Becca Jane St Clair

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European Road Trip Days 4 & 5 – Zillertalbahn & Achenseebahn

[Finally blogging about our trip to Germany and Austria we took in September 2010!]

[the above vlog appeared on my blog months ago, I’m just re-posting it as it’s relevant to today’s post!]

I’m blogging about both railway trips in the same blog post because these two railways are very different, and yet related to each other. Both railways originate in Jenbach. Jenbach is very special, in that it is the ONLY railway station in Austria to have three different lines meet of three different gauges. First, there is the standard gauge OBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) line. OBB runs both passenger and freight trains, and from Jenbach you can get anywhere in Europe by travelling on OBB. Your trip might involve several transfers, but you can still originate in Jenbach! One of the best things I saw while watching trains in Jenbach was the train full of lorries (US: 16-wheelers), complete with cabs! Apparently moving them by train is the best way to get things over the mountains. Unfortunately, we were never fast enough with our cameras to catch photos or video of this.

The second line to meet in Jenbach is the Achenseebahn. The Achenseebahn is a meter-gauge (meaning the distance between the rails is measured in metric as opposed to imperial) partial cog railway between Jenbach and Seespitz. The Achenseebahn is Europe’s oldest cog railway, and about four miles long. The Achenseebahn takes you up the mountain to Seespitz and the Achensee. As this entry will be very photo heavy due to it being about two railways, I will blog about our trip around the Achensee in a separate post.

The third line that meets in Jenbach, and my personal favourite of all the Austrian lines we rode on, is the Zillertalbahn. Unfortunately, their website as it is currently down. The Zillertalbahn is a narrow-gauge railway line at only two feet, five and seven-eighths inches. The Zillertalbahn runs the opposite direction of the Achenseebahn, and takes you into the valley of the Zillertal mountains between Jenbach and Mayrhofen. The Zillertalbahn runs regular commuter-type passenger service, daily special steam (dampfzug) service, as well as freight movement for the logging industry. The Zillertalbahn also happens to run through the village we were camping in, Zell am Ziller.

We knew we wanted to ride the dampfzug the entire length of the line, but instead of driving down to Jenbach, we decided to get on one of the commuter trains from Zell am Ziller to Jenbach. We purchased day tickets, which would allow us unlimited rides along the Zillertalbahn for the day, but did not include travel on the dampfzug. We had to purchase those tickets separately at Jenbach.

The Zillertalbahn certainly is special. The dampfzug trips are special trips for tourists, so they pull out all the stops, including a passenger car entirely made from Swarovski Crystal (called the krystallwagen and a brake van (US: caboose) decked out to look like a giant beer barrel for the local brew – Zillertal Bier.

And the coaches looked rather familiar to me, too. The Zillertalbahn had donated some of their surplus to the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway, and I had a ride in one of their donated coaches when I visited Wales in August. This was not to be the only connection back to the Wales trip on this trip, either!

Tim and I both enjoyed the ride. Previously, we had seen the valley through the car windows as we drove back and forth between Zell am Ziller and Innsbruck the day before (the day we arrived it was too dark to see). The Zillertalbahn line runs parallel to the road for quite a bit of it’s run, perfect for gricing later, but it also runs through the valley and into some of the smaller villages you wouldn’t even notice from the road. We also got a closer look at the freight industry as the train ran directly parallel to the logging yards. I’m completely not technical, so if you want more technical information about this, you’ll have to ask Tim, but basically, they load standard gauge freight wagons onto narrow gauge chassis and take the freight up to Jenbach, where it gets loaded back onto a standard gauge train. I hope I got that right! Tim’s at work right now and I can’t ask him, but I’m sure he’ll correct me in the comments if I got something wrong!

