|Replica of the original Der Adler locomotive at Fürth in 2008|
Wheeled trucks running on wooden or iron rails were in use in mines in Germany from early days, possibly as long ago as the 16th century. Possibly the first route recognisable as a railway was the Rauendahler Schiebeweg, opened in 1794 to convey coal from mines near Sundern, south of Bochum, to a wharf on the Ruhr. It was a horse drawn tramroad, similar to ones that had already appeared in England, and was about 1.6km in length.
A number of tramroads followed, but the first public railway was the Prinz-Wilhelm-Eisenbahn, a horse drawn tramway opened in 1831 between Hinsbeck, south of Essen, along the Deilthal to Nierenhof, near Velbert, a distance of 7.5km. It had a gauge of 820mm. Initially used for the transport of coal, but by 1833 it also carried passengers. The line was converted to steam operation by 1847 and remains open today as part of the route from Essen to Wuppertal
The first steam hauled railway in Germany, the Ludwigs-Eisenbahn, opened between Nürnberg and Fürth on 7th December, 1835. It was just 6km in length and was constructed to standard (1435mm) gauge, the first locomotive, Der Adler (The Eagle) being built by George & Robert Stephenson in the United Kingdom. The line closed in 1922, having been superseded by a new line further south. Much of the original route is followed by Line 1 of the U-Bahn Nürnberg.
At the period of these early lines, Germany was a loose federation of states, each of which pursued their own individual railway policy. This continued even under the days of the German Empire, so development tended to be piecemeal and unevenly spread. However, this did not prevent the eventual construction of an extensive and efficient network by the early decades of the 20th century.
The First World War impoverished the railways; runaway inflation made matters worse. The entire railway system was nationalized, as Deutsche Reichsbahn, in 1924.
Partition of Germany in the 1950s lead to the railways being split again. East Germany retained the Reichsbahn name, while the West German railways became Deutsche Bundesbahn. The Bundesbahn also operated the stations in West Berlin and provided the trains from there that ran heavily guarded through East German territory to reach the rest of the Federal Republic.
On reunification, the DB abbreviation of the Bundesbahn was retained, but was now to represent simply “Die Bahn” - “The Railways”. Reintegration necessitated considerable investment in the run-down stock and infrastructure of the East, but posed few other major problems as the Reichsbahn had perpetuated normal German operating practices from the time of the partition.
The privatized but nevertheless still state owned Die Bahn owns the bulk of the infrastructure of the German railway network and operates most of the long distance trains, although many local and regional passenger and freight services have been taken over by other operators. Through various subsidiaries Die Bahn has also extended its activities in other countries.
In Germany, as with many other countries, there are a number of minor railways and tourist operations. The distinction is sometimes blurred: for example, the extensive narrow gauge network in the Harz mountains provides a valuable local service in addition to its tourist role. As well as organizations with their own lines, there are a number of museum train operations over freight lines and otherwise lightly used passenger lines.
The trams and metro services of various cities have their own operating companies. In some localities - notably Karlsruhe and the Saar - trams venture onto the national network to provide what is essentially a regional service.
© 2000-2023 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Magnus Gertkemper from Wikimedia Commons