A Famous Train of the Swiss Federal Railways
An Electric Locomotive of the Swiss Federal Railways.
THERE is a special purpose in the transfer of our attention from the railways of Great Britain to those of Central Europe. It is that we may see at first-
Switzerland is a central country in Europe, and through it have been laid some of the most important of the European trunk lines. But athwart the country, from north-
Even the approaches to these lengthy bores have proved in many cases a matter of great engineering difficulty. The floors of the mountain valleys up which the railways rise are irregular and uneven, and on the average they rise into the mountains at a steeper inclination than the steepest gradient up which any adhesion locomotive could pass. Very often, indeed, there are the most abrupt changes of level in the bottoms of the valleys, especially at points where the valley torrents rush through wild rapids and drop down by waterfalls.
The engineer, however, must make his line rise on an even grade, and though such inclinations as 1 in 40 are comparatively common on the main lines of Switzerland, it will be seen that some of the routes that are the most notable for their engineering achieve-
The Northern Portal of the St. Gotthard Tunnel.
It can be claimed, without fear of contradiction, that two of the Swiss main lines overshadow all the others in the boldness of their engineering. One of these is the Lotschberg line -
There are other wonder-
It is over the St. Gotthard main line that we are to travel this month, and as it is a happier experience to change from winter to spring than from spring to winter, we will make our journey in the southbound direction. First, then, we have to make our way to Basel, the northern gateway of Switzerland. We have plenty of ways of doing this, tire best and quickest of which I sampled last summer -
Leaving Calais at 7.50 in the evening, this “flyer” makes its way right across France, through Amiens, Laon (well to the north of Paris, where we pass from the care of the Nord to that of the Est Company), Chalons, Belfort and Mulhouse into Basel, at an average speed but a shade under 50 m.p.h. The 432½ miles from Calais to Belfort, indeed, are covered in 8 hrs. 38 min, at an average rate of 50.1 m.p.h. This is an object-
Punctual to time at 6.20 in the morning we draw into the most cosmopolitan station in Europe -
The St. Gotthard Line near Giornico (Swiss Federal Railways) as seen from above. The middle loop line is shown in the centre of the photograph, running parallel with the road.
Sleeping cars are rolling in -
And then we rub our eyes to see, drawn up in one of the platforms, a beautifully-
The Pullman services in Europe, which are constantly on the increase to-
Before taking our places in our luxurious car, we do not fail to notice that the haulage of our train is to be carried out by electricity, and not by steam. For many decades after the inception of their first railways the Swiss, who have no coal of their own, imported large quantities front neighbouring countries, and especially from Germany, for the working of their railways. To-
In every direction to-
The replacement of steam by electricity has made all the difference to the comfort of a traveller over a line like the St. Gotthard. Before the electrification the slow uphill passage of the steam locomotives, two or three of which were often needed to a train, filled the many tunnels with steam and sulphur, making the journeys dirty and tedious. To-
Map showing Tunnels on the St. Gotthard Line.
Punctual to time at 7.12 a.m. we are away. Drawing quickly out of Basel, over a maze of tracks, we notice on the left the enormous concentration sidings that are now in course of being laid out to deal with the exchange freight traffic between Switzerland and the neighbouring countries. Very soon we turn southward, out of the Rhine valley, and begin to ascend into the heart of the Jura mountains. These are for the most part between
3,000 and 4,000 ft in height in this part of the country, but we have to rise some 520 ft up the fertile Ergolz valley, in the first 17 miles to Tecknau, before we can get through. The original main line between Basel and Olten rose considerably higher, to a total of 920 ft above Basel at the Upper Hauenstein Tunnel (1¾ miles in length), but the altitude has now been reduced by 400 ft and the gradient greatly smoothed by the boring of the Lower Hauenstein Tunnel, 5⅛ miles in length, through which we pass in about eight minutes.
A brief downhill run and, crossing the swiftly-
The first 24½ miles of our journey are now past, and have occupied 36 min; our level above the sea is 1,310 ft, as compared with the 925 ft of Basel. Least interesting of all the route, from the engineering point of view, is the next stretch, from Olten , to Lucerne, which for the most part traverses a flat plain, covered at an average rate, apart from slowings, of about 50 miles an hour. But as we approach Lucerne, given clear weather, the snowy crests of the Alpine chain begin to bear into view ahead of us, brought up on the right by the rugged mass of the mountain called Pilatus. The rushing River Reuss, of which we are to see a great deal later on, joins us on the right, and a couple of short tunnels through mountain spurs usher us into the fine lakeside station at Lucerne, 58 miles from Basel. The 33½ miles from Olten have taken us 48 minutes, and it is now 8.37 a.m.
