The International Steam Pages
The Chemin de Fer Lausanne-Echallens-Bercher, 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 reports on his visit on 31st October 2010 (some of the 'modern traction pictures were taken in July 2010):
The metre gauge CF Lausanne-Echallens-Bercher (“LEB”) runs northwards from Lausanne, the city on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, for some 22 km through Chaseaux and Echallens to the small town of Bercher, out in the open, wheat-growing countryside characteristic of the central part of the canton of Vaud.
Today it’s one of the country’s four metre gauge railways where it’s still possible to see one of the line’s original steam locos in action and the only one which has a distinctly branch line character. The railway has always been of historic interest. It started life as the CF Lausanne-Echallens and opened its first stretch, from Lausanne as far as Cheseaux, in 1873. The remainder of the original line to the old town of Echallens opened the following year. It was the first narrow gauge public railway in Switzerland.
Much of the rail used in the construction came secondhand from the 1,100mm gauge Fell railway over Mont Cenis, constructed by British interests to speed up transport to India as a temporary measure while the standard gauge Mont Cenis tunnel was being built. It opened in 1865 and closed when the tunnel was completed in October 1871, fortuitously at just the time that the Echallens line was being promoted. In addition to the rail the new line also acquired two of the Fell railway’s locos, 12 carriages, 5 fourgons, 1 goods van, 14 open wagons and 6 flat wagons as well as smaller items. 4 of the carriages and 2 of the fourgons were 6-wheelers. The remainder were distinctly short 4-wheelers.
The section northwards from Echallens to Bercher was built by a separate company, the CF Central Vaudois, and opened in 1889. This part of the route is sparsely populated and it’s not surprising that the company soon got into financial difficulty. In 1913 it merged with the Lausanne-Echallens line to become the LEB and the combined operation has remained independent ever since.
The two Mont Cenis locos were not successful and were soon replaced with more modern machines, unlike the carriages many of which survived in everyday service until the railway was electrified in 1935. Some of the goods wagons lasted even longer, not disappearing until the 1960’s. Over the years the railway acquired a series of 0-4-0T’s and 0-6-0T’s, very much in keeping with its status as a rural branch line. In 1920 three second hand 0-4-4-0 Mallet tanks arrived second hand from the Yverdon-Ste. Croix line where they had been displaced by electrification and soon afterwards the majority of the smaller locos were sold.
After the electrification in 1935 only no. 8, a relatively modern 0-6-0T built new for the railway by SLM in 1910 (works no. 846) and no. 2, one of the secondhand Mallet tanks, were retained. Both were sent to a reserve of steam locos set up by the Swiss army at Montbovon, on the Montreux Oberland Bernois railway, soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. The two locos returned at the end of the war when the Mallet was scrapped and no. 8 was sold. Its buyer was Renfer Holzwerk, a company which ran a wooden railway sleeper factory at Biel-Mett in the canton of Bern and where LEB no. 6 had worked from 1924 until it was scrapped in 1943. Here no. 8 joined two other steam locos which have survived into preservation, Bern Tramway 0-4-0Tm no. 12 (SLM 863/1894) which now runs again through the streets of Bern and SBB (Brünig) 0-6-0T no. 109 (later CF Bière-Apples-Morges no 6) which today is a working loco on the Blonay-Chamby museum railway not far from Lausanne. No. 8 returned to the LEB in 1977 for use on occasional steam specials. LEB 0-6-0T no. 5 “Bercher” (SACM 4172/1890 also survives. It was sold for construction work on the Grande Dixence dam in Valais and later moved to Austria, ending up there preserved at a children’s playground in Feldkirch. In 1973 it moved to the Blonay-Chamby line.
