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Blog- Insular Electrics - LEWdness in the Harz Mountains: Rivarossi's 171 005 in DB AG oriental red

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Evening all...


Though it may not look like it from the outside, the locomotive we’ll be focusing on today is one of the most exotic to have ever been designed in Germany, but at the same time with one of the most restricted operating ranges. This would be the class 171, or 251 as per the former Deutsche Reichsbahn numbering scheme, electric locomotive as designed specifically for the Rübeland Railway, located in what is now the state of Saxony-Anhalt.


The Rübeland Railway is a unique part of the German railway system in that it is an isolated 25 kV, 50 Hz AC line. At Blankenburg, the line is connected to the Halberstadt-Blankenburg Railway, which was never electrified. Consequently, setting up a dedicated 15 kV, 16 ? Hz feeder station solely for the Rübeland Railway was not considered worthwhile when the line was brought up for electrification in the 1950s. Instead, Deutsche Reichsbahn had the line electrified with 25 kV, 50 Hz so as to be able to divert power from the national power grid. As the line’s steep gradients called for locomotives geared for tractive effort rather than speed, obtaining a special locomotive class configured for 25 kV only was determined as being the most suitable solution to handle the freight workings serving the Rübeland quarry and the limestone works at Hornberg, Rübeland, Kaltes Tal and Elbingerode.


Eventually, fifteen Co’Co’ configured electric locomotives, designated class E 251 originally and 251 from 1970 onwards, were built by the People-Owned Enterprise, Locomotive and Electrical Engineering Works „Hans Beimler“ at Hennigsdorf, and all delivered in 1965. As connoisseurs of the German railway scene will know, this factory, possibly better known by the common shorthand LEW, developed from a locomotive factory originally set up by AEG, and nationalised in 1948. LEW were, in fact, the only builder of electric locomotives in the German Democratic Republic. The 251 was re-designated class 171 in 1992 following German unification, and continued to be the signature class of the Rübeland Railway until December 2004.


The 251s, or 171s, worked both passenger and freight services on the Rübeland Railway, but needed to be withdrawn from passenger services in the year 2000 as they were not outfitted for the zero-speed door blocking circuit – called „TB0“ in the German railway vocabulary – which the Federal Railway Administration had made mandatory as the minimum safety level for revenue passenger services by that time. Eleven of the fifteen 171s were kept in service for working freight services until 2004. In the spring of 2005, Havelländische Eisenbahn were contracted to initially work two thirds, and eventually all, of the freight services on the Rübeland Railway.


Three 171s have been preserved, with 171 001 and 002 having been returned to their original appearance and running numbers, E 251 001 and 002. 171 012 was purchased by the Thüringer Eisenbahn-Verein association, and while not able to theoretically run under its own power on any lines other than the Rübeland Railway has since been presented on various railway festivals.


Technical description


The 251’s design is closely related to that of the class E 11 and E 42 Bo’Bo’ electrics, which had been the first GDR-designed electric locomotives, with the E 11 (redesignated 211 in 1970, and 109 in 1992) having been optimised for passenger work, and the E 42 (redesignated 242 in 1970 and again 142 in 1992) for freight work.


The locomotive’s body is a self-supporting, welded steel assembly set atop a sturdy running frame welded from hollow profiles with cross bracings spaced between the buffer beams. Below either buffer beam, a fixed, slotted skirt is installed, which also is intended to double as a snow plough and behind which the main air reservoirs are located.

The body proper consists of the two cabs and the large engine room section, where the body flanks carry four pairs of vertically slotted ventilation grilles per side. There also is one rectangular window per side, set between the second and third pair of grilles.

The cabs are accessible by way of two doors each, located above the outer wheelset of either bogie. In addition to the door windows, additional side windows are provided in the large corner pillars. Two square windscreens are provided per cab, with a horizontal grab rail set below the windscreens, one shorter horizontal grab rail set immediately above either windscreen, and the air horns attached to the centre pillar between the windscreens, pointing downward.

The rooftop carries a pair of RBS 54 diamond pantographs, with the circuit breaker being set near the roof’s centre, slightly offset to the Cab 2 end, and a rooftop fairing being slightly offset towards Cab 1. Rooftop walkways are provided along either body side, while the pantographs, busbar and associated equipment are set atop ceramic insulators which are taller than those on 15 kV locos in order to provide the required safe distance.

The bogie frames are welded steel assemblies as well, with the wheelsets being spaced asymmetrically, placing the centre and inner wheelsets closer together for improved curve running properties. All wheelsets are suspended such as to be able to displace laterally, using springs for centring. The body is set atop one pair of helical springs per bogie, supported in suspension pots on the bogie frames. The axle boxes are fixed to multilayered leaf springs, which in turn are connected to suspension levers attached to the bogie frame. As a difference between the two bogies, Bogie 1 is not outfitted with balancing levers between wheelsets 1 and 2. As an additional layer of suspension, two rubber dampers are provided for each axle box.

