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 September 1994

The RhB Ge 4/4 Iü locos

by Thomas Kustner, from Eisenbahn Journal

Few railways are as popular with tourists and railfans as the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) system in the eastern Swiss canton of Graubunden. The famed Bernina line and the expensively-engineered Albula route are the high-points for many visitors, who ride the Glacier and Bernina Expresses through the wild Alpine scenery. To add to the attraction for enthusiasts, the RhB has a great regard for its heritage, and has retained examples of almost every type of loco ever used, including electrics from 1913/14, and even three steam locos. Most well-known are the brown Crocodile locos of the 1920s with their coupling rod drive; four of these are still used in regular service and attract visitors from all over the world.

However, the RhB is mainly a modern transpot system, which handles its continually increasing traffic with the latest types of locos and railcars. The table indicates the development of RhB motive power.

Type     Numbers Built     kW  km/h  Notes
Ge 6/6 I   401-415 1929    940  55  411-5 in service
Ge 4/4 I   601-610 1947/53 1180 80  Modernised from 1988
Ge 6/6 ü  701-707 1958/65 1770 80  Articulated bodies
Ge 4/4 ü  611-633 1973/85 1700 90  Thyristor control
Ge 4/4 Iü 641-649 1993-4  2500 100 3-phase drive
[note: three further Ge4/4 ü locos, 650-2, were built in 1999 after this article was compiled. These returned to the traditional control wheel.]

In recent years, the multiplication of the Glacier Express service, and the construction trains for the new Vereina Tunnel between Klosters and Susch, have put great demands on the RhB's locomotive stock, to the extent that in Summer 1992 and 1993 it became necessary to hire HGe 4/4 loco 37 from the Furka-Oberalp railway to work mineral water trains between Ilanz and Untervaz. However, relief is on the way in the shape of a brand-new locomotive class.

The RhB initially ordered six locos of a new design from SLM (mechanical parts) and ABB (electrical) in the late 1980s, but SLM was so busy building SBB class 450 and 460 that the new RhB design fell behind schedule; in the meantime the finance has been found to increase the order to nine machines, which will work on the 11 kV AC system used by the RhB. The Montreux - Oberland - Bernois has also ordered four locos of the same basic design, but for DC power, which will wear that company's blue livery and work such trains as the Crystal-Panoramic Express. The Bière - Apples ­- Morges company has also placed an order; their locos will be green and feature buffers for shunting standard-gauge wagons was well as a 15 kV electrical supply. The BAM carries a heavy traffic in military supplies in standard-gauge wagons on transporter bogies.

Ge 4/4 Iü Technology

Known in RhB circles as the 'BoBo Iü' the new locos have the standard RhB red livery, and their 15.4 metre long, 2.8 metre wide angular bodies differ from their predecessors in that they have no ventilation grilles or machine-room windows in the side panels. There is only one driver's door on each side, diagonally opposite. The grilles are all in the silver-painted roof above cantrail level, as also found on the earlier HGe 4/4 design for the FO, BVZ and SBB/Brünig. Also mounted on the roof are two BBC-designed pantographs.

Large snowploughs enable the loco to make its way through the Grisons winter. The bogie pivots are 9.04 m apart, and the bogie wheelbase is 2.4 m. Under the angular exterior lies equipment of the most modern design, the cab layout being a good example. In place of the traditional large handwheel as the driver's principal tool, there are two control wheels for power and braking incorporated into the armrests. From his relaxed seating position the driver can also control the headlights, the two-tone horn, the rear-view mirrors and also, of course, the seat adjustment.

As well as the electrical regenerative brakes which can return power to the overhead line, hydraulically-operated tread brakes operate on each wheel. The bogies have self-steering axles, as developed by SLM for the SBB 460 class, which minimise the friction and wear of both wheels and rails which occurs on sharply-curved mountain lines. The AC electrical power from the overhead wire is transformed to a lower voltage and converted to DC by solid-state rectifiers, then converted again by the control rectifiers, then converted again by the control electronics to three-phase AC which is fed to the four axle-mounted traction motors.

Delivery and Testing

After mechanical assembly by SLM and electrical installation by ABB in Zürich, the locos are moved on standard-gauge rail transporters to Landquart where they gain the metre-gauge rails. In the RhB Landquart works the final details are added, such as the railguards, lettering and names. As yet, the new locos have not received the Canton shield normally found on the front end of RhB red-liveried locos.

