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BLS Lötschbergbahn

Willi Frauenelder - Head of Drivers

22nd April 2004

Written by A.J. Spencer

Willi, in his first year as one of our Vice-Presidents, honoured us with his a specially arranged presentation on the 22nd April 2004. Willi was on a private trip to the UK with his son was able to fit us into his already full schedule.

Willi spoke on his career with the BLS Lötschbergbahn (BLS) from apprentice to Head of Drivers at Spiez, as well on the BLS Company present and future. Although not totally fluent in English, he gave a very good and enlightening presentation. Willi showed maps of the BLS network now and from 2005; diagrams of the locomotives in use by the BLS and details of the traffic carried over the Lötschberg Alpine route and its branch lines. These ranged from inter-city expresses to regional trains, freight (both inter-model and wagon-load) and the car shuttle trains through the 9 mile Lötschberg Tunnel, some going on to Iselle in Italy.

Willi then moved on to future developments; these including the December 2004 timetable which was already online which will be the first really significant to the timetable since 1984 when the traffic-plan was launched. On that date BLS will cease to be responsible for Inter-city trains, which will taken over by SBB. However, BLS will take over all regional train services in the Bern Area (the Bern S-Bahn) as well as the Bern - Lucerne services currently operated by RMT (previously EBT and its associates). There major changes taking place and some timetables will be completely rewritten. Spiez will become the hub of BLS, with a total timetable recast, giving between three and four inter-city trains per hour on the Bern - Brig/Interlaken corridor.

Interlaken gets a quarter hourly service throughout most of the day.  Regional trains will provide a frequency of three trains per hour on the Spiez -Interlaken route.  Services between Spiez and Brig will be mostly half hourly with a few gaps. The Bern - Lucerne service will be hauled by BLS class 465's, whilst the Bern - Neuchatel- La Chax de Fonds service will employ SBB Class Re 4/4 's transferred to BLS and painted into BLS colours.  Further info on the new December timetable is available at:

After about an hour, Willi concluded his presentation and took questions and answers for a further 40 minutes.  Some of those questions are answered below:

Q1: Why do we see MOB locomotive running with both pantographs up?

A1: Because their overhead voltage is so low (only 800v) they have to draw so much power to raise the train over some of spectacular gradients, they use two pantographs to draw the power they need.

Q2: What was the outcome of the Spiez depot collision between units 748 and 750?

A2: This was due to driver error, by the Depot Driver.

Q3: Why do we see freight trains running without tail lights?

A3: This is allowed under regulations, provided the signalling system is working correctly.  If, however, there is a signalling failure then the signalman must be informed by the driver that the train is complete.

Q4: Why are detonators not used in Switzerland?

A4: They were withdrawn 50+ years ago.

Q5: What is the system of promotion to driver on BLS?

A5: Drivers are mostly recruited from either other grades (but not usually guards or signalmen) or recruitment from the street, or, as often in the case in the last few years from other Railways in Europe, in particular on BLS from Deutsche Bahn AG.

Q6: What is the progress on the Lötschberg Base Tunnel?

A6: Very good, it is on schedule and on budget for opening in 2007.

Willi expressed his wish that any members visiting Switzerland should contact him for any possible visits to the depot and possible cab rides.

A J Spencer. 23/9/2004.