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 - February 1992

Over the Border: The Centovalli Pt.5

More on FART trains, from Loki 1/92, by Bernhard Studer

The rolling stock of the FART and SSIF is a remarkably varied collection. Some of the oldest stock has survived to run alongside today's modern equipment, a fact which combines with the spectacular route to provide much interest for the rail enthusiast.

ABDe 4/4 11 - 18

These eight extremely robust motorcoaches entered service on the Domodossola - Locarno line in 1923. They were all built in Italy, the mechanical parts by Carminati & Toselli and the electrical parts by the Italian arm of the Brown Boveri company. Originally classified as BCFe 4/4, no. 11 to 16 were allocated to the SSIF, whereas 17 and 18 were owned by the Swiss FRT company. Similar cars were delivered to a number of other Italian lines, namely the Spoleto - Norcia (worked by the SSIF), the Ora - Predazzo and the Rimini - San Marino.

In 1959, no. 15 was damaged by fire and became the first to be withdrawn. No. 14 burnt out in 1963, and no. 11 in 1966. No. 12 was broken up after an accident in 1980. In 1967, the FART pair, 17-18, were sold to the SSIF. Thus nos. 13, 16, 17 and 18 remain in SSIF stock, 16 and 18 having been rebuilt with steel bodies in the 1960s.

ABDe 8/8 21 - 24

The three-section atriculated cars delivered in 1959 began a new era on the Centovalli line. The direct connection between Locarno and Domodossola suddenly became a more attractive proposition. The trains themselves received much attention, no. 21 being displayed at an exhibition in Basel in 1959.

ABDe 8/8 21 Ticino and 22Lemano were owned by the FART, whilst 23 Ossola and 24 Vigezzo belonged to the SSIF. Later, when the FART received new Be 4/8 units, 21 and 22 joined their two sisters with the Italian company, and received new Italian names: 21 is now Roma and 22 Ticino. They are the principal SSIF power for through services, until the ten new low-floor ABe 4/6 units currently on order are delivered in mid-1992.

Drive by Rail

from Loki 1/92, by Stefan Christen.

Ever since the motor car rose to prominence, cars of all kinds have travelled by rail. Many cars make their first journey on a train, from factory to supplier; the great status symbol may also make its last journey in a rail wagon, perhaps crushed into a handy packet . . . this article, however, is concerned with the carrying of cars through Switzerland's long rail tunnels, and especially the Lötschberg Tunnel of the Bern - Lötschberg - Simplon railway.


For the first references to car-carrying through tunnels we must go back to 1924. In those days, cars could travel as 'accompanied luggage', with no requirement to deposit them in the goods depot, even at weekends. Low-sided wagons were probably used for the purpose. In 1939 came the first landmark in our history, when the first `rolling-road' service was established by the SBB through the Gotthard tunnel. This service ran until 1980, when the Gotthard road tunnel opened between Göschenen and Airolo. In 1959, a similar service was established through the Simplon tunnel; the improvement of the Simplon road and the opening of the Gotthard road tunnel in 1980 have much reduced the numbers of cars travelling, however, and the service is threatened with closure in Spring 1992 unless a subsidy can be arranged, perhaps by Canton Valais.


There is no threat to the car-carrier service through the Lötschberg tunnel, however. Numbers carried, already well over a million per year, continue to increase. In the early days, cars were carried on low-sided wagons normally attached to the rear of local trains, the occupants being required to ride in the train. Through the 1950s demand rose steadily an by 1960 it became necessary to institute special trains for cars between Goppenstein and Kandersteg. These services were hauled by tractors of either the Te I 11-17 or Tem 41-42 series, which ran round their trains at each end of the tunnel. Trains soon became heavier and longer, and it became necessary to replace the tractors with De 4/5 motor baggage vans, which later had to run in pairs to handle the load. Initially, both power cars were marshalled at the Kandersteg end of the train, with a Bti driving trailer at the other end allowing push-pull operation. The controls of the driving trailer were not capable of very fine control of the De 4/5's transformer, however, and one day a surge of power caused such a double-propelled train to come off the rails on pointwork at Kandersteg. It as therefore decided to run with one De 4/5 at each end of the train. The 1929-built De 4/5s were later replaced by Ae 4/4 and Re 4/4 locomotives which have reverted to the push-pull mode with a single locomotive and a Bti driving trailer.

Since 1961, an additional service has run from Kandersteg through the tunnel and down the hill to Brig. This was also originally De 4/5 worked, then passed to the heavyweight De 4/4 railcars 761-763. Later, Ae 4/4 and Re 4/4 locomotives have been used. The summer-only service which runs from Kandersteg to Iselle, traversing both Lötschberg and Simplon tunnels, is normally a Re 4/4 duty.

Rolling Stock

As mentioned above, in the early days of car-carrying normal four-wheeled low-sided wagons were used. In 1954, the BLS Bönigen works modified two such wagons as car carriers O 4501 and 4502, with sides which folded down in sections. A number of other rebuilds followed, and the later some of these four-wheelers were wired for push-pull operation, which first made its appearance with the bogie car-carriers first built at the end of the 1960s. These bogie wagons were later fitted with the characteristic protective roof, designed to protect the cars from falling rocks and icicles, as well as any broken live wires. A high end on the loading wagons serves the same purpose.

