The first German railway line was opened in Bavaria in 1835. This was the Ludwigsbahn (Ludwig’s Railway) from Nuremberg to Fürth which opened on 7 December 1835. This was the start of a railway building frenzy, which rapidly spread across the state. The second Bavarian railway line, from Munich to Augsburg, soon followed. The early railways were private lines, but from 184?, the Bavarian state oversaw the construction of railways, through its state-owned railway company, the Royal Bavarian State Railways. The most important routes were established first, of course, and became the 'main lines', the backbone of the Bavarian railway network which has lasted to the present day.
The first branch lines to appear in Bavaria – indeed in Germany – were the so-called Vizinalbahnen ('neighbourhood lines'). This was a legal term and envisaged the costs of real estate acquisition and line construction being raised locally, whilst profits would be shared between state and district, in accordance with the statuted dated 29 April 1869.
The first line to be built was the 5.5 kilometre stretch from Siegelsdorf to Langenzenn opened on 25 May 1872. Over the next seven years a further 14 Vizinalbahnen were built, including the Bavarian Ostbahn route from Wiesau – Tirschenreuth.
Compared to the main lines, the regulations for these branch lines were relaxed. Steep inclines (up to 1:25), tight curves (100 m) and a narrower subgrade were permitted; as were lighter rails (or used main line rails), lighter vehicles and lower speeds. All the lines were standard gauge. Narrow gauge lines were much rarer in Bavaria than in other states.
Because the Vizinalbahnen did not generate the returns expected and the state had to bail them out to a large extent, a new statute appeared on 28 April 1882 which introduced a new category of branch line the Sekundärbahn ('secondary line'). These would be constructed at state expense. In fact, only one true Sekundärbahn was built – the line from Gemünden to Hammelberg, now part of a single-track main line. Nevertheless, the name stuck and passed into Bavarian folklore, continuing to be used to refer to branch lines. Although not an official Sekundärbahn, the line from Erlangen to Gräfenberg and its locomotives were nicknamed the Seekuh. The story goes that a railway inn called the Sekundärbahn was having its sign painted. It was left half-finished overnight with only the letters 'Seku' completed. Hence the nickname.
By the 1880s, the Bavarian main line network was largely completed and attention now turned to its expansion into the hinterland. On 21 April 1884 the first Bavarian Lokalbahn ('local line') law was passed. This went back to the premise that funding for land purchase and construction would be a local affair, although earthworks would be paid for by the state. However, the state would also take the profit.
To make them viable, the Lokalbahnen were to be built and operated as simply as possible. Structures too were to be simple. This led to the widespread use of standard buildings and structures; nevertheless branch lines and their stations still retained a lot of individual character based on the region and local material available for construction.
The real boom period for branch line construction in Bavaria was from 1894 to 1910, a time when more than half of all branch lines were completed. The average time to build was four years and the construction cost worked out at about a fifth that of main lines per kilometre. Everyday speech saw the introduction of another name in Bavaria for the Vizinal-, Sekundär- and Lokalbahnen: the Nebenbahn, the usual German word for a branch line.
On 31 March 1920, the state railways (Länderbahnen) were formally merged into the new 'imperial' railway company, the Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft and the branch line network in Bavaria, less a few privately-run lines, transferred to the ownership of the German Reich and thereby became part of the Reichsbahn railway network.
But the aftermath of the First World War, the state of the economy and rampant inflation brought a halt to any significant further expansion. Of the 52 routes envisaged in 1920, only the stub from Zwiesel to Bodenmais in 1928 and the link from Kinding to Beilngries in 1929 were built.
The demise of much of the Bavarian branch line network came after the Second World War when competition from the road network and increasing car ownership hit first passenger, then goods services. Around half the original branch lines had closed by the mid-seventies and the trend has continued since, albeit at a slower pace.
The Vizinalbahnen used old mainline rails or lightweight, Vizinalbahn rails laid on wooden sleepers. For Lokalbahn lines, the lower speeds enabled a lighter superstructure to be used, for a wheel load of 4.25 to 5 tons. By the 1930s, the superstructure of Bavarian branch lines generally consisted of 6m rails, supplied by the Maximilianshütte at Haidhof, fixed to iron base plates and wooden sleepers with massive rail spikes. The result was a special – lightweight – Bavarian Lokalbahn rail profile.
Although track layouts varied, there were certain standard layouts that were common:
Any industrial sidings had to be built and maintained by the industries concerned.
Many halts just had a name board; sometimes there was a simple shelter with a bench provided by the local council. The railway administration permitted railway 'agents' to operate on many stations, and the standard design of single-storey, wooden, agency building can still be seen today in many places. One side handled the passenger traffic, with a waiting room, ticket office and earth toilet. The other half was the office, goods shed and loading ramp. In epoch 3, these buildings were sometimes extended and more solidly built.
Station buildings were often of stone or brick and many appear to be far too large for the villages and towns they serve. In the early days, a standard cubic shape, the so-called Würfel was common, later the design was more variable. Station names could be painted in large letters or carved into long sandstone ashlar slabs on the on the walls of the building. At the front there is often a shed roof to provide some shelter for waiting passengers on the 'home' platform. The goods shed was often attached.
Coaling was carried out by hand from coal bunkers. Coal was shovelled onto a platform and from there into the locomotive's coal tank. Later simple cranes or derricks were installed.
For major repairs, however, the engines were sent to the depot (Bahnbetriebswerk or Bw) and a replacement locomotive provided.
In Epoch 2, former light main line tank engines were cascaded to the branch lines including the:
They were joined by new Einheitsdampfloks built for the DRG in the late 1920s and 1930s:
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