Switzerland’s unique addition to the rails: the GoldenPass Express
A new train service with the name GoldenPass Express starts service this week in Switzerland. The train features a novelty: it switches from metric to standard gauge, as the first in the world.
The GoldenPass Express (GPX) will run directly from Montreux to Interlaken from 13 December 2022 with a single trip daily in each direction. This will be expanded to four round trips per day from 11 June 2023. It runs both on metric gauge, traditionally used on the mountain railways in Switzerland, as well as on standard gauge of the countries’ long-distance trains. Thanks to variable gauge bogies and a gauge adapting ramp, the Stadler-built trains can travel seamlessly from one gauge to another.
To adapt to the change of the gauge width (a 43 percent width difference) and the height of the platforms (from 35 cm to 55 cm) is unprecedented, emphasises railway company Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB), who operates the metric gauge network between Montreux and Zweisimmen. The change from one railway network to the other is also accompanied by a change in voltage, from 900 V direct current to 15 kV 16.7 Hz. The metric gauge section with 1 metre track-width between Montreux and Zweisimmen stretches 62.43 kilometres, and the rest of the route stretches 52.91 kilometres on standard gauge of (1,435 mm) between Zweisimmen and Interlake.
Connecting the French and the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the direct rail link between Montreux and Interlaken has some lead up. The Goldenpass Association was founded already back in 1924, and the idea to link Lake Geneva, Gstaad and the lakes of Thun and Brienz dates back to 1873. In 2008, MOB relaunched the project after a plan of building a third rail saw the end in 2006.
MOB and railway company BLS are jointly responsible for the planning of the GoldenPass Express on their respective network. MOB as owner of the rolling stock leads the project. The coaches are leased by BLS when running between Zweisimmen and Interlaken.
Unique gauge change
The concept of the variable gauge bogie was first realised by MOB in 2007, and the operating principles were verified with the first prototypes produced in house, called EV09. Thereafter, MOB entrusted the development of the series production of the variable gauge bogies to Alstom, which resulted in the EV18 bogies. The bogies are assembled at the Alstom plant in Villeneuve, Switzerland.
Other companies have also equipped their trains with variable gauge bogies, such as the Spanish Talgo. The system designed by MOB and developed by Alstom is however the only one to extend as much and to elevate the coach from 350 mm to 550 mm, the operator states. Also, the change from metric gauge to standard gauge with a running train is a world’s first. The bogies on the GoldenPass Express change gauge width in a matter of seconds with the passengers on board.
When the train arrives from the metric gauge tracks at Zweisimmen station, the train passes over a gauge adapting ramp at a speed of 15 km/h and flaps are raised to allow the coach to position itself. With the weight of the coach relieved from the bogies, their wheel width can extend from 1000 mm to 1435 mm. At the same time, the body is raised from 350 mm to 550 mm to adapt to the platform height. Because of the difference in voltage, the locomotive is changed. The gauge width change in total takes eight minutes: crossing the ramp only takes a few seconds, and most of the time is required for the change of locomotives and related checks.
The GoldenPass Express fleet consists of four trains built by Swiss manufacturer Stadler at their plant in Bussnang (Thurgau). Three trains will be in service and one in reserve or maintenance. All 23 coaches offer panoramic views and have a speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour. 58 variable gauge bogies were ordered from Alstom (two bogies per coach plus spares). 19 of the 23 coaches are already delivered to MOB by Stadler Rail starting September 2020. The low-floor coaches will be introduced during the course of 2023.
The total investment for the GoldenPass Express costed around 90 million euros (89 million Swiss franks). The infrastructure costs such as the gauge adapting ramp and platforms are being financed by the Swiss government through the Swiss Railway Infrastructure Fund.