Austria’s 1245.5 Electrics

Austria’s 1245.5 Electrics

Veteran locomotives with a rich history

By Ernest H. Robl

Austria’s 1245.5 series of electric boxcab locomotives never got much respect – except from the veteran locomotive engineers who operated them. Yet, multiple European model manufacturers have produced – and continue to produce – many models of this historically important machine.

In part, the 1245.5 series was overshadowed by its contemporaneous bigger sibling, the Co-Co 1020 heavy freight locomotive, with which it shared not only history but also a few internal parts.

R-1245

A current Roco model of an ÖBB 1245.5 in Era 4 red.

By the late 20th century, the Bo-Bo 1245.5 locomotives were handling mostly unglamorous assignment, such as switching freight cars in smaller stations in newly electrified territory.

However, one testimony to the importance of this series was that, by the time the last of these locomotives were officially retired in 1995, most had provided some 60 years of reliable service.

Yes, the 1245.5 could only (officially) do a top speed of 50 mph, but it could manage that speed with a substantial train going up a 3 per cent plus grade.

Today, some 80 years after their construction, a few examples still exist in operable condition in historic collections in Austria and can still sometimes be found out on the mainlines pulling a special excursion train on secondary lines.

Importance

The 1245.5 – it never had an formal nickname, like some of the current Austrian locomotive series – was an important transitional element in the development of Electric locomotives.

Many early electric locomotives were basically imitations of steam locomotives. They had one or two unpowered pilot axles at each end and large driving wheels set in the main frame, with those wheels powered by a single large electric motor that transferred its power to the driving wheels via a jackshaft drive and side rods.

But, by the 1930s, the limitations of that design had become obvious. The design shifted to having individual axles powered by their own traction motors – with those axles mounted in swiveling bogies (trucks in American railroad parlance).

An interim solution was to have the draft gear – buffers and screw-link coupling – mounted on the trucks on each end. While this helped with negotiating tight curves when coupled, it also put tremendous strain on the truck mount.

First Austrian, then German

The first eight locomotives were built between 1934 and 1936 as pre-war Austrian series 1170.201-1170.208. These had end doors in the cabs that allowed access to the train – requiring that the control stand be fitted into a corner of the cab at an angle.

But, front facing doors on engine cabs have always been a problem. No matter how well-designed, the seals around the door ultimately break down, and the engine ends up with bad drafts in inclement weather.

So, the second series, 1170.209-1170.233, built 1938-1939 already had a different cab configuration without the end door. During that time, Austria had already been annexed by Germany, which incorporated them into its numbering scheme as class E 45.2.

(The end doors of the original engines were later removed and the fronts sealed, with the cab configurations standardized to those of the second series.)

There were other variations within the 41 locomotives. 1170.219-228 were built without dynamic brakes, being intended for flat terrain. And 229-233 were built with MU controls, though those were apparently never used much.

Original assignments based the locomotives in Bludenz, Innsbruck, and Salzburg. The German railways moved seven locomotives to Augsburg, from where they were returned to Austria in 1945 – without any war damage.

However, three other locomotives in the series were (206, 215, and 226) war casualties and had to be scrapped.

Austrian again

In the 1953 reorganization of the Austrian railways, the locomotives kept part of their German numbers and became series 1245. The original eight locos, because of their still existing variations from the later series, were numbered 1245.0; later-built locos with dynamic brakes became 1245.5 and the later-built locos without dynamic brakes 1245.6. All the 1245.6 locos were ultimately retrofitted with dynamic brakes and renumbered into the1245.5 group.

Together with 1020, the 1245.5 were the foundation of operations on electrified lines in Austria after WW II. They were finally officially retired in 1995 after many years of faithful service – lastly in unglamorous assignments on newly electrified secondary lines.

The cab ride

I only made on cab ride on board a 1245.5, back in the 1970s, from Innsbruck up to Seefeld, Austria, on a local train on the steep single-track Karwendel line that continues into Germany.

(You can travel between Munich and Innsbruck on this scenic line – and I have done so – though in most cases you will need to change trains at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.)

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Getting ready to depart Innsbruck, the engineer checks his operating orders. At this point these locomotives were about 40 years old – and still going strong.

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A close-up of the number plate shows that this locomotive has undergone major side panel repairs.

The veteran locomotive engineer welcomed me aboard and pointed out a crack in the left windshield. “Rock fall during the last bad storm,” he noted. He had a mountain climber’s helmet hanging on the back wall of the engine cab, which he offered to let me use. As the weather was reasonably calm, I politely declined.

