FolkestoneJack's Tracks

In to the crocodile pit

Posted in Cottbus, Germany by folkestonejack on May 2, 2014

The first day of our short tour gave us the rare opportunity to enter the open cast coal mine at Cottbus Nord and see the venerable class EL2 electric locomotives in their element.

Crocodile at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord

Crocodile at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord

Unfortunately, the weather gods had decided that this should be accompanied by some of the worst conditions imagineable for photography – heavy rain, thick cloud and poor light. At times it felt like they had misunderstood our mission and were hellbent on providing a swamp for the crocodiles…

It was really hard to remember that this was spring, with temperatures falling overnight from 18-20 degrees to just 4-6 degrees! Nevertheless, all we could do was try and make the best of it. Maybe it would give our photographs a gritty, grimy industrial authenticity!?

Mercedes Unimog U500

Mercedes Unimog U500

We were not allowed to drive our own vehicles into the pit, so we clambered aboard one of Vattenfall’s own vehicles – an inconspicuous bright yellow Mercedes monster truck – for the rough journey down. At the bottom of the pit we found a double headed coal train waiting to be loaded by a giant excavator – a quite astonishing sight. It is a necessity to double head the trains here to cope with the gradient in the pit.

The excavators I have seen in China are minnows in comparison to the beast of Cottbus Nord and clearly nowhere near as efficient. It was truly impressive to see just how quickly an entire train could be loaded. As we sheltered from the driving rain under an inactive exacavator we watched two crocodiles push in a new set of empties before 4-1272 and 4-1275 hauled the fully laden coal train out around 11.30am. We didn’t hang around to see the new arrival depart as it was not expected to climb out of the pit for around two hours.

Loading in the pit

Loading in the pit

Escape from the pit

Escape from the pit

Although the conditions might have been attrocious, it was fascinating to see the crocodiles being loaded in the pit. Most other open cast mines have modernised and no longer send coal trains into the pit for loading, but this did not make economic sense at Cottbus as the mine is expected to run out of coal in 2015. Another veteran, the impressive gypsum loader/spreader, is already on the list of machinery to be scrapped within the next two years.

Gypsum loader/spreader

Gypsum loader/spreader

It proved to be an interesting, if sometimes exasperating, exercise in photography. I didn’t have any wet weather covers for my camera, but it was possible to improvise a surprisingly effective cover using a shower cap (with a hole cut in the centre) and some rubber bands. I came away with a good record of the morning, even if they were not the most stunning photographs of a mine railway that you will see!

After making our way out of the pit we ended up at a nearby restaurant which was successfully persuaded to open and prepare a meal for a horde of hungry photographers. Maybe our luck was turning…

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