Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 29. The Swiss Jura and Basel Trams

0803 Basel to Neuchatel
0937 Neuchatel to La Chaux de Fonds
1102 La Chaux de Fonds to Les Ponts de Martel
1128 Les Ponts de Martel to La Chaux de Fomds
1203 La Chaux de Fonds to Noirmont
1332 Noirmont to Glovelier
1436 Glovelier to Porentruy
1507 Porentruy to Basel

Neither Martin nor I have been to the Swiss Jura so today was an experiment.  It turned out completely successfully and my one thought is that I would really like to return.

Once again, all trains today were on time. SBB threw a bit of a curve at Basel when they uncoupled the first part of the train so we have to get into the second part. The first leg to Neuchatel was quick and afforded good views over the lake. There are many vineyards on this section all facing the lake. In one place there was an entire hillside covered in vines with a solitary church in the middle.

After Neuchatel we diverged away from the lake and climbed in into the Jura through mixed farmland with mixed forest. Many houses had moss growing on the roof.  There was a reversal of direction at a station in the middle of nowhere.

La Chaux de Fonds seems a pleasant place. Laid back and with some wide streets. One trolley bus was highly decorated.   A lady at the convenience store explained that “septante” and “nonante” are used instead of "soixante-dix" and "quatre-vingt-dix" as in Belgium.  I deliberately bought a bottle of Vivella at CHF2.90 so she would say nonante and give me the excuse to talk about it.  Like everyone else in this region, she was helpful and friendly.  I started learning French over 50 years ago so septante and nonante are taking some time to assimilate.

We asked the lady at the information office in the station about the trains to Les Ponts de Martel (CF Neuchatelois). She looked at us as if we were crazy but produced a timetable. This line is very short, about 25 minutes, and they have two narrow gauge railcars – we had #6 “La Chaux de Fonds”.   Most of the route is through a broad wide valley with cattle and sheep farming. The valley was green (with yellow dandelions) but the hillsides and tops were mixed forest. There are many farms and the houses are all very large. Each one had a huge stack of split firewood. They keep cattle in their backyards in the town.
CF Neuchatelois at La Chaux de Fonds
The second CFN car at Les Ponts de Martel
The railway staff were all very friendly. The train drivers all said “Bonjour” and “Merci, au revoir” and several passengers said “Bonjour” on getting in.  The journey takes only 25 minutes but there are several stops and it would be good walking country. As with everywhere else in Switzerland the service is roughly hourly.

We returned to La Chaux de Fonds to catch the CF du Jura train to Noirmont.  On the way back the train is above the SBB line into La Chaux de Fonds.  Just before it enters a narrow tunnel there are two posts secured into the ground with concrete and with four horizontally placed brooms on each side.  These are presumably clearance warnings for the tunnel. There were six trains in the station and all left within a minute or so of each other. Another example of SBB coordination.
 Five trains of three companies and two gauges all connecting with each other at La Chaux de Fonds.  The sixth train (CF du Jura) is out of sight to the right.
At La Chaux de Fonds a CF du Jura motor was switching containers of household waste, we could smell it, for unloading on to trucks.  We hoped that this would be our train - it would have been a mixed, albeit a smelly one, but they provided a railcar instead,
 Large houses are common in this area

At Noirmont there was a meet with the train in the opposite direction as well as a connection with a train along the branch to Tavannes.
Standard gauge flatcar on a narrow gauge transporter.
We left along the street and at one point had to cross the trolley bus wires. I don't know how this was done (I later examined a similar crossing at Linz).  The countryside here is more in the form of a park with long stretches of grass interspersed with mature trees. At Noirmont we took a look at a long standard gauge flat wagon that was standing on two narrow gauge transporter wagons, ready to be loaded with logs. We had lunch at a patisserie/boulangerie and were served by a very pleasant lady. It is a joy being able to understand the language.
A 50 year old locomotive was being used on the branch line to Tavannes.
We took the next train towards Glovelier but had to transfer to a bus at Sainelegier because the line was closed for maintenance. We thus missed the most exciting part of the trip – the spirals on the approach to Glovelier.  The arrival in Glovelier would have been interesting as the trains stop in the middle of the street outside the SBB station.
At Glovelier we saw several standard gauge ballast cars on narrow gauge transporter wagons ready for the track maintenance which was taking place just on the outskirts of the town. 
 Another 50-year old locomotive with a load of ties.
Click above to see pictures of the CF du Jura.
In several places we saw people going around in a horse and trap.
Watching two empty stock trains, running as one, leaving Glovelier
The ride to Porentruy was good, the highlight being a high bridge over a deep gorge. The return to Basel was uneventful. The new electric unit was very comfortable. The tv-type announcement screen not only shows the next four or five stops but also shows the connections and the next station- connections with SBB trains, city buses and post buses. If only OC Transpo had bought this system instead of the antiquated system they have just installed.

We returned to Basel in good time to visit three railway model shops. The models are superb but the prices are crazy. Took a tram to Marktplaz and back.

