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 Manchester Archive March 1993

Cheese Express

Prototype and Model, From LOKI 2-93, by René Stamm

Since time immemorial, Swiss express trains have included restaurant cars. In the 1970's, however, Schweizerische Spiesewagen Gesellschaft (SSG - Swiss Restaurant Car Company) was having trouble recruiting staff, and decided to try the self-service system which was popular at the time. Seven restaurant cars, of EW I design, were rebuilt as self-service cars (German: "Self-Service") between 1975 and 1978. As might have been expected, the customers were not impressed by this idea, but they continued in traffic. But in 1988, when the idea was born to improve restaurant car service by serving regional specialities, the unloved Self-Service cars became prime candidates for conversion.

The Swiss Cheese Union was enthusiastic about the new concept as an opportunity to promote their product, and in co-operation with Minibuffet AG, an established refreshment trolley operator, the first Cheese Express car came into being. The route chosen was from Basel and Bern to Canton Valais, where Raclette, Fondue and white wine are staple fare. The success of the project was shown by the introduction, in 1991, of a second Cheese Express; a third car is currently undergoing conversion and operations on other routes are under consideration. The three cars are numbered WR 50 85 88-33 700, 701 and 702 - their original numbers were WRs 50 85 88-33 615, 616 and 614 respectively.

The Coaches

Both the current Cheese Cars were built originally in 1958 as normal restaurant cars. The bodies are of welded sheet metal, following the standard of the EW I (Einheitswagen = Standard Coach) design. Like the rest of this type, the ends were later rebuilt with rubber corridor connections. The headstocks were also modified to accept the automatic coupler which was once intended to become a European standard. Bogies of type "SWP 71 Strengthened" assure a good quality of ride.

A completely new interior is fitted, and a modern kitchen. The tables are all equipped to take heaters for fondue and raclette. Draught beer is served, and up to twelve customers can stand at the bar if they fancy a swift half-litre. For those wishing to enjoy the cheese specialities, there are thirty individual chairs arranged at two- and four-place tables. There is indirect lighting in the ceiling, augmented by table lamps. Electric power supply is from the train heating cables, or the coach's own pantograph can be raised to provide an independent supply, for example during a locomotive change. In the roof is an 850 litre water tank, feeding the taps and the washing machine; an ultra-violet sterilizer ensures good water quality.


The Cheese Express colour scheme is, well, unmistakable; it was designed by Sonja Bigler of the Bern Art School and her teacher Claude Kuhn. The body is all over cheese-yellow with simulated holes, except for a broad black diagonal band four windows wide carrying the inscription "Chäs-Express RESTAURANT Fromage-Express" until Autumn 1992 when the "Le Buffet Suisse" logo was substituted for the word RESTAURANT. [Note - Chäs is a Swiss-German word: Standard German is Käse.]

The H0 Model

When the self-service cars first appeared in the 1970s, Lima produced an H0 model. At that time, Lima was basically a toy maker, and the model cannot be said to match up to modern standards. However, it filled the bill when the Cheese Union looked for a souvenir to be sold on board the coaches. The first series produced by Lima in Cheese-Express colours was sold only on the trains, and was numbered as the first car no. 700 (Model cat. no. 9245.01S). In 1992, a similar model but with running number 701 was made part of the normal Lima range (cat. 9284), and from 1 January 1993 the souvenir version appeared with the revised lettering, still numbered as 700 and still available only from the coaches themselves (cat. 9117).

A follow-up article in LOKI 3-93 deals with improving the model. To lower the buffer height to match Roco coaches, one saws off the pivot boss from the bogies and refits the bogies with screws. The biggest improvements is to get hold of a flush-glazing set made by Aku (catalogue no. 9001). The pantograph can be replaced by a better scale model, and insulators and roof wiring fitted.

Railways of Aigle 1: Aigle - Leysin

Based on Schweers and Wall

The small town of Aigle in the upper Rhone Valley is not just the place where your compiler once saw a man with a pistol chase another man through the station subway; it is also a 'Mecca' for narrow-gauge fans as three metre-gauge lines have their termini in the square outside the SBB/CFF station. Originally three separate companies, since 1975-76 the three have become subsidiaries of a group known as the Transports Publics du Chablais or TPC, Chablais being the name of the region. The Bex - Villars - Bretaye line is also part of this group.

