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 - December 1991

Over the Border - the Centovalli Pt.2

From Loki 11/91, by Bernhard Studer

The 52.2 km route from Locarno to Domodossola finally came into service on 25 November 1923. The 19.9 km Swiss section, known as the Centovallina, was owned by the FRT (FART from 1960) and the 32.3 km Italian section, the Vigezzina, belongs to the Italian SSIF company. Originally, the SSIF headquarters were in Rome, and the company also worked the line between Spoleto and Norcia. Later the offices were transferred to Domodossola. The rolling stock of both companies has always worked over the whole line, but care is taken to balance the axle-mileages to avoid the need for payments between the two firms. Because of the tourist traffic, carryings during the summer are considerbly greater than the winter.

The FRT had a very hard time in the early days; it had taken over the Locarno tramway and leased the Maggia valley line, and both were in serious need of infrastructure renewal. In 1925, Ticino had to make a financial contribution, but not enough to meet the expectations of the staff. In October 1926, the FRT company was faced with an event almost unknown in Switzerland: a strike for higher wages. The pay rise was granted, as well as a nine-hour working day.

The world economic crisis of the 1930s had a severe effect on the Centovalli and the Val Vigezzo; both companies suffered a drastic drop in traffic.

World War II

On 29 August 1939, the Swiss Army was fully mobilised, and on 2 September a war timetable was implemented. At the end of June 1940, Italy entered the War, and tourist traffic across the border ceased. However, until the collapse of the Italian government in September 1943 through traffic continued. There then began a dramatic period in the history of the Ossola region, the Canobbio and Vigezzo valleys. The area was declared an independent republic by the Partisans, a situation which lasted for 44 days. There was much sympathy in Switzerland for the freedom fighters of the 'Ossola Autonomous Republic', but the revolt was cruelly put down by German troops. The SSIF railway became a major target for sabotage by the partisans, and was soon put out of action.

A New Life

When the war ended, the border was reopened, but despite the recommencement of transit services, both companies were in very bad financial shape, and by 1948, the 25th anniversary of the line, both undertakings were on the verge of bankruptcy. A technical rehabilitation of the line was badly needed, but Italy understandably had other priorities. Switzerland, however, was very keen to create an ideal railway network, and the Vigezzina was a vital part of the plan. An agreement between the two countries was reached in 1955, and in 1957 the Swiss government extended credit to the FRT and the SSIF. Much of the money allocated to the SSIF was spent on the construction of a new terminus below the main line station at Domodossola, opened in 1961. The rest of the Italian section remained in more or less original condition, but the FRT undertook a thorough renewal scheme, including new overhead wiring and a block signalling system. Passenger rolling stock was enriched by the introduction in 1959 of four three-section articulated motorcoaches, type ABe 8/8.

While the FART (as it was called from 1963) continued to modernise, the SSIF took on a neglected look. In 1963, the FART bought two more articulated motorcoaches (ABDe 6/6) and some modern coaches. The old SSIF trains were, as far as possible, kept to local services on the Italian section. The national border near Camedo also became the border between two railway eras; on one side the modern, attractive FART, and on the other the run-down SSIF with no signalling, museum-piece rolling stock and the famous crooked chestnut-wood poles supporting the overhead.

In the end, Swizerland came to the rescue again, and offered to pay for replacement rolling stock if the Italians would renew the line and the overhead. In 1970, after an inspection of the line by the Italian Minister of Transport, the project was agreed. The first financial allocation finally appeared in 1973, and the works began in 1974. By 1978, most of the work was complete, but then nature took a hand in the proceedings. On the night of 7/8 August 1978, storms of unimaginable force ravaged the region, and destroyed much of the rebuilt rail formation in the upper Val Vigezzo. Admirably, rail service over the section from Domodossola and Orcesco was restored after four days; for several weeks the line provided the only transport for relief supplies to the region, until the road was repaired. Complete reconstruction of the damaged section of line took until May 1980.

