Forest railway

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Forest railway operations in Comandau, Romania (Photograph from 1996) Comandau train cff.jpg
Forest railway operations in Comandău, Romania (Photograph from 1996)

A forest railway, forest tram, timber line, logging railway or logging railroad is a mode of railway transport which is used for forestry tasks, primarily the transportation of felled logs to sawmills or railway stations.


In most cases this form of transport utilised narrow gauges, and were temporary in nature, and in rough and sometimes difficult to access terrain.


Before the railway was invented, logs were transported in large numbers from the forest down rivers either freely or on wooden rafts. This was not without its problems and wood was often damaged in transit, lost in floods or stranded in shallow water. Suitable rivers were often unavailable in mountainous terrain.

Shay locomotive on an American forest railway (Harbor Springs Railway) Early-Shay.jpg
Shay locomotive on an American forest railway (Harbor Springs Railway)
Tourist trains and narrow gauge museum at the Kemence Forest Museum Railway. Mine lokomotiv El-9 in Kemence.JPG
Tourist trains and narrow gauge museum at the Kemence Forest Museum Railway.

Simple wagonways, using horses and wooden rails, were used from the 18th century. However the invention of the steam locomotive and steel rails soon led to these being employed for forestry. However the difficult terrain within forests meant that narrow-gauge railways, which took up less space, were lighter and easier to build and enabled tight curves to be laid, were preferred. These were the so-called forest railways. In particularly large areas of forest or forests of unusually large trees, such as in the northwestern USA, extensive forest railways were even built using standard gauge exclusively for forestry tasks. Special geared locomotives such as the Shay and Climax locomotive were developed for high tractive effort on rough track. Some forest railways became common carriers when cleared forest land was converted to agricultural or recreational use.

Perdido, a steam pole road locomotive "Perdido", a pole road locomotive.jpg
Perdido, a steam pole road locomotive

In cases where the railway itself was considered very short-term, or the region was extremely difficult to access, logs would often be laid into the ground as a pole road, rather than the cost and logistics of laying steel rails and sleepers. Pole roads could be extensive; several examples in the southeastern United States extended up to 20 miles (32 km) at the end of the nineteenth century, and used purpose-built steam locomotives. [1]

In addition to steam traction, diesel and petrol-driven locomotives were also used later on. These largely brought animal-hauled transportation to an end on the forest railways. Also common were routes that just used gravity. Wagons loaded with wood would simply roll downhill in a controlled fashion under the pull of gravity. Foresters also travelled on these, at some risk to their lives on occasions – as brakemen. Empty wagons were hauled uphill again by horses.

From the second half of the 20th century forest railways were threatened by road transportation and by the end of the 1960s they had practically disappeared from western Europe. Roads were often laid in their place on the old trackbeds.

In a few Eastern European countries forest railways survived longer, particularly in Russia where there are still some today. In Hungary too there are several forest railways in active service today, some are also used for tourist traffic. The numerous forest railway operations in Romania were closed, with a few exceptions, by the 1990s. In Western Europe there are very few which are even preserved as museum railways.

In Asia and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) the history and fate of logging tramways/forest railways is similar to Europe, with most lines either converted to motorised truck transport or closing down in the 1960s. Significant numbers of locomotives and other remnants of the former lines are found in museums and museum railways in Australia.

Forest railways in Europe

Germany (selection)

Railway nameRouteRail
Reichswald Forest Railway Sebalder Reichswalddismantled
Ebersberg Forest Railway Ebersberg dismantled
Ruhpolding–Reit im Winkl State Forest Railway Ruhpolding-Reit im Winkl 10002319221936/37dismantled
Spiegelau Forest Railway Spiegelau-Finsterau600100+19091960dismantled
Zwieselau Forest Railway Zwieselau-Buchenau60014,519301958dismantled
Bächentalbahn Fall750~ 10crosses border (see Tyrol)
Schorfheide Forest Railway Schorfheide, Döllnkrug-Höpen600
Wasgau Forest Railway Bundenthal-Rumbach 60014,519211930dismantled
Muskau Forest Railway Weisswasser-Bad Muskau 60050+1895Museum Railway


