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 July-August 1994

Orbe - Chavornay Centenary

from LOKI 5-94, by Bernhard Studer

The Orbe - Chavornay - Bahn, or OC for short, (timetable 211) is perhaps the most curious of Switzerland's standard-gauge private lines. Technical it is out of the ordinary, yet is quite a short line: 3898 metres of main line, plus 1485 metres of sidings and 4550 metres of private sidings. The little line, which has worked for 100 years on low-voltage DC electric power, moves a respectable total of 140,000 passengers and 135,000 tonnes of freight each year with a staff establishment of just nineteen.

It was 17 April 1894 when, without great ceremony, trains began running from Chavornay, an intermediate station on the Lausanne - Yverdon - Biel line, to the old Vaud town of Orbe, located on the edge of the flood plain of the Orbe river. The main line had opened 40 years before, ignoring the own of Orbe because of geographical problems, Various projects for through routes via Orbe to France or to the Travers valley were proposed, but all failed due to lack of finance. The railway finally arrived almost as an incidental: concession for a branch railway was issued as part of the authority to construct a hydro-electric power station on the Orbe river. The power station and the railway together began the economic development of the area.

As it was primarily intended for through working of freight traffic, it was worth the extra expense of standard gauge construction. As the line was owned by an electricity company it was a natural decision led to use electric motive power; in fact the OC was the first standard-gauge line in the country to be electrically-worked from the beginning. Power was from overhead wire at 600 volts DC, reflecting the state of the technology in those early days. The low-voltage system remains in use today (although it has been increased to 700 volts) making the line useful testbed for the Swiss railway industry when export orders are received for this type of traction.

The text of the line's concessions includes some curious provisions, such as the restriction of luggage to 10 Kg per passenger 'to avoid disturbance to other travellers' and a special half-price fare for prisoners travelling to and from the Cantonal prison.

Locos and Rolling Stock

In the beginning, the OC was equipped with two four-wheeled passenger motorcoaches and one four-wheeled freight motor. For peak traffic there was a single four-wheeled coach. As traffic developed, two new Fe 2/2 freight motors, 32 and 33, were bought in 1902 and 1921, and two larger passenger railcars with 70 seats, CFe 4/4 12 and 13, appeared in 1915 and 1920. In 1919, one of the original motorcoaches was converted to a trailer, C 24. Over the years three other second-hand coaches arrived on the line, and we should not forget snowplough X 41, built in 1902, which remains available for service today. Freight traffic has always been carried in the wagons of the main line companies.

After 1921, OC stock list did not change at all until 1947, when 1894-built freight motor Fe 2/2 31 was scrapped. In 1948 two of the old coaches which originated on the Lausanne - Fribourg - Bern railway met the same fate, whilst a weed-killing wagon was obtained. In 1950 came the last change for another 20 years, when an old coach was bought from the Sihltalbahn (SiTB). In 1970, two small goods locos joined the fleet, numbered Ee 3/3 1 and 2, and they in turn were augmented in 1985 by a Henschel-built diesel, Em 3/3 no. 3, the line's first, and so far only, non-electric motive power. This new machine displaced the last of the 1894 motorcoaches, CFe 2/2 11, which now has a well-earned place in the Lucerne Transport Museum, and 1921-built freight motor no. 33. No. 33 was retained by the OC until a good home was found for it, along with the last three four-wheeled coaches (C 24 rebuilt from the oldest motorcoach, original coach C 21 of 1894, and ex-SiTB C 25) with the tourist operation between Bouveret and Evian on the shores of lake Geneva. As a replacement for these coaches, the OC bought from the SBB a light-steel 80-seat centre-entrance coach, which became OC B 26, but has very little use. The company plans to rebuild it as a restaurant car.

The two bogie railcars maintained the entire passenger service for a third of a century until 1990 when the two 'Methuselahs' were relegated to reserve stock by a brand new railcar in the shape of Be 2/2 14. The OC had considered buying a withdrawn diesel railbus from the German Railways and equipping it with electrical equipment from a St Gallen trolleybus, until the Stadler company of Bussnang in Thurgau stepped in with a very reasonable offer to build a new type of four-wheeled railcar, perhaps as a shop window with a view to orders from other countries. The new car has 40 seats with places for 24 standing; it is not fitted to pull a trailer, so if heavy traffic requires the use of the light-steel coach, an old motorcoach has to be brought into use. Current motive power comprises the three motorcoaches, two electric locos, the diesel and interesting old 1902-built freight motor no. 32 in its bright yellow livery. The company's staff are restoring BDe 4/4 14 to original condition. The rest of the rolling stock: the ex-SBB coach, the snowplough, the weed-killer wagon and a wheeled folding step-ladder which normally lives outside Orbe depot...

