Shooting Rabbits in Bayern
12 - 16 July 2006
Report by Duncan Cotterill
In spite of a huge DMU building programme, there are still a fair number of diesel hauled passenger trains in some parts of Germany. The network of secondary lines in the Allgäu area of south-western Bayern sees more diesel haulage than most these days.
This report covers a short photographic trip to the Oberallgäu, the scenic area around Kempten, Immenstadt and Oberstdorf, in July 2006. I stayed in Immenstadt and travelled around by rail using daily Bayern-Ticket or Oberallgäu-Ticket rovers. Due to the closure of most small stations some long walks were necessary to get to the photo locations.
Most trains services in the region operate to a regular interval pattern but there are quite a number of additional trains and variations to the pattern to make things more interesting. In spite of the area's potential, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information available in English on what is actually quite a complex situation. So here goes ...
The Oberallgäu's principal services are hourly trains from München and Ulm, connecting at Immenstadt before continuing to Oberstdorf or Lindau. Trains from each city alternate between destinations.
The München - Oberstdorf trains are operated by independent operator ALEX (Allgäu Express) using Siemens Dispolok class 253 diesels of the same design as Austrian class 2016. Siemens calls then ER-20s but they also carry a proper number indicating that they're class 253s in the UIC world. A single loco hauls the train from München to Immenstadt where a second loco couples onto what was the rear and hauls the train to Oberstdorf with the first loco still attached and remotely controlled from the front. This eliminates the need to run round at Immenstadt and Oberstdorf. The return working is top-and-tailed back to Immenstadt where the loco that led down the branch is detached and the other loco hauls the train back to München.
München - Lindau, Ulm - Oberstdorf and Ulm - Lindau trains are Regio Expresses (RE) run by DB Regio using a mixture of class 218 diesels and class 612 DMUs. Class 628 and 642 DMUs also appear on a few of these trains and other local services. Most of the loco hauled RE trains are formed of push pull sets with the class 218 leading on workings from München, Augsburg or Ulm. Trains to Oberstdorf have to reverse at Immenstadt so the loco leads from Oberstdorf to Immenstadt as well. A few trains are hauled in both directions and a number of weekend trains on the Ulm - Oberstdorf route are booked to be top-and-tailed.
In addition to the regional trains, Oberstdorf is served by two pairs of InterCity trains daily, one from Leipzig (or Magdeburg or Hannover depending on the day of the week) and the other a portion of a Hamburg train detached at Augsburg. These are hauled by class 218s which run round at Immenstadt. The Leipzig train is double headed between Ulm and Oberstdorf and vice versa.
Four pairs of EuroCity trains operate daily between München and Zürich and all are booked to be double headed by pairs of class 218s on the München - Lindau section. Unfortunately three pairs run over the flatter, straighter and less scenic line via Memmingen, leaving only one pair running via the traditional Kempten route.
Although they are largely outside the scope of this report, many trains on the München - Füssen and München - Memmingen routes nearby are also worked by 218s.
What freight traffic? There didn't seem to be any freight through Immenstadt and precious little elsewhere in the area. The only real freight train seen was a HGK class "66" hauled block of oil tanks on the Lindau - Kißlegg - Memmingen line on Thursday. On the same day an EWB Cargo class 204 visited the Oberstdorf branch to collect a track machine. DB class 290s or 294s were seen shunting at Kempten and Memmingen and a 234 was stabled at Kempten on the Friday.
Until midday Friday everything worked according to the published diagrams but then it all fell apart. There was an engineering occupation north of Illertissen on the line to Ulm and the diagrams seemed to be abandoned for the weekend.
Instead of two pairs of Ulm 218s and a pair of Kempten 218s handling the majority of Ulm - Oberstdorf workings on the Saturday, there was only one 218 worked push-pull set and a pair of class 612s shuttling back and forth. The IC services were helpfully replaced by a bus between Oberstdorf and Ulm. As a protest, I declined to photograph it.
Ulm - Lindau services were also affected although relatively few were booked for loco haulage anyway. Trains to and from München seemed to operate according to the diagrams.
Details of the locos seen and workings can be found on the sightings page. Full details of class 218 workings in the area and elsewhere can be found on the excellent V160.de website but you have to become a member to get access to the diagrams.
The high midday sun limited photography to mornings and late afternoons. During the period between 11:00 and 15:00 the light was too harsh so I did a bit of exploring around the area.
The lineside is very overgrown for long stretches but there are quite a few open sections as well. Many of the clear bits lacked any height but there were good backgrounds in many places. Two areas looked particularly promising with elevated vantage points. They were either side of Günzach, between Buchloe and Kempten and between Oberstaufen and Hergatz on the Immenstadt - Lindau line. These sections are predominantly east-west and better suited to spring or autumn photography when the sun isn't as high in the middle of the day. Many of the locations are pretty remote from stations and a car would be almost essential to reach them.
The best section of all used to be north of Martinzell where the line runs along a hillside above a couple of lakes and was overlooked by a number of excellent vantage points in the fields above the line. Those fields are now a motorway construction site and apart from one very short section, the shots are gone forever.
I spent one morning just north of Immenstadt, another doing what little remained of the Martinzell shots, a third south of Oberstdorf and the last north of Oberstaufen. The first and fourth afternoons were spent on the Oberstdorf branch and I took a long walk north of Oberstaufen on the second and third afternoons. The final afternoon was spent at München Hbf before catching an evening flight home.
The morning light was generally good apart from the Saturday when mist and low cloud took a long time to clear. The afternoons were less productive with a lot of cloud building up and culminating in thunderstorms on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday afternoons were glorious. Daytime temperatures were uncomfortably high, reaching 30 deg every afternoon and with overpowering humidity on all but the last day. The 3 to 5 km walks necessary to reach the photspots were a bit of an ordeal in the heat.
Having become used to the Czech Republic in the last few years, I certainly noticed the differences in Germany. There is no domestic equivalent to the Sitove Jizdenka and the EuroDomino is many times more expensive. Fortunately there are some alternatives.
The Bayern-Ticket costs €18 for one person and €25 for up to five people and is valid for unlimited travel for one day on regional trains in Bayern including ALEX and other independent operators' services. In spite of the suggestion to the contrary in a recent Todays Railways, it can't be used before 09:00 except on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. €18 per day certainly seems expensive when compared to £25 for a whole week in the Czech Republic but it's less than 70% of the price of a single from München to Oberstdorf.
There is also an Oberallgäu-Ticket for €10.50 valid all day on regional trains in an area bounded by Oberstaufen, Oberstdorf, Maria Rain, Kempten and Dietmannsried. A weekly version is good value at €17.
All the above tickets can be bought from DB ticket machines or for €2 more from manned booking offices. If you don't speak German, the ticket machines are multilingual and easy to use.
It's a long time since I did much photography in Germany and even longer since I went after class 218s in the Oberallgäu. It was called West Germany in those days and the change from the bland blue and cream livery of the 1970s to the hideous orientrot (pink by any other name) put me off going back for years. By the time the more photogenic verkehrsrot became established my interests were elsewhere. This return visit was long overdue and certainly won't be the last.
Although the weather wasn't perfect and the engineering work on the Ulm line obliterated quite a few loco hauled workings, there were still enough 218 hauled trains in good light to make the trip very worthwhile. The ALEX 253s aren't the most attractive engines around but they are locos in a world that's gone multiple unit crazy and, unlike the DB push pull sets, there is always a loco to photograph at the front of the train.
Immenstadt was a good base for the trip with an attractive town centre and plenty of hotels and restaurants within 10 minutes walk of the station. I used the Hotel Lamm.