Model Railroading

Model Railroading — Blog Post #13

BLS, SBB, ROBEL Powered Track Car, Märklin 39548, Lötschberg Tunnel, Simplon Tunnel
Posted: June 11, 2017 at 4:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

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ETE_BayArea_Newsletter_May_2017, Brian Hitchcock

European Railway Notes

ETE member Dave Cowl sent me more photos from his travels in Switzerland, along the BLS line between Interlaken and Zweisimmen. Interlaken is between the lakes Thunersee and Brienzersee. Zweisimmen is about an hour west of Interlaken on the way to Geneva. Photo 1 shows two BLS MOW vehicles, numbers 203 and 205, which I believe are ROBEL Powered Track Cars. These are the prototype for the Märklin 2017 new item 39548.

Photo 1 ROBEL Powered Track Cars of the BLS. Photo by Dave Cowl.

The MOW vehicles are part of the BLS, which is the Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon railway, which became BLS AG in 2006. From Wikipedia, the BLS was a private railway company separate from the Swiss Federal Railways, Schweizerische Bundesbahn (SBB). The history of the BLS is fascinating. I have heard about the Gotthard railway of course, but I didn’t know that when this line was completed in 1882, it left Bern, one of the Swiss cantons, cut off from the main north-south railway route. Not surprisingly, Bern was not amused and wanted to build its own railway. But the cantons that had built the Gotthard line didn’t want any competition so Bern had to look outside Switzerland for financing. France lost their rail connection through Basel after the Franco-Prussian War, and was therefore interested in financing a new international route running through Switzerland.

The new route required the construction of the 8.5 mile long Lötschberg tunnel which started in 1906. The initial plan was for a single track tunnel, but soon after work started, plans changed requiring double track along the entire route, but there was only money for the tunnel to be double tracked. After two years of work, a major collapse inside the tunnel delayed work for six months. The route of the tunnel as changed to have three curved sections to avoid the areas that had collapsed. Can you imagine, in 1908, adding three curves inside a mountain? I think that would have been an interesting day at work!

The route ran through the Simplon tunnel to reach Italy. The twelve mile Simplon tunnel doesn’t run directly under the Simplon Pass as I expected and like the BLS, the history is complicated. Reading from Wikipedia again, from the time of the earliest railways in Switzerland, there competing interests supporting various routes through the Alps to connect with Italy. There were three competing routes being promoted by different parts of Switzerland. Those in the east favored the Splügen or Lukmanier Pass, those in Zürich wanted the tunnel under the Gotthard Pass and those in the west wanted the Simplon route. Over time, multiple tunnel along different routes were built, and the Simplon tunnel was completed in 1903. Among many odd stories along the way, one got my attention. The exact path of the tunnel was decided so that the Swiss-Italian border would be at the midpoint of the tunnel. This was done so that either country could block the tunnel in case there found themselves at war. I don’t understand the logic of this; it seems like you could effectively block a tunnel no matter where the border was, but what do I know. History, you can’t make this stuff up.

Photo 2 is a bit of a mystery. This vehicle is not in BLS livery. Enlarging the photo I can see the logo of the SBB on the frame so I assume we are looking at a vehicle for the greater Swiss Federal Railway. It appears to be hauling a flat car loaded with ties, so I assume this is part of the MOW fleet.

Photo 2 MOW vehicle of the SBB. Photo by Dave Cowl.

Photos 3 and 4 show other BLS vehicles. I searched online but I can’t find a reference that identifies what this unit is for. I’m guessing, based on the fact that it appears to be enclosed that it might be part of a rescue train.

Photo 3 Unidentified BLS track vehicle. Photo by Dave Cowl.

Photo 4 shows a BLS unit that looks very similar to the ROBEL Powered Track Cars seen in Photo 1. The enclosed section of this car doesn’t look like a control cab to me, so I wonder if this is an unpowered crane unit.

Photo 4 BLS crane car. Photo by Dave Cowl.

There is always lots more to learn about our model and prototype railway interests. Simply studying four photos took me through the history of the Swiss railways and I learned many new things.

If you have any photos of European railways you’d like to share, let me know. I can turn them into a story and I enjoy the process.

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