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 - October 1992

Stern & Hafferl: Swiss Trains in Austria

From Eisenbahn Zeitschrift 2/90, by H. Petrovitsch.

The Stern & Hafferl company was founded in 1883, in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It was originally and engineering firm, specialising in the design to and construction of light railways. In 1884, headquarters was established at Gmunden am Traunsee in Upper Austria, where it remains today. Of 126 projects considered, only 26 lines were actually built, with a total route length of around 600 km. The company also became involved in electricity generation, and as a result many of the lines were electrified. As things developed, Stern & Hafferl also became owner and operator of various lines.

In the Alpine foothills of Upper Austria, StH has two metre gauge lines with 800 V DC electrification. The Vöcklamarkt - Attersee (VA) connects Vöcklamarkt on the the ÖBB Salzburg - Linz western main line to the lake resort of Attersee, 14 km away. The 15 km Gmunden - Vorchdorf (GV) makes an end-on connection with the StH standard-gauge line from Vorchdorf to Lambach, which is also on the western main line. To keep down costs, the company makes much use of second-hand equipment; the GV line is worked entirely by ex-Swiss trains.

Stock is not often transferred between the various StH lines, as there are technical differences. The GV uses air brakes and Scharfenberg couplers, whereas the VA trains have vacuum brakes and a centre buffer with coupling pin. The StH numbering system is two digits indicating the line (23=GV, 26=VA, 20 =StH general) then a point and three digits for an individual vehicle number. Slightly confusingly, these last three digits are not unique, so that for example 23.108 is an ex-AOMC railcar working on the GV, and a sister car working on the VA is numbered 26.108.

Lausanne - Trogen - Gmunden

From the mid-1960s, the GV and VA were worked by 1935-built cars bought from Düsseldorf, where they were used on the Rheinbahn line O between Solingen and Ohligs. In 1977, the search for some more modern power began. Two railcars (12/13, built Esslingen 1958) from the closed Esslingen - Nellingen - Denkendorf (END) line in Germany were inspected, but these were eventually sold to the Rittnerbahn in the South Tirol. Instead, in 1978 StH bought three railcars, BDe 4/4 3-5, from the Trogener Bahn. These cars were built by Vevey in 1954 for the Moudon line of the Lausanne Tramways, and sold to the TB in 1963 after that line closed.

The overhaul and rebuilding of these cars was allocated to the small StH workshop in Vorchdorf, and took a number of years to complete. To facilitate driver-only operation, the centre doors were removed and changes made to the rear of the cab. The magentic track brakes were removed, and extra shock absorbers fitted in their place to improve the running of the 28-tonne cars. TB no. 5 entered service as GV ET 23.105 in September 1982, followed by no. 4 as ET 23.106 in July 1984. The third car, TB no. 3, was never worked on and was scrapped in 1988.

Glarus - Vaud - Attersee

After the closure of the Sernftalbahn in Canton Glarus, its three modern BDe 4/4 railcars passed in 1969 to the Aigle - Ollon - Monthey - Champery (AOMC) in Catlon Vaud, where, not being rack-fitted, they were used on that line's lower section as BDe 4/4 111 -113. No. 113 was sold to StH in 1985, at a time of severe stock shortage; after quick adaptation to couplers and heating cable it entered service on the VA in September 1985, still carrying AOMC livery. It was a month before it even received its new running number ET 26.108. AOMC 112 arrived at Vorchdorf by rail on an SBB transporter wagon in January 1986. Although numbered for the VA as ET 26.109, it entered service in April 1986 on the GV, also still carrying AOMC livery. The wooden seats were given some upholstery, in the interests of passenger comfort. The third car, 111, was delivered in April 1986 and given a full overhaul and repaint before starting work on the GV in November 1987 as ET 23.108.

On 18 December 1987, disaster struck: the VA depot at Attersee caught fire, and the line's two cars (ET 26.108 and ex-Rheinbahn ET 23.104) were destroyed. The two ex-AOMC cars from the GV were moved to Attersee to take over, and are still the mainstay of the VA service. They retain their original air-brakes, but have been fitted with vacuum brake gear to control the brakes on the VA trailer cars. Since Summer 1988, the two cars have carried the name and coats-of-arms of the communities of St. Georgen im Attergau and Attersee.

