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 May 1994


It occurred to me to count the number of times I have issued the Notebook: rather too late, as in March we could have celebrated the 50th issue. Never mind, it's only numbers! - Charlie

Winterthur Today

From Eisenbahn Amateur 4-94, by Walter Hablützel, of the Winterthur Railway Club which this year hosts the AGM and convention of the Swiss Railway Clubs' Association.

Winterthur, meeting point of seven railways and a major source of passenger and freight traffic, is one of the most important points on the SBB system. Within the city boundaries there are nine stations of various sizes, plus the freight facility at Lantig. The stations vary in size from a country halt to the main station with its loco depot, marshalling yard and regional goods depot.

Winterthur main station is the busiest junction station in eastern Switzerland. Each day, it sees 962 trains, comprising 209 express passenger, 540 S-bahn and local passenger, 134 freights and 79 engineers' trains. Most days, various additional workings operate, pushing the total over the thousand mark. To provide the extra capacity for the Zürich S-Bahn services, the main signalling installation, dating from 1932, was replaced at Easter 1988 by a new central signalling centre. At the same time, the lines to Effretikon, Oberwitherthur and Winterthur Grüze were equipped for reversible working to increase flexibility.

The control room is located on the first floor of the main station building giving the staff a clear view of only part of the junctions at the north-eastern end of the station; modern signalling practice does not require the signalman to look at the trains. The station area is operated by 'Domino-67' diagrammatic panel, 4.8 by 1.2 metres in area, which controls 107 points, 87 main running signals and 129 dwarf shunting signals. 643 different routes through the layout are possible, all of course protected by modern safety devices. In addition, the control centre staff remotely control 12 other stations plus 5 block-posts; extension of remote control at a further 11 stations is planned. In 1987, the appearance of the station was transformed by the construction above the platforms of a two-storey car park with 480 places and direct access to all four platforms. The next four years will see a complete renovation of the main station building and its passenger facilities.

South west of the passenger station is the marshalling yard, which hump-shunts around 700 wagons per working day, sorting them for local freights serving a wide area bounded by Kemptthal, Embrach, Marthalen, Stammheim, Bürglen, Bischofszell Stadt, Nesslau and Fischenthal. The points and signals here are not controlled by the new centre: signalboxes II and V remain in service and the marshalling techniques of the 1950s remain unchanged at present. As each wagon passes over the hump, a worker armed with a whitewash-loaded brush paints on one buffer-face the number of the siding for which it is destined. The signalman in box II alongside the hump reads this number and sets the points accordingly. As they roll down the sidings, the wagons are 'retarded' by the time-honoured method of pushing a 'Hemmschuh' under the wheels. This system requires great concentration by all staff if collisions and derailments are to be avoided, especially since rolling speeds of wagons vary according to temperature and wind direction. The future of this antiquated yard is uncertain at present. It has been suggested that its work could be transferred to the large Limmattal yard, but it now seems that the layout, dating from 1923, will be replaced by a new yard in the next couple of years.

Between the passenger station and the marshalling yards is the goods depot, which is designated as a regional delivery centre for the Cargo-Domizil network. Each day lorries collect and deliver around 130 tonnes of smaller freight items; the tonnage is expected to double from May 1994 as smaller 'sundries' depots at nearby stations are closed.

Winterthur station has 310 operational staff, supplemented by 97 conductors and other train staff based at the station. In addition, Winterthur locomotive depot has 280 drivers (including two women) plus 38 at Schaffhausen sub-shed, 19 at Bülach and 18 at Wil. This depot has lost some of its importance since the transfer of motive power maintenance to the new installation at Oberwinterthur. Rolling stock servicing, and repair of small motors still takes place at the old depot, but its is only a matter of time before these duties are also transferred, leaving Winterthur depot to be reduced in size to serve as a stabling facility. The freed space is to be used partly by the civil engineers, who already have a major office establishment at the station.

Oberwinterthur station lies at the junction of the lines to Romanshorn and Stein am Rhein. At the east end of the station is the maintenance depot opened in 1990 to serve the motive power of the Zürich S-Bahn system. The station has recently gained an extra island platform, and new sidings are planned to serve new factories which are being set up in the area. The signalling of both station and depot is controlled by a new Domino-67 panel located in the office block of the maintenance depot and capable of remote control from Winterthur station panel.

The depot services 61 RBe4/4 motorcoaches, 17 NPZ units, 15 BDe 4/4 railcars, plus 17 diesel locos and shunting tractors. Servicing of the double-deck coaches and Re 4/4 II push-pull trains is shared between Oberwinterthur and Zürich depots. Oberwinterthur also looks after the heavy cleaning of 67 coaches, used mostly in local trains in eastern Switzerland. A roll-through washing plant is provided for the exterior cleaning of coaches. The depot employs 70 people, and has 17 tracks, of which 9 enter the depot building.

Winterthur Wallrüti and Reutlingen are passenger-only halts on the line to Stein am Rhein, used by S-Bahn trains. They are principally used by commuters, although they are also useful starting points for walkers in the nearby Mörsburg hills. Reutlingen appears to have been first built around 1924, although it did not appear in the timetable until 1983. Wallrüti was built in 1986 with finance from the city authorities, but the SBB provided a rather poor service (such as one train per day on Sundays), leading to official protests. Both halts have recorded considerable increases in their passenger figures since the line became part of route S12 (Brugg - Zürich - Winterthur -Seuzach) and they were given a proper regular-interval service. Stein am Rhein trains (S29) also stop at Wallrüti, but not at Reutlingen.

Winterthur Grüze is a wedge-shaped station with a rather neat-looking building built in the junction of the St Gallen and Rapperswil lines. It was originally opened in 1929 as a halt on the St Gallen line only. Located in the middle of an industrial area, it has the highest freight income of all the Winterthur stations (14,930 wagons in 1993). An Em 3/3 or Bm 4/4 is stationed here to work the 25 private sidings serving factories, warehouses and other firms. The signalling installation is a 1949-built Integra panel, which is very heavily used and is due for replacement in the next few years.

An architectural curiosity are the platform canopies, built in 1955 to a design by Engineer Hilfiker and based around a tubular steel spine. These would have fouled the new double-deck coaches planned for use on line S12, but because of their architectural interest they were modified in 1991 at considerable expense and remain in service.

In the angle between the Oberwinterthur and Grüze lines is Grüze sub-station, which feeds traction power to lines in a roughly 40 km radius of Winterthur, as well as to the Mittel Thurgau Bahn.

Winterthur Seen, current terminus of route S12, has developed from a rural backwater on the Tösstal line into a busy suburban station. Only the station building remains as a reminder of more peaceful times, and even this is planned for replacement before the end of the century. The goods yard has been removed to make space for a new platform, which at present is still incomplete. The signal panel is an INTEGRA product similar to that at Grüze, and due for replacement at the same time.

Sennhof-Kyburg is a small rural station with a post-office. It is beyond Seen on the Rapperswil line, and lack of traffic led to the removal of station staff in 1989. The stationmaster became the postmaster, and now also sells train tickets from the post office counter.

Turning now to stations on the western side of the town, we come to Winterthur Töss, which was once famous for its livestock traffic. Every Monday a Te I tractor would deliver around 14 wagons of cows and calves to the abattoir siding located between Töss and Wülflingen. This trip was worked with hand brakes only, and the train crew had to use all their skill to ensure that the cattle arrived in the abattoir and not at Wülflingen station. The abattoir is now closed, although the siding and its ground frame are still in working order. Container wagons loaded with goods for export are now the commonest freight traffic, although the patient observer will see grain hoppers being loaded on and off road transporters for transfer to a mill which is about a kilometre from the station.

Winterthur Wülflingen still retains a rural atmosphere, although a developing industrial estate at nearby Niederfeld is providing freight traffic (1877 wagons in 1993) and may well soon require a connecting siding. This station and Töss both have Domino-69 signalling panels, which can be remotely controlled from Winterthur in the evenings and at weekends.

Lantig appears in no timetables: it comprises a two-track gravel unloading facility located between Winterthur and Hettlingen on the line to Schaffhausen. It is operated as a remotely-controlled block post, with an additional signal for trains reversing into the cement factory.

Bananas by Rail

from SBB Cargo 1-94.

In every fruit store in Switzerland can be seen the familiar shape of the Banana, but how do they get there? They are brought to Europe from Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador in the refrigerated holds of the Chiquita company's 'Great White Fleet' and unloaded while still green and unripe at the Kaiserhafen fruit terminal in Bremerhaven, north Germany. 'The Swiss are great banana-eaters.' says Friedrich-Karl Petermann of Meyer & Co., the firm which handles shipping and import of bananas for the US-based Chiquita company. Around 30,000 tonnes arrived in Switzerland in 1993, of which two-thirds travelled by rail from the harbour to the storehouses of the Swiss importers. 'Unfortunately, despite increasing consumption, rail's share of the traffic has fallen recently, even though there are no problems in loading the wagons and the journey time is excellent,' muses Mr Petermann.

Uncool Refrigerators

The ripening process requires that the bananas are kept at a steady temperature of 13.3 degrees Celsius, thus requiring cooling in summer and heating in winter. The 'Great White Fleet' of Chiquita consists of sixty ships plying between Central America and Europe and along the west coast of America. Swiss bananas travel in the Chiquita Switzerland, but when our reporter visited Bremerhaven the Chiquita Deutschland was in port. The bowels of the ship contain five 12-metre high decks which can hold a total of 300,000 20-kilogram cartons; on the deck are 106 temperature-controlled containers holding a further 10,000 cartons. A paternoster conveyor descends into each hatch to ensure efficient transfer of the cartons to the temperature-controlled terminal, where they are automatically palleted ready for loading into lorries or rail wagons. Two railway loading ramps are provided, allowing 12 rail wagons to be loaded simultaneously.

Swiss Banana Express

The bananas leave Bremerhaven in block trains of Interfrigo wagons for destinations throughout Germany, east and central Europe. Once a week, a train runs to Basel, whence the wagons are distributed in normal freight trains to the ripening depots maintained by the Co-op and Migros around the country. In summer the wagons are cooled by ice, and in winter they are heated. If the weather is very cold, paper insulation has to be packed around the walls, doors and roof. The rest of the year, the insulation of the wagon itself is considered sufficient to maintain the required 13.3 degrees during the journey. 'A fluctuation of less than one degree can be a disaster - 30,000 Marks worth of bananas could be damaged', says Mr Petermann. 'Shoppers choose their bananas with care. If they are already yellow when we deliver them, they will be brown and mottled by the time they reach the shops and nobody will buy them.' The ripening depots increase the temperature to 16 degrees, so that they can be delivered to the shops with just the right amount of fructose and just developing the right shade of 'banana-yellow.'

News in Brief

Very Amusing

We have to hand (thanks Dave) the April issue of Eisenbahn Amateur as a source of news, but one has to be careful with April issues! It is hard to believe, for example that the Luzern - Stans - Engelberg was so short of staff on April 1st that Capuchin Monks from the Stans monastery had to volunteer to help with preparation of trains. Yet the photo clearly shows Father Salvian helping with a brake test of LSE train 125 at Stans. Even more unlikely is the proposal to use Skoda cars fitted with rail wheels on lightly-trafficked SBB branch lines, but we have clear photographic evidence of a press demonstration at Olten, again on April 1st. It seems slightly more possible, though, that the RhB plans to rebuild its Ge 4/4 II locos into Ge 6/6 III articulated machines: certainly the drawing looks convincing and April 1st does not seem to appear anywhere in the item...


Following the merger of the Arth-Rigi Bahn and the Vitznau-Rigi Bahn, the combined fleet has been renumbered as follows, according to Light Rail & Modern Tramway:

Class        old no.         new no.

Bhe2/4      VRB 1-5           578 601 to 605

BDhe2/3    ARB 6             578 606

BDhe2/4    ARB 7             578 607

He2/3        ARB 8            298 608

BDhe2/4     ARB 11-14     578 611 to 614

BDhe4/4      ARB 15         558 615

BDhe4/4      VRB 21-2      558 621 and 622

He2/2        VRB 18          298 618

H2/3         VRB 16-7        008 616 and 617

Note that even before the merger, the two companies chose their numbers to avoid clashes, and that these numbers have been preserved as the last digits of the new numbers.

Bridge News

According to The Times, the Chapel Bridge at Lucerne has reopened following repairs to last year's severe fire damage. 29,000 new tiles, hand-made in Bern, have been used in the roof. The new wood gives the bridge a lighter appearance that before, but it will weather to a darker colour in time. The bridge was built in 1333, and has been restored three times before; in 1898 it was threatened with demolition in favour of a 'Riviera-style promenade' but was saved by a petition including 253 names from Manchester.

Kraftwerk Oberhäsli

Stadler is building three new Ba 1/2 battery-powered vehicles for the 500-mm gauge gallery railway from Innertkirchen to Handeck, which has a gradient of 80 per mille. They will be used for transport of staff and schoolchildren, and the passenger compartment can be removed when required to convert to freight carriers.

RhB Modernities

An update, from Eisenbahn Modellbahn April 1994.

Holiday-makers, riding the open wagons on the Bernina Line or the Crocodile-hauled 'GmP' mixed trains on the Albula line might think the Rhaetian Railway is a tourist railway. This, is, of course, far from the truth: the RhB is the mainstay of passenger and freight transport for Canton Gräubunden, and as such its installations and rolling stock must be kept up to modern standards. The following paragraphs report on the company's current major developments.

New Locomotives

In January, the RhB began trial running of new Ge 4/4 III locomotive 641, delivered to Landquart works in December 1993. Nine of these three-phase drive locos (Drehstrom-Umrichterloks) are being built for the RhB, with mechanical parts by SLM of Winterthur and electrical equipment by Asea Brown Boveri. The Ge 4/4 III class is rated at 3200 kW (4350 HP) maximum power, with a continuous rating of 2500 kW (3400 HP) [equal to the British class 81 locos of the 1960s.] With a maximum speed of 100 km/h [62 MPH] they will be used on all types of trains over the RhB's main line network: freights, local and express passenger. In preparation for the car-carrier trains through the Vereina tunnel which are expected to start in 2000, provision has been made for the fitting of automatic couplers, which can be fitted in place of the standard centre-buffer in half a day when required.

The test runs have been based on Davos Platz - as the lines around Landquart are too busy in Winter to have any spare paths. From Davos, tests have run via Filisur over the Albula, and also on the 45 per mille gradients between Davos and Klosters. The wintry climate of Davos also helps to test the loco's resistance to snow and cold. It is expected that the test runs will last four to five months, during which time the computer people will be able to achieve the best possible versions of the loco's control software, which can then be installed in no. 642-649 before delivery. New Mark IV coach, BD 4275, has been acting as mess coach for these workings.

Thusis Station

During the last year, the track layout at Thusis, one of the major stations of the Albula line, has been completely revised. The station, dating from the opening of the line, would have celebrated its centenary in 1996, but in recent years it has proved inadequate for the demands placed on it, and it was decided to create a new layout to serve for the next 100 years, complete with a new station building.

The layout includes five loops up to 360 m long, the loading track for Albula tunnel car-carriers, sidings, a washing plant for cattle wagons (conforming with strict environmental regulations), a new signalling centre and new energy-efficient overhead wiring, but it is undoubtedly the new station building and its platform canopies which catch the eye. The barrel-vaulted roofs, constructed in steel and glass, contrast vividly with the traditional Alpine architecture of most the RhB's other stations: the only link with the past is the attractive clock from the old building which has been incorporated in the new.

Also new at Thusis is the railway bridge over the Hinterrhein river, opened to traffic in October 1993 to permit the installation of double track. The complete bridge is 215.5 metres long; the main span is 90 metres long and rests on piers 25 metres high.

Vereina Tunnel

Construction proceeds on the tunnel which will connect Klosters in the Prättigau and Susch/Lavin in the Unterengadin (Inn Valley) will allow the operation of car-carrier trains to avoid the difficult winter conditions on the Flüela Pass. In January, a tunnel-boring machine built by a German firm entered service at the Klosters end of the tunnel; breakthrough of the 19.1 km tunnel (including a 2.3 km double-track section) is planned for 1997. Already in use is a new bridge over the Landquart river at Klosters, also notable for its unusual architectural style.

Crocodiles: Little Work

Amid all this modernity, there is still some history to be seen on the RhB. Four 1920s-built Ge 6/6 'Crocodiles' remain in service today; a fifth (no. 413) is being cannibalised for spares. There duties are local freights from Landquart to Ilanz and St Moritz, and a GmP (Güterzug mit Personbeforderung = Mixed Train) which from 22 May will depart Scoul-Tarasp at 15.10 [Mon-Fri] arriving Samedan at 16.51.

Now the bad news: the RhB warns that these Crocodile workings are not guaranteed. If a more modern engine is free it may be used instead. This is likely, as the RhB is reducing its passenger service by around 5% this summer due to a reduction in its subsidy from the National Government. Early and late trains will be the main victims, and some Davos line services will become seasonal.

First published 1994 - this edition April 2009