The Leipzig-Dresden railway line through time

The first German long distance railway line

The completion of the line

Building of the rest of the line continued, miners from nearby Freiberg were responsible for the 513 metre tunnel at Oberau, which was converted into a cutting a century later in 1933. Bridges were built across the River Elbe at Riesa and Röderau. The Elbe bridge at Riesa involved 600 workers and it took three years to build the eleven supports. It was only finished on 26 March 1839, seventeen days before the opening of the whole route. Throughout 1837/8/9 further sections were opened to the public as they were completed.

The 7 April 1839 was the first day of the full route from Leipzig to Dresden. At 2 o' clock in the afternoon the first train left Leipzig Station for Dresden. It comprised of 4 first class coaches, 10 second class coaches and 1 third class coach. The fifteen coaches were pulled by two locomotives, Robert Stephenson driven by John Greener and Elephant driven by Herr Rudisch. Engineer Lieutenant Peters was in overall charge of the train, two officials rode on the tender and two firemen on the locomotive. Six conductors were present to supervise the passengers and the head wagon master was responsible for the rolling stock. The second train included five first class coaches, nine second class and one luggage van. Two locomotives pulled the train, Peter Rothwell and Salamander with enginemen Scanze and Rohrmann. Blitz and Windsbraut hauled the two first class, two second class and twelve third class coaches of the third train. Enginemen Zimmermann and Rauchfuss took the locomotives of the third train to Dresden but the return journey the next day at 10.30 am was rostered by Enginemen John Robson and Herr Rohr.

Behind the official opening trains to the astonishment of the assembled crowds, came the German built 'Saxonia'. The first journey of 'Saxonia' was quite an epic, as the engineer, Schubert drove the engine through stop signals much to the anger of the Company directors. He was eventually transferred onto a siding near Priestewitz by the simple expedient of changing the points. Unfortunately Saxonia then crashed into a stationary British locomotive on the side track! Professor Schubert of Dresden Polytechnic, the Technical High School and the Technical University had been working on this first all German locomotive, Saxonia, for some years. He was bitterly disappointed that the Directors had not put more faith in his engine, which after all was the only one built in Saxony!

Schubert had visited Britain in 1832 with Carl Beyer on a Saxony State Grant to investigate textile making machinery. The two men had journeyed to Manchester, where they had spent some time with Richard Roberts, a partner in the textile machinery makers Sharp, Roberts Company. The company was diversifying into locomotive building and had received an order from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Board in 1831. When the two Germans were with the firm in 1832, Sharp and Roberts were designing and building a locomotive that had to be:

"...equal or superior to the best engines at present in use on the Liverpool and Manchester Line."

They returned to Dresden, wrote and presented their report on textile machinery to the Saxon authorities. Textile machinery was not however their first love now the lure of the railway locomotive was stronger! Beyer returned immediately to Manchester, where he obtained a position with Sharp and Roberts and designed most of their locomotives for the next twenty years before starting his firm Beyer and Peacock. Schubert remained in Dresden and set about designing his own locomotives in the local iron works. His locomotive, despite the initial difficulty with the Leipzig -Dresden Company, was the first all-German engine and proved a success on the line.

The first sixteen locomotives came from Britain along with an American engine, Columbus, manufactured by Gillingham and Wynants of Baltimore. All the engines were crated up in the works in Britain and America and shipped along with skilled personnel, to Germany. The locomotives were then reassembled in Leipzig with the technical assistance of the British and American locomotive drivers and mechanics. An extensive collection of locomotives was assembled from Britain and Germany to provide a regular day-time service. Horses were still used at night to haul goods trains, and stables were an important building for some years at most of the railway stations.

The main agent in Britain who arranged the purchase and trials for the locomotives required by the Leipzig to Dresden Company was W.F. Reuss. The Minutes of the Liverpool to Manchester Committee records a request on 7 May 1838:

" Read a note from Mr W.F. Reuss, agent to the Leipsic and Dresden Railway, requesting permission to try two new engines made by Mr Edward Bury, on the Liverpool and Manchester line -Leave granted under proper regulations and restrictions."

The locomotives bought in Britain had been designed to run on British coke. Until 1838 the coke was imported from Britain and the supply was sporadic because of the long distances involved. The company tried local coke, but it did not fire the boilers properly. They finally decided to buy British coal and turn it into coke at ovens to be built at Riesa as an interim measure. By 1839 12 ovens had been built at Riesa following the pattern of coke ovens in South Wales. A 'major achievement' came in 1840 when the engineers succeeded in running the locomotives on Saxon coal, freeing the Saxon Company 'from foreign influences'!

Within a very short time of the arrival of the British locomotives, comprehensive workshops were established in Leipzig. Extensive repairs could be carried out on the locomotives at these engineering works and a comprehensive programme of maintenance was undertaken. In the first two years of operation there were only two minor accidents, a small fire on the wagons and a derailment but no injuries to passengers or workers. The first serious incident was in 1846, when the boiler of Windsbraut exploded. By this time some of the first rolling stock was beginning to wear out! The increasing traffic was placing heavy demands on the locomotives and new more powerful engines were needed if the line was to achieve further economic success. Most of the new engines were built in Germany, the last two British engines were delivered in 1846 from Hawthorn in Newcastle. The German locomotives came from Borsig of Berlin, Hartmann in Chemnitz and Esslingen. Twenty three locomotives had come from Britain, the locomotive works of Rothwell in Bolton, Edward Bury in Liverpool, William Kirtley in Warrington, Hawthorn and George Stephenson in Newcastle all building engines for use on the Leipzig - Dresden line.

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© John Lace 1998. All rights reserved.