Posted by: travelrat | April 10, 2010

The Vulkan Express

The Guard, Vulkan Express

Trains in Germany are noted for their punctuality. When I travelled on the EuroCity train from Cologne to Innsbruck, I was most impressed when we arrived only six minutes behind schedule … and they took it upon themselves to apologise! So, I was rather worried when I went to visit the narrow-gauge ‘Vulkan Express’ in Brohl, on the banks of the Rhine, to the north of Koblenz.

My train arrived in Brohl two minutes late, leaving me only nine minutes to catch the only Vulkan Express train that morning … and I didn’t know how far apart the two stations were. But, their station is only a short distance away… and they’re nowhere near as meticulous in their time keeping as DB.

The Vulkan Express, more correctly known as the Brohltal Eisenbahn, has provided a service from Brohl since 1901. Although it was originally intended as a quarry railway, passengers have always been carried and some of the original carriages are still used. But, freight services still operate, too

 It’s a metre-gauge track, running to Engeln, about 12 rail-miles up the valley, and runs through the beautiful Vulkanpark Brohltal/Laachersee. It’s excellent walking country, and many visitors like to combine a train ride with a walk.

 With only two minutes to departure, two double-headed Czech-built ‘O&K’ diesel locomotives sat unattended at the head of the train, quietly grumbling to themselves.

A grandly uniformed clerk sold me a ticket. A real ticket, too, of the old-fashioned kind, once favoured by the criminal fraternity for unauthorised entry to locked premises in the days before credit cards.

The clerk was in no hurry, either. He was also the Zugführer, or Guard, and the train was going nowhere until he said so. He was waiting for a coach-load of Dutch railway enthusiasts; when they finally arrived, he satisfied himself that everyone was on board, and all was in order. Then he blew his whistle, displayed his flag and we were off … 40 minutes late, but, still a ride worth waiting for!

 Shortly after we left Burgbrohl, the train stopped on the approach to a level crossing. Here, the importance of the Guard’s imposing uniform became apparent. He jumped down from the train, buttoning his jacket and adjusting his cap. With flag in hand, he strode out on to the crossing to ensure that the road traffic stopped. Then, he walked his train over the crossing, with all the aplomb of a drum major at the head of the biggest parade ever.

I got off the train at Niederzissen. Everyone else got off too. Those carriage-builders of a century ago didn’t put something in, and subsequent operators didn’t see fit to install them. There’s a bar on the Vulkan Express … but no toilets.

But, with a flourish, the Guard produced a key for the locked station. The lady passengers all lined up outside the door marked Damen. The Herren lined up … and relieved themselves in a nearby hedge!

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition



  1. Love it! Absolutely love it! What a sight! I’m now trying to wipe that final image from my mind. Sounds like a fun trip. Thanks so much for your entry, Keith. Wow, the first three entries (yours is the third) are of such high quality, judging is going to be extra tough this time. Good luck!

  2. At least the founding fathers planted hedges in the right places!

  3. Hahaha. When nature calls what can you do?

    That guard looks like he wouldn’t put up with any nonsense. Great photo!

    • I know he looks like an Army drill instructor, but he was really quite friendly & helpful.

  4. I just love that last part of the journey – that’s what makes train journeys so fun, the haphazard nature and unpredictability. Sounds like a fantastic trip!

    • Hi, Monisha!

      Love your blog! You’re doing what I always wanted to do; ride India’s railways (especially the Darjeeling-Himalayan railway). As you’ve probably gatered, I like trains … and try hard not to sound too nerdy about it!

      Safe travels!

  5. WHAT a hoot! i love it! you write so evocatively, i feel like i was there.

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