Birsigtalbahn Survivors

In 1984, the Birsigtalbahn at Basel replaced all its railcars with tramway-type stock. The StH had considered buying two 1951-built railcars at this time, but when the AOMC purchased the BTB's other six cars, built in 1966, StH decided to buy the AOMC ex-Sernftal cars thus made redundant. The two old BTB cars, ABe 4/4 8-9, found no buyers and remained in store in the BTB depot at Oberwil.

The 1987 Attersee fire left StH in need of two replacement metre-gauge railcars, and this time it was decided to buy old no. 8 and 9. The pair had been built in 1951 by Schindler and Brown Boveri, and rebuilt with new bogies and doors in the late 1960s. On arrival in Austria in 1988 they were sent to the firm of Bombardier-Rotax in Vienna for a complete overhaul. The original first and second class sections have given way to a single (non-smoking) second-class saloon with 48 seats (plus 6 folding seats). The old diamond pantograph was replaced by an air-operated single-arm type. The rebuilt cars entered service on the GV in March and June 1989 as ET 23.109 and 23.110. Riding in them today, one gets the impression of a perfectly modern, clean and efficient local train; few would guess that they are 41 years old.

Swiss domination of these lines seems likely to continue in the future: the OSST (Oberaargau - Solothurn - Seeland - Transport) group has plans for new low-floor stock, and Stern & Hafferl have their eyes on the existing trains, taken over by the group from the Oberaargau - Jura and Solothurn - Niederbipp companies.

Coaching Stock

For use in rush hours and in special traffic, StH also has a fleet of Swiss-made open-platform coaches, built originally between 1914 and 1942 for the Worblentalbahn, now the VBW. Four of these (B4i 20.225 - 228, ex-VBW B 9/10/14/15) are allocated to the GV, and one (B4i 20.224, ex-VBW B 8) handles peak traffic on the VA. Another coach of the same class, B4i 20.223 (ex-VBW B 7), was rebuilt by StH in 1986 as a buffet car, for tourist trains on the VA.

Friendly Travel by Stern & Hafferl

[A short travelogue by C.H.]

No, we haven't forgotten that this is a Swiss publication, but anyone who feels like a change is strongly recommended to visit Upper Austria. Gmunden, for example, is a very pleasant lake resort which has an ÖBB station on the secondary line from Attnang-Puchheim to Steinach-Irdning. In July 1992 we arrived there by electric loco-hauled train including a coach built in the 1930s, one of many still in service and looking handsome in bright orange and ivory. Gmunden's main station, like many in Austria, is some way from the town centre, but in this case Stern & Hafferl come to the rescue with a unique little tram which meets every train and takes you down to the lakeside. Also on the lakeside is the Seebahnhof, which was until recently the terminus of an ÖBB passenger service from Lambach, but this was withdrawn in 1989 and the station is now used principally by the StH metre-gauge railcars to Gmunden. For this duty the station with run-round loop has been relaid in 3-rail mixed gauge, so that it can still be used by ÖBB trains if required.

The StH standard-gauge line from Vorchdorf-Eggenberg to Lambach handles freight as well as passenger traffic, sometimes as mixed trains, and runs two antiquated-looking 1932-built four-wheeled motorcoaches as well as a 1953 bogie vehicle. Stern & Hafferl markets itself as 'Die Umweltbahn' - the Environmental Line; long may its modern 'Colonel Stephens empire' flourish as an example to other countries.

Rubber Tyres on the SBB

From Eisenbahn Zeitschrift 2/90

This story begins in 1908, when the Rohrschach - Heiden railway tested a Saurer car, modified to run on the rail track. The vehicle showed itself able to carry 13 passengers up the 90 per mille gradient without use of the rack with which the RHB line is equipped. Later, in the 1930s, the idea of rubber-tyred railway vehicles was publicised in many countries by the Michelin company, which built the well-known demonstration railcars recently modelled by Märklin. At this time, the RHB built a new, streamlined 'Red Arrow' using a lorry chassis with 32 HP Hispano-Suiza engine, which could carry 20 passengers up the hill; during the war, the special types became unobtainable, and the car fell into disuse, being finally withdrawn around 1950.

The SBB Prototypes

In 1938, the SBB decided to create two prototype pneumatic-tyred coaches, nominally as trailer cars for its lightweight 'Red Arrow' railcars. Design discussions were held with Michelin and the Schlieren coachworks, but the War intervened before building could begin. In 1947, the idea was revived, and the SBB ordered two prototypes, a third class car from SWS Schlieren and a second-class car from SIG Neuhausen. The bogies for both coaches were built by Carel-Fouché of Paris, who had built similar bogies for the SNCF. The two coaches were delivered in summer 1950, and underwent much test running before entering normal service.

In overall appearance, the two coaches resembled the familiar centre-entrance light-steel type, but every opportunity was taken to reduce weight. Both were integrally constructed, with a load-bearing body structure. The third-class coach, Cp4 6501, was built from sheet steel, the roof section being only 0.7 mm thick. It had 76 seats (and one toilet), and weighed only 14.2 tonnes tare compared to the 25 tonnes of the standard light-steel coach. The second-class coach, Bp4 2501, was made from aluminium alloy, and was in fact the first standard-gauge Swiss coach to make use of this material. Much use was made of spot-welding in the construction, and the 46-seat coach weighed only 12.7 tonnes. A publicity photograph shows the complete coach floor being carried by only 12 men.

Each bogie comprised a light fabricated steel frame carrying five axles, thus 20 pneumatic tyres were fitted to each coach. Steel flanges were fitted the the wheels af all but the centre axle of each bogie. The axles did not rotate, the wheels having roller bearings at their centres. Each bogie also had two sprung metal shoes which slid along the rails to operate track circuits.


After test running, the two coaches were placed in service between Geneva and Zürich, but soon after warsd they were transferred to the Bern - Lucerne route, which has been used a number of times as a resting place for unsuccessful new ideas (RFE 4/4, RBCFe 8/12, EW III coaches). At the end of 1953 they were removed from this main line to the branch line from Vevey to Puidoux-Chexbres, a very steeply graded route (38 per mille) on which their light weight was a useful feature. Predictably, all sorts of maintenance problems had plagued them, and no further examples were ordered. Vibration was a major problem in service, especially when coupled to normal coaches, when vibrations were transmitted through the buffers. The performance of the bogies at speed on uneven track was also suspect. In 1953 the second-class coach was fitted with new pneumatic-tyred bogies designed and built in Switzerland by SIG. These had only four axles, only the outer wheels being flanged. These new bogies were no improvement, however.

In 1958 the third (now second) class coach was taken into the SIG works and fitted with new, steel-wheeled, bogies, of an experimental air-sprung design. After a collision in 1966, it was rebuilt at Zürich works as a mobile changing room for use with the mobile chest X-ray unit of the railway medical service, and in 1989 was still on this duty in a grey and blue colour scheme. The aluminium coach, no.2501, lasted longer on its rubber tyres; in 1963 it was rebuilt with normal bogies, and hired to the Sdostbahn, which was grateful for its light weight (now 16 tonnes) on its very steep line. It was used as a first class coach on the through pilgrim services from Zürich to Einsiedeln, until 1975 when its was condemned when submitted for a routine overhaul due to the poor condition of its bogie mountings. Thus ended a brave experiment, which in 1950 seemed to hold out so much hope for the smooth riding of rail passengers.

The Northlander Story

TEE in Canada, Pt.1 from LOKI 9/92 by C. Zellweger.

As previously related in LOKI 4 and 5/92 (Notebook May and June) the 1957-built diesel Trans-Europe Express units of the Swiss and Dutch Railways ran in their appointed duties until 1974 (except one destroyed in an accident). After withdrawal the four remaining units were placed in store; some thought was given to converting them to electric working, but an advertisement was also placed in the Railway Gazette International offering them for sale. Many railways expressed interest, and some were even given demonstration runs. No offers were made, however, and the trains began to suffer the attentions of vandals. Eventually in October 1976 the Canadian UTDC (Urban Transport Development Corporation Ltd) resolved to purchase them for lease to the Ontario Northland Railway (ONR).

