Spring in Northern Switzerland
06 - 10 May 2013
Report by Duncan Cotterill
Switzerland wasn’t originally on the agenda for this trip. News of the impending demise of loco hauled passengers on the St. Gallen – Chur route and the unexpected resurrection of some Ae6/6s to work stone trains prompted the rethink. Both operations fitted in well with planned visits to the Allgäu and the Stuttgart – Singen line in Germany so I spent five days in northern Switzerland in early May. This part of the report summarises what was seen. For detailed day by day observations including loco numbers, go to the Day by Day section. The report of the German part of the trip is available here.
I took my own car on this trip, travelling via the Channel Tunnel and covering around 3000 miles overall. Hotels were booked via booking.com as I went round, always ensuring the next hotel had internet access so I could book the one after.
A shot I'd been thinking about for years but had never got round to, until now. Re6/6 11619 worked an oil train south from Buchs SG towards Sargans near Sevelen on 8 May 2013. Behind the train, the solid wall of the Alpstein range rises to just over 2100m.
St. Gallen - Sargans(Mon 06 to Wed 08 May 2013)
This line runs along the Rhein Valley close to Switzerland’s eastern border with Austria and Liechtenstein and surrounded by high mountains at the southern end. With new class 511 EMUs expected to replace the hourly loco hauled passenger trains in June 2013, it was time to try some shots around Sevelen that I’d been thinking about doing for years.
The principal passenger service on the line consists of hourly loco hauled RE services from St. Gallen to Chur, worked by SBB Class Re4/4ii locomotives. The southern end of the line also hosts through services between Zürich and Austria, routed via Buchs SG and Feldkirch. Most of these trains are now worked throughout by ÖBB class 1116 electrics on RailJet push-pull sets but a couple of overnight trains use Re4/4iis between Zürich and Buchs. A loop line at Sargans allows trains from either the Zürich or Chur direction to access the line without reversing.
Local services between Sargans and Buchs SG and between Altstätten and St. Gallen are worked by Thurbo class 526 things (I hesitate to call them EMUs as they appear to be far more heavy rail tram than EMU). Apart from a couple of peak hour trains, there’s no local service between Buchs and Altstätten.
This picture soon won't be possible, due to the replacement of loco hauled passenger trains by EMUs.
Re4/4ii 11172 led RE3811, the 10:04 from St. Gallen to Chur, south from Sevelen on 8 May 2013. The loco was one of five required to work the hourly "Rheintal Express" service on this 106km route around the north-eastern corner of Switzerland.
Most freights only run over the southern section of the line and are exchanged with ÖBB at Buchs. Traffic north of Buchs is fairly sparse. SBBC class Re4/4ii or Re6/6 work the vast majority of trains but a BLS Re4/4 was also seen on one southbound container train. An average morning between Sargans and Buchs would probably see around four through freights and possibly a pick-up goods with a class 923 as well. Most freight used the loop line at Sargans, making it easy to miss if photographing the passenger trains.
My main aim was to get the shots around Sevelen with the solid wall of the Alpstein range rising sheer behind the train and that was achieved. The three days I spent on the line were among the best on the entire trip with sunshine around 50% of the time including two sunny mornings, the right time for the best shots.
Getting shots from the east side, with the mountains behind, proved remarkably easy as the line is largely clear of vegetation and paralleled by minor roads and farm tracks much of the way from Sargans to Buchs. The west side is quite different with little access and lots of bushes preventing a clear view. Only one clear afternoon shot was found on the southern section and that was nothing special. Only after going 20km north of Buchs to the Oberriet – Altstätten section were some good shots found on the west side.
The photographic experience was greatly enhanced by the appearance of both Swiss Express liveried Re4/4iis during my visit to the line. 11108 worked on all three days I was there and was joined by 11109 for the Wednesday.
11109 ran through farming country between Oberriet and Altstätten with RE3836, the 16:23 from Chur to St. Gallen on 8 May 2013. The usual four coach set had been strengthened to six coaches in this case but some trains in the peaks had as many as nine coaches.
The loco is one of only two to still carry the orange and grey Swiss Express livery introduced for crack Genève - Zürich - St. Gallen expresses in 1975 and originally applied to the eight Re4/4iis dedicated to the service. Remarkably two locos still carry the colours over 30 years after the Swiss Express designation was dropped.
Zürich - Schaffhausen(Thu 09 and Fri 10 May 2013)
A number of class Ae6/6 were recently reinstated and several of them were outstationed at Bülach, on the Zürich – Schaffhausen line, to work stone trains from the nearby loading points at Hüntwangen – Wil and Zweidlen. I hoped to get some shots of them working to add to my meagre collection of Ae6/6 shots.
The line sees heavy passenger traffic in the Eglisau – Bülach area, where I spent most of my time.
Two hourly, loco hauled, Zürich – Stuttgart IC services alternate with two-hourly Zürich – Schaffhausen IRs to give an hourly non-stop service between Zürich and Schaffhausen. The ICs are worked by SBB Re4/4iis between Zürich and Singen (in southern Germany) with two of the three diagrams booked to be covered by SBB Cargo class 421s. The IRs are diagrammed for a class 460 on the Zürich end of a push-pull set during the week and a class 511 EMU at weekends. My visit coincided with a public holiday that I had failed to anticipate and I ended up with the 511 on the Thursday and the 460 on the Friday.
