The International Steam Pages
Switzerland's Schynige Platte Bahn, 2010
This report is just one of a number from James Waite about the narrow gauge railways of Switzerland with a strong emphasis on steam operation. See also:
James Waite writes of his visit in July 2010:
The Schynige Platte Bahn ("SPB") runs from Wilderswil, about 3kms south of Interlaken, to the summit of the Schynige Platte. At some 1,970 metres altitude it's a fairly low mountain by Swiss standards. The railway's raison d'etre is that the summit overlooks the Grindelwald valley with a commanding and unobstructed view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains on the southern side of the valley. For about three quarters of the ride the line overlooks Lake Brienz to the north, until it passes through the Gratli tunnel. A British enthusiast who was riding in the same compartment with us and who knew the line well, told us that it's known locally as the Ooh and Aah tunnel. It wasn't hard to see why since the tunnel takes the line through to the southern side of the mountain and as the train leaves passengers have their first view of the the high mountains, one of the finest sights anywhere in the Alps.
The concession for the railway was granted in 1890. It's 800mm gauge like most of the Swiss mountain lines and opened in 1893 as a steam railway. There's a height difference of some 1,470 metres between Wilderswil station and the summit. In 1896 it was taken over by the Berner Oberland Bahn "BOB") which ran, and still runs, the metre gauge line south from Interlaken Ost with which the SPB connects at Wilderswil. In 1914 the SPB was electrified using 1,500 volts DC overhead and disposed of four of its fleet of six steam locos. No's. 1 and 5 were retained for engineering work after the electrification and also continued to work service trains for many years at times of high demand. No. 1 was withdrawn and sold in 1956. No. 5 (SLM 1881/1894) is still very much in service, primarily as a working loco to operate engineering trains at the end of the season when parts of the catenary are dismantled and again in the Spring when it is reassembled, as well as working other engineering trains when the catenary can't be used. The line has no diesels or self-propelled trolleys of any kind. For many years it has also been used for occasional steam specials which currently make two round trips on six Saturdays each year.
The four original electric locos supplied in 1914, no's. 11 - 14, are also still very much in service. No. 12 has been restored to its original green livery with elaborate lining out and looks very smart indeed. There are a further seven generally similar ones built between 1910 and 1912 which arrived second hand from the Wengernalp Bahn ("WB"), a much longer 800mm gauge a few kms to the south which is a mini-main line connecting a number of mountain towns and villages rather than just going up to the top of a mountain. The WB's passenger services are now operated entirely by railcars. One of their older railcars was tried out on the SPB in the summer of 2005 but happily, from the heritage point of view, the tests were unsuccessful and so the old electric locos still work all the traffic.
Sadly most of the line's old coaches have been scrapped since 1992 to enable their running gear to be reused on a series of new, longer coaches. Now only four of the old closed coaches survive, two of which, no's 23 and 24 which date from 1898 and 1901 respectively, came second hand from the WB and still see regular passenger service. Of of the other two no. 21 was supplied new to the railway in 1929 and was followed by no. 22 in 1931. No. 21 has an open leading guard's compartment and generally runs with the steam loco when the weather is poor. When I visited in July 2010 no. 22 was marshalled as part of a short works train which went up the mountain late on a Saturday afternoon after the track has been damaged by a rockfall.
The line now has four open coaches. No. 6 was supplied new to the railway in 1894 just one year after it opened. It's been restored to its original livery and runs with the steam loco in good weather. No's. 7 and 8 were built in 1924 and 1929 respectively. No. 3 must be the oldest vehicle on the railway. It was built for the WB in 1893 and arrived on the SPB in 1964. There's also a small stock of engineering wagons and a very small snowplough numbered X 103.
There's a passing loop at Breitlauenen, a little more than halfway up the mountain. The steam trains pause here on the upward journey for rather more than half an hour to take water. There's also a hotel here as well as a much larger one at the summit. The summit also boasts an alpine garden which is run partly as a research establishment. Alpine flowers grow in profusion by the lineside for much of the route but it's worthwhile to take a stroll around the garden to have a proper look at them as well as to identify the various species. It's hard to think of a more picturesque location in which to see a steam loco though it's something of a challenge to take a good photo of the loco with the mountains behind it. This line It was built in the 1890's and was electrified in 1914.
The depot at Wilderswil was greatly enlarged a few years ago and there's now enough room to store all the locos and carriages under cover. No. 5 is generally kept right at the back but the staff are welcoming and happy to let visitors look at it - and to wander around to look at the vintage electrics at close quarters as well. If you have time it's worth moving on from Wilderswil to Zweilutschinen, the next station on the MOB and the location of its shed and repair shops. Mounted on one of the inside walls of the shops are the plates from No. 5 and "Eiger", its last two steam locos, along with those from no. 21, its first electric loco. Some of its old electric locos and railcars are also stored here. A short distance further on again one of the MOB branches ends at Lauterbrunnen and the WB takes over for the journey further into the mountains. Generally one of the WB's remaining electric locos, now around 100 years old like the ones on the SPB, is still in daily use shunting here and some of its oldest railcars, now more than 60 years old and so venerable machines in their own right, are stabled at the depot there.
Switzerland's Brünigbahn in pictures:
5 Brewing up at the start of the day and some detailed pictures
The train is now ready to leave.
On the mountain - on board in the morning and from a distance in the afternoon
Taking water half way at Breitlauenen, in the station master's office at Breitlauenen, on the upper section and at the top.
Alternative stock, No 13, one of the original four electric locos, with coaches no's 23 and 24, at Wilderswil station, No. 12 in its original livery at Wilderswil station with two open coaches and seen passing the station in the evening: