The densely-forested Bregenzerwald area south of the city of Bregenz at the eastern end of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) has always been important as a source of timber which was traditionally floated to the shores of the lake along the fast-flowing river the Bregenzer Ach. Proposals to build a railway through the area were finally realised in 1902 when a 760 mm gauge line was built extending 35 km from Bregenz to Bezau. The civil engineer responsible was John Bertolini (1859-1931). The line was worked from the beginning by the state railway company. It was of limited use for passengers since it followed closely the course of the river while most village were situated on higher ground. Proposals for closure were made as early as 1936 but postponed because there were no suitable roads that could carry the line’s freight traffic. Diesel locomotives were used for the first time in 1937. The railway remained in use after the Second World War and in 1974 some tourist trains were hauled by steam locomotives from the Zillertalbahn. After a series of landslips, services ceased in 1982 and the line was formally closed and the track lifted in 1985.
A voluntary organisation the Verein Bregenzerwaldbahn-Museumbahn was formed in 1985 with the object of re-opening part of the line as a tourist railway. All the vehicles had then been sold or scrapped, and locomotives and carriages had to be obtained from elsewhere. Operation as a heritage railway began in 1987, at first with diesel traction, but some steam locomotives were used from the early 1990s. The line now extends 5 km from the association’s headquarters at Bezau through Reuthe to the station at Schwarzenberg. The journey takes 20 minutes. Features of the preserved line include the Sporenegg Bridge, a steel lattice structure with a span of 63 m, and the 212 m Ried tunnel.
Displays in the booking office at Bezau station deal with the contentious topic of migration, showing how local children had to look for work in big cities while guest workers arrived in the 1970s to take jobs in construction, forestry and the tourism industry.