Jenbach, in the Austrian Tyrol, is a good place to take a railway freak on holiday. There’s a bonus, too, that there are other attractions, which neither run on rails nor are powered by steam, so non- rail-oriented visitors are catered for, as well.
Jenbach’s station is really three stations. The main line carries local services to the nearby towns of Innsbruck and Kufstein, as well as the EuroCity trains. To the south, the narrow gauge Zillertalbahn serves the Ziller valley, and to the north, the steam-powered Achenseebahn is a rack-and-pinion line to the beautiful lake Achensee.
The Zillertalbahn isn’t, as you might expect, a preserved line run by enthusiasts for tourists. It’s an integral part of the public transport system, which runs a bus service as well as the modern, efficient diesel trains. It was once under threat of closure, but was saved by a contract to carry materials for a dam project in the valley. Today, a large part of the railway’s business is carrying timber from forests in the valley to the main line.
But, thrifty Tiroleans see no reason to discard something just because it’s old. They kept some wooden carriages from bygone days, and several steam locomotives to haul them. They found that many visitors preferred to wait for the ‘nostalgia train’ … so there’s now a small premium above the normal fare to ride on it!
Unfortunately, the lush green meadows you see on postcards are the result of the skies not always being the cloudless blue of the postcards. If the weather isn’t right, the visit to any mountain resort village could simply be a cheerless trudge around cafés and souvenir shops. However, if you get unlucky with the weather, a plate of Tiroler Gröstl (a sort of pork and potato hash) or a bowl of goulash soup will improve morale considerably.
But, a positive property of the weather in the hills is that it can change extremely quickly. ‘If you don’t like the weather’ they say in mountains all over the world ‘wait a few minutes!’
Jenbach’s other railway, the Achenseebahn, is purely steam-driven. The locomotives and carriages are all over 100 years old, and it’s the oldest rack-and-pinion steam railway still in service anywhere. The Riggenbach rack is necessary to assist the train up the steep slope from between Jenbach and Eben on its way to the Achensee, where passengers transfer to a boat on the lake.
Most boat passengers sail as far as the resort town of Pertisau, about midway along the western shore. But, the boat continues to the head of the lake, from where there’s a good footpath along the western bank to Pertisau.
The highlight of the Achensee has to be the slightly eccentric train-ride up to the lake. No matter how crowded the two carriages on the venerable train become, the conductor will ensure that no-one is left standing on the platform if there’s only the smallest space into which another passenger might be fitted.
This would seem to make his task of inspecting and issuing tickets somewhat difficult, but it doesn’t, because there’s no way to pass from one carriage to another, anyway. The conductor’s place is outside the train, using the substantial running-board ….as the little train clatters fussily up the rack to Eben.
Sometimes, a passenger boards at an intermediate station, and a ticket needs to be sold. As the undergrowth whipped within centimetres of the conductor, I was horrified to see high-value notes, worth about USD 75 being exchanged.
But, the conductor told me they’ve been working this way since the days of the Emperor Franz-Josef, and don’t see any reason to change. They haven’t, he said, lost any substantial sums of money, or any conductors … yet!