Big Jubilee on Rails: The Opel Works Railway is 100
Happy birthday: a century in service of smooth and efficient logistics
Rüsselsheim. The Opel works railway is celebrating its 100th birthday. However, the soot-black steam engines that first chuffed along the lines in 1920 are long forgotten. The current generation of bright yellow locomotives are in every sense much cleaner and continue to make an important contribution to the company’s efficient logistics.
A clever location
Founder Adam Opel had already chosen a location close to the Rüsselsheim station for his new factory in 1868. Fifty years later, after decades of successful expansion in the production of sewing machines, bicycles and cars, his sons realised how beneficial it would be if the company had its own rail link. After all, the delivery of raw materials and components are just as important as transporting finished products from the plant. Therefore, in 1918, Carl von Opel got in touch with the Königlich Preußischen und Großherzoglich Hessischen Eisenbahndirektion in Mainz. His plans found approval and two years later, the first of the company’s own shunting locomotives hit the rails – from then on, it was full steam ahead for the Opel works railway.
Linked to the whole of Europe
The first locomotives were still steam driven. The oldest on record was from the Hohenzollern locomotive factory in Düsseldorf. Opel acquired the Oberkassel-type shunter, produced in 1914, from the Dormagen sugar factory. Like all Opel works locomotives, it had a “normal” track width of 1,435 millimetres, which is still the standard width today in Europe, North Africa, North America and China. The tracks in Rüsselsheim were therefore compatible from the very beginning with the international rail network.
“Traversers” move into Rüsselsheim
The Rüsselsheim plant took an important step towards modern logistics in 1929, when Opel’s very own railway station, with a 7,000m2 freight yard and six tracks, went into operation. Three tracks were equipped with specially designed “traversers” (transfer tables for loading cars onto transporter trains, which could load around 300 cars in a single eight-hour shift). A mobile underslung crane, capable of carrying five tons, was available for general cargo. The building replaced the previously used hall on the grounds of the Reichsbahn and quickly became the key to continued successful growth.
Diesel replaces steam
The age of steam lasted only briefly at Opel. Two brand new diesels joined the locomotive fleet in 1927. The Deutz PMZ 203 R machines produced by Motorenfabrik Oberursel featured 55hp two-cylinder, two-stroke engines. An 83hp PMD 230 R joined them in 1928, followed in 1942by a coal gas powered Deutz GA6M 420 R with six-cylinder engine. The Brandenburg plant, which opened in 1935, also possessed its own rail link and a Deutz diesel locomotive.
Opel retired all its steam engines in 1948. It took until 1977 for the Deutsche Bahn (DB) to take the same step in modernization, until 1988 in East Germany. After the Second World War, Opel started over with exclusively new machines. The first to arrive was a Gmeinder N 130 in 1946, followed by five brand new Deutz locomotives between 1952 and 1961. Additional machines from Orestein & Koppel came in 1965/66.
The works railway expanded alongside the steady growth of the Rüsselsheim plant. The K100 railway loading building replaced the Opel station. In 1973, the internal rail network was 23.5 kilometres long, including 50 loading areas as well as 126 points and crossings.
Just in time
The Opel works railway has always been characterised by two things. First, the Opel locomotives deliver and collect DB waggons on public tracks, which requires a lot of coordination. Second, the rail movements around the plant are tricky because around half the rails are on roads also used by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. That requires high concentration from the head of Opel’s railway, Ulrich Knissel and his team.
Just-in-time delivery has added more challenges in the last few decades. The exactly timed production process also demands high precision from the works railway. Much of the transportation of components between plants still takes place via rail as well – especially in the case of the Kaiserslautern plant.
Well cared for
All Opel’s locomotives are regularly serviced in the company’s own workshops. Strict rules and regulations must be followed. In the 100th year of the Opel works railway, there are still five locomotives in service in Rüsselsheim. The bright yellow fleet consists of two massive Henschel DHG 500 C, two MaK G 321 and one O&K MB 10 N. Three more O&K locomotives are based in Kaiserslautern.