The meter gauge trams in Basel are run by two companies BLT (yellow) and BVB (green).  Both have a number of trams decorated with advertising.  They use a common ticket system and common terminals such as in front of the SBB station.  The system is integrated in such a way that one doesn't realize which company is being used.
Trackwork can be very complex and some gauntlet track is used to avoid having moving parts in the pavement used by vehicles.  In some locations, right in front of our hotel, for example, the track is set in grass to give the whole area a parkland feel.

Some new sections have been inserted with low floors and bicycle racks.

There is a fleet of heritage cars that is used mainly at weekends.
Click above top see all my images of the Basel trams.

April 28 Gotthardt Pass and the Golden Pass route

0803 Basel to Goschenen
1112 Goschenen to Andermatt
1128 Andermatt to Goschenen
1208 Goschenen to Arth Goldau
1348 Arth Goldau to Luzern
1455 Luzern to Interlaken
1835 Interlaken West to Basel

We intended to take the 0803 only as far as Luzern and then travel on the steamer to Viznau for the Rigibahn. However, it was very cloudy and there would have been no point in going up the expensive Rigibahn if it were cloudy at the top. We decided to go straight through to Goschenen and watch a couple of trains using the Gotthardt tunnel. 

Olten, home of Lindt chocolate, is an industrial town but is set in pleasant farming country. The small towns are very colourful with flowering chestnut and lilac trees. One town had a small white church with a bright red spire. The meadows were covered with buttercups and cow parsley. Around Luzern we could see swans and moor hens and there were many allotments with their individual, quirky, huts. There were small flocks of sheep and goats. As we climbed the Gotthardt we were surprised to see palm trees.

As we climbed through the spirals we passed the church at Wassen, first from below and twice from above.  The views are especially good from the Panorama car, with its tall windows curved into the roof -  we used this in both directions.

Goschenen was cold and did not appeal.  We watched our train disappear into the tunnel under the protection of a red signal.  But the signal soon changed to green and a following freight train entered the tunnel only about five minutes after.  Having looked at a narrow gauge three-way switch, we decided to take the Matterhorn Gornergratt Bahn (MGB) narrow gauge rack train to Andermatt and back. We were able to travel in the vestibule behind the driver of the driving trailer and observe the action. Of course we are all now experts on rack operation and fully understood what was happening.  At Andermatt we saw the Glacier Express but decided to return, through the avalanche sheds to Goschenen.
Three-way narrow gauge switch at Goschenen.
Driving cab of MGB control trailer.
Entering the rack at Goschenen.
An MGB train, locomotive at the bottom end, beginning the climb from Gochenen to Andermatt.
The Post Bus has just made a connection with the MGB at Goschenen.
Click above to see all pictures of the MGB
The next train through Goschenen brought us back, past the church another three times, to Arth Goldau where we visited the Rigi bahn station only to find there was still a great deal of cloud at the top. We decided to abort the Rigi bahn and caught the next train to Luzern, watching a Rigi passenger train switching a couple of freight cars using a bar coupler connection.
I tested the telephoto on my camera on two grebes at Luzern.
We gave Bill a very, very quick tour of Luzern in which he saw and photographed all the important places in ten minutes. It was then back to the Panorama car of the Golden Pass Express all the way through to Interlaken. This was a delightful trip which included some severe rack sections.

A circular white sign is used at the end/beginning of each rack section:
A – indicated entering the rack
E – indicates leaving the rack

Note to John Shipman. On the section between Luzern and Miringen the rock cuts were steep and very narrow but we didn't hit one once. The railway must have checked the width of the cuts to ensure rolling stock cleared them.

At Meiringen I took advantage of the change of direction to take a quick look at the Meiringen Interkirchen train standing in a platform waiting to make its short sprint up the line.
A Meiringen Interkirchen rain at Meiringen.  I have been through here twice before and had no idea that it existed until I looked at the map today

Interlaken was full of tourists, mostly Asian. We walked through the town and found a model shop but the prices were outrageous and we left without buying anything. A little further along we found a restaurant where we had rosti as well as veal sausage, both good. The place was geared up for Asians and management was getting people all fired up to eat. It was a good job we finished when we did – it looked as if they were about to start a karaoke session.

The return to Basel was uneventful with the pleasant ride alongside the lake to Spiez and Thun.

