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 1996

Loki Aktuell 1-96

Egghead in Switzerland

In the late 1950s, the West German railways (DB) introduced a new style of diesel railcar, classes VT 08.5 and VT 12.5, with curvaceous cab fronts that gained them the slightly derogatory nickname of 'eggheads.' The VT 08.5 types were used long long-distance trains such as the Rheinblitz, the Schaunisland, and the Roland, which reached Switzerland at Basel SBB, and the Helvetia, which  reached as far as Zürich. This latter ran only for four years, however, being replaced in October 1957 by the more luxurious new VT11.5 TEE sets. The eggheads continued on trains to Basel until 1963.

Twelve years later, the last of the type in normal German service was withdrawn, but one four-car set was overhauled and restored as a working museum-piece, kept in the care of the Nuremburg transport museum. In this role, VT 612 507 has made occasional forays into Switzerland, the most recent being on 15 November 1995 when a delegation of 130 sales staff of the DB's travel agency visited Lucerne. The train ran empty from Lucerne to Arth-Goldau, and returned to its homeland two days later.

'Parts of Body' Tank Wagon

The SBB network serves around 3000 private sidings, with a total length of over 1200 km, and there are around 6600 privately owned wagons in traffic offering highly efficient door-to-door rail service. Privately owned wagons achieve great productivity: they form 27.8% of the Swiss wagon fleet, yet carry 49.3% of the traffic measured in tonne-kilometres.

Many tank wagons are operated by specialist wagon-rental companies, such as Wascosa AG of Zug. Wascosa has just seven employees, but owns 1500 tank wagons; the company is a member of the Swiss Association of Private Siding Operators and Wagon Owners (VAP). In a move to play its part in cultural life, Wascosa, in conjunction with BP Oil's Swiss subsidiary, has sponsored a fine-art repaint of one of its bogie oil tank wagons, 33 85 786 3 430-9.

Previously plain grey, this wagon has now been treated by Lucerne artist Michael Koch who has covered the whole tank with huge brushstrokes in primary colours, overlaid by faces and other details. The wagon currently operates for BP between Glattbrugg (Switzerland) and Kehl (Germany).

SBB Cargo

'Mit Bahn-Power in die Zukunft' is the multi-lingual motto adopted by the SBB - Switzerland's largest transport organisation - for its new strategic plan. In future, it is planned to publicise rail freight activities more widely, and increase market share by a new freight timetable, Quality Management, and a closer relationship with its customers.

Examples of the right sort of publicity are:
  • The energy requirement of rail transport is only one-seventh of the equivalent road vehicles, and trains create only one-thirtieth of the harmful pollutants;
  • Each year the SBB moves 8300 wagons of glass for recycling,
  • equivalent to a train 83 kilometres long; 
  • The CIBA company has awarded the SBB the title 'Top Class' for reliability;
In the new timetable from June 1996, 90% of loads within Switzerland will reach their destination the next day.

World's Strongest Bridge Crane

The SBB network includes thousands of bridges of various kinds, many of which need to be repaired or replaced each year. To keep traffic flowing, it is often decided to install temporary bridges to carry the track while the work is in progress. Lifting these into position needs a heavy-duty crane, and the SBB has just taken delivery of the first of two of a new type.

The Kirow KRC 800T rail-mounted crane, made in Leipzig, Germany, costs 5 million Francs per machine, but the two will replace four older and less effective cranes. The allocated classifications and running numbers are XTmaas 80 85 95 89 000-1 and ...001-9. They can lift a 20-metre bridge, weighing 40 tonnes, at a radius of 11 metres, or a 30-tonne 20-metre bridge at 15 metres.

The crane itself runs on four four-wheeled bogies, and is coupled to a four-axle wagon that carries supports the two 1.5 tonne counterweights during travel, and can move under its own power. The crane jib is telescopic, and can be used on electrified lines without turning off the power!

