Just a few kilometers outside of Berlin stands what’s left of the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark – once one of Germanys largest and most modern train shunting yards. Allied bombing in World War II, and the division of Germany into east and west sectors afterwards took their toll on its operational capabilities leaving it virtually abandoned and derelict for years.
The beginning of the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark
In the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Berlin and the outlying suburbs saw a massive increase in its population and industry. The railway had become the transport mode of choice, and thus a series of shunting yards sprung up in the area. A shunting yard – Depending on where you are from also known as classification yard, marshalling yard, or rail yard is basically a complex series of train tracks for storing, sorting, loading and unloading trains.
Berlin needed a higher capacity train yard as the one in Spandau had become too small and outdated. The city planners wanted to develop a property outside of Berlin, and found a suitable spot along the Lehrter Bahn, next to the Wustermark. The property was ideal as it was also situated next to the a newly opened track to Nauen, which went through Potsdam and connected back to the Hamburger Bahn.
After several track expansions had been made – construction began on the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark. Building in and around Berlin isn’t the easiest task as the ground is either swampy or sandy. After two years, and having to reinforce the swampy foundations of the buildings with stakes – the Wustermark Rangierbahnhof was finally completed and opened on the 1st of May, 1909.
The Rangierbahnhof was one of the largest and most modern of its kind. Originally it was designed as a two-sided station with separate parts of the station for traffic in east-west and west-east directions. Next to the station, a workshop with a roundhouse, a water tower and various administrative buildings were built. An own power station provided for the energy supply of the station.
After the First World War, the workshop was expanded to a Bahnbetriebswerk (essentially the Rangierbahnhof was now capable of repairing and servicing trains). A second roundhouse went into operation in 1920. The village of Elstal – known for the 1936 Olympic Village and the Löwen Adler Kaserne – was founded in 1919 due to the massive increase of personnel working at the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark.
The effects of a divided Germany
The Rangierbahnhof Wustermark survived the war unscathed until it was hit by a large bombing run on the 20th of April 1945. The Betriebswerk was only lightly damaged but the Shunting yard was heavily damaged. The shunting system for the west-east direction so badly damaged that it wasn’t rebuilt after 1945, essentially halving the size of the train yard. This also had the effect that the Wustermark Station was from then on only used as a “one-sided” station.
The station was noticeably affected by the German and Berlin divisions, as it was on a route that led from the former West Berlin to West Germany. Nevertheless, it remained important, on the one hand for domestic commercial freight in the GDR, on the other hand for transit freight to West Berlin. In 1954, the Berlin outer ring went into service, giving the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark an easier and quicker connection to the north east of the German Democratic Republic – and specifically the commercially important seaports.
After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the passenger transport to West Berlin was completely cut off (a fate that was shared with the Friedhofsbahn), but commercial goods still passed through. At the same time, the northern section of the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark was expanded with a special customs station for the commercial traffic. By the end of 1989, roughly 1200 people were employed at the Rangierbahnhof.
A new era for the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark
After 1989, the volume of freight traffic decreased and traffic at the station dropped significantly. The railway depot was downgraded in 1996 and then completely closed in 2001. The Deutsche Bahn did consider using and expanding the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark in the mid 90’s as a second node station for freight transport for the Berlin area, even going as far as updating some of the equipment – but ultimately decided against it and closed the station.
In 2008, the Havelländische Eisenbahn AG and the BUG Vermietungsgesellschaft mbH created the Rail & Logistik Center GmbH & Co. KG Wustermark (RLCW). The RLCW bought the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark from the Deutsche Bahn with plans to bring the station back to life, which they managed to do within a very short period of time.
As of 2017, the Rangierbahnhof Wustermark has received a combined 20 million euros in funding from the district and from the Land to transform the station into a Railway Technology Campus, essentially a mix of future laboratory, science location and logistics center. Some buildings have been torn down since and a host of new ones are being built, but the iconic water tower and the roundhouse (which are quite rare these days – theres another abandoned one in Berlin, though in much worse shape) will stay and be converted accordingly. Seems like there’s a happy end for this 110-year-old train station.
Rangierbahnhof Wustermark Address
14641 Wustermark, Brandenburg