The German word Kleinbahn refers to railways very like those built in Great Britain under the Light Railways Act of 1896, cheaply-built lines passing through sparsely-populated countryside, crossing roads on level crossings rather than bridges. Passenger trains were infrequent, but the lines served rural communities by transporting fertilisers, grain, cattle and fuel in the years before motor lorries became ubiquitous. Most such lines in Germany were on the northern plain, on territories which from 1815 belonged to Prussia. Since the 1950s, most of the small railway lines ceased operation due to competition from car and truck traffic.
To preserve such railways, the German Railway Association was founded in 1964. The first restored steam-powered trains ran in 1966 - as Germany's first museum railway. Today, the association operates a 7.8-kilometre-long line with its 1,000-millimetre gauge that runs from Bruchhausen-Vilsen to Asendorf and includes 8 stations and stops. The association now has a collection of almost 100 historic vehicles from numerous German small railways, including steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, rail buses and passenger carriages. In the workshops and depots, volunteers are trained to restore and maintain historic railway vehicles.