The Nineties

Since the end of the 1960s, the construction of a new underground route into Locarno has been a recurring theme in local and cantonal politics, as the running of trains through the streets was considered incompatible with the increasing amount of road traffic through the town's busiest square. Two solutions to the problem were discussed, the cheapest being the cutting back of the line to San Antonio, with a bus connection to Locarno FFS station. A concession was issued by the Swiss government for this project, valid until 1985. Discussions took place between the two countries, however, and it was generally agreed that the complete rail connection between the Gotthard and Simplon routes should be maintained. The second plan envisaged a completely new, mostly underground, line through the town. The cost of such a project was, however, beyond the combined financial resources of Locarno and Canton Ticino.

A way out of this stalemate came into sight in in 1983 on the adoption of a new article of the Swiss Federal consititution. Under this provision, grants of from 40 to 80 per cent were made available to projects intended to separate road from rail and reduce congestion. The Locarno project became one of the first to benefit from this new system, and a 75% grant was offered. In a later amendment, the line as far as Solduno was included in the plan. Building works began in late 1986, and in spring 1988 the rail service between Ponte Brolla and Locarno was replaced by a bus link, enabling new works to make quicker progress. Services over the new tunnel section began on 17 December 1990.

After leaving the newly-built station at San Martino, trains from Domodossola descend a 60 per mille ramp to pass beneath the road into a cut-and cover tunnel section. After 275 metres, Salduno station is reached, and after another 580 metres the underground station at San Antonio. Thence, trains traverse a 1402 metre tunnel under the Monte della Trinità to the new underground terminus at Locarno. This is located below the old FFS goods yard; the four-track station incorporates the FART depot, replacing the previous facility at San Antonio.

The SSIF has also been modernising recently; a major work intended to reduced the risk of further storm damage has been the diversion of the line into a 700 metre tunnel near Re. Automatic block signalling has bee installed, including level crossing protection and radio communication. New rolling stock is likely to be ordered, jointly with the FART. Both companies can now look to the future with considerable confidence.

(To be Continued.)

Gondolas: The SBB Eaos Wagon, Pt.2

From Loki 11/91, by D.Piron and R.Stamm

The Models, continued

Lima H0

At various times over the years, Lima has released models of all three varieties of Eaos:

309045 First grey livery with large logo and 'Y25 welded' bogies - on sale from 1980 to 1988. From 1989, changed to the correct SBB 'Y25 cast' bogies.

30904501S as 309045, but heather-violet. Special limited edition, 1985 only.

309046K second grey livery with revised lettering and 'Y25 cast' bogies, with close-coupling gear.

309046KS as 309046, but in heather-violet. Limited run for 1991 - already sold out.

The body moulding of the Lima model is good for a model first released 12 years ago, but some simplification of detail is evident. The round buffers are moulded in one piece with the body, and the brake rodding under the body is not reproduced. The bogies were originally the incorrect `Y25 welded' type, but current models since 1990 have the correct cast bogies.

Rivarossi H0

This Italian manufacturer is noted for the quality of its models, but we cannot recommend the SBB Eaos (2415 - first grey livery). It is a well-made model, but is based on the Italian FS wagon which had different bracing on the body sides, including diagonals which do not exist on the SBB prototype. The brake-gear does not match the Swiss type, and the yellow handwheel is missing. The grey livery is rather too dark, although the lettering is very well executed.

The bogies are one of the best H0 models of the Y25, but sadly the wrong type; the Como firm does not produce the 'Y25 cast' bogie. Round buffers are fitted, corresponding to the earlier deliveries of the SBB prototype. Standard couplers are fitted, but without close-coupling or NEM socket.

Kleinbahn H0

This is the most recent entry into the Eaos market, and is well made and reasonably priced. The SBB version is model no. 346, in the first grey livery. The body moulding is outstandingly good, especially the handrails. The lettering is good, although not always perfectly clearly printed. The rectangular buffers, correct for the second SBB batch, are rather fragile. The SBB model is correctly fitted with cast-frame bogies; they are well-modelled, although the brake shoes are not in line with the wheels. Standard couplers are fitted.

Lima/Minitrain N

Lima item 320642, available from 1982 to 1988, was a grey SBB Eaos with incorrect welded Y25 bogies. The same model has reappeared in the new MiniTrain series, but now riding on the correct Y25 cast bogies. Hand-rails, brake gear and brake handwheel are moulded on to the body, and the lettering is well-executed and clear. Two liveries are available: heather-violet (320647) and grey with later logo (320648). These wagons, which are new items for 1991, are sold in packs of two, one mint and one lightly-weathered. 250 of the MiniTrain wagons have been re-worked as a special edition by Staiber, in lightly-weathered pink with 'Karl Kaufmann' lettering.

Roco N

This Austrian company produces two N versions in SBB livery, 25126 (early grey scheme) and 25169 (heather-violet). The model is well-made and well-lettered, but unfortunately has an end brake platform which does not exist on the prototype - this is fairly easy to remove, however. Furthermore, this is yet another model with the wrong bogies, which is a shame since the bogies are very good reproductions of the welded variety.

Aspects of the Berner Oberland Bahnen

From the EZ special 100 Jahre BOB 

Goods Trains

Freight traffic on the BOB is relatively light, but nonetheless interesting for the railfan. Tonnages have been falling for many years, from a maximum of 30,000 tonnes in 1964 to 11,781 tonnes in 1988 (passengers in 1988: 1.6 million). On the Grindelwald line, road competition means there is no longer any need for any purely freight trains, any wagons being attached to the passenger trains. Lauterbrunnen, on the other hand, still has a daily goods.

Until 29 May 1987, the working was allocated to one of the old HGe 3/3 locomotives; after that date the freights were entrusted to the first batch of ABDeh 4/4 motorcoaches, 301-303, which have since given way to their sisters of the second and third batches.

Standard gauge wagons venture once or twice a week onto the Lauterbrunnen daily freight, using transporter wagons borrowed from the SBB Brünig line. Zweilütschinen is the limit of such working, as even Swiss ingenuity has yet to devise a transporter wagon which can run on rack sections. Even bogie vans can be carried, using two transporters; such a vehicle would be worked as a special train in addition to the regular service.

In Foreign Parts: Visitors to Other lines

Through running is possible from the BOB to the Brünig line at Interlaken Ost, and BOB vehicles are seen on the connecting systems at times. Both lines use the same couplings, braking and rack system. The electrification systems are not the same, however (the BOB is 1500 V DC whilst the SBB line is 15000V AC), so motive power cannot work through, only coaches and wagons. For many years there were through coaches between Lucerne and Grindelwald, but lately this working has ceased due to the lack of demand and the complications of shunting at Interlaken. Today, BOB coaches are still seen on the Brünig at times, on loan to cover shortages or in excursion traffic.

Two other lines connect with the Brünig line, to form a veritable sub-alpine network. The Luzern - Stans - Engelberg makes a junction at Hergiswil, and the Meiringen - Innertkirchen at Meiringen. Both are capable of accepting BOB rolling stock, the LSE only since 1964 when it was extended to Hergiswil from its previous terminal at Stans. In 1983, when the BOB was ordering some new equipment, discussions wer held between the BOB, SBB and LSE to establish some common standards for the three lines, regarding corridor connections and couplings, control wiring and plugs, braking characteristics and loading gauge. The new BOB push-pull trains were the first to be built to the agreement, and on 25 May 1987 the theory was put to the test when BOB coach B 261 was marshalled into an LSE train on the Engelberg service. The tests were very satisfactory, although there was never any intention to interchange vehicles on a regular basis.

The MIB is the one line in the network which can run BOB power units, as it is electrified on the DC system. In July 1988, BON ABDeh 4/4 301 spent some time on the MIB covering for a power shortage, working a number of goods trains. Also in 1988, the BOB diesel locomotive HGm 2/2 31 was loaned to the SBB during work on the Brünig line's overhead wires.