Along the Line

OC trains depart from the rear of the SBB station at Chavornay, which is served by an hourly SBB local in each direction. A section of the overhead wire can we switched when required from the SBB 15 kV system to the OC's 700 V DC, although these days wagons are mostly collected by the diesel loco, so this switching is not often used.

Just outside the station are newly-laid sidings serving a brickworks and a duty-free zone. The OC 'main line' runs for 2 km parallel to the main road across the Orbe plain as far as Les Granges, where various private sidings diverge. Especially interesting is the branch to a mill, which is laid in the roadway and retains the original overhead wiring. The line to Orbe, equipped with modern block signalling, turns left out of Les Granges, and climbs around a wide semi-circular curve with an uphill gradient as steep as 25 per mille to the neat little halt of St Eloi. The line then bridges the Orbe river, before passing under the main road in a 10 metre tunnel to enter Orbe station with its stately station building and attractive platform canopy.

The Future

In the 1970s and 80s its seemed that the OC's passenger service was in danger of withdrawal, but by its purchase of the new railcar the company has clearly stated its intention to remain in the passenger business for the foreseeable future. Freight, however, will remain the most important source of revenue. The line's managers are definitely not railway nostalgists of the old school; they fight for every tonne of traffic. Each day, the line carries around 500 tonnes of freight, with a definite peak in autumn. Of course, its future depends very much on market forces, but we wish the little line well for its second century!

Siberian BFe 4/4

From LOKI 6-94, by Heini Sautter

In 1958, the SBB's BDe 4/4 motorcoaches (then classified BFe 4/4) became due for their first major overhaul. The SBB took the chance to make some modifications, as already discussed in LOKI 7/8-93. Electric speedometers were fitted, a more winter-proof cover fitted over the roof-mounted circuit breakers, and new front rail guards. As they passed through works, they were also renumbered from 841 - 871 to 1621 - 1651. The class designation changed twice during the 1950s: in 1956, third class was changed to second, so CFe 4/4 became BFe 4/4, then in 1959 the symbol F for a baggage area was changed to the international standard D, so they became the present BDe 4/4.

The rail guard, which also can act as a snowplough in light snow, was originally fitted to the cross-frame of the bogie, which could be bent if the vehicle hit a heavy obstacle on the track. It was therefore decided to fit a new unit fixed to the front of the body, like the newly-built Ae 6/6 locomotives. In an attempt to keep snow out of the bogies, the design incorporated extensions around the side of the body. The first machine to be overhauled, 1638 (ex-838) emerged with this large 'Siberian snowplough,' but it was soon found that these side extensions hampered bogie maintenance and brake testing, so all subsequent overhauls, beginning with 1632, emerged with the smaller device which can still be seen today.

BLS Curiosities

The July issue of Eisenbahn Amateur gives details of this year's workings by interesting motive power, starting with some chances to see BLS locos off their home system. The following times apply Mondays - Fridays unless otherwise shown. Daily passenger workings on the Simplon south ramp by BLS Re 4/4s are daily trains 331, 339, 333/332, 90 and 336. Also worthy of note is GFM freight train 328/329 16.50 Ins - Murten, and back (dep. 17.30) to Ins.

Passenger trains booked for Ae 8/8 double engines are 854 Interlaken - Bern, 811 (daily)/336 (Sunday) Bern - Brig, and 2106/4811 Brig - Sion. Ae 8/8 freights are 51817 Thun (11.20) to Brig (13.15), 51826 Brig (11.25) - Thun (12.50), 53328 Brig (14.05) - Thun (15.30), 53336 Brig (18.05) - Thun (19.25), 50026 Thun (14.35) - Bern Weyermannshaus (15.20), 50832 Weyermannshaus (17.10, double-headed with SBB Ae 4/7) - Biel marshalling yard (17.50), Biel yard (18.15) - Brig (20.50), 46221 Brig (11.00 Tue-Sat) - Domodossola (11.45), 46224 Domodossola (12.20 Mon-Sat) - Brig (13.00), 46234 Domodossola (15.50 Tue-Sat) - Brig (16.35).

Ae 4/4 locos work passenger trains 2417/3710 between Spiez and Interlaken, and 2312, 3528/3515 (from Oct 31), 2417 & 2331 between Spiez and Zweisimmen. Also 3317 Kerzers - Bern. Freight workings for the class include the pick-up goods from Bern Weyermannshaus (08.40) to Schwarzenburg (arr. 09.40) and return (15.10, arr.16.20). An old Ce 4/4 loco shunts at Leissigen, departing Mon-Thu afternoons at 16.10 with local goods 61374 for Spiez. A Be 4/4 motorcoach is booked to work local freight 61462 Spiez (09.10) to Zweisimmen (arr.10.45) and back (dep. 1410) to Spiez, arr. 16.25.

