Tuesday, 20 October 2020

On the Austrian Straight and Narrow: Final Part

 Thursday-Friday, 12/13th August 1982

No need for a map for the first part of today's travels. I'd planned to end my holiday with a few days in Vienna (Wien) to sample the delights of the Austrian capital. I left Graz at 09.12 on an "Eilzug" (semi-fast) to Bruck an der Mur, changing there onto the "Carinthia" express along the Sudbahn to Wien and arriving mid-morning.

Wien has a whole host of tourist attractions and I was determined to see them all: - the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn, the Lokalbahn, the Stadtbahn and the double-decker buses, which the city is one of few outside the UK to have.

Trams in Wien

The S-Bahn at Wien Mitte

The Wiener Lokalbahn - an interurban tramway

Another view of the Lokalbahn

The Stadtbahn (City Railway)

A double-decker at the Sudbahnhof

According to the diary I don't seem to have done anything else in Wien, although I must have had a bite to eat somewhere before joining the "Wien - Oostende Express" that was due to leave the Westbahnhof at 20.50, but was delayed by 20 minutes awaiting the through carriages from Budapest that were running late, despite having an hour's recovery time at Wien!

The "Wien-Oostende" was one of a huge number of international overnight trains that ran throughout Europe in those days. The advent of low-cost airlines put an end to most of them in the early part of this century, although in more recent years a revival has begun led by the Austrian State Railways.

Taken from a slightly earlier Thomas Cook timetable here (on page 468!)  is the route and schedule of the Wien-Oostende Express:

As with all the international trains that terminated at Oostende, a casual glance at the timetable suggests a through train to London, with no mention of the need to change to a ferry between Oostende and Dover!  I suppose that in those days it was a reasonable assumption that "everyone knew"!  You also have to look closely to ascertain that the portion of the train that starts at Budapest goes only as far as Köln (Cologne) and that there is apparently no catering on board between the "light refreshments" car coming off at Passau and the Restaurant Car joining at Frankfurt. Presumably, some people would find it important to know that the through carriages and couchettes are "Austrian" rather than German or Belgian, although the nationality of the sleeping cars isn't divulged.


The original plan was to take full advantage of the flexibility of rail travel to alight in Brussels at 1222, where Mark was going to come from London - on the Jetfoil - and join me for a pub crawl. But with the wisdom tooth troubling me, at some stage during the previous few days I had decided to cancel this arrangement and come straight home.  Even though I was now feeling very little pain in my mouth I was too tired to change my plans again. Of the previous ten nights only one could be described as "a quiet night in" and I had done a lot of travelling. Instead I rode through to Oostende and joined the "Prins Albert" for a crossing that I noted as "fairly rough in poor weather" and with "the usual chaos in getting off the boat at Dover", which I think refers to the practice of requiring all foot passengers to leave the boat via a single gangway on to the quayside where priority was given to cars coming off the boat from the car decks.

Mark met me at Victoria, where I arrived seventeen minutes late (a three minute improvement on our departure from Wien!) and I stayed at his flat in Tooting that night, but only after "a pub crawl of the west end"!


Except that tucked away at the back of the notebook is section on "the cost of the holiday"

The Austria Ticket, that I used for travel around the country cost £51.40
Train and Couchette tickets from Dover to Feldkirch and
Wien to Ostende came to £111.00

The coach from London to Dover was £3.50
and the return train was £7.00 showing that I didn't buy through tickets from London after all.

Travel Costs therefore came to £172.90

Seven nights in hotels in Jenbach, Salzburg, Graz and Linz cost a total of £65 (so not exactly 5-Star then!) making the cost of the holiday (excluding meals and, er..drinks) £237.90.  

As I had been quoted £283 by the DER travel agency for putting together and booking a similar itinerary I was well pleased!

Monday, 19 October 2020

On the Austrian Straight and Narrow Part 10

 Wednesday, 11th August 1982

Today's Travels

From Graz (bottom centre) eastwards to Gleisdorf and north to Weiz, then Birkfeld.

Although this holiday was about seeking out "transport oddities" in terms of location, track gauge or antiquity, I very much preferred those lines that were nevertheless fulfilling a genuine transport role. Today's journey, whilst still following that rule, also included what might be termed a "heritage" or "preserved" railway that I decided to include largely because it had had a good write-up in the "Austrian Travel Wonderland" book that had inspired me to visit Austria in the first place.

