Forest railway

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
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. 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 and carved to support a locomotive wheel as a makeshift track, rather than the cost and logistics of laying steel rails and sleepers. 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.

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 name Route Rail
From To Operated
Reichswald Forest Railway Sebalder Reichswald dismantled
Ebersberg Forest Railway Ebersberg dismantled
Ruhpolding–Reit im Winkl State Forest Railway Ruhpolding-Reit im Winkl 1000 23 1922 1936/37 dismantled
Spiegelau Forest Railway Spiegelau-Finsterau 600 100+ 1909 1960 dismantled
Zwieselau Forest Railway Zwieselau-Buchenau 600 14,5 1930 1958 dismantled
Bächentalbahn Fall 750 ~ 10 crosses border (see Tyrol)
Schorfheide Forest Railway Schorfheide, Döllnkrug-Höpen 600
Wasgau Forest Railway Bundenthal-Rumbach 600 14,5 1921 1930 dismantled
Muskau Forest Railway Weisswasser-Bad Muskau 600 50+ 1895 Museum Railway


Railway name Route Rail
From To Operated
Dörfl Forest Railway (WbD) Dörfl 600 1 9,4 1924 1933 WbD
Großmürbisch Forest Railway (WbG) (Alsörönök-) border Großmürbisch - Reinersdorfer Bach 760 1 ~7,5 1935 1937 WbG 4 km in Hungary, dismantled
Großpetersdorf-Rumpersdorf Forest Railway (WGR) Großpetersdorf - Rumpersdorf 760 1 ~13,5 1920 ~1933 WGR
Güssing - Rohr im Burgenland Forest Railway (WGR) Güssing - Rohr im Burgenland 760 1 ~27,0 1913 1921 WGR
Güssing - Neuberg im Burgenland Forest Railway (WGN) Güssing - Neuberg im Burgenland 760 1 ~14,0 1913 1921 WGN
Lockenhaus Forest Railway (WbL) Lockenhaus 600 114,9 1926 1956 WbL
Punitz Forest Railway (WbP) Punitz - Punitzer Gemeindewald 600 1 ~9,0 Horses1905 ~1933 WbP
Lower Austria
Haselbach Forest Railway Nähe Fahrafeld: Forsthaus - Hochwiese 600 1 ~2,5 Gravity, oxen, petrol-driven locos 1915 1918 BMF dismantled
Forest Railway im Klauswald (WbK) Klauswald, near Puchenstuben 600 ? 1 4,5 1930 1937 WbK
Langau - Lackenhofer Höfe Forest Railway (WbLL) Langau-Lackenhof 1000 1 ~ 6,7 Horses ~1845 1867 WbLL
Lunz-Langau-Saurüsselboden Forest Railway (WbLL) Lunz am See - Langau - Saurüsselboden 700 1 12,2 Diesel 1920 1974 WbLL Forest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled
Lunz-Langau-Saurüsselboden Forest Railway (WbLL) branch Langau - Lackenhofer Höhe 700 1 ~6,6 Diesel 1920 1974 WbLL Forest railway with limited public passenger service, dismantled
Forest Railway Nasswald Schwarzau im Gebirge, Nasswald 600 0,6 Diesel, accumulator 1985 Museum railway, new line
Wastl am Wald - Hühnerkogel Forest Railway (WbW) Wastl am Wald 600 1 ~ 3,9 1934 1945 WbW
Forest Railway im Weinsberger Forst (WWF) Martinsberg-Gutenbrunn - Berglucke 760 1 ~35,9 1920 1933 WWF
Upper Austria
Offensee Forest Railway (WbO) Offensee, Steinkogl - Steibachl 800 113,9 1899 1954 WbO
Offensee Forest Railway (WbO) Steibachl - Obere Moosau 800 1 1,6 1899 1954 WbO
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr) Schallau-Maieralm-Hansigraben 760 1 16,5 1920 1971 WbRr
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr) Maieralm-Unterweißwasser 760 1 13,0 1920 1971 WbRr
Reichraming Forest Railway (WbRr) Reichraming -Hintergebirge 760 1 32,7 Diesel 1920 1971 WbRr Forest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled
Zinkenbach Forest Railway (WbZ) Zinkenbach, Lagerplatz Hundsleiten-Königsbachalm 700 1 6,7 Diesel 1921 1967 WbZ no passenger traffic, dismantled
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD) Deutschlandsberg - Freiland bei Deutschlandsberg 760 1 9,9 Steam WbD no passenger traffic, dismantled
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD) Kupper-Bärental 600 1 8,5 Steam WbD dismantled, link between Freiland and Kupper with 3.1 km long cable car (dismantled)
Deutschlandsberg Forest Railway (WbD) Kupper-Hofbauer 600 1 9,4 Steam WbD Forest railway, no passenger traffic, dismantled
Frauenwald Forest Railway (WbF) Steinhaus am Semmering- Rettenegg 600 1 22,0 Steam 1902 1958 WbF Forest railway with limited public passenger services, dismantled, with two inclined lifts
Frohnleiten Forest Railway (WbF) Frohnleiten-Traninger- Rossstall 760 1 12,4 1925 1951 WbF dismantled
Frohnleiten Forest Railway (WbF) branch Traninger- Dionys 760 1 5,6 1925 1951 WbF dismantled
Gundersdorf Forest Railway (WbG) Gundersdorf, Dampfsäge- Höllein 760 1 4,0 WbG dismantled
Ingering Forest Railway (WbI) Ingering -Seeboden 720 1 ~10,5 ~1885 1938 WbI dismantled
Radmer Forest Railway (WbRa) Hieflau-Radmer-Neuhaus 830 1 ~14,0 1920 1967 WbRa
Radmer Forest Railway(WbRa) Hieflau-Radmer-Neuhaus 900 1 ~14,0 1200 V DC 1967 1979
Trieben Forest Railway (WbT) Trieben - Lager Seyfried 800 1 ~ 10,8 1900 ~1939 WbT
Klammbach Forest Railway Achenkirch 760 6,6 1914 1960 Klammbachwaldbahn
Bächental Forest Railway Bächentalbahn 750 10,2 1930 1956 see also Bavaria



