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 Notebook January 1994

Emmental High-Tech:  The VHB's Colani Locos

Prototype and Model, from LOKI 12-93 by René Stamm.

Since 1983 The Vereinigten Huttwil-Bahnen (VHB) company has owned only one main line locomotive, Re 4/4 141, built to the SBB's Re 4/4 III design. To help with its increasing freight traffic, the VHB has regularly borrowed power from its fellow members of the Emmental - Burgdorf - Thun (EBT) group. In the autumn of 1983, however, this situation was ended by the delivery of two brand new locomotives, class Re 456.

Locomotives of this design have been in service for six years or so on the Bodensee - Toggenburg and Sihltal - Zürich - Uetliberg railways, where they have been a great success. These Thyristor locomotives are exactly what Swiss private railways need; they have the power to haul heavy trains, yet their lower running costs justify their purchase price.

Loco Features

The load-bearing body structure is built up on a welded steel framework. The equipment room between the two cabs has a central gangway; the outer doors, one each side, lead in to this area which is connected to the rear of the cab by a further door. The windscreen is a single sheet of 18 mm safety glass without a central division, giving the driver, who sits at a desk to the left side of the cab, a good view of the track ahead. Due to an excess of work at the SLM Winterthur works, the two bodies were built by Simmering - Graz - Pauker in Austria.

The bogies feature the latest design of cross-braced axle mountings, allowing the individual axles to 'steer' into curves, reducing energy consumption and flange wear. Mounted on each bogie frame are two three-phase motors, each driving one axle by means of a sliding drive shaft. The modern electronic control system has many advantages over traditional systems, notably that no electro-mechanical switchgear (with its moving parts and maintenance requirement) is needed. The electronics enable power to be controlled exactly for best adhesion. The three-phase motors are small and light and, apart from the roller bearings, has no wearing surfaces such as commutators which need lubrication and replacement. The rheostatic braking can be used to bring a train to a stand, whereas on older locos friction braking has to be used at low speeds. Computers control the electronics at the command of the driver, as well as logging and reporting all faults which occur. Full provison is made for multiple and push-pull working.

The two new machines, 456 142 Gutenburg and 456 143 Menznau, weigh 69 tonnes each, and are 16.6 metres long over buffers. With a power rating of 4080 HP, they are designed to haul 250 tonnes up a 50 per mille gradient, and have a maximum speed of 130 km/h.

Elegant Shape, Striking Dress

When the new locos roll through the green fields of the Emmental, they will certainly be noticed. The smart body shape with the elegant fold of the front panel expresses the modern engineering, and is set off by the bold livery with oversized logo and numbers, designed by the famous artist and designer Luigi Colani. This design is considered so important that Colani's signature is given equal place with the SLM and BBC works plates on the cab side.

The Hag H0 Model

Hag were able to produce a model of the VHB loco very quickly in time for the 1993 Nuremburg fair, as the basic loco was already in their range in BT and SZU format. The body is a one-piece aluminium die-casting. The ventilation grilles are well reproduced, as are the sandbox fillers below the cab windows. All handles amd handrails are individually added from fine wire, and the various electrical items on the roof are separately added, as are the radio aerial, whistle and rear-view mirrors. A driver sits at the detailed driving desk at the pantograph end of the loco.

The loco is powered, in standard Hag style, by a motor driving two axles of one bogie. All wheels on this bogie have traction tyres, although all eight wheels are wired for current pickup. The bogie frames are well-detailed, and have NEM standard coupler pockets allowing the installation of any make of coupler, although there is no close-coupling mechanism. The pantograph can be used for current collection: switching is by turning a screw head on the underside of the model.

The paint finish is well up to the standard of the rest of the model, even if the smallest lettering is not quite perfect when viewed through a high-power lens.  Sprung buffers are fitted, and for glass-case modellers an replacement buffer beam with scale coupler and brake pipes is available from Hag as spare part 514. Digital command control can be fitted by your dealer.

