07/29/2013

125 year anniversary of the Brünig line

For the 125th anniversary of the Brünig railway line between Lucerne and Interlaken there have been some steam trips.


The British people of around my age, growing up during and just after the war, are often devoted fans of steam engines. As a schoolboy, I was definitely one of these, cycling out with my schoolfriends to the main LMS (London, Midland and Scottish) railway line a few miles from home, eating a packed lunch and staying the whole day in what I remember as a beautiful English Summer (like right now!), just watching the steam trains go noisily past and crossing out their number, sometimes also their name, in my book of numbers. Once, further afield in Doncaster, I saw the locomotive (Mallard) that held the world speed record just before the war.

Yesterday, 28 July, I had a reserved a place on one of the special trips, going from Alpnachstad to Brienz over the Brünig pass, in old carriages with wooden seats and pulled by a steam locomotive. To get to Alpnachstad (from where one can go up to Mount Pilatus) in time for the departure at 10h20 am, I went to Lucerne the previous day: the day which was the hottest since the heatwave in 2003! Lucerne, of course, is currently a very popular tourist destination, where if you want to eat in one of the restaurants by the lake you should think about booking your table in advance.

One nice way to get from Lucern to Alpnachstad is to take the boat from just outside the main railway station. A nice trip of just less than one hour, pleasantly cool in the morning. Then just time for a coffee before the train arrives. In fact, it was at that initial stage pulled by an old electric locomotive built by Brown, Boveri & Cie in the year that I was born (during the war). That locomotive stayed with us, perhaps in case the steam engine had a problem on what is mostly a single track line with a lot of normal traffic.

The speed of a steam engine being much slower than the modern electric convoys, plus the fact that the water tank of the engine has to be refilled several times during the journey, means that a careful scheduling is required. Sometimes the train stopped in a side line in a station; at other times simply on a cross-over point, in order not to delay the normal scheduled services.

On the climb up towards Giswil and then Brünig-Hasliberg, where the rack railway is really necessary, the speed (!) was such that when standing in the open air on a passageway between two carriages, in my youth I could have climbed down to the side of the track, jumped off and taken a photograph then jumped back onto the train at the next carriage entrance.

There is something about being on a steam train that is easily recognisable: the smell of the smoke from the engine and the clacking of the wheels when going over the joins in the track sections (no welded rails there). Because the carriages had only two single axles, rather than two pairs, the noise was not the 4-beat clacketyclack.

Lungern Swiss Air Force.JPGAs a link to the aviation title of this blog, when we stopped briefly in Lungern, we were there just in time to see the Swiss Air Force formation flying team doing some practice work just above us. Although I have seen them before, I always get a thrill seeing them flying in formation so close to each other. No-one seemed to know if there was any air show nearby.

Asking people about this event quickly revealed that virtually all the people on the trip were Swiss German speakers. I did, amazingly, remember enough of high German learned during 3 years in school several decades ago to have some reasonable, though limited, conversation. When this got too difficult, I asked them if they could speak French or English. Unsurprisingly, as has always been my experience on the other side of the Röstigraben, everyone chose English in preference to French.

Another interesting link with flying came when we were (slowly, again!) descending towards Meiringen. We were visited by several butterflies of different sorts and colours. In my youth I was always seeing lots of butterflies in our garden: Red Admiral, Painted Lady and the unwelcome Cabbage White. However, many articles in the press are reporting that a big drop in the numbers seen now in Britain, and the rest of the world also, is a worrying sign of a reduction in biodiversity: butterflies, like bees, are pollinators. There are many suggestions as to what plants to grow to attract different types of butterflies. Interestingly, the Red Admiral likes stinging nettles and the Painted Lady lays its eggs on thistles: I hardly think many garden centres will sell either of these plants, whilst gardeners will probably eliminate them!

Now back from the noise of steam trains to that of more modern machines of transport. The storm that I came back to was, in the late evening, bad enough to delay the landing of some aircraft until after midnight. Could I grow some plants to discourage them?

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