There is no mention of my emerging wisdom tooth in the diary, so I can only conclude it wasn't bothering me too much. Graz had another rail company  - the "Graz-Köflacher Eisenbahn" - which was government-owned, but run separately from the ÖBB no doubt for very good historical reasons. I hadn't been able to find space in the schedule for a ride to Köflach and back but I was able to walk over to the GKE station and have a quick look around.
Graz-Köflacher Eisenbahn railbuses at Graz. I'd have loved a ride!

Therefore, it wasn't until 11.57 that morning that I left Graz on an ÖBB local branch line train to Gleisdorf and a five-minute connection on to the Steiermärkische Landesbahn's "Weizerbahn" line and a train to Weiz.  The "train" consisted of a single ancient coach hauled by a centre-cab diesel loco, which due to absence of raised platforms at the stations seemed to tower over the passengers and appeared much larger than it actually was.

The train from Gleisdorf after arrival at Weiz.

The section of line on from Weiz to Birkfeld was another 760mm narrow-gauge line known as the "Feistritztalbahn". Whether it still saw a regular passenger service I'm not sure, but on the occasion of my visit I was able to catch a steam-hauled train that left Weiz at 13.20 for the 65-minute run to the end of the line at Birkfeld.
The "Folk Music" train to Birkfeld at Weiz.

The target market of the line's operators was obviously a little wider than just railway enthusiasts and the trip was advertised as not just a "Dampfbummelzug" (slow, steam tourist train) but also a "Folk Music Train", which meant live Austrian accordian music and folk singing, with which all the children on the train happily joined in!  The Austria Ticket was definitely not accepted on the Feistritztalbahn and the round trip set me back 90 schillings, which easily converted to  £4/10/- in old English money. 
Leaving Weiz for Birkfeld

The timetable allowed two hours at Birkfeld and most of the passengers decamped to one of the many restaurants in and around the station for a meal, although I settled once again for a picnic sourced from a local shop.

I've no idea what I did with the rest of my time at Birkfeld. There was the option of getting a post bus directly back to Graz, which despite not leaving until 1655 would have got me back earlier, but in the end I chose to return by steam train and back the way I'd come. The Landesbahn train from Weiz had gained a few freight wagons to add to its single coach and was now running as a "mixed train" (passenger and freight) and after changing back onto the ÖBB at Gleisdorf I was back in Graz by early evening.

to be continued...

Sunday, 18 October 2020

On the Austrian Straight and Narrow Part 9

 Tuesday, 10th August 1982

Today's Travels:

Today's journeys cross the page in the atlas and Blogger won't let me align them correctly. The journey starts on the right hand map.

Starting on the right-hand map, I went north from Graz (middle-right) to Bruck-an-der-Mur and then west to Unzmarkt (middle-left). Continuing westwards over the page to Tamsweg and returning via the same routes to Graz.

Although the pain in my gums was still there I decided it could be tolerated enough to enjoy another day's travels and so was down at the Hauptbahnhof in Graz for 08.20 to catch the "Robert Stoltz", another of the ÖBB's named expresses, (I looked him up: he was a composer, songwriter and conductor, born in Graz in 1880), which would take me back north to Bruck an der Mur, although this time on the rails rather than the road. We left on time, but somehow contrived to lose ten minutes on the way to Bruck. Fortunately, I still managed to make the connection onto the 09.08 to Unzmarkt, the highlight of that part of the journey being the 5,460m Galgelberg tunnel.

Unzmarkt was - and still is -  the junction for the Murtalbahn and another new operator for me - the Steiermärkische Landesbahn, or Styrian Government Railway. The Murtalbahn was another 760mm line and my train was formed of an almost brand-new diesel railcar.

The Steiermärkische Landesbahn train for Tamsweg at Unzmarket

The diary doesn't record it, but it appears from the photo I took (above) that this train was being operated on  a "pay as you enter" basis. (You can see the driver sitting facing the boarding passengers and collecting fares). The modern-day timetable for the line shows 34 stations. There would have been at least that number in 1982 and we stopped at all of them, with the pay-as-you enter system no doubt contributing to the 100+ minute running time.  My plan for the day shows that by leaving Unzmarkt on the 10.20 departure I had a choice of breaking my journey at Murau,  either on the way up the valley or on the way back down.