The model is available in AC (cat. 266) and DC (cat. 267) versions. Batches are being produced, with no change of catalogue number, lettered for no. 142 and no. 143; place a special request with you dealer if you want one in particular. This VHB version is sure to be a limited edition production, so get your order placed as soon as possible.

On The Way 3: East of Aachen

by Charlie Hulme

After leaving Brussels, the Ostend - Cologne express runs into the hilly part of Belgium, with many viaducts and tunnels. I have not yet visited this area, centred on Liège, but watch this space . . . Just across the German border, and close to Holland as well, is the city of Aachen, known to the Walloons as Aix-la-Chapelle (as in, How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.) Aachen is a charming old city, with some buildings dating back to the days of Charlemagne when years had only three digits. The station bookstall will sell you a very good guided walk in English, and the bus machines sell a day pass, but don't do what I did and catch a bus in the wrong direction - easily done when you first set foot in a right-hand running country. Aachen station is a busy place, served by an occasional old DMU from Holland as well as German and Belgian workings.

From Aachen, the train heads for Cologne, making its principal stop at the town of Düren, a sort of German Stockport which is, however, the junction for some interesting branch lines. Inspired as always by our Georg Wagner colour albums, we planned to ride the Rurtal branch to Heimbach.  Manchester City Library could only offer the 1992-3 DB timetable nearly a month out-of-date, and from this I had found that the line had not been closed, and obtained some train times. Imagine how my face fell, then, when we climbed down from the express and headed for the familiar yellow 'Abfahrts' poster on the platform to find no mention of any trains to Heimbach!


Oh dear - what shall we do now? Well, lets go over to the booking hall and see if we can get a beer. In the booking hall, I glanced at a board on the wall to see the words 'For trains to Heimbach and Jülich see separate timetable.' Phew! It turns out that from the 28 May 1993 the branches from Düren to Heimbach and Jülich, and some associated freight-only lines, had become a local company called the Dürener Kreisbahn (DKB), presumably owned by the local authority. This small-scale 'privatisation' is very much in favour for German branches at present, and one can see why: local pride is generated and costs are bound to be lower with local management. Pity they can't get their trains on DB departure sheets, though; the national timetable remains comprehensive.

The DKB passenger fleet at present comprises ex-DB four-wheeled Uerdingen railbuses and trailers turned out in bright blue and cream with crossed flags fluttering over the cab. Tickets are bought from a typical continental-style vending machine, unusually but very sensibly mounted inside the train. Some brand-new railcars are on order to replace the 33-year-old stock, but it was pleasant to jog along in the old railbus up the Rur valley; being a Sunday afternoon the train was packed with walkers and cyclists and the general atmosphere was very jolly. A popular destination is Untermaubach (14 km from Düren), set alongside Düren's water supply reservoir with cafés, boating and fishing. Rather than ride to Heimbach terminus (30 km) for five minutes we elected to spend a while at Nideggen (20 km and in the footsteps of Georg Wagner), a passing station with a decrepit building set between high valley sides with a castle perched above.


The DB booking office at Düren does not sell DKB tickets, but it will sell you very comprehensive booklet about the line, published by the local Railway Club on the Rurtalbahn's 75th birthday in 1978. From this we deduce that the line opened in 1903! It was worked by typical Prussian branch-line steam power such as the class 38 4-6-0 and various types of large tank engine, hauling four-wheel coaches. By the end of War in 1945, all the line's bridges had been blown up and it was 1950 before services all the way to Heimbach could be restored, with much celebration. At the end of the 1950s, diesels came in the form of the V 100 (class 211) diesel-hydraulic locos hauling the 6-wheel rebuild coaches, and four-wheeled railbuses. These latter were later replaced by the class 515 battery-electric railcars which remained on duty until the end of DB working in 1993, one of their last areas of working. All in all, a very modellable scenic branch for anyone wanting a change from Switzerland; almost every loco and coach you need is easily available in H0 as a high-quality model.