The oldest of the three lines is the Aigle - Leysin (AL) which was built to connect the SBB at Aigle with the health and winter sports resort of Leysin, which sits on a sunny terrace high in the Vaudois Alps at around 1300 metres above sea level. Today, the AL is principally a passenger line with little or no freight traffic.


The history of the railway is intimately connected with the development of the village of Leysin, which was transformed at the end of the last century from a secluded cluster of farmhouses to a health resort for sufferers from Tuberculosis. The first sanitorium opened in 1890, but to reach it the patients had to endure three and a half hours in the postal coach from Aigle via le Sépey. In winter, a horse-drawn sleigh had to be used. Not surprisingly, a number of proposals for railways soon emerged. Adhesion-worked routes were suggested through the Ormont valley via Le Sépey, or alternatively via Yvorne and Corbeyrier. The route chosen, however, was a more direct line requiring rack-and-pinion assistance. This alignment did not pass the Grand Hotel in Aigle, so this was served by a short line from Aigle depot. The adhesion-only section from Aigle SBB station past the depot to the Aigle Grand Hotel opened on 5 May 1900, followed on 15 November 1900 by the rack line from the depot to Leysin-Feydey.

The traffic was initially modest, but both passengers and freight increased rapidly to the point when the facilities and track layouts had to be expanded. Between 1912 and 1914, the halt at Leysin-Village was rebuilt as a fully-fledged station with loops and goods sidings. The line at this point was relaid on a longer route, including an impressive stone curved viaduct, to ease the gradient through the station to 140 per mille. This new alignment opened on 18 December 1914. An extension of the line from Leysin-Feydey to the Lac d'Ai failed to materialise due to opposition from the authorities and the local population; all that was built was a short extension to the Leysin Grand Hotel, which opened on 12.9.1916. In the meantime, the section between Leysin-Village and Leysin-Feydey had been double-tracked and Leysin-Feydey station improved.

A tram service was operated within the town of Aigle, between the Station and the branch terminus at the Grand Hotel, but this service soon ran into trouble. The Aigle - Sépey - Les Diablerets line, opened in 1913, provided a halt at the Grand Hotel, then in 1914 World War I broke out and the hotel guests stopped coming . . . the tram frequency was cut back to a quarter of its original frequency but the three Ce 2/2 four-wheel trams nos. 1-3 kept going until the financial troubles of the early 1930s finished off both the tram service (1932) and the Grand Hotel itself (1934). In 1945-46 the Hotel was demolished, the branch tracks removed and the trams scrapped. All that remains today [1986] are the Hotel's little chapel and the disused station sign of the ASD's 'Grand Hotel' stop.

The main line to Leysin was thoroughly modernised and received new railcars in 1946. The AL became part of the TPC group in 1975, and its future looks much more secure than some other lines in the area as it would be difficult to provide a bus alternative. Indeed, plans for an extension beyond Leysin are very much on the table again.


The AL begins in Aigle station square, which it shares with the ASD and the Aigle - Ollon - Monthey - Champery (AOMC). As a pure adhesion line with a maximum gradient of 38 per mille, it runs through the streets of Aigle past a request stop in the market place and across the Grande Eau river to Aigle-Depot (km 1). All trains reverse here and start the fully rack-fitted (Abt system) climb at a maximum gradient of 230 per mille through vineyards and up the wooded valley side. Leysin-Village station is quite spectacular in that the platforms and extensive track layout are all graded at 1 in 7, even after the realignment mentioned above. From Leysin-Village through Versmont to Leysin-Feydey, the line is double-track and crosses an imposing viaduct. Leaving Leysin-Feydey, the line enters an 80 metre radius loop-tunnel which ends at Leysin Grand-Hotel station, 6.2 km from Aigle and over 1000 metres above the floor of the Rhone Valley.