A Canadian politician had promised them in his election campaign, so two units had to made ready in a great hurry to enter service in April 1977. The modifications specified by the Canadians were taken in hand immediately; to simplify slightly, the coaches went to SIG Neuhausen, except their bogies which were overhauled by SBB Zrich works. Zrich also overhauled the electric motors. The majority of work on the power cars was carried out by the NS works at Tilburg. The trains were brought together again in Holland and given some brief test runs. On 29 March 1977, the first two sets, now numbered 1900 and 1901, were loaded into the cargo ship Wolfgang Russ for the storm-tossed journey across the Atlantic.

In Canada

Once unloaded from the ship, the units underwent various adaptation works. Some problems appeared, but were dealt with the help of the SBB engineer who spent some time in Canada training the workshop staff and ONR train crews. The drivers had to learn to get out of the habit of turning up the throttle at the same time as applying the brakes ('stretch braking') which helps to even out the load on the centre buffer-couplers when handling the long heavy trains customary in North America. Another American custom which was perpetuated was the large crew carried - driver, fireman (or secondman?), brakeman, chief conductor and conductor.

Delivered from Holland without lettering, the power cars and trailers were all painted with the now-legendary name Northlander before entering service. An official first run took place on 28 May 1977, followed 12 days later on 9 June by the first public scheduled run. The timetable of one northbound and one southbound train daily required both the available units to be in working order; all servicing and repairs had to be done at night. This risky situation continued until Autumn 1977, when the other two sets were delivered from Europe. In the meantime the first two trains, originally given running numbers 1900 and 1901, had been renumbered 1980 and 1981; the newcomers were given numbers 1982 and 1983.

Winter Days

In Ontario, winter temperatures often fall as low as minus 40 degrees Centigrade [or Fahrenheit!] and diesel fuel needs to be treated with anti-freeze. Various modifications had to be made to handle these conditions, notably the relocation of some exposed air and water pipes and the fitting of heaters to the cooling air filters. The need for these measures can perhaps be inferred from an article in the SBB Nachrichtenblatt 2-1979: 'The TEE diesel trains have won the approval of the Canadian public in a very short time, bringing about a 67% increase in passenger numbers. The extreme climate conditions have, however, led to some maintenence problems.'

In Service

The Northlander service connected the city of Toronto with the northern Ontario town of Timmins, a total run of 783 km. From Toronto as far as North Bay, the trains ran on Canadian National Railway metals, for which the ONR had to pay a (high) charge. One set worked daily in each direction, the journey time being around eleven hours. On busy days, two sets would be coupled together, and at weekends and holidays extra runs were made from Toronto to North Bay and back. Originally it had been planned to run the Northlander further north via Kapuskasing to Cochrane, but this was abandoned on economic grounds.

The trains were designed to work in push-pull mode, as the power car was at one end only. The Canadians, however, decided to run with power car leading, and turn the whole train at each end of the journey. The decision to lead with the heavier power car was prompted by the high risk of accident on unprotected level crossings, and also to increase the train's chances of getting through snowdrifts. At Timmins, and also at North Bay where reversal was necessary, triangles (or 'wyes' in American parlance) were used to turn the train; the layout of lines around Toronto allows the train to be arrive and depart by diferent routes, thus incorporating the reversal.

Under Way

The following account of the journey is from SBB-Nachrichtenblatt 2-1980. The journey begins in the Canadian National Railway's Union Station in Toronto, and passes the city's biggest landmark, the 543-metre CN Tower (the Eiffel Tower = 300 metres). After leaving the city, the train runs for hour after hour on short, non-welded rails across the seemingly endless fertile plains of the province of Ontario. As we travel north, the cultivated land gives way to forest. Every now and then we stop at small towns, many of which also have an airfield. At a passing loop in the forest we meet a southbound ore working, with five diesel locomotives hauling 14,000 tons of train which is two kilometres long. These freight trains, are enormously long by European standards, and require equally long double track sections at passing places; the turnouts at each end are operated by the train crews.