I might also mention that Düren still has one DB branch line, to Bedburg, which is worked by a class 211 or 212 diesel and two-coach 'silverfish' push-pull set. This terminates at Düren in one of a pair of bay platforms which retain a turntable at the buffers which would have been used for turning and locomotive release in steam days: today it acts as a garden for the well-restored station building.

Model News

Based on LOKI 12-92, 1-94, etc.

Roco Panorama Car

The SBB panorama car is a remarkable vehicle in all respects, not least in terms of the financial investment by the SBB in the project and the efforts of the Swiss rail industry to prodice a design of such limited application. Intended for use on EuroCity routes through scenic areas, they are currently operating between Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The German railways have prohibited them; I though it was a disagreement about fares, but LOKI 12-92 refers to noise levels caused by irregularities in the axles.

The Roco model is no less remarkable; the wide curved windows mean that the interior is fully visible, and the seats, tables, etc. have all been reproduced in correct detail. The strange zebra-striped livery is also well captured. Three of these (99 SFr each) would certainly look good marshalled in your Zürich - Venice Canaletto!

Lemaco N Seetal Crocodile

The 1970s 'golden age' of the Seetalbahn (the roadside line from Lucerne to Lenzburg - see Notebooks ad nauseam) must be popular with N gauge fans, as small manufacturers have over the years produced all its unique passenger equipment. The Hobbytrain/Kato De 4/4 motor van is well known, the open-platform coaches have been spotted in the Crebbin collection, and lately the driving trailer as used on the Beromünster branch has been offered by Hochstrasser of Lucerne. To complete the set, one can now obtain the little De 6/6 Crocodiles built specially for the line after it was taken over by the SBB. One of the three still exists today, sadly awaiting repair, on the Oensingen - Balsthal line.

The model is made by Lemaco, using a combination of etched brass sections with modified running gear from the Arnold model of the standard SBB Gotthard Crocodile. There are two versions of the model: original with gangway fall-plate and later without. There is one sitting in the display case at M.G. Sharp models, and looking (in your compiler's view) rather crude, although maybe this is partly due to the coarse wheels and couplings common to all N gauge models. 

Bemo RhB Centre-Entrance Coach

An ideal companion for the RhB ABe 4/4 motorcoach which has been in the Bemo range for several years is the new range of centre-entrance coaches. Just in the shops is the version in current red livery, but with folding doors as before their rebuild for use in Davos - Filisur push-pull service. The model second-class car is numbered B 2335, and the first/second composite has running number AB 1518, with correctly different window spacing. The push-pull version has been announced as available soon, and no doubt there will be SBB and BVZ versions later as well as green and green/cream RhB liveries. Extremely bad news for STL, one feels, even if their doors are a different variant..

Made in Korea

Bemo announced for 1992 a new model of the German Spreewaldbahn railcar 133 523. This was intended to be a joint production with the Berliner TT-Bahnen company, but the project foundered. New models for the German range have been thin on the ground lately, allegedly because the Bemo production lines are fully occupied in meeting the demand for Swiss models, but now the railcar has finally appeared, and indeed your compiler has bought one! The model is manufactured by Ajin of Korea, a firm which makes many of the brass locomotives sold on the US market, and appears to bell up to Bemo standards. The motor can be seen through the windows, although it is only just above the waist line; this is probably unavoidable in such a small model. The four-wheeled car is finished in Deutsche Reichsbahn red and cream, but there is no doubt that it will be snapped up by the freelance layout fraternity, even at £102, as it is ideal for branch lines and extra workings.

School Trains in SBB Region I

From Eisenbahn Amateur 11/93.

In French-speaking Switzerland there are a number of passenger workings which do not appear in the public timetable. They are provided for schoolchildren (except one pair of trains in the Jura) and are financed by the Cantonal authorities under article 8 of the Federal public transport law. In fact, all these trains carry a conductor and may be used by all passengers. They are not adverstised for reasons of flexibility; they are cancelled during school holidays and on local public holidays, and their year of operation is the school year which does not match the timetable year. Capacity may be limited, and prospective travellers should bear in mind the likely behaviour and noise level of a crowd of school kids.

