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D A Y - S I X

Let's start this segment with some commentary about rails, and then auto traffic.

Throughout my trip, I am AMAZED at the ride on the trains. Other than running through switch mazes at the throats of the major rail stations, I can only recall one ride in the whole trip where I noticed jointed rail and a "rough" ride (and I honestly don't even remember where it was as I was too engrossed in other things).

In the US (and I have ridden nearly the entire Amtrak system plus the Canadian main lines), there is constant pounding, jerking, bouncing from rough track. IT JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO EXIST IN SWITZERLAND. Yeah, I'm sure the answer will be put forth as "heavy US freight traffic". Well, maybe, but there IS "heavy" Swiss freight traffic, they just run it as very short, very fast, very frequent freights instead of our long "drags".

As a matter of fact, the swiss rail system puts a FAR heavier emphasis on freight than the US has had for over 50 years. Since they encourarage rail use and discourage road use, there are freight sidings IN USE virtually EVERYWHERE in the country. If the sidings are near the main cities, or are in areas with lots and lots of industy, the sidings are electrified. If the sidings seem to be low-use, or are in scattered areas, they do not have catenary and are motor-serviced. The country is literally COVERED in tiny little 2 axle (some larger) switch engines to service all the spurs, and they appear in almost all stations as well as in the more complex industrial areas. "Most" are lettered "Te", "Tm", or "Tem" ('train electric', 'train motor', or 'both').

I might also note that on the multi-track mainlines, the usual practice is the same as the old US method (i.e., a 3rd and/or 4th "main" with the spurs switching off, leaving the passenger mains free of switches and freight operations as much as possible. Also, the track appeared in most cases to be continuous welded rail, and I saw extensive use of concrete and metal ties. And take note that these same "expensive - high quality" track conditions existed on even the remotest branch lines, NOT just the intercity express mains.

OK - most of the guys have gotta be wondering "abandoning the ladies on their own today in mid-trip"? Yep! - First let me point out that not only are they NOT railfans, they hardly know what a train IS. My wife gets lost driving our car around the block (she claims to be the world-expert in "U-turns" when she goes the wrong way), mother-in-law has been following me around like a sheepdog ("that's my leader - I just follow him"), and the cousin has never been on a train before this. Nevertheless, they wanna go somewhere else, so I'm gonna "turn 'em loose"

Routes today: 300 100 125 124 100 250 280

We begin the day at the station and grab the next express southward to Brig. This line begins climbing the Alps south of the Spiez-Interlaken junction, and after a long series of reversing loops and tunnels, reaches a stop at Kandersteg. A highway has more or less paralled the line to this point, but "no-more". Here there are toll gates (like a ferry boat), and the only way onward is to drive onto auto-rack cars as the road is "finis". These auto shuttles are NOT attached to thru trains, but run independently as short fast trains thru the Lotschberg tunnel. The passenger service thru the tunnel is limited to an hourly express to/from Brig plus a few international thru-services, with local services running outward from each end of the tunnel.
The southern end of the tunnel is at Goppenstein, where the auto procedure is reversed, and the line then continues (at a very high elevation) thru a series of tunnels until it breaks out at the Rhone valley.

Here the Alps have been broken apart by the river valley with an (almost) sheer cliff of several thousand feet with the river valley, towns, and the main line to Lausanne/Geneva from Italy far below. Directly across the valley the "main" mountains rise to even greater heights, with mountains topped with glaciers and no rail passage (except for tunnels) for hundreds of miles in either direction.

Our line now slices down the cliff-face for nearly 18 miles to Brig to meet the main line in the valley below (it is ascending the river valley towards the same meeting).

At Brig, it is necessary to exit the station to transfer to the BVZ (Brig-Visp-Zermatt) narrow-gauge line station in the street out front that will climb to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. I have been up/down this line 3 times on a previous rail journey (once as we stayed there, and twice to make day-trips from that hotel), plus went there again on another trip, so have no desire to run it a 5th time. My wife has been there twice, but neither other lady has, and this is their choice for the day.

I have brought them to the BVZ platforms, have carefully stressed the times of the hourly service each way on this line between the endpoints of Brig and Zermatt, and have gone over several times the "big yellow poster" at trackside showing time and track and destination of Thun (plus written down the times of the hourly Brig-Thun departure, which is scheduled to connect to the BVZ trains). The only problem can be if they get on a train going south (they can always tour Rome), or pick a wrong westward departure (there is heavy service to Lausanne/Geneva on the same platforms as the Thun service) and possibly end up there or in France. Will I ever see them again? We'll see when the day is done.

Anyhow, even though I am not going to Zermatt, (been-there, done-that) I'll describe it briefly. The narrow gauge leaves Brig and runs alongside the Geneva main for about 5 miles to Visp, then turns 90 degrees and climbs up a steep valley (narrow gauge is usually not run very fast, and although they depart Brig 5 minutes before I head down the valley on an express, we whistle past like they are standing still after a couple of miles and they are "on-their-own".

