D A Y - T H R E E
Here we go - the ladies day to go shop and improve the Swiss economy, and a day for me to play "choo-choo".
I head down to the station to catch a 7:30am local on the north-easterly line that bypasses Brig, and observe some of the action as I am about 30 min early. Track 1 appears to be handling southbound locals, tracks 2 & 3 getting the express & regionals, and tracks 4 & 5 handling the main and northwesterly line locals. My train will be on tracks 41/42 - a "stub-end" set at the north end of the platforms.
Thun is only a mid-sized town, with the downtown area comprising about a dozen square blocks, but the following will give you an idea to the intensity of rail traffic into even a small town.
7:02 local arrives from Spiez
7:02 local arrives from Bern on "west" line
7:06 local departs to Bern on main line
7:12 express comes thru from Interlaken
7:16 express comes thru for Interlaken
7:18 express comes thru from Brig
7:22 local departs to Bern on "west" line
7:22 local arrives from northeast line
7:25 local arrives from Bern on main line
7:26 local arrives from Spiez
7:26 local departs to Spiez
7:33 local arrives from Bern on "west" line
7:34 local departs to Bern on main line
7:34 local departs on northeast line (me)
In amongst this, I also witness a very old side-rod switcher moving freight cars around the 4-5 tracks. Unlike the US, I see the switcher come down a lead pulling two cars, brake as it clears a switch, the switch is thrown electronically and the engine is reversing the direction as it comes to a stop, rolls back thru the switch onto another lead, the switch resets, and a local comes in on the same lead about 3 minutes later. They run passenger trains "on schedule", and obviously the freight crews know how to work amongst the heavy traffic. I will be covering more about freight activity as the days progress.
Routes today: 340 460 600 670 870 859 855 854 841 840
Anyhow, I roll out on my local, arrive at a juction with a Bern-Lucerne mainline in about 20 minutes, have a 5 minute connection to a Lucerne-bound express (it is at the platform when I get to the proper track), and arrive in Lucerne a little after 900:am. I have been in email contact on "Trainorders" with Dan Aeschbacher, an ex-dispatcher and current station agent for the Swiss railways, and he also likes to play "choo-choo" on his off-days so he will be arriving at Lucerne about 9:15 and has arranged to meet me by the engine of our next train. He describes himself as "old-fat-gruff", and since I outdo him in all categories we easily recognize each other, shake hands, and jump onto our train the "Voralpen Express" to eastern Switzerland for a day of some branch riding (he later admits that one of the branches we just conveniently "happen" to ride is just about the only line in the country he has never ridden on before).
For those you have been writing back to me saying "photos?"(this was before I started "linking" pictures in), I have no scanner, but Dan provides a link here to his Aarau website (it contains some english). It also provides links to many of his other station sites, written in German but with lots of photo galleries, so browse to your heart's content.
Anyhow, the cars on our express all have the characteristic "ceiling hump" of an RDC, and Dan explains it is for climate control, and that the cars are newly rebuilt for this particular service.
The Lucerne station is another "stub-end" setup, with standard gauge platforms to the north and narrow gauge platforms for service to the southwest and to Interlaken to the south. The exits face westward, and since our destination is eastward we make a large swinging half-loop after leaving to head in the proper direction. The station is served by 4 major main lines (all also carrying local service) plus a cross-country local line I will ride later plus the narrow gauge lines. Our route runs along lakes for a few miles, then crosses the main Zurich-Italy line, climbs over some hills and descends into another valley where it crosses the Zurich-Chur main (San Moritz and Austria connections), and crosses another lake on a low dam and enters Rapperswil. I am amazed at the number of trains and yard tracks in this seemingly insignficant little town, but find that there are lines from here running up the eastern side of the lake all the way to Zurich (the whole way is basically suburban with heavy service), another line branching off just to the east that splits into 2 more suburban lines going to Zurich plus another line to Winterthur east of the airport, and the main line we will be taking to the southeast that also handles local service down the eastern side of the lake and connecting at the end with the main we crossed on the western side before crossing the dam. Thus there is service from this point on 8 different lines with 30 minute (or more frequent) service. No WONDER I see so many trains in the yards!
We move out rapidly, soon enter a long tunnel (not one of the trans-alpines, but quite long as we are just on the edge of major mountains), and emerge into the rolling hills of eastern Switzerland. A local branches off near Wattwil (I'll ride it later), a narrow gauge line crosses over at Herisau on a bridge (will be on that later in this trip), we merge with a main line from the Airport-Winterthur area, cross a series of valleys, and arrive in St Gallen, the largest city in the east. We have about an hour to eat lunch before our next train ride, but Dan is a railfan like me, so we opt for a streetcar-like local in the street in front of the station and wind up into the hills above the city on a 20-minute jaunt to the end-of-line. It turns foggy and there is no visibility at the top, so we take the next train back to the main station, then cross the street and enter ANOTHER station, this for the "AppenzellBahn", a narrow-gauge rack system that runs into the hills to the south. This system basically runs mostly side-of-the-road, and there are houses everywhere of various Swiss styles. I know the ladies will enjoy this particular ride and file it for later reference. We climb onward to a junction of a branch at Gais, and I also note how to include that in a later ride, even though we proceed on by and eventually reach the namesake town of Appenzell. Here the line also continues further up to a dead-end, but we lack time and instead continue onward on the main which eventually comes back down out of the hills and crosses the line we had approached St Gallen on earlier. We reach the end of the line at Gossau on the Winterthur-Airport main and switch to a westward express to the next main town of Wil where we debark.
Here the local line from Wattwil we had passed earlier comes in, plus there are two local lines heading northeast and northwest to the next main line, which also comes from the airport and Winterthur, but which ends at Romanshorn on the Bodensee, a huge lake which forms the border between Switzerland and Germany. We take the northwestern local in the street to Frauenfeld (which is the line Dan had never ridden), and switch to an express when we reach the main. This particular express runs thru Zurich where Dan parts company, continues to Bern, then swings down thru Thun and on to Brig, so I get a "1-train" ride home (curses-foiled again-I want to ride "lots" of trains). However, I end the day with 10 more trains (29 total so far), so it's not a "total" loss. Also rack up another 385 miles for 724 to date.