On 8th April, our speaker was Arthur Turner from Bristol whose presentation was entitled “The Gotthard Line and the Luzern Area“. Arthur began by confessing to a passion for the railways of Switzerland which had so far led to his visiting on 24 occasions, totalling 238 days. During these visits he had amassed over 5,000 slides of railway scenes in that beautiful country.
Much of the evening was taken up with a photographic trip over the Gotthard Line, between Arth-Goldau (east of Luzern/Lucerne) and the Italian border at Chiasso. This main line of Swiss Federal Railways over the Alps, is of great international importance, carrying huge amounts of traffic, both passenger and freight, between Northern Europe and Italy. It includes the 15 km long Gottfard Tunnel, has severe gradients and several spiral tunnels built to allow the line to achieve considerable changes in altitude. The famous series of four tunnels near the village of Wassen, for example, provides the traveller with four very different views of the parish church as the line climbs over 280 metres in a distance of just over 12 km. The mountainous nature of the line presents problems from an operating point of view but this is due to change dramatically in three years’ time with the opening of a new Tunnel being driven under the Alps – a railway tunnel with the staggering length of 57 km.
Arthur’s photographs gave us a fine impression of the various trains travelling over the line in recent years and of the motive power in use. Like most Swiss main lines, the line is electrified at 15,000V AC and the original locomotives built in the 1920s and 1930s were of the box-like appearance common at that time, together with several series of the unusual ‘Crocodile’ articulated machines, used mainly on freight trains. Some of the early Swiss classes featured coupling rods and external jackshaft drives which compensated to some extent from their rather severe appearance. In 1952 the first of the modern and technically advanced stylish Class Ae 6/6 locomotives entered service and over the following decades the locomotive fleet was modernised. It is interesting to note that such has been the increase in the weight of international freight trains over the Gotthard route that it has become expedient to keep pairs of the powerful locomotives of the current Re 4/4 and Re 6/6 Classes (4- and 6-wheeled bogies respectively) semi-permanently coupled. It is a tribute to the quality of Swiss locomotive building and maintenance that many of the older locos remained in revenue service for over 60 years.
Having arrived at the southern extremity of the Gotthard route in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Arthur gave us a fascinating glimpse of the metre-gauge line from Lugano to Ponte Tresa before we returned to the Luzern area. Here we saw scenes on the secondary lines in the vicinity of that city, including the metre-gauge Brunig and Engelberg lines. Finally we saw scenes on rack-and-pinion mountain railways in the area, including the two lines that climb the Rigi (1752m) and the incredibly steep line to the top of Pilatus (2073m).
A delightful evening was concluded with a vote of thanks to Arthur from the Chairman.