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Switzerland 2002

© Text by Allan Spencer

Friday 13th September / Saturday  14th 2002:

The tour was planned following the collapse of our original tour to Austria and Hungary.  However although this tour was worked on and I came up with a very varied itinerary, only three members booked the tour and only two of these elected to travel by train.  I met Percy at Waterloo International for the 16:27 Eurostar on Friday afternoon.  After spending the night in Brussels we travelled to Switzerland on EC91 07:01 Brussels Midi - Brig (EC Vauban).

Arrival in Switzerland was on time and after being shunted through to the SBB side of Basel Station we set off for our final destination, Ringgenberg, this would be our base for the week.  Tom Chaffin would meet us in Interlaken later after a flight from Gatwick; that was the plan.

Our train arrived in Bern for the obligatory reversal, with 2 x Rle 4/4 backing on.  I went out of the train to film this movement, seconds later Percy almost failing from the train came out shouting, “I have been robbed!”  Two persons, passing themselves off as city gents, subjected him to a cruel scam.  We spent the following two hours with the Police.  Eventually, we joined the same train that Tom Chaffin joined after his arrival from Geneva Airport.  So arrival in Ringgenberg was at 19:00, almost three hours later than planned.  After settling into the apartment we took our evening meal in the local Pub/Hotel Baren (The Bear), followed by a trip back into Interlaken, travelling from the local station on the SBB metre gauge line, for a few glasses of Rugenbräu.  We returning quite late with the PTT bus via Boningen.

Sunday 15th September:

Today was one of the only two days left from the original plan, a visit to the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke) Realp-Gletsch of the old Furka Oberalp.  There was however an additional trip included at the last minute.  The Ballenberg Dampfbahn Museum was running its usual, one Sunday a month steam train from Interlaken-Giswil.  So after we walked to Interlaken Ost via the lakeside path, we joined the 09:52 Dampf Special as far as Brienz with DFB208 at its head, the usual photo stop was at Oberied - actually it's actually a pathing/ passing stop.  Following the Brienzersee we changed at Brienz as the Dampf schedule did not allow us time to catch the post bus in Meiringen.  The post bus was full and an Extra Farht was running.  We did however manage the first bus.   Supplement for this was 8 SwF. After the 2 1/2 hour run over the Grimsal Pass with 20 minutes leg stretching/comfort break/photo stop at the top of the pass, which is some 1980 metres above sea level.

We dropped down into Gletsch, towering above was the Rhone Glacier, into the station yard where two HG 314 locomotives numbers 1 & 9 waited their next duty.   No 1 built in 1913 and No 9 in 1914, both at SILM Winterthur.  Both these locomotives were sent to Vietnam in 1947 and were then returned at the beginning of the 1990's for use on the reopened section of the Furka by the DFB.

After taking a light lunch in the Rhone Glacier Hotel we meet one of our Swiss members, Charles Eyre and his wife for the run behind No 9 over the Furka and down to Realp, a truly amazing ride behind these amazing refurbished locomotives, still running after almost 80 years. Although I had been over the Furka by road, this was my first trip by rail.  The Furka Railway (over the top as they used to say) closed in 1981 with the opening of the New Furka Base Tunnel, the new tunnel allowed the line to remain open all year round.  The trip behind No 9 was fantastic; we had decided to travel on the 2nd train, as this was almost empty, the first hauled by No1 was filled with a big group of German firemen.  So the timetable had been changed to allow two trains to run.  Twenty minutes had to elapse between each train, this was to allow the banker locomotive through the Furka Summit tunnel to get back and assist our train after assisting No 1. The power of these locos is formidable, considering the gradients that they have to attack leaving Gletsch. After emerging from the Furka Tunnel (1874 m) we took a customary 15-minute break and water for the locomotive in Furka station before the run down through lush meadows to the valley floor at Realp.  Here we changed to the Furka Oberalp and returned to Ringgenberg via the Base Tunnel, Brig and Spiez.  On our way back to Ringgenberg, we stopped off at Spiez for an evening meal and to meet our Austrian Member, Josef Kaufmann, who was away from his home in Gmund for a few days.

Monday 16th September 2002:

Today was going to be a bit of a wasted day, as we need to visit the British Embassy to obtain some documentation for Percy to get back to the UK. Tom Chaffin had decided to go it alone today, so with Percy and Josef in tow, we journeyed to the British Embassy.  One thing that did come out of this trip was my first use of the Bern Tram System.  After spending most of the morning at the embassy we were told to call again on Wednesday to collect a temporary passport.  We returned to the Interlaken area, here we took the train to Brienz for the BLS Boat back to Interlaken Ost, walking between the two lakes via the canal.  At the West station we joined the BLS Boat to Spiez.  The Paddle Steamer "Blümlisalp" was our transport.  A quite and beautiful afternoon on the boat to Spiez, a walk up the hill to the station was followed by our return to the apartment for a well-earned evening meal.

Tuesday 17th September:

Today our small group would split into two, Tom Chaffin and Percy were going to the Jungfrau via the BOB; Josef and myself would have an easy day before Josef set of back to Gmund via the overnight from Zurich . With a leisurely start on the ICE from Interlaken to Thun, we then travelled over the northern ramp of the Lötschberg to Kandersteg, here we had a walk, a snack and took film/video of trains passing through, it was good to see BLS locomotive 205 built in 1935 in traffic.  After a few hours we returned to Spiez and took the Zweisimmen Train (Ale 4/4 252 of 1944). Then onto Lenk for a late lunch and a visit to the model railway shop.