Railway nameRouteRail
Dörfl Forest Railway (WbD) Dörfl 6009,419241933WbD
Großmürbisch Forest Railway (WbG)(Alsörönök-) border Großmürbisch - Reinersdorfer Bach760~7,519351937WbG4 km in Hungary, dismantled
Großpetersdorf-Rumpersdorf Forest Railway (WGR) Großpetersdorf - Rumpersdorf760~13,51920~1933WGR
Güssing - Rohr im Burgenland Forest Railway (WGR) Güssing - Rohr im Burgenland 760~27,019131921WGR
Güssing - Neuberg im Burgenland Forest Railway (WGN) Güssing - Neuberg im Burgenland 760~14,019131921WGN
Lockenhaus Forest Railway (WbL) Lockenhaus 60014,919261956WbL
Punitz Forest Railway (WbP)Punitz - Punitzer Gemeindewald600~9,0Horses1905~1933WbP
Lower Austria
Haselbach Forest Railway Nähe Fahrafeld: Forsthaus - Hochwiese600~2,5Gravity, oxen, petrol-driven locos19151918 BMF dismantled
Forest Railway im Klauswald (WbK)Klauswald, near Puchenstuben 600 ?4,519301937WbK
Langau - Lackenhofer Höfe Forest Railway (WbLL)Langau-Lackenhof1000~ 6,7Horses~18451867WbLL
Lunz-Langau-Saurüsselboden Forest Railway (WbLL) Lunz am See - Langau - Saurüsselboden70012,2Diesel19201974WbLLForest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled
Lunz-Langau-Saurüsselboden Forest Railway (WbLL) branch Langau - Lackenhofer Höhe700~6,6Diesel19201974WbLLForest railway with limited public passenger service, dismantled
Forest Railway Nasswald Schwarzau im Gebirge, Nasswald6000,6Diesel, accumulator1985Museum railway, new line
Wastl am Wald - Hühnerkogel Forest Railway (WbW)Wastl am Wald600~ 3,919341945WbW
Forest Railway im Weinsberger Forst (WWF) Martinsberg-Gutenbrunn - Berglucke760~35,919201933WWF
Upper Austria
Offensee Forest Railway (WbO) Offensee, Steinkogl - Steibachl80013,918991954WbO
Offensee Forest Railway (WbO)Steibachl - Obere Moosau8001,618991954WbO
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr)Schallau-Maieralm-Hansigraben76016,519201971WbRr
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr)Maieralm-Unterweißwasser76013,019201971WbRr
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr) Reichraming -Hintergebirge76032,7Diesel19201971WbRrForest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled
Zinkenbach Forest Railway (WbZ)Zinkenbach, Lagerplatz Hundsleiten-Königsbachalm7006,7Diesel19211967WbZno passenger traffic, dismantled
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD) Deutschlandsberg - Freiland bei Deutschlandsberg 7609,9SteamWbDno passenger traffic, dismantled
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD)Kupper-Bärental6008,5SteamWbDdismantled, link between Freiland and Kupper with 3.1 km long cable car (dismantled)
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD)Kupper-Hofbauer 6009,4SteamWbDForest railway, no passenger traffic, dismantled
Frauenwald Forest Railway (WbF)Steinhaus am Semmering- Rettenegg 60022,0Steam19021958WbFForest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled, with two inclined lifts
Frohnleiten Forest Railway (WbF) Frohnleiten-Traninger- Rossstall76012,419251951WbFdismantled
Frohnleiten Forest Railway (WbF) branchTraninger- Dionys7605,619251951WbFdismantled
Gundersdorf Forest Railway (WbG) Gundersdorf, Dampfsäge- Höllein7604,0WbGdismantled
Ingering Forest Railway (WbI)Ingering -Seeboden 720~10,5~18851938WbIdismantled
Radmer Forest Railway (WbRa) Hieflau-Radmer-Neuhaus830~14,019201967WbRa
Radmer Forest Railway(WbRa) Hieflau-Radmer-Neuhaus900~14,01200 V DC19671979
Trieben Forest Railway (WbT) Trieben - Lager Seyfried800~ 10,81900~1939WbT
Klammbach Forest Railway Achenkirch 7606,619141960 Klammbachwaldbahn
Bächental Forest Railway Bächentalbahn75010,219301956see also Bavaria



