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 October 1993

Metre Gauge around Basel, Pt.2

Based on Schweers & Wall. See Map, June 1993 Notebook.

The Birseckbahn (BEB)

In contrast to the Birsigtalbahn (June Notebook) the BEB line was conceived from the beginning as a tramway. The communities of Arlesheim and Dornach on the right bank of the Birs river were dissatisfied with the service offered by the 1875-opened main line from Basel to Delémont. The development of the Basel tramway system inspired them to raise money for a tramway of their own; a company - the 'Birseckbahn' [Eck = corner or area] - was founded on 17 July 1901, and on 6 October 1902 the first electric car rolled through Arlesheim to Dornachbrugg. Route length is 6.1 km, and the line is metre gauge with 600 V DC overhead power collection. Maximum gradient is 50 per mille [1 in 20] and the sharpest radius 12 metres.

The new line from Münchensteinerstrasse in Basel City as far as the half-cantonal boundary was owned by the Basel tramways company, and the whole line was managed by the tramway company until 1916. The city centre terminus was at Aeschenplatz. Development of traffic was rapid, and by 1906 the line was already carrying over a million passengers per year. The traffic density soon required doubling of the track, and the first two sections at Münchenstein and Arlesheim opened in the first year.

Initial motive power was four four-wheeled power cars (Ce 2/2 1-4), joined by a further two (Ce 2/2 5-6) in 1905. All had electrical equipment by the Alioth company whose headquarters were on the BEB route at Münchenstein. Until 1916, trailer cars were borrowed from the tramway as necessary. When the BEB came under its own management in 1916, it was necessary to order more stock, and four bogie motorcoaches (Ce 4/4 11-14) and 12 four-wheeled trailers were obtained; by 1921 12 more trailers had been purchased, and two more four-wheel power cars (Ce 2/2 7-9, built by Lindner/Siemens). With this equipment, a basic 15-minute frequency was maintained for many years. In the 1930s most of the four-wheel trams were rebuilt as six-wheelers using the SLM patent system; no. 9 is preserved on the museum tramway at Klagenfurt in Austria.

After World War II, competition from cars and buses made inroads into the line's profits and it lived a rather hand-to-mouth existence with no money for improvements or new stock. All through the 1950s and 1960s the little old yellow trams chugged along the valley, saved from bus substitution by its reserved right-of-way, until 1971 when the local authorities finally made finance available for eight new articulated trams, Be 4/6 101-108, built by Schindler & Brown Boveri, fitted for operation in pairs when required. The modern stock boosted traffic, and seven more cars were bought in 1975, Be 4/6 109-115. In preparation for the new stock, the cramped turning loop at Dornachbrugg was replaced by a new one at Dornach station.

On the formation of the Baselland Transport group (BLT) in 1974, the BEB became line 10, still terminating at Basel Aeschenplatz. By 1983, over three million people were being carried each year. When the Birsigtalbahn was coverted to tram operation in 1986, the two lines were combined into one through route 10, Dornach - Basel - Rodersdorf, which is now operated principally by the modern cars of the 231-266 series introduced in 1980.

Trambahn Basel - Aesch (TBA)

The inhabitants of the towns on the other side of the Birs valley were inspired by the BEB to found their own line. A concession was issued in 1903, but detailed planning was delayed by disputes over the use of the BEB and Basel tramway tracks. A company - the Trambahn Basel-Aesch - was founded in 1906 and the trams began running on 7 December 1907. From the start, the TBA leased its line to the Basel Tramways , who ran it with their own stock as line 11, Basel Aeschenplatz- Aesch. The route ran over the tracks of three companies: Basel Tramways from the city centre to Dreispitz, the Birsekckbahn from Dreispitz to Ruckfeld, and the TBA from Ruchfeld to Aesch. The route length from Aeschenplatz to Aesch is 10.4 km, and there are no severe gradients.

Traffic levels were initially quite low, but began to improve after 1911. In 1913 an express service was instituted in rush hours, stopping only at Münchensteinerstrasse and Reinach. The normal journey time was 36 minutes, reduced to 34 minutes after 1926 when some double track was laid. After World War II the line was developed, with more frequent services (six minutes in the peaks) and double tracking, since 1962, apart from two short sections, the line has been double throughout. The BVB operated the line for many years with four- and six-wheel cars, including some interesting one-offs and prototypes, until 1972 when a batch of atriculated cars and matching trailers arrived from Düwag of Germany. After the merger with the BLT in 1974, these were joined by the Be 4/6 articulated cars 201-230 of 1978/79, working in pairs when required.

