Donon Light Railway

The Donon Light Railway (German: Dononbahn) was a 44.3 km (27.5 mi) long narrow-gauge forest railway with a gauge of 700 mm (2 ft 3 916 in) in the Donon mountains. It ran from Schirmeck in the Alsatian speaking Alsace to Allarmont, Colas and Moussey in the Frech speaking Vosges.[2]

Donon Light Railway
Waldbahn-Station jenseits des Donon.jpg
Coordinates48°29′08″N 7°09′57″E / 48.48557°N 7.16586°E / 48.48557; 7.16586Coordinates: 48°29′08″N 7°09′57″E / 48.48557°N 7.16586°E / 48.48557; 7.16586
Line length• Schirmeck–Herkules: 11.8 km (7.3 mi)
• Herkules–Colas: 20.0 km (12.4 mi)
• Herkules–Moussey: 12.5 km (7.8 mi)
Track gauge700 mm (2 ft 3 916 in)
Route map

Dononbahnen - Streckenverlaufskarte.jpg
Approximate route of the light railway on a modern map
Dononbahnen - Längsschnitt - Strecke Schirmeck-Colas und Strecke Herkules-Moussey.jpg
Height profile of the Donon Light Railway:
Schirmeck–Colas and Herkules–Moussey

km (mi)[1]
m (ft)[1]
0.0 km (0.0 mi) Schirmeck
318 m (1,043 ft)
2.6 km (1.6 mi) Wachenbach
360 m (1,180 ft)
4.2 km (2.6 mi) Michelbrunn
To the cable car onto the Donon
6.0 km (3.7 mi) Tannenwald
478 m (1,568 ft)
7.9 km (4.9 mi) Kuckuck
533 m (1,749 ft)
98 km (61 mi) Forellenbach
635 m (2,083 ft)
11.8 km (7.3 mi) Herkules
711 m (2,333 ft)
14.0 km (8.7 mi) Stern 2
780 m (2,560 ft)
15.8 km (9.8 mi) Stern 1
752 m (2,467 ft)
18.0 km (11.2 mi) Donon
726 m (2,382 ft)
19.5 km (12.1 mi)
23.1 km (14.4 mi) Raon-sur-Plaine
431 m (1,414 ft)
Zig zag
27.2 km (16.9 mi) Vexaincourt
380 m (1,250 ft)
28.3 km (17.6 mi)
30.1 km (18.7 mi) Allarmont
31.8 km (19.8 mi) Colas
440 m (1,440 ft)
14.5 km (9.0 mi) Prayé
779 m (2,556 ft)
15.4 km (9.57 mi)
21.2 km (13.2 mi) Brocard
17.8 km (11.1 mi) Zig zag
19.7 km (12.2 mi) Zig zag
23.6 km (14.7 mi) Provisions Office
389 m (1,276 ft)
24.3 km (15.1 mi) Moussey


The Donon Light Railway was built by the Germans as a so-called "forest railway" at a time when Alsace belonged to the German Reich according to the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871). It was officially intended for logging, but had also a military and strategic significance from the very beginning, as it could quickly be used as a military railway in case the French wanted to recapture the area.[3]

In 1886 forester Bierau, a forestry engineer stationed in Rothau, laid a network of forest railways in the state forests. Unloaded wagons were pulled up into the forest by horses, and after being loaded they rolled downhill by gravity. In 1892 an unusually violent storm devastated the forests of the Vosges, and hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of timber had to be transported to the sawmills. To minimise the transportation effort and cost, the German forestry administration procured two 0-6-0 Krauss locomotives, each with a power of 50 hp, as suggested by forester Bierau.[4][5]

Track constructionEdit

The originally 6 km (3.7 mi) long horse-drawn tram was made of rails with a weight of 12.5 kg/m (25 lbs/yd) and a height of 7 cm (2.8 in) on unimpregnated fir wood sleepers. It was lengthened after the storm of 1892. It then had 31 km (19 mi) of fixed track weighing 16 kg/m (32 lbs/yd) on oak sleepers and 3 km (1.9 mi) of portable track.[4] The unusual track gauge of 700 mm was chosen, among other things, so that the French could not use the tracks with their Decauville and Péchot-Bourdon locomotives, which had a gauge of 600 mm, in the event of a military attack.[3]

Forest railway track system of the forester Bierau from Schirmeck

Instead of the rail frames of the Decauville Railways, which were common in France, Bierau used a system of tie rods developed by him. These were beneficial especially in curves and on steep gradients, as the track gauge could be adjusted slightly wider than on the straight sections of the line. He used a system without sleepers, where the rails were laid directly on the forest floor and only connected by strong tie rods. So-called angle brackets were used, which pressed themselves into the ground or had to be buried in it. The rails were as long as possible in straight sections to minimise the number of rail joints, but in curves shorter rails were preferred.[6]


The track with a gauge of 700 mm (2 ft 3 916 in) ran from Schirmeck to Herkules. There, a branch line to Moussey branched off the main line to Colas.[7]


In addition to the two Krauss locomotives, eight identical O&K steam locomotives (O&K works numbers 8244-8247 and 8291-8294) were used on the Donon Light Railway and Abreschviller Forest Railway.[8]

Military use and decommissioningEdit

During World War I, the Dordon Light Railway was used for military purposes, as the front line ran through this mountainous area as predicted. After 1919 the railway was closed down and the tracks were dismantled. Forester Bierau, like many Alsatians born on the other side of the Rhine, had to leave Alsace.[4][9]


  1. ^ a b Profile of the Donon Light Railway:
    Schirmeck–Colas and Herkules–Moussey.
  2. ^ Colas (French Vosges). Published by W. Springer's Sons, Strasbourg in Alsace, approved by the Office of the Deputy General in Berlin, Department III b, in or before 1916.
  3. ^ a b Infrastructure ferroviaire de France – reseaux speciaux.
  4. ^ a b c Jean-Georges Trouillet: Les chemins de fer forestiers.
  5. ^ Article by Claude Jérôme, published in L'Essor, a journal issed by the Society of History and Archeology of Schirmeck.
  6. ^ Hermann Stoetzer: Waldwegebaukunde nebst Darstellung der Waldeisenbahnen: Ein Handbuch für Praktiker und Leitfaden für den Unterricht. Published by Sauerländer’s Verlag, 1903, p. 201–202.
  7. ^ Former route on a modern map.
  8. ^ Stoomloc 7 – J. Pellenbarg.
  9. ^ Constructors narrow-gauge railway in Schirmeck railway station, 1925–1927.

External linksEdit