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 November 1993
Just Around the Gorner
by Andy Micklethwaite
Zermatt and the BVZ The village (or town as it is these days) lies at the head of the Mattertal, a long, narrow and avalanche prone valley, running in a southerly direction from Visp in the Rhone valley. It is up this valley that the Brig-Visp-Zermatt railway makes its way, assisted by several rack sections. The concession was granted to build a line from Visp to Zermatt in 1886, some 21 years after Whymper made the resort notorious after his climb and accident on the Matterhorn. It was opened on July 6th 1891, electrified in 1929, and extended to Brig in 1930 when Glacier Express services commenced. Incidentally, the Alpine museum is worth a visit, where you can see memorabilia of Whymper's ascent, including the fateful rope.
On the journey from Brig, look out for some of the following: Depots at Brig and Visp, and between the 2 towns; the constricted station complete with rack at Stalden, where there are also some spectacular bridges taking Saas Fee roads, old and new, across the Mattervisp river; the gigantic landslip at Randa which blocked the line 2 years ago and necessitated the strange feature of a 1 in 8 rack section going down into Randa as the line climbs the valley; at Tasch the village is completely dominated by car parks - motor vehicles are not allowed into Zermatt as a rule. It is somewhat ironic to see the modern motor road which only went as far as St. Niklaus when I first visited Zermatt in 1962 now offering fast communication while the railway clings precipitously to the cliffs, restricted round curves to 30 km/hour or so!
So what were the BVZ offering last summer - most Brig - Zermatt workings were operated by either the new HGe 4/4 II locomotives (1 - 5), the Deh4/4 railcars (21 - 4) or the ABDeh8/8 railcar sets (2041 - 3) with around 8 or so coaches, sometimes push-pull operated with a Bt driving trailer at the valley end. The Tasch shuttles were push-pull worked by ABDeh6/6 units (2031 - 2). The "crocs" were used on an occasional basis, one was in Visp depot when we passed through on arrival, one stayed in Zermatt station for a day or two, and on the last Saturday one worked the Glacier Express relief. Of 16 (the prototype for the FO HGe4/4), we saw nothing, until we pulled away from Zermatt on departure, to glimpse it lurking in the tunnel with a relief Tasch shuttle set! Time keeping was erratic at times - if a train was duplicated due to heavy demand then trains in the opposite direction could be more than 30 minutes late.
It is probably worth adding a comment on the weather. We were extremely lucky that our visit coincided with a spell of hot sunny weather, with storms blowing in during late afternoon or evening - adding their own special visual effects to the August 1st fireworks. I do not believe that this is typical for Zermat. It is almost completely surrounded by some of the highest Alpine peaks (Monte Rosa 4596m, Dom 4480m, Weisshorn 4505m Matterhorn 4477m), and so if there is bad weather or cloud in the vicinity it gathers there, and of course obscures the Matterhorn.
Mountain Railways and Cablecars
The Gornergrat Railway (GGB) needs little introduction to many. It was the first rack railway in Switzerland to be electrically worked, being electrified at opening in 1898. In those days the technology was not well advanced and, like the Jungfrau Railway, it still uses the original 3-phase system. 3 of the original 1898 locomotives (He2/2 3001 - 3) are still in occasional use, but most workings are by the more modern railcars. Given the right weather, this is a splendid ride with ever changing views of the Matterhorn almost from start to finish. Many parts of the line, particularly near the summit, have been doubled in order to cope with the ever increasing demands of the winter sports traffic. Occasional freight workings can be seen, particularly supplying the restaurant and observatory at Gornergrat.
From Gornergrat a cable car can transport you along the Gorner grat (ridge) to Stockhorn - again modernised for the skiers, this takes you into the snow and ice covered mountains in a manner second only to the Klein Matterhorn system.
The Klein Matterhorn system of cable cars starts a good kilometer away from the main BVZ station (you could get one of those wretched electric taxis, or even a horse drawn one, and add further to the traffic congestion in the village. It is NOT traffic free. Car free almost, but certainly not free of mountains bikes and electric buggies which make walking up the main street distinctly unpleasant!). The first stage is a 'gondelbahn' as far as Furi, which is a sort of Crewe in cable car terms - the line from Zermatt comes up from the village, with the older cable car system running alongside. The old (pre 1960) direct line to Schwarzsee goes right, the direct line to Trockner Steg goes left, and between them is the link to Furgg (all change for Schwarzsee). Incidentally there is yet another line, usually for goods only from a car park a few hundred metres away up to Trockner Steg. If we take the link up to Furgg, a normal sort of cable car, the recently modernised line goes up to Schwarzsee. This consist of 5 gondola cars at each station, top and bottom, each holding about 15 people. When, with much electronic buzzing and bleeping, operation commences, the 2 sets of cars exchange places in the manner of a normal cable car. I suppose that loadings on cables and pylons are reduced by using this method rather than a single large car - also 75 skiers can make a swifter exit! Schwarzsee is another spectacular location just at the end of the Hornli ridge.