Some of the trains are numbered as service trains in the 2xxxx series with an added P for Personenbeförderung, others are actually coaches added to freight trains and are numbed in the 6xxxx P series. There are no such trains in region II or III, presumably because the school system in German-speaking areas is less centralised.

To select those which seem likely to interest SRS members, pride of place must go to train 60127P which is a freight from Lausanne Triage yard to Bex. It is hauled by an Ae 6/6 and includes in its formation on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday schooldays one light-steel coach which is only available to passengers from Vevey (13.22) to La Tour-de-Peilz (arr. 13.25). Another mixed which runs on the same days is 61125P, also Ae 6/6 hauled and including three coaches, from St. Maurice (11.25) to Martigny (11.39) callling at Evionnaz and Vernayaz. The loco and coaches continue as train 3129 from Martigny (11.45) to Charrat-Fully (11.49) and Saxon (11.52) before going back empty to Martigny to pick up any freight and return as 61126P, departing Martigny 12.57 and calling again at Vernayaz and Evionnaz before arriving at St-Maurice 13.14.

Worth a mention for its motive power (and indeed featured in these pages before) is 23124P 12.13 Le Landeron to Cornaux (arr. 12.20), again MTThFO, which is still rostered for Ae 4/7 haulage. It is also possible to travel in a one-coach train behind an Re 6/6, if you can present yourself for 23042P 07.38 Croy-Romainmotier - Vallorbe . . .

Lausanne - A Postscript

by Charlie Hulme

To supplement the series on railways of Lausanne which we presented in the March, April and May 1992 Notebooks, I was lucky enough to visit the place in November 1993 for an on-site survey. Strangely, a few days before departure I bought the December 1993 Light Rail and Modern Tramway which contains a detailed feature on the Lausanne - Echallens - Bercher line (BAM and NSteCM are promised). This has much detail on motive power and coaches as well as a detailed history of the line. Fortunately, it seems to agree with my version, and confirms that the LEB's first loco was the one tested on the Cromford & High Peak line.

The following notes record my impressions and update on Lausanne's railways:


Our previous series did not describe the activities of the Federal system at Lausanne, which is a very busy place although with a rather run-down general appearance; inevitably, the main building is in the process of a heavy rebuild. (The buskers in the subway are very good indeed.) The station is not ideal for the photographer, but does see a wide variety of traffic. Passenger expresses (and also the odd pick-up goods) often have the new Re 460 locos to brighten them up, and there are also the TGV trains to and from Paris via Vallorbe to add a really exotic touch. Many locals are worked by graffiti-ridden 'Kolibri' sets, but not all; BDe 4/4 power is used on the Yverdon route, and the 13.34 Lausanne - Aigle produced an Ae 4/7. A postal depot with its own loco hides at the east end, and all freight has to pass through the passenger station, so there is generally something happening. Twenty years ago, I found myself here boarding the overnight Direct-Orient from Istanbul to Calais, only to find no free seats at all, unless I was prepared to kick off one of the people who was lying across three places. I spent the night in the baggage van, reading Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

LO and LG

Our hotel, the 'Au Lac', shares a pleasant early 20th-century building in the port of Ouchy with the lower station of Lausanne's rack Metro. This unusual system is no friend of photographers, as the platform doors at Ouchy station do not open until a train arrives, and the turnround time is very short! One fascinating feature in one corner of the unkempt waiting hall is an antique coin-operated model of a fairground carousel with musical box accompaniment, which still captivates waiting travellers. The station attendant locks it away on going home at 20.00, however.