Coaches in Germany

Old BOB coaches, like those of a number of other Swiss narrow gauge lines, have found their way to foreign preserved lines. In 1985, members of the society preserving the Warthausen - Ochsenhausen line in Germany heard that the BOB was withdrawing some of its older coaches for scrap. Enquiries were made regarding purchase, with the result that the BOB donated the follwing coaches to the so-called Öchsle - Museumsbahn: AB3 11, A3 10, B3 31 and 32 (all six-wheelers), and bogie composite AB 151. All were transported by road to Ochsenhausen in 1986. No. 151 has since passed to a private owner, and is displayed on a plinth with a steam locomotive. The six-wheelers have been overhauled and re-gauged to 750mm in the museum line's workshops; the "Öchsle" was the only line of this gauge on the Deutsche Bundesbahn to survive into the diesel era, being latterly worked by the V51 B-B type as modelled by Bemo. The four coaches entered service in 1990, joining coaches from the RhB and various other lines.

Sightseeing by Rail: Rorschach - Chur

From Grosser Eisenbahn-Atlas Schweiz

This 92 km SBB route was opened bwteen 1857 and 1859, and electrified between 1927 and 1934. In the current timetable, there is a two-hourly fast service, some of which originate from Bern and points on the BLS.

The port of Rorschach lies in the shelter of the Rorschacherberg mountain, the south-eastern corner of lake Constance. The town's emblem is the baroque Corn Exhange on the quay, one of its many noteworthy historic buildings. Soon after our departure, we run through the venerable border village of Rheineck on the Old Rhine river (7 km) where we may glimpse in the station the one-and-only railcar of the Rheineck - Walzenhausen Bahn. The former role of the village as a German - Swiss border crossing is fulfilled by nearby St. Margarethen (11 km). We run along the left side of the Rhine valley, through luxuriant vineyards and orchards, overlooked by a series of small castles.

Altstätten (24 km) is an old market town at the foot of the pass leading to Gais and Appenzell; in the market place are many well-preserved 18th century houses. Near Oberriet (30 km), three hills town like islands above the flat Rhine valley. From here, we run close to the river, which foms the boundary between Swizerland and Liechtenstein. A motorway has been fitted between the line and the river. Not far from Buchs (49 km) is the tiny, picturesque village of Werdenberg, with its 15th - 17th century wooden houses overlooked by a massive castle. At Buchs, Austrian trains make connection with the SBB, and sson after leaving the town we can see across the river the town of Vaduz, capital of Liechtenstein. High above Weite (58 km) lies Wartau, with its huge 13th century castle.

Sargans (65 km) lies on the Seez river, which flows down from the Walensee to join the Rhine. The impressively situated castle dominates the town. Thought to be on the site of a Roman watch-tower, it was restored in 1900 and is now a museum. Above Bad Ragaz (71 km) lies Pfäfers, with its Benedictine monastery and Baroque church. Bad Ragaz itself is a well-known spa. The thermal spring itself lies in the nearby Tamina gorge; since 1840 the water has been piped into the town.

Landquart (78 km) lies at the point where the Landquart river joins the Rhine, and the Rhaetian Railway meets the SBB. From here to Chur (92 km), capital of Graubünden Canton, the standard and metre gauge railways run together and the scenery is dominated by mountains, including the Calanda (9210 feet) which gave its name to the local beer.

News Items from Loki 11/91 and SBB Magazin 5/91

SBB: Loco Breaks Record

Re 4/4 I locomotive 10007 has completed 8 million kilometres in service since it was constructed in 1947, the first SBB locomotive to reach this milestone. It is currently used in local passenger service on the Gotthard South ramp.

SBB: Doubling of Lines

Doubling of the line between Bad Ragaz and Landquart was scheduled to start in October 1991, for completion in 1995. Between Goldach and Mörschwil (St. Gallen - Rorschach route 880), work is to begin in Spring 1992, to be finished in 1994.