Between 1966 and 1974, six open platform coaches of types Bi and ABi were rebuilt into Bti driving trailers with a motorcycle compartment, and two others rebuilt to BDt trailers. These vehicles permit push-pull operation as well as offering accommodation for motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians; car drivers and passengers remain in their vehicles.

The Future

As of the end of 1991, the Lötschberg tunnel has an allocation of five sets of 14 bogie car-carriers, each set having two loading-ramp wagons and a driving trailer. These trains are normally worked by an Re 4/4. There also two sets of four-wheeled cars, normally powered by Ae 4/4 locomotives. Two spare car-carrier wagons and two loading ramp wagons are kept in reserve.

In recent months, 28 new bogie wagons have been placed in service. These differ from their predecessors mainly in having a lower floor, achieved by the use of smaller wheels. Two new Bdt driving cars have also been produced (see Loki 7/8-91, p.10). At the same time, the loading stations have been improved. A proposal to load some of the cars at Heustrich, near Spiez, is under discussion.

RhB Coach from STL

From Loki 1-92

Many people thought that this promised high-quality model of the RhB open-platform coach would never appear, but here it is! STL claim to have invested half a million Francs in the project. The model is based on coach nos. 2271 - 2281, originally built for the Chur - Arosa line. For many years they were normal stock on local trains, later only as strengthening stock at busy periods. In recent years they have become famous for their use on the famous Crocodile-hauled mixed trains: a locomotive, one of these coaches and a wagon would be a typical formation.

The manufacturer has incorporated some technical advances in the model, whilst making it fully compatible with Bemo stock. The axles are sprung in the bogies, and the weight of the model is such that these springs actually take the weight, ensuring good running. The coach is fitted with pickups and conductors for the installation of interior lighting. Especially good are the interior fittings, with individual seats and etched metal luggage racks. For then first time in a mass-produced H0m model, NEM coupler sockets are fitted, allowing the various makes of close coupler to be fitted by the user.

Future plans include the production of five varieties; the first version, with a choice of two running numbers as an RhB second-class car, is now available. Later, a limited run in Appenzeller Bahn livery will be produced.

Times Change at St.Margrethen

by Jacques Zulauff, from SBB Magazin 6/91

St. Margrethen is a border station with almost 140 trains per day, yet the wooden station and level crossing have remained unchanged since your grandmother was a girl. But soon, everything will change when the station is modernised. I have many happy memories of changing at this station which is so close to both Germany and Austria.

The station, which forms the Swiss - Austrian border point, was built in 1858 as part of the Rhine Valley line from Chur to Rheineck. After the old Nord - Ost Bahn (NOB) had made an agreement with the Austrian Railways, a connecting line was built from St. Margarethen to Lauterach, thus linking the Swiss and Austrian networks. As a result, St. Margarethen developed from a farming village to an industrial and commercial town. Today it has excellent Swiss rail connections, with frequent local and express trains. The line to Austria and Germany runs along the south and east shores of Lake Constance, and sees a daily parade of EuroCity trains with resounding names such as Bavaria, Gottfried Keller and Schweizerland running between Bern or Zürich and Münich. German and Austrian trains work on the same electrical system as Swiss ones, although the layout of the wires is not quite the same, so some Swiss Re 4/4 II locomotives have been fitted with an extra pantograph to allow them to work through via Bregenz in Austria to Lindau in Germany. The local service (second class only) over this route is worked by Austrian electric multiple units.

St. Margrethen lies in a privileged geographical position, so it is not surprising that a number of large industrial enterprises have established themselves in the area in recent years, with consequent increases in freight traffic for the railways, with up to 710,000 tonnes per year being handled and 16 undertakings having their own sidings. In the last year, however, traffic has fallen back due to the sensitive political situation in eastern Europe. St. Margrethen goods depot has also been feeling the competition from Volfurt depot, a few kilometres away in Austria.

The track layout at St.Margrethen station has remained virtually the same since the early years of the century. All 74 points and all the level crossings are hand-worked, the platforms are short, narrow and low, there are no subways, and the customer accommodation is inadequate. It should be said, however, that the 70 members of the station staff make up for the deficiencies by their excellent quailty of service.

At last, the major project to rebuild this station is to commence in mid-1992, and is planned to be complete in 1995. The whole track layout and geometry is to be changed, with the objective of increasing the speed of trains entering and leaving the station above the present 40 km/hr. A passenger subway, with steps and ramp, will be built to serve tracks 2 and 3 (directions Rhine valley and Austria) which will share a new 420 metre-long island platform, 55 cm high. Platform 1, used by trains to St. Gallen and locals to Austria, will be rebuilt to a length of 320 m. A new central electronic signalling installation will replace the present four signalboxes dating from 1907, and will remotely control all stations from Rheineck to Haag-Gams. The level crossing with the cross-border road will be automated, and two others replaced by underpasses. The goods yard tracks will also be rebuilt, and possibly a new Cargo Sevice Center.

