The “Breitspurbahn” of the Third Reich

No one can accuse Hitler, or his inner circle of associates, of planning the future of Germany or Europe in a small scale – nearly every project undertaken in the Third Reich was massive in scope and cost. Usually, financial considerations were of secondary consideration. As but one example, Hitler wanted the best road-network system in the world (to serve his military goals), and the resulting effort was the construction of the basic elements of the Autobahn grid in Germany. Hitler also wanted the biggest and best battleships and tanks (and many other social, political and technological “bests”). Certainly, the super class battle ships projects of the KM, and the late war “Tiger” family of tanks can count among the “biggest” ever worked on. Germany also made a bid for the Olympic games, and Germany got them (winter and summer). No expenses were spared to use the Olympic games of 1936 to show off the new Germany.

That said, Hitler also wanted the biggest trains in the world to serve the German Reich. The origins of the “Breitspurbahn” dream can be traced back to at least 1936. It was during that summer that Hitler ordered a young 36-year old Prof. Dipl.Ing. Albert Speer to begin working on Berlin’s new central railroad station. This building was to be the most grandiose railway station the world had ever seen. A key goal of this project was to unite Berlin’s north and south railway stations via a “Reprдsentationsstrasse” (a representative street), a street, which was 120 meters/384 feet wide and five kilometers/three miles long. In 1937, Speer and “Betriebs und Bauleitungs” Chief, Dr. Ing. Max Leibbrandt, were ordered by Hitler to have the necessary building and railway infrastructure constructions completed by the spring of 1950. The “Sьdbahnhof” of Berlin was to be encased in a glass shell. It was to be larger in size than New York’s Grand Central Station. Berlin’s “Nordbahnhof” was to be only slightly smaller in scale. Munich and other cities around Germany would also receive new railway stations, fitting the image of a new Germany. Now, the only thing that remained was to work on developing “bigger” trains to service these “bigger” train stations!

In October of 1941, in the middle of the war, Hitler advised Fritz Todt of his plans to create a “Breitspurbahn” (a wide gauge railway), which would connect all of Germany’s major urban centers together. Later, other European cities, including Istanbul and the industrial regions of the Donetsk in the east, would be added to the base railway grid. Fritz Todt took his cue and immediately discussed with Hitler the need to construct a six-lane Autobahn (three lanes in each direction) to the seized industrial regions of southern Ukraine and southern Russia. In addition, a special “Breitspurbahn” should be constructed between the mineral rich regions of the east and the industrial regions of Silesia. Both agreed on scope and principle. Orders were quickly cut to start making the dream a reality.

In the railway terminology, track widths of approximately 500 to 1.000 millimeters are normally classified as being narrow gauge (Schmalspur in German). A typical setting for these types of trains might be in mountainous regions or mining areas, the fortress railways in Estonia and Latvia, etc., where constructing standard gauge tracks would be less than ideal. Normally, the distances involved with narrow gauge lines would not be too great either. German military “Feldeisenbahnen”, temporary supply trains constructed between a forward supply head and the front lines, were also normally in narrow gauge (typically 600, 750 or 800 millimeters). In Western Europe and in most of North America, the prevailing gauge for train tracks was/is in the standard gauge (Normalspur). This measures 1.435 millimeters/4 feet 8.5 inches in width (whereby it need be noted that the Ѕ inch was added later to account for flaring and other railroad engineering peculiarities).

As a quick side-bar, the measurement of 1.432mm was first used by railroad pioneer George Stephenson of the United Kingdom in 1825 and it has been an agreed railroad engineering standard ever since in most western nations. Some historians argue that Stevenson’s standard has its origins in the axel width specifications of the chariots and the rut ways those chariots created in the cobblestones of the roads of the Roman Empire. The ancient Greeks appeared to be a bit more pragmatic in this regard. Why build a road that is 10 feet wide when you can lay two rows of stones and carve a groove in them for the wagon wheels to track – as long as the two rows of stone tracks are set equidistant – 4 feet 8 inches apart – and you’re in business!). Imperial Russia, then the Soviet Union as its successor state, used/uses a wider width track, 1.524 millimeters/5 feet. Spain’s was even wider – 5 feet 6 inches. It need be noted that back in the mid 1800’s, the Russians were advised by American railroad experts (and British as well as via Mr. Braithwaite) that if Russia’s rail gauge were to be wider than that of Germany’s, the potential future enemy, it would slow down the German armies, as they would then have to spend extra efforts in converting gauges. During the Second World War, having a wider gauge track did not really slow down the Germans much at all. They were able to convert gauges with few difficulties encountered.

5 feet, 5 feet 6 inches wide gauge, etc., Hitler’s “Breitspurbahn” (wide gauge trains) dwarfed them all. His dream called for the construction of specially built and designed, high-speed trains running on track that measured 3.000 to 4.000 millimeters (3 to 4 meters; 9.6 to 12.8 feet) in width, whereby it must be noted that a final width factor was never formalized. “Breitspur” passenger trains were to travel at speeds of up to 250 km/h (150 mp/h) and freight trains at speeds in excess of 100 km/h (62 mp/h). These were to be the super-sized, high speed bullet trains of their times. Diesel locomotives weighed in at 350 to 400 tons (16.000 kW) and pulled numerous 1.000-ton wagons. Electric locomotives (29.000 kW) were also planned for.