The former tramway branched off before the river bridge, and followed the opposite bank of the river from the main line, passing behind the ASD depot. Beyond here, the ASD gains height by looping through the vineyards, but the AL trams kept to a direct route, with an adhesion-worked gradient steepening to 98 per mille [about 1 in 10]. Along this 400-metre steep section, wooden beams were fixed alongside the rails to give purchase for the emergency brakes! The 1.9 km tramway ended outside the Grand Hotel, immediately adjacent to the later-built ASD.


The AL was electrified from the start, but was originally worked in a rather complicated fashion. Coaches for Leysin were hauled from Aigle SBB to the Depot by the tramcars, then attached to the front of a rack-only locomotive which pushed them up the hill. Initially there were three of these locos, HGe 2/2 1-3, later joined by 10 (1900), 11 (1913) and 12 (1914). The line had one motorcoach, BCFe 1/4 no. 41, which was not rack-fitted and therefore also had to be propelled by a locomotive up the rack section. Independently of the Leysin service, the trams ran from the station to the Aigle Grand Hotel in the summer only, terminating at the depot in winter.

The original traction voltage was 600 V DC, increased to 650 V in 1908. The 1946 modernisation uprated the supply to 1300 V DC, collected by pantograph in place of the original roller system. The three railcars introduced at this time, BCFeh 2/4 (later BDeh 2/4) 201-203, could work over the whole line. They develop 340 HP at a maximum speed of 25 km/h and seat 48. Two further cars, BDeh 4/4 301-302, were obtained in 1966 and were designed to work on the ASD as well in emergency. The line's latest motive units are BDeh 4/4 303 Yvorne and 304 Ollon, built in 1987 by Vevey Engineering, as is customary these days for railways in French-speaking Cantons. Of the old locos still survives, and the roster is completed by shunting tractor Te 2/2 101 of 1949. The British visitor with Great Western leanings will feel very much at home on the AL, which uses the much-loved chocolate and cream livery.

Despite the moderniastion, the operation at Aigle depot is still rather quaint; all trains still have to reverse here. When two trains are scheduled to cross at Depot, both use the same reversing track, and because of the cramped conditions the first to arrive has to go into the depot building. Thus by careful study of the AL timetable one can be treated to a brief but free shed visit!

This, then, is the Aigle-Leysin, but I cannot finish without including another Charlie-style anecdote. In 1982 we rode this line at a time when it had been damaged by a landslide at one point. The AL management's temporary solution to this difficulty was to provide a railcar service to points a few yards each side of the break, and ask passengers to pick their way on foot between the two on a ledge in the middle of the wood past the repair workers. Tell that to the Health and Safety Executive...

Nuremberg Bulletin 1993

Reports on the Nuremberg fair can get rather repetitious, but we'll have a brief scan through the new Swiss items reported in LOKI 3-93.

Z Scale

Märklin plan a set of three SBB mineral-water vans (Elmer Citro, Valser and Orangina), and later in the year the SBB Re 4/4 IV will be released in the latest livery

Nm (N scale metre gauge on Z track)

This scale is really catching on, although the models are all hand-made brass and fearsomely expensive. Lemaco promise the RhB Ge 4/4 I and Crocodile plus coaches, Railino offer open-platform bogie coaches and (interestingly) a transporter wagon, and a new firm called Lok 14 is making a beautiful little Furka-Oberalp HGe 4/4 I which will be followed in October by a BVZ crocodile using the same chassis.

N scale

All the Arnold new Swiss items seem to be rather boring repaints, except perhaps the Südostbahn set with the East German engine and a Vanoli (contractors) engineers' train featuring an ex-DB V100 diesel, which are interesting repaints. The Fleischmann story is much the same, with the named Re 4/4 II Porrentruy and yet another Vanoli ex-DB V100. Likewise Roco who thrill us by repainting the DB V200 diesel as the Swiss Am 4/4 and putting a teddy-bear on the side of an SBB EW IV coach to make a 'Kinderwagen'.

Both Minitrix and Kato of Japan are making the lumpy new Re 460; judging by reviews of their American locos, the Japanese version will surely be the better runner. Mintirix are also producing the SBB Panorama Car, and matching Eurocity coaches. A completely new item from Minitrain (Lima) is to be a bogie ballast hopper which will be available in various liveries such as the familiar "Weiacher Kies" and also in sets of five with different running numbers. The NPZ unitl will be available as a prototype version in green with red doors.

Of the brass limited runs the absolute start of the show as far as your compiler is concerned is the Seetalbahn De 6/6 Crocodile from Lemaco.

H0m metre gauge

Bemo tell us that the long-promised Furka - Oberalp HGe 4/4 I is still being worked on, and will be released around the end of 1993. In the autumn there will be a Davos - Filisur push-pull train set, with a rebuilt-style Ge 4/4 I and prototypically adapted coaches and driving trailer. For 1994, latest RhB Ge 4/4 II will be introduced around the same time as the prototype.

Among the variations on existing models, the smelliest is the cattle train set, which will consist of a Ge 4/4 I, a coach and three vans plus a loading ramp and a selection of model animals. The Hge 4/4 II rack locos in Brünig and BVZ colours will be ready in the summer, as will the colourful Brünig-Bar and Jasswagen. Also to come are a wagon with two big stones on it, and Crocodile no. 414 with suitable detail variations. To increase the range of vans in advertising liveries, Bemo appear to have resorted to sponsoring repaints of the real thing to give them something to model! In this class are "Bemo" and "Valentin" vans. The RhB cement wagon gets a new livery, and there will be a mixed train set for the MOB with a GDe 4/4 loco, coach and three advertising vans.

Further ahead are an RhB temporary restaurant car, an RhB cable laying wagon, GFM transporter bogies (!), a diesel overhead wire maintenence tractor, 1960s coaches, the FO tunnel loco in updated livery, and a metre-gauge turntable. A new close-coupling system is to be produced, which should remove some of the problems pf the present design which is particularly likely to uncouple itself at the start of rack gradients.

D & R are making the FO Panorama Car in three different running numbers. The bogie tanker is to receive a darker colour scheme, and there will be an adaptor to allow D & R stock to be coupled to Bemo stock. Jäger-Modelle is a new range with etched bodies on a plastic underframe, to be sold by Aku. First release will be an RhB four-wheel coach. From STL, the RhB centre-entrance coach is due in April 1993, along with a new catalogue. The latest RhB bogie cement wagon with red stripe will be available in August, in three numbers plus a set of three with three more numbers. At the end of the year the latest type of FO panorama car, made in Italy by Breda, will be produced, followed later by BVZ and MOB versions. In March 1993, lighting sets for STL coaches will be available.

Finally we should mention Model Loco which is in fact the British firm DJH, who are to make a kit for the RhB G 4/5 2-8-0 steam engine, which will also be available ready made.

H0 Standard Gauge

Of course there are really no new locos left to model (except perhaps the Re 450 S-bahn), so manufacturers are squabbling over the Re 460 (Märklin, Roco, Allmo), or improving and reliverying standard stuff (Lima RBe 4/4 with rectangular headlights, Roco Ae 6/6.) A more fertile area to plough is the influx of foreign engines into Switzerland, such as ex-DB 211s used by track maintenence contractors (Roco, Fleischmann) and the hired East German engines (Gutzold 346 class as BLS, Märklin 243 class as SOB.) Lima are even going to issue the one-off whiskery Re 6/6 - see last month's Notebook.

Looking at older prototypes, good news is that the Liliput SBB "Tigerli" 0-6-0T is to re-appear in the Bachmann range, hopefully the beginning of a new Chinese-made era for Liliput models. The British firm Model Loco is getting into the H0 act with an SBB Ae 3/5 and a BLS Te 2/3 tractor. Oh, sorry, cancel what I said in brackets above, the Re 450 and a complete S-bahn train are to be produced in etched brass by a firm called Hui. The loco is based on the Hag mechanism from the BT/SZU loco.

The most interesting new coach model is the Lima EW I modified with swing-plug doors as is the current fashion. Limited-edition brass importers Lemaco are concentrating on multiple units, with a model of the SBB RABDe 12/12 Zürich suburban unit, and for 1994 the SBB/NS RAm diesel TEE (see Notebooks passim.)

