The International Steam Pages


Brig - Gletsch Railway Centenary 2014

Filippo Ricci writes: 

Introduction:

This year for the summer bank holiday week in August, I decided to take part in the centenary of the Brig - Gletsch line in the Swiss Alps.

As there are good English Wikipedia pages detailing the history of the line (see bibliography) I will concentrate here on my travel experience plus some notes on the remarkable history of the locomotives.

My trip consisted of: day 1 (11th August) Realp-Oberwald round trip on the DFB train, mainly to photograph the scenery; day 2 (12th August) taking pictures at the Western end of Brig station where the Lotschberg (Bern) and Rhone Valley(Geneva) routes diverge and plenty of freights could be observed; day 3 (13th August) round trip Realp-Gletsch with a photographic special organized by the DFB itself; day 4 (14th August) trip on the MGB line to Goschenen then on foot to Wassen to observe modern trains on the double horseshoe curve; day 5 (15th August) chasing a Brig-Gletsch steam special then filming in Oberwald; day 6 (16th August) non railway activities although a short stint in and around Oberwald station produced remarkable pictures.

Besides the pictures shown in this report I also made a 25 minutes long video which is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuQduLMcDWY; you can find a list of its contents at the bottom of the page since the description on Youtube is in Italian only.

From left to right no.s 3,4 and 1; awful weather but great atmosphere.

First Trip

My first trip was made on the only daily scheduled couple of trains that make a round trip over the whole of the DFB line and decided to spend a small fortune doing it in first class mainly to have easier access to the windows to take pictures (you must reserve your seat and trains are booked to capacity in both classes during high season).

Classic comfort.

As you can see from the pictures I got some good views despite the weather: both the verdant Furkareuss valley on the Realp side and the rocky upper Rhone valley on the Gletsch side are equally unspoiled and charming.

The green Furkareuss valley. The rocky Rhone valley.

As the journey is scheduled to take 130 minutes each way and trains have no toilets nor refreshment facilities onboard a convenience stop of 20 minutes is scheduled for each run at Furkapass station near the summit tunnel.

There, as over 100 passengers detrain and are eager to get food and drinks, you can experience the chaotic atmosphere of station buffets of yesteryear during meal times even if I guess that Crewe or Swindon were much more crowded and messier than this.

Then a whistle and another rush to get back on board.

As far as possible these trains are worked by a uniform rake of blue coaches plus loco DFB 1 in matching livery.

Blue is the colour (DFB 1 at Furkapass).

Photographic Special:

DFB 4 with the special near Tiefenbach.

This was the only event in the centenary aimed at railway enthusiasts: the program included a round trip from Realp to Gletsch with many photographic stops en route and a four hour stop in Gletsch (11am-3pm) to observe shunting and train movements taking place there.

The consist comprised a four-wheeled coach a van and a low sided open; another of these wagons, carrying some permanent way equipment, was added at Gletsch and dropped at Furkapass on the return journey.

Arranged meeting at Gletsch, from the left no.s 3,4,1 and 9.

Our loco was no.4 but the whole HG 3/4 fleet was in steam that day and at one time or another all were present in Gletsch during our stay including a carefully arranged meeting of all four in a suitable position to take pictures.

The Brig - Gletsch Special

DFB 9 out on the MGB line near Lax.

During the photographic special on Wednesday 13th August I found a pair of Italian enthusiasts, one of whom I know for many years, and they kindly offered to let me join them for a car chase of the Friday 15th August train.

I had never had a car chase before and I think this was the first and last: rushing on mountain roads competing with other frenzied enthusiasts to arrive first in the next photogenic spot, take a quick pic and then resume the race is definitely not the way I like to see trains.

However, I must admit that some of the best pics and video sequences of the whole trip were taken on that day and would have been impossible to have without using a car. 

Willowherbs in bloom with DFB passing in the background near Gletsch.

On that day loco no.1 was on its regular Realp-Oberwald round trip, no.3 was on Oberwald-Reckingen shuttles, no.4 was on the afternoon Gletsch-Oberwald shuttles and no.9 was on the Brig-Gletsch special.