Safer Tank Wagons

On 8 March 1994, several  tank wagons loaded with petrol derailed  and immediately caught fire in Zürich Affoltern station. The fire spread to several houses alongside the line which were completely destroyed. The cause of this disaster was an overheated axlebox that seized, about 5 km before the site of the accident. This derailed after about 3 km, but bumped along on the sleepers until it encountered the pointwork in the station area.

To avoid a repetition of this serious accident - it was fortunate that 'only' three people were seriously injured -  Altenrhein works has experimentally fitted 22 tank wagons (used by Shell to transport aviation fuel in block trains) with what is described as a self-diagnostic system. Heat and vibration sensors on each axlebox will detect overheating or derailment: a light will flash on the wagon and an alarm system, will be transmitted to the driver.

Wengernalpbahn: New Locos

The WAB took delivery in November of the first of its two new locomotives. Intended for freight working between Lauterbrunnen and Wengen, they will also be able to power passenger trains at busy times. They will also be used for snow clearance in winter, which will be possible at normal line speed rather than the slow speed of existing snowploughs which hinder the normal service trains.

The two rack-powered 80cm-gauge locos, financed entirely by the railway company itself, are being built by Stadler of Bussnang in Thurgau at a cost of 3.5 million Francs each. As a world first for a rack-driven loco, they are equipped with electronically controlled asynchronous motor; they also pioneer radio remote control on such a line. Another interesting design feature is that they can operate without the overhead wire when required, by hauling a diesel generator set on an adjacent wagon.

Maximum speed uphill is 22 km/h, and 21.5 km/h downhill, although downhill speed is reduced on gradients over 120 per mille; this is the same speed rating as the WAB's latest railcars. They are rated at 625 HP (460 kW) just enough to haul 20 tonnes up a 180 per mille gradient. Livery is dark blue, and each loco is 5.75 metres long and weighs 16 tonnes. Running numbers are He 2/2 31 and 32: the single H, as opposed to HG on a Furka-Oberalp locos for instance, tells us that they are powered on the rack wheels only and cannot move on tracks not fitted with the Riggenbach rack system. All WAB tracks, including sidings, must therefore have rack rails fitted, but the design of the locomotive is greatly simplified.

Ants in your BLS

The ant is one of nature's most gregarious creatures, but the diesel tractor Anise (=ant) which has recently been operating in BLS metals is definitely one of a kind. A prototype 425 HP machine with crane and loading area, built by the firm of Robert Aebi, it as been in use on engineering works in the Spiez area, when not afflicted by various teething troubles.

Stadler: New Assembly Hall

Stadler of Bussnang are developing a good reputation as a builder of railway equipment for specific requirements. Increased orders have led to the opening of a new building     for assembly of their products, especially their new low-floor diesel railcar set which is aimed at the German market, where many branch lines are in the process of being transferred from the DB to small locally-controlled companies which are showing interest in buying new, but inexpensive, trains.

MOB: Goodbye 2002

The Montreux - Oberland Bernois railway has two vintage three-bogie motor baggage vans, DZe 6/6 2001 (built in 1932) and 2002 (built in 1933). Originally intended to power the Golden Mountain Pullman train, they have been in demand recently for nostalgic trains. Under current plans, however, 2002 will be scrapped, and used for spares to permit the complete restoration of no. 2001.

Am 6/6 News

The six 1976-built heavy diesel shunters of class Am 6/6, used principally in Limmattal marshalling yard (RBL) near Zürich, are vecoming worn out after 20 years of hard work. It has been decided that five of them will be fully refurbished, the sixth being withdrawn and used as a source of spares.

Another Line Threatened

Since the French railways closed their section of the cross-border line through Delle, the Solothurn - Moutier Bahn (SMB) has suffered a sever decline in its freight traffic. Complete closure of the line is now being discussed: the Weissenstein Tunnel would be converted to a road tunnel.

