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 1992

End of the Beromünster Branch - by Charlie Hulme

Although there were some hopes of a reprieve (see last month's issue) the axe has fallen on the SBB Beromünster branch passenger service which ceased to operate at the end of May. Oh yes, I know it will probably be better for the users to have a through bus service from Lucerne to Beinwil, but even so it is sad to see one of our favourite journeys disappear.

I first came across the branch in the early 1970s, when I decided to visit the place which I remembered from the bakelite radio dials of my childhood. At the time, most trains on the Seetal system were worked by the modernised De 4/4 motor vans and composed of open balcony coaches. Beinwil am See station was notable for its bursts of intense activity as the branch train was timed to connect with the Seetal 'main line' trains in both directions which crossed at Beinwil. The branch train would then set off backwards from Beinwil as far as the end of a siding where it would then reverse and start the climb up the steepest standard-gauge gradient on the SBB system. Later, some old driving trailers were found and push-pull working was instituted.

Latterly, main line trains have crossed at Birrwil and the branch service was maintained by a single BDe 4/4 railcar providing 40 seats, so the bus should have no capacity problems; I don't suppose it will have a toilet, though, and you won't be able to stick your head out of the window and feel happy. At one time there was talk of the Reinach - Beromünster section being taken over by the metre-gauge WSB line, but this does not seem to be under discussion at present, perhaps because Beromüster is in Lucerne Canton, whereas the rest of the WSB is in Aarau. Much has been written already in the Notebook on this area, so I will say no more except to refer you to the February 1990 issue and go off to cry into my beer.

Not Much News

After the excitement of the timetable change, LOKI has little in the way of news in its issue 6/92. It should be said, however, that the tests of a Karlsruhe tram in Switzerland predicted in the previous issue did not, in fact, take place. This was a result of the German Railways strike and various other factors. Also, as we 'go to press', it transpires that the much-publicised withdrawal of the international services to Delle and Belfort (see below) has in fact been postponed.

The July 1992 issue of Modern Railways contains the second part of a detailed article on Swiss railways, which is worth reading, albeit rather depressing as it talks of more service reductions, and other problems.

Bremgarten - Dietikon

Based on Schmalsurparadies Schweiz Bd.2, by Schweers and Wall

Railways which climb up to high passes are not found solely in the high Alps: there is one line in the Zürich suburban area which has a ruling gradient of 53 per mille and dramatic curves on either side of the summit. We refer to the metre-gauge Bremgarten - Dietikon line, whose summit station of Berikon-Widen lies at 550 metres above the sea. Another noteworthy feature is that BD trains reach Wohlen over a section of line laid as three-rail mixed gauge and leased from the SBB.


The first railway project in the area known as the Freiamt was proposed only 10 years after the opening of the country's first railway, the 'Spanish Bun Railway' in 1847. It was planned to build a standard-gauge line from the Bremgarten to Zürich via Affoltern and the Albis and Sihl valleys. Nothing came of this, however, nor of an early proposal to route the Gotthard main line through Bremgarten. This historic town was left off the railway map until the town authorities, in conjunction with the Nortdostbahn and the Centralbahn, promoted the building of a branch line from Wohlen. The two railway companies invested 500,000 Fr., and the commune paid the rest of the 1,233,409 Fr. construction cost.

The branch opened on 1 July 1876, but was not an immediate success, running at a loss right from the start. This was no doubt partly due to the inconvenient location of Bremgarten station, which was on the left bank of the Reuss well away from the town centre at the location now known as Bremgarten West. Worse still, there was no convenient link with Zürich. In 1891 a proposal was made for an electric tramway from Bremgarten to Dietikon, which was replaced in 1894 by an ambitious scheme for a Zürich - Altstetten - Schlieren - Schönenwerd - Bremgarten - Wohlen line with a branch from Schönenwerd to Dietikon. An extension from Wohen to Meisterschwanden was later added to the plan. Initially, a concession was granted by Zürich Canton for the Zürich - Dietikon section. The Bremgarten interests concentrated on the Bremgarten West - Dietikon section, and by 1899 a concession for this section had been issued.

