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 Notebook for Manchester - March 1991


Assembled from various sources, including EZ 1/90 and Schamlspurparadies Schweiz, Bd.2

Which is Switzerland's most obscure metre-gauge line? A good contender must be the Solothurn - Niederbipp Bahn (SNB). Older readers probably know it best from the delightful story by George Behrend in Railway Holiday in Switzerland (David & Charles, c.1965: well worth searching your public library for) in which he describes how he was "bipped" - stranded in some obscure village after he misunderstood the timetable. The most memorable thing about youe compiler's own visit, sometime in the 1970s, was the small number of passengers and staff: I remember my surprise when I beheld the railcar driver leaving the train at a passing station, going to the signal panel and working the points & signals for himself before proceeding. Mind you, the BR signalman with me mas even more surprised.

The SNB was one of the last metre-gauge lines to be built in Switzerland, opening in 1918. In 1959 the company was amalgamated with the Oberaargau - Jura Bahn (OJB) with which it shares the station at Niederbipp: today trains work through from Solothurn to Niederbipp then, after a reversal, over the OJB line to Langenthal. At one time Niederbipp was a through station: the OJB line continued, paralleling the SBB main line, to Oensingen. This line was little used, and was closed in 1943 when its track became too decrepit to continue; for a time, the standard-gauge Oensingen - Balsthal company was permitted to extend its service over the SBB to Niederbipp as compensation.

The SNB today begins at Solothurn, on the north side of the SBB station. There is no physical connection with the metre-gauge RBS line on the other side of the SBB, and explorers should allow plenty of time for the hike through the subway. The line runs in the centre of the road out of Solothurn, over the Aare bridge to Baseltor: this town section was not opened until 1925. Turning right here, the line follows Baselstrasse for a kilometre. The first passing station, St Katharinen (km 1.5) (formerly Friedhof [= cemetery] St Katharinen) lies on the border between Solothurn and Bern. As far as Flumenthal (km 6.1) the track runs by the road, then takes its own course through Attiswil (km 7.6) to the well-kept village of Wiedlisbach (km 10.2), where the line has its depot. From 1946 to 1965 this was also the works where stock was overhauled, but since then all heavy work has been done at the OJB workshops in Langenthal.

On the left of the line behind the station at Oberbipp (km 11.6) is an industrial estate including a large oil depot, and a third rail has been laid from here to the terminus at Niederbipp (km 14.4) to permit standard-gauge wagons to be worked without transporters. Unlike the very well-known arrangement between Chur and Domat-Ems on the RhB, however, these standard gauge trains are worked by SNB metre-gauge De 4/4 motor baggage vans, including a modern example, no. 121 built by Stadler/BBC in 1987. These vehicles present an unusual appearance, as they are fitted with standard-gauge buffers located asymetrically on their ends to match the wagons running on the three-rail mixed gauge section.

For a long time, it has been proposed to rebuild the station at Niederbipp, but nothing has happened because of differences of opinion between the railway companies involved. Ideal timetabling requires trains on the metre-gauge route to Solothurn and Langenthal to arrive and depart simultaneously to meet the main line connections, but this cannot be done over the existing single track line. Incidentally, the reversing station at Niederbipp is not correctly shown on the 1982 edition of the official Swiss rail map.

Another problem is that the bridge which carries the narrow-gauge line under the SBB main is too low and narrow to take standard-gauge wagons on the new Vevey bogies which the joint concern has bought, so they cannot reach Wiedlisbach and beyond from the transhipment point at Langenthal. For the present, therefore, the old rollschemel wagons, loaded at Niederbipp, continue in use over this section. At Wiedlisbach, wagons can be unloaded on to a short standard-gauge track to release the transporter wagon for another job - a device once used by Britain's only user of transporter wagons, the Leek and Manifold Valley.

The SNB operates at 1200 volts DC, and has a maximum gradient of 45 per mille. All in all, a fascinating and very modellogenic line which deserves more attention from narrow-gauge fans. The scenery is not spectacular, of course, although the Jura mountains do form a pleasant backdrop. Some other time, more on the OJB.