April 27 Fribourg Model Railway and the Waldenburgerbahn

0801 Basel to Bern
0904 Bern to Fribourg
1008 bus SBB Fribourg to Coteau
1241 bus Coteau to SBB Fribourg
1332 Fribourg to Ins (CF Fribourgeois)
1433 Ins to Biel/Bienne (Aare Seeland Mobil)
1549 Biel/Bienne to Basel
1701 Basel to Liestal
1735 Liestal to Waldenburg (Waldenburgerbahn)
1808 Waldenburg to Oberdorf (Waldenburgerbahn)
1907 Oberdorf to Liestal (Waldenburgerbahn)
1933 Liestal to Basel

The train from Basel to Bern was a DB ICE-1 which needed some attention as the truck was getting worn. Nevertheless it reached 197 kmph on several occasions.  We saw some domesticated deer deer in a field. There was just a short time available to glimpse the Bern red trams before catching the train to Fribourg. This gave us some time to check in with the Tourist Office and get a cup of coffee. The server spoke French and we enjoyed practising to get our French up to speed.
I said” Je vous remercie infiniement”
to which she replied “Mais non, c'est moi qui dois vous remercier - -infiniement”
This caused quite a conversation in which we were trying to speak French while she and another who joined in were trying to speak English. The second girl was Portuguese.
Reading up on the model railway.
Buying the tickets for the bus I was completely stumped by the price and the change until I realized that they use the word “nonante” instead of “Quatre-vingt dix”.

The bus to the model railway turned up as right on the advertised and the driver waited at the station until there was a “ping” like an alarm clock which told him it was time to leave. There was an automated announcement system so we knew where to get off. The model railway is very easy to find.

The Chemin de fer du Kaeserburg is extremely well done but it is very different from Miniatur Wunderland. This models Swiss prototype very precisely and they try to model the railway within the landscape. There are large areas with no railway but which show a part of Swiss life – a circus for example. There are two entrance-exit mosaic-type CTC boards and trains are controlled from here. Movement is by signal indication and, unlike MW, the signals have a very real function in the operation. The layout is extensive but much smaller than MW.

Narrow gauge

Click above to see pictures of Kaeserburg in the form of a slide show.
There was a very good audio-visual introduction after which we went into the staging area. It was some time before we went in to see the trains. There is good attention to detail but Kaeserburg is not crowded so there is room for empty roads and fields between the various vignettes. The railway is only open a few days in the week and it was not crowded. The railway is housed in a purpose-built building. There is another section planned for the narrow gauge but there are not great plans to extend. It doesn't try to be the biggest or to break records – just to be good. In this it exceeds admirably.

The bus back to Fribourg was on, again, time and we walked through the town to see the funicular with its great views over the old town. The trees are well in bloom now and add a wonderful dash of color all over.

We decided to grab a sandwich and leave on the return a little earlier. We caught the CF Friebourgeouis which is a standard gauge electrified railway with mainly single line and passing loops. This is pleasant farming country with pollarded trees, some arable and cattle and sheep. The mistletoe was very evident.
CF Fribourgeois at Ins.
At Inns the Aare Seeland Mobil train left at 1433 which gave us about 25 minutes to admire or cuss the F-18 jet fighters which were practicing formation aerobatics over our heads and to watch a small work shunter run around a flatcar. This manoeuvre was made more difficult by the Post Bus which was blocking its path down the road. Just before the train arrived an Suv came and parked on the tracks and a few teenagers were hanging around just by it. Seems like a laid back operation.

The ASM is a roadside tramway using very modern low floor trams on very well maintained right of way. It meanders around through market gardens with very dark soil. The route is a little curious as it seems to follow boundary lines rather than take a direct route. There are many fruit trees - apricot, cherry and apple. In one field there was a revolving back scratcher that a cow was using and obviously enjoying. Contented cows give good milk. The last part of the run gives excellent views of Lac Bienne.
Click here to see pictures of the Aare Seeland Mobile Tramway

At Biel/Bienne there was just time to find a money machine before heading back to the station for our train to Basel. At train time there were three main line trains and five locals all arriving within five minutes. Our train was the first one that we have so far encountered to be late – it was held four minutes for a connection and the staff apologized.  However, we arrived at Basel on time.

At Basel, Bill and I decided to check out the Walderburgbahn. We took a quick commuter train to Liestal and found the tram which is across the platform from the SBB to Basel. It took some time to get to the tram platform because there were lots of mothers with strollers and small children with tricycles meeting fathers off the train from Basel. As a result we just missed a tram but there was only 15 minutes to wait for the next one. While we waited there was a continuous succession of freight trains, in both directions, running on the through lines.

The Walderbergerbahn is 750mm gauge, unique in Switzerland. The three car train was packed with commuters returning home from Basel. It was a great ride though pleasant country where we passed hop fields and watched a heron. The hillsides are well wooded. The small towns are a riot of colour, lilac in particular, and there is a variety of building styles all mixed together. The railway headquarters are at Waldenburg and the equipment is stored and maintained here. We even saw a 750mm double slip switch!

Bill and I caught the next train back to Oberdorf where we had a meal at a pizzeria close to the platform. Nobody spoke English but it was not too difficult to order penne/lasagna and beer. There were a few teenagers hanging around drinking coke but nobody else eating, apart from the owner and his family. There seem to be a number of recent immigrants in this area.

Tram arriving at Oberdorf.
Click above to see pictures of the Waldenburgerbahn
The tram back to Liestal was less crowded. Liestal has a beautiful church with a wonderful spire with patterned tiles.

The connection to Basel was only two minutes, but we merely had to walk across the platform. It is so easy to get around in Switzerland!