In the early afternoon I decided I had enough of being tossed around in a car and stopped in Oberwald watching the coming and goings as well as having a look at the MGB engines line up behind the loco shed.

Saturday Surprise

DFB 6 in Oberwald

On Saturday 16th August I strolled to Oberwald station at about 4pm where I found loco no.6 which was not supposed to work during the week of my stay, I took a few pictures then headed for home but on the way I realized how beautiful was the stretch of line passing behind Oberwald church, I waited for a train and took the picture at the beginning of the report.

DFB Motive Power

The original motive power of the Furka Oberalp line (FO) consisted of ten 2-6-0RT locos (technical data here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFD_HG_3/4) forming the HG ¾ class which remained in sole charge until electrification in 1941.

Nos 6 and 7 were sold to a French company VFD in 1946 but were later scrapped; next year nos.1-2-8-9 were sold to French Colonies’ Ministry and sent to Indochina (now Vietnam) to work on the Song Pha to Da Lạt rack line while nos.5 and 10 were scrapped by the company in 1959 and 1965 respectively. As the FO bought two diesel locos in 1967 steam became redundant, losing the permanent way and snow clearance duties for which the two remaining locos were retained up to that year; in 1969 no.3 was sold to the Blonay-Chamby heritage line while no.4 remained in use for special and charter trains.

A look in the cab of DFB 1.

When in 1983 the DFB was formed it started a search for suitable steam locos and it was discovered that the locomotives shipped to Vietnam were still extant in a derelict state so in 1990 they were repatriated together with two locos built in Switzerland by SLM in 1930 directly for the Vietnamese line (HG 4/4 class).

Two of these were rebuilt and ready for the reopening of the first stretch of the DFB in 1993; the other four Vietnamese locos are longer term restoration projects not yet completed. In the meantime Brig-Visp-Zermatt (BVZ) no.6, a 0-4-2RT built in 1902, was acquired by DFB in 1988 and restored the next year; it has been joined in 2010 by sister loco no.7 in 2010 which is leased to DFB but remains the property of the MGB railway.

DFB 9 being turned in Oberwald.

HG 3/4 no.4 was leased by FO to DFB in 1997, restored in 2006 and finally gifted to DFB in 2010.

No.3 has remained on the Blonay-Chamby line since 1969 but in 2014 it has been leased to DFB to take part to the centenary celebrations of the line.

The DFB has also a few modern traction items: since 2010 the Gletsch-Oberwald shuttles are hauled by a diesel leased from the MGB, shunting in Realp and Gletsch is done by two small diesels while a third, resembling a truck with a crane, is stationed at Furkapass where it is attached to steam trains crossing the summit tunnel to haul them out in case of an engine failure; it also helps carrying out track maintenance.

Furthermore some ex-FO and ex-BVZ rolling stock is stored at Realp DFB station and Gletsch (BVZ no.16 loco).

Galloping Goose, Swiss style at Furkapass.

Video Description

A taste of the video, DFB 9 on Grengiols viaduct.

00:00 - 03:29 DFB 1 in Oberwald 11/08/2014 shunting to and from the turntable.
03:29 - 06:10 lineside views of DFB 4 with the photographic special between Realp and Furkapass 13/08/2014.
06:10 - 12:30 train movements and shunting at Gletsch station featuring all four active HG 3/4s 13/08/2014.
12:30 - 13:16 DFB 4 false departure from Tiefenbach with the return leg of the photographic special to Realp 13/08/2014.
13:17 - 16:11 DFB 9 on the Brig-Gletsch special of 15/08/2014 first on the Grengiols viaduct then between Reckingen and Oberwald.
16:12 - 22:32 traffic in Oberwald 15/08/2014.
22:32 -25:32 lineside shots between Oberwald and Gletsch 15/08/2014.

If you like modern traction as well here are my other videos taken in Switzerland:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbTZy5rgvn0 (Gotthard main line in Wassen and Goschenen)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xn-V-ZXNEes (MGB trains).

Bibliography

Wikipedia on the Furka – Oberalp line: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furka%E2%80%93Oberalp_railway

Wikipedia on the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furka_Cogwheel_Steam_Railway 

See also James Waite's report on this site from 2009.


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk