

The Trans-Harz Railway serves as an important link between the two main towns of Wernigerode and Nordhausen. At Nordhausen, facilities exist to mount standard-gauge goods wagons on narrow gauge transporter bogies so that goods wagons from the DB network as a whole can access the HSB. At the southern end of this line, south from Ilfeld Neanderklinik, Combino dual mode electric and diesel trams on Nordhausen's line 10 make use of the line as far as the tram stop in Bahnhofplatz. A journey between Nordhausen and Wernigerode requires (in the summer 2007 timetable) a change at either Eisfelder Talmühle or Drei Annen Hohne; one trip each way per day can be made entirely by steam, a second partly by steam, while the remaining two workings are diesel railcars. There is only one steam working per day from Nordhausen.

The Brocken Railway served the Soviet listening post at the summit of the Brocken during the cold war, and for this reason it was not generally open to the public. Since the end of the cold war, this has no longer been the case. Because of the relatively short journey time from Drei Annen Hohne, and more generally from Wernigerode, as well as the steep gradients which tax the locomotive fleet and the fine views from the summit, this is the most popular route with tourists, and the service on this line is the most frequent on the network, with exclusively steam haulage.

The Selke Valley Railway has the least traffic on the network, although both of the active goods sidings on the network are on this line. The most important of these is a quarry near Eisfelder Talmühle, but there is also a link to a mill near Silberhütte with signs of recent use (as of summer 2007). This line features two branches: from Stiege to Hasselfelde, and from Alexisbad to Harzgerode. The main line reverses at Stiege, and a loop is provided so that locomotive hauled trains can reverse without having to run the locomotive round the train. Steam passenger trains over this line are more restricted (one diagram on weekdays, two at weekends in the summer 2007 timetable), working from Quedlinburg via Gernrode to Alexisbad and sometimes on to Harzgerode (one visit per day on weekdays, two at weekends) or Stiege and Hasselfelde (one visit per day). There is no scheduled steam between Stiege and Eisfelder Talmühle (summer 2007).

Rolling stock[edit]

The network is notable for its significant use of steam locomotives. This is primarily as a result of lack of investment during the period the line was in Deutsche Reichsbahn ownership, between 1945 and 1993. The mainstay of the steam locomotive fleet is a fleet of 17 2-10-2 tank locomotives, built during the 1950s (apart from the prototype), although several older types do remain, including four 0-4-4-0 T mallet compound articulated locomotives. The steam locomotives are assisted by a fleet of diesel railcars which operate to a greater or lesser degree on most lines to supplement the steam services for the benefit of the local population.

Locomotives and railbuses DR Class Original designation Built Operational Line(s) worked and where stabled Remarks
Steam locomotives:
99 5901 to 5903 99590 NWE 11 to 22 3 2 Specials to the Brocken, otherwise held in reserve (Wernigerode) Mallet locomotives
99 5906 99590 NWE 41II 1 1 Selke Valley Railway (Gernrode) Mallet locomotive
99 6001 99600 NWE 21II 1 1 Selke Valley Railway (Gernrode) Einheitslok (prototype)
99 6101 and 6102 99610 NWE 6 and 7 2 1 Reserve for special trains (Nordhausen Nord) Superheated/wet steam engines for specials; wet steam engine in for general inspection
99 7222 9922 99 222 1 1 Harz and Brocken Railway (Wernigerode) Einheitslok, nickname Big Mama,
mostly runs under its old number
99 7231 to 7247 9923–24 99 231 to 247 17 9 Harz and Brocken Railway Neubaudampfloks
Diesel railbuses:
187 001 VT 137 GHE T 1 1 0 Wernigerode Westerntor Specials
187 011 and 013 KAE VT 1 and 2 2 0 Wernigerode Westerntor Nickname Fischstäbchen, reserve vehicle
187 012 MEG T 15 1 1 Selke Valley Railway (Gernrode)
187 015 1 0 Wernigerode Westerntor Neubau railbus prototype
187 016 to 019 4 4 Harz and Selke Valley Railway (3 Nordhausen Nord, 1 Wernigerode) Neubau railbus
187 025 VT 137 NWE T 3 1 1 All lines (Wernigerode Westerntor) Specials,
Trailer car
187 201 to 203 3 3 Tram line 10 in the Nordhausen region Dual system tram power cars
Type Combino duo of the SWN
Diesel locomotives:
199 005 and 006 V 10 C 2 0 (Nordhausen Nord) On long-term loan to the Friends of the HSG (IG Harzer Schmalspurbahnen),
006 awaiting repair
199 010 to 012 Kö II 3 1 Shunting services Bw Wernigerode Westerntor Converted from standard gauge
199 301 V 30 C 1 0 (Ilfeld loco shed) Metre-gauge prototype for locomotive series for the Indonesian State Railways
199 861 ... 892 V 100 6 3 All lines hauling works trains, the breakdown train, goods trains and in shunting and snow-clearance duties (Wernigerode, 2 Nordhausen Nord) Converted from standard gauge,
Nickname Harzkamel
Standard-gauge steam locomotives:
95 1027 950 95 027 1 1 Rübeland Railway (Blankenburg (Harz)) Deployed by the HSB, operates on the standard-gauge Rübeland Railway

See also[edit]




  • Organ, John (2014). Harz Revisited: Metre Gauge Railways in Central Germany. Narrow Gauge Branch Lines series. Midhurst, West Sussex, UK: Middleton Press. ISBN 978-1-908174-62-8. 
  • Speakman, Fleur and Colin, (1994), Walking in the Harz Mountains: Including Walks from the Harz Narrow Gauge Railway, Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, ISBN 1-85284-149-4.
  • Andreas Seiler's novel Real Wizard 2008. References the train and the Harz mountain region, ISBN 978-0-646-49625-2.

External links[edit]