Switzerland: RAe 4/8 1021

Also known as: RAe 591 021, RAe 506 605, RAe 4/8 651, RBe 4/8 651, RBe 4/8 301, Re 4/8 301, Red Double Arrow "Roter Doppelpfeil", Churchill's arrow "Churchill-Pfeil", Churchill's double arrow "Churchill-Doppelpfeil"

Railway companies: SBB - Swiss Federal Railways, Intraflug, MThB - Mittelthurgau Railway

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After testing the tram-train concept with light vehicles like the CLe 2/4 railcars, it was clear this wasn't the way to go forward. The concept was good on paper but it became a victim of its success: the passenger public loved the light railcars and they quickly became too small to respond to increasing demand, so much that they had in many cases to be replaced by standard trains to accommodate all passengers.

Thus, the idea for this vehicle doesn't initially come from the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) but from the Swiss railway industry trying to convince the national company to acquire a new vehicle destined exclusively for charter trains and not for regular traffic. But the business model for this new activity (charter trains rented for private groups for a custom trip) is not obvious and after all the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) could use vehicles from their standard fleet for this kind of activity.

But despite economic arguments being against building this new vehicle, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) get behind the idea and order one unit, mostly for the prestige of the company.

This unit is built in 1939 for the Swiss National Exhibition.

The design is largely inspired from CLe 2/4 railcars. There are no standard buffers nor a screw coupling as this unit is intended for single use. A simple tow hook is installed at both ends if the vehicle needs to be towed. All front windows are made of special safety glass and are equipped with an electric window heater.

As it is exclusively intended for charter trains and not for regular service, the unit is configured in a single class with 28x tables for 4 people each, with a total of 112x seats.

It is registered as Re 4/8 301 and is put into service in May 1939.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021, https://www.lokifahrer.ch/Lokomotiven/Loks-SBB/Rote-Pfeile/SBB-Re_4-8.htm


The unit receives new classification RBe 4/8.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


Winston Churchill, aged 71, lands at Geneva Airport with wife Clementine and daughter Mary on August 23rd, 1946. For the first weeks, they stay at Villa Choisi in Bursinel, overlooking Lake Geneva.

On September 17th, 1946, unit RBe 4/8 301 is due to take the special guest from Pregny near Geneva to Weyermannshaus junction in Bern where thousands of people are gathered in the vicinity of the station. The journey from Geneva is completed in record time, taking 103 minutes to cover the distance of 155 km at an average speed of 88 km/h.

The party is accompanied on their journey by M. Paschoud, General Manager of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS). All along the line, large crowds, including school children frantically waving Union Jacks and Swiss flags, cheered for the passing train.

Miss Mary Churchill spends part of the journey in the driver's cabin.

Punctual to the minute, the distinguished visitors arrive at a halt improvised between Weissenbühl and Wabern, which is instantly named "Churchill Station".

While stepping down from the carriage, complete with cigar, and giving the "V" sign, Mr. Churchill is vociferously cheered by a vast crowd. He is greeted by the British Minister and members of the English colony in Bern. Mr. Churchill seemed to be visibly moved by the spontaneous reception which he received and for quite a while is unable to find words to express his appreciation.

The visitors then change into horse-drawn carriages, which takes them to the "Lohn" where, during their two days stay, they are in residence as the guests of the Swiss Government.

On September 19th, 1946, Mr. Churchill leaves for Zürich where he gives a historic speech in which he calls for a “United States of Europe”, before leaving the country a day later in a special charted aircraft bound for England.

Following Mr. Churchill visit, the railcar gets its nickname Churchill's arrow (Churchill-Pfeil) or Churchill's double arrow (Churchill-Doppelpfeil).

Sources: The Swiss observer (the journal of the Federation of Swiss Societies in the UK) - Winston Churchill in the Swiss capital (1946)


The unit receives new registration number RBe 4/8 651.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


After the 3rd class is abolished in 1956, the unit receives new classification RAe, without any changes to the interior equipment.


The unit receives new registration number RAe 4/8 1021.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


An extensive renovation is carried out between 1968 and 1969.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


In 1979, this unit is again subject to a major overhaul.

Unfortunately, after returning to service, it suffers a fire and is parked.

Attempts are made to accommodate the inoperable railcar as a historic vehicle in the Museum of Transport in Lucerne but they don't succeed.


Unit is sold to Intraflug A.G. at scrape value.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


As Intraflug A.G. enters financial difficulties and its actives are sold, this unit is acquired by Mittelthurgaubahn (MThB) where, after being refurbished, receives designation RAe 506 605.


After Mittelthurgaubahn (MThB) goes bankrupt and most of its assets are taken over by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS), this unit is also acquired and thus it returns to its original owner.

It is registered as RAe 591 021.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021


The unit is completely overhauled and its put back into service as a charter vehicle.

Sources: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/SBB_RAe_4/8_1021

Latest update on the 19th of September 2020 at 14:15

Contributor(s): Tudor C.

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