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Revolutionary technology puts GoldenPass trains on the right track

Thanks to pioneering technology, passengers on Switzerland’s GoldenPass panoramic trains can now travel directly from the palm-lined banks of Lake Geneva to the mountains of the Bernese Alps.

It’s all down to a ground-breaking track-changing device built by Alstom in Villeneuve, western Switzerland. It was commissioned in 2015 by the Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB) for use on the panoramic trains.

In 2018 MOB awarded Stadler in Thurgau, northern Switzerland, a contract to supply 23 variable-gauge coaches for the GoldenPass Express services from Montreux to Interlaken East, to be operated jointly with railway company BLS. 

The GoldenPass lineExternal link was the realisation of a decades-old dream to connect Lake Geneva, Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland by rail. It opened in stages between 1901 and 1916. From Montreux to Zweisimmen, the line was built with metric gauge rails (one-metre wide) because of the mountainous terrain, while the stretch from Zweisimmen to Interlaken used standard gauge (1.435 metres wide). No train could travel on both, so passengers had to swap over at Zweisimmen.

All this changed a few days ago, when the first GoldenPass Express trains ran between Interlaken and Montreux without passengers having to change trains. It was a festive occasion, with Swiss-based Canadian country music star Shania Twain and Swiss ski legend Michael von Grünigen inaugurating the technology and contributing to the festive atmosphere on the maiden voyage.

How the bogies work

This installation not only allows the track gauge of the vehicle to be changed by more than 40 centimetres, but also allows the height of the body to be adapted to the height of the platforms, a world first. The train can adjust as it switches tracks at low speed (maximum 15km/h). The entire project, including the bogies and trains cost CHF89 million.

MOB believes the new technology will help to attract more tourists to this section of the GoldenPass line, which already accounts for 80% of the total passengers using the service. MOB spokesman Jérôme Gachet said, “There is a great deal of interest from distant markets, such as China, Taiwan, India and South Korea.” Until June 2023 the GoldenPass Express will run one round trip in each direction per day, after which it will be stepped up for the summer. The reason given by MOB for the cautious start is that “tourist markets are not fully recovered owing to the pandemic and the geopolitical situation”.

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SWI swissinfo.ch - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR