Bogatynia memories

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The Jonsdorf – Zittau – Friedland railway.

(Click to see a map of the entire Royal Saxon State Railway narrow gauge railway network on Wikipedia.)

The Koniglichen Sachsischen Staatseisenbahnen (Royal Saxon State Railways) was once the operator of the largest narrow gauge railway network in Germany. At its zenith, shortly after WW I, the network covered some 500 km (311 miles) of route. After WW II, the eastern-most line of the system – linking Jonsdorf and Oybin via Zittau to Friedland – found itself in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Sadly the Polish and Czechoslovak sections did not survive into the era of railway preservation and EU financed projects. The section left in former East Germany has survived and is a well known steam-operated tourist line, the Zittauer Schmalspurbahn. The Polish and Czechoslovak sections are closed and largely forgotten. Our guest writer Inzynier tells the line’s story.

By 1875 the basic Royal Saxon State standard gauge railway network was already in place. Because of the difficult nature of the hilly terrain, further expansion of the standard gauge railway network was ruled out, the likely traffic on such lines did not warrant the cost of construction. The narrow gauge was chosen as an economic means of reaching these areas.

The first 750mm gauge railway in Saxony opened in 1881 from Wilkau to Kirchberg and further lines soon followed, with Freital-Kipsdorf being the next line to open, in 1883. That year also saw construction commence on what was to be the most easterly of the Saxon narrow gauge lines, from Zittau through Reichenau (now Bogatynia) to Markersdorf (now Markocice) near the border with Bohemia, then part of the Austrian empire.

The first trains ran on this 13.5km railway on 22 October 1884 and the line was officially opened on 11 November. The locomotive depot and headquarters of the railway were at Reichenau, the initial timetable showed three trains each way and the freight traffic consisted of coal, timber building materials and consumer goods.

On 24 November 1890 a new 750mm gauge railway opened from Zittau to Oybin (10km) with a 4km branch to Jonsdorf. Although the new line shared the state railway station and 1.7km of the line to Reichenau it was the only narrow gauge railway in Saxony built by a private company, albeit operated by the state railway and fully nationalised in 1910.

In November 1898 an agreement was signed with Austria which provided for a 2km extension of the state railway from Markersdorf to Hermsdorf on the border, while in Bohemia a 10.6km line was to be built from Hermsdorf to Friedland. Earthworks commenced in July 1899 and the new lines (with reversal necessary at Dittersbach) opened on 25 August 1900. The Hermsdorf-Friedland line was the only section of 750mm gauge in the Austro-Hungarian empire (the 760mm ‘Bosnian’ gauge being the norm) and the only application of the Heberlein braking system. However, all trains terminated at Hermsdorf, with passengers required to board another train if wishing to travel onward beyond the border. Freight wagons – it is thought around 25 per day – were the only vehicles to actually cross the border, after customs formalities had been completed.

Bogatynia Station and Saxon State Railways IK class locomotive.
Photo via Bogatynia Reichenau website.

(Click on image to see more of Piotr Werkowski’s collection of historic photographs and postcards of Bogatynia and its railway.)

Facilities are believed to have been introduced on the German section before the First World War to allow standard gauge wagons to be transported, but on the Austrian section the track was too light for such traffic. The First World War brought the collapse of the Austrian empire and the Hermsdorf-Friedland section now lay in Czechoslovakia, with the termini becoming Hermanice and Frydlant; in 1924 the hitherto ‘local railway’ became part of the state railway, CSD. The Zittau-Hermsdorf section remained under German administration after the First World War, although the Saxon State Railways became part of DR. In 1921 a 4km branch was built from Reichenau to Seitendorf by the Kohlenbahn-AG Reichenau (Sachsen) – a sign of things to come in this region.

In 1938 Germany occupied much of Czechoslovakia and, although the whole of the Zittau-Reichenau-Hermsdorf-Friedland line was now controlled by DR, operations changed little and there were still no through trains across the former border. The 1944 timetable featured up to six trains each way per day between Zittau and Reichenau, seven between Reichenau and Hermsdorf and five between Hermsdorf and Friedland.

Saxon State Railway 41 ex works at the Sächsische Maschinenfabrik in Chemnitz.

The end of the Second World War saw the end of the Zittau-Reichenau-Hermsdorf-Friedland railway. Czechoslovakia emerged again and traffic across the border at Hermsdorf/Hermanice ceased on 2 May 1945. The borders of Poland were moved, with the western border being drawn along the Oder/Odra and Neisse/Nysa rivers. The Zittau-Reichenau railway crossed the Neisse/Nysa river just east of Zittau so, while the Zittau-Oybin/Jonsdorf line remained in (East) Germany, the majority of the Reichenau line was now in Poland; the last train reached Reichenau (soon to become Bogatynia) on 22 June.

