As a kid, my parents took my brothers and me to Switzerland on vacation. I have early memories of the mighty Swiss Alps, and the little trains riding in their valleys. The Rhätische Bahn has been on my revisit-list for a while now, and in january 2016 I finally made it back. Der Kleine Rote, in between the mighty snowed Alp tops. As it will turn out, it became a day to never forget.
Rhätische Bahn makes available its timetable, which includes the freight trains. A blessing for railfans. We awaited the first freight train in Alvaneu. First train we saw was the regional express from Sankt Moritz to Chur, hauled by one of RhB’s most recent locomotives. It’s promoting EMS, a company specializing in high performance polymers and specialty chemicals.
With the focus directed well, you see more than you would usually see. 20 years ago, I never saw any freight train on the Rhätische Bahn network. Now, with the right information, the main focus during our 2 days along the RhB would be the freight trains, passenger trains being a welcome change.
We first saw train 5120 from Samedan to Thusis. The 6-axle locomotive is a Ge 6/6 II, built in 1965. 6 of these machines are still in service.
Notice the museum passenger car behind the locomotive. It’s B2060, a third class coach built in 1906. 110 years old, and still rolling…
In Switzerland, rail still has an important share in the modal mix. Government takes adequate measures to get traffic off the trucks and onto trains. As a consequence, they have managed to preserve the peace in the beautiful Alps. And that’s one of the reasons why I love this part of Europe so much.
To get all this traffic on rails, it is still possible to lad freight onto trains at the stations. Like here in Surava, where we were at the right time at the right place to witness a mini Tm2/2 shunter collect some loaded cars. A nice break, and some unexpected freight action, in the search for a spot to photograph the next passenger train.
Back to Alvaneu, where we were just in time to catch the Chur – St. Moritz train, hauled by Ge6/6 II n° 707. The train is composed of 2 first class panoramic coaches, one regeular first class coach and some second class coaches.
We would make the next photo from the other side of the field. While working these photos, I noticed that the other side of the field is actually located in another commune… so next photo will again be made in Surava.
Over 10 years ago I was on holiday in this area of Switzerland. On one of the days, my dad and I went to check out a special train hauled by a “crocodile” – I could make a picture of it in Surava. It wasn’t on the same spot as this photo, bu I definitely recognise the mountain in the background from the photo I then shot.
As stated in my previous post, Recognition, I was in Surava more than 10 years ago. 13 years, to be more precise. During our holiday in Graubünden, festivities were held to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Albula railway line. For the occasion some special trains were circulating.
One of them was the train pictured here, composed of “crocodile” engine 414 and some historic coaches. The mountain in the background is the Muchetta, 2623m in height, a landmark that I easily recognised 13 years later – even covered in snow.
The image is an old scan from a print – I’m planning on digitising my negatives once I get the scanner up and running again (compatibility issue between Canon Canoscan 9950F and Windows 10…).
Day and night
Next train was following quickly after the previous one, so we decided to stay around. We positioned ourselves a bit higher to get a better view of the valley. Right on time, Regio Express 1125 from Chur to St. Moritz passes us.
I was wondering what this spot would look like at night, and went to work. The result below – I find it a good first try. Let me know what you think about it!
Too busy to eat
Trains were following each other quickly. We headed back towards Alvaneu station for the next passenger train to Chur. This was also the time that we were getting really hungry, so after making the photo at Alvaneu station we headed to Filisur for breakfast/lunch.
High and higher
Initial plans for this trip focused on the Gotthard railway. When wheather turned out to be better in the eastern part of Switzerland, I was happy to propose the Rhaetian Railway, on my photo-bucketlist for a long time already.
We hadn’t prepared for shooting photos in this region, but in Bergün it all came together. We left the car in town and hiked into the mountains, following the railroad line. South of Bergün the railway line gains height quickly through a series of curves. From our first viewpoint we could see 2 levels – the lower level offered a magnificent view on the little mountain town with the Lenzerhorn and Guggernellgrat in the background.
Bergün is known for winter sports – skiing and sledging. The end of january wasn’t the busy period, as we had to wait a while before some ski’s sled by. Fortunately, they came right on the moment when a train was descending the Albula line towards Chur. Pretty cool to see them race down the hill together, each at their own pace. I’m not sure the skiers are headed towards the station – maybe rather the après-ski tent?
Sledges are dangerous. Trust me. I would experience that in person in a couple of hours – at this moment we were only making sure not to be hit by one coming down the hill. With success, fortunately. All to get a nice view of the Samedan to Chur freight train. Towering above it all is the town of Latsch.
The freight train, hauled by Ge 6/6 II 701, is relatively long compared to the ones we had seen so far. I think these trains sometimes stop at intermediate stations to pick up, or drop off, cars.
All goes up
There are several tracks available for sledging down the hill. You can reach the start of these tracks by different means, too. For the Preda – Bergün track, a special train takes you up the hill and drops you off at the station of Preda. For reaching the start of the other track, you need to use a lift.
Both means can be seen on this photo: the shuttle to Preda is passing under the lift up the hill. A special construction was built to protect the passing trains from falling ski or sledge materials, and to shield the overhead wires.
Now here’s a spot you won’t see many photos of. In our search for nice photo locations we followed the train tracks through the forest as good as reasonably possible. Somewhere off the beaten track we found a rock sticking out, allowing an unobstructed view of the train. With light coming from the right direction… speaking of coincidence!
2 trains followed each other quickly: another schlittelzug, and this regional express to Sankt Moritz.
Through dense forests
The search for photo opportunities became harder as the forest became more dense. No big deal though, getting there is half the fun; that is one of the reasons this hobby has become a passion. Right on time for the next freight train up the mountain we found this view on one of the Albula railway’s many typical bridges. Loco 626 is in charge of getting the cars to Samedan.
Living the moment
Seeing the sledges slide off the hill earlier, we decided that we had found the perfect evening activity. We weren’t sure of opening times of the tracks though, and in the meanwhile we had gotten quite far from Bergün. That’s the moment you decide to call it a day, make the last photo and turn around.
The last photo of the day was this RE train to St. Moritz, hauled by RhB’s most recent locomotive: the last one of the Ge 4/4 III series.
Back in Bergün, we were right on time for one ride up the hill with the elevator, and several more rides up the hill with the Schlittelzug. In the evening during season the track downhill is lit – it’s a truly magical experience to slide down the hill in the middle of the forest, under railway bridges, and accidentally seeing a train flash by while you slide down the hill at high speed, fully concentrated on the next curve, one with the sledge.