FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Chasing crocodiles at Schwarze Pumpe

Posted in Germany, Schwarze Pumpe by folkestonejack on May 3, 2014

Our second day took us to the mine railway around Schwarze Pumpe, which translates literally as ‘black pump’ and sounds oddly appropriate given the concentration of industry today.

It is tempting to imagine that this area got its name from the mining industry, but in fact the pump in question was a watering hole for horses next to a restaurant! It was painted black (signifying the plague) during the Thirty Years’ War to protect the locals from the plundering of Swedish mercenaries.

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Today, the powerplant dominates the area and a fleet of crocodiles regularly criss-cross the largely rural landscape. Our first stop, at a field on the outskirts of Schwarze Pumpe, gave us the perfect illustration of this.

The frequency of trains was a delight – a stop at a nearby level crossing delivered three trains within the space of half an hour. A couple of bemused security guards from the local mine turned up to check us out, convinced that we must be environmental protesters. To be fair, it’s probably not often that they get visitor enthusing about their mining operations!

After a lunch stop in Spremberg we returned to the fields, hoping that the sun might make an appearance and give us at least one perfectly illuminated shot. Luck did not seem to be on our side – from our spot in the fields we saw five trains on distant lines, but none appeared on the bridge/line nearest to us until one and a half hours had passed. Our wish for sun had not been granted either…

In fact, it was not until 4pm that the sun put in more than a fleeting appearance – at last giving us some good opportunities to shoot crocodiles in sunlight. After four trains passed within half an hour we could relax a little and head away knowing that not all our shots would betray the gloom of an overcast day.

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Shortly after this, an emergency stop by our convoy (three minibuses and a handful of cars) gave us an unexpected chance to get a shot from our field of dreams in full sunlight. It was rather wonderful to see a crocodile crossing the bridge fully lit.

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses  the landscape in full sun

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses the landscape in full sun

Our day finally ended at 6pm and our minibus transformed into the “Zwenkau Express” for a blast down the autobahn to our hotel on the outskirts of Leipzig. The express tag turned out to be more literal than we anticipated, with the rest of our convoy arriving at the hotel forty minutes later.

Parallel roads

Parallel roads

The reward for a sometimes frustrating day by the lineside was some rather terrific food at the Krautergarten restaurant (Hotel Seehof) which has to be the most unlikely location for a four star hotel that I have ever seen (opposite an industrial estate and lorry park), but really deserves to be given a try.


Cottbus crocodiles

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

The class EL2 electric locomotives of Vattenfall Europe Mining AG (previously Lausitzer Braunkohle AG) are some of the most remarkable survivors of the railway scene in Germany, but they keep a relatively low profile tucked away on an industrial network not far from the Polish border.

Cottbus Crocodile

Cottbus crocodile

A study by LAUBAG had revealed that it would be more cost efficient to revamp the existing fleet of locomotives than to build new locomotives for their system. The state railway’s vehicle maintenance shop at Cottbus and Kiepe Elektrik in Düsseldorf together modernised 58 locomotives, now designated EL2m, with just 3 locomotives left untouched.

The locomotives have a maximum speed of 65km/h and have a service weight of 100 tons. A single locomotive operating on the network normally hauls 16 coal wagons with a total weight of around 1,600 tons. Full specifications for the modernised locomotives can be found in the Vossloh Kiepe leaflet Modernization of the EL2 Electric Locomotive for the Lausitzer Braunkohle AG.

Class EL2 locomotive 4-314 in the workshops

Class EL2 locomotive 4-314 in the workshops

It would be easy to imagine the crocodiles in the run down setting of an antiquated coal mine, but nothing could be further from the truth. The crocodiles operate on a network that encompasses 323km of track, connecting up five mines and three power stations.

The whole system is monitored from a technologically sophisticated control centre (Zentralstellwerk) at Schwarze Pumpe, near Spremberg. It is an impressive and calm place, well away from the tracks, that runs 24 hours a day with five members of staff. The railway’s workshops, a short walk away from here, are equally impressive. The facility can handle small repairs, overhauls and even full locomotive modification.

In fact, everything about the operation takes your breath away. As we toured the facility by minibus the vast scale of the operation became apparent, with multiple unloading points and bridges leading up to them that looked to have been built relatively recently. Although I have visited many coal mine railways, it is fair to say that I have never seen anything as efficient or impressive as this.