Between Zweisimmen - Lenk, Josef rode in the cab with the MOB Driver. All to soon it was time to return to Ringgenberg for Dinner and then Josefs departure to Zurich for his overnight to Wien and onto Gmund tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 18th September:

Today a return visit to the British Embassy was required to collect and pay (CHF29.00) for a Temporary British Passport for Percy. Travelling from Interlaken on the ICE at 08:39 we made our way to Bern to collect the Passport, using the Bern Trams again and doing the sightseeing tour as well. After collecting the passport we went on to Basel, using the tram, we crossed the city to Basel Bad for Lunch.  We returned to Basel SBB on the new DB Regional Service.  Basel SBB is a building site at the moment as it is rebuilt within the fabric of the old facade. Our return to the apartment was over the usual route via Bern, with an early evening meal and making plans for Thursday, another day was over.

Thursday 19th September:

During the previous nights deliberations we had decided to go to the top of the Rigi (above Lake Lucerne), however Percy and Tom wanted to visit the Transport Museum in Lucerne.  We travelled via the SBB Brünig Line via Meiringen and Giswil.  Whilst they were at the Museum I went to Arth Goidau to do some videoing, meeting them later on the paddle steamer from Lucerne to Vbnau.

My trip to Arth Goidau was pleasing in that I meet up with some old friends, this having been my usual place for staying from 1981-88 at the Hotel Alpenblick, run by my old friend Frau Shilter (who moved on after the death of her husband).  Some good videoing ensued with several 482's being observed working trains from and to the Gotthard.

So back to Lucerne for the paddle steamer, meeting up on the way to Vitznau with Percy and Tom, who joined me at the landing stage near the Transport Museum.  After several days of brilliant sunshine today was wet and dismal with the clouds drifting lower and lower down the mountains towards the lakeside.  Our train was waiting in the station for us in the lakeside station.  Here also is the depot, a half roundhouse; this houses the lines steam engine and some vintage stock together with the lines EMU fleet.  As we ascended the mountain, the clouds became lower and lower.  Views of the lake finally disappeared in the mist.

We finally arrived at the mountain station, where the other line shares the same station, until several years ago; the two lines were two different companies (VRB - Vitznau Rigi Bahn Switzerland's first mountain rack line, opened in 1871) and (ARB - Arth Rigi Bahn) now called the RigiBahn.   A snack and then all aboard the blue and cream train for the downhill run to Arth Goldau.  Although now just one company they have retained their own colours (VIRB is red. cream).  Here we decided to carry on to Erstfeld so that I could book a Hotel for my visit in December, during the run to Erstfeld, we parted company with Tom who went to Fluelen for the paddle steamer on the southern end of the lake of the four cantons.   Percy and myself carrying on and with only about five minutes to go to the Hotel and book for December and then get back to the station; we managed it.  We returned to Ringgenberg via Zurich, taking an evening meal on the train between Zurich-Bern.

Friday 20th September:

Today was to be the highlight of the week, also it was only the second of the two days of the original plan to survive. The first day being Sundays trip over the Furka. Travelling with the ICE to Spiez we meet my old friend Willi Frauenfelder who is Head of Drivers on the BLS (Bern Lotschberg & Simplon Bahn).  Unfortunately Willi was, as usual in his job, very busy so he left us in the capable hand of one of his colleagues (Hans Peter Hunkeler).

Click for Tom Chaffin's account of the rest of this day on the BLS Lötschbergbahn AG, which included a visit to Spiez Signalling Centre and cab rides through the Lötschberg Tunnel.

BLS  Lötschberg

Saturday 21st September:

Today it was all over, except for our journey home.  This would be a roundabout route via Geneva, Lyon and Lillie Europe.  In previous years the journey had been easier, using EC90 at 11:26 from Spiez and with just one change at Brussels Midi into the 21:02 Brussels Midi - London Waterloo Eurostar, arriving in London at 22:42.  However Eurostar have in their wisdom discontinued this train, so unless you make and early start to travel via Basel to Paris Est, then the other option is an overnight stay on the way home.  Travelling from Ringgenberg via Bern to Geneva we had about one hour in Geneva, so we took a stroll down to the Lakeside (Lac Leman).  We then joined a TGV bound for Montpellier. At Lyon we meet up with Alan Martin (L&Cl Member).  It was here that things started to go wrong.

Alan had been speaking to a member of SNCF staff who told him about a car being struck by a train further south.   A train from the South arrived and seemed to be a very long train, even for France, 19 coaches.  It transpired that the Loco was hauling its own train + 7 coaches from the train that had hit the car.  After this train left I took a stroll down the platform to buy a drink, checking the departure monitor I found that train 5061 was running about 60 minutes late.  I decided that this was going to cause us problems at Lillie Europe as train 9161 (19:56 Brussels Midi - London WIT) would be missed If this lateness became more than 65 minutes.  I therefore went to the Inquiry Office.  Here a very friendly SNCF member of staff, changed our tickets to travel via Paris on the next TGV Duplex (a first for the three off us), with a quick taxi across Paris (9 Euro) between Gare du Lyon and Nord.  At Nord we managed to change our tickets for the 20:19 Eurostar (the last one of the day).  After leaving Paris it was announced that we would call specially at Lillie Europe to take up passengers off late running trains from the South of France.  The only conciliation in our detour was that we enjoyed a first class meal, before the train became overcrowded with late running passengers off the late running trains.  So despite all these problems we managed to arrive back in London only an hour late (in fact our train was 14 minutes early into Waterloo on its retiming for engineering work).

So despite just a few members making the trip, Percy's theft of his wallet, I think that the week went well.


© Alan Spencer. November 2002.