Loki Aktuell 1/92

Teak Restaurant Car

SBB Restaurant car WR 10210, built in 1906, spent many years in service on the European rail network. In 1947, it was converted to Cinema Coach Xd4 91140; this rebuild did not, however affect the wooden bodywork. The clerestory roof was aso retained, but with its windows panelled over. In this form it gave good service to the SBB until the early 1980s, and in 1984 was sold to the preservation group Oswald - Steam - Samstagern. Now, in October 1991, it has emerged fully renovated as a bar and dancing car. Externally, the car has been restored to its original appearance, and the OSS people have built a completely new interior, to the highest standard. On its own, or coupled to the group's ex-Gotthard four-wheelers, it is now available for hire to parties.

Double-Deck Sleepers

The SBB, in cooperation with the ÖBB and DB, intends to order 30 - 40 new double-decked sleeping cars for use on 'hotel trains'. Type B will have 17 two-bed and 2 4-bed rooms, whereas type AB will have 4 luxury suites with 1 or two beds, and en-suite WC and shower, as well as 11 'Comfort-Cabins'. The three railways have allocated the design work to Schilndler, and Talbot of Aachen, SGP of Austria and ABB-Henschel of Mannheim will join in the building. The order is expected to be placed in 1992, for 1995 delivery.

Double Track on the RBS

On 14 November 1991 the Regionalverkhehr Bern - Solothurn opened a 900 metre double-track section between Schöbühl and Urtenen. This is in fact the third length of the line to be converted to double-track in 1991. As these works are improving the connection between Bern and Solothurn as well as Bern's commuter traffic, Solothurn canton is bearing part of the cost. The goal of continuous double-track from Bern via Zollikofen to Jegenstorf is not yet quite achieved; there are still relatively short bottlenecks near Zollikofen, around Jegenstorf and at 'Shoppyland'.

More Kolibris

In the last ten years, the SBB has placed 84 'New Shuttle Train' NPZ units in service, and now the sum of 290.8 million francs has been authorised for the purchase of another 42 power cars and driving trailers of the same design. These will delivered from the end of 1993, and will replace stock over 40 years old; NPZ units will then be the principal power on SBB local services.

New EBT Shunters

The Emmental - Burgdorf - Thun group has received four new electric shunting locomotives, three for the EBT company numbered Ee 3/3 132-4 and one for the VHB, Ee 3/3 151. They have independent drive to each axle, and replace the old 132, 133 and 151 which were ex-SBB Ee 3/3 16312, 16322 and 16323 ('Halbschuh' [shoe] class) which were built in 1928 and bought by the EBT in 1980/1. One of these old-timers will be scrapped to provide a source of spares for the other two which should find a new home elsewhere in Switzerland. Also new is an Eea 3/3 locomotive, transferred from the BLS system. This has an auxiliary battery allowing it to work the non-electrified army siding at Uetendorf.

A New Home

In 1987 the Frauenfeld - Wil (FW) celebrated its centenary, and 1921-built railcar no. 1 was restored to original condition. One the party was over, however, the Company no longer wanted the old lady, and threatened to scrap her unless a buyer came forward. Eventually, a fairy godmother has appeared in the shape of the Chemin de Fer des Montagnes Neuchateloises (CMN), and no.1 moved to her new home in October. Will she ever find her way back again?

End of the Northlander

The diesel-powered TEE units of the SBB and Dutch Railways were sold in 1977 to Canada, where they worked under the name "Northlander". Their power cars were complicated machines by American standards, they were never liked by their new owners, and after three years service in Canada were put into storage and later scrapped. The trailer coaches and driving trailers have remained in use, powered by Canadian diesel locomotives. Latterly only two of the four sets have been in use, and information reaches us that these last two are to be withdrawn on 9 February 1992. (Information supplied by Doris Zwald-Bipp, who contributed the unique article on TEE sets featured in the July 1991 Notebook.)

Uetliberg Tunnel

The city of Zürich plans to close the gap in its western motorway system by boring a 9 km tunnel through the Uetliberg. Removal of the spoil will be by environmentally-friendly rail transport; sidings are planned on the SBB and SZU lines.

Travel by Bus

From 31 May 1992, passenger services on the Solothurn - Herzogenbuchsee section of Line 415 will be replaced by buses, which will serve the town centres and a number of additional stops. As part of the developments in the Bahn 2000 plan, part of the line between Herzogenbuchsee and Etziken will be dismantled.

New Life

In 1947 the Furka - Oberalp (FO) sold four steam locomotives to what was then Indochina, and is now Vietnam. As is well known, they have now, with a number of other locos and vehicles, been brought back to Switzerland. Sensibly, the Vietnamese have invested the money in the refurbishing of the former rack line from Songh Pha to Da Lat. Already, two trains per day, worked by a Renault railcar, bring vegetables from the countryside to the Da Lat markets. Under the control of the Swissrail Association, a study has commenced with the aim of restoring the whole of the line with Swiss technology.

First published 1992 - this edition April 2009