Back-tracking to Furgg, or taking the direct from Furi can get us to Trockner Steg, another ski centre amongst the snow and ice. The direct link is a single large cable car, capable of holding over 100 people, and their skis - relevant because the Klein Matterhorn - Trockner Steg area is a summer as well as winter ski area. The highlight of this system is without doubt the last leg - to Klein Matterhorn. There are a couple of pylons shortly after leaving the station, then the cable car makes it for the summit with one giant swing (even for a Swiss cable car) of about 3km. There is a lift at the top station to give access to the summit viewing platform, at 3820 the highest such place in Europe (at present) with wonderful and extensive views, with the Matterhorn close by, but with views to more distant peaks, such as the Jungfrau group, and Mont Blanc. Because of the altitude, and particularly because of the rapid ascent of the cable car, compared with the more sedate rack railway of the GGB, exertion should be limited and careful at Klein Matterhorn - breathlessness (or worse) will soon occur if not! The summit station has a tunnel through the mountain to exit on to the ski slopes - or to give access to the icefields which lead to the Breithorn - if you're wanting to 'bag' the 74 or so 4000+ meter alpine peaks, this is the easiest one to start on, but a guide is recommended.
The final system to mention is that which starts with the Sunegga funicular, which replaced the old chairlift some years ago. The line is entirely underground, necessitating a walk into the mountain at the station in Zermatt - this is notable for the automatic doors which open and close in sequence with noises of a great howling wind which would blow through the station without them. On emerging into the sunlight (hopefully) at Sunegga, there is again a glorious view across to the Matterhorn, and last year the flowers in the meadow just above the station were superb. A gondola continues to ascend the mountain to Blauherd and a cable car completes the system with a leap up the Unterrothorn, where, of course, there are wonderful views of the Matterhorn...
Some Ideas for Walks
From SCHWARZSEE: (restaurant)
Hornli Hut (restaurant) - Strenuous, exposed in parts, popular, but as far up the Matterhorn as most of us will ever get. Allow for a full day.
Stafelalp - Moderate. As long as you want, but take a day over it! Stafelalp is another mountain restaurant with dramatic and unusual close up views of the Matterhorn. There is a direct way back to Zermatt with the option of taking the cable car from Furi. A more energetic alternative return comes over the Hubel and through Herbrigg, a scenic collection of chalets, but the descent from here to the village is steep.
To Furi - steep descent at the end. Skiers might know this as the Aroleid black run. Probably half a day or less.
Around FURI (a number of restaurants nearby). Note that if you approach the cable car station from the valley side there is a lift hidden in the rock to aid the weary walker! There are several ways back down the valley to Zermatt, via Zum See (Excellent restaurant with home made cakes and home made ice cream), or via Winkelmatten. There is also the Glacier Gorge, but last year much of the walkway had been washed away - I gather it has been restored.
There is also a "Gletscher Garten", not of course a garden, but a collection of glacial mill pools, like the one at Luzern, but less spectacular and not commercialised - about an hour uphill from Furi.
Around GORNERGRAT (shop and restaurant):
It is possible to walk along the Grat towards the Stockhorn, it is bleak, but there are some interesting alpine flowers - there are even more if you dare walk down the precarious side of the ridge to the path from Rotenboden to the Monte Rosa hut, including Eritrichium Nanum (King of the Alps) - it looks like a small forget-me-not. This path is extremely scenic and it is feasible to get to the hut in good weather as the way across the glacier is marked by poles every 2-300 meters - ski-stick or ice-axe recommended - allow a long hard day for that!
There are a number of variants on the theme of walking down from various stations on the GGB. Gornergrat to Rotenboden is rocky and bleak, and despoiled by the ski pistes. Rotenboden to Riffelberg is very pleasant. A variant forks off left and goes very steeply(!) down to Furi (and the Zum See restaurant) - we saw the elusive Edelweiss and a Wallcreeper (an even more elusive bird) on this path. From Riffelalp the paths get back into the woods.