Around halfway through the journey is North Bay, a medium-sized town with around 50,000 inhabitants and the headquarters of the Ontario Northland Railway, with depot and workshops. Leaving North Bay for its terminus at the mining town of Timmins, the droning power car hauls us northwards again into the endless Ontario forest with its population of bears and elks through which Canadians like to roam in their traditional canoes. The driver makes much use of his horn and bell at the numerous unprotected road crossings. Drivers of heavy lorries are not the only creatures which need to be scared off the line; the dams built by beavers can cause flooding of the line and have to be removed by railway staff using dynamite!

[To be continued...]

Some News Sidelines

UIC Expands

In June 1992, six new members were formally admitted to the International Union of Railways (Union International des Chemins de Fer - UIC). They are the state railways of the Ukraine (22,000 route km), Byelorussia (5468 km), Lithuania (LG - 2670 km), Latvia (LVD - 2400 km), Slovenia (SZ - 1201 km), and Croatia (HZ - 2592 km).

New Uses for Vevey Bogies

The Vevey bogie, a modern version of the traditional Rollbocke for carrying standard-gauge wagons on narrow-gauge lines, was first built in 1977, and today over 450 are in service on metre-gauge lines all over Switzerland. In recent years, Vevey Engineering has been finding innovative uses for the same technology. Firstly, the principle of the small-wheeled bogie has found use under the new generation of low-floored tramcars designed to make boarding and alighting easier for elderly and disabled people and people with babies.

In January 1991 Vevey Engineering received an enquiry from GEC Altsthom, who had been contracted to build the trains for the new high-speed line in Spain from Madrid to Saville, known as the AVE - Alta Velocidad Espanola. It had been decided to build the new line to the standard gauge of 1435 mm, rather than the Spanish gauge of 1668 mm. Gauge conversion of other Spanish routes may take place later, but the problem faced by GEC Alsthom was how to get the power cars, which were to be built in France, from the border at Irun to Madrid over 1668 mm gauge track - a reversal of the normal duty of the bogies. However, the special bogies were designed and built in time for the first test run in October 1991.

Last Word on the 1992 Line Closures

The final days of the Beromünster branch saw scenes redolent of the British branch closures of the sixties and seventies. The usual single BDe 4/4 railcar had to be augmented with a light-steel bogie second and an ABt driving trailer - a variety not usually seen on the Seetalbahn which normally uses DZt driving trailers. There are, however, no reports of any coffins being dispatched to the Swiss Transport Minister.

A few weeks after the buses took over, an excursion train was organised for employees of the Menziken Aluminium Works and their families; over three hundred people rode to Lucerne for a trip on the Lake to Brunnen. The train started from Reinach, and consisted of five international-type compartment coaches hauled by an Ae 6/6. It had to split into two sections to negotiate the connection to the Seetal main line at Beinwil, as the headshunt will only take a loco and three coaches. The Beromünster branch remains in business for freight.

The other 1992 victim, the Solothurn - Herzongenbuchsee line, has already been rendered impassable as a through route, contrary to statements made at an SBB press conference in April. The overhead wire has been disconnected and earthed, and goods trips will be worked from each end, from Solothurn to Subingen and from Herzogenbuchsee to Inkwil, by diesel locomotives.

Model Shop Gossip

H0m Metre Gauge Scene

Freight trains are no rarity on the Rhaetian Railway. Obviously, as a metre gauge system the variety of wagons is limited by comparison to a standard gauge network, but this seems to be no barrier to the ambitions of the Bemo company which continues to launch new models and variants onto the market. The latest are examples include covered van Gbk-v 5610 in white livery with advertising lettering for Lista and Eugenio frs Bro (model cat. no. 2283 120). Another colourful newcomer is the Gbk van in green with lettering for the Badraun furniture shop of Samedan. The bogie sliding-wall van Haik-v 5112 (cat. 2278 102) with brown body and large RhB logos on the doors is a very common sight on the RhB, and long bogie stake wagon Rp-w 8290 (cat.2280-101) is of the type used mostly in timber traffic.

Turning to the coaching scene, Bemo have released first and second class coaches with the new logo and Zermatt-Bahn lettering adopted by the BVZ to mark their centenary year. The latest release from STL (Dekopel) is the RhB 'heavy-steel' coach, which like their previous open-platform coach is a quite amazing model with details of extraordinary quality. Claimed as a world exclusive are the 'automatic-coupling corridor connections' although one wonders how well these will perform on sharp reverse curves.

