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 - July 1991

Second Childhood: More Swiss Coaches in Italy

From Loki 5/91, by Dr. Hansjürg Rohrer.

In EZ 2-89, we reported the sale of SBB light steel coaches to private railways in northern Italy. Since then, more vehicles have been sold to some of these interesting lines.

Ferrovie Reggiane

The Azienda Consorziale Transporti (ACT) operates, as well as an extensive bus network in the province of Reggio Emilia (between Milan and Bologna), three railways radiating from the provincial capital of to Sassuolo, Guastalla and Ciano d'Enza. These lines, in the River Po plain and the foothills of the Apennines, are known as the Ferrovie Reggiane. The standard gauge network has a route length of 76 km, and is diesel worked. Recently, passenger traffic has been handled by eight Fiat motorcoaches and three driving trailers built 1959-79, six MAK railcars bought in 1977 from the Oberhannoverische Eisenbahnen (OHE) in Germany, and a selection of hired stock including ex-FS locomotives and ex-SBB light steel coaches from the Ferrovie Padane (FP) and Ferrovie Suzzara-Ferrara (FSF) - see also EZ 3-88. Freight is worked by two four-wheel and six bogie diesels bought from Germany, including DB 279 001/2 (ex S<148>hrebahn V4/5), Hersfelder Kreisbahn V 31, and DB 216 001/006. Apart from the livery, an observer could well believe he is in 1960s Germany.

In 1988, seven light steel coaches, of the two-entrance type, were bought from the SBB and six of them rebuilt by the Gallinari and Reggiane companies in Reggio Emilia. The seventh was kept as a source of spare parts. The rebuild included a complete overhaul, and the installation of automatic doors, control wiring and Webasto heaters. Asbestos insulation was found in the vehicles, causing such a delay in the rebuilding programme that they did not enter service until late 1990, at the same time as two new diesel locomotives built by the Sicilian firm IMPA. To enable push-pull working, two cars are equipped with driving cabs. The appearance of these cabs is not in fact, as some have reported, 'typically Italian', although clearly based on an FS experimental design. The Swiss coaches are used for the frequent service on the Sassuolo line.

Brescia - Edolo

The Ferrovia Brescia Nord, currently under the control of the Ferrovia Nord Milano (FNM) runs from Brescia (on the Milan - Venice main line) through the hilly country of the Franciacorta wine region (of the famous Spumante wine) to Iseo. It then runs north along the shores of Lake Iseo into the Camonica valley, through an industrialised area and then amongst the mountains. The terminus at Edolo (700 metres above the sea) is only 15 km as the chough flies from the Swiss border near Tirano, and can be seen in the corner of Swiss rail maps. A freight-only connection from Bornato-Calino (between Brescia and Iseo) completes a triangular junction with the main line at Rovato. The line is standard gauge, diesel-operated and has a route length of 109 km. At present, all stock carries the initials of the previous owners, the SNFT (Societa Nazionale Ferrovie e Tranvie). The fast trains on this line are now the only ones in Italy to carry the designation Rapido, as the State system now uses the standard IC and EC names.

Until the end of the 1980s, passenger services were worked by four railcars built by Breda in 1960, six Fiat cars of the ALn 668 type built in 1979 and 1982, two Fiat ALn 663 types of 1987 and 14 trailers similar to the Breda railcars. For freight, and some passenger workings, there are 10 three-axle diesels built by Breda between 1960 and 1980 (with a maximum speed of 80 km/hr!), supplemented by D 343 locomotives hired from the FS. Recently, some of the Breda passenger stock has been withdrawn, and replaced by ex-SBB centre-entrance light steel cars bought in 1988-90, ex-FS diesel locomotive D 343.1034 and ex-DB locomotive 220 051. Additionally, three new diesel shunters have been obtained.

All seven Swiss coaches came from the number series 50 85 20-39 and 50 85 20-33, the first series built with 3000 Volt heating. Six were rebuilt by the Veronesi works, the last to be delivered being Bz 30.26 in Spring 1991; the seventh has been used as a source of spares and for experimenting with colour schemes. The rebuilding includes a full overhaul, repainting, fitting of Webasto oil heaters and the railway's standard end-door gates. The coaches are used in the line's stopping services, hauled by the six-wheel diesels.

Compiler's Postscript

Who could resist an alpine ride in a one- or two-coach train hauled by what looks like a diesel shunter? - not to mention the modelling possibilities of the Edolo line. Dr. Rohrer's photographs show very impressive scenery, including a run along a ledge cut in the cliffs along the side of Lake Iseo. There is a road over the Aprico Pass from Tirano to Edolo, which probably has a bus service.

Happy Birthday TEE

from Loki 5/91, by Doris Zwald Bipp

In 1977 the SBB sold its diesel-powered TEE train to Canada, but its 30-year old electric brothers are still at work in Switzerland. The author, one of their greatest admirers, pays them a personal birthday tribute.

The first four of you RAe (TEE II) units were built in 1961, as five-car sets. Your unique technical feature is that you can operate on any of four different overhead electrical power supply systems as the push of a button, removing the need for a change of locomotive at national borders, with consequent saving of valuable time. In 1967, another train, no. 1055, joined your family, and all of you gained an extra coach to carry even more well-off passengers to the sunny south. You carried sonorous names as Gottardo, Ticino, and Cisalpin, and later also Edelweiss and Iris. How many thousand times did you run through the Gotthard Tunnel? How often have you run past the vineyards of Lake Geneva? A ride with you to the Ticino has made the hearts of many a man and and boy beat faster, as it was possible to ride up front with your master and see the driver's view of the Gotthard Pass!

Black Days

Unfortunately you, 1053, were smashed up near Dijon on 5 October 1962, and several passengers were killed. A completely new driving coach had to be built, and the other cars nursed back to health by SBB and SIG. And you, 1052, also had an unpleasant encounter: on 26 June 1964 you collided with a lorry near Frasne, and the driver and an on-board technician were killed, but you were soon put back in order. Up to now, these have been your only major accidents, although you have had to suffer a number of bomb scares. You have become a little overheated at times: in June 1984, you, 1054 had to be attended by the Neuchatel fire service, and in September 1986 their colleagues in Lugano had to put you out, didn't they, 1053? Whey do you get yourselves so excited?

Sticky Honours

It is nice to be famous, and in March 1962 you featured in full colour on a postage stamp. In May 1979 you, 1054, had the honour of carrying the Queen of England, who like many thousands of other travellers took advantage of your SSG catering service - the best restaurant between Zürich and Milan. You always carry an on-board technician, and many is the time he has had to sweat to keep you running!

Train as Plane

After twenty years of TEE service, you were transferred in June 1981 to working as Swissair flights SR 991/990 from Basel to Zürich and return. The drivers on these runs, which continued until March 1983, did not receive airline pilots' salaries, however . . .

From January 1984, you began working between Bern and Frasne, carrying your passengers to a connection with the world's fastest train, the TGV. Do you remember the days when you ran all the way to Paris yourselves?

Ready for the Scrap Heap?

When TGVs began running through to Bern, you were taken out of service. You, 1055, the youngest of all, were left to rust in Limmattal marshalling yard . . . then, at the last moment your family remembered you and you were rescued. You became the first trains to wear the new EuroCity colour scheme; some of your coaches were altered to second class, and your kitchen rebuilt. A chef is no longer needed, as the meals are pepared in advance; long-time passengers will miss the Royal service. From the splendid Zürich - Brussels Edelweiss, you have become a grey wallflower. You now run between Zürich and Milan, and have gained the nickname "Mousey" - wouldn't it be nice if you could run along Lake Geneva as well?

30 Years Young

You have four pantographs, but now only run in two countries, Switzerland and Italy. No, you won't be sold to Canada like your predecessor; diesel oil would not suit you. Long may you run on your special EC services, still proudly carrying the TEE symbol on your ends. Happy 30th birthday, 1051 - 1055!

News Items from Loki 5/91 and SBB Magazin 3/91

SBB Stocklist

In the year 1990, the SBB placed in service 19 Kolibri motorcoach/driving trailer sets, 17 Re 4/4 450 locomotives for the Zürich S-Bahn, 8 Brünig line HGe 4/4 II locomotives, 112 coaches (double-deckers, EW IV seconds and international vehicles) and 343 wagons (including 110 sliding-wall vans and 200 bogie opens.) Also obtained were 10 diesel cranes, type XTm, and four battery tractors for works use.

Withdrawn in 1990 were only 5 locomotives (2 Ae 4/7, 1 Re 6/6, 1 Ae 3/6 I, 1 Bm 4/4 II), 2 motorcoaches (1 Be 4/4, 1 RBe 4/4) and two tractors. Most of these were accident victims or otherwise unserviceable. Also removed from service were 3 driving trailers, 69 other coaches, 6 luggage vans, 23 engineers' vehicles and 71 wagons.

SBB Passenger Stock News

The new Panorama coaches, (SRm 61 85 89-90 200 to 211) to be delivered from Autumn 1991, will be used from Spring 1992 in Eurocity trains on the Chur - Amsterdam, Interlaken - Amsterdam, Zürich - Venice, Geneva - Milan and Zürich - Münich routes. A second Cheese Coach (WR 88-33 701) has been rebuilt from self-service restaurant car 88-33 615, and is in daily service between Basel, Bern and Brig. Restaurant car 88-33 504 has been rebuilt into a Conference Coach for use in freight sales promotions, full number X 60 85 99-33 923-1.

Bern Lötschberg Simplon

8 locomotives of type Re 4/4 465 have been ordered for delivery in late 1994. They will be based on the SBB 460 type, but with independent feeds to the motors to improve adhesion. Also on order are 4 new driving trailers for car-carrier trains, with large compartment for mopeds, and 28 car-carrier wagons. The latest delivery of EW IV standard coaches are fitted with the same seats as the French TGV Atlantique sets.

TEE Unit Difficulties

A transformer explosion in the power car of thirty-year old four-current ex-Trans-Europe unit 1053 has put it out of action at a time when sister unit 1052 is already under overhaul in Zürich works. This leaves three sets to work the three diagrams, and all maintenance work is having to be done at night.

Orell Füssli in Trouble

Orell Füssli, one of Switzerland's longest established graphic printing businesses, responsible for banknotes as well as books, is in financial difficulties, blamed on stagnation and falling profits. It is likely that ensuing cutbacks will bring the end of their railway book business in 1992.

Luzern - Romanshorn

The Südostbahn and the Bodensee-Toggenburg have now taken delivery of their EW IV standard coaches - 4 SOB and 6 BT. From 1991 there will be four such rakes in service on Luzern - Romanshorn expresses, including SBB vehicles. For resfreshment service, the BT has rebuilt four BD-type coaches (511-2/5-6) as Bistro cars, with 28 seats, a bar and machines selling drinks and snacks. One of these will be sold to the SOB.


A society has been formed to try to restore service on this funicular in Luzern, which is currently closed

The other Train from Venice

A Short Story by Robert Curtat, from SBB Magazin, 3/91

Belgian novelist Georges Simenon lived for many years in Canton Vaud, in Noland, Epalinges and Lausanne. He died in Lausanne in 1990. Railways feature in many of his novels, from a marshalling yard (Maigret and the Man from the Bank) to the Gare du Nord (Christmas with Maigret), from a train from Paris (Cross-eyed Mary) to a railway in Mexico (Maigret and the Coroner).

Fawer was angry with the whole world; with this station, this train that has not departed, that Italian railwayman indifferently hammering the wheels. On the other side, he could see Venice with its palaces lining the Grand Canal. He was no lover of travel; nevertheless he had followed her here again, as always. They had little in common, this couple; they were twenty years apart in age and of totally different religions, yet they understood each other. She was forty-eight and an Adventist, he was a sixty-six-year old Catholic.

There had been a bomb scare somewhere on the Simplon. The train was already thirty minutes late, which it had no chance of regaining. In the middle of a cold, dry winter afternoon, they had arrived in Venice. 'You see, it never rains', she had said with her flame-red lips. For three days, those lips had been bubbling forth the Italian language like a fountain. She enjoyed speaking Italian. He only knew three phrases, and was learning with neither enjoyment or patience. For the three days they had been roaming through Venice, he had been struggling with Saldi, that confusing word meaning both `clearance sale' and `money'.

One morning, an old man walking his dog across the Ponte dell'Accademia had spoken to him in French. 'Italian is the most useless language. In my day, we learnt French, but today ...' He did not finish his sentence. He had said it all, with elegent bitterness. The man had melted in to the crowds heading for the Campo San Stefano, before Fawer had chance to make his acquaintance.

He had enjoyed some things: The little shop in the Borgo San Vio, where the shopkeeper in the blue apron roasted coffee and served it over a narrow counter; the greengrocer on the San Barnaba canal with his gondola loaded with fruit and vegetables; the fishmarket in the Campo San Margherita; the little shops on the Rialto bridge and from San Giacometto to the Market Square. He loved the traditional Venice, but she led him through the Rue de la Mercerie, along the wide Via de XXII Marzo, or round the Teatro della Fenice, the paradise of 'Negozio', of shoes, bags, jewellery, clothes, fabrics, mirrors, glass gondolas, strange masks, hats, furs, wallpaper - tempting you off the pavement and into the shops with imaginary Saldi.

As departure day had approached, the presents had been hidden among the dirty linen, in case of a customs inspection. The spark which had finally caused the explosion had been the purchase, on a whim, of a useless and ugly mask for 100,000 Lire. He had abandoned her near San Moise. He remembered the scene: the alarmed gesticulating wife, the speedy return along the Borgo San Vio to the American Hotel, the motor-boat ride to the station. An hour early for the return train, he wandered around the station, and discovered in the bookstall a French book: The Train from Venice, by Georges Simenon.

Eventually, the train started, and as the Santa Lucia station signs receded, he took the book from his waistcoat pocket and began to read.

He stood at the lowered window of a compartment which had not been too clean when that coach had begun its journey at Trieste or somewhere further east, and neither its smell nor appearance had improved during the course of the trip. A man sitting in the compartment scrutinized him from head to toe. Had he already been in the coach when it was added to this train in Venice?

Fawer glanced around his compartment. In the opposite corner sat a large, elegant man in a three-piece suit, ostentatiously carrying a portable telephone. He went back to his reading.

The stationmaster emerged from his office, a whistle between his lips and in his hand a red flag rolled like an umbrella ... the train did not leave ... eventually ... the stationmaster blew his whistle, waited a few seconds and waved his flag. The train started, and the platform with its crowd of people was left behind.

Fawer contemplated the differences between the 1965 journey described by Simenon, and his journey of today. Compartment windows could no longer be lowered, the station master no longer waved a red flag, and of course, the passengers were different.

The train stopped at Padua. The platform was teeming with people, and hundreds of them stormed the train. Families, children, mothers with babies in arms, and even a fat farmer's wife carrying hens in a cage. They flooded into the train, took up all the seats and stood in all the corridors ... Every twenty minutes, another stop: Lonizo, San Bonifacio, Verona ... at every station more crowds piled aboard, filling every space in the second class.

The coach had come from Belgrade, via Trieste. Under the seat lay a newspaper in some Slavic language. And yet, the traveller casually asked - 'Have you travelled from Belgrade' and 'Are you from Yugoslavia?' It seemed he was an incredible linguist: he spoke French as fluently as English and German, and could speak to the railway staff in perfect Italian.

Fawer glanced at the man with the telephone. He was talking into it in very fast Italian; earlier he had spoken in English. Perhaps he was an international terrorist taking with his accomplices along the line; fear of terrorism was common in the winter of 1991. Back to Simenon:

At Milan, the coach was taken out of the station by a shunting engine, and left in a siding under the beating sun. My companion spoke.

'We will soon be returned to the station'.

'Do you ride this train often?'.

'I know it well. Our fellow passengers will join us in Milan'. He pointed at the seat reservation labels. 'Two are going to Geneva, one to Lausanne, and one is getting off at Sion'.

Fawer decided that Simenon's multilingual hero matched the man on the telephone. The other traveller in the story, with the strange surname of Calmar, must therefore be Fawer himself. He returned to the story.

'I presume you are catching the 20.37 train from Lausanne to Paris?'
'Exactly, as always'. This man was obviously omniscient, some sort of God.

'We arrive in Lausanne at 17.05. I wonder if you would do me a favour. Only if you have no other plans, of course'.

'Not at all. I was wondering what to do with myself for a couple of hours'.

'Do you know the town?'


'Don't you want to see the sights?'

'Not in this heat'.

'On platform 1, near the parcels office, there are some left-luggage lockers.' He took a key from his pocket. 'This is the key for 155. Inside there is a small, light suitcase. I don't want to put you to any trouble ...'

'Please go on'.

'The case must be withdrawn. There will be one Franc fifty extra to pay. Here is the money'.

Calmar waved his hand dismissively.

'Just a moment! I know I could do that myself, but the train does not stop for long. Then, the case must be delivered to this address.' He scribbled in a red notebook, tore out the page and gave it to Calmar with the key. 'It is five minutes from the station by taxi. Here is the money for the fare.'

With a jolt, the coach was coupled to a train, and shunted to a new platform where the passengers were waiting.

'I thank you in advance.'

Fawer closed his book for a moment. Just like in the story, the other seats in the compartment had been reserved. Not wishing to get to know any of these new faces, he hid in his corner seat and read his book. The train had left Milan, and was running alongside Lake Maggiore near Arona. The big man was still speaking into his telephone, now in German.

At the small stations along Lake Maggiore, the train became crowded again, and people were again standing in the corridor. He heard indistinct shouting on the platform: 'Arona, Arona' ... At Domodossola the corridor finally emptied, and the refreshment trolley came through the train. 'Passports, please.' For him, and the Englishman and his wife alongside, a fleeting glance at the passport was enough, but when he came to the mystery man, the border policeman studied his papers carefully ... afterwards, he treated this traveller with great respect, and gave him a quick salute with hand to cap.

Strange: Fawer had noticed that the same happened to the man with the telephone. Perhaps he was a security agent of some kind? Simenon offered him an answer to this question, which had been bothering him all through the journey. He devoured the rest of A train from Venice, not even noticing an out-of-course stop at Iselle. At Brig, all the other occupants of the compartment departed for the restaurant car, but it was not until near Sion that Fawer noticed a brown envelope on the seat which had been occupied by the man with the telephone. He turned it over and saw his own name. How had the man known his name? Where had he disappeared to?

He turned over the envelope three times, then opened it, discovering inside a locker key, numbered 155.

Fawer decided to avoid the experiences of Calmar, his 'alter ego'. As soon as the train arrived in Lausanne, he went straight to the luggage lockers, took out the key and opened number 155. Inside was a holdall, and a letter addressed to Mlle Staub, Rue du Bugnon 24. Exactly the same address as in the book. In the story, the case was full of Dollars, Pounds and Guilders, but it brought Calmar nothing but bad luck.

He closed the locker, leaving the bag inside. Outside the station, he climbed in to a taxi and asked for Pully harbour. He walked along the shore for a hundred yards or so, and when nobody was looking, he threw the key as far as he could into the green water.

For three long minutes he stood motionless, wondering if there was any way that the waves could bring they key back to the shore. Then he climbed back into the taxi. 'Where to' asked the driver, indifferently. He wanted to say: to Venice. But he changed his mind.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009