These pages comprise articles from the 'Notebooks' compiled
by Charlie Hulme in the 1990s, mostly translated and edited articles
from Swiss books and magazines.
They appeared in printed, and latterly also e-mailed form, as
the Web hardly existed at the time. We have converted them to this
format, as they chronicle an especially interesting period in railway
history, and also include useful histories of various lines.
Swiss Railways Notebook for Manchester - November 1992
Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere: Railways of Martigny
Part 1: Martigny - Orsières
Ths small town (pop. 11,309) of Martigny lies at the
confluence of the Drance with the Rhone river at the point where the
Rhone valley makes a right-angled turn. It is also the junction of the
Simplon and St.Bernard pass roads. Martigny has been an important stop
for travellers since Roman times, as evidenced by the first-century
temple excavated in 1976 and now incorporated in the Gallo-Roman Museum
of the Pierra-Gianadda Foundation. The town's best-known landmark is
the Bataz tower, a ruined 13th century fort on a rocky outcrop
overlooking the river; there are also a number of interesting 17th and
18th century buildings, and the stained glass in the Town Hall is said
to be a sight to see.
Martigny is well served by rail, with its station on the
Simplon main line also playing host to two private railways. The
metre-gauge line to France will be covered in our next instalment;
first we will take a look at the standard-gauge link to Orsières
and Le Chable, the Martigny - Orsières Railway.
The MO railway owes its existence to the British Aluminium
Company, which needed a rail connection to a planned aluminium works at
Orsières. It was intended to continue the line through the Val
Ferret to Courmayeur in the Italian Aosta valley. In the event, neither
the exnetsion nor the aluminium works ever materialised. The line from
Martigny to Orsières was opened on 1 September 1910, and was
electrified from the beginning at 8 kV AC, 15 Hz. It is a hilly route,
with a maximum gradient of 37 per mille and minimum curve radius of 175
metres. Initial motive power was two passenger motorcoaches and two
electric baggage vans for freight working. Passenger traffic was very
modest, until the area - known as the Drance valleys - was developed as
a winter sports district; freight traffic has always made a major
contribution to revenue.
To carry the materials for the construction of the Mauvoisin
Dam, a short branch line from Sembrancher to Le Chable was opened on 5
August 1953, takin the company's total route length to 25.7 km. This
hydro-electric dam is a remarkable structure, with a concrete wall 237
metres (778 feet) high. As part of the preparation for the project, the
MO electrical supply had already been altered in 1949 to the SBB
standard 15 kV 16.66 Hz system, and the new branch followed this
standard. The track and bridges were also strengthened to allow SBB
locomotives to run through to Le Châble with the heavy cement
In 1955, a new ABDe 4/4 motorcoach was obtained to supplement
the ageing stock; from 1962-65 a full stock modernisation was
undertaken with three new ABDe 4/4s (6-8) and matching driving trailers
(31-33: see cover picture) as well as three coaches (B 41-2). These
vehicles were of the standard type delivered to various private lines
at the time, based on the SBB RBe 4/4 design. HAG makes an H0 model of
the type, available in MO colours, but it is a rather old model and
costs a great deal; Swiss modellers have been known to kit-bash the
Lima SBB RBe 4/4. In 1983 a further example of the type (ABDe 4/4 9)
was purchased by the MO from the Regional du Val de Travers (RVT). Of
the original 1910 motive power, only freight motor De 4/4 no. 4
remains. For the marshalling aidings and industrial spurs at Martigny,
a shunting tractor was bought from Germany in 1982. Another diesel
tractor shunts at Orsières and Le Châble.
The normal passenger service is one train per hour between
Martigny and Orsières, with a connecting railcar running between
Sembrancher and Le Châble, railhead for the international ski-ing
resort of Verbier which can be reached by bus or cable car.
Aku Modellbahnen: A LOKI visit
From LOKI 10/92, by Urs Häni
It was a visibly harrassed Andreas Kull who opened the door to
our reporter. The reason for the stress, he explained after greeting
us, was not the `recession' which everyone is talking about, but the
problems of commissioning a new workshop whilst simultaneously
maintaining production to meet the demand. This is being achieved, as
evidenced by the pile of boxes containing freshly-painted models.