As Murau was the headquarters and main depot for the Murtalbahn I assumed there would be more to see there than at Tamsweg, so I opted to ride to the end of the line initially and break my journey on the way back, even though this meant I would only have eight minutes at Tamsweg.
After arrival at Tamsweg

I thought it was a reasonable assumption that the railcar that arrived at Tamsweg at 12.02 would be the same one that operated the 12.10 back to Murau, so I was a bit surprised that after unloading the passengers it disappeared into the shed at the far end of the station. With departure time fast approaching it showed no sign of returning and I suddenly realised that I was the only person on the station actually waiting for it!  A quick perusal of the timetable confirmed my suspicions: the 12.10 was only a train on Saturdays. On other days of the week the service was provided by a rail replacement bus!  I dashed outside just in time to see a bus, well loaded with passengers, leaving the station forecourt - and leaving me stranded in Tamsweg!

It was at least two hours before the next train, so I thought I'd walk into the town centre to see if there was any other way of getting away from Tamsweg. To my surprise, I came across what I'm fairly sure was the same bus waiting at a bus stop and now clearly displaying a destination board "Murau".  It appeared that my Austria Ticket couldn't be accepted on the bus and a single to Murau cost me 54 schillings but at least it put me back on schedule.

That schedule allowed me a couple of hours at Murau, which turned out to be well worthwhile. I hadn't noticed when planning my itinerary but on certain days of the week the Steiermärkische Landesbahn operated special steam excursions between Murau and Tamsweg and today was one of those days. Not only that, but I was just in time to witness the departure of the 13.45.
The steam special for Tamsweg leaving Murau.

I'm not sure why I didn't actually ride on it. It might have been because I'd already been to Tamsweg or perhaps because by the time it got back to Murau I would have been struggling with connections back to Graz. Or, of course, it might have been because the Austria Ticket wasn't valid on specials and I was too mean to pay the extra fare. After all, I had just spent an unnecessary 54 schillings on the bus!
But there were plenty of things to see and do in Murau and I even managed to wander around the depot and take photographs, although I don't remember asking anyone permission.
Inside the depot at Murau
At 15.36 another railcar took me back to Unzmarkt for my connection to Bruck an der Mur, where I had a 25 minute wait for a train back to Graz.
This was a stopper, so the plan contained an option to alight at Peggau-Deutschfeistritz  "to see the Steiermärkische Landesbahn branch line train to Ubelbach", as the diary puts it.  The plan didn't allow for the possibility of actually going to Ubelbach - perhaps the times didn't work (it was an hour's ride each way) - but it seems that I couldn't resist the temptation to get out and have a look! I wasn't disappointed.
The railcar for Ubelbach at Peggau Deutschfeistritz

At some stage during the day I'd decided that the pain in my mouth was probably a wisdom tooth and that if I could just get some painkillers to keep me going for a day or two it would probably take care of itself. Looking up the words for "have you got anything to stop my toothache" in my pocket dictionary I went to a chemist and was satisfied to come away with a packet of aspirin - although the pharmacist's subsidiary question of "do you want some with or without Vitamin C?" rather confused me. (I opted for "with" on the basis that every little helps).

The aspirin worked well enough to allow me an evening out in Graz watching the trams. There seemed to be two lines in the city centre: One operated by modern two-car bogie trams
Modern two-car bogie tram on line 1

and the other run by much more interesting four-wheelers, some of which hauled trailers.
Four-wheeler car operating an "Extra" (E)

And one with a trailer on line 4

Two tram lines met in the city centre, one running north-south and the other east-west. Every 15 minutes throughout the evening four trams converged on this junction all arriving within seconds of each other. The tram stops were placed right on the junction where the two roads met and whilst there the trams completely blocked the roads to all traffic. This allowed passengers to transfer safely between the two lines and once these transfers were completed the trams all went their separate ways. I couldn't help thinking that back in the UK:

1. No one would have thought about scheduling the trams to make a connection in the first place.
2. Even if they did, one of more of the trams would be running late - or early.
3. The tram stops would have been positioned well away from the junction because traffic flow would have been prioritised over passenger safety and convenience.
4. Anyone attempting to change lines would probably miss their connection due to being unable to cross the road and reach the other stop in time.
5. Because of all this no one would attempt to make the connection, which would justify all the above decisions to do things that way!

to be continued.