From the SUNEGGA area:
Again there are a large number of variants in walking down from the various cable cars stations. From Unterrothorn there is a route down the Ritzengrat which is long, exposed and steep, but with good but rather distant views of the BVZ station some 1000 meters below! Eventually the way reaches Tuftern (restaurant), and then continues through the trees into Zermatt. Again allow a day.
The more usual route down is via Fluhalp (restaurant) and Stellisee. Paths return to Blauherd for descent, or continue into the Findel valley to Findeln (restaurant) and into the woods, or across to the Findelnbach viaduct.
In times of wet weather or lack of energy there are numerous paths to wander around the village, or down the Mattervisp valley to Tasch, with return by the BVZ. The Edelweiss hotel is a short climb above the village on its Western side, but Trift (restaurant) is a strenuous climb, and the round trip has an exciting descent.
IF you have lots of energy, strong legs but weak knees then of course you could make the ascents rather than the descents that I have suggested. Alternatively, you could ride both ways - the views and restaurants offer an excellent excuse for using the railways!
by Andy Micklethwaite
Sunday 8 August 1993 was a relatively restful day on our otherwise energetic walking and trainspotting holiday based at the campsite between Punt Muragl and Punt Muragl Staz stations. We'd spent the morning sitting in the sunshine trainspotting and doing normal holiday jobs - mending trousers, chairs, brake lights etc, and decided that a short walk would prevent us seizing up. So off to Bernina Ospizio to walk to Alp Grüm. Motorists should note that the wealthy burghers of the Engadine now get even wealthier by charging for parking at every conceivable place, including Bernina Ospizio (unless the lay-by just below the main settlement isn't full).
So off we set on the walk, stopping for lunch not far from the station where we could watch any passing trains - and so in due course train 431 passed, Tirano bound, with motor coaches 41 and 44 in charge. Suitably impressed we restarted the walk and train 460 came the other way with 53 pulling a short train. The weather by now had ceased to be so hot and sunny, but we continued. Coming to the "great divide" above Alp Grüm where the rival restaurants start their advertising battle we halted awaiting train 4435. After some time, a look at the timetable showed that being a Sunday, I was mistaken and this train did not run. However train 464 was running very late. Some lateness appears to be not unusual on the Bernina, no doubt compounded by the single line working. On arrival at Alp Grüm, the multitudes of people showed that something abnormal was going on, even for a line originating in Italy - word was that the next train would be a further 30 minutes late, but which train and which direction was not specified. We decided to go and look at the view down to Cavaglia - but that was a train, stationary, at the entrance to the station wasn't it? Time to get the binoculars out!
Indeed, there was a train entering the Cavaglia loop - train 431 - but the 2 motor coaches were taking different routes from each other - both 41 and 44 had been derailed taking a course somewhere between the 2 tracks at the first point. Word had it that one train had already taken most of the passengers from train 431 down towards Poschiavo, and an engineers train was in residence on the third track - it looked like one of the Gem4/4 locos. As we watched, they appeared to get 44 back on the rails and move it and the 6 coaches and 2 panorama wagons slightly away from the point, whilst work continued on rerailing the more seriously "off" 41.
Chaos! - a train arrived at Alp Grüm going downhill! It is my contention that British Rail, being more used to disruption, handle it quite well. The Swiss have more difficulty with it. There were no station announcements at all after the previous announcement of a 30 minute delay and no information as to what was happening to this train. 2 motor coaches full of people presumably wanting to get to Tirano set off downhill. We saw them arrive at Cavaglia, and it appeared to take some considerable time to persuade those good people that if they really wanted to get to Tirano then they would have to actually get off that train, walk across the fields some distance to Cavaglia station where no doubt something would turn up! In the mean time, the 2 motor coaches seem to have been attached to the remnants of train 431 and started to climb back to Alp Grüm. I use the term "seem to" because at this point the storm broke, and the multitudes on Alp Grüm station tried to cram into the inadequate shelter, and the hats of those that didn't make it blew along the platforms!
Suddenly, the train appeared below the station and squealed its way round the bend to greet a multitude unsure whether it should stay in the shelter on make a Teutonic dash to grab a seat! Some intelligent tactics secured us a place at the rear of the train - the panorama wagons would have been rather cool and damp! And so back to the Ospizio, where 151 was doing some useful remarshalling of trains. In one lonely coach in a siding, a conductor was having difficulty in convincing a tourist that the coach he was sitting in was not going anywhere and that he would have to get wet and change train! Back to the car, and back to Pontresina station, where nothing exciting was happening. So we went back to the campsite for tea!
44 reappeared in service within a couple of days, but 41 was obviously more seriously damaged and it was the end of the week before it appeared back in service.