The 'Aktiengesellschaft Elektrische Strassenbahn Bremgarten - Dietikon' was formed on 18 May 1901, and construction, by Locher & Co. and Machinenfabrik Oerlikon, proceeded without problems, regular services began on May 1 1902. In Bremarten, the line ended at Oberthor, on the opposite bank of the river Reuss from the standard gauge branch terminus. The river was a formidable obstacle, with fierce current especially when swollen by melt waters flowing out of Lake Lucerne in the spring. In 1910, the well-known river bridge was finally complete.

In 1902 the Central and North-Eastern railways had become part of the SBB, and with them the Wohlen - Bremgarten branch; the commune of Bremgarten sold its share to the government. When the bridge was completed, arrangements were made for the branch to be leased to the BD company. A third rail was laid and overhead electric wires erected to permit through working over the 12.2 km from Dietikon to Wohlen, which commenced on 8 February 1912.

During World War I the country suffered a severe shortage of coal, and many railways had to cut back their services; the electrified BD benefited from a considerable increase in traffic during this period, further augmented in 1920 when the connecting line from Wohlen to Meisterschwanden was opened as a standard-gauge line. The WM and BD came under common management in 1920, and remain so today. Most of the BD line was originally laid in the roadway, but over the years from 1925 to 1942, it was gradually removed to a separate right-of-way at the roadside. In 1954, a transporter wagon ramp was installed at Bremgarten West to allow standard gauge goods wagons to be worked over the narrow gauge section when required. In the 1960s, the line was modernised and resignalled, and most of its old rolling stock replaced. Since 1982, the passenger services have operated to a regular interval 'Taktfahrplan' to connect with the SBB.

The line's main job today is to carry commuters to Zürich; since 1990 it is officially part of the S-Bahn network. The heavy excursion traffic of former years to the Reuss valley and the Halwilersee at Meisterschwanden has largely been lost to road transport, although your compiler encountered the usual party of schoolchildren at Wohlen, unusually equipped with a pair of stilts which had to be carried transversely between the racks. For the future, further track improvements are planned, including some doubling of track, and new stock is on order.


The line begins alongside the SBB station at Dietikon, which today has only a modest track layout, although there was once a depot here. There was a junction with the Limmattal Stassenbahn (LSB), a part of the Zürich tramway network opened in 1900, but it was never regularly used. Through trains were sometimes run from Bremgarten to Zürich for theatre-goers, until the LSB was cut back in 1928 to terminate at Schlieren. (The Limmat valley route, which became part of Zürich tram line 10, was further cut back in 1956 to Altstetten Farbhof.) Leaving Dietikon, the line follows the Reppisch valley into Canton Aarau and through Rudolfstetten up to the Mutschellen Pass, looping to gain height before reaching its summit at Berikon - Widen, a passing place with three tracks. The descent to Bremgarten is hair-raising, as the cars follow the road around a series of remarkable bends (minimum curve radius 25 metres!) down the side of the Reuss valley. Bremgarten (Obertor) station is the headquarters of the line, with the depot unusually set at right-angles to the running tracks and reached by curved connections.

Leaving the modern station at Bremgarten (beware flooding in the toilets), trains run on to the spectacular Reuss viaduct, which has been much photographed from various points in the town including the 16th century covered wooden road bridge which, like the town walls and many other buildings in Bremgarten is well worth stopping off for an hour to see. On hot days the local youth can be seen swimming across the fast-flowing river, emerging way downstream and walking back for another go.

Bremgarten West, on the other side, is the second largest station on the line, with its goods depot served by standard-gauge trains. In 1954, a transporter wagon ramp was installed here so that standard-gauge wagons could be carried on over the narrow-gauge section. In 1977 the transporter wagons were replaced by Vevey bogies, but little traffic was forthcoming: in the year 1988, only six wagons were transported. The service was withdrawn in January 1990, and the bogies sold to the Appenzeller Bahn. There is a small depot here, home to the BD's little standard-gauge diesels which work the freight from the SBB interchange at Wohlen.

