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 - May 1991

The Rhaetian Railway Ge 2/4

From Bemo Post, issue 2/91

In recent years, the Rhaetian Railway has changed its image, including the adoption of smart modern colour schemes. Nevertheless, the company has retained in service a number of old-timer locomotives, beautifully restored by its staff, for use on special trains and at celebration events. Indeed, as traffic on the RhB constantly increases, on busy days there is often a shortage of motive power and the old Ge 2/4, Ge 4/6 and Ge 6/6 I Crocodiles can be useful in ordinary service.

The RhB main line was steam worked when first opened, but in 1910 it was decided that the planned new Upper Engadine line from Bever to Scuol would be electrically worked from the beginning, and the new 11 kv, 16.66 Hz AC system was adopted. At the opening of this line on July 1st 1913, eleven locomotives of two sizes were available for traffic: Ge 2/4 201-207, and Ge 4/6 301, 351, 352 and 391. The two classes were of similar body design, except that the smaller Ge 2/4 with its length over buffers of 8700 mm and service weight of 37 tonnes was naturally shorter and lighter than its larger Ge 4/6 sisters, which were around 11000 mm long, and weighed 50-55 tonnes. The Ge 2/4 class were built by Brown Boveri (electrical parts) and Schweizerische Lokomotiv-Fabrik, Winterthur (mechanical parts). The two centre axles were coupled and driven by a jackshaft, which was originally driven from the motor by connecting rods; later, when five of the locos were rebuilt, a gear drive to the jackshaft was fitted. Maximum speed was 45 km/hr, and the power rating of around 285 HP, although the state of the art at the time, was rather less than the power of he most powerful steam locomotives.

The Ge 2/4 and Ge 4/6 coped satisfactorily with the 25 per mille maximum gradients of the Upper Engadine, which are quite moderate by RhB standards, although double heading was common on heavier trains. When the RhB main lines were electrified, between 1919 and 1922, the little Ge 2/4s found themselves in service all over the system, although their use was restricted by their relatively low power. On the Albula main line in particular, the Ge 6/6 I Crocodiles delivered between 1921 and 1929 were much more at home. The Ge 2/4 class were used on lighter trains and as shunters, and over the years were more or less extensively rebuilt. The newest example No. 207, however, remained in almost original condition until it was taken out of service in 1974. After a period of storage in Landquart works, in 1982 it was restored and moved to the new motive power hall at the Lucerne Transport Museum. No. 205 also remained in almost original condition, except that in 1929 it was fitted with doors in the ends. This locomotive was also withdrawn in 1974, and later refursbished at Landquart and donated to Winterthur Technical College as a study object.

As already mentioned, the Ge 2/4 class were not designed as shunters, but neither were they capable of working heavy main line trains. During World War II, shortage of coal and raw materials made it imperative to get the best from the existing locomotive stock, and it was decided to embark on a rebuilding programme. Three Ge 2/4 were converted to shunters, and another two increased in power to make them suitable for main line use. The shunters, rebuilt in 1943, became 213 (ex 201), 211 (ex 202) and 212 (ex 206). To give the driver a good view in all directions, new bodies were built with a centre cab. New traction motors, rated at 310 HP, were fitted, driving the jackshaft by gearing. Maximum speed was fixed at 55 km/hr.

One of these shunters was specially equipped for shunting at Chur, where a connection exists across the SBB standard-gauge tracks to the Arosa line, which had been absorbed into the RhB system in 1941. This line has been electrified at 2200 V DC since its opening in 1914, as opposed to the high-voltage AC of the RhB main network. No. 211 was thus fitted with batteries for use when off the AC catenary, becoming a Gea 2/4. By 1967, the batteries needed replacement, and it was decided to fit a diesel engine and generator instead, altering its classification to Gem 2/4. At the same time, the scissors pantograph was replaced by a single-arm type. After 50 years work at Chur station, the need for this special loco will be removed on completion of the current project to convert the Arosa line to AC and build new underground platforms at Chur. 212 and 213 are regular shunters at Landquart and Ilanz.

The third group of the Ge 2/4 family composes numbers 221 and 222 (prototype of the BEMO model), rebuilt in 1945 from 203 and 204 for main line duties. New motors, with gear drive, doubled the power rating to 610 HP at a maximum speed of 65 km/hr. The original body was retained, but the locos are easily recognisable from the original versions by having only one pantograph, and a different arrangement of resistances on the roof. After the war, the Ge 4/4 I locomotives were built, and 221 and 221 were often used to pilot these machines on heavy Albula expresses, such a pair having a total of 2200 HP. When the Ge 4/4 II class locomotives came into service, these Ge 2/4 were retired to second-line duties, such as the winter tobogganists' specials between Berg<129>n and Preda. Otherwise, when not in use on specials, they are kept as reserve locomotives as Landquart and Samedan. Hopefully, one of these locos will be retained permanently as a special attraction, in the same way as the Crocodiles.

A note on liveries: allegedly, the Ge 2/4 class was delivered in green livery, being painted in the well-known RhB brown soon afterwards, but of course colour photography had not been invented in 1913. 221 and 222 have retained the brown livery, but the shunting rebuilds were painted red-brown, now replaced by "transport orange".

The arrival of the BEMO model Ge 2/4 fulfils a heavy demand from RhB fans. Albula line modellers can use it on shunting, trip freight, pilot or banking duties. With flat wagons BEMO (2080 103) the operation of Samedan car-loading ramp can be represented. Engineers' trains are another possibility; the BEMO range includes various suitable wagons. The double-heading with Ge 4/4 I locos 601-610, common in the 1950s and 1960s, can also be well represented with BEMO models. The BEMO Jubilee set, which includes Ge 4/4 601 in original condition with side windows and end doors, and coaches in 1950s livery is ideal for this purpose. [how do you couple two locos together, when their couplers do not have loops? - CH.]

Closed Swiss Lines: The Sernftalbahn

From Schalspurparadies Schweiz, Band 2

The Sernftal is a side valley of the of the Linth, in Canton Glarus. In the middle of the nineteenth century, industry (textiles and slate quarrying) were developing in the valley, and better transport facilities were needed. The Ziegelbr<129>cke - Glarus railway was extended to Linthal in 1879, and proposals were soon being made for a branch from Schwanden to serve the Sernftal. The first suggestions were made in 1884, but no concrete action was taken until 1890, when a plan was published for an electric roadside line from Schwanden running via Matt and Engi to Elm. A concession was granted in 1892, but long arguments ensued about the use of the river for a power station, and construction did not begin until 1904. The metre gauge line as finally completed in 1905 had a total length of 13.888 km, a stiff maximum gradient of 68 per mille, and was electrified at 750 V DC.

However, the traffic of the new line did not live up to the promoters' expectations. Passenger numbers were highly dependent on the development of tourism, which due to bad weather, the first World War, and the financial crisis of the 1930s, never really prospered in Glarus canton. Freight loadings only occasionally reached the 12000 tonnes per year which had been foreseen. Elm (3205 feet above sea level), the terminus, is a quiet little resort probably best-known for Elmer Citro, a drink made from the local mineral water.

The initial rolling stock consisted of three two-axle motorcoaches (BCFe 2/2 1-3) with trailers for passenger service, one freight motor (Fe 2/2 21) and a series of wagons. A fourth passenger car, no. 4, was added in 1928. Although as early as the 1930s, replacement by buses or trolleybuses was being considered, it was decided in 1949 to modernise the line. Part of the line was relaid, and three new bogie motorcoaches (CFe 2/2 5-7) purchased. In the 1960s, increasing car and lorry traffic made it necessary to rebuild and widen the Sernftal road, and if the railway, which ran alongside, was to continue it would have had to be totally rebuilt. No funding from the State was forthcoming, so there was no alternative but to close the line and replace it by a bus service. The line was closed completely on 31 May 1969.

SeTB motive power wanderings.

The line's motive power has a longer story, however, which your compiler has pieced together from various sources and now presents for your approval, or perhaps as a cure for your insomnia. Of the 1905 passenger cars, 1 and 3 were scrapped in 1963/69, but no. 2 was rebuilt by the staff at the SeTB Engi depot during their spare moments between 1951 and 1955 to freight motor Fe 2/2 22, using electrical equipment from a VBZ (Zürich) tramcar, no. 143, which the SeTB had obtained. This car had in fact been bought second-hand by the VBZ in 1918 from the Chiasso - Capolago line in the Ticino, on which it had been no. 4. In 1962 no. 22 was transferred to engineers' use as Xe 2/2, and was sold when the line closed in 1969 to the Oberaargau - Jura Bahn. The OJB renumbered it Xe 2/2 93 (later 90, then 94) and used it for snowplough duties until it was scrapped in 1979.

The original freight motor, no. 22, was scrapped in 1959, but the unique 1928 four-wheel motorcoach, no. 4, is preserved by the Blonay-Chamby museum line. The 1949 bogie cars, 5-7, were sold in 1969 to the Aigle - Ollon - Monthey - Champery line in Valais, where they became Be 4/4 111-113. They were used on the adhesion-only lower section between Aigle and Monthey, which like the SeTB is very much a roadside line. In 1985, however, the AOMC obtained four 1966-built cars from the Birsigtalbahn (BLT) at Basel which was renewing with tramway-type stock. The ex-SeTB cars then passed to the Stern & Hafferl organisation, which is a sort of Austrian Colonel Stephens set-up. They were allocated to the Gmunden - Vorchdorf (ET 23 108, ex AOMC 111) and Vöcklamarkt - Attersee (ET 26 109/108, ex AOMC 112-3) lines. ET 26 108 was destroyed in a fire at Attersee depot in 1987, but the other two remain in service alongside some slightly newer ex-Basel motorcoaches. These little lines in Upper Austria are well worth a visit, as they serve picturesque areas and use some nice old stock.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009