Other Observations in and on the Engadine
The old Bernina motor coaches were not much in evidence - 31 and 32 were seen on one occasion working a scheduled service - 35 and another unidentified unit were noted on engineering duties near Bernina Suot. Incidentally, there doesn't seem to have been much progress on the loop at Suot since "Nick's" Swiss Express photo of it in June.
The Pontresina shunter was normally 88, and that at St. Moritz was 89 - on a couple of mornings we saw 89 attached to the end of an early morning working from St. Moritz to Pontresina for its weekly service, and then attached to a return working mid morning. On one occasion Gem 4/4 802 was seem returning from St. Moritz in this way - I assume it had taken over shunting duties at St. Moritz in 89's absence. Ge2/2s 161 and 162 were on shunting duty at Poschiavo and Campocologno respectively.
We didn't see Ge 4/4 III 641, although the information boards along the Albula walk at Bergun imply that it is in service. We did see a couple of "crocs", 411 and 414, both at Samedan. The afternoon mixed from the Lower Engadine appears to be a regular working for them. The Albula mixed was worked by a Ge 6/6 II when we walked to Bergun - incidentally, the morning was much better for trains, with 3 or 4 goods workings, compared with none after lunch. Also at Samedan was Ge2/4 221, which on one occasion worked some vans up to the beer warehouse just along the Pontresina line - we watched from a hillside some 1000 metres above.
In view of the recent "Nostalgia" meeting (I don't think nostalgia is as good as it used to be!) - does any other member remember the model railway in Pontresina that was half built in 1961 and fully open 3 years later. When we revisited in 1981 the building was in use as a beer warehouse, and has now been demolished and rebuilt as a larger beer warehouse! The layout was a full model, in something like HO scale, of the Bernina Railway, including the windings at Alp Grüm.
In support of the Notebook's article on lines on the way to Switzerland, can I suggest a diversion from the usual Rhine valley route: bear East from the Rhine at Offenburg, up the Gutach valley, through Triberg, and over to Singen, for connections to Schaffhausen or Konstanz. The line runs through some spectacular Black Forest countryside, with a double loop, Wassen-style. According to my 1991 Cook's timetable there's at least an hourly service. (The line is described in Schneider's Railways through the Mountains of Europe). We followed the line by car this summer and it looks, to quote our convenor, "worth a visit"!
Aid from the East
East German Loco in the Bernese Oberland, from LOKI 10-92 by René Stamm.
Interlaken Ost station is the meeting point between BLS and SBB standard gauge trains, BOB narrow gauge trains, postbuses and lake steamers. Increasing tourist traffic in recent years has rendered the station layout inadequate. Modernisation had to take place with minimum disturbance to traffic, which would be particularly difficult at times when overhead wiring was unavailable because of alterations. This phase arrived in autumn 1991, and a diesel locomotive was needed, powerful enough to act as station pilot and shunt the heavy BLS and SBB expresses; the BLS has no such machines, and the SBB could not spare one, as there is a chronic shortage of diesel power. [How were trains actually operated - did they coast into the station and get towed out by the diesel? Anyone know? -CH.] The BLS made widespread enquiries, and found that the Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) was prepared to offer its services. In September 1991, DR loco 106 325, with two drivers, made its way from its home shed of Erfurt to Interlaken. After a short instruction period, and installation of BLS standard radio equipment, it was ready for service. Observers were impressed by its spick and span appearance: a matter of honour for drivers Iwanzik and Becker.
The BLS Em 4/4
Diesel loco 106 325 belongs to a class of over a thousand machines, used in shunting service all over the DR network. The first prototype emerged from the Karl Marx locomotive factory in 1959, and the production series with various improvements was delivered between 1961 and 1964 by the Hans Beimler locomotive works, Henningsdorf. It is a rod-coupled four-axle diesel-hydraulic [D, not B-B as previously erroneously claimed in these pages], with a jackshaft between the centre pair of axles. The engine, type 12 KVD 21 SVW rated at 480 kW (650 HP) is under the long bonnet, the short bonnet containing the fuel tank, air cylinders and batteries. The small shunter's platforms over the buffers each end are noticeable, and the large steps with associated handrails. Livery is light orange body, with grey and black underparts. The buffer beams have yellow and black stripes. The locomotive number was carried on cast plates each end and each cab side, until the introduction of the combined DB/DR numbering scheme in early 1992. The number plates were removed by a servicing team from Erfurt which visited Spiez works to give the loco a light overhaul, and the new number 346 325-4 painted directly on to the body. Small black panels with white lettering give the ownership and shed allocation. At some stage in late 1991 a small BLS sticker was added to the sides of the short hood. By late autumn 1991, the works had advanced to the stage when diesel power was not required, and the loco was stored for the winter in Spiez works. It was used again at Interlaken during Spring 1992, before returning home in April of that year. [Some mistake here - the photo captions in the article show it at work in May 1992, and according to the June 1992 Notebook it worked from 23 March to 22 May.-CH.]
