No. 119: Railfan Day on the Rhine

#2 at High Level

Back in the early 1990s I was a young Air Force navigator flying C-141s out of Charleston AFB.  One of our usual runs was to Rhine-Main AB in Frankfurt, Germany.  I flew there often. 

Sometimes we’d get a day off between missions so we’d go downtown and see the sights.  We would often rent a car and drive up the Rhine River valley between Rudesheim and Koblenz to visit the little towns, and shop, and see all the castles, and experience the very best of Germany.  We always stopped in Rudesheim as a joke, because Rudesheim was where we would have to hold if Frankfurt/Rhine-Main couldn’t get us straight in. 

I snapped this photo of a Deutsche Bahn train in 1991 on one of those trips through Rudesheim.  I remember saying “I’ve gotta get back here someday for some railfanning.”

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That day finally came last weekend.  My wife graciously took over all the family errands so I could get up to Rudesheim for a couple hours of train-chasing.  It was an awesome day!

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It is an easy one-hour drive on the autobahn from my house to Rudesheim.  First I stopped in Bingen, seen above, on the opposite bank from Rudesheim, to get cash and take a few photos at the busy rail junction there.  There are busy double-track mainlines on both sides of the river; the freight-trains mostly run on the other side of the river.

To get to the other side of the river, one must take the ferry.  4.80 Euros each way.


Below.  On the ride over I could see that I was already late to the parade.  Three freights zoomed by as I was making the ten-minute crossing.

Rudesheim marks the beginning of the “upper half of the Middle Rhine”.  This roughly 25-mile long part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is well known for it’s dramatic scenery, quaint towns, vineyards, and castles–44 of them–lining the way.  It’s also known by railfans as a place where hundreds of trains pass every day. 

The massive statue on the hillside above Rudesheim, seen below, is the Niederwald monument.  Its colossal central figure, a woman known as Germania, represents the reestablishment of the German empire after the country defeated France in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. 

I found a nice tourist site that has some good photography and traveler’s tips on the Rhine River.  If you’re interested you can check it out at

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Below.  This was my objective for the day–the depot area at Rudesheim am RhineI arrived around 1100.  The first train I was able to shoot was this one, below.  The big signal tower in the background make a great backdrop but it appears to be retired. 

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Right behind it that freight, just a few minutes later, came this ICE (Inter-City Express) train.

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I shot both of the trains above against the sun.  There wasn’t anywhere in Rudesheim to set up on the sunny side of the tracks, so I decided to bug out and go up the river to find a better spot. 

As I was leaving, I noticed this old track leading to a few warehouses behind the depot.  This runaround was barely big enough for an engine to run around a single car.  There’s a prototype for everything.

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I drove the car up to the next town–about 2-3 miles up the river–hoping to find a station platform on a sunny, inside curve.  Here’s the place…

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The depot here was on an s-curve and I could only see signals in one direction.  It also became really hazy which changed the light.  Nevertheless about a half-dozen trains came at me in just 15 minutes.  Here are the first and second…

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The third–a heavy rock train–came at me quickly.  I was able to get this super-hazy shot…


…but the “away” shot was a little better.

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Two passenger trains followed.

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These were followed by a couple more freights.

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The second freight was running slow, so I got in the car and chased it up the river.  Most of the automobile traffic is on the opposite bank so I had the road to myself to shoot through the window.  I paced it at 100 kph–about 65 mph.  On the drive another two or three trains came at me and I wasn’t fast enough to shoot them.  It has now become cloudy and quite cold out.

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I went to the station at Lorch and set up at the end of the depot platform.  The parade continued.  

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Below.  Next, this passenger train appeared.  Everyone on the platform thought this train was stopping, but it kept moving–at probably 55-65 miles an hour.  Note the one person taking cover at left.


This cool hotel or gasthaus stands next to the track near the Lorch depot.  It makes a nice backdrop.  Check out the diagonal windows on the tower–bet there’s a spiral staircase inside.


This homely engine appeared next.

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The away shot reveals another train coming.  This was another fast-moving through passenger train.  No stopping!

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A few minutes later, another westboard freight hummed by.  

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This train included a large number of steel loads.

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I walked to the opposite side of the platform, and in just a few minutes this train sneaked up on me, silently, at about 60 mph.

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After 45 minutes in Lorch I moved a little farther west to Kaub.  I found another retired interlocking tower here, and I was able to see signals in both directions.  It was a nice spot!

The first train I was able to photograph was this little S-Bahn scooter.

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It was followed immediately by an intermodal train.

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The most recognizable landmark at Kaub is the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle (as seen below).  The castle sits right in the middle of the river and was built as a “toll castle” in the 1300s.  It is one of the most famous landmarks on the river and was literally right across from where I shot these photos. 

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At 2 p.m. it was time for me to head back home.  I saw a few more trains, but this was the last one I was able to shoot before leaving.  I love the fast, electric freights.

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I made the short drive back to Rudesheim and got in the queue for the ferry.   The parade of trains continued as I waited; I saw three more in maybe 10-15 minutes.  I was able to shoot this one through the passenger side window. 

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It was a great day and I’ll definitely have to do it again when the weather’s better.

P.S.  While I stepped away, my daughter Kirsten sat down and typed me–and you guys, I think–a note.  I couldn’t end better than this!

This is a special note from Kirsten.  I know you love me Dad, and you know I love you!  Make sure to LIKE and subscribe and comment down below.  See you guys next week. Kisses!

6 thoughts on “No. 119: Railfan Day on the Rhine

  1. Thanks John, I have many times.
    One vivid memory. In 1985 was 26 and in Europe for the first time traveling with my band. As a New Yorker growing up in Manhattan, I had collected Arnold Rapido and later Marklin trains since I was 8 years old so I was well familiar with European trains. We were travelling 6 in a van from Munich to Rimini Italy and our route took us through Austria and over Brenner Pass at night. We were were held up in a long queue to pass through Italian customs at Brenner, so while waiting I got out of the van and noticed two mu’d OBB “Alligators” idling in the fog about 300 feet ahead in the rail yard next to us. It was a cold April night and I only had a leather jacket to keep warm with so I stood next to the Alligators with only a fence to separate us and I will never forget the heat and ozone smell from the exhaust blowers. Having seen photos & models of the Alligators for years it was a truly awesome experience I will never forget!


  2. Hi Michael,

    Cool comment–thanks for taking the time to tell me the whole story! I’ve seen Alligators in a few places but never a “live” one. What a great experience. Do you do any modeling now?

    John G


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