Swiss Railways Manchester 1990s archives

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 Railways Manchester Notebook January 1991

Trabi & Wartburg: East German Locos for the SOB

By Werner Hardmeier, from EZ 10/90

In the first half of 1990, the SOB carried 66,000 gross tonnes of freight, twice the amount hauled in the same period of the previous year. The four Re 4/4 III 41-44, and the eight BDe 4/4 railcars 80-87, are all required for timetabled freight and passenger trains, so that on some days the SOB has had to borrow a locomotive from the SBB, which itself is suffering from a motive power shortage.

DDR Re 4/4 II

The Südostbahn, unable for financial reasons to acquire new locomotives this year, advertised in the railway press for any modern freight locomotives with rheostatic braking which might be available on long-term hire. After discussions with the Czechoslovakian and East German railways, it was arranged for a Deutsche Reichsbahn Bo-Bo of class 243 to be tested on the SOB, and wine-red liveried 243 922 arrived at Samstagern on August 1st. Over 600 locomotives of this type have been built since 1984. Extensive test runs showed that the 243 could haul the same load as an SBB Re 4/4 II up the 50 per mille gradient of the SOB main line, and the rheostatic braking matched the SOB's strict requirements. Even so, two 243s in multiple would only be able to manage six bogie gravel hoppers on the SOB gradient, so further discussions were held regarding the hire of a six-axle locomotive.

DDR Ae 6/6

Thus, on 12 September, DR 250 252 was hauled by 243 922 (already carrying a Südostbahn label) from Zürich via Wädenswil to Samstagern works where it was fitted with a Swiss standard pantograph. Test running began the same week. In power terms, it is the equivalent of an SBB Ae 6/6, and should give good service over the next year. The 250 carries the same wine-red livery as the 243, but its body is rather more angular in shape. For through haulage of gravel trains over the SBB to Schaffhausen, both locos are to be fitted with Signum automatic train protection equipment. Two SOB maintenance workers have been trained at the DR Erfurt depot, and arrangements have been made for any spare parts to be sent by express carrier from Erfurt to Samstagern if required.

Short Trains

The four photos on p.46/7 of EZ 10/90 are examples of prototype trains short enough to appeal to modellers with small layouts. The very last run of an Ae 4/6 on the Locarno goods, on 2 May 1983, returning to Bellinzona with just two vans. On 6 July 1977, Ae 3/6 10698 enters Roches BE with just one four-wheeled wagon loaded with pipes. The scene on 11 August 1990 at Neuchâtel, as a BDe 4/4 railcar with Bt driving trailer leaves on a local passenger to Travers. Finally a four-coach express near Wynigen on 8 September 1984, composed of Re 4/4 II, one RIC AB, one EW I B, and two RIC B.

RhB Loco Special

1: The Rebuilt Ge 4/4 I

From Eisenbahn Journal 1/89, by W. Goy

The management of the Rhätische Bahn are always looking for ways to improve efficiency, and to this end are continously renewing and improving the railway's equipment. By 1986, the ten Ge 4/4 I locomotives built in 1947 and 1953 were in need of major attention, and it was decided to give them a full technical and aesthetic rebuild, to fit them for many years more service.

In the early post-war years, the RhB realised that to retain its passenger traffic, shorter journey times were vital; there was no way the existing power - Ge 6/6 I and Ge 4/6 - could be speeded up; modern locos were essential. The first four Ge 4/4 I, 601 - 604, arrived in 1947. These Bo-Bo locos had a service weight of 47 tonnes, a maximum speed of 75 km/h and a power rating of 1184 kw, enough to haul 240 tonnes up a 25 per mille gradient (e.g. Scuol - Ardez), and 170 tonnes on 35 per mille (e.g. Filisur - Preda). Mechanical parts were constructed by SLM, and electrical parts by BBC/MFO. A second series of six locomotives, 605-610, was built in 1953; the SLM factory was overloaded, so the body construction was subcontracted to a firm in Italy. In the mid-sixties, the class was refurbished. The side windows and louvres (arranged differently on each side) were replaced completely by vertically slatted ventilators, and the end doors and corridor connections were removed.

From 1986 onwards, all ten locomotives are again being rebuilt at Landquart works, and the opportunity is being taken to replace the cab with a new, ergonomic design with a better view for the driver. The new cabs are larger, lengthening the loco body by 150mm, altough the length over buffers is unchanged. The most obvious visual changes are the two large windows on the cab front, and the new red livery, but internally many items have been rebuilt or replaced: dead-man's device, main controller, driver's desk, wiring, lighting controls and instruments. Also, the sandboxes have been modified to permit tyre turning on the wheel lathe. Connections for multiple and push-pull control have been fitted, involving new power control circuitry and revised train door controls. The principle features of the design, such as high-voltage tap-changer, rheostatic brakes and bogies are being retained; these were actually based on the equipment fitted to the BLS Ae 4/4 type, no. 251-258.

II: the Donkeys: Ge 2/2 161 and 162

From EZ 11/90, by P. Pfeiffer

As part of the RhB centenary celebrations of 15/16 July 1989, the two little Ge 4/4 locos 161 and 162, affectionately known as "Asnin" (little donkeys), resplendent in a new livery, were planned to work special passenger services between Poschiavo and Tirano.

These locos were built in 1911 by SIG and Alioth for the opening of the Bernina line, then an independent company. They were used to pilot the railcars on heavy trains up the 70 per mille south ramp, and also singly on light passenger, freight and engineers' trains. They have not been significantly rebuilt; only the current collection has been changed over the years. The original pair of bow collectors was replaced in 1928 by one scissors-type pantograph, itself removed in 1971/2 in favour of the single-arm type. In 1961 they were fitted with a compressor and shunting brake, and renumbered from 61/2. From 1911 to 1988 both carried brown livery; 162 was repainted orange on overhaul in spring 1988, 161 following suit in time for the centenary events.

The Donkeys have always been used only on the south side of the Bernina line, and overhauled at Poschiavo works, only very rarely turning up at Pontresina or St Moritz. When the first of the more powerful 41-49 series of motorcoaches were delivered in 1964, piloting of northbound trains to the summit was no longer necessary, and the Ge 2/2s have since been used as station pilots, usually at Campocologno and Poschiavo.

For the celebration specials, it was planned to use five of the open "Ausssichtwagen", plus four wheeled coach 2060 for less hardy souls, double-headed by 161 and 162. Sadly, however, this train turned out to be too heavy for the two donkeys, so the special was in fact worked from Tirano to Poschiavo by 161 and ABe 4/4 37, returning downhill with 161 alone. Newly-repainted 162 thus spent the weekend out of work at Campocologno.

Re 4/4 II, Part 5 - Private Railway Models

From EZ 7/90, by R. Stamm

It is not a simple matter for model companies to portray different versions of a locomotive. Changes to the tools cost money, which must be reflected in the price of the model, so if the result is only of local interest, it is not an economic proposition to reproduce every minor variation. The standard gauge private lines use larger headlamps that the SBB, but this detail is understandably not reflected in any of the models reviewed.

N Scale: Arnold

Based on the SBB Re 4/4 model, each version is well made and detailed. The green EBT loco (cat. 2418), numbered 113 with the arms of Thun on the front, portrays that company's second series. The red SOB version (cat.2419), no. 42 with the arms of Arth-Goldau on the side, represents one of the Re 4/4 III locos bought from the SBB. The Mittel Thurgau Bahn example (cat. 2411), in customary green livery, is adorned on the front with the arms of Canton Thurgau.

H0: Hag

Hag produce all seven possible private railway Re 4/4 variations, admittedly without modification to the SBB body mouldings. Constructional details are all the same as the SBB versions described in the last article.

Representing the EBT, SMB and VHB lines, no. 113 "Thun" (cat. 274/5), 181 "Lebern" (cat. 276/7) and 141 "Luzern" (cat. 278/9) are available, of the newer Hag model. All have been made in both AC and DC versions, but are not always available due to the limited production runs. For MThB fans, a green no. 21 (cat. 272/3) is in the range, again with SBB headlamps but correctly representing the twin-pantograph variant. SOB modellers have been particularly well catered for by Hag, with models of two different locos in three versions. Derived from the early SBB series, no. 41 was produced in both green and red. The green version (cat. 158/9) has the red cow-catcher and complicated shield; the prototype no. 41 was repainted red at its 1989 overhaul and Hag have followed suit, (cat. 156/7) although they have not followed the prototype by altering the model to a single-arm pantograph. The sale of some Re 4/4 III locos by the SBB to the SOB has also been copied by Hag; no. 44 (cat. 270/271) carries red livery and very neat lettering, with the arms of Pfaffikon.

The Swimo line of repainted Hag engines also includes red SOB 44 (cat. 62705) and green MThB 21 (cat. 62725). These must be ordered directly from Swimo Modellbahn.

H0: Lima

This manufacturer offers its SBB first-series model in SBB livery. Initially, no. 41 was produced (cat. no. 8156 Z2), in green with the correct red cow-catcher and accurate lettering, although some early models reached the shops still carrying the SBB number. The 1990 Lima catalogue shows that they also have modelled the overhauled no. 41 in red, and unlike Hag have noticed that the pantograph has been changed to the single-arm version. The buffers have also been correctly changed from round to rectangular, although the headlamps are still incorrect. This new version (cat. 8219) is available for AC and DC, but the pantograph is not wired, unlike the earlier model. It should be possible for the modeller to do this himself, however.

Improving an H0 Bogie Open Wagon (SBB Eaos)

Modelling feature from EZ 11/90, by Daniel Piron.


The Liliput SBB Eaos, and Lima models made since summer 1990, feature the cast-frame type of Y25 bogie used by the SBB. Older, grey, Lima wagons have incorrect welded-frame Y25 bogies of the type used by other railways, recognisable by the flanges on the front of the frames. It is possible to obtain the Liliput version as a spare part, and fit them to the Lima wagon using a screw 5 mm in diameter and 10 mm long, with a shim of 1 mm plastic sheet between the bogie and the Lima underframe.


Wagon loads bring life to a model railway, and bogie open wagons are ideal for such treatment. Two common types are demonstrated in the photographs: coal and scrap metal. Timber and sugar beet are other loads commonly seen. More rarely, they can be seen covered with a tarpaulin. Modellers should note that it is absolutely forbidden for loads to be higher than the wagon sides.

For the coal load, cut a piece of rigid foam to fit in the wagon, and profile the top to simulate the three peaks usually produced by loading hoppers. Sand, to represent the coal, is added using ballasting technique; sprinkle it on dry, then add diluted PVA glue with a few drops of washing-up liquid added. Allow to dry for 48 hours before painting black. Be sure to use paint which does not attack your foam!

To create a scrap metal load, first find two lids from Preiser figure boxes, and cut one to half its length. These will fit neatly in the wagon and form a platform on which to build up your scrap load. Dig out your box of spare plastic and white-metal kit parts, and begin with a layer of window frames or similar, then add cut-up bits of lattice girder, and any other appropriate bits you can find. Worn-out audio cassettes are a good source of pulley-wheels etc. Mask the wagon itself with tape and paint the load with spray-cans, begin with black, then add grey and brown.


The prototype wagons are very heavily used and are normally seen in well-weathered condition. A rust colour can be mixed from black, grey and brown with plenty of thinners, concentrating on the areas around the ribbing etc. A hair drier can be used to dry the very thin paint more quickly for another coat etc. - don't melt the model, though!

Model Auto News

PR-Modellbau offer an H0 Volvo Kombi lettered as an RhB service vehicle. The most famous car of 1990, the Trabant 601S, is now made by Herpa in H0 in a typical green/cream colour scheme; did any refugees reach Switzerland?

A company called Viessman sell plastic model cars with working head and tail lights and also the flashing roof lights of police cars etc. The cars can not be moved around, as the light source is intended to be fitted under the baseboard.

The Val de Travers: Photographer's Paradise

Enlarged from EZ 11/90.

Route 221, from Neuchâtel via Travers to Buttes and Pontarlier offers a considerable variety of train formations and wonderful scenery. The Pontarlier line, operated by the SBB, serves the currently little-used border crossing, through trains joining the Vallorbe line at Frasne. All freight to Pontarlier, which is served by the SBB even though it is several kilometres beyond the French border, is attached to the sparse local passenger service; most trains terminate within Switzerland at Les Verrières. The line follows the Areuse river for much of the way; an esoteric item between Noiraigue and Champ-du-Moulin, illustrated in "Signale der Schweizer Bahnen" by Butz, is a gradient sign showing a steady descent at 20 per mille for the amazingly long distance of 11050 m.