There is also an RE service between Zürich and Schaffhausen and I hoped that some of these trains might still be worked by class 540 motor-coaches but all trains seen were worked by 511s on both days. The hourly S5 S-Bahn trains from Rafz, between Eglisau and Schaffhausen, to Pfäffikon via Zürich HB were also largely 511s on the Thursday with the remaining trains worked by class 450s. On the Friday the entire service was 450 worked.
Other local services were worked by Thurbo class 526 tram things on both days. These consist of hourly services from Singen via Schaffhausen to Bülach that connect there with other services, also class 526, from Koblenz or Waldshut to Winterthur.
With all those passenger trains it might appear difficult to fit in any freights but the passengers were all squeezed into a 30 minute period every hour, leaving plenty of time for other trains. Unfortunately there weren’t many other trains, with no freights at all on the Thursday and the three Ae6/6s, 11427, 11430 and 11501 remained stabled at Bülach all day. Friday did see five freights between 08:30 and 15:00 all of them worked by SBBC Re4/4iis or Re6/6s and only one of them a stone train. The presence of several loaded stone trains at the Hastag and Holcim loaders on the Thursday made me think there might be more but there weren’t and the three Ae6/6s remained stabled at Bülach all day.
With no Ae6/6s moving, no class 540 motor coaches seen, poor light virtually the whole time and much of the line paralleled by hideous poles, this part of the trip was never going to produce the best photos and it’s no surprise that it didn’t.
The closest I got to a sunny shot on the Zürich - Schaffhausen line. The problem poles, the proximity of the main road and the cloudy skies can clearly be seen.
New unit 511.016 headed south from Eglisau with RE3779, the 15:39 from Schaffhausen to Zürich on 9 May 2013. Units like these are expected to be used on the Chur - St. Gallen route as well.
Winterthur - (Thu 09 May 2013)
This line was visited very briefly on the Thursday evening, more to assess its potential than in the hope of getting any good shots.
The trains seen were worked by class 514 EMUs (on S16 Thayingen – Zürich – Herrliberg-Feldmeile services) or class 526 tram things (on S33 Schaffhausen – Winterthur stoppers). Three peak hour services are booked for Re4/4ii worked Lion sets but as it was a holiday they weren’t running.
No freights were seen although the timetable graph does show a number of weekday trips between Schaffhausen and Marthalen.
A number of attractive afternoon/evening photo positions were identified at the north end of the line and filed for future reference.
Back to more palatable subjects!
11172 worked north towards Altstätten with RE3838, the 17:23 Chur - St. Gallen passenger, on the evening of 8 May 2013.
The mountains behind the train form the Rätikon range, rising to almost 3000m above sea level and forming the border between the Vorarlberg, in Austria, and Gräubunden, Switzerland. The 2964m peak of Schesaplana can be seen above the front of the first coach. Behind the mountains lies the Prättigau and the RhB's Landquart - Klosters line.
My visit to the St. Gallen – Sargans line was largely successful with good light, good spots, Re4/4iis on all the expected trains and the added bonus of the Swiss Express liveried locos. Just as well really, as the new class 511 EMUs are expected to take over from 9 June 2013. Chur – St. Gallen is the last hourly service worked exclusively by SBB Re4/4iis so the changeover to EMUs will mark the end of an era. There are still plenty of Re4/4iis on passenger work but most share duties with class 460 or are confined to peak-hour workings.
In contrast, my time on the Schaffhausen line was largely unrewarding with none of the Ae6/6s seen to move, poor light and locations that were difficult at best. There were a few locations worth going back for, especially if those on the nearby Schaffhausen – Winterthur are included but I doubt I’ll get any Ae6/6 shots.
As always, many thanks to those who produce the loco diagrams and post their own observations and other information. Hopefully the notes and pictures here will help others make the most of their own trips to Switzerland.
Like Germany and most other places in Europe, the Swiss rail scene is changing rapidly with bland modern units replacing more interesting and photogenic loco hauled passenger trains. Spending the Thursday beside the Schaffhausen line watching the procession of class 511s and 526s was a very depressing glimpse into the future.
At least freight trains will continue to make interesting and attractive subjects in the post Ae6/6 era, whether hauled by SBBC’s traditional Re4/4ii or Re6/6 locos, newer machines of classes 482, 484 etc or locos from BLS or other operators. The availability of timetable graphs makes it much easier to track down freights than in many countries, just as well as there will be little else worth photographing on the main lines in a few years time.
Driving a car in Switzerland is easy but finding somewhere to park can be a problem in some areas. Fortunately that wasn’t an issue on this trip with plenty of pull-ins and free car parks found close to where I wanted to photograph. I drove across the Swiss/German border nine times during my visit as the direct route from Schaffhausen to Eglisau passes through a corner of Germany (as does the railway). Nobody paid me the slightest attention at any of those border crossings but within a short time of parking close to a railway line, several miles from the border, I’d had a visit from the border police. There wasn’t a problem but it did strike me as being a bit strange.
ÖBB's 1216.215 propelled RJ166, the 13:36 from Wien Westbahnhof to Zürich HB away from Sargans at sunset on 7 May 2013.