Liliput News

The Austrian firm of Liliput, whose range included some essential Swiss items in H0, got itself into financial trouble a couple of years ago. The designs and goodwill seemed to have been taken over by the German firm of Herpa, known for its plastic road vehicles, but nothing seemed to appear. Some examples of the SBB Ae 4/7 have been issued with new packaging giving the name of 'Thringer Prazisionsteile Gmbh' of Eisfeld, eastern Germany, but the latest news is that the Bachmann organisation have stepped into the breach. Presumably, production will be transferred to Hong Kong or China.

Loki Aktuell 10/92

Travelling Station

The SBB station building at Aathal lost its original purpose in May 1990. In August 1992 it went on a journey, complete with its goods store and signal box. As befitting its status, the station made the 73 metre journey on rails, although admittedly not ordinary rails but a track designed specially for the purpose of this unusual, 4.3 metre per hour, movement. From 1993 the building will start a new life as a post office.

Re 6/6 Muzzled

Reports have been reaching the LOKI office of an SBB Re 6/6 loco with a 'muzzle' - a pattern of lines on the cab end in the style of the Canton-named Ae 6/6 class. We thought this was just a silly rumour until the editor saw it himself; red-liveried 11611 has the whiskery addition on one end only. The application of this feature seems to have been rather ineffective as one of the lines has already fallen off. An ideal chance for a model manufacturer to issue two limited edition repaints - one with full 'muzzle', one with the partial version . . .

New Jungfrau Motorcoach

A newly-built motorcoach was recently noted outside the SLM works at Winterthur.

Re 460 Stories

During August, test runs over the Gotthard were made as part of an international programme to discover the cause of problems with eccentric wheels. The train consisted of a variety of coaches from the DB, ÖBB, FS and SBB, offering a variety of bogie types. Motive power was brand new Re 460 005 and 024, one each end of the train; occasionally Re 4/4 III locos were substituted for one or both due to technical difficulties.

Humorous stories emerging from BLS circles suggest that the BLS management considers the 99 SBB Re 460 locomotives as 'prototypes' to test the high-tech features to be included in the forthcoming BLS 'production' series of eight!

Seetalbahn Poker

The Government has given authority for infrastructure improvements on the Seetalbahn between Emmenbrcke and Lenzburg. Nevertheless, rumours persist that plans are being made to replace part of the route by a bus service.


In LOKI (and Notebook) 9-92 we claimed that the platforms at Geneva are too short for two orange TGV-sets coupled together. This is not the case, and we apologise for the error.

NPZ variety for Modellers

The SBB is installing the new ZUB automatic speed control cab-signalling system - with some difficulty - on the Zürich S-Bahn system. On 3 July, a demonstration run for the benefit of the managements of private railways was run from Bern to Thun. This working was composed of an NPZ power car and trailer sandwiching an EW IV salon car (61 85 89-90 100) for the VIPs.

A mobile press conference train for the NEAT (New Alp Transit) project on 13 August was formed of an NPZ power car, two 'old' (built 1956-58) EW I salon cars (50 85 89-33 500 and 51 85 89-30 501), and a red Re 4/4 II loco. Originally it has been planned to use the 'Red Arrow' single-unit railcar RAe 2/4 1001 on this job, but it could not have carried the large number of journalists who showed interest in the project.

[On a more mundane level, your compiler was mildly surprised on a rainy morning in July 1992 to find a Seetalbahn journey from Lenzburg to Lucerne formed of the usual set of coaches (two light-steel cars and a DZt driving trailer) with an NPZ power car substituting for the usual RBe 4/4 unit. We have no idea whether this is a regular occurrence, but it would make for variety on the layout.]

FART on the ASD

In early September the first of the new low-floor units being built by Vevey engineering for the Centovalli companies, ABe 4/6 51, emerged from the works for a test run on the Aigle - Sepey - Diablerets line, which is fairly conveniently located for the Vevey engineers and has similar characteristics to the Centovalli.

Stop Press

63% of people voted for the New Alpine Transit Scheme in the recent referendum.

First published 1992 - this edition April 2009