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




Ticket vending at a station on the Nagybörzsöny Forest Railway
Romanian forest railway loco on the Steyrtalbahn



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.



New England

Railway name Route Rail
From To Operated
Bald Mountain Railroad Jackman 1435 1915 1926 dismantled
Calais Railway Calais - Woodland 1435 33 1835 Pan Am Railways freight only
Carry Pond and Carry Brook Railroad Moosehead Lake - Seboomook Lake 610 3 1914 1916 horse-drawn flat cars; dismantled[1]
Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad Eagle Lake - Umbazooksus Lake 1435 21[2] 1927 1933 transferred log drive pulpwood between river basins; dismantled[1]
Franklin and Megantic Railway Strong - Bigelow 610 48 1884 1935 Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad dismantled
Phillips and Rangeley Railroad Phillips - Rangeley 610 46 1890 1932 Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Victorian resort passenger service; dismantled
Ray Lumber Company Bowerbank Township 1435 1912 1929 dismantled
Rumford Falls and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Rumford - Kennebago 1435 75 1894 1936 Maine Central Railroad dismantled
Seboomook Lake and Saint John Railroad Seboomook Lake - Baker Branch Saint John River 1435 29 1919 1929 dismantled[3]
Somerset Railroad Bingham - Moosehead Lake 1435 81 1890 1933 Maine Central Railroad Victorian resort passenger service; dismantled
Wild River Railroad Gilead - Hastings 1435 16 1891 1904 dismantled
New Hampshire
Saco Valley Railroad Mount Carrigain 1435 11 1892 1898 dismantled
Sawyer River Railroad Sawyer River 1435 14 1877 1927 dismantled
Success Pond Railroad Berlin - Success 1435 42 1893 1906 dismantled

New Mexico


South Carolina

West Virginia

Forest railways in Asia



Forest railways in Oceania


New Zealand

Other railways for the transport of goods


  1. 1 2 Rice, Douglas M. Log and Lumber Railroads of New England (3rd edition) The 470 Railroad Club (1982) p.2
  2. "Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad". Richard N. Symonds, Jr. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
  3. Pike, Robert E. Tall Trees, Tough Men W.W.Norton & Company (1999) ISBN 0393319172 p.164


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