In the free guide-book from the hotel, there is mention of a three-day pass for the Lausanne Transport, which includes the Metro and buses, but in fact this n'existe plus. In its place there is a novel idea: a 24-hour pass for 6 Francs, which is actually valid for 24 hours from the time you stamp it before your first trip. So if you use it first at 10.00 Thursday, it is still valid at 09.55 Friday. Good value, as one flat-fare journey ticket is 2 Francs. The LO and LG still use their 1958-64 trains, which are kept in immaculate condition. I have to correct my original statement that the cars used on the Lausanne - Gare shuttle 'are unusual in having no seats.' I took this from Appleby & Russenberger's book, but in fact there is a row of seats at each end of the vehicle.

The top station at Flon has been rebuilt to accommodate the new TSOL line, which runs in at right-angles. Lack of time prevented us from riding the new line, but we did investigate the Flon district. This has an array of neat warehouse buildings, mostly now disused and subject of a plan by the city to encourage new uses such as restaurants, artists' studios, etc. There are still many relics of the pre-1979 arrangement where each warehouse had a siding serviced by the wagon traverser mentioned in the March 1992 article. In places, the four-rail track on which this traverser and its locomotive ran are still visible, and many of the sidings at right-angles are still in position.


Lausanne Chauderon station building certainly looks very decrepit and un-Swiss; its attic is a haven for pigeons which are kept well-fed by the station staff or its users, judging by the handfuls of seed scattered around. However, it will not be there much longer, as digging is well under way for the ramp which will take the line down to subway level. This is creating even more congestion on the street-running section, along which we decided to take a first and last ride as far as Prilly-Chasseur, a request stop which gave Joanna the chance to press the button which works the flashing lights to tell the driver to stop. The smart modern green-and-cream trains still have conductors, and on each window table is a map with suggestions of country walks from the line. Definitely worth a return visit, I feel, even though there are no freight trains to track down.

Gossip Section, or Charlie's Jottings


We have previously referred to the making of this video programme by the SBB publicity team, and have now managed to obtain a copy. It has already been reviewed in various other publications, but I think some reviewers have been a little unfair. OK, so the linking story is rather strange, but it is very typically Swiss and adds a unique flavour to the thing. ('Inept approach...would be rejected by any half-way experienced amateur' -  Swiss Express.) Also worth a mention is the music; a different original piece accompanies each of the episodes, and over the credits there is a song called 'Dreams of a Crocodile' performed (in English) by a Kate Bush impersonator.

The commentary confines itself to the history of each of the historic locos, leaving long interludes for the music and train sounds. The locations are mentioned in the end credits and on the box, but the viewer is left to make his/her own discoveries. The Gotthard line is the star, but major supporting roles are played by some favourite branch lines: St-Gingolph (with glimpses of preserved steam and diesel at Bouveret), Stein am Rhein - Winterthur, and, as a stage for the historic Am 4/4 diesel, the private non-electrified Sursee - Triengen, enlivened by a fascinating piece of rope shunting to run round the train at Triengen. I think the country north of Lucerne is very pleasant. ('Rather mundane' - C.J.F.)

Another undocumented feature is the first scene on the tape, which features the youthful star of the film detraining at La Plaine, Switzerland's western extremity, from one of the two DC motorcoaches dating from the 1950s ('a very modern SBB train' - Continental Modeller), built for locals on the line between Geneva and the French border which is electrified on the French system. The 80-min. tape costs £23.95.


Our visit to Lausanne coincided with the Swiss Transport System's November Special Offer: all that month, after 09.00 Mon-Fri and all day weekends, a Carte Journalière or day ticket for the whole country could be obtained for just 40 Swiss Francs or less than £20. The coverage of these passes seems to be the same as the free lines on the Swiss Pass - how's that for a bargain? Needless to say, everyone was travelling! On a Monday afternoon, the 16.21 fast train from Zweisimmen to Interlaken was strengthened by the SEZ from three coaches to eight, which just managed to seat everyone from the duplicated MOB Panoramic Express.

In Switzerland, anyone (any age, even without a child) can buy a railcard entitling half-fare travel at any time for 150 SFr per year. Holders can buy a national day pass for 47 SFr anytime: in November it's just twenty Francs. What can I say?

LOKI Aktuell 1-94

End of the Am 4/4?

The SBB Am 4/4 diesel-hydraulic locomotives 18461 - 18467 have been unpopular with drivers ever since their controversial second-hand purchase from the DB (West German Railways). The SBB management promised that they were a temporary expedient, for withdrawal by the end of 1995 at the latest. Latest news is that no heavy overhauls are to be carried out on the class, and and which suffer major faults will be taken out of service, no. 18462 being the first to be withdrawn.

SBB 'New' Trains

A modernisation program now under way will cover a total of 581 passenger vehicles: 80 RBe 4/4 motorcoaches (new classification RBe 540), 445 coaches (EW I seconds and EW II composites) and 56 BDt driving trailers. All are being turned out in the blue/grey livery with yellow swing-plug doors and red cab ends, to match the 84 newly-built 'Neue Pendelzug' (NPZ) units delivered since 1984. The modernised vehicles are fitted with the latest standard multiple-working, door-opening circuits, public address, ZUB cab signalling and modified alarm system to avoid emergency stops in tunnels.

The updated coaches have provision for loading skis, baby-carriages and bicycles, and the AB composite cars have a wheelchair position. Internally, the rebuilds feature new cloth upholstery in both first and second class, bright fluoresecent lighting, longitudinal luggage-racks and abolition of smoking compartments. Experts will note the revised headlights, windscreen washers and wipers fitted to the cabs of motorcoaches and trailers. The cab end doors of the driving trailers are being welded up, and all corridor connections replaced by the rubber version.

21 of the 56 driving trailers are being created from examples which began life as the ABt version and were rebuilt with a baggage compartment in place of the first class seciton for use with Re 4/4 I locomotives.

Gornergrat News

This winter, the Gornergrat Bahn (GGB) has four brand-new twin motorcoaches to carry its ski traffic. Each unit has a capacity of 256 passengers, 128 seated and 128 standing; the GGB can now lift as many as 2400 skiers per hour up the mountain. This increased service has also required various alterations to the power supply system and station layouts. To provide depot space for the new cars, the depot tunnel at Zermatt has been increased in length from 115 to 239 metres.

Each of the four new units, Bhe 4/8 3051 - 3054, comprises two (in principle) interchangeable car bodes mounted on four identical bogies. They can climb the mountain at 28 km/h, compared to the 15 km/h of the existing stock, although downhill speed remains et at 21 km/h. [The GGB, like the Jungfraubahn, uses three-phase overhead supply which requires twin catenary and works best when trains travel at a constant speed as much as possible.]

Neuchatel Centenary

1994 sees the centenary of the Neuchatel tram system, and the local preservation society Association Neuchateloise des Amis du Trammay (ANAT) plans special commemorative runs with historic equipment such as old four-wheel tram Be 2/2 73. Predictably, a set of 'pins' is also available.

Low Floor, Low Cost

A consortium of ABB, SLM and Stadler has unveiled its plans for a new deign of low-floor articulated railcar designed to the requirements of the Oberaargau - Seeland Transport (OSST). The unit consists of a short, windowless, central four-wheeled power unit articulated to outer passenger sections each supported by a four-wheel bogie. No doubt we will be seeing much more of this Be 2/6 design, which has also aroused the interest of the Montreux Bernese Oberland company.

International Service Modernised

For many years, a four-wheeled Uerdingen railbus has maintained the service over the 3.4 km long cross-border link across the Rhine between Koblenz in Switzerland and Waldshut in Germany (SBB Timetable 704). The Deutsche Bundesbahn now intends to withdraw all these class 798 units by the end of 1993, and a modern diesel railcar of class 628 is expected to take over.

Huckepack Tests

During December, trials have been taking place the Gotthard south ramp with Re 460 locos hauling 700-metre long trains of lorry-carriers, with a gross weight of 2000 tonnes. The train was made up of 30 Huckepack wagons, loaded with 60 lorries borrowed from the Army.

First published 1994 - this edition April 2009