Basellandschaftliche Ueberlandbahn (BUeB)

This youngest section of today's BLT network was built in 1921/22, to link the Basel tramway system with the industrial and residential suburbs of Muttenz and Pratteln. It was originally planned to continue the line to Liestal, capital of Baselland Canton, but this extension was never built. Like the TBA, the BUeB leased its line to the Basel tramways, and it has always been worked as an integral part of the network, as route 14 (short workings to Muttenz are route 12.)

The formation of the BLT in 1974 had little impact on this line, which continued to be worked by the Green Basel trams, although since 1984 the yellow BLT Be 4/6 cars have been seen at times of stock shortage. Route length from Basel Aeschenplatz to Pratteln is 6.1 km, with a ruling gradient of 50 per mille. Near Muttenz, the trams pass the Schindler Waggon factory, and the Pratteln station is not far from the SBB station.

Postscript: A Cultural Tour

Based loosely on Ward Lock's Handbook, 1937

Arlesheim is a pleasant little town, situated among vineyards and orchards, with a beautiful seventeenth-century church. It was once the residence of the Chapter of Basel (1679- 1792), and the Collegiate Church, canons' houses and Cathedral square were laid out by the Misox archirect Jakob Engel in 1679-87. The Church was altered in Rococo style in 1759-61, and there are other buildings from this period.

Close to the town is the ruined castle of Birseck, situated on a limestone rock at the entrance to a picturesque valley. In ancient times it was a palace of the Bishops of Basel. It was shattered by the great earthquake of 1356, rebuilt in the fifteenth century by Bishop Friedrick zu Rhein, but taken and devastated by the French in 1792. The promenades and grounds have been restored, and the castle and park offer many points of interest, such as the hermitage, chapel, hall of the knights, and the grottoes. In the neighbourhood are the ruins of the Castle of Reichenstein.

Above nearby Dornach, the terminus of the line and in Catnton Solothurn, is the ruined castle of Dorneck, built in the eleventh century, worth visiting for its fine view. The castle was Solothurn's northern bulwark from 1499 until it was sacked in 1798. Dornach also has a local history museum, in a former Catholic Church. A bridge crosses the river and a straight road leads across the plain to Reinach, where the Aesch tram returns to Basel. Or from Aesch one can visit another runied castle at Pfeffingen, whence it is a half-hour's walk to the village of Pfeffingen. To the right lies the valley of Klus, with the castles of Klus, Tschäpperli and Mönchsberg, and on the left the ancient but well-preserved Castle of Angerstein. The ruined Pfeffingen Castle dates from the beginning of the eleventh century; and, being completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1356, was kept in repair and inhabited until the middle of the eighteenth century.

Tilting to 2000: The Swedish X 2000 tilting express

by Otmar Feuerstein and Claudio Keller, from LOKI 9-93.

From 1995, Italian-built tilting trains will be seen in Switzerland, but I have had the pleasure of a cab (cockpit?) ride in one of the Pendolino's competitors, the Swedish Railways (SJ) X 2000 train, also a tilting train, at 160 km/h through the beatiful Swedish landscape from Norrköping to Stockholm.

History of the X 2000

The SJ has been well aware for some time that it must increase its train speeds to compete effectively with air and road transport. In a thinly populated nation like Sweden with its long distances between cities, the building of new high-speed lines is economically out of the question. Attention therefore turned in the 1970s to increasing speeds over the sharply curving tracks by banking the coaches into the curves to retain passenger comfort.

Joint development between SJ and Swedish train-builders ASEA began with the construction of the X 15 test train, which was tested at up the 230 km/h. This was followed in the early eighties by the experimental three-phase drive locomotive, type RZ. As the culmination of this development programme, the SJ ordered a production run of 20 high-speed trains, with the option on a further 32. The first example entered service in 1990 between Stockholm and Gothenburg, and delivery should be complete by 1994.

The X 2000 has a maximum speed of 200 km/h, compared to the 160 km/h of previous stock, allowing a reduction in journey time from Stockholm and Gothenburg of 25%, from 4 hours to 2 hours 55 minutes, when line modernisation is completed. It is planned to cut two hours 6 minues off the 618 km journey from Stockholm to Malmö, 54 minutes from Gothenburg - Malmö (325 km) and 61 minutes from Stockholm - Sundsvall (413 km.)

Test Runs Abroad

To test the stability of the X 2000 at higher speeds, the X 2000 travelled to Germany and ran up to 250 km/h on the newly built high-spped line. Of more interest to us, test runs took place in Switzerland in Summer 1991, as reported in LOKI 9-91 and 10-91. On the Schaffhausen - Zürich line, which has a minimum curve radius of 678 metres, a maximum speed of 176 km/h was achieved. The train has also been tested in America, in the hop of winning the contract for the re-equipping of the high-speed service on the Boston - New York - Philadelphia 'Northeast Corridor.'

