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 September 1993

Loco Portrait: BLS Ae 6/8

From Die Modell-Eisenbahn 1/90, by Urs Hudritsch

As was so often the case in the early days of electric traction, the haulage power of the Bern Lötschberg Simplon railway's first generation of locomotives was soon outstripped by increasing freight traffic, especially the transport of coal confiscated from Germany as part of their reparations for World War I. To improve on the Be 5/7 class (see the January 1993 Notebook), the BLS ordered two Be 6/8 locos featuring the spring drive invented by Sècheron of Geneva, which were delivered in 1926. These 4500 HP machines were 2000 HP more powerful than the Be 5/7s, and for some years were the World's most powerful locomotives. With six double motors driving the individual axles, the type (the longest non-articulated Swiss design) became an object of international interest.

The Sècheron hollow-shaft drive system was similar in appearance to the Westinghouse design as fitted to the SBB Be 5/7, Ae 3/5 and Ae 3/6 classes in that a better layout of springing was fitted in the wheels between the axles and tyres. This made possible smaller wheels (1350 mm instead of 1610 mm), reduced the occurrence of spring fractures and provided more space for the transmission units. The tractive effort produced by the Be 6/8 permitted trains of 610 tonnes to be worked up the 27 per mille gradients of the Lötschberg at 50 km/h; as much as possible in any case without straining the wagon couplings of the day. One Be 6/8 (weight 144 tonnes) was found to be equal to the capacity of two Be 5/7s (total 214 tonnes), and the BLS was very satisfied with their new motive power. In 1931, two further machines were built: mechanical parts were constructed by Breda of Milan, with Sècheron responsible for the electrical equipment.

Through Running

As the 1930s proceeded, agreement was reached for SBB locos to work through to Interlaken Ost, and in return BLS locos would work through to Bern. The Be 6/8s, however, with their 75 km/h maximum speed, could not match the SBB scheduled time between Bern and Thun. Two new machines were built in Switzerland by SLM (with electrical parts again by Sècheron) in 1939 to an improved design, capable of 90 km/h and therefore classified Ae 6/8. The first of the pair, 205, was displayed at the 'Landi 39' exhibition. 205 and 206 differed most obviously from their earlier sisters by the rounded shape of their cabs, considered ultra-modern at the time. Internally, the power rating was increased to 6000 HP. Two more were built of the updated design, 207 in 1942 and 208 in 1943.

During this period, the four original locos also upgraded to Ae 6/8, and their power increased to 5280 HP. They retained their original square Breda cabs until later rebuilding in the 1950s.


During the 1950s, various improvements were made to the class. The braking resistances were moved from inside the body to the roof, to improve natural ventilation. In 1954-56, all eight locos were fitted with additional roof resistances to improve the electrical braking, in place of one of the pantographs. The oil-filled main circuit breaker was replaced by an air-blast type of Brown Boveri design, and the air-assisted mechanical switchgear gave way to an electro-pneumatic installation. During this period, the Breda-built locomotives gained the rounded cab, which permitted operation without a 'fireman.'

Later, the suspension was altered to incorporate modern rubber elements, and the motors improved to permit a speed increase to 100 km/h. Improvements to the transformer cooling required the replacement of the two centre windows on one side by two large louvres.

Special Workings

During the War, the class was often used on through workings from Basel to Brig or Domodossola. In 1958, the Lötschberg south ramp was closed by a landslide, and Ae 6/8 locos worked over the Gotthard for a while: a useful excuse for the modeller. They are also sometimes used on special trains outside the BLS network, and at times have been loaned to the SBB to cover for locomotive shortages in the Bern area.

Present and Future

The first of the class to be scrapped was 201 in 1982, after six years out of use. 202 followed a year later, and after 205 was withdrawn in 1985, 203 became the last surviving Breda-built loco and the subject of a [failed?] preservation scheme. The Swiss-built 205 to 208 remain in service for the time being, used on local freights and as reserve power; the longest survivor will no doubt be 205, which was given an R2 overhaul in 1987 and emerged in a historic livery with the full wording 'Bern - Lötschberg - Simplon' in large yellow letters on the sides in place of the standard chromium-plated initials.

On The Way 1: The Belgian Coast

by Charlie Hulme

This is the first of a new series in which I hope to show you some of the things which you might see if, travelling by rail to Switzerland, you were to break your journey. Not about Swiss Railways, I know: please tell me if you disapprove!

The best trains for Switzerland these days are from Ostend, which can be reached by ferry or Jetfoil from Dover, or by the North Sea Ferry to nearby Zeebrugge. Belgium has only a short coastline, dotted with ports and resorts which are served by a fan of branch lines from the Belgian State Railways (SNCB) line from the south and also by the metre gauge coastal tramway, a remnant of what was once a nationwide network of secondary lines.


Ostend (or Oostende) is the main town on the coast, and has the biggest terminus and most important trains, with a regular service to Brussels and beyond into Germany as well as the various overnight boat trains which serve destinations as far away as Moscow. The SNCB has a wide variety of electric locomotive classes, and several can be observed at Ostend including some multi-current engines which can work on the 15 kV AC German system as well as the 3000 V DC Belgian standard. Also to be seen are a variety of multiple unit types, and a centre-cab 0-6-0 diesel on station pilot duties.

Immediately outside the station is the main ferry berth to the right, and to the left the station of the coastal tramway, now known as 'de Lijn.' When I first visited this line in the 1970s, it was something of a relic, but it has now been very thoroughly modernised with all new trams of a standard type, although there is still street running through some of the towns and even some points where one has to board the tram in the traditional manner by walking out into the centre of the street. There is a ticket office at Ostend, and a reasonably-priced day ticket is available and recommended. All the coastal resorts are worth visiting, but probably the best is De Haan, which has a very photogenic station building as well as a pleasant beach and promenade.

The tramway is also a useful way of reaching the port of Zeebrugge and the North Sea Ferries terminal. Although you are supposed to wait for the bus between ship and SNCB station, it is quite feasible to walk between the parked lorries to the tram stop provided your case are not too heavy.

Travelling inland by main line train, the main tourist destination is of course Bruges, which is a very pleasant place to explore in the winter, and seething with visitors in the summer. There seem to be a lot of places known as the 'Venice of the North', but Bruges does have a lot of canals and historic buildings. The station is a busy little place, too, although the units used on the local services to Zeebrugge are real old crocks; actually they were built in the early 1960s! First-class travel in Belgium is a very good idea if you are going any distance, as second-class can be very cramped.

LOKI Aktuell 9-93

More Whiskers

After all the fuss last year about the additions to an Re 6/6, Re 4/4 II 11238 of Bern depot has now gained a set of pseudo-Ae 6/6 whiskers on its cab front, as pictured at Zürich on LOKI page 90.

Another class member, 11218, has been fitted with full cab air conditioning.

Crystal Panoramic Express

The Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway's latest attraction took to the rails for the first time on July 3rd, composed symmetrically of a driving trailer, panoramic coach, GDe 4/4 loco, panoramic coach and driving trailer. The coaches are the same Breda-built Pininfarina design as the FO and BVZ cars described in the last Notebook, and the driving trailers are the same basic design but with the MOB's high cab to allow some lucky passengers a forward view. A modified livery of cream lower panels and blue upper applied, and at least one loco has been repainted to match.

New Faces

The sponsorship of the SBB's family (childrens') coaches has passed from the Globus shop chain to the magazine Schweizer Familie, and as a result the familiar large teddybears are disappearing from the coach sides, to be replaced by two modernistic kids' faces which use the coach windows as spectacle lenses. Two have already been repainted, and the other four will follow by October.

Mittel-Thurgau Bahn

The MThB has ordered four three-car 'Kolibri' electric trains, plus two additional driving trailers. These will be used from next spring on a 'Konstanz S-Bahn' service over German trackage from Konstanz via Singen to Engen, paid for by the Baden-Württemburg government. Also possible in the future is the transfer of the local service from Romanshorn to Schaffhausen from the SBB to MThB operation.

First published 1993 - this edition April 2009