Most famously of all, an old Ae 6/8 loco still works freight on the Interlaken line. The diagram starts with a local passenger, 3709 09.12 Spiez - Interlaken, then freight 61362 Interlaken Ost (10.00) via Spiez (11.30-12.10) to Thun (arr.12.20). It then returns light-engine to Spiez to work freight 61375, 14.15 to Interlaken (15.15) and [of course] the 61384 17.55 freight from Interlaken to Thun, where it arrives at 18.55.

Rhaetian Notes

From Eisenbahn Amateur

Castrisch station on the Ilanz line, previously equipped with just a siding, is being fitted out as an automatic crossing station. Bonaduz, between Chur and Thusis, now has a subway between its platforms, opened on 13/14 June. The new Schmalztobel Viaduct on the Arosa line is planned to enter service this summer (see cover picture taken in June by John Wadsworth.) The old stone viaduct is not to be demolished. During last summer, between Punt Muragl and Pontresina, the RhB replaced the last of the compound-style catenary installed in 1913 by Siemens-Schuckert.

LOKI Aktuell 7/8-1994

8 BBC Drives for the VSOE

In the 12-93 issue of LOKI, we reported on a special run by the Venice - Simplon - Orient Express over the Gotthard, headed by two red 'Canton' class Ae 6/6 locos. A camera team followed the run, resulting in the MITV video 'HeliTrain.' In May 1994, the VSOE appeared on Swiss metals again, this time following the route Vallorbe - Daillens - Lausanne Triage - Daillens - Yverdon - Biel - Olten - Aarau - Lenzburg - Zürich Enge - Thalwil - Ziegelbrücke - Sargans Umfahrung - Buchs (SG). The train's progress was charted by various Swiss camera teams; the results of their efforts, as well as a French and an Austrian team, will appear in our advert pages soon.

From Vallorbe to Zürich Enge, the 17-coach, 900 tonne train, around 400 metres long, was hauled by two SBB Ae 4/7 locos, 11014 and 10951, running in multiple. The train was then taken over for the journey to Buchs by one of Erstfeld depot's heritage locos, the Gotthard double-engine Ae 8/14 11801. Rather than return it light engine, the 'museum' piece was given a heavy train of motor cars for its return to Zürich; the whole journey a tribute to the staff of Erstfeld who keep this veteran locomotive in such good condition.

No More Russians

Since the May timetable change, the through sleeping cars from Moscow to Basel, Bern and Geneva, part of a network which for many years has served most of Europe's capitals with change of bogies at the Russian border, no longer operate.

Summer Time

Turning the clock on an hour gives railway photographers an extra hour of evening sunshine, although at the expense of a hour in the morning, which is a shame if you want to capture train EC 158 Uetliberg and German ICE 76 Panda together at Zürich at 06.30. However, an evening train well worth looking for is freight 50832 Bern Weyermannshaus - Lyss - Biel RB, which starts its journey at 17.10. For many years this train has featured a two-railway double header. At one time it was an SBB Ae 3/6 I and a BLS Ae 6/8, later Ae 4/7 and Ae 6/8, and since 29 May the usual power is an SBB Ae 4/7 piloting a BLS Ae 8/8 double-loco. If an Ae 8/8 is not available, two BLS Re 4/4s will be substituted giving an even more unusual triple-header.

Goodbye Ae 3/6 I

Since 29 May 1994 the SBB Ae 3/6 I class locos, 10601 - 10714, built between 1921 and 1929, no longer have any timetabled duties. At the end, there were just seven survivors in normal stock of the original batch of 114: 10639, 10661, 10685, 10690, 10691, 10693 and 10694. Whether all these machines will find themselves in the scrapyard is still uncertain; the SBB has received offers and enquiries from Swiss and foreign museums and societies. Most have been rejected, but is believed that one German offer remains on the table. However, three locomotives are already preserved:

10601, which entered service in 1921, is mounted on a plinth at Baden station; like all equipment standing in the open air it is beginning to deteriorate somewhat. It is painted in brown livery.

10664 (1926), a green machine belongs to the SBB, but is in the care of the 'Lake Zürich Right Bank Railway Club' and is used on special trains from time to time.

10700 (1927) is the official SBB Ae 6/6 I museum-loco and is cared for by Bern depot. It is painted in brown livery.

Back to the last seven working engines: in great secrecy (LOKI's official editorial enquiries went unanswered until 27 May) a small farewell for the class was planned by SBB staff for May 26th. Instead of the usual Ae 6/6, Ae 3/6 I 10639 and 10661 were turned out to double-head freight train 52624 from Olten to Biel. This was quite a lightweight train as far as Solothurn, where extra wagons were added making it up to 106 axles and 1210 tonnes! The return working, train 53627 from Biel via Aarau and Lenzburg to Limmattal yard, was no less heavy, and a third machine, 10693, was added to the head end. Two days later, sights such as this were definitely a thing of the past.