The RVT company, one of Switzerland's lesser-known private lines with a total route length of 14 km, is under common management with the two CMN lines, described in a previous issue. Opened in 1883/86, it was an early user if diesel railcars, from around 1918 until electrification in 1944. The route consists of the short standard-gauge branch from Travers to Buttes and its twig from Fleurier to St Sulpice. The latter section, serving a cement works which is the main reason for the line's existence, has had no passenger service since 1968, being served by the company's buses.

Photogenic trains

Local 4466 at 10.09 (Mon-Sat) from Neuchâtel to Travers, returning empty as train 23257 at 10.50, is worked by an SBB Ae 3/6. An Ae 6/6 with a second class coach, parcels van and freight wagons added as required works the 60758 (Mon-Sat) 06.32 and 60778 (Mon-Fri) 15.09 from Neuchâtel to Pontarlier, and the 4465 (Mon-Sat) 09.39 and 60783 (Mon-Fri) 16.49 return workings from Pontarlier.

An SBB BDe 4/4 and driving trailer is used on 4463 local 09.02 Les Verrièrres - Neuchâtel and the 4468 11.10 return, as well as most of the shuttle workings between Travers and Les Verrières or Pontarlier, a service which is proposed for withdrawal. The through trains between Neuchâtel and the RVT (Regional Val de Travers) line to Buttes are worked by a mixture of SBB NPZ units and push-pull trains of the RVT company.

International trains include the 'Lutetia' (train 421) from Paris to Bern, hauled by an SBB Re 4/4 I, which calls at Pontarlier at 10.44, and the 428 'Lemano' from Bern to Paris (Pontarlier 19.19). The Paris - Bern TGV service, the 'Champs-Elysées' also passes this way in both directions, but only the northbound (08.14 at Pontarlier) can be seen in daylight.

Goods workings on the RVT line are handled by the RVT's centre-cab Be 4/4 locomotive no.1, including mixed train 228 (16.07 Mon-Fri from Travers to Fleurier) which carries its passengers in an old ex-SBB heavyweight steel coach. Travers is a good location for observations, although most Neuchâtel trains cross at Noiraigue, the next station.

An hour's walk in the Areuse Gorge

Courtesy of Michelin

From Noiraigue station a path follows the river, past a hydro-electric plant, into the gorge, through which the Areuse river flows between woods and limestone cliffs. Midway, a belvedere looks down onto the narrowest part of the gorge and the cascading river. The site, enhanced by a hump-backed bridge, is wonderfully romantic. From here, one can walk though the woods to Champ-du-Moulin village; just before the village is the house of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), nature lover, and author of "the social contract" in which he developed the ideas of modern democracy. From the village it is a quarter-hour's climb to Champ-du-Moulin station.

The more energetic can visit the Creux de Van nature reserve, the entrance to which is around 2 km from Noiraigue. The highest point of the reserve, at Le Soliat, which can be reached by a three-hour circular walk, is at 1463 m above sea level and gives a fine view over Lake Neuchâtel to the Alps.

News Items from EZ 10/90 and EZ 11/90

Switzerland Stays on the Rails?

National transport minister Adolf Ogi has rejected a proposal for a road corridor across the country for 40-tonne lorries,in favour of expansion of the present rail container and lorry-carrying services.

However, the Government plans to reduce its subsidy towards SBB local passenger services, and a number are proposed for replacement by buses. Early casualties, from 5 November 1990, are four all-stations Gotthard locals, "bustituted" to create four new paths on this congested route for intermodal freights.

One-Person Operation

From the 1991 timetable change, the RABDe 8/16 units on line 821 between Winterthur and Stein am Rhein will be operated without a conductor, on a trial basis. These "Chiquita" sets, 2001-4, are being repainted in standard NPZ colours from their previous yellow; a new nickname will be required. When centre cars with swing-plug doors for the NPZ sets are delivered in 1992, the Lausanne - Vallorbe (200) and Aarau - Suhr - Zofingen (504) will follow suit.

