Across Germany there are many small rail freight operators, but there are none smaller than ‘Rail 4U’ – a one-woman operation founded by Barbara Pirch in 2001.
In 2013 public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk covered her railway company (via Google Translate):
It is a lonely ride over rails with a steel monster, an old electric locomotive 194, built in 1954 – run by a woman. Barbara Pirch serves the locomotive with maximum physical performance. “Nothing is automatic here, everything runs manually.” Barbara Pirch from Willich near Düsseldorf owns Germany’s smallest railway company and is an absolute rarity here. With its two old electric locomotives, it transports freight wagons. It drives so-called ad hoc assignments for its customers throughout Germany, transporting cars, diesel, wood, gases or coal.
Your life is one on call, without comfort and planning security. Rarely does she know what the day brings. She sees no reason to deny the old locomotives just because they are old. The 46-year-old, who used to be a locomotive driver for the Deutsche Bundesbahn, bought her two locomotives in 2008. “This is real manual work and not a comparison to the modern ICE,” says the trained fitter, who repairs the locomotives herself. “The old electric locomotives are technically simple reliable and a modern locomotive would not irritate me”.
Their locomotives from the Reichsbahn period also make the hearts of many railway enthusiasts beat faster – but romanticism has less to do with their operations, says Pirch. “It’s a tough business on the rail and there is a big competition in freight transport.” It is true that freight transport by truck is still on the road, but it also grew by 5.4 percent in the German rail network in 2011. Since 1994, the rail network has also been open to private companies, with around 7,000 locomotives in operation in Germany, and currently some 400 railway companies exist.
Spiegel TV has also interviewed Barbara.
The company has two Deutsche Reichsbahn Class E 94 heavy electric freight locomotives – 194 158 and 194 178.
- 194 158 was built in 1944. In 1998 the locomotive was acquired by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Historische Eisenbahnfahrzeuge eV railway preservation group, then purchased by Rail 4U in 2001. 90 km/h top speed, 3090 kW power output
- 194 580 was built in 1955 and has been in use since 2010 for Rail 4U. It was painted in the former blue / beige livery of the Deutsche Bundesbahn and received the operating number of 194 178, the only original painted in this colour variant, nicknamed “Blue Mauritius”. It has been out of service since June 2013 due accident damage. 100 km/h top speed, 4440 kW power output
Between 1992 and 2008 Barbara also owned DB Class V200.1 diesel locomotive 221 135.
Sources (all German language)