By mid-April, three locos, 641-643, had been delivered and an extensive series of tests was embarked upon, aimed at obtaining the best settings for the computer software which controls the workings of the loco. The test runs, which use a BD coach from the new delivery of EW IV Bernina line coaches, are based at Davos which is relatively near to Landquart works. The Davos - Filisur branch is less busy than the main lines, and offers more paths for test runs.

On April 7th no. 643 Vals made unofficial runs on passenger trains between Davos and Landquart over the 45 per mille gradients; at the same time no. 642 was tried on the Albula line, and to Disentis and back the next day. Once the tests are complete, the new class will be used principally on heavy Albula line expresses between Chur and St Moritz. It is planned to haul 290 tonne trains at up to 60 km/h, compared to the current best with a Ge 6/6 ü of 280 tonnes at 45 km/h.

When the Vereina tunnel is ready, the principal expresses to St Moritz will be transferred to this route, and along with them the Ge 4/4 Iü locos. There will also be a car-carrier service through the tunnel, and with this in mind the new locos are fitted for the installation of automatic couplers.

Loki Aktuell 9-94

50 Years of Hag

Hag, the famous Swiss model railway manufacturer, celebrated its 50th anniversary in June 1994 with an exhibition of full-size rolling stock at Morschwil SBB station. Star of the show was Bodensee - Toggenburg Re 4/4 loco 93 in its remarkable new 'Voralpen-Express' colour scheme, a colourful stylised landscape with the Lucerne Chapel Bridge at one and Lake Constance at the other. Also present were BLS Re 4/4 162 with lettering for the 30th anniversary of this type of loco as well as for Hag's birthday, and SBB Ae 6/6 11451 with a large Hag sticker on the sides.

Brünig Panorama

In mid-July the first of the two panoramic cars ordered by the SSS for the metre-gauge Brünig line emerged from the Schindler Waggon factory in Altenrhein. It has since been tested for winter conditions in the SBB's 'climate-room' at Olten works, in preparation for the two cars' entry to service between Lucerne and Interlaken in October. The design is basically a reduced version of the panorama cars recently built for SBB standard-gauge service; livery chosen for the first-class 48-seat vehicles is Brünig line red, with black and white stripes at window level.

Geneva - La Plaine

The Geneva - La Plaine section of the 1858-opened Geneva - Lyon main line carries French international expresses as well as a Swiss local service. The overhead ires are therefore enersed on the French 1500 V DC system making them inaccessible to standard SBB motive power. Since electrification in 1956, the local service has been maintained by two specially-built motorcoaches which have now reached the end of their lives.As replacements, the SBB has ordered five units of a radically different design, so-called 'Leicht-Gelenk-Triebzuge' or light articulated railcars, based on the vehicles used on the TSOL Lausanne Metro. This development takes place with the full support of the Geneva local authorities who wish to improve the public transport facilities in the area. An improved service of 25 daily trains in each direction is scheduled to begin with the new timetable on 25 September, although the last of the five new units is not expected until December, so it is likely that old and new trains will be in service together for a short period.

The first new Bern 4/6 unit, numbered 550 000-4, was delivered from the Vevey Engineering works at Villeneuve to Geneve on 21 June. It is a twin-articulated car running on three bogies, with an overall length of 31 metres and unladen weight of 42.5 tonnes. The electric power unit delivers 930 kW (1265 HP) giving a maximum speed of 100 km!h; capacity is 79 people sitting and 156 standing. Two units can run in multiple, and each has a 120 HP diesel engine which gives it independence from the overhead when required, which will be very useful in Geneva for running under the SBB's overhead to and from depot.


This summer, for the two-week National Boy-Scout Camp (Pfadfinder-Bundeslager or BULA), special trains brought 20,000 participants and 4000 tonnes of materials including 2800 tonnes of timber from Army stock. The running of all these trains over the single-track network of the Emmental - Burgdorf - Thun system, many of whose stations retain hand-worked points, was a major operation. The BULA workings were given priority over all other trains, even on the SBB network.