The line to Zermatt is on-again off-again rack assisted due to steep gradient, and climbs a long narrow valley (about an hour trip). The next-to-last stop is at Tasch, where there is a continuous rail shuttle from huge parking lots, as there is no further road, and no auto access at all to Zermatt. Yes, there actually IS a narrow road, but it is "service vehicle" only, and everybody else rides the rails thru a tunnel from Tasch and into the Zermatt station where you are greeted by a narrow main street with 3 story swiss buildings with flowered balconys overhanging on each side, electric or horse-drawn carts the only "motorized" transport, and throngs of people.

There are many-many hotels in the area (they crowd the hillsides all around), MUCHO shopping, ski-lifts, and a separate rack-railway that climbs out of town and snakes up a mountain to a viewpoint to give you a full open view of the Matterhorn (it is a "peekaboo" view from town proper). They also run a sheep/goat herd with attendant clanging neck-bells down the main street of town, but I suspect it's more for the "touristas" than the need of a farmer to move his flock.

Anyhow, the ladies are off to their fate, and I am running at express speed down the looong valley to Martigny where the valley makes a 90 degree turn to the north and continues down an ever-widening plain towards lake Geneva and the western cities. The Alps tower over both sides of the valley and there are branch lines up side valleys at Martigny and Bex, but there is limited time and I opt for a stop at Aigle, where there are multiple ride opportunitys.

Departing the train I am faced with a street just FULL of train opportunities. First are a couple of tracks for a line to Leysin, then another for a line to Les Diablerets, and finally another to Champery. All of the tracks are occupied, these are all 1 or 2 car locals, all of different manufacture, and all painted in bright (but totally different) paint schemes with the destination a part of the road identifications. I grab the closest car, which quickly departs (remember, these are all "connecting" services), and we run down the center of street thru downtown (4-5 blocks), then up a street for several blocks that barely has room for one lane of traffic between the buildings (and that lane for the moment firmly belongs to US), leave town and run a few blocks still in the street between grapevines and homes and swing left in a "U" into an off-street station. We pull the traditional "end-swap", take a switch, engage a rack, and begin a climb (estimated 30 degrees?) for about 5 miles up the side of a mountain thru more of the "terraced" grapevines and then trees and forest. At the end of the climb we make a stop in a small village, then enter a tunnel and stop at the end at a plaza of the "Grand Hotel". Again, lack of time precludes exploration, but this is not only a large resort but there are also numerous ski-lifts.

We reverse the journey, I reach bottom, determine that the "Champery" line looks to be mostly valley floor, and grab the remaining line. This also does some street running, then proceeds to use "S" turns and cuts to gain elevation and climbs up a long valley to the east (no rack on this line, but still some pretty steep running). I note the map shows a short spur to the north about halfway up, and cannot figure how they will service that when we round a bend and I see a high arched bridge crossing the valley. As we reach it we swing onto the bridge thru a switch, cross the bridge (autos must get out of the way), swing around a few curves and enter the station shown as the "stub". We quickly reverse ends, cross back over the bridge, take the other leg of the switch, and continue climbing up the valley. The switch is such that the only route is via the stub served with reversing, and that is in fact the route we take when coming back down. The line continues climbing into snow country and eventually ends at another ski resort area, with connecting bus schedules over the higher mountains to the MOB "panorama" line we traveled a few days ago.

I return to the mainline, having chewed up a couple of hours on this venture, and though there is another mountain line at Montreaux that was in my "intent", it is a long way back and it will be dark even if I just go straight back. I thus grab the next express to Lausanne, again bypass the little local that "cuts-off" from Vevey to Puidoux-Chexbres (again too much waiting time to make it worthwhile), swap trains in Lausanne for an express to Bern and trade there one more time for an express back into Thun.

Today, only 9 rides (61 so far), 273 more miles for 1535. Only 2 "new" rides for me, but hey, I had expected to have to escort the ladies.


The ladies.



Nevertheless, they come bouncing in about an hour later about 6:30 (I had given them schedules that would put them back at 2:20, 3:20, 4:20, and 5:20 in Thun). Had they gotten lost? Missed connection? had train trouble?
Nope! "What NEAT shops!". We had SO much fun we didn't want to leave. Wanna see my new ring, new necklace, new coat, new... (- you get the picture).

Tomorrow - Christmas Day. Planned to be an "off" day, although I had held a loop ride thru Interlaken to Lucerne in reserve in case they were bored, but they tell me they have decided to do a BOAT ride tomorrow.


I should come from Pismo Beach on the Pacific Ocean to railfan's "nirvanna" and I should ride a crummy BOAT?

I think NOT!

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