Even in comparison to the 1042.5 electrics that I had traveled on before, this was clearly a piece of machinery from another time, with lots of exposed piping and large clunky indicator dials.

WBWHochz1

Meeting another train hauled by a 1245.5 – with German coaches – at Hochzirl, about halfway between Innsbruck and Seefeld.

Expensive bridge

As we approached Seefeld on this short but winding trip up the mountains, the engineer pointed out various sights, one of the final ones being the bridge over the Gurgelbach (Gurgling Creek).

 

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The stone bridge over the Gurgelbach.  The crack in the windshield shows up at upper left.

That bridge, nestled into a steep ravine, cost the Americans a lot of money during WW II, he said. He noted that during the war, when this line provided an important link between Germany and Italy, American planes repeatedly tried to bomb this bridge – without ever succeeding.

WBWKarw

A good climb: Look off in the haze at the center of this photo to see the continuation of the line much higher up. It was at these tunnels and bridges that the last scenes of the Frank Sinatra war movie, Von Ryan’s Express were filmed.

By the way, if you’ve seen the WW II –based movie Von Ryan’s Express, the final battle scenes were filmed on the line between Innsbruck and Seefeld – before that line was electrified.

The mysterious blue engine

When I had an extensive Web site for my photography and writing business, It had sections of sample images from many subject groups – one of them being (now) historic Austrian railroad equipment. It included the image below, from 1976.

C761172

A friend described this scene as “Waiting for grandma.” It was photographed from the cab of an Austrian 1042.5 in central Austria.

One day, I received a rather indignant e-mail from someone in Austria, telling me that Austria never had any blue 1245.5 locomotives.

Well, the above image was shot on transparency film and I looked at other transparencies from the same film. None show any apparent color shift. And, the above image appears to reproduce all other colors correctly. The two-axle coaches behind the locomotive appear in the correct shade of dark green.

So, my only conclusion had to be that this particular locomotive was indeed blue. Why was it blue? I have no idea. As far as I know, some German locomotives were painted dark blue. Could this be a paint job going all the way back to WW II? Or, was it repainted later for use in a movie set during WW II? I don’t know.

Models

There are quite a few models of the 1245.5 available, particularly in HO scale. Roco continues to produce runs with different operating numbers and details matching various eras from time to time.

These locomotives have found popularity with modelers because they represent the perfect electric branch line power for Austrian trains of eras 3 and 4, both passenger and freight. And, yes, they did bring border-crossing trains into Germany.

Me? I own two models of 1245.5 locomotives – a red one made by Kleinbahn and a green one made by Liliput. Both are operable, though the more detailed Liliput is so old that it has giant wheel flanges that won’t run on code 83 track.

Sadly, these don’t fit the eras 5-6 that I am modeling on my layout – though there’s always the possibility of displaying one on a pedestal as a memorial at my main station.

_____

As always, comments are welcome.

###ehr###

3 Responses to Austria’s 1245.5 Electrics

  1. Gordon says:

    Very interesting and well written! I enjoyed it greatly even though I model Eras V/VI and the only Austrian train I have is the Rail Jet.

    Cheers!
    Gordon

  2. Helmut W says:

    Ernest,
    Thanks for posting this.
    After all these years I am now sure that that was the locomotive used on the train I often used as a youngster.
    Attnang Puchheim – Gmunden – Ebensee – Bad Ischl – Hallstatt.
    I vaguely remember riding the Narrow Gauge from Bad Ischl to a Scout Camp at some lake, around 1951-52.
    I actually lived in Gmunden and also remember the street car well and am following what they are doing to connecting it to the narrow gauge tram to Vorchdorf.
    Got the lead for this blog from Ray when I recently ordered the Kaiser Franz Josef locos in both HO and N Gauge. (I have a strong connection in this)
    Been in Canada since ’55, totally canadianized.
    Thanks and Cheers
    Helmut

  3. Ernest Robl says:

    Helmut,

    I came to the U.S. with my parents in 1955. See my Blog post “Early Beginnings.”

    Yes, that’s quite likely the type of locomotive used in that region during that time.

    I subscribe to the Austrian magazine Modellbahnwelt — which also covers major prototype news from streetcars on up. (The December 2016 issue arrived today!) It appears every two months, usually with 84 pages on heavy paper and excellent color printing.

    http://www.modellbahnwelt.at

    The subscription cost is not that bad, considering the amount of useful information. And, twice when an issue failed to show up or was damaged in the mail, the editor sent me a free replacement. (The issue that went missing finally showed up almost two months late.)

    Cheers,

    – Ernest

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