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 - September 1991

Maid of All Work: RBe 4/4, Prototype and Model

Part 1:From Loki 7/8-91, by Franz Eberhard and René Stamm.

In 1957, the SBB authorities allocated 6.24 million Francs to the construction of a prototype series of six motorcoaches, Be 4/4 1401-1406. They were intended to replace the Ae 3/5 and Ae 3/6 class in local passenger service, and also to work fast services when required. The first example, as RBe 4/4 1401, was delivered in 1959, and by the following year the first series of six was complete. The first of the production series, 1407, emerged from the works in Autumn 1963, and the last, 1482, entered service in November 1966. In the first edition of the operating manual, the following note appeared: "The electric motorcoaches RBe 4/4 1407 etc. are suitable for passenger and freight service on both main and local lines", and this principle was faithfully followed in the early days. In 1964, they were used in pairs on special services for the EXPO 64 exhibition; later, promoted to working push-pull expresses, they ran more kilometres than almost any other SBB motive power. However, in the 1967 manual, the note quoted above was replaced by "suitable for light passenger and freight trains."

Today, most of the class are used on Zürich S-Bahn services, working in push-pull mode. The six prototypes, however, are stationed at Lucerne depot for duty on the Seetal line between Lucerne and Lenzburg via Beinwil. The branch line from Beinwil to Beromünster was worked by RBe 4/4 for a couple of years, but from the June 1991 timetable change, older BDe 4/4 cars have been used on this service. Also, 1415/6/8/36/51 are allocated to Biel for the local and express trains on the Bern - Biel - Neuchâtel - Le Locle axis.

Technical Details

Each car has two identical four-wheel bogies, with independent drive to each axle, and a load-bearing body structure. The motors are mounted between the axles, and drive through Brown Boveri quill shafts. The oil-cooled transformer, with low voltage tap-changer, and the rheostatic braking equipment, are mounted below the floor. The pantograph, control resistances, air-blast circuit breaker with earthing switch, and traction motor blowers are on the roof, and the remaining electrical and pneumatic equipment is located in two compartments in the centre of the body.

Braking equipment consists of rheostatic electrical brakes, the automatic air brake, a shunting brake, an electro-pneumatic band brake and a hand brake. The tap-changer is electronically connected to the driver's main controller, which has three power notches, plus one for braking and one for coasting. In case the electronic equipment fails, running is still possible with the aid of an assistant in the gangway operating the tap-changer by a hand-crank, acting on lamp signals from the driver. Controls are also provided in the cab for the train lighting and door-closing circuits. The mechanical parts were constructed by SIG Neuhausen and SWS Schlieren, the electrical parts by Brown Boveri and Oerlikon.

Rebuilding and Modifications

The most obvious changes which have been made concern the ventilation louvres added to the left-hand end of the body side and the various changes of livery. Some more subtle changes have been: regearing of the motors for 145 km/hr, new ventilation grilles for the equipment compartment, rear wall of cab raised to ceiling height, front end painted red. For S-Bahn service, full screw couplings have been fitted instead of just a hook, and a route number indicator fitted in the centre end window. The prototype series cars have received some additions for use on the Seetal roadside route. Most obvious are the yellow stripes added to the red front, and extra high-intensity headlamps have also appeared, alongside the original two lower lights. The Swiss railways use a similar system of recording locomotive maintenance to BR's 'classified repair' codes. Revision numbers range from R1 which is a simple depot check to R4 which is a complete overhaul with some rebuilding; the date of the last Revision is usually painted on the vehicle. R4 overhauls of the RBe 4/4 class have now begun, and are planned to continue for 7 to 10 years. A number of changes are being made during these overhauls. Rectangular headlights and rear view mirrors for the driver are fitted, as well as a roller-blind sunshade inside the cab door. Asbestos insulation is removed, and the car is completely rewired and fitted with the latest radio and train protection circuits. Thyristor control gear is being fitted, involving the sacrifice of four seats and the replacement of the adjacent window by a louvre. Sanding gear is being incorporated, and the interior is improved with fluorescent lighting and longitudinal luggage racks replacing the traditional crosswise type. The first RBe 4/4 to receive this R4 overhaul was 1431 in 1990. 1433, which left Zürich works on 22 February 1991, was the first to receive the dark blue and grey colour scheme to match the new NPZ cars. Both these emerged with round headlamps, but later examples have received the rectangular type. These overhauls increase the weight of the cars from 68 to 72 tonnes.

The Lima H0 Models

In 1969 Lima amazed the model railway world with their RBe 4/4, one of the first Lima efforts to be something like a scale model. The model was made of plastic, well moulded and detailed, although with some simplifications in line with its duties as a toy. One bogie was driven by the Lima ring-type motor, with traction types on the nickel-plated wheels. Working headlights lights were fitted, except for the cheap versions sold in department stores, but no interior fittings. An iron weight was incorporated to improve traction. The motorcoach was numbered as 1435; at first the lettering was white, changed to the correct yellow in 1970. An improved version of the model was issued in 1981, numbered as 1410 and featuring improved roof detail, some interior detail and a better motor. A year later, more improvements were included: running numbers on the ends, darkened wheels, dark grey bogies and a darker silver roof. This version remained on sale until 1989 (Catalogue no. 8031L.) On a visit to the Lima factory in 1976 the author [R. Stamm] saw some train sets which had been produced for the South African market, consisting of Dutch passenger coaches and the SBB RBe 4/4, painted in SAR colours of brown and grey with zebra-striped ends. This set was never sold in Switzerland, and the railcar has become something of a collector's item.

At the 1990 Nuremberg fair, Lima announced a new generation of the RBe 4/4 model for delivery in 1991. This turns out to be not just a re-working of the the previous moulds; it is a completely new model in all respects, and very close to scale. Furthermore, different versions have been made representing prototype and production series. These varieties incorporate correct changes in roof and ventilator detail. The Sommerfeldt scale pantographs are wired for pickup, with a screw-head switch well-hidden on the roof. The windows are a moulding to give a correct almost-flush appearance. Windscreen-wipers, steps and handrails are included for fixing by the purchaser. The underframe is a metal casting, giving good adhesive weight. Alternative dummy bogie frames are provided, so that collectors who do not want to run the model with a train can have a complete pilot and set of brake hoses; a fitting for the NEM standard coupler is also supplied, and a sheet of instructions for fitting these various parts.

The motor is a cylindrical type, driving all four axles by means of cardan shafts. Some interior detail has had to be sacrificed in order to fit this powerful motor, but the ingenious partly-drawn sun-blinds lead the eye away from this deficiency to some extent, and all layout operators will welcome the fact that eight coaches can be hauled up a 40 per mille (1 in 25) gradient. The painting and lettering are very well done, completing what is without doubt a very successful model. Three of the four current versions are also available for the Märklin AC system, complete with a modified drive to match the speed of other Märklin stock; unlike the normal version, traction tyres are fitted.

The 2-rail versions available are: Prototype series 1401 with original lettering (cat. 208201), production series 1447 with new logo and red front (208202), production 1451 in original livery (208203) and prototype 1403 with new logo and red front (208200). A version in NPZ livery is promised for later in 1991.

Other models

Metropolitan planned a limited-edition HO RBe 4/4, and showed a prototype at exhibitions. On close inspection, however, this turned out to be a detailed Lima body on a new underframe. The model has never been released. In N gauge, Lima released a model soon after the first appearance of their H0 version, which was very similar to its big brother, with identical lettering (cat. 220204) but a cast metal underframe. This model ceased production in 1988, but Lima have promised a new N version for 1992 in their Minitrain series.

Postscript by C.H.

As part of my new H0 project, I recently obtained the new Lima 208200 RBe 4/4 which certainly lives up to all the good reviews, although the wheel flanges seem to be just touching the rail fixings of my Peco fine-scale track. As all wheels are driven, it might be possible to turn them down a little with a file: I'll let you know when I have tried it! The model as it comes represents 1403 with the new logo as allocated to Biel depot with an R2 date of 1986, before the six prototype cars were transferred to Lucerne for Seetal duty (January 1989 - see March 1991 Notebook). It seems possible that Lima will later produce a version with the yellow end stripes, but for now I'll have to buy some fluorescent paint. Incidentally, these Lucerne examples are also seen on Gotthard locals at times. Lima are also releasing an improved version of their matching driving trailer; this is a BDt type with passenger compartment rather than the DZt parcels and mail version normally used on the Seetalbahn. I purchased my RBe 4/4 by mail order from Winco at the very reasonable price of £55; note that it is advertised in Switzerland at 225 SFr which is over £90. It was delivered within a few days, very well packed although even so the weight of the model had caused a fracture of its expanded-polystyrene box.

Some Letters to the Loki Editor

So it's not an April fool joke; the new name for your journal really is LOKI! How childish can you get? It might be a good name for a little boy's paper, but for a journal intended for railway staff and adult enthusiasts it's just silly. At best, it sounds like a journal which is just about locomotives . . .

Louis Wunderle, Zürich

. . . After my initial anger, I now admit that the new magazine is quite good. However, I reckon the name will cause some confusion, such as (in dialect) "Häsch scho die noi Loki?" "D' Re 4/4 460?" "nei, D'Ziitschrift". In other words [I think! - CH], "Have you seen the new Loco?" "The Re 4/4 460, you mean?" "No, the magazine!"...

Rossano Stefanelli, Gams

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009