These pages comprise articles from the 'Notebooks' compiled by Charlie Hulme in the 1990s, mostly translated and edited articles from Swiss books and magazines.

They appeared in printed, and latterly also e-mailed form, as the Web hardly existed at the time. We have converted them to this format, as they chronicle an especially interesting period in railway history, and also include useful histories of various lines.

Swiss Manchester Notebook May 1990

The Wynental- und Suhrentalbahn (WSB)

based on Schmalspurbahnparadies Schweiz, Bd.2 by Schweers/Wall

Both lines of the WSB from Aarau have seen significant developments in recent years, having been transformed from quiet rural tramways to modern, high frequency suburban railways. Much progress has been made in removing the line from the roadway on to its own right-of-way, especially on the Wynental line.


The first railways in Canton Aargau (remember the G in the canton
name, hence the abbreviation AG) were Olten - Aarau - Brugg (1856/58), Rupperswil - Wohlen (1874) and Lenzburg/Aarau - Suhr - Zofingen (1877). Connections to the Canton capital from the valleys to the south were sadly lacking. Even the building in 1883 of the Seetalbahn avoided the Suhren and Wynen valleys, so various local groups planned to build narrow-gauge tramways to serve the area. First of these was the Strassenbahn Aarau - Schöftland (AS) which opened its 11 km line in 1901. The route began in Aarau station square and ran through the narrow streets of the town centre to reach the road to Schöftland. The whole length of the line was laid in the road.

The building of the Wynentalbahn (WTB) began in 1902 and took two years, the route being twice as long as the AS. The WTB also ran in the road for its whole length from Aarau to Menziken-Burg. Initially the terminus was to the south of the SBB line at Gais, but in 1906 it was extended to join the AS in the Bahnhofplatz. Both lines shared a common management, with only slight technical distinctions between the two companies.

The Swiss rifle championships of 1924 generated heavy traffic, leading the WTB to build a new terminus to the south of the SBB tracks; the AS continued to terminate in the Bahnhofplatz, so the connection between the two lines was lost again. Both lines adopted Rollbock transport of standard-gauge wagons to handle increasing freight traffic; loading points were installed at Oberentfelden on the AS and at both Suhr and Reinach on the WTB. Special freight railcars were bought to haul these trains. 

After World War II, renewal of the oldest rolling stock was put in
hand. In 1947 the WSB placed a modern passenger railcar in service
(Ce 4/4 6), followed in 1954 by similar new cars for both lines (AS
Be 4/4 8 and WSB Be 4/4 7). The two companies became more closely connected, and in 1958 (backdated to 1.1.57) they merged to form the WSB. In 1967, the physical connection between the two lines was finally restored by means of a 260 m tunnel which allows Suhrental trains to run into the WTB terminus on the south side of the SBB station, the old tracks through the town streets being abandoned. The trains were modernised and converted to push-pull operation.

Increasing road traffic made it urgent to separate the track from
the roadway. For years little progress was made, and congestion in
the town centres in particular became increasingly worse. From 1975 onwards, various sections in Unterentfelden, Suhr and between Oberentfelden and Schöftland were moved onto their own formation. In 1985 a further 3.4 km was rebuilt in the Gränichen area; at present about 40% of the Wynental line remains as street track.

The routes 

Aarau WSB station is the zero kilometre point for both lines. The
station has four tracks, with sidings at both ends for spare coaches.
A subway connects the centre platform with the SBB station. The Wynental line leaves from the east end of the station, past the WSB depot. The line follows the road southwards past the engineers' sidings at Steinfeld (km 2.1) to Suhr (km 3.4) where the SBB Aarau - Zofingen line is crossed on the level. After the crossing is the goods yard, with the rollbocke loading installation. Approaching Gränichen, the above-mentioned new section of line begins, which includes Gränichen station (km 5.4) as well as two halts. From Bleien (km. 7.7) the line clings to the roadside through the villages of Teufenthal (km 9.4), Unterkulm (km 11.2) and Oberkulm (km 13.0). From there to Gontenschwil (km 15.7) there is reserved track, then the line returns to the road. At Reinach (km 20.0) passengers can change to the SBB Beromünster branch which runs alongside. The final 2 km follow the main road to the terminus at Menziken-Burg (km 22.0) where there is a carriage shed and a factory siding. There is no connection here with the SBB Menziken station which lies at a higher level.

The Suhrental line leaves from the west end of Aarau station, immediately running into the WSB's only tunnel, from which it emerges alongside the Entfelden road. Road and rail follow a curved route through Unterentfelden (km 3.3) and Oberentfelden (km 4.4) where the SBB Aarau - Zofingen line is crossed on a bridge and freight exchange sidings are provided. Still following the valley road, trains call at at Muhen (km 6.3) and Hirschtal (km 8.6) before terminating at Schöftland (km 10.2) where the line's depot is located. The long-discussed extension from here over the canton border to Triengen in Luzern and thence by third-rail mixed-gauge to Sursee is now definitely not to proceed.

Technical Details

The WSB is metre-gauge, electrified at 750 V DC and passenger trains run as push-pull sets. Steepest gradient is 45 per mille and minimum radius 27 m. Since 1980 an interval timetable has operated, with a half-hourly service throughout the day on both lines. At peak hours, a 15-minute frequency operates to Schöftland and to Gontenschwil on the eastern line. Because of this intensive service, less-than-wagonload freight service is by road vehicle, but wagonload service is maintained on both lines by carrying standard-gauge wagons on rollbocke bogies. In 1983 the system carried 3.6 million passengers and 64,000 tons of freight.

