19th & 20th November 2015 - A Black Outlook
Thursday 19th November 2015
Another long weekend of rest days off work, too late for any special trains, too early for the Christmas markets, a dead time of year but we decided on a trip to Germany anyway, primarily to chase the black liveried MRCE class 182 “Taurus” locos working some IC trains and the Eisenach / Halle (Saale) RB service. Despite dithering about where to base ourselves and leaving it late to book flights we managed to find a reasonably priced Easy Jet flight from Gatwick to Stuttgart out and a not quite so cheap flight back with Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Heathrow.
Hotels booked were all from the Ibis brand at Stuttgart Airport, Heidelberg and Erfurt and a four day 1st class Germany Interrail was purchased from the Voyages SNCF London shop less than two weeks before its closure, somewhere we will sorely miss.
The plane took off a little late from Gatwick, arriving in Stuttgart (a new airport for us) at twenty past eight in the evening and the bags were already appearing by the time we made it through passport control. Although the Ibis hotel is called Stuttgart Airport it is actually just under ten minutes’ walk from Echterdingen station, one stop from Stuttgart Airport on the S Bahn so we followed the signs to the station and went in search of a ticket machine. The tickets cost €2.30 each, rather extortionate for a two minute ride but that’s the way fixed local fare tariffs work; still, it was cheaper than a taxi.
Friday 20th November 2015
It was raining when we woke up this morning but we forced ourselves out for the 7:10 S Bahn to Stuttgart as we wanted to view the 7:58 departure to Singen, just as well we did bother to get up early as it was worked by 115.261 one of our last three required Autozug class 115s. We only took this the 40-odd miles to Horb for the RE back as we wanted to get the 10:39 Fridays only to Saarbrücken which was booked to be worked by an MRCE class 182 “Taurus” loco.
We could see the train waiting to propel into the station from the platform and there wasn’t anything red on the front which was good but, on the other hand, it didn’t look black either and turned out to be 181.201 in its historic dark blue livery. We had cleared all the 181/2s for haulage some time ago but had not been to Saarbrücken for a number of years and it wasn’t a class 101 so let’s go!
The first problem of the trip soon manifested itself when we found that the 1st class coach didn’t have any heat. The conductor fiddled around in the cabinet at the end of the coach and some air started percolating through but it wasn’t warm. Luckily the train was quite empty in this direction so the two of us, one other woman in 1st and the two “grippers” decamped to various compartments in a 2nd class ex IR coach where at least it was warm.
Everything was going swimmingly until we departed Kaiserslautern where the train lurched forward a couple of times before stopping again. We thought that the loco might have been slipping on the wet rails then we started off again only to suffer another hefty lurch just beyond the platform after which the train came rapidly to a halt. Instinct told us that we wouldn’t be going any further but we couldn’t get off as the train had stopped about three coach lengths off the platform; if this was somewhere like Portugal the passengers would probably have just bailed out onto the ballast and walked back to the station!
The conductor came through and confirmed what we had already guessed; the train had failed and no, he didn’t know how long we would be stuck for, leaving us to hope that something interesting might appear and drag the train back into the platform; 225.073 that passed us on a short freight would have been most acceptable. A short time after this passed 181.201’s driver managed to coax the recalcitrant loco into providing enough power to get the train back into the platform where we “abandoned ship” having already researched possible alternative moves. The first of these was an IC headed by 120.108 so we decided to forget the idea of going to Saarbrücken and head to Heidelberg to drop off the suitcase instead where the sight of preserved 217.017 hauling six former BASF locos greeted us.
Heidelberg was quite busy when we arrived and we noticed that the Bahnhofs Mission had set up some tables in the main station hall, initially we thought that it might have been some sort of soup kitchen for migrants / refugees but they were actually selling waffles to raise funds and awareness for their work. Unfortunately we had already eaten lunch which was a shame as the waffles did look quite good.
Our next target was IC118, the 9:02 from Innsbruck to Münster which was booked to be hauled by an MRCE “Taurus” so we checked how it was running on the useful “Zug radar” app whilst in the hotel and saw it was running about 15 minutes late. Plenty of time so we took a gentle stroll back to the station only to find that it was now running 40 minutes late. We had intended to take it to Mainz then catch another IC train back to Stuttgart for dinner but we only had time to go the short distance to Mannheim now, at least the loco was a winner!
From Mannheim we caught an ICE via the Neubaustrecke back to Stuttgart and went straight into our favourite German restaurant chain “Block House” for a couple of their excellent steaks. We finished in plenty of time for the 20:20 IC departure back to Heidelberg and were trying to work out whether we had enough time for a couple of quick moves before then when we had a sudden brainwave. As the Interrails were only valid for four days we would need tickets to get us from Erfurt to Frankfurt Airport on Tuesday so why not get them now? The waiting time to be served was showing as five to ten minutes so we took a ticket and our number came up less than ten minutes later. The booking clerk was excellent and pointed out that there was a “Spar Preis” single available on the train we wanted to travel on which at €19 each was actually cheaper than the FIP fare. As we didn’t mind being tied to travelling on that particular train it sounded like a good deal to us.
The reason for our particular interest in the 20:20 departure was that it should have been the same loco by diagram that went to Saarbrücken this morning and we know what happened to that. Our hunch that it would be a “Taurus” proved to be correct when 182.521 appeared wearing a snazzy livery celebrating “German Hungarian Friendship Year” although, rather ironically, the loco was only allowed to work in Germany and Austria according to the data panel on the side!
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