MOB Locomotive Orders

The Montreux Oberland Bernois has ordered three new locos, to be Ge 4/4 8001-8003. They will greatly resemble RhB Ge 4/4 III 641-644, currently being built, but at present are specified for DC operation only. They will, however, be capable of conversion to AC/DC twin-voltage working if the proposal for a third rail over the Zweisimmen - Interlaken BLS lines comes to fruition; in this case a further three locos will also be needed.

Until the new power is delivered, the new Panoramic sets currently on order from Breda in Italy will be powered by the GDe 4/4 6001 series locos, which will need to be fitted with remote control wiring. The BDe 4/4 railcars 3005 and 3006 (built 1946), currently working the Superpanoramic Express, lack the necessary power for the new 5-coach sets.

AOMC Extended

If all goes well, December 1990 will see the opening of an 800m-long extension of the Aigle - Ollon - Monthey - Champéry line from Champéry to the lower station of a new cable car to Planachaux.

BVB double track

The Bex - Villars - Bretaye line is doubling its line between Villars and a new station at Roches Gris, which serves a new housing development on the Col de Bretaye section. Villars depot is being extended to accommodate 3-car trains, and BDeh 2/4 21 (built 1940) is being repaired after fire damage.

Push-Pull Freight on the WAB

Following the example of the MC, GFM and JB, the Wengernalpbahn has placed in service a freight train driving trailer, Uat 820. It is basically a bogie tank wagon, 11.7 m long with a capacity of 24 000 litres, fitted with a driving cab from which a railcar of the BDhe 2/4 101-118 series can be controlled. A second driving trailer, this time based on a four-wheel wagon. is under contruction. Dedicated freight services, worked by He 2/2 locomotives, can thus be reduced in number, saving considerable staff costs. Two covered vans have been fitted with through train control wiring.

Temporary driving cabs have been installed at the mountain end of railcars 108 (Lauterbrunnen) and 116 (Grindelwald) to enable them to work engineer's trains.

Locomotives for the BAM?

The Bière-Apples-Morges line would like to buy two locomotives of the new RhB Ge 4/4 III type to handle its rollbock freight traffic. One of these, with its 3350 HP, could haul 400 tons up the gradients of the BAM; at present it is necessary to double-head heavy trains of military supplies with two of the line's Be 4/4 railcars 11, 12, and 14, leaving only the old BDe 4/4 cars 1-5 to handle the passenger service. If the expenditure of over 13 million francs is approved by the Canton Vaud government, the locos could be delivered by summer 1993.

Much-travelled narrow-gauge coach

"New" centre trailer B 342 of the Nyon - St.Cergue - Morez line, now resplendent in the line's new livery, actually began life in 1949 on the Bremgarten - Dietikon as B 42, and was sold in 1969 to the Biel - Täuffelen - Ins where it ran until 1975. It was acquired by the NStCM in 1978.

Driving Trailers for the YSteC

FFA of Altenrhein have rebuilt coaches B 33 and 34 of the Yverdon - Ste.Croix line into driving trailers BDt 53 and 54. 53 will be used either as driving trailer for old railcars Be 4/4 4 and 5, or as centre car with modern Be 4/4 units 1-3, and its cab faces Yverdon. 54 becomes a third driving trailer to work with 1-3, and like existing Bt 51 and 52, the cab end faces towatds Ste Croix.

Gruyère - Fribourg - Morat News

Standard gauge ABDe 4/4 163 has suffered a serious failure, and is beyond economic repair; it will be cannibailzed for spares. New RBDe 4/4 and ABt twin sets 181 and 182, based on the BLS type, will work on the Freiburg - Ins service. An RABDe 4/4 twin-cab motorcoach obtained from the Régional Val de Travers will become 173, as it is similar to existing GFM cars 171 and 172, used on the Bulle - Romont service.

The two new units for the metre gauge section will be 121 and 122; the existing 1922-built Be 4/4 121 will be renumbered between 110 and 119. Badly-damaged BDe 4/4 114 (built 1904) is to be scrapped and replaced by ex-RhB Bernina ABe 4/4 36, which is to reclassified Xe 4/4 for work train service. Be 4/4 132 (built 1943) has also been withdrawn due to corrosion. Now that Vevey bogies are in use for carrying standard-gauge wagons, six transporter wagons, Ua 993-998 (built 1972/73) have been sold to the SBB for Brünig service. 991 and 992 remain in use on the GFM as engineering department rail carriers.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009