Peter Tanner's rail restaurant perches on a viaduct over a track that leads nowhere - but that is exactly where his many customers want to go. Since Gastrorail opened its door in canton Bern just a year ago, it has grown in popularity.
But now, Tanner has learned that the unique restaurant -- from whose windows customers can watch construction at a massive rail yard near the town of Herzogenbuchsee -- must close at the end of 2004 to make way for new track carrying trains that will hurtle by at speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour.
For now, the 80 to 100 customers who crowd into the tiny restaurant can watch the progress of cranes, conveyor belts, tunnel boring equipment and trucks that busily dominate the landscape. And for many of the train aficionados who come to dine, the view is as important as the meal.
The construction site is part of the Rail 2000 modernisation programme. Signs refer to the restaurant as "Rail 2000" On the Internet, it is called "Gastrorail", but the locals call it simply the "Ysebähnli" or little train.
The "Ysebähnli", with its vantage point featuring a bird's-eye view of the construction work, offers the chance to enjoy a hearty meal on the train without having to endure a jostling train ride.
On the radio a few years ago, Tanner heard of the flock of people travelling to canton Graubünden in south-eastern Switzerland to view the progress of work on the Vereina Tunnel, the longest metre gauge rail tunnel in the world.
"I run the Rössli restaurant in Röthenbach not far from here and thought it would be a good idea to open another restaurant for all the people that wanted to look at the progress of the construction work around here," he said.
Knowing that Switzerland is a country where people use the train more often than in any other European country, Tanner approached the Swiss Federal Railways with his plan to wine and dine those interested in the future of the rail landscape.
"We held talks about a possible restaurant and they offered me three old rail carriages. One is a first class coach which we turned into the dining room and in the other two, we have a smaller eating area, and the kitchen and office," he said.
Tanner said he spent more than SFr100,000 in renovation work to transform the rail carriages into an attractive restaurant.
"For the dining car, we had to redo the floor, paint the interior and exterior, and install air conditioning, whereas in the kitchen which was used by railway maintenance workers in the past, we had to make it much more professional," he said.
"The money we spent was a risk but I think that at the end of the day we will be able to make a profit, although not a big one" he added.
The "Ysebähnli" is a special place because it caters to a wide variety of customers. "They range from workers at the construction site, local people, groups who come to dinner to foreign visitors and, of course, railway freaks," he said.
Although Tanner is no great railway enthusiast himself, he enjoys the company of those visitors who pass by with tales of the past, in particular about the now disused line between Herzogenbuchsee and Solothurn on which his restaurant stands.
People from near and far are fast filling his guest book in the train. Besides Switzerland, there are entries from Austria, Germany and the United States.
When the new rail line is put into service at the end of 2004, the "Ysebähnli" is scheduled to disappear.
Tanner looks ahead with both regret and relief.
"I will be happy to have a quieter time then with just one restaurant because it's very, very busy running both at the moment."
by Robert Brookes