The Lake of Lucerne -
To get away from Lucerne we have to retrace our tracks through the Gutsch Tunnel, to the point of divergence of the real St. Gotthard Railway, which curves right under the town in a tunnel 1¼ miles in length, and emerges on the lakeside. Owing to the peculiar configuration of the lake, the line does not follow its banks throughout, but curves round to the end of its eastern arm at Kussnacht, and from there passes round the back of the Rigi mountain, to rejoin the Lake of Lucerne at Brunnen. For sheer, breathless beauty, the view from the railway over the main “cross” of the lake, from between Lucerne and Kussnacht, in my judgment has no rival, with the fertile green pastures and the blue lake as a foreground, backed up by the dark green of the precipitous forest-
The St. Gotthard Line near Giornico (Swiss Federal Railways) as seen from below. (Compare with view from above, shown elsewhere on this page.)
From an altitude of 1,435 ft at Lucerne, which we leave at 8.43 a.m, we rise gradually for 17 miles to Arth-
We are about to enter the valley of the Reuss, but the first stage of the up-
Erstfeld was at one time a locomotive depot of importance, as it was here that the assistant locomotives were provided for the toilsome climb to the mouth of the St. Gotthard Tunnel at Goschenen. Every gradient that has been mentioned in these articles until now pales before the ruling gradient of the St. Gotthard line. From Erstfeld to Goschcnen we are to rise unbroken at between 1 in 38½ and 1 in 40 for 18 miles, during the course of which we shall be lifted 2,080 ft. Directly we leave Erstfeld we begin to rise high up the east side of the Reuss Valley; so high, indeed, that just after passing Amsteg, three miles later, we have to fly over the Karstelenbach, rushing down the branch Maderanertal Valley to join the Reuss, by the immense two-
Now follows one of those abrupt changes in the floor level of the Reuss Valley, to which reference has already been made. Just beyond Gurtnellen, 8½ miles from Erstfeld, the river-
As we cross the Maienreuss -
The Reuss Valley now contracts to a narrow defile, known as the Schollenen Gorge, up which it was impossible to carry the railway further. The decision was therefore reached to bore under the watershed in a straight line for miles, in order to cut through to the Ticino Valley, on the south side. It took the ten years from 1872 to 1882 in which to complete the St. Gotthard Tunnel, which was the first of the great Swiss Tunnels to be bored; it is 28 ft in breadth, by 21 ft in height, and cost in all some 57 millions of francs, or about £2,280,000. To-
Electric Train on the St. Gotthard Line at Erstfeld.
The highest point of the railway is actually in the centre of the tunnel, and is 3,786 ft above the sea. From there we steadily fall, and after Airolo there comes a resumption of the 1 in 38½-
At the side of the pipe-
Below Piotta, on our journey, comes some even more striking engineering than that of Gurtnellen and Wassen. From Rodi Fiesso to Faido, as the crow flies, is only 2½ miles,but the difference in level between the two places is 613 ft, and in order to overcome it the railway has circuitously to travel five miles, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 38, threading on the way two tunnels that are completely spiral. Then, as the river rushes down the Biaschina Ravine, and we approach Giornico, just before we enter Piano Tondo Tunnel, we notice a second stretch of the line below us, and a further stretch below that, the latter making its exit from the mountain-
Bellinzona is the junction for the historic town of Locarno, which we see, some miles off, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, as we ascend to the mile-
Skirting the shore of the lake, by means of tunnels and bold viaducts, we descend to the lakeside at Melide, and then cut clean across the lake by a remarkable causeway to Bissone. Here we are down to 900 ft, but another rise of 280 ft ensues in the next six miles, ere we can drop to the frontier station at Chiasso, reached at 12.34 p.m.
Within Swiss territory the “St. Gotthard Pullman” has now travelled for 198 miles, of which 140 miles have been over the marvellous St. Gotthard route. In the course of this latter distance it has passed through 80 tunnels whose aggregate length is 28½ miles, and over no less
than 324 bridges of more than 32 ft span, many of them viaducts of no inconsiderable size. Small wonder is it that the total cost of the St. Gotthard line was nearly three hundred million francs, which represents about twelve million pounds.
At Chiasso the Swiss Federal authorities hand us over to the care of the Italian State Railways, after the Customs authorities have taken 18 minutes in which to examine our baggage, and a run of 32 miles, through Como, where a 2-
The “St. Gotthard Pullman” has not yet finished its day’s work, however. At 4.5 p.m. the same afternoon, it will be starting northward again out of Milan. Six o’clock in the evening will find it at Lugano and 9.15 at Lucerne; while the tired roiling stock, after 460 miles of travelling, will find its way into the great Central Station at Basel at 10.44 p.m. at night, there to disgorge its passengers into the night expresses leaving for all parts of Central and Western Europe.
[From The Meccano Magazine, March 1928]
You can read more about “Alpine Tunnels” in Wonders of World Engineering.