This east German firm has released a model of 346 325-4 in spring 1992 condition. The basic model of the class was first made in the early 1980s under the Piko name; since reunification the different factories of this conglomerate have become independent and reverted to their former names. This special version carries the correct number, and a neat BLS sticker. The plastic body is very well detailed, and separate handrails are provided to be fixed by the buyer; a five-minute job. Admirably, a double set of detail parts is provided, reducing the effect of the dreaded 'lost in the carpet' catastrophe! The underframe is also very well detailed, and all axles (and the jackshaft) are gear driven. Two wheels have traction tyres, and thanks to a good weight the model has more than enough tractive effort for shunting. The cab windows are nice flush mouldings, and the working headlights which change according to direction complete an excellent model.
Before Gützold brought out their own version, modification specialist Friho of Lenk issued their own edition based on the DDR-produced Piko model. Various details, such as the BLS radio aerial, were added, and the model carried the first running number 106 325. It was sold both in original DC form, and converted to AC by Friho for Märklin fans. The AC version is no longer available, replaced by a Friho-converted version of the current Gützold production of 346 325-4.
LOKI Aktuell 11-93
SBB Re 460 in Norway
Orders from Finland and India have already been received by Swiss industry for Re 460-type locomotives, and now Norway is showing interest. The NSB system, with its steep gradients and sharp curves, has much in common with the SBB. To gain experience and make tests, the NSB has had Re 460 055 on hire for six weeks from late August. This machine has the latest software and moodified gearboxes installed, and the NSB drivers have been very impressed by its adhesion powers. Engineers from ABB and SLM have accompanied the loco on its trip, which was commemorated on 7 October by naming the loco Lillehammer after the town near Olso which is staging the Winter Olympics.
Steam after the Storm
The heavy storms in late September 1993 did considerable damage in the Brig area, and especially to the Brig - Visp - Zermatt line. Near St Niklaus the track was undermined and the overhead wiring damaged, and the service was interrupted for several days. To work a repair train, a non-electric rack fitted locomotive was needed, and as Brig station was under water it was not possible to borrow a Furka - Oberalp diesel, so the BVZ's own steam loco no. 7 Breithorn (built 1906) was fired up and gave good service in the emergency.
Märklin Model in 1:1
A craze is developing for model manufacturers to sponsor the painting of a prototype rail vehicle so they can produce a model. On 6 October there emerged from Biel wagon works Hbils-vy sliding wall van no. 42 85 237 0 347-1 in Märklin livery of white with red lettering and train pictures: a modern Re 460 and passenger train on on side and an SBB Crocodile and freight train on the other. The van itself has been renumbered on overhaul, having previously been 'Cargo-Domizil' van 21 85 237 0 347-6. It will be used on express parcels service, such traffic being more visible to the public in passenger stations that the normal goods traffic.
125 years ago, the first train arrived at Sierre/Siders station. To mark the occasion on 11 September a special train ran from Sierre via St Gingolph to Evian. From Sierre the train was hauled by Re 460 005 Val d'Annivers as far as Bouveret, where diesel BB 71010 of the Rive-Bleu Express (RBE) organisation took over. From Mellerie to Evian, the heavy train (several SBB main line coaches) required a pilot loco in the form of SNCF tractor Y 8120.
The new livery of Rhaetian Railway four-wheel van Gbk 5725 is unusual in advertising a product which is not yet available - Albula Mineral Water. The rail-connected military depot at Bergün is to be made redundant in 1995 by an army reorganisation, and a a local company plans to re-use it as a bottling plant.
RhB restaurant car WR-S 3821 now carries a blue livery with the legend 'Stiva Retica' plus a piece of 'Calanda Land' at one end.
The delivery of the first Ge 4/4 II is not now expected before the end of December, after which extensive testing will be carried out to find any problems before its eight sisters will be released.
In a publicity stunt on 4 September, a steam train with 2-8-0 no. 108 was backed into the incomplete Vereina tunnel, to emerge for a photographic session.
For 1994, the RhB's grant from the Federal government will be reduced by 24 Million Francs; in the circumstances it will be difficult to to join in the 'Bahn 2000' timetable improvement plans.
First published 1993 - this edition April 2009