A roof mounted photo image greets visitors near the Wilderswil station - 23 May 2014 William Slim.
Wilderswil, Switzerland, the base station for the Schynige Platte Bahn (SPB) lies near the center of Switzerland 4 kilometres by rail south of Interlaken. The Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) connects Interlaken Ost (East) and Wilderswil with the station at Wilderswil being shared by BOB and the SPB. The SPB shed and workshop are located directly across the track from the station. Tickets for both the BOB and the SPB may be purchased at either Interlaken Ost or the Wilderswil station.
The SPB utilizes the Riggenbach rack system on a gauge of 800 millimetres (2 feet 7 1/2 inches) with a maximum 25 percent climb up to the railway summit at Schynige Platte Bergstation (elevation 1,987 metres (6,520 feet), a distance of 7.25 kilometres (4 1/2 miles). The electric locomotives are powered by 1,500 VDC overhead wire. A varied natural landscape unfolds on the climb, including forests, alpine pastures complete with grazing Swiss cows, and views of the Bernese Oberland.
A Brief History
Schynige Platte, the gem in the Bernese Oberland. "One does not travel in order to arrive, but for the sake of travel itself", wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on one of his journeys. What could be more suited to Schynige Platte?
Over 200-years-ago the first Bernese Oberland visitors travelled on foot, carried, or on the saddle of a mule to the Schynige Platte. It was already a favourite with the wealthy upper classes from all over the world who were well looked after in Interlaken's grand hotels, inns, and guest houses in the villages and valleys. The maxim of that time was "up into the mountains, to the summits". The hike from Schynige Platte to the Faulhorn and on to Grosse Scheidegg was considered a classic, moonlight and sunrise included.
Bold mountain railway pioneers drew up the first plans for audacious and impressive projects. The rapid development of railway technology can be seen far better in the Jungfrau Region than almost anywhere else. The railways learned how to climb. The journey to Schynige Platte promised a taste of adventure. In 1893, the first steam trains hissed, huffed, and puffed their way to the Schynige Platte at top speeds of 10 kilometres per hour. But the journey would get even faster.
Built in Two Years
67 curves, 4 tunnels, a track over 7 kilometres long, rolling stock with locomotives, buildings, from railway-attendant huts to railway stations, were built in two short summers, an exceptional achievement.
The SPB starts in Wilderswil and finishes on Schynige Platte. In between are 7.2 kilometres of cogwheel-railway track surrounded by incredible natural diversity and beauty. On 15 May 1893, a train carrying invited guests made the first journey up to the vantage point high above Interlaken. The SPB then began scheduled operation on 14 June 1893, exactly one week before the Wengernalpbahn.
Construction work began in 1891. In an impressive feat, unique structures, retaining walls, and tunnel portals were built from hewn limestone in the two short mountain summers of 1891 and 1892. Tracks were laid, telegraph lines strung, and all buildings from toilet facilities to the lofty summit station were constructed. Locomotive Number 1, an Hg 2/3 from Schweizerische Lokomotiv und Maschinenfabrik (SLM - Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works) in Winterthur, also played its part as a tireless transport machine that ferried workers and materials to the construction sites.
Railway construction, structural and civil engineering, locomotives and carriages, and even equipping the stations were all included in the flat-rate quotation of 2.85 million francs. In the end the SPB was actually a little more expensive. With the purchase of the inns on Breitlauenen and Schynige Platte, the cost finally rose to 3.5 million francs.
Uphill by Electricity
The Schynige Platte Bahn converted from steam to electricity in 1914. Four electrically driven locomotives were bought. Beginning in 1964 more were purchased from the Wengernalpbahn. Steam locomotive H 2/3 Number 5 is still in service today for work trains and special trips.