New Look on the Seetal Line

From Schweizer Eisenbahn Revue 1-2/1989

On 31 December 1988 the SBB withdrew the last four De 4/4 motor baggage vans 1662/3/7/8. Their replacements are RBDe 4/4 railcars 1401-6, which work as four-car shuttle trains with DZt driving van trailers 91-33 954-959. The Beinwil to Beromünster branch train was initially formed of an RBDe 4/4 with just a DZt, but it was soon found that passengers using the interchange with the WSB line at Reinach Unterdorf, which has a very low platform, were having great trouble with the high floor height of the motorcoach, and after one week it was decided to lock the passenger compartment of the RBe 4/4 and insert one normal coach to carry the passengers: a three car train with only one vehicle earning any revenue. Other solutions are under consideration; two-car trains could be formed with RBDe 4/4 or BDe 4/4 cars, or perhaps the platform in question could be rebuilt.

Thus the Seetalbahn with its new green trains took on the look of an everyday SBB route. The roadside running and many level crossings have their problems however; as usual the railway always gets the blame for any collisions, even when caused by a road driver not seeing the train, and very soon there was indeed a collision between a train and a road tanker. The ends of the motorcoaches had been painted red to attract attention, but it was decided by the management of Region II to take the motorcoaches and driving trailers back into Zürich works one at a time and add reflective yellow and red striping like that which had lately been carried by their predecessors. Only one end of the motorcoaches was treated, and the driving cabs of the trailers.

The good news for modellers about all this is that this type of RBe 4/4 is the next Swiss production from Lima, and will be to the company's new standard, with two flywheels and cardan shaft drive to all four axles. Hopefully Lima or someone else will release the matching driving van trailers. The centre coaches are a mixture of EW I and EW II types: sadly the old open-balcony cars modelled by Roco have been retired.

Model Review: the HAG SBB Be 4/4

Be 4/4 cars operate mostly on the smaller branch lines of the SBB; Vevey to Puidoux-Chexbres is a well-known case. They are quite an old type, and withdrawals have recently begun, due to body corrosion.

The long-awaited model of the type has finally emerged from the HAG works at Morschwil; the delay has been due to electronic difficulties with the reversing relay for the AC Märklin version. The scale length body is of die-cast metal, and the Hag type 88 enclosed can motor is fitted, which runs almost as quietly as a coreless type. The motor is within the baggage area, allowing the fitting of a full interior to the passenger compartment. The cab interiors are also well-detailed, with a driver at one end. For the first time on a HAG model, the NEM coupler pocket is fitted.

Roof detailing, with the resistance banks and working pantograph, is excellent, and the windscreen wipers are separate parts, but there is one glaring problem: the windows are not flush-fitted. This is a very poor showing for a model which is going to cost the British modeller over £200, but perhaps some other firm will make a window set. The first release of the model carries the current SBB logo and lettering; a version in older livery will be released later.

News Items from EZ 1/91

BLS Be 4/4 duties

The BLS group's three Be 4/4 heavyweight railcars, once used on expresses to Le Locle, are now relegated to secondary services. One, with an AB trailer and BDt driving trailer, works all day between Spiez and Zweisimmen, except for one trip each morning to Interlaken Ost as train 3707/08 (Interlaken arr 08.35, dep. 09.25). A second Be 4/4 works as a locomotive on the Simmental line, working train 4607 (Mon-Sat) 07.05 Zweisimmen to Spiez, where it carries out shunting duties before working goods train 61462 at 09.10 (Mon-Fri) from Spiez to Zweisimmen and goods 61475 13.50 return. It also works the last train of the day, 4648 23.03 Spiez - Zweisimmen.

The third car works alone (with a BDt driving trailer from May 4th) on Lötschberg south ramp all-stations locals between Brig and Goppenstein. It spends each night at Spiez, whence it takes up its duty by working all-stations trains 4203 [?4703] 06.02 Spiez - Brig and 4748 21.30 Brig-Spiez which are almost trains booked to stop at Kandergrund and Blausee-Mitholz, which are served at other times by a regular bus service (partly worked by the BLS - table 300.23) between Frutigen and Kandersteg.

