by John Anthony

Back to Austrian Stamps homepage Back to Articles list Salzkammergut Bummel

The Schafbergbahn is a 1000mm gauge rack railway located in the Salzkammergut region. The region is famous for its many lakes dotted in between high, rocky mountains with the Dachstein glacier (2995m) towering above the whole landscape.

The Schafbergbahn starts in Sankt Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee, a picturesque small town situated between steep mountain slopes and the lake, and leads up to the summit of the Schafberg (1,783m). The railway is almost 6 kilometers long and rises over 1200m along its length. The summit provides a perfect vista of the whole region with its many deep blue lakes in the valleys and its many rocky peaks.

The postcard shows Sankt Wolfgang and the Wolfgangsee, with the Schafberg mountain behind.
The Salzkammergut together with Semmering was in the nineteenth century considered Austria's top destination for recreation and tourism. The nobles of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including the Emperor Franz Josef, were attracted by the gorgeous landscape and the deer hunting possibilities in the area.

At the beginning of the 19th century the rich and noble people let themselves be carried up to the top of the mountains by the so-called "armchair carriers". From records we know that the occupation of "armchair carrier" was developed very early in St. Wolfgang with a professional association of the citizens approving tariffs, locations and rules for the security of the persons who were carried up to the top of the mountain. The number of "armchair carriers" in St. Wolfgang was around 30 men.

When the weather was good the carriers started the trip in the early hours of the morning, in order to make it the summit of the 1783m high mountain by sunrise, with provisions and rain protection being carried in addition to the passengers. By 1836 a hut had been erected at the summit providing overnight accommodation for the passengers and an even more romantic dawn experience on the Schafberg.

In 1872 detailed plans for the construction of a railway up to the summit were proposed and a commission given to two local entrepreneurs, Berthold Currant and Carl Peusens. Unfortunately the following year saw the onset of a great depression which was to haunt much of Europe and the rest of the world on and off for the next 20-odd years; the plans for a Schafbergbahn were postponed.

The beginning of the Decree granting Currant and Peusens the concession to construct a rack- railway.
Not until 1890 were the plans taken up again and with funding from a consortium of investors, a licence to construct a cog railway was granted in January of that year. With the support of the Oberösterreich and Salzburg regions, through the frontier of which the railway runs and that of the villages of Ischl and St.Wolfgang, for whom it would provide an important source of income, construction began in April 1892 and was undertaken by the firm of Stern & Hafferl. The work was completed at the end of July 1893 and on the 1st August 1893 a tourist service began as part of the SKGLB, the Salzkammergut Lokalbahn (aka Ischlerbahn).

These cards show the summit station of Schafbergspitze and the hotel acquired by the SKLGB in 1894. The railway proved immediately popular and in 1894 this inspired the SKGLB not only to buy further wagons and locomotives but also a mountain hotel on Schafberg and shipping on the Wolfgangsee. However the success was not to last and with the onset of World War I tourism waned and tourist operations were curtailed in 1919.

Continued financial difficulties saw the SKGLB taken over by the State Railway in 1920, only to be returned to SKLGB control in 1925. In 1931 it was up for sale again; this time the railway, the hotel and part of the shipping company were sold to Austrian Verkehrsbüro, a Vienna-based travel company. The line was actually operated on their behalf by the BBÖ (the pre-war name for today’s ÖBB) until the outbreak of World War II when it was taken into the control of the Deutsche Reichsbahn. War put paid to the service from 1941 until 1945 after which Austrian State Railways (by then ÖBB) took over responsibility for the line; interest in tourism rose and continues today.

Motive power for the line started with four steam locomotives built by Krauss of Linz and delivered in 1893, with two others following one year later. Only six carriages were purchased because one locomotive could ascend pushing up only one carriage; five carriages were of four-axles with capacity for sixty passengers and one carriage, of two-axles, for ten passengers but later modified for twenty. Over the next 60 years locomotives and carriages underwent a number of modifications and modernisations, with changes being made to valve gear, ejector systems and chimneys and the installation of automated air-brakes and electric lighting.

Kraus loco 997.307 ascending the Schafberg in the late 1940s, giving some impression of the very steep gradient. The locomotive is actually 999.102 in the ÖBB numbering system but the engines retained their Reichsbahn numbering until the mid-1950s.

The domination of steam came to an end in 1964, when two motor coaches with hydraulic transmission from the SGP Locomotive Company were delivered. These were deployed immediately on some services displacing some of the steam-hauled journeys. Such was the reduction in the need for steam locomotive power that one engine, 999.101, left the railway in 1970 to find a new home on the Schneebergbahn, to return again in 2006.

In the late 1980s the ÖBB began to look at cost savings in its overall operations and the Schafbergbahn, where the rolling stock was in serious need of modernisation, did not escape these considerations. Fortunately however the ÖBB appreciated the attraction of the steam engine and that of the rack railway and ordered 4 new oil-fired steam locomotives from the Swiss locomotive works SLM, in Winterthur.

The first, 999.201, arrived in 1993 after trials on the Schneebergbahn. Then came 999.202 in January 1996 with the final two, 999.203 and 999.204 arriving in March 1996. The new locomotives had the advantage of being able to push a load of two coaches. During the same period the old 999.105 was sent to Attnang-Puchheim for repair and thence to the Transport Museum in Vienna for static display (A cut-back in funding to the museum saw it returned to the Schafberg in 2007). The carriage stock were modernised too. Added to the original ones were a couple of new green carriages made in 1993 by Bombadier, Wien and six new replicas of Schneeberg railway carriages made in 1995 in St. Pölten.

The arrival of new steam locomotives meant effective retirement for the remaining four Krauss locomotives, however they are still there and operational and are used to order in the main season of July and August. Today at the Sankt Wolfgang depot there are two motor railcars 5099.001 and 002, six Krauss engines 999.101-106 and the four SLM oil-fired locomotives 999.201-204.

There are two tunnels along the line, one close to the station at Schafbergalpe and second just before Schafbergspitze station where a new building and facilities were erected in 1986. There is a turnout at Dorneralpe for up-going locomotives to take on water.

Schafbergalpe station and guest house.

In April 2006 the railway changed hands again, this time Salzburg AG, primarily a local energy, transport and telecommunications company, took over the Schafbergbahn and St. Wolfgang shipping companies and operates the two as a subsidiary under the name of the Salzkammergutbahn (SKGB)

Today the bulk of the trips are powered by the newer oil-fired steam locomotives. The original machines from the end of the 19th Century are reserved almost exclusively for special nostalgia trains. The steam locomotives carry new numbers and in some cases names:

©APS 20 August 2013