In the BULA grounds in the Churzenei valley above Wasen im Emmental the scouts have their own 2.4 km 60 cm-gauge line, known as the Great Western Railway, running from 'Matloahudupudu' station to 'Wapiti City HB' with intermediate halts at 'River-Village' and 'Wagenburg.' The four diesel locos and other equipment were originally built for mining service or military field railways.

'Trabi' on the GFM

The Südostbahn (SOB), Mittelthurgaubahn (MThB) and Reiseburo Mittelthurgau AG have formed a joint company called Lokoop AG to obtain this year 12 ex-East German electric locomotives of class 142, with an option on a further eight. The type has now received an official Swiss classification code, Ae 476.

Lokoop AG proposes to lease the locos (nicknamed 'Trabis' after the famed Trabant car) to the SOB and the MthB plus any other interested railways. Some interest has been shown by the Gruyere - Fribourg - Morat company, which has two standard-gauge sections (Fribourg - Ins, Romont - Bulle) as well as its metre-gauge network. No. 142 132 spent 14-15 June on the GFM system, working time tabled freights as well a heavy test train of three motorcoaches and seven coaches.

[According to Modern Railways, these 25-year-old locos are on sale for £85,000 each, compared to £3.4 million for a new Swiss-built machine. Unsurprisingly, the plan is unpopular with Swiss industry! The EBT group tested one loco, but has now pulled out of the project.]

Accident at Lausanne

With thanks to Modern Railways September 1994.

Around 02.30 on June 29, freight train 53448 from Basel (100 axles, 1753 tonnes total) was running down the 1 in 50 gradient of the line from Fribourg as the driver applied the brakes for a crew-change stop in Lausanne station. As the train ran over crossovers in the station throat, an empty four-wheel Transfesa wagon, the 24th from the loco, was levered off the track. The driver, unaware of the problem, stopped his train in the platform and went off duty.

At 03.10, a new driver restarted the train; the derailed wagon was knocking against the platform edge but at that hour there was no-one around to see it. At the first turnout, it was thrown over, taking with it three bogie tankers which were loaded with a highly flammable petrochemical resin used in the production of super-glue, which began to leak into the surrounding area. 1200 local residents had to evacuated while the fire brigade foamed the area, sealed the breached tankers and transferred their contents to other wagons.

It took 60 hours to restore train services through this busy city station; trains had to be terminated at Renens, Vevey and Palézieux. A shuttle service was established from Palézieux to Lausanne using the east end bay platform 70; a shuttle was also worked from Vevey, although all power at that side of Lausanne station was disconnected the train coasted in and was pulled out again by a diesel loco. Passengers to and from Renens were able to use the TSOL line.

Hazardous chemical traffic was banned by the SBB while they devised additional security measures, which now involve extra inspections of all trains before leaving marshalling yards. It is also intended to avoid the routing of heavy freights over complex pointwork at the approach to stations, and to withdraw 300 tank wagons which are considered to have a suspect bogie design. Clearly the SBB are taking this accident very seriously, as they and the people of Lausanne have had a very lucky escape.

Fire on the Gotthard

In the early morning of July 5th, a lorry caught fire inside the Gotthard motorway tunnel and the tunnel was closed. The SBB responded by running additional Huckepack lorry-carrier trains (which ran almost empty because the police were announcing on the radio that lorries should divert to the Brenner or San Bernadino routes!) and by borrowing a car-carrier train from the BLS and reviving the shuttle between Goschenen and Airolo. This service, powered by Re 6/6 and Ae 417 locos, ran until 7 July when a temporary repair to the road tunnel was completed.

Modeleisenbahntreff Interlaken

A news update from LOKI 7/8-94.

Less than 10 years have passed since the opening of the 'Modelleisenbahntreff' model railway located near Interlaken West station. The exhibition is open daily each Summer: this year it will be open until mid-October from 10.00 to 12.00 and from 13.30 to 18.00. Each winter, the operators take the opportunity to carry out improvements to the models, and this year there are many enhancements to the scenery of the large Om layout which represents the upper Albula valley. The famed Landwasser viaduct can now be seen in its full glory, and there have also been improvements to the electrical system to allow a more frequent train service on the single line.

Also new is a 10 metre-long HOe layout, representing a freelance Austrian theme, which features automatic control of its passing loops. We look forward to even more features in Summer 1995!

First published 1994 - this edition April 2009