LOKI Aktuell 3-93

Calanda Land

The first rehabilitated EW I restaurant car intended for services to Chur has emerged, numbered WR 50 85 88-33 710-7. It is grey and purple, and carries the 'Le Buffet Suisse' logo of Minibuffet AG on a broad diagonal band.


In advance of the full 'Hotel Train' services which are due to begin in 1995, the SBB is to begin using the budget-priced part of the package, the so-called Sleeperette Cars, from the May 1993 timetable on the Wiener Walzer Basel - Zürich - Vienna - Budapest overnight service.

The twelve cars are rebuilds of corridor second-class RIC standard coaches from the Bm 51 85 22-70 000 - 059 series, built 1966-68. Reclining seats are now fitted, as well as additional washing/toilet facilities. The cars are now numbered Bpm 51 85 29-70 150-161, and carry a dark blue livery with moon and stars at one end.


At the end of January 1993 a new society was founded under the name 'Ecotram - Museumsbahn Basel - Leymental', whose aim is to build a collection of metre-gauge stock and run it on a museum railway. This line, around 4 km long, is currently under construction at the Ecomusée, a Ballenberg-type open-air museum across the border in the Alsace region of France. The following exhibits have recently crossed the border:

  • Be 4/4 30 of the Vereinigten Bern - Worb - Bahnen (VBW), built 1910
  • BDe 4/4 38 from the Montreux - Oberlabd Bernois (MOB), ex-VBW, built 1913
  • ABe 4/4 7 of the Baselland - Transport (BLT) ex-Birsigtalbahn (BTB), built 1923
  • Two coaches, B 52 and 54 of the BLT, ex-BTB, built 1926
  • X 202''' of the BLT, built 1891.

The two Bernese railcars are on 30-year loan with the option to purchase, whilst the Basel equipment has been donated to the museum.

Kufstein in Thurgau

On the morning of 7 January 1993, new railcar Be 4/4 16 of the Frauenfeld - Wil (FW) railway was ceremonially named Kufstein by the Mayors of Frauenfeld and Kufstein, its twin town in the Inn valley of Austria. The two towns first formed a partnership in 1946, after Kufstein had been badly damaged in the War. Taking part in the ceremony with the civic personages were life-size versions of "Fräuli and Leuli", the maiden and lion from the crest of Fraunfeld, the local band, many local citizens and a contingent of the Press. Incidentally, there is a street in Kufstein called "Frauenfeldstrasse."

Bodensee - Toggenburg

BT driving trailer ABt 52 has been rebuilt, and the driving end now has three rectangular headlamps and no connecting door. BT restaurant car WR 450, which has for many years been earning its corn as a restaurant car on the Bern Lötschberg Simplon, has now returned home to be converted to an engineers' accommodation coach, Xa 80 62 94-32 905-1.

Sihltalbahn (SZU)

When all the new Re 4/4 class (see last issue) has been delivered, the SZU's 67-year-old 'Crocodile' De 3/4 41 will be transferred to the Dampfbahn-Verein Zürcher Oberland (DVZO) for preservation.

In Brief

By the end of 1992, SBB had accepted 24 of the Re 460 class ... Macdonalds have commissioned to rebuild two DB restaurant cars rolling burgerhouses for use on between Hamburg and Berchtesgarden, although rumour has it that they are considering selling off the two Swiss cars in three years or so ... The Wander company of Neuenegg (maker of Ovomaltine) proudly announces that 80% of its products leave the works by rail ... In 1993 the DVZO is expanding its programme of special trains beyond the Tösstal line ... The remaining single track section of the Rhone valley main line between Leuk and Salgesch is to be doubled as part of the Bahn 2000 scheme: current plan is to build a new route with two tunnels, and use the existing alignment for a motorway ... The Post Office is the railways' best customer. 640 mail vans and wagons operated on the SBB, clocking up 33.4 million km each year, plus the 51 PTT cars on private railways.

First published 1993 - this edition April 2009