Uninitiated visitors might be surprised to find the proprietor of the
company with paint stains all over his trousers and shirt. Working by
hand leaves its traces, however, especially when using the airbrush,
the principal tool of Mr Kull's trade.
All around us are stocks of the products of famous large
manufacturers, waiting for the Aku repainting and lettering treatment.
The emphasis is on the waiting, because the Aku (Aku = Andreas Kull)
team is very small: Rosemarie Ostschwald, Kull himself and a
professional model maker whose services the firm shares with Roland
Born of Rapperswil. The cooperation with the Born company is very
significant; Kull paints models for Born, and in return Born produces
masters for the etching process. It is no surprise, then, that Born
stocks the whole range in his specialist shop in Rapperswil, and Kull
intends to stock the Born range in the little shop he is planning to
open at his Mülligen (Aargau) headquarters.
The planned shop will also offer at reduced prices any Aku
models with sub-standard moulding or livery printing which cannot be
sold through other model shops. There is no plan to undercut the normal
prices of perfect models, as Kull is concerned to protect the
livelihood of the shops which provide his main income. He has been in
business for ten years, and is known throughout the trade for his
thoughtful and serious attitude.
An Aku-Born project currently being planned is the Knie circus
train; the Epoch II/III version will be sold by Born and the Epoch IV
version by Aku. Also proposed is a range of 0 gauge wagons, although
these are at present only at the planning stage and it will be over a
year before they are on the market. Painting and lettering work is also
undertaken for other manufacturers: the 0 gauge wagons in the Allmo
range are painted and lettered by Aku, as were the Hag 'Bourret' Re 4/4
II and the Bemo 'cyclists' van.
We asked Mr Kull how he got started in the hobby, and received the
standard reply about running Märklin toy trains as a child. He
soon began to add details and improvements, but collecting became his
main obsession; at one time he had over 500 locomotives and hundreds of
coaches and wagons. His main love was steam and diesel motive power; of
the SBB electrics his roster included only the classics such as the Ae
4/7, Be 4/6 and Crocodile. Today his model-collecting hobby centres on
the railways of Scandinavia: he corresponds and exchanges models with a
Danish modeller who is interested in Swiss railways.
The Aku company was founded in 1983; the first model wagon was
produced in that year while he was still working for his father in the
High Costs, Limited Runs
At this point we ask the 64,000 dollar question: why are Aku
models so expensive compared to the products of the large
manufacturers? Mr Kull explains, with some frustration, that the
moulding tools for one wagon cost at least 40,000 Francs to produce. A
big firm can amortise this capital cost at perhaps 10 Francs per item
sold, but Aku must share the cost over a small production run. The high
interest rates at present make this problem even worse.
To keep costs reasonable, a standard underframe moulding is
used for a range of wagons. The cost of modifying the tools has
prevented the fitting of modern close-coupling mechanisms to the
existing range, although future products will be so fitted. Each model
is produced in a limited run of 300 to 600 examples; these limited runs
are really where the small manufacturer can succeed by producing the
type of model, such as a restaurant car or postal van, of which any
train has only one example. In the planning stage is a postal van,
which will be produced in the liveries of different Epochs, giving a
total production run of perhaps 2000. Success in this sort of
enterprise depends very much on the correct estimation of the size of
Planning of a Model
The first stages in the production of a new model are the
choice of a prototype and a photographic survey of the chosen vehicle.
Often, this phase takes place on weekends and holidays, as many as a
hundred photographs being taken of one wagon to allow preparation of
detailed specifications for the toolmaker. The appropriate buffers,
wheels and couplings are chosen from the existing range and discussions
held with the toolmaker. The moulds are made, and a test moulding
produced; minor corrections to the moulds can be made at this stage.
Thus are created the moulds for the axleguards, underframe, body, roof
If manufacturing is not held up by mould faults or late
delivery of parts, the next step is the assembly painting and
lettering, carried out in the Aku workshop which is equipped with a
high-quality Tampo printing machine. Wagons are also sold in kit form,
which saves costs in assembly, although the packing stage needs rather
more effort. Around four times as many ready-built wagons are sold than
the kit versions.