Passenger coaches were to measure 41 meters/131 feet in length and have a height of nearly seven meters/22.4 feet, which allowed for two floors to be installed in each coach. The interiors of the coaches were to be lavishly furnished. Dining cars were to accommodate three long columns of tables, each row having three islands of tables, each island accommodating four people per table.

To maximize on and off-loading intricacies, “Breitspur” freight wagons were designed with standardized “container” principles in mind. Of note is that after the war, many nations in fact embraced the container concepts used by the Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) before and during the war (the first Deutsche Reichsbahn “Schenker Containers” were used to expedite on and off-loading of German merchantmen in 1931; the term “Schenker Container” was derived from the Schenker company, which was a pioneering user of containerized cargo in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Schenker was bought out by the DR in 1931, but the company still exists today as a world-wide leader in freight forwarding). To maximize resources, “Breitspur” freight wagons had to be able to fit onto existing standrad gauge flatwagons, when they were lifted off of their bogies. The roofs of the freight wagons had to be hinged, so that cranes and other unloading machinery could have fast access to the containers or storage spaces. To aid in the design process, an enthusiatic Hitler provided the various design and planning committees with a number of his conceptual renderings of locomotives, coaches, interior settings, etc.

Concurrent to the “Breitspur” efforts, additional rail line construction concepts were also worked on. Such as, for example, using two standard gauge tracks side-by-side on one bed so that both “Breitspur” and standard gauge trains could use the tracks. This probably would have been a designer’s challenge (nightmare), especially when considering cantilever power (Oberleitung) requirements (50 kV at 50 Hz), switching stations, etc. “Breitspur” beds were to be laid in tandem; one “Breitspur” track was to be dedicated for passenger service and one track dedicated for freight.

The Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH Friedrichshafen Company also became involved with the “Breitspurbahn” project sometime in 1942. In the early 1930’s, the Zeppelin Company had experimented with propeller driven “Zeppelin” railway engines with the Deutsche Reichsbahn. At the same time, they had also developed contingency plans for building railway lines up to 6.000 millimeters/19.2 feet in width using their “Zeppelin” and propeller-driven rail-wagon technology capable of transporting 600-900 passengers. Their exploratory work was now shared with the members of the “Breitspurbahn” committee.

There were critics of this undertaking as well. Most of them were railroading professionals who did not believe that Germany could afford to develop such a “global” undertaking, given that the war effort was far from favorable from the German point of view. But, since Hitler’s views on everything were essentially the prevailing ones, the critics were silenced very quickly.

Despite the given military situation, during the first few months of 1942, orders were given to the Reichsbahn-Zentralamt in Munich, as well as to the private companies of BBC, Borsig, Henschel, Krupp and Schwartzkopf, to develop basic working models and plans for full project realization. On 18 July 1942, theoretical discussions and preliminary plans were tabled calling for the construction of the “Breitspurbahn” all the way to from Berlin to Vladivostok as wellto India in Asia, Gibraltar and Rome. In November of 1942, Dr. Ing. Gьnther Wiens, of the Reichsverkehrsministerium’s Ministerialrat in Vienna, completed an initial report detailing the new standards of brake specifications, signaling systems, HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) specifications, engine construction parameters, etc., for the new “Breitspurbahn”.

On 05 April 1943, Hitler declared the “Breitspurbahn” to be of national and military priority. While military needs were certainly a strong factor in the overall designs of this project, greater weighting was given to the need of shuttling German administrative and political personnel between the Reich and the “outer territories” as well as exploiting the economic resources of the newly acquired regions of Russia and the Ukraine. One economic projection cited that the entire Ukrainian summer wheat harvest could be shipped back to Germany within a matter of weeks if a “Breitspur” system were in place. With regards to actually building this system, Hitler too was persuaded by the necessities of war. He therefore decreed that as soon as Germany had won the war, construction efforts on the “Breitspur” project would commence. For the moment, the “Breitspurbahn” would not go past Rostov. Estimated yearly project maintenance costs exceeded 1.2 billion RM – thus making the “Breitspur” project one of the most expensive undertakings of the Third Reich. Although a large number of people worked on the project, no formal construction efforts were ever undertaken.

During the summer of 1943, the following “Breitspur” track lines were on the drawing boards:

East-West1: Rostov-Stalino-Poltava-Kiev-Lemberg-Cracow-Kattowitz-Breslau-Cottbus-Berlin-Hannover-Bielefeld-the Ruhr-Aachen-Liege-St. Quentin-Paris

East-West 2: Munich-Augsburg-Stuttgart-Karlsruhe-Metz-Reims-Paris

North-South 1: Hamburg-Berlin-Leipzig-Gotha-Bamberg-Nьrnberg-Munich-Simbach-Linz-Vienna-Pressburg-Budapest-Belgrad-Istanbul (a branch line went from Budapest to Varna)

North-South 2: Berlin-Dresden-Aussig-Prague-Iglau-Znamin-Vienna

Die Breitspureisenbahn

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