Glassfibre Tram

Following on from its experimental coach body made from fibre materials, Schindler Waggon had won an order from the (former east-) German city of Cottbus for an experimental low-floor centre section made of the same material, which will be added to one of the city's Tatra trams to ncrease capacity and improve accessibility.

Who will buy 'Loki?'

The Sulzer group is seeking a  buyer for the Winterthur plant of the famous Schweizer Lokomotiv- und Maschinenfabrik, affectionately known as 'Loki.' The firm has suffered a drawback in not persuading the SBB that its proposed new tilting trains should have a locomotive or loco-like power car each end, as this is SLM's speciality rather than the building of powered trainsets.

TGV to Brig

On Saturdays until 6 April, there is a through SNCF TGV working from Paris (dep. 0715) to Lausanne, Montreux, Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre and Brig, where the orange worm arrives at 13.10. Returning from Brig at 15.43, the train arrives back in Paris at 21.29. What a day trip!


Well, one person reads this stuff anyway: it has been pointed out by one of our email subscribers that there was a section missing from the November issue's Brünig item. What happened I have no idea; probably something to do with learning a new word processing program (AmiPro)... but here's the complete version of the garbled paragraphs:

The first rack section, with a gradient of 10%, climbs from Giswil     station to Kaiserstuhl (km 32.2, 698 m.a.s.l.), high above Lake Lungern. The train runs on adhesion only fromKaiserstuhl to Lungern station (km 35.8, 752 m.a.s.l.) where a second rack climb begins through beautiful meadows and woodland, broken only by the crossing station at K„ppeli (km 37.8), to the summit of the line at Brünig-Hasliberg (km 40.1, 1002 m). The station here is alongside the pass road, and a postbus connection serves Hasliberg village and other settlements high above the valley. The train descends steeply, on continuous rack, down the rocky flanks of the Hasli valley to the valley floor at Meiringen. Even the passing loop at Brunnenflüh (km 42.1), which has been added since the opening of the line, is fully-equipped with rack rails.

Just before Meiringen station, (km 45.5, 595 m), the line from Interlaken runs in on the right. All Brünig trains must reverse in Meiringen station, although track continues ahead on to the metals of the Meiringen - Innertkirchen Bahn. Normally, a new locomotive will attach to the other end of the train for the run to Interlaken; Meiringen is the location of the line's main depot and workshops.

The valley section from Meiringen to Interlaken is the 'high-speed' section of the Brünig route, following the Aare river until at Brienz  (km 57.8, 566m), lower station of the rack railway to the Rothorn, the river flows into Lake Brienz and after a short tunnel the route becomes a pleasant lakeside ride through Brienz West station (km 59.3) and the resort villages of Ebligen (km 61.9), Oberried (km 65.0), Niedrried (km 68.3) and Ringgenberg (km 71.0). The line crosses the river, just as it leaves the lake,  by a high steel bridge, and  terminates at Interlaken Ost station (km 74.0, 567m). Interlaken Ost is a large station, which the SBB shares with the  standard gauge BLS main line terminus, with its expresses from all over Europe, and the metre-gauge line of the Berner Oberland Bahnen to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. The station is actually owned and controlled by the BOB.

The Brünig is, like the SBB's standard gauge lines, electrified at 15 kV AC, as is the LSE. The BOB uses DC electrification, but all three lines are built to the same structure gauge and use the same Riggenbach rack system. Until 1974, through coaches were run in summer between Lucerne and Grindelwald: this service was revived briefly in 1988 for the Bruenig line's centenary celebrations. The BOB uses the SBB's transporter wagons to work standard gauge wagons on to its system as far as Zweiluetschinen; the MIB serves Innertkirchen in the same way. On special occasions, such as the Nidwalden Cantonal Pilgrimage to Sachseln, LSE trains, including
motorcoaches, can also be seen off their normal route. SBB trains run on the LSE, but only on the adhesion section to Wolfenschiessen.

First published 1996 - this edition April 2009