Lightweight Steel Station Buffet

While Spiez station buffet is rebuilt, two SBB lightweight steel-type restaurant cars have been obtained to provide a buffet service, used electrical power supplied by BLS baggage railcar De 4/5 796, which has been used since its withdrawal from traffic as a train pre-heating unit at Zweisimmen. To be made ready as a replacement on this duty, SBB Ae 3/6 II 10459, previously used as heating unit at Sulgen SG, was taken into Spiez BLS works on 18 November.

Brünig coaches on the BVZ

The Brig-Visp-Zermatt is to hire six coaches from the SBB for the next few winter seasons, the vehicles in question being of the centre-entrance kind similar to a type already used on the BLS. There are compatibility problems, of course: the BVZ works its heating at 300 volts compared to the SBB's 1500 volts, so SBB AB coach 471 has been fitted with a transformer in the first-class smoking compartment. Furthermore, the SBB uses the Riggenbach rack rail, not the Abt rack used by the BVZ, and regulations state that at least every other coach in any train must be fitted with a rack-wheel for braking, so some of the visitors must have their wheelsets replaced.

Worse still: the SBB uses air-brakes (BVZ - vacuum) and GF automatic couplers (BVZ - centre buffer and side-links). This has been overcome by fitting brand-new HGe 4/4 II locomotive no. 5, which was delivered on 26 November, with appropriate equipment to work with a complete train of the Brünig coaches.

A Birthday Treat

On 1 August 1991, the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation, all the country's cable cars have agreed to offer free travel to all for the day.

BEMO Locomotive News

From BEMO Post magazine, 1/1990

The vintage RhB Ge 2/4 is the next loco type to be produced by BEMO - manufacture is under way and delivery will definitely commence in September 1990.

RhB Ge 4/4 I: These locos represented a revolutionary new design when introduced in 1947, but have recently been suffering from the ravages of time and the weather, the cabs being particularly affected by rust. It was therefore decided to rebuild the class, including the fitting of larger, more ergonomic cabs. BEMO has already released models of three of these red-liveried rebuilds. 605 "Silvretta" is, exactly like its prototype, fitted with two different scissors-type pantographs: one with transverse and one with lengthways insulators. This occurs because pantographs are overhauled separately, and overhauled locomotives receive whichever are available. 608 "Madrisa" and 609 "Linard" took to the rails fitted with modern single-arm pantographs. [This does not agree with the photo of 608 in the article! -C.H.] The unrebuilt Ge 4/4 I models in green livery will remain in production.

RhB Ge 4/4 II: This if the RhB's largest class of locos, with 23 examples. The BEMO range allows the modeller also to run a number of the class on his layout, with different lettering. The latest releases are 625 "Küblis" and 633 "Zuoz", both with the latest design of large numbers, lettering and shields. River counters should note that the small lettering such as overhaul dates has also been changed to match the real locos.

RhB Ge 6/6 I: A model of no. 411 is now available: this differs from the other Crocodiles in having larger roof-mounted resistances. No. 412 has been issued in chocolate-brown with new-style lettering.

RhB Ge 6/6 II: These seven locos, built for the RhB between 1958 and 1965, still have the highest tractive effort on the RhB: 214 Kilonewtons. The class, originally painted green, has gradually been receiving the new red colour scheme, and the new BEMO model of 709 "Pontresina" follows this trend.

RhB Te 2/2: All three of the electric tractors no. 71-73, built in 1946, are still in service. They were originally painted green, replaced by red-brown between 1960 and 1964. Now, they are appearing in orange-red, and from autumn 1990 the BEMO range will include no. 72 in this new livery.

RhB Tm 2/2: A new model is of works train tractor no. 92, which was rebuilt from a shunting tractor, used mostly on overhead cable works. It is painted yellow, and fitted with roller-shutter doors to the load space.

BVZ Tm 2/2: In 1981 the Brig - Visp - Zermatt fitted open-platform diesel tractor 2922 (built 1959) with a hydraulic crane. BEMO has commissioned a fully-movable brass model of this crane from the Weinert company.

Stop press: BEMO Post no. 2 is now to hand; extracts will be in the next notebook.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009