Since its foundation in 1919, the renowned Cirque Knie has been a significant cultural fixture in Switzerland, initiating its journey from Rapperswil. 2019 marked the centennial of what is considered the birth of the nation's beloved circus. A remarkable aspect of Cirque Knie's history is its longstanding tradition of transporting its equipment by train, a practice that has been integral to its operations for over a century.
100 Years of Circus Knie: SBB and the Knie Family Christen Circus Locomotives
As part of the 100th anniversary of Circus Knie, two Knie locomotives are operating across the entire SBB network. The two locomotives were revealed on Thursday, November 29th, 2018, in Rapperswil/SG in the presence of the St. Gallen Government President Stefan Kölliker, Andreas Meyer (CEO of SBB AG), and the Knie family.
However, a 2023 report from the "Zürichsee Zeitung" reveals a significant shift in this tradition. The circus's long-standing partnership with the railways has come to an end earlier in the year. The primary reason cited for this change is the upcoming substantial investments required for new rolling stock. Additionally, the evolving needs of the circus have led to challenges in finding a long-term solution, despite intensive efforts from all involved parties, as stated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB).
The cessation of this collaboration marks a significant shift for Cirque Knie, as it will now transition to road transportation for moving from city to city. This change is the result of a long-anticipated evolution both for the circus and the SBB.
In recent years, Cirque Knie had already reduced its reliance on rail transport. The train was primarily used to transport trailers for living quarters, offices, ticket booths, toilets, and other essentials. The scale had been reduced from two to a single train convoy, yet it remained substantial in size, measuring an impressive 500 meters in length and weighing approximately 900 tons. Notably, the practice of transporting animals by train was discontinued in the mid-2000s. The aging train cars and increasing concerns about animal welfare contributed to this decision.
Another factor influencing the move away from rail transport is the general shift in logistics for the circus's operations. In contrast to the past, the assembly of the circus tent and technical equipment now begins at the new venue while performances are still ongoing at the previous location. This overlapping schedule creates logistical challenges incompatible with railway transportation. Moreover, the size of the new equipment no longer matches the dimensions of the older rail cars, leading to inefficiencies such as underutilised wagons. Additionally, the increasing residential development around train loading areas complicates nighttime operations, further challenging the viability of rail transport for the circus.
The end of Cirque Knie's railway era signifies not just a logistical change but also the close of a storied chapter in Switzerland's cultural and transportation history. As the circus adapts to the changing times, its rich legacy of traveling across the nation by train will remain a cherished memory in the hearts of many.