Nördlingen - Wallerstein - Wilburgstetten - Dinkelsbühl - Schopfloch - Feuchtwangen - Dombühl
The museum’s trains run along the ‘Romantic Railway’ from Nördlingen to Dombühl, via Wallerstein, Dinkelsbühl and Feuchtwangen, all places with delightfully historic, picturesque town centres and impressive mediaeval fortifications that have, for the most part, been preserved to this day. The rail link snakes its way through a rich variety of ever-changing landscapes, well away from the main roads. Short stops at the intermediate stations make for additional interest and create that sense of peace and tranquillity that was once an everyday phenomenon on the smaller branch lines.
The stretch from Dombühl to Feuchtwangen was opened on 15 April 1876. One reason for this was the Franco-German war in 1870/71. The lack of adequate transport links had meant that troop movements had proved difficult. This resulted, after the war, in the building of the East-West Railway from Nuremburg to Stuttgart. There was a request in Feuchtwangen for it to go through the town, but this did not happen, and the line was built to pass through Leutershausen, Wiedersbach, Dombühl, Schnelldorf and on to Crailsheim. Even the planned section via Schillingsfürst, supported by the House of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, was rejected. The Ansbach-Dombühl link was completed on 15 June 1875, and the Dombühl-Crailsheim section on 15 April 1876.
At the same time, the eleven-kilometre-long stretch, with stations in Vehlberg and Dorfgütingen, had also been built. It had been called for and financed by the town of Feuchtwangen, and operation of the line had been handed over to Kingdom of Bavaria. By 2 July 1876, the Nördlingen-Dinkelsbühl link was also finished, with a stop at Rühlingstetten on the border between the administrative regions of Middle Franconia and Swabia. Older people can still remember the quarry alongside what is now the B25 main road. It was the location, too, of the Schock Brewery’s cellar, built into the rock. When they heard train driver’s whistle which signalled the departure from Fremdingen, they poured the beer for the train’s crew and passengers and took it down to the nearby station. The twelve-kilometre gap between Feuchtwangen and Dinkelsbühl via Schopfloch was finally plugged on 1 June 1881. The Dombühl-Nördlingen line has existed ever since. And, since there were no other equally fast forms of transport available, people depended on this stretch of railway.
In 1876, the first year of its existence, it carried 20,000 passengers, 36,500 kg luggage, 427 livestock units and 330 tonnes of freight. But speeds were slow. In 1881 it took thirty-two minutes from Feuchtwangen to Dombühl. In 1985, the last year with passenger traffic, the same journey lasted just fifteen minutes. Passengers wishing to travel from Feuchtwangen to Nördlingen would spend two hours on the train in 1881, whilst in 1985 the journey took only 58 minutes. Nonetheless in 1881 there was already a 10 p.m. night train bound for Munich.
And the rail link was still very important after the Second World War. School students who attended the grammar schools in Dinkelsbühl or Ansbach or the middle school in Feuchtwangen, as well as almost all commuters, travelled by train. The commuter train, which left Feuchtwangen at 7 a.m., got to Ansbach at 7.40. Travellers didn’t even need to change in Dombühl. An express carriage called the ‘Reichsstädtezug’ (‘Train of the Imperial Cities’), which operated on the Rothenburg - Dombühl - Feuchtwangen - Dinkelsbühl - Nördlingen - Donauwörth - Augsburg - Munich line, took three hours and eleven minutes from Feuchtwangen to Munich. Even today, buses can hardly make it any faster to the main station there.
As a result of the increasing shift of traffic onto the roads, the railway became less important. The rail authorities began to invest in long-distance rail links and branch lines such as the ‘Romantic Railway’ were neglected. An example of this is the fact that although the through-train to Ansbach was already completely full in Feuchtwangen and only standing room was available in Dombühl, it was nevertheless axed in 1960. The buses that were introduced to replace it, travelling via Weinberg to Ansbach, never did manage to replace the comfort of the train and were always overcrowded.
When the Dombühl-Rothenburg section was decommissioned in 1971 and the track dismantled soon afterwards, the line became less and less popular. The railway also began to compete with itself, axing trains and introducing parallel bus services to replace them. And so, at 12.19 on 1 June 1985, the last scheduled passenger train left the platform in Feuchtwangen for Nördlingen.