Aku models are predominantly based on Swiss prototypes. From
the beginning, Aku has offered wagons for the Epoch III modeller, in
1950s livery, numbering and lettering. At first, these products were
something of a flop, but recently a group of modellers interested in
the grey wagons of Epochs II and III has established itself and the
models now sell well; this parallels similar developments in modelling
in neighbouring countries.
As much as 18 per cent of Aku production goes for export, to
Japan, New Zealand and Australia as well as our European neighbours.
Amazingly, the proportions between kits and ready-made models are
exactly reversed for this export trade. At present Mr Kull is
considering producing German-prototype models, and is on the lookout
for an idea which will complement the large ranges.
Next year marks the tenth anniversary of Aku, and it is
intended to celebrate this by publishing a new catalogue and issuing a
special set of three wagons with special lettering. Other projects
under way are for open wagons of the BLS and SOB, and a set of signs
and accessories such as post boxes.
The Northlander Story, Pt 2
From LOKI 10/92 by Karl Zimmermann and Christian Zellweger.
We will never forget our visit to the Chief Mechanical Officer
of the Ontario Northland Railway at North Bay in Summer 1979. Mr
Moorehead, with his feet propped on the desk, welcomed us heartily to
his enormous office. He showed us around the depot and works, answered
our questions despite our rather poor English, and supplied us with
working timetables and other papers to facilitate photography. In the
end I had to ask him what he thought of "our" trains. He smiled gently
and said (rather like Asterix and Obelix talking about the Romans)
`They're crazy, these Europeans'; and then, more practically: `I don't
understand it. All four motors are fully sprung, using complicated and
intricate mechanisms which would find no place in our robust North
American railway equipment.' He was right in principle perhaps, but
European engineers have to use such devices to keep trains within the
permitted axle-loads of their railways. Size and weight are not
obstacles on the other side of the Atlantic, however, as can also be
seen in other fields such as automobiles and aircraft.
The ONR found that the strange foreign machines created
considerable maintenance problems, so much so that their operating cost
per mile was almost twice that of the traditional North American
diesel. Mr Moorhead and his colleagues resolved to replace the power
cars as soon as they could with standard American locomotives; in fact
they were supplanted by General Motors FP7 Bo-Bo diesels in 1983, and
scrapped in 1984. The coaches continued in service until early 1992,
when it became known that they too were to be replaced.
Toronto Union Station, 9 February 1992: On track 1, ready for
departure at 12 midday, stands a train which appears, externally at
least, to be in its last days. A coat of grime covers the
once-fashionable yellow and blue colours of this pocket-sized
streamliner. The large 'Northlander' lettering on the coach sides, with
its stylised letter N, seems washed out and faded. These impressions do
not mislead: in exactly 10 hours time and 482 miles away at Cochrane in
northern Ontario, a chapter in transatlantic railway history which
began in 1957 will come to an end. One of the replacement trains,
composed of three seating coaches and a cafeteria car all rebuilt from
vehicles previously used in Toronto suburban service, is already under
way on the southbound working.
Shortly before departure, we join the train, noing that there
are so many passengers that the last run of a TEE set in Canada is as
good as sold out. On board the short train, headed by its FP7 loco,
conductor Sam Cox shows us to our compartment and collects out tickets.
As we take our seats, he tells us that this is the last run with these
coaches. 'So we're making history', says the lady sitting next to us.
The mood in the dining car, which opens for business as soon as ticket
checking is finished, is festive and light-hearted, perhaps surprising
when one thinks that the replacement trains with their cafeteria cars
have no need for a full dining car crew. As diners take their places,
waiter Don Lavalle shows an elderly gentleman to our table. 'We have a
birthday boy among us' announces Lavelle to the assembled company. 'How
do you know that?' asks the old man, amazed. 'Don't you remember, we
both have the same birthday'. 'Oh yes, we share a birthday, but I are
retired and you have to work'. 'Not after tomorrow', replies Lavalle.
