The International Steam Pages

Switzerland's Brünigbahn, 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 writes of his visit in July 2010:

For many years the Brünigbahn, the metre gauge main line between Interlaken and Lucerne, was the SBB's only narrow gauge railway though in 2004 it was merged with the privately owned line between Lucerne and Engelberg. The two lines are now operated as the Zentralbahn, a company in which the SBB has a majority interest. The railway was electrified in 1941 and 1942 but thanks to a lot of voluntary effort it's one of the three long-distance metre gauge railways in Switzerland on which some of the lines' old steam locos still occasionally operate.

The oldest part of the line, between Brienz and Alpnachstad, opened in 1888. It includes a long, continuous Riggenbach rack section from Meiringen to the summit station at Brünig-Hasliberg and three further rack sections as the line drops down to Giswil. It was extended from Alpnachstad to Lucerne the following year. For many years steamers on Lake Brienz provided a connection to Interlaken. It had always been the intention to extend the railway to Interlaken but disagreements about the route the railway should take through the town delayed its completion until 1916. It now terminates at Interlaken Ost which is also served by the metre gauge Berner Oberland Bahn and the standard gauge Bern Lotschberg Simplon Bahn. The Jura-Simplon, which had operated the railway, was nationalised in 1903.

Four of the line's old steam locos survive. Three of them, 2-6-0T no. 208 (SLM 1799/1907) and 0-6-0RT's no's. 1067 (SLM 2083/1910) and 1068 (SLM 3134/1926) now belong to the Dampfbahn Ballenberg enthusiasts organisation. No. 1068 is currently being restored and the other two operate specials between Interlaken Ost and Giswil during the summer and very occasional specials over the Berner Oberland Bahn. The fourth, 0-6-0T no. 109 (ex-Jura-Simplon no. 8 and later CF Biere-Apples-Morges no. 6) is preserved at the Blonay-Chamby museum railway in Vaud. Two more, 2-6-0T no. 203 and 0-6-0RT no. 1058 were among several of the Brunig locos which were sold to the Thessaly Railways in Greece in 1947 to make good war losses and are now amongst the numerous steam locos dumped at Volos depot with a view to eventual preservation - see James' report from March 2010.

The line connects with the steam-worked Brienz Rothorn Bahn at Brienz and with the Pilatus Bahn (see James' 2009 report) at Alpnachstad.

One small gripe. No. 208, which is otherwise beautifully restored, carries the Dampfbahn Ballenberg name in large bright yellow letters spread along the entire length of the tank sides. It seems to me a little like restoring the Parthenon and then emblazoning it with Coke adverts! A real shame and it's quite a photographic challenge to reduce the impact of this. No. 1067 carries the name in much smaller and less obtrusive lettering on the cab side.

Margaret and I were very generously entertained by Peter Zenger, the Ballenberg society's secretary. He drove us around to many of the best phot spots to chase one of the specials out of Interlaken as far as Brünig-Halsliberg which we would never have found at all quickly by ourselves. It was a beautiful sunny day and Peter went on to drive us around many of the other beautiful sights around Grindelwald, the village deep in the Alps where he is fortunate enough to live. A brilliant day out.

The society's website is at (link dead by October 2014). See alsoünigbahn.

Switzerland's Brünigbahn in pictures:

208 at Ringgenberg on the shore of Lake Brienz.

208 leaving Niederried tunnel and approaching the station and then later leaving Brienz station. Note the plumes of smoke from three steam locos at the Rothorn station at the far right of the pic.

0-6-0RT no. 1067 at the start of the rack section near Meiringen and at a passing loop at Brunnenfluh, half way up the climb to Brünig-Hasliberg.

0-6-0RT no. 1067 at Brünig-Hasliberg station.

Interlude at Brienz, 0-4-2RT no. 2 (SLM 689/1891) waits to set off up the mountain and then 0-4-2RT no. 6 (SLM 3567/1933) leaves Brienz as 0-4-2RT no. 16 (SLM 5452/1992) waits to enter the station with empty stock.

Rob Dickinson