Now three-rail mixed gauge, trains call at Erdmannlistein (crossing loop for narrow-gauge trains only) and the halt at Wohlen Oberdorf. The standard gauge branches off to the SBB interchange, and passenger trains run into a two-track terminus on Wohlen station forecourt, on the opposite side of the station from the bay platform serving the Meisterschwanden line. Services run half-hourly between Dietikon and Bremgarten, with alternate trains continuing to Wohlen.

Motive Power

The BD began operations in 1902 with three four-wheel tramcars, Ce 2/2 1-3. These were augmented in 1904 by rebuilding trailer cars 4-5 with motors. 1, 3 and 4 were later rebuilt as tractors Te 2/2 401-403, of which 403 survived into the 1980s. For the extension to Wohlen in 1912, new bogie cars Ce 2/4 7 and 8 were obtained, joined in 1915 by similar car 9. These cars ran the service until the 1960s modernisation, joined in 1928/32 by Ce 4/4 10 and 11 which are still in stock today, easily recognised by their high-set end windows dating from their rebuilding in 1955/56. No. 10 was rebuilt in 1986 as a 'Partywagen' (? BDre 4/4) with buffet for private hire; when not on this duty it helps no. 11 with engineer's trains. Three bogie cars bought in 1947, Ce 4/4 6-8 (some confusing renumbering of old cars occurred) were sold in 1969/70 to the Frauenfeld - Wil line where they became 204-206 and two are still in service as freight motors. Around 1947 [1930 in another book], the line voltage was increased from 750 volts DC to 900 volts, and in 1969 it was raised again to 1200 volts.

In 1969, the BD took delivery of the nine three-section articulated railcars, ABDe 8/8 no. 1-9, which at present work all normal trains. These units are well suited to the line's sharp curves, with their four powered bogies. Built by Schileren and Oerlikon, they are 33 metres long and seat 93 passengers in second class only with 7 square metres of baggage space. Each bogie has one traction motor driving both axles through a Brown Boveri flexible drive with rubber link, giving each unit a total power of 780 HP. Striking in their orange and cream livery, all are named after local Cantons and Communes. In 1992, five new low-floor units are on order, built to a modification of a standard modular design to be used by several other railways: see the May 1992 Notebook for more details.

Depot shunting and engineers' duties on the narrow-gauge section are the province of two neat little four-wheeled 92 HP diesels, Tm 2/2 51 and 52, built by Stadler in 1967/68. These have a chain drive to both axles from the centrally-mounted Saurer engine. As another example of how the Swiss loco classification can confuse even the experts, no. 51 was delivered in 1969 carrying the code Em 2/2, which surely applies to standard-gauge engines only; narrow-gauge locos can only be G or T.

Standard Gauge

When the present BD system was created in 1912 and the line electrified, a standard-gauge freight motor, Fe 2/2 251, was bought to work the freight between Wohlen and Bremgarten West. This unit gave sterling service until it was withdrawn in 1969 and scrapped in 1972. BDe 4/4 railcar no. 2 from the associated Wohlen - Meisterschwanden line became engineers' car Xe 4/4 151 on the BD in 1966, and worked until it too was scrapped in 1972. When the line voltage was increased in 1968, it was decided to work the standard-gauge trains by diesel power, and a small four-wheeled diesel, Em 2/2 102, built in 1965, was transferred from the WM where its sister 101 is still in service. This 180 HP loco worked all traffic until 1984, when the increasing traffic, mostly gravel in hopper wagons, required the purchase of a new, more powerful machine. Em 2/2 103 was built by Stadler with a 500 HP General Motors engine.

Once Upon a Time at Delle

A route portrait by Claus Dieter Pusch, from LOKI 6/92

On 30 May 1992, at 21.24, the last international train was due to leave the French town of Delle for Delémont, capital of the Swiss Janton Jura. SBB internal local service continues, and there is hope for a new international service in future; this seems an appropriate time to examine the origins and history of the line.