Talking to our companion during the meal, we discover that he 85 years
old and has been travelling on the train from Mushoka since 1907. Since
retirement he has been riding the Northlander about once a month. `In
the old days there were wooden coaches, with gas lamps hanging from the
ceiling', he recalls. 'When I was a kid, I remember putting my hands
over my ears when the gas was lit from a wax taper, as there would
often be a loud bang.' We ask him what he thinks about the new trains.
'I'll tell you when I've ridden in one', he replies. Soon, at
Grevenhurst, he leaves the train, to return to Toronto on the
The Biggest Fan
Another diner on this last ride is Doris Zwald from
Zürich-Oerlikon. For the last twenty years she has been a Swissair
flight attendant, and is now spending the bitter-sweet last few hours
of an extraordinary love-affair with these trains. She is determined to
record the event, and is festooned with camera, video and
tape-recorder. After joining us in the dining car for the home-made
soup (an ONR speciality) she shows us the album of photographs she has
brought with her illustrating the trains' career.
She first saw a TEE train in 1959 when travelling to school,
and has been following their career ever since. On the last run in
Europe (24 May 1974) she rode in the cab from Amsterdam to Zürich.
The following year, she volunteered to act as waitress on the test runs
arranged for ONR management, and through the contacts thus made with
ONR officials she was able to take her place on the official opening
run in Canada on 28 May 1977. 'This train's been lucky for me', she
muses. 'I have met all the right people.'
At Trout Creek, we cross the southbound train which is running
an hour late, composed of the 'new' stainless-steel coaches hauled
today by a GP 38-2 diesel as the FP7 is in works for overhaul. Doris
records the crossing on video from the footplate. At North Bay, a few
miles further on, the train leaves the tracks of the Canadian National
Railway for the Ontario Northland, and the VIA Rail train crew gives
way to an ONR team. The dining car staff are also changed; as night
falls I partake of the last complete meal ever to be served in the
Northlander, and return to my typical European-style compartment to
listen to the song of the diesel's air horn as we roll through the
night towards Cochrane.
On the Scrap Line
The fate of the TEE trains was sealed on 9 September 1991,
when train 1987 was deflected by a faulty turnout linkage and rammed
into a freight train. Unit 1985 was already out of service with
mechanical problems, leaving only two workable trains. One of these,
1984, suffered damage to its locomotive cab after a collision with an
articulated lorry. The loco continued in use as heating generator, but
had to be hauled by a valuable ONR freight diesel. Now all are out of
service, and in the words of Doris Zwald, 'The diesel TEEs are no
longer alive, but they still run in our memories...'
LOKI Aktuell 11-92
The promised test runs by dual-voltage trams from Karlsruhe
took place in Switzerland from 14 to 19 September. Nos. 808 and 810
operated timetabled SBB locals between Vevey and Morges and Nyon -
Geneva, on the TSOL in Lausanne, on the Martigny - Orsieères
and on the GBS (Gürbetal - Bern - Schwarzenburg) line of the BLS
group. The vehicles are triple-articulated cars, Be 4/8 in the Swiss
classification system, and can run on the 15 kV AC power of Swiss
and German main lines as well as the 750 V DC found on tramways
the TSOL, which would thus be able to extend its service back to
CFF along the main line. The other railways are interested in their
lightweight construction, which saves energy; operating costs on a
typical local service would be around half that of a traditional
train and a third of a locomotive-hauled service.
Some more technical details: Seats 100, standing places 240.
37.61 metres, weight 58 tonnes. The two outer bogies are powered by
a 245 kW motor each, giving a maximum speed of 100 km/h. The cars,
built by ABB and Henschel, have microprocessor control, a cab each
end and automatic couplers. The floor is 1 metre above the rail,
by three steps, so it is not a fashionable low-floor design. The weight
of 580 kg per seated passenger can be compared with various other
types of train: the RBe 4/4 works out at 1062.5 kg, the RABDe 12/12
'Mirage' unit 850 kg, whilst the RABDe 8/16 'Chiquita' (albeit
and unpopular) weighs in at only 536 kg. The 'Red Arrow' railcars
built in the 1930s weighed as little as 466 kg per seat, but they
were built for use on lightly-loaded branch lines rather than
suburban operation, and did not have normal couplings or corridor
connections between cars.
