A Train Makes Waves

Taking the slow boat to Slovakia, an iconic Swiss railway passes Vienna on its long journey to a new life in Čierny Balog.

On May 10, Viennese passers-by on the Danube got to witness an unusual spectacle: Around noon, the cargo ship “Amare” passed on its way from Basel to Bratislava, with 12 bright red wagons on board. They were components of the Waldenburgerbahn (Waldenburg Railway), a Swiss narrow-gauge train which is now on the last leg of its long journey to its new home in Slovakia.

©Bernd Kudla

Until recently, the 750-mm-gauge railway ran between the small Swiss towns of Liestal and Waldenburg near Basel. Built back in the 1980s, the train was a favourite among rail enthusiasts – but the time has come to say goodbye. The narrowest railroad in Switzerland had its last outing on Easter Monday as the line is about to undergo reconstruction that will connect it to Basel’s public transport network by 2022.

Next Stop: Čierny Balog

While modernisation put an end to the Waldenburgerbahn’s 140-year history, the electric train itself is getting a second life some 900 kilometres away in the heart of Slovakia: The railway company ČHZ (Slovakian Forest Railway) purchased 17 wagons, which will be put into service along the tracks of the Čierny Hron Forestry Railway. Running 16 kilometers through the Slovakian Ore Mountains, the route has a particular quirk lying on its route: In the town of Čierny Balog, the tracks run through a soccer stadium, dividing the playing field and running in front of the grand stand. No wonder this heritage railway route is a well-liked tourist attraction in the region, carrying 70,000 passengers a year. However, ČHZ plans to electrify the historic line by 2025 and use it for local public transport – a project where the retired Swiss carriages play a central role. 

The wagons are being loaded onto the Amare./(C) Baselland Transport

Continuing the Legacy

It was a worthwhile deal for ČHZ, which acquired the rolling stock for €76,000, a fraction of the cost of a new acquisition. Interest in the wagons was high, as the head office of Baselland Transport (BLT), the Swiss operator of the Waldenburgerbahn, told Metropole. Offers came from Germany, Austria, Romania and even Madagascar, but in the end, the Slovakian proposal was the most convincing as it included concrete plans as to how the vintage train would be used. BLT emphasised that “it was important to us that the vehicles would run again as soon as possible.”

On the journey to their new route, the railroad cars crossed a large part of Central Europe: Stowed on the cargo ships “Amare” and “Quinto,” they left Basel on the Rhine, then continued along the Main and finally the Danube, passing Linz and Vienna before reaching their final destination, Bratislava. From there, the carriages were hauled on land to Čierny Balog. Shipments such as this are made possible by the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, a waterway connecting the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean with the Black Sea that measures 171 kilometres. 

Those who weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the unconventional transport might just plan a trip to Čierny Balog, where the “new” Swiss-Slovakian train will presumably roll in 2025.

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Isabella Eckerstorfer
Isabella Eckerstorfer is currently an editorial intern at Metropole while completing her MA in Journalism & Communication at the University of Vienna, where she also studies English. A bibliophile and coffee addict, she can usually be found in a coffee shop at any time of day.

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