Motive Power

Principal passenger power units are a range of Be 4/4 railcars nos.
7 - 16, built between 1954 and 1978, painted orange these days, which work with control trailers numbered in the 80 series. Freight power, liveried in brown, includes De 4/4 17, a 1919-built railcar rebuilt for freight use in 1968, and De 4/4 42, built in 1904 as a freight motor and modernised in 1967. Te 2/2 shunting tractors 47-49 are particularly interesting as they started life as Zürich tramcars in 1907. They were bought by the WSB in the 1950s and rebuilt with modern-looking tractor bodies.

Travel Tip

Readers holidaying in the Lucerne area are recommended to spend a day visiting the Wynentalbahn and the SBB Seetalbahn with its Beromünster branch (see last month's notebook), as part of a visit to Aarau, where the Old Town is highly recommended by the "Off the Beaten Track" guide reviewed last month for examples of both Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. There are also some classical buildings; when the Swiss Republic was proclaimed in 1798, Aarau was chosen as the capital, but six months later, after some grand government buildings had been started, the politicians changed their minds and moved to Lucerne. There are also old town gates, two museums and a wooden bridge.

The Koblenz - Waldshut International Service

from EZ 3/90, by Christian Zellweger

Not all international trains are in the grand style. "Small is Beuatiful"
is today's motto on the line from Koblenz in Switzerland to Waldshut
in West Germany. 19 times each day a passenger train makes the 3.4 km journey across the Rhine over this SBB-owned line, formed of a DB 798 class railbus shuttling between the two stations. These 798 cars can haul a trailer if necessary, as they are fitted with normal couplings and buffers, unlike the earler 795 class (see EZ 3/88). Freight trains also run between the two towns, normally hauled by class 360 0-6-0 diesels. Class 212 B-B diesels are also seen, on heavy trains of motor cars.

In steam days, a variety of locos was used; Baden State Railways class VIc, and later German classes 57, 94 and 50 could be seen on the 190 m long Rhine bridge. Like so many lines built during the "railway mania" of the last century, the line is remembered more for its Glory Days of the past than for today's railbus service. In 1859, the bridge was the first Rhine crossing by rail and was intended as part of a principal north-south route. Events decreed otherwise, however, and the builders' plans to double the track came to nothing except one tunnel built to double track dimensions.

Editorial from EZ 1/90 by Andreas Schlauch

"I'm glad the RhB Anniversary year is over - I've seen enough RhB
pictures!" - so spoke an EZ reader I met at an exhibition before Christmas. He went on to talk of the "Mickey-Mouse Line" with its "toy engines" and "tarted-up garden sheds" (station buildings). While such may talk amaze the dedicated RhB fan with his collection of Bemo stock, it is true that the theme has lost some of its novelty ... perhaps in the way I feel about the number of "Garfields" to be seen around these days.

Preferences and interests can, and perhaps should, change. We hope, however, that happy hours spent on the RhB will not be entirely forgotten, and that the centre-spread taken at Chur Staion Square in this issue will give some pleasure even to RhB-haters.

News items from EZ 1/90

Adieu D3

In November 1989 the SBB withdrew its last six-wheel parcels van,
type D3 no. 50 85 93-03 271 (ex- F3 18423), built in 1914. Sister
vehicle 03 194 is to be preserved.

Orbe - Chavornay (OC)

This line, electrified at 700v DC since its opening in 1894, has bought a new railcar. Be 2/2 14 is 13.4 m long, carries 40 passengers and has two 136 HP motors giving it a maximum speed of 80 km/h. It was built by Stadler and ABB, and will replace BDe 4/4 railcars 12 and 13, built in 1915 and 1920 (see photo of no.12, page 9). At peak times, ex-SBB light-steel centre entrance car (50 85 20-33 024, old number 5937) is available as a trailer. The OC, at 3.9 km, is the shortest standard-gauge private line in Switzerland.

Appenzeller Bahn

Further to the item about AB rollbocke freight in the April Notebook.
EZ 1/90 page 8 has a colour photo of three SBB cement wagons being hauled by ex-SGA ABDeh 4/4 4 at Waldstatt on 5.10.89.

RhB Vereina Line.

Work on this new line will not now begin in spring 1990 as was originally planned. The Swiss government has received complaints from various organisations and societies, unanimously supported by the community council of Klosters. The majority of objectors are not against the Vereina tunnel in principle; they "only" ask for a reduction in the rolling-road service, a new location for the car-loading point and/or a by-pass road for Klosters. [Your compiler finds himself firmly on the side of these objectors.] The earliest possible date for the start of the works is now spring 1991.

Bremgarten-Dietikon Bahn (BD)

Carriage of standard-gauge wagons on rollbocke bogies has been withdrawn from this line from 1.1.1990. This service has not been heavily used - in the year 1988, only 16 wagonloads were carried. The last service was train 704F on 13.12.89 from Berikon-Widen to Bremgarten West.The rollbocke bogies have been sold to the Appenzeller Bahn.

Originally published 1990. This edition April 2009