A business trip had come up to Fort Myers in Florida, USofA and i thought what better opportunity than this to do a bit of rail fanning in Switzerland on the way back…….
With that in mind i took off to Miami. Frankfurt airport is always fun to transit in and my ride was the new 747-800i seen below with an A380 backing it up….
Upon landing in Miami i hired a car and drove down to Fort Myers about 2 hours away. Upon driving back to Miami the day after i got involved in a car crash. I had just got off the Palmetto Expressway onto an exit and was stationary at a red light when 3 other cars piled up behind me ….
Luckily the damage to my rental car was minimum and I was able to drive away …. the experience though was quite harrowing … stranded in the middle of a busy expressway and such ….
Anyway, I arrived safely in Zurich and after collecting my rental car I headed straight out south to Wassen , A favourite railfanning spot of mine. Enroute a scenic photo stop at Urnersee lake …..
arriving finally at Wassen…..
Wassen is interestingly poised on the Gotthard route between Erstfeld and Goeschenen, it being in the center of three levels of track which spiral up the narrow Reuss valley.
It has a church whose claim to fame is that it can be viewed from three different levels/angles as the train winds it way from the lowest to the highest level. The baroque church was built in 1734 and is consecrated to St.Gallus.
The church has a viewing deck with some nice placards explaining the valley and tracks in front of us and looking south we can see the three levels of track …..
looking north we can again see the three levels of track ……
and looking west we can see the two bridges and above them, the snow protection gallery of the Sustenpass road to Interlaken…..
One of the spots I had chosen earlier was an extremely steep and slippery climb to the top of the three levels of track and the effort put in was worth it … for the views were spectacular…..
I managed to shoot a lot of video and you can see an edited version of it here ….
I was to get up early and drive 2 hours north to Goeppingen near Stuttgart to attend the IMA Model train fair organized by Marklin. However, I was way too jet-lagged and tired of my adventures of the previous day….. so I decided to take it easy and not risk driving on the “no speed limit” Autobahns of Germany in a drowsy state. Instead I decided to go to the Hauptbahnhof or main station for some rail fanning …
Having had enough of trains for the moment….. I headed out for a leisurely walk down to the lake …..
Driving two hours west to Berne and then to Fribourg, the first order of the day was to fulfill a long standing desire to visit the model railway at Kaeserberg ……The layout is housed in a neat and compact building and consists of three levels, the lowest with the staging yard , the middle with the main layout and the upper with a H0m layout. The levels can be accessed very seamlessly by stairs. I often toy with the idea of building a layout for commercial public exhibhiton and if ever i get down to it, it would most definitely be inspired by the architecture and design of the Kaeserberg layout……
on the upper level they have a very neat display of a stand of “how-to’s” and techniques and methods used to build the layout…….
finally in the basement they have a cut off portion of a real Ae6/6 locomotive in which they have a simulator. Albeit, the simulator probably was a computer version of Train Simulator or RailSimulator but it is connected to the actual locomotive controls so one does get a feel of how it must have been to drive the real thing ……
Unfortunately , i could not try it out as i was running out of time for my next order of business ……. which was a footplate on a SBB -swiss railways – passenger service from Berne to Brig and then a change of trains from Brig to Lausanne …
the 1307 hrs service to Brig arrived on time hauled by the workhorse of the SBB – the RE460 locomotive and IC2000 coaches …..
the cab of the RE460 was quite spacious and comfortable and normally there is just the driver occupying it but today there were three of us. One thing i noticed straight away was that the iPad had become a standard issue and all track and speed restrictions were uploaded on it rather than given on a piece of paper. The iPad was linked to a GPS system and would tick of stations , way points and speed restrictions as and when they were encountered or passed……… as well as help central control to keep track of the trains exact position and use it as a device to aid their Anti- Collision systems …..
I positioned my video camera right in the center for the complete ride . Unfortunately the windscreen was a mess of squashed bugs and flies and that really played spoilsport with the footage but there was nothing we could do about it ….. Leaving Berne there was a lot of parallel traffic…
Spiez was on time and the ICE 275 service from Frankfurt to Interlaken was also there as if on cue …. it will take the left line going down while we will take the right route to Frutigen / Kandersteg and the Loetschebrg tunnel
The ride quality was exceptional and one could not tell that we were doing 160+ kmph …….. also what was noticeable was how accurately time was being kept and how we passed each station right on cue .
Not a single red or yellow restricted signal was encountered in the entire journey which was an indication of how efficient the system was considering we were on the most heavily trafficked sections in Switzerland which is thru the Alps and the Loetscheberg tunnel …. the entry into which seems like some stage with seating for spectators and such ……
Due to the soaring costs of the AlpTransit initiative, the Loetschberg Base Tunnel is only half finished. The fully complete LBT will consist of two single track bores side by side from portal to portal, connected about every 300m with cross cuts, enabling the other tunnel to be used for escape. Currently from South to North a third of the tunnel is double track, a third single track with the second bore in place, and a third with only one single track tunnel, the parallel exploration excavation providing emergency exits. The construction is divided into 3 phases with phase 1 completed to date.
Max speeds for mixed freights is 100kmph , unit freights is 160kmph , regular passanger trains ie. Re460 hauled is 200kmph and the tilting trains or Pendolino/Cisalpinos are 250kmph….. As we were a Re460 hauled passenger we did 200kmph thru the tunnel and the 35 km tunnel was crossed in apx 12 minutes after which we blasted thru to the other side …..
