Switzerland: RBe 4/4 (series 1401-1406)

UIC registration: 94 85 7540

Railway companies: SBB CFF FFS - Swiss Federal Railways, DSF - Depot and Rail Vehicles Koblenz Club

Display registration numbers

In 1964, Switzerland planned a national exhibition (Expo '64) in Lausanne. This raised a unique challenge for the Swiss Federal Railways (the SBB) that had to secure the transport of visitors from all over Switzerland to Lausanne (at the time not so many people owned a car and other modes of transport such as buses were not yet available to such an extent as it is the case today). But all modern locomotives were used in regular service and only old locomotives were available for the necessary extra trains needed to get people to and from the exhibition.

This was far from ideal and it became obvious new vehicles had to be purchased. At first, the SBB looked to buy new locomotives from existing series. The Re 4/4 and Ae 6/6 were available at the time but neither proved to be a viable solution, either for logistic reasons or performance issues. It also soon became apparent that the trains had to operate as commuter trains (very flexible and ready for use in a short timeframe) so, despite the bad experiences with the RFe 4/4, the railcars seemed to be the solution. And the success of the Ce 4/4 railcars of the BLS, offering high performance and thus the desired traction, further comforted the SBB in their choice.

The specifications for the new railcar were based on the Ce 4/4 of the BLS:
- doors over bogies;
- one pantograph (since the introduction of the double abrasive strips, a second pantograph was not considered necessary);
- inclined fronts.

The specifications also required the following:
- the railcars should be used both in regional and express services;
- they should be able to replace the Ae 3/5 and Ae 3/6 locomotives;
- the power should amount to 1988 kW or 2720 hp (higher compared with the BLS Ce 4/4 but also the SBB Re 4/4 locomotives and their 2450 hp);
- top speed of 125 km/h;
- regenerative braking;
- multiple-unit train control.

The units had to be available for testing purposes a reasonable time ahead of the exhibition and also be conceived for the long run, not only for the needs of the exhibition.

The mechanical construction of the vehicles was entrusted with the Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) and Schweizerische Wagons- und Aufzügefabrik Schlieren (SWS) while the electrical equipment came from Brown, Boveri & Cie (BBC) and from Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO).

1959

The 6 prototypes numbered 1401 to 1406 were delivered between 1959 and 1960. The first series of 6 railcars cost the SBB over six million francs (one million francs per vehicle), more expensive compared with the price of an electric locomotive.

The technical equipment is installed to a large extent under the passenger compartment, which made the entrances significantly higher compared with standard passenger coaches. Other components together with the toilet were installed in the middle of the vehicle, dividing the passenger compartment in 2.

The technology used caused some vibrations and the vehicle got its nickname "Schüttelbecher" ("shaker").

The original seating configuration: 64 seats available in a 2nd class configuration (32 smoking and 32 no-smoking).

The railcars were fitted only with a simple spring-mounted towing hook that was able to move laterally in order to facilitate coupling of the vehicles in tight bends. Since a screw coupling was dispensed for aesthetic reasons, two railcars could only be connected to one another with an auxiliary coupling. This was therefore present in the vehicle as a piece of equipment. Full couplings were fitted a few years later.

1959

May 24th

The first prototype RBe 4/4 1401 is delivered and is presented to the press. At the presentation, the delivery delay of one month and the high cost were not mentioned. Rather, they praised the modern railcar and the delivered power.

The first test and setup runs began shortly after. But after only one week, the test runs were canceled and together with the second prototype RBe 4/4 1404, the 2 units enter regular service on the St. Gallen - Zurich - Bern and Biel - Lausanne - Genève (or Brig) routes. The 2 railcars achieved a daily mileage of 1234 km and 1522 km respectively, which was huge compared with the locomotives used at the time.

The railcars were used together with matching passenger coaches, the EW series ("einheitswagen" or "standard coaches"), and control cars with baggage and postal compartment FZt4ü (later DZt). The control cars were built from the standard EW I coaches by adding a drivers cab matching the RBe 4/4.

As expected, the short test runs were not sufficient (the vehicles were untested and the staff untrained). This led to regular problems and the railcars were often replaced with standard locomotives to ensure the service.

Concerns registration number(s): 1401

1959

July

RBe 4/4 1405 is delivered.

Concerns registration number(s): 1405

1959

July 25th

RBe 4/4 1404 suffers a fire in Nyon. The prompt intervention of the staff minimised the damage and the railcar was reparable and was temporarily removed from regular service and replaced with the newly delivered RBe 4/4 1405.

Concerns registration number(s): 1404, 1405

1959

December

By the end of the year, units 1402 and 1406 are also delivered. With 5 railcars the SBB was able to start test runs again in parallel with the regular service.

Concerns registration number(s): 1402, 1406

1960

RBe 4/4 number 1405 crashed in Gland. The train safety magnet ripped out a wooden sleeper at a level crossing, causing the entire train to derail at 125 km/h. Fortunately, there were no heavy casualties.

For safety reasons, the train protection system was removed on all railcars and were able to continue regular service by adding a second driver.

Concerns registration number(s): 1405

1960

January 8th

The last prototype RBe 4/4 1403 is delivered.

Concerns registration number(s): 1403

1960

May

RBe 4/4 1406 is sent to Germany for further test runs for a couple of weeks. These journeys took place in part on routes without overhead wires, so that the railcar was pulled by steam locomotives. After completion of the trips, the railcar returned back to Switzerland.

At the same time, test drives also continued in Switzerland.

1960

June 14th

RBe 4/4 1401 suffers a fire in Amriswil and suffers extensive damage. It is replaced by RBe 4/4 1406, arrived just in time from the test runs in Germany.

The investigation into the 2 fires showed that overheating was the cause due to the positioning of the ventilation grilles in the roof, on top of the doors (they didn't ensure enough ventilation). This will be modified in the series production.

Concerns registration number(s): 1401

1963

The prototypes proved themselves and after only 3 years the production series started. 76 units were ordered and registered as RBe 4/4 1407 to 1482.

2008

May

The Depot and Rail Vehicles Koblenz Club (DSF) was authorised to use the remaining prototype RBe 4/4 1404 as a spare part supplier for RBe 4/4 1405 .

Concerns registration number(s): 1404, 1405

Sources: http://www.dsf-koblenz.ch/index.php/08/10-04/118-2008-11-03-ersatzteilspender-rbe-1404

2008

November

After all useful parts were removed to be used as spare parts for RBe 4/4 1405 by its owner Depot and Rail Vehicles Koblenz Club (DSF), RBe 4/4 1404 is transferred to Kaiseraugst for scrapping .

Concerns registration number(s): 1404, 1405

Sources: http://www.dsf-koblenz.ch/index.php/08/10-04/118-2008-11-03-ersatzteilspender-rbe-1404

Latest update on the 13th of November 2019 at 21:39

Contributor(s): Tudor C.

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