We split up once we got to Mayrhofen – Tim to go take some more pictures, and me to find a loo! One thing I learned in my travels in Austria is that public toilets charge a fee. Anywhere from 20 cents to as high as 75 cents and even a full Euro in some cases. You just insert the coins into the vending slot on the door, and then the door will unlock for you. I had somehow wandered into the middle of a tourist group from Yorkshire who had also been riding the dampfzug, and the ladies all decided they would save their money by holding shut the stall door for each other, letting several people use the loo from one single coin. As I spoke English, the ladies in the group just assumed I was with them and let me join them in sharing the coin.

I found Tim, and we decided to get something to eat in the small pub (if you could call it that!) in the station. We had the classic German dish – frankfurters. This was not the first time nor was it the last time we had frankfurters on our trip – they seem to be everywhere and it reminded me a lot of finding hot dog stands on every corner in Philadelphia. This time, I urged Tim to try the mustard (Estragon Senf). He’s not a big mustard fan, but he decided he liked the Estragon Senf enough to ask what it was and where we could get some to take home. The barmaid showed us the bottle and we were able to find it on our trip to Billa that afternoon.

We boarded the train for our trip back to Jenbach, and as it was still fairly early, we decided to hang around Jenbach and took some photos. Then, we decided to find the railway bridge that crosses the Inn River. We were in luck, and not only caught several service (commuter) trains, but also managed to catch the second dampfzug of the day going across it!

The following morning, we returned to Jenbach, this time by car, to ride the Achenseebahn. We discovered an “early bird special” if we took the first train of the day. The Zillertalbahn wouldn’t have gotten us to Jenbach in time, so we drove instead, and just narrowly made it onto the train to discover that we would be the only passengers for the majority of the trip! It was like having our very own chartered train ride that we didn’t have to pay charter prices for! The Achenseebahn is very steep at parts as it takes you up a mountain, so the train uses a cog wheel or rack to get up the steeper parts. A cog wheel is a wheel in the middle of the train that has teeth on it and it uses it’s teeth to grab onto the middle rail to help pull the train up the mountain. The Achenseebahn also has to push the train for half of the trip as it is too steep to pull it. Tim told me this also acts as a braking system to prevent the coach from sliding down the mountain. Yikes! If you watch the video above, you can see the middle cog “track”.

When we got to the top, we took a boat trip around the Achensee. Like I said, I will blog the video and photos of the Achensee later to not clog up this entry with more video and pics!

Since we got up so early, we had plenty of daylight left once we returned to Jenbach. The boat ride was a few hours long, and the train ride not so long, either, so we wound up returning to Jenbach around lunchtime. We needed something to do for the rest of the afternoon, so after getting some lunch (I really think it might have been frankfurters again), Tim had an idea. He wanted to grice the Zillertalbahn’s dampfzug. He asked me if I would be willing to take the video while he took photos, and a new hobby for me was born. I absolutely LOVED chasing after the train and stopping to film it. If you watch the first video posted in this entry, it’s mostly all footage I took while we were chasing the Zillertalbahn. We even made some “friends”, too. There were two little girls who started to recognize us each time the train passed where we were, so they would start waving at us. Absolutely adorable. We followed the train all the way from Jenbach to Mayrhofen, though we didn’t catch it at every stop as we had to contend with other drivers and small country lanes! Once in Mayrhofen, we took our last photos of the Zillertalbahn and headed back to our campsite.

[If you click on the photo once, it will take you to that photos page. If you click on the photo again, you will be able to view it full size. I have no idea why WordPress made it so complicated!]

[Photos taken by either myself or my husband, Tim and are all © Tim and Rebecca Lockley]

Sorry about all the photos, but we have so many good photos and everything in Austria is so beautiful, I can’t help it! Hopefully, by putting them in gallery format with thumbnails it cuts down on loading time for you!

Next up, a spin around the Achensee!

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  1. […] about a cruise we could take around the Achensee on the Achenseeschifffahrt. And very conveniently, you can take the Achenseebahn from Jenbach to the Achensee (at Seespitz) and you could even ride the Zillertalbahn up to Jenbach […]

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