(all lines on the Polish eastern border from north to south)




Ticket vending at a station on the Nagyborzsony Forest Railway Ticket vending at Nagyborzsony narrow gauge railway station.JPG
Ticket vending at a station on the Nagybörzsöny Forest Railway
Romanian forest railway loco on the Steyrtalbahn Steyrtalbahn 06.jpg
Romanian forest railway loco on the Steyrtalbahn



Russian loco TU6A with a log train on the Udimskaya Forest Railway Udimskaya railway.jpg
Russian loco TU6A with a log train on the Udimskaya Forest Railway

Logging railroads in North America

A logging railroad describes railroads, pole roads, tram roads, or similar infrastructure used to transport harvested timber from a logging site to a sawmill. Logging railroads vary in gauge and length, with most forested regions of the world supporting a railroad of this type at some point.

While most railroads of this variety were temporary, it was not uncommon for permanent railroads to take their place as a complement to logging operations or as an independent operation once logging ended.


British Columbia



Nova Scotia


United States



New England

Railway nameRouteRail
Bald Mountain Railroad Jackman 143519151926dismantled
Calais Railway Calais - Woodland 1435331835 Pan Am Railways freight only
Carry Pond and Carry Brook Railroad Moosehead Lake - Seboomook Lake 610319141916horse-drawn flat cars; dismantled [6]
Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad Eagle Lake - Umbazooksus Lake 143521 [7] 19271933transferred log drive pulpwood between river basins; dismantled [6]
Franklin and Megantic Railway Strong - Bigelow 6104818841935 Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad dismantled
Phillips and Rangeley Railroad Phillips - Rangeley 6104618901932 Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Victorian resort passenger service; dismantled
Ray Lumber Company Bowerbank Township 143519121929dismantled
Rumford Falls and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Rumford - Kennebago14357518941936 Maine Central Railroad dismantled
Seboomook Lake and Saint John Railroad Seboomook Lake - Baker Branch Saint John River 14352919191929dismantled [8]
Somerset Railroad Bingham - Moosehead Lake 14358118901933 Maine Central Railroad Victorian resort passenger service; dismantled
Wild River Railroad Gilead - Hastings14351618911904dismantled
New Hampshire
Saco Valley Railroad Mount Carrigain 14351118921898dismantled
Sawyer River Railroad Sawyer River 14351418771927dismantled
Success Pond Railroad Berlin - Success 14354218931906dismantled

New Mexico


South Carolina

West Virginia


Forest railways in Asia




Forest railways in Oceania


New Zealand

Other railways for the transport of goods


  1. "Pole Road Locomotives of the Early Days," Trains magazine, February 1948
  2. "Sudbury Area Mining Railways". Old Time Trains. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  3. "Remember This? Did you know there was a railway on St. Joseph Island?". 15 January 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  4. "Category:Springfield Railway - HSWwiki" . Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  5. "Remains of Nova Scotia's New France" . Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  6. 1 2 Rice, Douglas M. Log and Lumber Railroads of New England (3rd edition) The 470 Railroad Club (1982) p.2
  7. "Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad". Richard N. Symonds, Jr. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
  8. Pike, Robert E. Tall Trees, Tough Men W.W.Norton & Company (1999) ISBN   0393319172 p.164


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