No. 172: Roundhouse Day

Even though I model American railroads, I find railfanning in Europe very exciting. There are lots of trains to admire and photograph, and lots of older facilities still standing for modeling inspiration. Here are some words on a railfanning trip to Frankfurt yesterday.

I took the day off of work on May 6th and drove to Frankfurt to railfan and also visit four roundhouses still standing in the area.

I didn’t expect to get to them all. Last weekend I went to Darmstadt to photograph two roundhouses extant there. I was unable to photograph either of them. One is deep in railroad property and I was unable to get to it. The other belongs to a museum that’s only open on Sunday. Trespassing in any way is Verboten in Germany, so I came home empty-handed.

Below. The Darmstadt-Kranichstein Railway Museum is the largest railway museum in the state of Hesse. It can be seen in the distance behind the interlocking tower. The site is now owned by a club, and includes a retired roundhouse, car shop, and yard.

Today was different. It was a warm, clear, sunny day, and with a little begging and pleading I was able to photograph all four roundhouses–well, 3-1/2 of them. Here’s the story.

The first roundhouse was at Bischoffsheim, a few kilometers south of the Rhine River and Frankfurt. There’s a small yard there and a roundhouse viewable on Google Earth. See below. The line at the top left leads to the very busy main line on the south bank of the Rhine River. At right the main line diverges in three directions; one of which leads to a massive Opel plant just out of view. The roundhouse can be seen at the bottom right.

Bischofsheim turned out to be quite a hot spot. First stop was the train station where I took pictures of the parade of passenger and freight trains from the passenger platforms. I was there a little over an hour and saw about 30 freight and passenger trains of all kinds.

Below. This is a Hessische Landesbahn train, or Hessian State Railway at Bischofsheim. HLB operates regional passenger-train service in the German state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located.

Below. One of many freight trains seen today–this one is on the diverging line to Frankfurt. Unfortunately I had to shoot into the sun.

Another freight, this one with better sunlight but a shadow cast by the overhead walkway. This train is coming off the Rhine River route. The overhead walkway, by the way, provides access from Bischofsheim station at left to the center track platforms. Whether or not you like German railways this is a great railfanning spot!

Below. Here was something unusual–I think it was a DB inspection train. Its shown here heading into the yard from the Rhine River line. It stopped in the yard for a few minutes and then went blazing past me–backwards–on the line to Frankfurt seen on the right. Also take note of the single-slip turnout at right. Single and double-slips are everywhere here.

Below. This is a ICE (Inter-City Express) train. I saw about seven or eight here today, another 20 at other places throughout the day. ICE trains don’t stop at Bischofsheim. They blasted through at–just guessing–80 mph, maybe faster. Probably a lot faster. They are fast and practically silent, a combination of factors that can be very dangerous.

Below. After an hour on the platform I navigated through the dense city streets to the roundhouse area. I stopped and asked a couple of railway employees if I could photograph the roundhouse. Somehow between my broken Deutsch and their broken English it was determined the answer was no, but I could park and try around the other side if I wanted to. There was a lot of railway activity so I grabbed a few photos and left. This roundhouse is privately-owned now, and most of the tracks have been removed. Again, no trespassing.

The fellow I talked to said the roundhouse was built before 1900. Here’s a view of the stonework, below:

Thankfully, the turntable is still in place and operational. Two things I noted were the the pit is very shallow–only about two feet or so, and there’s a manual hand-crank–like an old handcar crank–on the opposite side to spin the table manually. No Armstrong bar.

Feeling good, I then drove 35 minutes north to Hanau, a small city east of Frankfurt, to try and photograph the double-roundhouse and double turntables there. Like Bischofsheim, the Hanau Hauptbahnhof is situated between multiple diverging lines in each direction. There are separate, side-by-side freight and passenger yards. A retired engine terminal where the roundhouses still stand is located in the northeast corner of the yards.

Below. Upon my arrival I stopped to photograph this “flying signal” near the roundhouses. What a beauty. I discovered there are quite a few of these still in use in the area. They change aspects with a screech and a “ka-clunk”!

Here is the first of the two roundhouses at Hanau. The roundhouses are literally located right next to each other. They are both operated by a museum club, so I walked in and politely asked if I could take photos. They allowed me to take photos but only outdoors–what a shame since both roundhouses are full of steam engines.

Below. Next to the roundhouse above is this smaller, six-stall roundhouse and shallow turntable. This table also has a hand crank on the opposite end.

Below. A second view of the smaller roundhouse. It is clean and very much in active use. I didn’t photograph inside as I was instructed, but I did take a look. This one was full of diesels. Also note the stall numbers refer to the track numbers, not the total number of stalls.

Below. a large pile of beautiful Fossil Fuel for steam engines.

Active main lines pass on each side of the roundhouses. Here’s a DB electric passing at about 40 mph. In an hour over 20 trains passed on either side of the terminal.

On the opposite end of the yard, near the passenger platforms, is a control tower and more semaphore signals. There are also plenty of crossings and single-slip switches. The overpass in the background provides a great vantage point for…

…photographing trains from above.

Below. To the right of the photo above is the passenger main line, although I saw–but failed to photograph–a number of freights there too. The lines cross over each other in the background and in both photos the flying crossover can be seen on the concrete embankment on the right.

For some reason, many of the passenger trains on this route were powered by freight engines–that spiced things up a little bit.

Sadly, I left Hanau around 3:00 o’clock and headed west to photograph the last roundhouse of the day. This one was is West Frankfurt–Frankfurt Hochst–close to the main lines coming west out of downtown Frankfurt.

Below. Here’s an HLB on the main lines, slowing for it’s arrival at the bahnhof in the distance. The roundhouse is off to the right. I only saw one freight train in the hour I was there–the one in the distance with the blue engine. It didn’t budge.

It turns out the roundhouse was inside the massive I.G. Farben chemical plant next door. The plant is surrounded by a ten-foot-high brick wall, and there was no hope in trying to talk the guards into letting me in. However, I got little bit lucky. There was a highway overpass next to the plant and I was able to get a shot over the fence. See below.

Below. It’s only half a shot, but under the circumstances I’ll take it. There’s a turntable in there somewhere, and a half-dozen switchers are in view. A closeup reveals the roundhouse with a date-stamp of 1918. It is good to see it still in daily use at 104 years old.

Below. Google Earth has a good winter-time view, as seen below. Part of the I.G. Farben railroad complex can be seen, along with the roundhouse and turntable at lower center. The plant would make an interesting model in any era–lots of freight traffic!

So there you have it–four roundhouses in one day. I left at 6 p.m., to head home, tend to the family and then get to the workbench for an hour where work continues slowly on a few National Car Company reefers.

Until next time…

– John G

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