Some Notes on Saarland Railways

Since today is the state holiday (some time ago two Germanies united into one—which looks more and more like DDR for some reason) why not look at Zoidberg of German lands—Saarland? Well, you might have many reasons (first, it being Saarland) but today I’ve completed my voyage on all of their accessible railways and hence this post.

First, a bit of history. As you all remember, after World War II Germany was split into four occupation zones and while I haven’t heard anything in particular about British occupation zone, the rest of occupation forces were behaving not nice at all: USA installed their military bases everywhere (and most of them are still there—at least it meant less military expenses for West Germany back in the day), USSR tried to convert its piece of Germany into a copy of itself (partly successfully, hopefully it will recover) and France was not satisfied with mere occupation and also tried to seize the part of Germany as its own but it bit more than it could chew and so back in 1957 Saarland was reunited with the rest of Germany (and that day is the state holiday too but I doubt many think of 1st of January as of Saarland reunification day).

Saarland still honours France

Second, a bit of railway network overview. Essentially you can think about it as a cross: there’s a main East-West line going from Mannheim to Trier (or Alt-Chemnitz) via Homburg and Saarbrücken, there’s a North-South line going from Bad Kreuznach to Saarbrücken, there’s a line going South from Saarbrücken to France (and another one served by tram but more about it later), there is a branch Dillingen—Niedaltdorf, there’s a line from Rohrbach to Pirmasens, there’s line Trier—Perl—Metz that goes partly through Saarland and there are several parallel lines connecting Homburg and Saarbrücken. Let’s count: Homburg—Rohrbach—Saarbrücken (that’s what trains from Mannheim to Saarbrücken use), Homburg—Neunkirchen—Saarbrücken (part of it is Nahetalbahn to Bad Kreuznach), Homburg—Neunkirchen—Merchweiler—Saarbrücken (serviced by regional trains Homburg—Illingen and Saarbrücken—Lebach) and finally there’s Homburg—Neunkirchen—Lebach—Saarbrücken via tram line that goes all the way from Lebach to Saarbrücken to Saargemünd (or Sarreguemines as some people write it).

Yes, there’s a tram line in Saarland that essentially crosses half of it. And it’s impossible to confuse it since there’s only one tram line and one tram route in Saarland.

Also I’ve found mentions of three museum lines but looks like only one is functioning: Ottweiler—Schwarzerden line (or Ostertalbahn for short). And I’ve tried it as well. Unlike many other museum lines, this one uses diesel locomotives from the 1960s (but hopefully they’ll manage to rebuild the steam locomotive from the parts they have one day). It was what can be experienced in Ukrainian regional trains—going at about 30km/h while sitting on wooden benches and enjoying looking at the nature outside. At least they boast that they work in any weather (while other museum lines close in Autumn they keep running trains in winter too).

There are many weird things there I’d like to talk about but I’ll leave them to the time when I finish travelling on all railways of Rheinland-Pfalz (should be done next year unless they decide not to open Zellertalbahn again) but here are some of them for now.

First, the train service Saarbrücken—Lebach-Jabach. Fischbachtalbahn (Saarbrücken—Wemmetsweiler) and Primstalbahn from Wemmetsweiler to Illingen are electrified (in Illingen only track 41 is electrified, track 51 is not). Then only a bit of track at Lebach is electrified but about fourteen kilometres in-between are not. We had similar situation here with Bruhrainbahn (between Graben-Neudorf and Germersheim) being not electrified so train Karlsruhe—Mainz ran mostly on electrified rails but still had to be a diesel one. At least this was fixed in 2011 by electrifying the missing piece.

Second, it’s the only tram line in Germany I know that has exit directions repeated in French too.

And third, to make Saarland feel even more like Switzerland, they have the same cryptic booking system: when I bought a ticket from Saargemünd to Lebach it offered me to choose one of three or four possible alternatives—just like buying a rail ticket in Switzerland! Come to think of it, Swiss rail system is exactly like German regional system:

  • Choosing route is the same;
  • German general rail tickets have a whole day of validity (or more for longer distances). German regional tickets are valid for just a couple of hours after purchase—and same in Switzerland (unless it’s some snowy route that might be closed for days);
  • When I bought a ticket from Schaffhausen to Zürich (two different kantons) the ticket also listed zones—like some German regional tickets do;
  • Like with German regional trains, the type does not really matter. It may be S-Bahn, RegioBahn, RegioExpress or InterRegioExpress—the ticket is valid regardless. Same in Switzerland: the same ticket valid for any kind of train and trains change classes during the travel (i.e. train Basel—Chur was labelled as InterCity up to Zürich and InterRegio after that, the difference is only how many intermediate stops it makes);
  • And finally, the famous Swiss train punctuality. Well, it’s a known effect that regional trains have much better punctuality than long-distance ones (and all trains in Switzerland are essentially slow regional trains).

So despite all local jokes about Saarland being very backward place (some even call it “rear end of Germany”) it’s quite European place in some aspects. And remember that it has a real Schengen border (i.e. it borders with Luxembourg where town of Schengen known for some treaty is located).

2 Responses to “Some Notes on Saarland Railways”

  1. Paul says:

    So you finally gonna visit multimedia expert group leaders?
    They are very near you.

  2. Kostya says:

    I’m not sure whom you’re talking about but unlikely in any case. I can’t contribute much to new codec development and they’re not likely to care about my opinion. And if you mean Paris, which is ~2.5 hours train ride from here, then it’s definite no.

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