20 Years of modern steam

Friday, 15 June 2012 14:05

On July 17, 1992 the all-new rack steam locomotive H 2/3 No. 12 was inaugrated on the Brienz-Rothorn Railway in Switzerland. It was the first of three modern rack steam locomotives built by the then famous and reknown Swiss Locomotive & Machine Works SLM in Winterthur. Previously the five rack- and adhesion steam locomotives built by SLM in 1952 for the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in India had been considered the last Swiss steam engines to be built. As it turned out, it was not so and 40 years later, a revival of the steam locomotive production began.

Improved economy and ecology are the main features of the modern steam locomotives, somehow detrimental to the common image of (old) steam. This is why the term modern steam was created. One man operation (no fireman), very clean combustion thanks to a newly developed light oil firing system and a very favourable weight per seat ratio made the modern steam locomotives competitive with the contemporary diesel traction. The second prototype was delivered a few weeks later to the electrified mountain railway Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye. The third locomotive went to the Schneebergbahn in Austria, to be transferred to the Schafbergbahn one year later.

The revival of the steam locomotive production in Switzerland, certainly the most unlikely country in view of it's fully electric railway system, made worldwide headlines in the press. A few articles are scanned below. In 1996 a further batch of five virtually identical new steam locomotives were produced, two for the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn, three for the Schafbergbahn. Steam locomotive No. 1 of the Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye was sold to the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn following a change of the management, working there as No. 16 since 2005. The Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye still advertises "Belle Epoque"-trains, but the old electric locomotive only handles one carriage, whilst the modern steam locomotive took two with the equal number of staff.

Both the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn and the Schafbergbahn now have four modern steam locomotives in service. Thanks to their economy they handle some 90% of all passenger trains and prevented dieselisation of the railways. Only the Schneebergbahn, following privatisation, took a decision to dieselize. However the steam operated Schafbergbahn is far more successfull then the dieselized Schneebergbahn, who carries only about a fourth of passengers.  

Steam locomotive No. 12 (SLM 5456/1992) shortly after delivery at Brienz station. Photo: Roger Waller


Almost twenty years later, No. 12 has not changed much, save for the lettering. Seen here at the middle station Planalp. Photo: Roger Waller


Steam locomotive No. 1 (SLM 5457/1992) on its last day at the Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye, taking water at the American style water tower at Caux station. Photo: Roger Waller


Locomotive No. 1 of the Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye has become No. 16 of the Brienz-Rothorn Railway. Seen leaving the tunnel between Planalp and Oberstafel. Photo: Roger Waller


Steam locomotive 999.201 (SLM 5424/1992) of the Austrian Federal Railways at full power shortly after having left Schafbergalpe station. Photo: Harald Navé


The green paint scheme was not continued on the later batch of modern steam locomotives, nor on the carriages. One of the locomotives 999.202 bis 204 (SLM 5686/1995, 5687/1995 und 5688/1995) of the Austrian Federal Railways. Photo: ÖBB


Following the purchase of the Schafbergbahn by the Salzburger Lokalbahnen SLB the paint scheme changed again. Z14 ex 999.204 is seen at the top station Schafberg. Photo: Roger Waller

Last Updated on Friday, 15 June 2012 19:57