It was a day with much sunshine and nearly as much of a sense of poignancy, the MOB (Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway) presented the gauge changer for the meter gauge to switch to the standard gauge. This happened just as the work was taking place in Zweisimmen.
The GoldenPass Express is turning into a reality, fulfilling more than a long-cherished dream for MOB Director General Georges Oberson, who smiled happily from a nostalgic MOB wagon as he made the following announcement to the assembled press: "The GoldenPass Express is a reality. The dream has become a reality!" If the ambitious MOB schedule (see box) can be met, on 13 December 2020 and using this gauge-changing facility, the first commercial journey for the Golden Pass Express is due to take place. From then on, passengers should be able to travel from Interlaken to Montreux without having to change trains. This will finalise an idea that came into being over 100 years ago. Back in 1873, a few individuals had the idea of connecting Lake Geneva, Gstaad, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, uniting these three tourist regions. However, because a narrow gauge was built between Montreux and Zweisimmen and a standard gauge between Zweisimmen and Interlaken the dream was shattered.
In the 1930s, people put their thoughts on the concept into words. A third track was to be built, but nothing came of it. At the end of the noughties, the MOB reopened this project with a completely new idea: instead of changing the rails, the bogies that are part of the rolling stock should be adapted. So, the idea of an adaptable bogie and a changing gauge was born.
But who should develop and build this? Oberson talked about how to look for suitable partners in France, Germany and even Japan and finally found a reliable partner in Alstom from Switzerland. They worked meticulously, developing and testing the idea over ten years until the changing gauge could finally be implemented. The process lasts just ten seconds and is hardly felt or noticed by passengers.
The total of 58 bogies were all produced by Alstom and the new rolling stock, which was designed to have 19 cars, was ordered from Stadler Rail AG. Also, four cars taken from the current MOB fleet will be rebuilt and incorporated into the new GoldenPass Express fleet as these are accessible to people with reduced mobility. One day, in addition to the familiar 1st and 2nd classes, the GoldenPass Express will offer yet another class – a "premium class". Oberon either didn’t want to comment or wasn’t able to say anything in Zweisimmen on 1 May about just how this would turn out.
Glancing at the figures shows that implementing this vision, which is more than one hundred years old, will certainly cost a fair amount. The MOB has estimated the "approximate costs" of the entire process to be CHF 76m and emphasises that the project is being organised in collaboration with BLS AG (Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon-Bahn). Several additional partners are also involved, with the cantons of Vaud, Bern, Freiburg and the Federal Office of Transport all on board.
More doors will open
The MOB realises that this completely new technology, which completes the gauge change in just a few seconds, will open further doors and is also really important for tourism. They assume that a direct train connection between the tourism hotspots of Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken will increase the attractiveness of all three tourist regions.
In addition, commissioning the GoldenPass Express will increase the service level by 15% and commuters will also reap significant benefits through the frequency of trains. Barriers between standard gauge and narrow gauge have definitely be overcome in terms of the Swiss train infrastructure, crossing the border between mountain railways and fast trains.
Base on AvS / Kerem S. Maurer
Translated by Justine Hewson