The bogies are connected by way of a steering lever mechanism to further improve the loco’s curve running abilities. In addition, Bogie 2 is suspended such that it can displace laterally by several inches.


The 251’s electrical equipment comprises the oil-cooled main transformer with attached high tension tap changer, providing 34 power notches. On the output side, the transformer is coupled to a pair of silicon-based rectifiers, providing pulsating current for the universal current traction motors.


Its braking gear comprises an indirect, single-lapped pneumatic Knorr brake with settings G and P and direct shunting brake control valve. Furthermore, the 251 is equipped with a rheostatic brake. This brake is of particular importance for this class because the Rübeland line falls within the scope of the Steep Gradient Regulations, which – as indicated in my blog post, "Operating rules aren't for fools" – specify that motive power be outfitted with three separate braking systems, including a dynamic brake.


The 251/171 was never outfitted with any train protection system as the German Steilstreckenvorschrift specifies that on all trains, two crewmen need to be present on the locomotive. When it entered service in the 1960s, it was but outfitted with a mechanical alerter, which was removed after several years.



Technical specifications


Length, width and height – 18.64 m, 3.07 m, 4.56 m/61.2 ft, 10.1 ft, 15 ft

Continuous power output – 3,660 kW/4,908 hp

Initial tractive effort – 373 kN

Service weight – 124 tonnes/122 long tons

Maximum speed – 80 kph/50 mph



The model we will be looking at now did come as a surprise to many German modellers, given the 171's limited operational area and small number. It is produced by Rivarossi, and currently offered in three variants:

  • HR2478 – E 251 009 in Epoch III Deutsche Reichsbahn green, black and red and with mechanical alerter
  • HR2451 – 171 005 in Epoch V Deutsche Bahn oriental red without alerter
  • HR2479 – 171 013 in Epoch V Deutsche Bahn traffic red with DB Cargo broadside lettering and without alerter
Most recently, Rivarossi have announced these three additional variants:
  • HR2546 – 251 004 in Epoch IV Deutsche Reichsbahn green and black but with grey bogies
  • HR2547 – 251 010 in Epoch IV Deutsche Reichsbahn burgundy with wide trim stripe
  • HR2548 – E 251 002 in special Trade Fair livery (red with black solebar, bogies and white trim stripes)


As the original releases of the 171/251 were criticised for having slightly too small windscreens and for the frames of Bogie 1 having one pair of balancing levers between the first and second wheelset which on the real locomotive does not exist, I understand Rivarossi promised to fix these items on the follow-up releases. Using the relevant parts, I might well decide to modify my 171 005 to match the revised models.





But even so, the Rivarossi model makes for a more than decent representation of these oddball locomotives. It's true that the real 171 005 no longer exists, but for my intents and purposes, I would assume that it has been among those 171s which have been preserved. The real 171 05 had the works number 10420 and was accepted by Deutsche Reichsbahn on 15 December, 1965.






As the idea for my Rübeland Railway scenario would involve a number of 171s to have been reactivated for tourism-oriented historic passenger workings under the aegis of DB Museum's Historic Operations sector, I felt like I should modify the model in such a way as to represent the locomotive as it might appear! Consequently, I had a set of custom decals prepared by Mr Nothaft (http://www.modellbahndecals.de/index.php), containing hypothetical EVN-formatted running numbers, revision grids and ownership lettering.


So, 171 005 would also be known as 97 80 6171 005-2 D-DB. I also assumed that the locomotive would have been reactivated only very recently, so I specified it to have completed its most recent revision on 21 April, 2014, at the Dessau workshops ("LDX" in the National Railway Facility Code Directory).


Also note the braking weights table, where the left column indicates the regular braking weights for non-Steep Gradient Line operation, and the right column those for Steep Gradient Lines:


P 159 t/120 t

G 127 t/99 t



Until such time as I might be able to obtain the proper bogie frames without balancing levers between the first and second wheelset, I removed these bits from the existing frames.





On the Cab 2 end, the locomotive's owner is now specified as


DB Museum Historische Verkehre


Blankenburg (Harz)






The cab faces are where, in my opinion, the relationship between the 171s and the earlier E 11 and E 42 electrics is most easily recognisable.





There was not a lot for me to "mod" on the rooftop, save for painting the circuit breaker casing grey.






It was common practice on the Rübeland Railway for trains to be composed of just the locomotive and one or two coaches – so, I obtained a Halberstadt coach with central vestibules from Brawa, deliberately lettered as it appeared in DR service. For one, it wasn't unusual for DB- and DR-lettered stock to appear in the same train during the early to mid-1990s; furthermore, my idea for the 171 workings in my Rübeland scenario would be for the DB and DR era to be equally represented.



Once again, thank you for reading!


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