The 'Pruntrut Zipfel', known in French as the Ajoie, the area around the town of Porrentruy, is geographically part of the French province of Alsace; it projects out into French territory and its river, the Allaine, flows down into France. However, in 1815 it became part of the Swiss Canton Bern, despite being separated from the rest of the country by a range of high hills crossed only by two passes over 2000 feet high. Not surpisingly, the first railway to reach the area was from the French side. The Paris - Lyon - Mediterranée railway opened its branch from Montbéliard to Delle on 29 June 1868, a rather circuitous route intended to serve the industrial areas of the Doubs and Allaine valleys. Taking advantage of Delle's location on the frontier, a private Swiss company extended the line the 11.8 km across the border to Porrentruy, opening for business on 23 September 1872.

The area became a strategic territory after the Franco-Prussian War when Alsace became part of Germany. The French Chemin de Fer de l'Est (Eastern Railway) lost its Mulhouse - Basel link with the Swiss network, and in conjunction with Canton Bern promoted the construction of a new line from Biel via Moutier to Delémont and on to meet the exisiting line at Porrentruy. A branch from Delémont ran down the Birse valley to Basel. The junction at Delémont was laid out for allow the Eastern Railways traffic a through run from Belfort to Basel, creating a great incovenience today as all trains from Biel to Basel have to reverse. The Delémont - Glovelier section opened in 1876, and Glovelier to Porrentruy in 1877. In 1876, this Jura Bernois (JB) railway absorbed the Porrentruy - Delle (PD) company, and was itself absorbed in 1884 to become the JBL - Jura Bern Luzern. In 1890, this company became part of the Jura-Simplon railway (JS), which was nationalised on May 1 1903 to become part of the SBB. On the French side, the Eastern Railway built a new direct line from Belfort to Morvillars, and doubled the track from there to Delle, sharing the route with the PLM. The bill for these works were added to the 4.5 million Francs which the French company had contributed to the building of the Delémont - Basel link.

Two Swiss private railways were built to connect with this line. The Glovelier - Saignelégier opened in 1904, and the Porrentruy - Bonfol in 1901; a cross-border extension from Bonfol to Pfetterhouse was opened in 1910. The main line developed as an important express route, with daily trains from Bern to Boulogne (for London), Basel to Paris, and the luxury 'Engadine Express.' The opening of the Solothurn - Moutier line through the Grenchenberg Tunnel in 1915 increased traffic still further.

In the Shadows

At the end of World War I Alsace was returned to France and the heyday of the Delle border crossing was over. The most important trains returned to the Basel - Mulhouse route, and the Delle line suddenly lost its international importance. Freight and local trains continued to run, however, and on 15 May 1933 the Swiss section as far as Delle became part of the SBB electrified network. In France, however, passenger services on the old route from Montbeliard to Morvillars were withdrawn in December 1938 (although a sparse service was revived from 1940-44) and the French local stations between Belfort and Delle were also closed to passengers around that time. In 1944, the line was put out of action by bombing, and did not reopen until 1 August 1945.

After the war, the French made plans to close the line; in 1949 the average daily traffic across the border was 537 passengers and 294 gross tonnes of freight. The threats were never carried out however, and in 1964 Delle station was rebuilt and modernised. The luxury international expresses did not return, but a service of two or three daily expresses began running from Bern to Belfort, with through coaches to Paris. The Paris coaches ran for the last time in Winter 1984/85; a through coach from Biel to Belfort continued until 1987. Since then the international service has consisted simply of workings between Belfort and Delémont, and now, as from May 1992, there are no trains through to Belfort at all. Freight traffic seems secure for the present, however: in 1990 18,500 tonnes was exported to France by this route, and 178,500 tonnes (mostly grain in block trains) imported. In future, these freight trains will be hauled through to Porrentruy by French diesels specially fitted with Swiss automatic warning equipment; this measure was first suggested in 1945.

A Private Future?

The death knell of the express service was sounded by the introduction of the TGV link between Bern and Paris via the Pontarlier border crossing, which links the two capitals in 4 hours 26 minutes compared to the best time of 6 hours 5 minues via Belfort. Furthermore, the scanty timetable of recent years has offered no proper connections to northern France and the Benelux countries via Nancy and Metz. However, the loss of the international trains is a serious loss for the young Canton Jura which has been attempting to build itself a proper transport network, including the new Transjura road. The Canton has strongly opposed the closure, but the French provincial authorities on the other side of the border were not prepared to subsidise the SNCF service. Alternative plans have been prepared for a Porrentruy - Belfort service to be operated by the Canton's own Chemins de Fer du Jura (CJ); tests have been carried out with a double-deck diesel railcar hired from Italy. Only time will tell whether sufficient finance is found from the border region to introduce this service on a regular basis.

Stop Press

It has just been announced that, at the request of the Peugeot company of Montelibard, it is very probable that the French Railways (SNCF) will introduce a once-daily TGV high-speed service between Belfort and Paris from 27 September 1992. This will leave Belfort around 06.00, and return at 20.30. The way we we hear it, the car manufacturer has offered to guarantee the profitability of this new link. However, the new train is unlikely to save the link from Switzerland to Belfort, as a connection from Delémont to the morning train would have to leave at the unearthly hour of 04.45.

Model without Prototype

Hag's latest Re 6/6 in HO, from LOKI 6/92 by Christian Zellweger.

Do you remember the Spring of the Swiss anniversary year 1991? Lima released their second-class EW I coach in white and red adorned with the shields of all the Swiss cantons, catalogue no. 309593K. This 1991 limited production run soon sold out and is now keenly sought after. Seeing their chance, Lima brought out a second anniversary version (309597K), also white and red but this time a first class coach and with the cross-and-country logo and no canton shields. Neither model, of course, was based on any real-life colour scheme. Now, Hag have jumped on this bandwagon and released their Re 6/6 in a similar freelance anniversary livery.

Peter Eichenberger, a graphic designer from Böbikon, who has for many years produced superb repaints of the products of various manufacturers, had the idea to produce a special anniversary locomotive. He arranged with Hag to make 200 H0 Re 6/6 locomotives in all-over white, then decorated them himself with canton shields etc. These exclusive models sold for 1291 francs [get it?] each. Mr Eichenberger tried to persuade the SBB to paint a real loco to match his model; he wrote to the Region III authorities, but they politely declined to join in the project on the grounds that such a livery would encourage the Zürich area graffiti artists to offer their own versions. Enquiries to SBB headquarters in Bern received similar replies, so the idea went no further. This is no surprise, as it is known that the artist Daniel Bourret had great trouble persuading the SBB to allow him to create his notorious "Picasso" Re 4/4 II.

Mr Eichenberger did, however, come to an arrangement with model manufacturer Hag who had been considering producing their own anniversary locomotive. A limited production run of 1600 Re 6/6 models is now on sale, based on the Eichenberger design.

A Visit to BEMO

Translated from Die Model Eisenbahn

When the firm of BEMO was started in the middle seventies by three brave Swabians - Mr Schüler (Sales), Mr Bartenmüller (Toolmaker) and Mr Göbel from the ROWA model railway firm - their intention was to produce models of the narrow gauge trains of their own area. Württemburg was second only to Saxony as Germany's narrow-gauge paradise. The first mass-produced BEMO models appeared in 1976; originally they were marketed as an added attraction to an H0 layout, but the idea of a complete narrow-gauge layout was in the minds of the company's founders from the start. Soon they turned their attention to the country of the narrow-gauge main lines - Switzerland.

The first BEMO Swiss models (the RhB Ge 4/4 loco and short coaches) made their debut at the 1978 Nuremburg fair, and were an immediate success. The Swiss liked them because they could model their own railways, and everyone else loved them because they could build narrow gauge layouts to remind them of holiday trips to the Alps. BEMO's designers focussed their attention on the Rhaetian Railway, enabling the modeller to build up an authentic collection.