Re 4/4 in TEE-look

In mid-May, the last Re 4/4 II in Trans-Europe-Express red and cream colours entered Yverdon works for R3 overhaul, whence it will emerge in a few months time in standard SBB red livery. There is now just one loco of any sort in TEE livery: Re 4/4 I 10050.

Model News from LOKI 6-94

Roco H0

Just when you are thinking that the quality of mass-produced railway models can't possibly get any better, along comes a new release that proves you wrong. Roco's new SBB bogie cement tanker is surely a perfect example of the art of plastic moulding. Because of their form, tank wagons make a rewarding model; the shape if the tank is interesting, and all the details of the underframe can be seen below the tank.Much more work for the modeller, but well worth it.

To improve the efficiency of transportation of powdered goods by rail, the SBB turned away from the traditional four-wheeled wagon with vertically-mounted silos. A few four-wheeled wagons with horizontal tanks were built before it was decided to build a large series of bogie tankers, the prototype of the new Roco model. They can be distinguished from tankers intended for liquids by their shorter length (cement is heavier than oil) and different loading and unloading arrangements. More recent SBB batches feature new bogies and a dark blue livery, but the Roco model is to the first design. The models come in a packet of three, with differences in lettering, and one of the three painted in a somewhat warmer shade of grey. They will be equally at home in a block cement train or as part of a mixed freight.

The only real criticism one could make concerns the ever-increasing number of detail parts which Roco expects the purchaser to fit: 14 for each wagon in this case. However, it is physically impossible for such parts to be included in the basic moulding, so they would have to be attached by hand in the factory which would obviously increase the cost of the model. The set of three in SBB livery is catalogue no. 44070, and retails for 118 SFr; a BLS version will be available within the year.

Tram fans will be pleased with Roco's other new issue: a two-section six-axle version of the Cologne articulated tram which has previously been available in three-section form. It is in a white livery advertising 'Doornkaat.' The model drives on its leading bogie, and the drive mechanism is kept well down below the floor to allow full interior detail, vital in a tram model. Catalogue no. 43194, 185 SFr.

H0m review

Bemo have now released the HGe 4/4 I loco in Brig - Visp - Zermatt form as a companion to the Furka - Oberalp versions already available as FO nos. 31 and 37. BVZ no. 16 is unique in being the company's single example with the FO body style. The model has correct but incongruous single-arm pantographs, and various roof and body detail differences from the FO type. The headlamps and cast metal end handrails are especially notable features, giving the model the correct 'look.'

The Rhaetian Railway Ge 4/4 II is released in red livery as 622 Arosa as running currently with radio antenna on the roof and additional yellow brake pipes. A new livery for the RhB Gk-v covered van is white with advertising for Elektro-Raetus AG, and the RhB restaurant car appears in 1960s red livery.

As usual, the repainting merchants are busy. Pirovino offer the RhB Fb open wagon in latest grey livery with large red number; nos. 8505 and 8509 are available for 64 SFr each, or with added weathering for an extra 19 SFr. (Pirovino is the man who stars in the 'Weathering Weeks' at the Hotel Stolzenfels.) Friho, located at Lenk on the Montreux - Oberland Bernois, specialise in the MOB's advertising vans, and their latest is Gk 508 with 'rivaliment' lettering. This is available in standard form (79.50 SFr), with added details fitted (91.50 SFr) or as a super-detailed version for 99.50 SFr. A twin-bolster wagon set for the Gruyere - Fribourg - Morat (Lck 801 + 802) has added etched brass brake gear, and costs 295 SFr in basic form.

Wabu offer the RhB Haik bogie van in Calanda Bräu colours. The turbulence in the Swiss beer industry at present may well make this a rare collector's item in future, if the Dutch multinational which now owns the Calanda brewery decides to make changes to the image. Another new model, based on a lengthened STL chassis and roof, with etched brass body, is RhB restaurant car 3810 in 1970s livery.

What Happened to the July Notebook

Well, I was short of time anyway because we were going on holiday: then my trusty Olivetti PCS-33 computer suffered a keyboard illness which got steadily worse. At first, only the space bar didn't work, so I soldiered on by entering Alt-3-2 every time I wanted a space (not easy!). After a few days, other keys failed as well and the whole thing ground to a halt when the issue was nearly ready. No time to get it fixed before my holiday!  I have therefore incorporated all that text into this issue now that the machine has found another keyboard. - Charlie

First published 1994 - this edition April 2009