The Heljan H0 Model

The Heljan plastic moulding company of Odense, Denmark is famous in railway modelling circles for its building kits, but for some years it has also produced the plastic body mouldings for many Märklin models, as well as for Walthers in the USA and other firms. In 1990 it entered the model train market in its own right with an H0 X 2000, initially produced as a non-powered promotional model for the SJ. Later, this version went on general sale, and was also made available as a working model using the Tenshodo WB31 ['Spud'] self-contained motor bogie unit.

The Heljan X 2000 is not a state-of-the art high-tech model; it is not fitted with lights or interiors, although the small darkened windows make the latter feature scarcely necessary. There is no close-coupling system, but the livery and lettering are of good quality. We believe that Heljan intend to produce an up-graded version soon.

[Note: the original article contains much more technical detail about the prototype.]

From the LOKI Letters Page

More on STL Coaches

from Wolfgang Michel of Bonn.

I belong to that small group of people who invested their hard-earned money on the STL RhB heavyweight steel coach, which now apparently belongs on the rubbish heap. You will understand if, as an STL-victim, I develop an eagle-eye when considering their products. I suggest that you or your colleagues take one of the new STL RhB centre-entrance coaches, and just for fun, try the simple test of coupling it to a Bemo EW I coach. You will see a height difference, just as there was with the notorious earlier model. Only a couple of millimetres, perhaps, but this is 40 - 50 millimetres in full size: why did your reviewer not tell us about this serious deficiency? Are you afraid to upset an advertiser yet again?

Editor's reply: The height of the STL model, from rail level to roof, measures 39 mm. The height of the prototype is 3370 mm, which scales at 1:87 to 38.74 mm, a difference of 0.26 mm or just 2.3 cm in full size. [Information is incomplete, but I believe the shorter RhB EW I coaches are built to a roof height of 3420 mm, which scales down to 39.31 mm. Anyway, springs can sag and tyres wear.-C.H.]

LOKI Aktuell 10-93

Hauenstein Spectacle

The Old Hauenstein line has been used for enthusiasts' specials on a number of occasions this summer. Regular steam power has been 1912-built SBB Eb 3/5 [2-6-2T] 5819, hauling three centre-entrance light-steel coaches owned by the firm Classic Rail AG. On 29 August the train was made up to five cars (see above) and double-headed up the 27 per mille gradient by 5819 and Solothurn - Münster - Bahn Ec 4/5 [2-8-0T] no. 11. On the same day, a special train over the line organised by a German travel agency was hauled by Basel depot's Ce 6/8 III 'Crocodile' 14305, built in 1926.

Cubism on the SBB

Also on 29 August, two vintage French railcars worked a railtour from Geneva Eaux-Vives over the French SNCF Evian - St Gingolph line, which is closed to normal traffic. The trip was organised by the Geneva Tramway Museum Society, AGMT. The train continued across the border at St Gingolph to Bouveret, over a section of the SBB's closure-threatened 'Tonkin' branch. The run from Bouveret back to Evian was so popular that an SBB centre-entrance coach was attached at the rear and the train piloted by privately-owned diesel Noémie.

[The nickname 'Picasso' refers to a type of old SNCF railcar in which the driver sits sideways in a single driving cab above roof level; the allusion is to the portraits by Picasso in which the parts of the subject's body seem to be in the wrong places.]


The Bière - Apples - Morges (BAM) railway has ordered two new thyristor locomotives of the same design as the RhB Ge 4/4 III class; they will be able to haul 400 tonne freights on transporter bogies up the gradient from Morges to the military depot at Bière. On 31 August the complete fully-painted body of one loco was noted on an SBB low loader wagon en route from SLM Winterthur to ABB Zürich Oerlikon for installation of the electrical parts.

Light Grey Re 460

An incomplete Re 460 loco was seen in Zürich depot in mid-August still in light grey undercoat. The reason for this is at present unknown, unless it is an attempt to provide a prototype for the recently issued Märklin collector's edition (cat. no. 3461) which features silver bodywork . . .

Baptism in the Emmental

On 21 August the two new 'Colani-Loks' for the Vereinigten - Huttwil - Bahnen (VHB), Re 456 142-9 and 456 143-7, were ceremonially named Gutenburg and Menznau. Present at the christening were two earlier locos of the same basic design from the Zürich - Sihltal - Uetliberg and Bodensee - Toggenburg railways. The BT machine had been specially lettered 'Mother greets Daughter' for the occasion.