Five motor coaches, no’s 21-25 were supplied for the electrification in 1935. Two of these survive at the railway, both now regarded as heritage vehicles. Two more motor coaches to a more modern design, no’s. 26 and 27, were built in 1966 together with two driving trailers and two intermediate trailers so as to form two three-car sets. Six two-car sets to an updated design, no’s 31-36, were built between 1985 and 1991. In 2010 six more very smart two-car sets, no’s 41-46, were supplied by Stadler and now work most if not all of the off-peak services. However there’s no current intention to dispose of any of the older stock and it still sees use during the rush hour.
Nowadays the LEB is mainly a suburban railway. From the early days its southern terminus at Chauderon, a scruffy place in the north west of Lausanne, was regarded as being temporary and the long term intention was always to extend the line to Flon, much nearer the city centre. However nothing was done on the ground to achieve this until the early 1990’s when work began on construction of a new underground station at Chauderon and approach tunnel which were opened in 1995. The tunnel’s extension to Flon opened in 2000. The railway’s passenger services are now fully integrated into Lausanne’s public transport system, apparently a far cry from the line’s early years when it acquired a reputation for being slow and unpunctual. Trains run every half hour as far as Echallens and one each hour goes through to Bercher.
The railway’s administrative centre has always been at Echallens and there’s a modern running shed and repair shop there. Freight services on the railway were transferred to the railway’s fleet of lorries in 1970. These are kept in very smart condition in a garage alongside the railway works.
The steam services run between Cheseaux and Bercher on about six Sundays each year. The train includes two of the railway’s old 4-wheeled coaches, no’s. 10 and 12 built in 1908 and 1914 respectively and no. 11, a generally similar one built in 1916 acquired from the Biel Tauffelen Ins Bahn. There’s also an old post van built in 1935 for the line’s electrification, no. 5. It had been acquired by the Blonay-Chamby line in 1973 and returned in 2000. It’s now used as a bar car. However the star attraction amongst the line’s coaching stock must be the carriage now numbered 20 which consists of the body of Mont Cenis no. C6, originally built in 1865 for the opening of the Mont Cenis line which the LEB restored in 1981, using the chassis of Mont Cenis flat wagon no. M16 for the purpose. It’s not usually included in the steam train and spends most of its time at the back of the works. The staff there were very happy to let us call to see it when we visited mid-week but be aware that the works are closed on Sundays when most of the steam runs take place.
Fares for the steam run are very reasonable - 14CHF (about £9) in 2010 including travel on connecting services to and from Lausanne. It’s a most attractive ride through the gently undulating countryside – big vistas with views towards the Jura mountains to the north and occasional glimpses of the snowcapped peaks of the high Alps to the south on the French side of Lake Geneva. At Bercher station there’s the so-called Central Vaudois ranch, named perhaps after the old railway. It’s not much more than a large hut really, where hot pumpkin soup (it was Halloween) and hot dogs were on offer along with local beer, all served by the Jeunesse de Bercher, presumably the local youth club. Very tasty and welcome on a chilly autumn day!
Loco and railcar list:
No. 8 awaiting departure from Cheseaux - a smart new station with a small overall roof.
No. 8 bowls along between Sugnens and Fey in the hazy autumn sunshine, then approaching Fey.
The end of the line. No. 8 at Bercher.
Echallens depot with stock ancient and modern. (Left) No. 20, the restored Mont Cenis coach dating from 1865 and (right) one of the new Stadler sets being got ready for commissioning. This gentleman is positioning a destination screen on the side of one of the cars. Below (left), Bogies and wheels for the new Stadler trains awaiting fitting and (right) the small Diema diesel no. 2 - a very small loco even by narrow gauge standards. I wonder how often it gets up to its maximum permitted speed of 40kph?!
Eschallens station (left) with two of the new Stadler trains crossing, with 8 behind and (right) No. 26, the first of the 1966-built power cars also at Echallens.
No. 25 on a special working at Bercher (left) and (right) the four generations of electric cars lined up at Echallens depot. From left to right they are no. 21, the railway's first electric railcar, no. 32, one of the 1985 units, no. 46, the last of the new Stadler units and no. 52, the driving trailer of one of the two 1966 sets.