Supertrains in the Wynental

The longest trains ever worked by the WSB could be observed over the weekend of 7/8 September 1991, on the occasion of a gathering of Boy Scouts as Gontenschwil. The normal maximum length of trains on the Menziken line is four cars, but the specials were made up to six and seven vehicles. A photograph (Loki p.9) shows a Gontenschwil - Aarau working formed of four motorcoaches and three trailers. Notable is the 'orgy of pantographs': all eight are in use!

DVZO Motive Power Shortage

The principal steam loco of the Dampfbahn Verein Züricher Oberland, Ed 3/3 401 (ex Uerikon - Bauma Bahn) suffered a serious mechanical failure early in the summer, which could not be quickly repaired. A replacement steam engine was not available, sothe 'steam' service came to be operated by an electric locomotive, ex-Bodensee - Toggenburg Be 4/4 15. The public was unimpressed, and passenger numbers declined. For the weekend of 14/15 September, however, a solution was found: Urs Rüesch lent his Ed 3/3 Munni, which has been used for some years as reserve to the Sihltal - Zürich - Uetliberg line's steam engine E 3/3 5. Announcements in the daily press brought a multitude of passengers, causing much sweating (and smiling!) on the part of the locomotive crew, Urs Rüesch and Reinhard Walther.

No. 401 was finally repaired, tested and ready for service in the afternoon of 21 September.

Minced Bullocks, Anyone?

The SBB restaurant car service has recently become a serious financial drain, and it has been decided that in future food service will be provided by contractors who will agree to finance the service themselves, pay for the coaches, and take the financial risk. Needless to say, the great MacDonalds organization has grasped this business opportunity, and from June 1992 rolling burger bars will be in service on the Geneva - Basel and Geneva - Brig lines.

Meanwhile, Minibuffet AG - a tried and tested partner of the SBB - is expanding its railborne activities and this summer has placed a second "Cheese Express" in service. From June 1992, Minibuffet will take over the restaurant car service on the Gotthard, between Basel and Chur, and on international services into Germany. 14 SBB restaurant cars are to be rebuilt for these services, at Minibuffet's expense.

The Schweizerische Speiswagen Gesellschaft (SSG), for its part, will concentrate on the east-west axis and on international Eurocity trains.

OeBB Rail Festival

From 6 to 8 September, the Oensingen - Balsthal Bahn held its now-traditional rail festival. Star of the show was undoubtedly 1891-built steam loco Eb 2/4 5469. Despite is age, this veteran was placed in service on the OeBB's normal timetabled trains, with two modern coaches borrowed from the BLS. Also appearing was the OeBB freight tractor Ce 2/2 109 hauling the line's ex-Seetalbahn coaches.

Mishap in Burgdorf Tunnel

The SBB Burgdorf tunnel (already mentioned in Loki 4-91, 6-91 and 9-91) makes the news again in unfortunate circumstances. On 24 August 1991 an explosion occurred in the switchgear of Re 4/4 II 11123 while hauling train IC285 (Basel - Brig) through the tunnel. The locomotive came to a stand just outside the tunnel mouth, and the fire brigade was called to deal with the burning transformer oil.

The rear part of the train remained in the tunnel for two hours, with no ventilation and only half lighting. A nightmare from a Dürrenmatt painting (partly) come true - could this be a peg on which the president of the SBB can hang his problems? (see Loki 9-91).

East German Loco on the BLS

The BLS is undertaking a major renewal project at Interlaken Ost, which involves the disconnection of the overhead wires. Because of this, there is a need for at least one diesel locomotive capable of moving heavy trains. Enquiries were made to the SBB, but the national system itself is very short of diesel power, and it became necessary to look abroad for a solution. Following the example of the SOB which has hired some electric locomotives from east Germany, the BLS has hired for two months DR diesel-hydraulic B-B no. 106 325-4 which will serve as Interlaken Ost station pilot.

Along with the 653 HP diesel have come two drivers from Erfurt depot, who will pilot their trusty steed around the Bernese Oberland.

First published 1991 - this edition April 2009