These new locos for the EBT group, nicknamed Colanis after artist Luigi Colani who produced the striking livery (see LOKI 4-92) are a great step forward: one can do the work of a double-headed pair of the old Be 4/4 class, which will be freed for other duties. The Be 4/4s will be released to take some of the load off the De 4/4 railcars, which were rebuilt some years ago. There are no plans at present to withdraw either of these over-60-year-old classes.

Pantograph Salad

On 16 July, the pantograph of Ae 6/6 11427 Stadt Bern was mangled by a faulty overhead wire near Tecknau station. The freight train came to a stand on Gelterkinden viaduct. A diesel loco came to the rescue and moved the train to the next station, where the damage was made safe and the Ae 6/6 was able to continue using its forward pantograph.

BVA Wagons

The firm 'Bureau Vaudois d'Adresses' (BVA), whose collectors' sets of railway postcards have frequently featured in LOKI's review columns, has sponsored an advertising livery on two Montreux - Oberland Bernois railway goods vans. One is white with red stripe and ends, the other white with green stripe and ends; one side features the BVA initials and the other side the German-language version AWZ. We are promised an H0m version based on the Bemo model.

Liebefeld Station

It is 'five minutes to Midnight' for the little wooden station building at Liebefeld on the Schwarzenburg branch of the BLS system, which is to replaced by a modern structure during 1994. This ramshackle structure, reminiscent of the control tower of some far-flung aircraft landing strip, is near to the LOKI offices and dear to the hearts of the editorial team; its unusual appearance is matched by an out-of-the ordinary history. It was originally erected in 1907 at Fischermätteli on the outskirts of Bern, and moved to Liebefeld in 1925. Today, it looks rather the worse for wear, but we hope that, perhaps with the help of the local community, it will be rescued somehow, perhaps by moving it again to the Ballenberg open-air museum.

Incidentally, the station staff at nearby GBS station Köniz, home of LOKI, have produced their own souvenir pin featuring their station building; yours for 6 Francs plus postage from Bahnhof GBS, 3098 Köniz.

SBB 'Mohrenkopf' Saved

In autumn 1991 the SBB moved the old single-dome cement silo wagons [like large versions of the well-known RhB wagon] which had been stored for a long time at Dottikon-Dintikon to Biasca for scrapping. Attempts to preserve one example for use in a nostalgic goods train came to nothing. However, one wagon in virtually original condition has been discovered at Sursee. With the support of its owners, the Granol company, and the community of Sursee, it has been saved and is to be restored by a small group of volunteers, hopefully in time to take part in the '150 years of Swiss railways' celebrations in 1997.

Gornergrat Newcomers

The first of a new batch of twin-unit railcars for the Gornergrat railway (GGB) left SLM Winterthur for Zermatt on 6 August. The four new units are classified Bhe 4/8 and numbered 3051 -3052, and their livery is orange and brown with a blue/green line.

BTI Special

On Sunday 28 Novermber, from 10.00 to 17.00, the Bern - Täuffelen - Ins railway will be running a special service using the following stock: historic motorcoach BDe 2/4 512, covered vans 572 and 573, open wagon 581 plus possibly one other goods wagon. The train will include a mobile model railway shop, operated by Sieber Modellbahnen, with a display of the latest models and BTI souvernir pins on sale. The train will be at Ins (BN) around 10.00, Nidau 12.30 and Täuffelen 15.30. Visitors can travel free between stations, and will receive a special souvenir ticket.

Turbulent Europe

Despite the war in Yugoslavia, block trains of Interfrigo refrigerator vans are still bringing fruit from Greece to Münich. Now running via Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria, the trains, usually of 20 wagons or more, are making the trip in under 100 hours.

Meanwhile, on the Baltic coast, Lithuania is planning to re-gauge its railway system from the Russian 1524 mm to the international 1435 mm standard gauge.


In the last issue of LOKI (and the Notebook) we said that Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke loco 1 was named Weisshorn. Of course this is the name carried by ex-BVZ HG 2/3 no.6; HG 3/4 1, the first ex-FO, ex-Vietnam, loco to enter service, is actually called Furkahorn. Sister loco no. 2, currently being overhauled, will be named Gletschorn.

Passing thoughts

The 'Szene' column of LOKI 9-93 shows a snapshot of Ms Maya Montandon, the LOKI secretary, holidaying on a beach at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, but still typing the manuscripts of articles into a laptop portable computer before posting the disk back to Switzerland. Sadly, the staff of the Notebook is not so dedicated.

Back in Switzerland, some of our well-known haunts have been having a bad time in the last few weeks. First, the Chapel Bridge at Lucerne was destroyed by fire, and then the town of Brig was buried under ten feet of mud in yet another flood disaster.

First published 1993 - this edition April 2009