In Germany a stub of the line remained in use to serve a coal merchant until 1961, while the 1.7km of route used since 1890 by trains to Oybin/Jonsdorf continues to serve that purpose and seems to have a secure future.

In Poland the line was initially closed until, at least partially via the Kohlenbahn branch, it was extended by 6km from Bogatynia to a standard gauge interchange at Turoszow. Services between Sieniawka (close to the German border), Bogatynia and Turoszow commenced on 20 May 1951. The 1958 timetable showed seven trains each way per day between Turoszow and Bogatynia and eight between Bogatynia and Sieniawka. Passenger traffic between Bogatynia and Markocice (formerly Markersdorf, the original terminus) recommenced in 1959 but in 1960 the standard gauge was extended from Turszow to Bogatynia to serve a massive new opencast brown coal mine. Passenger services on the whole of the narrow gauge line ceased on 1 July 1961. Freight traffic may have continued under PKP until 1964 and some sections may have continued to be operated for industrial purposes connected with the mine after that.

Derelict border station at Hermanice in the Czech Republic.
Photo Bogatynia Turystyka w Gminie website.

The section in Czechoslovakia initially remained in operation after the war, but traffic was light and services were suspended in 1947. Freight traffic resumed in 1951 to serve a stone quarry at Hermanice and passenger services recommenced in 1957. New diesel locomotives were introduced from 1958 but steam traction continued to be used until 1964; in that year freight traffic finally ceased due to the condition of the track. However, passenger trains continued to run until 1976 and the line was not officially closed until 1984, while the track remained in place until 1997.

Returning to the section which became part of Poland, the Kohlenbahn had a number of locomotives and, although at least some of these found their way to the Kujawy system during the Second World War, it seems that perhaps six of the Kohlenbahn locomotives worked on the PKP Bogatynia line after the war. One of these, Budich 931 of 1943, PKP T3-1043 (later T4-1062) is now an exhibit at Sochaczew museum.

The final demise of the PKP narrow gauge line was due to the extension of the standard gauge line to Bogatynia to serve the new mine and its employees. The impact caused by this mining on the route of the railway and the rest of the Bogatynia area can be seen by following this Railmap link. Brown coal mining causes enormous damage, with farms, roads and even entire villages being consumed by the excavation. It seems that much of the former route of one of Poland’s more interesting narrow gauge railways has disappeared into a dirty big hole in the ground.

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3 Responses to “Bogatynia memories”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Fascinating account of an interesting and unusual railway. The only one in the Austro-Hungarian Empire with 750mm gauge and the Heberlein braking system: one imagines that that Empire’s bureaucracy, with its passion for everything being super-orderly and “just so”, would have absolutely hated that situation !

    With the line’s geopolitical ups-and-downs, it seems remarkable how long, and how stubbornly, bits of it clung to life, finally in three different countries. For obvious reasons, it would seem unlikely that any Western railway enthusiast ever got to this line post-1939; except maybe for the remnant in Czechoslovakia, Frydlant (Hermanice), which as recounted, hung on in use until 1976, and remained derelict much longer.

  2. Geoff Jenkins Says:

    An incredible story! Living in the UK one tends to forget how changeable many European borders were in the 20th century. It’s interesting to note that the track on the part of the line in Czechoslovakia remained down until 1997. My first thoughts were that it would be a good idea to head to Zittau to ride on the remaining part of the line in Germany and visit the remains of the railway in the Czech Republic and Poland. However, the final paragraph of Inzynier’s article made me think again. A quick look a the aerial photograph confirmed that the remains of the railway in Poland have disappeared into an environmental disaster area. It looks like I’m just going to have to look at the old photos of the line after all.

  3. Robert Hall Says:

    Thoughts prompted of the only mention I’ve ever come across, of a railway enthusiast getting to Bogatynia – long post-narrow-gauge times, of course, and involving the 39 km. s/g branch to Bogatynia, from Mikulowa junction on the main line south-east from Zgorzelec. Said branch lost its passenger services some time in the 1990s, I believe.

    This appeared in an account from the mid-1980s, by one of the indefatigable British rail-travelling “bashers” who in that era intensively explored PKP’s lesser lines, chiefly in search of steam. By the time concerned, most passenger on the Bogatynia branch was diesel-hauled, but our traveller happened to stumble upon an isolated return working behind a Ty2. He duly took this train, junction – terminus and back; and described the journey as a highly depressing experience, traversing the worst scenes of environmental havoc of various kinds, that he’d ever seen in Eastern Europe. He was relieved to have to spend no longer at Bogatynia, than it took for the 2-10-0 to run round the train and take it back to the junction.

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