The steam locomotives of the Schynige Platte Bahn were in service summer after summer for 20 years. Everything changed after the trial run of electrically driven locomotive Number 12 on 15 Oct 1913. Electricity made everything faster. Now travelling time was cut to less than an hour. On 9 May 1914, the first passengers were able to enjoy the modern way to travel, the smoke filled air in the Gratli tunnel no longer burned their eyes. A new age had arrived, electric, clean, and fast with power supplied by the Jungfraubahn power station in Burglauenen. The Jungfraubahn had been powered by electricity from the very first, it would have been impossible to travel through the Eiger and Mönch tunnels using steam locomotives.
The four electrically driven locomotives took over at Schynige Platte. Two steam locomotives numbers 1 and 5 waited in the sidings for a special assignment on busy peak days, or for a celebration. Their four brothers made their last journey to the blast furnace. Steam locomotive Number 1 met the same fate 40 years later in 1956. Number 5 now reigns supreme. Every spring it steams proudly up to Breitlauenen with a work train. This is the beginning of the section to the summit where the tracks must be freed of any remaining snow. The masts and catenary lines are dismantled in autumn and must be reinstalled each spring.
A Trip to Schynige Platte
23 May 2015 was overcast but warm as passengers boarded the two car SPB train at Wilderswil. As this was opening day for the season the fare was half price. The SPB route parallels the BOB south towards Zweilütschinen but soon makes a turn to the east crossing the Lütschine River then the grade to the summit begins. Out the window cows were seen grazing on grassland surrounded by deciduous trees. A third of the way to Brietlauenen a down train was met then passed in the middle of the forest at Rotenegg. As the climb continued gaps in the foliage presented a view of Wilderswil and Interlaken far below. Approaching Brietlauenen, the halfway point with a siding, depot, and cafe, small patches of snow began to appear in the shady spots, a sign of what was to come. There was a brief wait for a down train to pass then it was upward again with a staff member riding on the footboard of the leading coach. She jumped off at the upper switch to reset it for the next down train as the train continued up.
Curiously, not long after, the train stoped on a single section of track in what appeared to be an open field in the middle of nowhere. There was a brief pause while two men with backpacks and a black Labrador Retriever got off then stood very close to the track without holding onto the dog. The train carried on. Rounding a curve the pattern changed from pockets of snow here and there to snow everywhere with bare rocks poking through the snow. Another tunnel further on and the snow layer became thicker, sunshine turned to overcast, then to mist, and clouds engulfed the mountain tops. There was no further view down into the valley, all was grey below.
Without warning the train suddenly stopped beside a rock face. The guard in the lead coach stepped out, shovel in hand. She was joined shortly by the driver, also with shovel, and they dug away at a small avalanche, OK, not an avalanche, but a small slip of snow across the track. That done, they boarded, and the train continued upward. It's only about an hour trip but it seemed we just kept on climbing in the damp mist. Finally, rounding a bend, Schynige Platte Bergstation came into view through the grey mist. As passengers disembarked two gentlemen greeted them on the platform holding, no playing, those long Swiss horns, or trumpets, or whatever they're called. Ricola... you've seen the commercial, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Ludwig, the hotel manager's Dachshund, searched through the milling passengers like he had lost someone important to him. Completing his unsuccessful search he raced uphill on his little legs towards the hotel to wait for the next train's arrival.
Schynige Platte-BahnHansruedi Brawand2003Prellbock Druck & Verlag www.prellbock.chPaperback192 pages, 228 photos, (182 in color), 59 plans, tables, and diagrams. CHF45.(In German)On 14 Jun 1893 the first trains reached the Schynige Platte. The 7.3 kilometre long route contains a maximum gradient of 25 percent, two iron bridges, four stone viaducts, and four tunnels. In 1894 financial problems forced the company to be liquidated. It was purchased by Bernese Oberland Bahn (BOB) for 200,000 francs. In 1914, four electric locomotives joined the railway. Beginning in 1936 there was a vehicle exchange with the Wengernalpbahn (WAB), which has the same track gauge of 800 millimetres. Later, SPB acquired different locomotives and passenger cars from the WAB. From 1992 to 2003 12 passenger cars were equipped with new boxes. For nostalgic rides there is one steam locomotive left from 1894 still available.