New Year with Austrian Steam

A very special 2010-11 New Year tour featuring fantastic standard and narrow gauge steam in the Austrian snow (hopefully), to enjoy superb mountain scenery and beautiful locations. Truly spectacular journeys like the UNESCO protected Semmering Pass and the incredible Mariazellerbahn are combined with ever popular heritage lines including the Zillertalbahn - all topped off with sightseeing in Innsbruk and staying in magical Vienna. Since originally announced the tour is enhanced by an exclusive steam charter train on the narrow gauge Steyrtalbahn (superb photo opportunities, hopefully with snow) plus a private vintage tram tour of historic Nuremberg with that extra touch – seasonal mulled wine!

Rather than travel via London Jennifer and I flew from Manchester to Frankfurt and the group joined our train from the Airport to Nuremburg at the main station in Frankfurt. Our ICE was late but our hotel, the Inter City, was by the station. We found our first brew pub, the Barfusser, not far from our hotel where we had a very good, reasonably priced meal.

Nuremberg TramNuremberg TramOn Friday, New Year's Eve, we had a walk around the old town centre of Nuremberg with its majestic buildings, stopping for coffee, before going to the preserved tram depot for mulled wine in the afternoon. Following this we went on a vintage tram trip to view the city. In the evening we visited the famous 13th Century Heilig Geist Spital restaurant. Afterwards some of us found a smallish bar to celebrate, first of all at midnight on German time; an hour later we could celebrate again on UK time. The U-Bahn was still operating at 02.00 to get us back to our hotel.

After a late start this morning, Saturday, we are on the 10.30 to Linz, our base for three nights.

Update 3rd January:

Our comfortable ICE was on time and after checking in to our nearby hotel went to travel on a vintage tram on a country branch to the Attersee, a lake. Despite its age, built 1914, it gave us a lively ride, exceeding its rated top speed of 30kms/hr. Some rode in the cab as I did for part of the way. This is operated by a private company, Stern and Hefferl, that has several services in this area of Austria using second hand trams.

Our private charter trainNo. 4 on the Ampflwang branchOur private charter train
No. 4 on the Ampflwang branch
Next day we had our own charter steam train with run pasts on the branch to Ampflwang. The branch and preservation site are owned by the Austrian preservation group which has 150 locos, steam, diesel and electric. On display in an impressive newly built roundhouse were about 20 steam locos, mostly in good condition with six steamable. (News and photo of Railtrail Tour’s private charter was also reported on the group's website.)

On Monday, we went to Jenbach to travel on the Zillertalbahn. Leaving Linz in a snow shower on an Austrian Railways "Rail Jet" to Jenbach the snow covered mountains looked magnificent. The narrow gauge line of the Zillertalbahn took us by diesel to Mayhofren, returning by steam train. There was time for a quick visit to Innsbruch before returning to Linz on an Euro-City train. Trains in Austria and Germany are so much better than UK trains. Some of the group decided to have dinner on the train, a facility still available.

Update 5th January:

Tuesday saw us on a train from Linz to Steyr. From here a chartered Postbus took us to Grunberg the operating headquarters of the Zillertalbahn, a narrow gauge preserved line with steam. Our chartered train meandered beside the River Steyr stopping occasionally for the crew to clear the lines of snow. Heading back, the loco now chimney first, we stopped for photo shots, the latter in sun. It was good to visit this lovely line again after first visiting it in the 1970s. The Postbus returned us to Steyr station for a train to Vienna, to a hotel again near the station.

Next day, leaving Vienna fairly early for St Polten we travelled on another delightful narrow gauge line, this time electrified. Our electric locos were both nearly 100 years old, and equipped with coupling rods. We climbed in bright sunshine and snow, up and up, twisting and turning into the mountains, over bridges and through tunnels. Arriving at Mariazell, some decided to stay there for a few hours for lunch and see the attractions, while others returned to Vienna after a short stay to see some of its attractions. The free local transportation tickets provided were very useful.

Update 6th January:

Taking water before the SemmeringTaking water before the SemmeringThursday we took a special steam train from Vienna over the Semmering Pass to the Murzzuschlag. Arriving at the Meidling station very early we declined to leave the waiting area before the train arrived because of the cold. However, the train was very confortable and very warm, our party being in a first class coach. Departing 20 minutes late we picked up passengers on the outskirts of Vienna. Before we commenced the climb the locomotive, an Austrian class 52 2-10-0, it took water at Gloggnitz where in the past the depot held the banking engines. It made nice sounds on the climb. At Murzzuschlag most of us visited the small railway museum. A 1950s electric returned us to Vienna while still in the light. This evening we are going to the wine area of Vienna for dinner before starting our journey towards home tomorrow.

Update Jan 9th:
Jennifer and I arrived home yesterday after travelling from Vienna to Koln and spending the night there. We were lucky to have a room on the 9th floor with a fine view of the Cathedral. Leaving on Saturday morning for Brussels and then London on Eurostar where we said goodbye to most of the group. We had our final train leg to Runcorn arriving home by 19.00.
I have many highlights of the tour: at midnight on New Year's Eve seeing the street fireworks in Nuremburg Old Town as snow was falling; the comfort and quality of German and Austrian trains that put ours to shame; the historic railways we travelled on and locomotives and trams we saw and rode on, some up to and over 100 years old; the stunning snowy scenery of the Austrian mountains;  the magnificent cities we stayed in; the restaurants we found (with a little research) that not only did good food but brewed their own beer on the premises; the friendliness of the Germans and Austrians and of the men and ladies of our group ably led by Les Tindall. Several of us are already looking towards next New Year.

Chris Lewis (This report is the personal reflections of the tour participant.)
Click on any photo to see a larger version, and to view the gallery of images.

Railtrail Tours holidaymaker Colin Edwards took some video on this tour, which is available on YouTube. Click the links below to see his films: