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 - November 1991

Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen - Mürren

(Assembled from various sources)

This unusual little system, which for many years was the only transport to the resort of Mürren, consists of two parts: a funicular 1.4 km in length from Lauterbrunnen (opposite the BOB station) to a point known as Grütschalp, and a 4.2 km metre-gauge adhesion line from Grütschalp to Mürren. Both sections opened in 1891. The funicular, with a maximum gradient of 60.6%, was orginally worked on the water-ballast principle, but was converted to electric power in 1902 when larger cars were obtained to increase capacity. The railway was electrified from the beginning at 525 V DC, which it retains today. It was, in fact, after the Vevey - Chillon tramway and the Sissach - Gelterkinden line, the third railway electrification in Switzerland.

Initial motive power was three small four-wheeled locomotives, Ge 2/2 1-3; adhesion problems on the 50 per mille maximum gradient led to their conversion in 1902 to the "Rowan" system, in which the locomotive bears some of the weight of the attached coach. At first, operation was summer only, but in 1903 the first winter sports fans came to Mürren, and the Tourist Association asked the railway to provide a winter service. The company was worried about the high costs of snowploughing and avalanche protection, however, and nothing happened until 1910 when the authorities agreed to underwrite any losses. Trains ran during the summer and winter sports high season from 1910 to 1924, when all-year operation commenced.

The reign of the Rowan units ended in 1913, when two CFe 2/4 railcars were obtained from SIG/MFO and numbered 11 and 12. Locomotive no. 1 was kept as reserve power, but was hit by an avalanche in 1923 and damaged beyond repair. A G 2/2 [0-4-0] steam loco, no. 11 Eiger was borrowed from the BOB as a substitute, serving until 1925 when it returned to the BOB, working as a shunter until 1946. A third railcar, BDe 4/4 13, arrived in 1925 and worked until it was scrapped in 1965. The current generation of railcars, Be 4/4 21-23, arrived in 1967; they are 270 HP, 25 tonne cars, with 48 seats each and a maximum speed of only 30 km/h. Old no. 12 was scrapped in 1967 but BDe 2/4 11 survived, rather miraculously. This year, it has been overhauled, restored to old red and cream livery and given its old-style classification of CFe 2/4 as a working museum piece.

Because of the isolation of the line, all overhauls and repairs are done at the Grutschalp depot. The covered station, rebuilt in 1964, at Mürren, also acts as a depot; normally two cars spend the night there. A ride over the line gives pheonomenal views over the Wengernalp to the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Mürren station is at 1639 metres above sea level. Trains run every 15 minutes during the day, and less frequently in the evenings (Table 313). The passing loop at Winteregg is used as a passenger station for skiers only.

Over the Border: The Centovalli (Part 1)

from Loki 10/91, by Bernhard Studer

As the shortest route between the French and Italian speaking parts of the country, the "Centovallina" and the "Vigezzina" - two boldly laid-out metre gauge railways - have a special siginificance for the people of western Switzerland and the Ticino. The German Swiss know the line as part of a spectacular excursion route via Lötschberg - Simplon - Centovalli - Gotthard.

History of the FART and SSIF

Thanks to its lakeside location, Locarno has been an important centre for trade and transport since Roman times. When the railways came, both the Gotthard line and the less important Luino route both avoided the town, leaving it to be served by a branch line. Locarno's days as a traffic centre were over, but fortunately for the town it became instead an important tourist centre, with its beatiful surroundings and mild climate. By the beginning of this century, many hotels had been built, and Locarno was featured in all the best guide books. The sheer amount of horse-drawn traffic began to cause chaos.

With great energy, Francesco Balli, Mayor of Locarno, set out to establish a public transport system to serve the developing neighbourhood. In 1898 he applied to the Swiss Government for concessions to build three metre-gauge lines: (1) a line up the Maggia valley from Locarno via Ponte Brolla to Biagnasco (2) the Centovalli line, from Ponte Brolla to the Italian border, and (3) a line along the shore of Lake Maggiore to Valmara, in Italy. Balli arranged for Italian companies to connect the Centovalli line with Domodossola, and the lakeside line to the Italian town of Intra; the concessions were issued on condition that these extensions were approved by the Italian government.

The Maggiatalbahn

The only one of Balli's lines to be wholly within Switzerland, the Maggia valley railway played a great part in the development of its valley for tourism, as well as the establishment of factories and commercial enterprises in the area. In addition, a number of quarries in the area provided a staple freight traffic. Building work began in 1905, and only two years later in September 1907, a full service began between Locarno (San Antonio) and Biagnasco. It was eletrified from the start, indeed it was something of a pioneer with its 5000 V 20 Hz AC electrical supply, which had been designed by the Oerlikon company and first tested on the Seebach - Wettingen line. The power collection arrangements were highly unusual, as the overhead wire was to one side of the line, and made side contact with sprung arms on the roofs of the trains.

Until the opening of the Centovalli line, the company was known as the LPB - Locarno - Ponte Brolla - Biagnasco. Initial motive power was supplied by three BCFe 4/4 motorcoaches, no. 1-3, joined in 1912 by a Ge 2/2 goods locomotive, no. 4. Three four-wheeled third class coaches, one incorporating a postal section, completed the passenger equipment of the 27 km line. The wagon stock was dominated by open wagons used to carry the quarry stone.

When the Centovalli line opened in 1923, it was decided to adopt the 1200 V DC elecrtcal system, and convert the Maggia valley line and the Locarno town tramway to the same standard. To maintain service during the two-year conversion, Rhaetian Railway G 3/4 tank engines no. 7 and 8 were bought, retaining their numbers. On conversion, the Locarno - Ponte Brolla section which was common to the two lines was converted to conventional central overhead, but from Ponte Brolla to Biagnasco the side contact system was retained. The LPB motorcoaches were rebuilt with new electrical gear, and fitted with pantographs as well as the side arms. Just before the conversion, goods loco no. 4 was destroyed in an accident. On the opening of the Centovalli, the LPB was leased to the Ferrovie Regionali Ticiniesi (FRT).

After the Second World War, the Biagnasco line began to lose traffic to road competition: in 1948 4000 wagonloads of freight were carried, but by 1956 it was down to 1000. Passenger traffic also fell, due in great measure to the poor service provided by the three ancient motorcoaches. A modernisation plan was discussed, but the Ticino government of the 1960s was not sympathetic to railways and the trains ran for the last time on 15 November 1965, buses taking over the next day.

The Locarno Tramway

The Maggia valley line made its Locarno terminus at San Antonio, 2 km away from the Gotthard Railway's station at Muralto. Clearly there was a need for a connection between the two, which could also provide local transport within the town. Under the guidance of Mayor Balli, a project was prepared for a street tramway which would also permit through running by trains from the country lines. On 3 July 1908, only ten months after the opening of the Maggia line, the Tramvie di Locarno (TLo) began running on the route Piazza S. Antonio - Stazione S. Antonio - Piazza Grande - Piazza del Stazione. The tramway was electrified at 800 V AC 20 Hz, with central overhead wire. The trams could not run beyond Ponte Brolla onto the 5000 V line, but the LPB trains were fitted with suitable switching and extra current collectors to run over the 800 V section as far as Muralto. In October 1908, the tramway was extended beyond Muralto to Minusio, and further to Piazza Esplanade in March 1914. In the Via Ramogna, trams had to climb for 60 metres as a gradient of 78 per mille! The Trogener Bahn, the steepest adhesion line in the country today, has a maximum gradient of "only" 76 per mille.

The original rolling stock was three Ce 2/2 cars, no. 1-3. On the opening of the Centovalli line, the tramway was converted to 1200 V DC and the three cars re-equipped. The tramway was also absorbed into the FRT system. In 1946, the company snapped up a bargain in the shape of Ce 2/4 cars 11 and 12 of the Rheintalische Strassenbahn, which became FRT Ce 2/4 4 and 5. They had been first built in 1904 [1911, says another book] for the Altstätten - Berneck line, and were extensively rebuilt before entering FRT service. The only other power was service car no. 31, bought second-hand in 1952.

In 1927, a new line was opened to carry Centovalli and LPB trains separate from the trams, looping to the south of the town centre to terminate by the FFS station. This section itself has now been replaced by the new tunnel recently opened. In 1932, the short section of the tramway beyond San Antonio station to the Piazza San Antonio was removed, and the trams exteended over LPB track as far as Solduno. After World War II, passenger traffic over the 4.6 km long tramway reached a peak, and soon the authorities faced the choice between modernisation and bus replacement; inevitable the latter was chosen, and tram services were withdrawn in 1960. From this date, the company assumed its current, rather notorious title of FART - Ferrovie ed Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi. Interestingly, all the passenger trams except no. 2 remain today as service cars on the Centovalli.

Locarno - Domodossola

The concession for the building of international lines from Locarno to the Italian border was granted in 1898 by the Federal Government, on condition that they made connection with lines in Italy. On the Piedmont side, however, interest in the lake shore line via Valmara to Intra was only lukewarm, but there was great enthusiasm for the Centovalli route to Domodossola, which provide a very useful link between the Simplon and Gotthard main lines. In fact, the Italian government wished to build a standard gauge main line, but the project was not given high priority in Rome.

Back in Locarno, Mayor Balli was having great difficulty in raising funds for his Centovalli project. The people of the Vigezzo valley tried hard to find an answer: Andrea Testore, a schoolteacher of Santa Maria Maggiore, devised a plan for a metre-gauge line on the Swiss model. It would have had rack sections between Toce-Ebene and Trantano, and run along the roadside once in the valley floor. But, would the people in far-off Rome favour the development of an obscure branch line?

On 21 June 1904, a memorable meeting took place in Domodossola. As leader of the Swiss delegation, Balli proposed to the Italians that the best hope was to build the line as a through metre-gauge route, with a common approach to financing. Like his friend Testore, he believed that the forthcoming opening of the Simplon Tunnel (1906) would be a great stimulus to the development of the area around the border. In March 1906 a plan was submitted to the government in Rome - grotesquely, it was blocked by objections from the Italian War Ministry, which were finally overcome in 1908. In 1909 Balli and Testore obtained a financial agreement with a group of French bankers. However, when on close examination the cost of the line was revised from 100,000 Francs per km to 972,000, the Ticino government understandably became rather concerned. They were deeply convinced of the need for the line, however, and decided to appoint a committee of experts, led by Professor Friedrich Hennings who had worked on the Albula line, to examine the situation. The committee recommended that under no circumstances should the scale of the project be reduced, and that the full line should be built as proposed.

On the Swiss side the line was to be owned by the FRT, as constituted in 1910; in Italy the Società Subalpina di Imprese Ferroviare - SSIF - was established in Milan in 1912. Construction in Italy could not begin until the route was inspected in November 1912 by Commendatore Bianchini, the Royal chief inspector. In December, the building works finally began, and was planned to be complete by Spring 1915. At first, progress was so good that it was thought that a 1913 opening to traffic might be possible. Unfortunately, however, the companies' bankers, the Franco-American Bank, went bankrupt, and construction ground to a halt. After some feverish activity, a new source of funds was found in Summer 1914, but work had only just begun again when World War broke out, with the immediate result that all the Italian workers were conscripted into the army. Work carried on, very slowly, until Spring 1916, when the job stopped again. Later in the war, much of the material from the Italian side was requisitioned for use in front-line military railways.

In 1919, work on the Swiss line was able to begin again, Italian construction did not restart until July 1920. On 27 March 1923, the rails from the two countries met near Santa Maria Maggiore; the summer was spent in installing the electrical system and obtaining rolling stock in time for the first trains to run on 25 November 1923.

(To be Continued)

Gondola: the SBB Eaos wagon

from Loki 10/81, by D. Piron and R. Stamm

Since the SBB began painting its bogie open wagons, type Eaos and Eanos, in heather-violet, they have attracted much attention. No wonder many modellers have been repainting their old grey wagons - time for us to take a look at the breed.

Bogie high-sided open wagons have been common on American railways since very early times, and have always been known as gondolas. Originally they were wooden-bodied vehicles, riding on diamond-framed bogies, and many appeared in Europe during World War I. It was another half-century, however, before the railways of the Old World realised the value of the design and modern version appeared. The French Railways were the first the build a bogie open wagon of a similar type to today's Eaos; originally used for scrap metal, they later came into use for other traffics, and at the beginning of the 1960s came into the UIC numbering system, under which gondola cars are referred to as either Eas, Eaos or Eanos. Before proceeding, let us examine the meaning of these codes: E = open wagon, standard type; a = bogie; n = maximum axleload 22 tonnes; o = no unloading by end-tipping; s = maximum speed 100 km/hr. The Eaos is thus a high-sided open wagon, which may be covered by a sheet if necessary. It is most commonly found carrying scrap metal, coal or wood, not forgetting sugar beet at harvest-time. Its trump card is easy loading, by crane, mobile crane or conveyor belt. Large doors are also fitted for side-loading.

The Eaos wagon as used by the SBB is built to a European standard design, as designated by its RIV-EUROP lettering. This means that identical wagons are in service with a number of Western European railways; a system which greatly aids the provision of spares etc., as well as being of great benefit to model manufacturers. We will examine in detail the SBB vehicles, which belong to two families, the Eaos and the Eanos. All are generally similar, but differ in a number of details.


A 14.04 metre long wagon, with a capacity of 71.3 cubic metres and a maximum load of 50 Tonnes. There are two sub-types, differing principally in the thickness of the floor. 45mm floors are fitted to wagons numbered 11 85 532 0 000 to 1 199, whereas 11 85 532 1 200 to 1 399 have 70 mm floors. All vehicles entered service between 1977 and 1986. They were delivered in three batches, recognisable by livery variation. The first batch were in light grey, with white number and data painted directly on to the grey at the left hand end and a large SBB logo at the right hand end of the sides. The second scheme retained the grey livery, but a black patch was used for the white lettering to improve visibility, with a red and white logo also incorporated. The third type (50 wagons) adopted the heather-violet body colour, with the lettering and logo on the same black patch. All these SBB vehicles run on Y25-type bogies.

[Interjection by C.H. - the livery situation today is slightly more complicated, as some of the early batch seem to have been partially repainted to approximate to the second style. A photo shows 532 0 227 in July 1991, carrying an environment-friendly load of paper for recycling: note the black patch is the full height of the side panel, and the large logo at the other end appears to have been painted out in black.]


These are a newer design than the Eaos (delivered 1988-89) and are somewhat larger: 82.5 cubic metres capacity, maximum load 65.5 tonnes. There are two other details by which an Eanos may be spotted. The side between the two doors is divided by ribs into five sections, rather than three in the Eaos, and the Eanos rides on German standard bogies, known to the SBB as type WU 83 (Waggon Union 83). All are in the heather-violet livery; number series is 31 85 537 6 000 to 199.

The Models

Wagon types which can be painted in many different liveries are a boon for the model railway manufacturer; the Eaos is a good example of this phenomenon.

Liliput H0

This Austrian firm released no less that twenty versions of the Eaos wagon before it found itself in financial difficulties. The following are the SBB versions:

24450 First grey livery

24451 Heather-violet livery

24452 Second grey livery

24453 As 24452, but with NEM coupler pocket

24459 As 24450, but ready-weathered

The Liliput body is a plastic moulding of impeccable quality. The lettering is sharply executed and exactly correct. It is the only H0 Eaos with opening doors; the handrails and brake handles are supplied for fitting by the modeller. Early models were fitted with round buffers, but later deliveries followed the prototype in changing to the rectangular type. Except for the Dutch (NS) model, which runs incorrectly on German standard bogies, all varieties of the Liliput wagon are fitted with Y25 bogies of the cast-steel frame type. This is correct for the SBB and some of the SNCF wagons, but wrong for other lines (DB, OBB, SNCB, FS) which use the fabricated-frame version of the Y25. Unfortunately, the bogie mouldings are not really up to modern standards; the brake shoes are out of scale and not in line with the wheels.

As most modellers will know, Liliput have now been taken over by the Herpa company, who have so far released two Swiss versions of the Eaos: 74452 in Heather-violet and 74451 in grey. Both are fitted with NEM coupler pockets and close-coupling linkage.

Märklin H0

Two Swiss Eaos versions are available:

4689 First batch, grey with large logo

4718 Heather-violet livery

Although the Märklin model appeared on the market later than the Liliput version, the body moulding is no better. The handrails are moulded as part of the body, meaning that they must be less flexible and thus liable to damage in use. The grey livery is a shade too light, although the lettering is very good.

The Märklin bogies, however, are much better, especially the cast-steel Y25 types fitted to the SBB version. Beware, however: some of the grey wagons have been erroneously sold with the fabricated Y25 type of bogie! The cast-steel Y25 bogie is available as a Märklin spare part, and can be fitted to the Liliput wagon with out much difficulty by the modeller who must have the best. The Märklin couplers are fixed to the bogie frame, however.

The Swiss firm of Staiber has made limited runs of two variant liveries, based on the Märklin wagon. 250 wagons in pink, sold only in the Bern area, are lettered for the firm of Karl Kaufmann. A turqoise model, of which 250 were made and sold all over the Country, is lettered from Rupp AG Autoverwertung. Sadly, this latter colour scheme, although planned, never appeared on the prototype as it was cancelled on cost grounds.

(To be continued, including Lima H0 and N.) [See also a previous article on detailing and loading the Eaos wagon in EZ 11/90, translated in the January 91 Notebook. Also the series on an 0 gauge Eanos in various 1991 issues of Loki.]

The Seetalbahn Today

From Loki 10/91, by Erwin Suter

When SBB withdrew the De 6/6 Seetal Crocodiles and the De 4/4 motorcoaches, the Seetalbahn lost its special attraction for rail enthusisasts and photographers. The landscape remains as attractive, but the trains have almost all been standard formations with RBe 4/4 railcars, admittedly with fluorescent warning stripes on the ends. However, since the June 1991 timetable change, a greater variety of trains has appeared, making the line well worth a visit.

A Variety of Colours

At present, Lucerne - Lenzburg passenger services are a mixture of NPZ "Kolibri" units and push-pull trains worked by RBe 4/4 cars and the occasional Re 4/4 I. Mind you, from autumn 1991, Re 4/4 I locos are only diagrammed for train 6008, 05.54 Mon-Fri Lucerne - Hitzkirch and 6005 06.48 return, so you'll have to get up early. Freight trains are hauled by Re 4/4 II and Ae 6/6 locomotives. On the threatened branch line from Beinwil to Beromünster, the usual passenger train is a single BDe 4/4 motorcoach (40 seats). The real star turns are train 6004 06.29 Beinwil - Lenzburg which is an old Be 4/6 railcar, and best of all train 6034 17.24 Luzern - Beinwil, which is formed of two coaches hauled by an Ae 3/6 I locomotive (see photo, Loki p. 23.) On the freight-only branch from Lenzburg to Wildegg, freight is worked by Ee 3/3 shunters.

On the Layout

For H0 modellers at least, Seetal trains are easy to reproduce. With the exception of the Be 4/6 which is only available as a Brass limited run model, all the motive power can be easily bought from major manufacturers. The light-steel coaches are made by Liliput (now Herpa) and a wide selection of goods wagons is available. 

In N, things are a little more difficult, but not hopeless. The NPZ is soon to be released by Minitrain/Lima, and the RBe 4/4 is already in production. The Re 4/4 I is made by Hobbytrain, the Re 4/4 II by Minitrix and Arnold, and the Ae 6/6 by Minitrix. Kato have announced an Ae 3/6 I, which should be available soon. The BDe 4/4 and Be 4/6 remain a problem for the N-scaler. Arnold make a superb model of the light-steel coaches, and a good selection of goods wagons is, like in H0, easily available.

Model News

For those modelling the pre-1988 Seetal period in N, Hochstrasser of Lucerne have just released a limited-run brass and white-metal model of the Bti driving trailers which were used with the De 4/4 motorcoach (as made by Kato for Hobbytrain). Old and new lettering styles are available, with and without warning stripes. Price is 190 Fr.

From Ferro-Suisse in H0m comes the Rhaetian Railway Gem 4/4 electro-diesel. The ready-built locomotives will be available in lightly-weathered and heavily-weathered versions, and in current (red with antelope) and original (red-brown) liveries - if you have 1150 Francs in your numbered account, that is.

News Items from Loki 10/91

1st Class on the EBT

Some years ago, the EBT group abolished first-class on all its trains, but as part of the Bahn 2000 plan the decision has been taken to return to two-class service. Nine coaches and 25 driving trailers are to be modified; the first ABt conversion features an incorrect white rather than yellow stripe over the windows.

RhB: Turning Japanese

Since the middle of August, Bernina railcar ABe 4/4 51 has carried the name and shield of Hakone, according to the press release "a beautiful tourist area 80 km to the south of Tokyo". The area is served by the Hakone - Tozan Railway (HTR), which since 1979 has operated something of a "twinning scheme" with the RhB, to mutual advantage both in tourist development and in the exchange of technical information. In fact, the first contact between the two lines was in 1912, when a Japanese engineer visited the Bernina line to study the methods used to build the line as an adhesion-only system.

RhB: Crocodile Rock

The world-famous C-C "Crocodile" locomotives of the Rhaetian Railway have experienced something of a renaissance in the 1991-92 timetable, and can now be found on regular services on all of the main line network, except the Davos - Filisur section. The Samedan - Pontresina link now has its first croc-hauled services for many years in the shape of a very photogenic morning goods working.

Brig - Visp - Zermatt: Back to Normal

After 105 days of bus substitution between Herbriggen and Randa following a rock slide. A completely new 3km length of line has been built around the obstruction, complete with rack rail for all but 140m. Local residents were very understanding, agreeing to short-term leases on their land. Two streams are crossed by three temporary bridges, but in the long term the line, and also the road, will be transferred to a new tunnel. Presumably, if the village of Randa is to avoid flooding in future, a new tunnel for the River Visp will also have to be created.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009