100 Years of the Sihltalbahn
The Sihltal - Zürich - Uetliberg (SZU) is taking delivery
birthday treat in the shape of six double-deck coaches. Each of the
26.8 metre long, 45 tonne cars, with 136 second-class seats, is costing
the company two million Francs [£800,000]. They are basically
the same as the 285 SBB cars on the Zürich S-Bahn, with a few
minor differences, especially the livery which is ruby red and dark
grey. Upholstery is velour, and passenger signal buttons for request
stops are fitted. Smoking compartments are not provided, and the door
controls have been modified to allow the doors to be kept open in
summer during station layovers. The cars have toilet compartments,
but they have not been fitted out and are sealed off.
New RhB Coaches
The Schindler factory at Altenrhein has begun delivery of 17
for the Rhaetian Railway. Eleven are short versions suitable for the
Bernina line (3 first, 6 second and one brake-second) and six are
full length cars for the main line (three each first and second class.)
All should be in service by May 1993. [Good news for railfans is
that the photograph shows traditional drop windows are fitted.] Also
new in service are eleven bogie vans built by Josef Meyer AG.
From 23 May 1993, SBB Panorama Cars will work over the
in the new Eurocity Ticino. Two further cars have been ordered
(at 1.5 millon Francs each) from Schindler Waggon for use on the
Brünig line between Lucerne and Interlaken. They will have 48
seats, and will be suitable for through running over the BLS and MOB
if the much-discussed third rail from Interlaken to Zweisimmen is
Useful Steam Loco
After working the Summer steam specials on the old Hauenstein
the SBB C 5/6 [2-10-0] steam engine 2978 returned to Western
under its own steam on 24 August, towing three shunting locos which
were needed at Biel works for repair.
On 4 September, to commemorate its 50th anniversary, the
- Fribourg - Morat named two of its railcars after local communities.
BDe 4/4 142 (built 1972) is now Semsales,
and the new set BDe
4/4 121 + Bt 221 is now called Remaufens.
In October, BDe 4/4
122 was to be named La Tour de
Trême and BDe 4/4 141 Gruyères.
RABe to Stuttgart and Frasne
From 23 May 1993, a new fast service will operate on a trial
between Zürich and Stuttgart, using the RABe (ex-TEE) sets
used over the Gotthard as the Eurocity Manzoni. Also in the
summer timetable the connection by RABe set from Bern to the TGV Paris
- Lausanne service at Frasne will be re-instated, having previously
run from 1984 to 1987. In those days, the sets were still in the red
and cream TEE livery, whereas today they are in `Railfreight Grey'.
The Bremgarten - Dietikon (BD) has donated open wagon G 147
in 1919) to the Furka Bergstrecke group which intends to convert it
to an 'Aussichtswagen' or open coach.
The four prototype Re 4/4 IV locomotives 10101 - 10104 of the
carried various experimental liveries (two locos had different schemes
on each side) from delivery in 1982 until 1986 when they were given
the now-standard red scheme, but adorned by large lettering advertising
the `Rail 2000' plans. Now, however, the SBB considers the new Re
4/4 460 class as the image-carrier for the scheme, and the Re 4/4
IVs have been returned to more normal inscriptions in the current
style with large lettering and logo. The loco number appears on the
The centre-entrance version of the SBB light-steel coach is
to its last few examples, causing a sudden interest among railway
photographers; the twice-daily Ae 4/7-hauled mixed train from St
to Bouveret has lately been a regular photogenic haunt of the type.
it is only a short trip over the the frontier to the Italian
Railway (FNM) terminus at Como near Chiasso. The FNM has bought a
number of these coaches from the SBB in recent years; the photograph
in LOKI shows FNM coach no. 930.51 freshly-painted
in lime-green and light grey. This vehicle was built in 1953 by SIG
as SBB third class C4ü 6046, later reclassified as second-class
C4ü 5796 and finally B 50 85 20-39 045-3.
Belfort Link Really
The passenger service between Delle and Belfort (see previous Notebooks)
which was reprieved at the last minute for the Summer of 1992, has
definitely ceased from 27 September.
- this edition April 2009