The Company

The BEMO headquarters at 59 Stuttgarter Strasse, Uhingen, Baden-Württemburg, houses 32 workers, who are supplemented by a further 20 people who work at home. Metal casting and plastic moulding are contracted out; the region has many skilled craftsmen in these areas. The design office contains no computers, just traditional drawing boards and a vast archive of information about every possible detail of the prototype equipment, down to whether an individual wagon has spoked or disk wheels and whether the wheel tyres have paint marks to detect slippage. Exactly correct painting and lettering are considered essential; in some cases, as many as 62 separate operations of a Tampo printing machine are needed to letter a single model. Everything is there, from the red brake-changeover lever on the cement wagon to the red tongue of the goat on the Graubünden crest.

In all the excitement of the Swiss models, the original idea of German narrow-gauge has been on the 'back-burner' recently. However, the unification of Germany has brought BEMO into collaboration with another major manufacturer of 12 mm gauge model trains: Zeuke, manufacturer of the Berliner Bahn line of TT models of standard gauge equipment. A jointly-owned subsidiary, BEMO-Zeuke Gmbh, will concentrate on H0m models of German prototypes, drawn from the ex-East German Saxon lines as well as the Württemburg area. The BEMO factory will continue to expand the Swiss range.

News for H0m Modellers

An Italian firm cryptically named AR.TE.MO is producing a hand-made brass model of engineers' mess coach (ex-four wheeled coach) X 9064 in current red livery. This is on sale from Blu Model of Chiasso for 350 Francs; a version in old red-brown as X 9065 is to be produced next. On sale in Switzerland only is a track-cleaning wagon marketed as Bemo-BW. This costs 85 Francs and seems to consist of a BEMO RhB metal-high-sided wagon with a Peco track rubber stuck to the bottom an a load of logs to add weight.

BEMO has now released its set of four RhB saloon coaches in green and cream livery, as running until the 1970s in 'normal' first-class service before they were upgraded for special hire duties. The model reflects various differences as well as the livery change, such as the bogies and doors.

What to Do on Your Holidays

Some places and times to get grit in your eyes and mingle with lots of photographers. From LOKI 6/92 - check details before flying over!

Waldenburger Bahn (750 mm gauge)

30 August, 20 September, 25 October: Depart Waldenberg at 08.50 and 14.40, depart Liestal 10.45 and 17.10.

Sihltalbahn (SZU)

This line in Zürich is celebrating its centenary this year by running a steam service every weekend until October between Giesshübel and Sihlwald. Trains leave Geisshübel at 12.50 and 14.20 (Saturdays), 10.20, 13.20 and 15.20 (Sundays). Tickets (5 Francs return) have to be bought in advance (up to a month ahead) from Adliswil, Geisshübel or Langnau am A. stations, or the tram ticket shop at Zürich main station.

The weekend of 26-27 September is the big celebration, with a display of trains as Geisshübel as well as other events.

Furka Mountain Line

Steam trains are now running at weekends on the eastern section between Realp and Tiefenbach from 11 July to 11 October. Departures from Realp are 10.30 (a), 11.40 (a), 12.50 (a), 14.10, 15.20, 16.30 (b). Arrival back at Realp is c. 50 minutes later. Notes: (a) Sundays only, (b) runs only in good weather and sufficient demand.

The return fare is 18 Francs, or you can buy a day pass for 36 Fr.

Aigle - Sepey - Diablerets

The next Swiss line to close down will probably be the ASD. [Why are they closing my favourite lines? -C.H.] For anyone who wants to take a last ride, the surviving 1913-built electric railcars are to be used for a special nostalgia service on 16 August, 6 and 27 September. Trains leave Aigle at 09.28 and 14.00, returning from Les Diablerets at 10.56 and 16.51. Normal tickets are valid with a special nostalgia-supplement payable at the ticket office on the day. Well worth a ride.

First published 1992 - this edition April 2009