About 120 trains per day use the tunnel and apx 70 use the old mountain tunnel. Heavy freight trains up to a maximum weight of 4,000 tons and a maximum length of 1,500 metres have to use the base tunnel as they can’t use the existing mountain track and trains more than 7 minutes late are either routed via the old line resulting in further delays to their schedule or then they must wait for the next available timetable slot in the Loetschberg Tunnel . Seen from the cab towards the upper left of the pic is part of the old mountain route …..
finally , an on time arrival at Brig …..
and with a connection time of only 4 minutes we see the arrival of our next ride to Laussane …. and behind which we can see the IC2000 coaches of the train we came in on…
The ETR 610 is manufactured by Alstom Ferroviaria in Italy and is considered the absolute state of the art train in the world . The train is also known as the Pendolino or Cisalpino for its tilting technology, it can touch a Vmax of 250 kmph and the maximum tilt of 8 degrees allows the trains to reach a speed that is up to 35% higher than for conventional trains on a given curve …… The drivers cabin is no less than that of an aircraft and the Lokfuehrer (train driver) could not stop gushing about it inspite of our great language divide , my German probably as bad as his English !!
the standard issue iPad was the center piece and amongst the many safety features of the train , the one i liked most was the one where the train could not be put into motion if any of the doors were open. To the left of the driver , on-board cameras gave views of the sides so that the driver could be aware of all that was going on while boarding passengers and also a rear view camera so he knew exactly when the rear of the train was past speed restrictions etc …
the ride felt extremely leisurely compared to the blast thru the Loetschberg and i was being lulled into slumber by the smooth ride and had difficulty being fully awake. As is wont in Switzerland , no matter where u look , the scenery was exceptional and i enjoyed the ride especially when it took the curves at high speeds by tilting into them ….. soon we reached Montreux … and then the track winded its way around the shores of Lake Geneve before reaching Laussane ……
What a day !!! ….. i was not to sad it had come to an end as i was extremely tired. I caught the next available train back to Bern and picked up my car and drove back to Zurich . That was one horror car ride back as i was constantly falling asleep and driving at 30kmph in the fast lane and also probably straddling lanes … causing atleast two cases of road rage in disciplined Switzerland …..
The Gotthard railway from Immensee to Chiasso is a trans-alpine railway line which connects the north to the south of Switzerland and also serves as an important international railway link between northern Europe, especially Germany and Italy. The line crosses the Alps thru the Gotthard tunnel at a height of apx. 1150 meters . The line then descends on the south side to Bellinzona from where it goes on to Locarno and Lugano. The crossing of the Alps require the use of long ramped approaches on each side, together with several spiral helical tunnels which are of keen interest to me….
I got up early so that i could reach Arth-Goldau in time, even though it is a 40 minute drive south from Zurich. I reached well before the 8.53 am departure and hung around till my ride arrived …… . I met my contact there and boarded the loco , which was an Re460 Lok 2000……..a notification stub given to the driver before he can board his train, contained info regarding the length and weight of the train , its braking ratio , coach type etc etc …..all this info was available on his standard issue iPad as well but this was just a way to humanly sign-on to his train…. I later kept this as a souvenir of my ride !!!
After stopping at Schwyz, Brunnen and Fluellen which are on the east side of the Urnersee…. which was on our right….we reach Erstfeld , the start of the north ramp. Just before reaching Erstfeld we can see to our left the massive construction project of the Gotthard Base tunnel which will form a new north-south link bypassing the mountain route we are taking today ……
Upon reaching Erstfeld we can see the loco shed on the right . Before electrification , Erstfeld was where the bankers were added on to uphill freights but today electric bankers are added which are not high maintenance and therefore the depot has lost it’s significance…. we also see an Accident relief train here ….
i had shot video of the entire stretch from Arth-Goldau to Locarno but the stretch between Erstfeld and Goeschenen is the most interesting as the track winds its way up the narrow Reuss valley , up a gradient of 2.5% and thru three spiral tunnels …. so here is an edited video of this section …. i also suggest to listen to it with headphones as the person accompanying me had a lot of interesting facts about the line to share …….
Upon arrival at Goeschenen …. the twin portals of the 15km long Gotthard tunnel are directly in front of us . The right portal is the one in which mainline traffic flows while the left portal is just a short tunnel. The shunting lead and approach track to the goods yard join the main line about 800mtrs into the bore … to our right is the rack and pinion line to Andermatt ….
We blasted thru the tunnel , the top speed being 125kmph …. and it took about 11 minutes to reach the south side at Airolo …. which at 1141m above sea level is the highest station on the SBB. A freight passed by as we waited for the scheduled departure time ..
track maintenance work was going on beyond Airolo which meant wrong side running for us ….
on our climb up the north ramp , we had encountered three spiral tunnels and on our way down the south side we will encounter 4 spiral tunnels… the Freggio, Prato, PianoTondo and the the Travi Tunnels , all of them 360 degrees, full circle spirals. The illustration below making it clearer …..
the line was rugged on this side and one could see the amount of effort which must have gone in to the blasting and boring of the right of way ….
It being Sunday , there were not too many freights to be seen but still enough to keep me happy ….
construction of the Base tunnel, both through the Gotthard and the Ceneri Tunnel were very much in evidence.
we reached Bellinzona ….
after which we took the single track line to Locarno…. passing over this bridge …..
and finally arriving at Locarno …….
It is obvious that the north ramp is the one which has been explored more due to its proximity to Zurich ….. but the south side seems very interesting as well and i hope in future visits i can be South side a bit more……a lot of video footage is waiting to be uploaded and i will do so as time permits, probably in sections. I took the same train back to Arth-Goldau where i picked up my car and returned to Zurich , totally busted up but thrilled to no end ….
Next day i was back home in New Delhi…. a thoroughly satisfied rail fan ……. back to Switzerland please …..ASAP !!!