The second part of the Montreux Oberland Bernois special. The first part looked at the line and its history, with coverage of the route from Montreux to Les Sciernes. In this instalment we take a look at the line from Montbovon to Zweisimmen. There’s four further posts coming soon, these cover rebuilds and upgrades along the entire line including bridges, tunnels stations and also a special on the MOB’s new variable gauge changing trains.
The section from Montbovon to Château-d’Oex opened on 19th August 1904. Although Montbovon is usually seen as a station that belongs to the Montreux Oberland Bernois, in reality the station is one that belongs to the TPF (Transports Publics Fribourgeois). Both companies have a shared involvement in the running of the station and management of its services, however any say on the station and its rail infrastructure ultimately rests with the TPF. Thus Montbovon has the distinction of being the only station that is not wholly or partially owned by the Montreux Oberland Bernois company.
One small giveaway which tells us Montbovon is TPF owned is the station nameboard. This is somewhat in the style of its other stations for example, Lessoc, Neirivue, Grandvillard, etc and the next station indicated isnt Les Avants or Montreux but rather Bulle!
Montbovon in 1904. Source: Notre Histoire
Montbovon again in 1904. I think this and the other picture were taken on the same day as the trains are the same in both views. Source: Geneanet
The GFM which happens to be a favourite of mine, sees its trains depart from Montbovon for destinations such as Lessoc, Grandvillard, as Gruyère, Bulle, Vuadens, Verrerie, Châtel-St-Denis, Remaufens and Palézieux – as well as the much lamented line (closed 1969) to St-Légier and Vevey. A classic feature of the GFM (now the TPF) is the on street section through Montbovon once trains leave the station as well as some lovely historic stations not forgetting the line to Broc and right into the grounds of the Nestle chocolate factory! Sadly (or maybe not since its also an improvement in terms of accessibility etc) is the Broc line has been closed since February 2021 (expected reopening mid 2023.) The intent here is to make it a standard gauge line instead of metre gauge thus facilitating through opportunities from all parts of Switzerland, if not Europe. During the same period the station at Bulle will be moved to a new site – the whole environment will be elevated with underpasses and subways a lifts to facilitate full accessibility. I have written about that here: Upgrading the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF) #3.
Montbovon in the 1970s. Train for Montreux on the left and GFM train just arrived at right. Source: GFM Historique
Ge 4/4 8001 at Montbovon showing the side of the locomotive which marked the fact the line opened in 1901. The opposite side celebrated the 100th anniversary year which was 2001. Source: X-Rail
This is a spectacular section of line east of Montbovon through the La Tine gorge. Its changed over the years however with additional galleries being added to protect the line from rockfalls or snow. Recently it was upgraded in a big way to prepare the MOB for larger gauge rolling stock (including its variable gauge trains) however the galleries themselves are a historical feature, being the only bi-level railway galleries in Switzerland, thus these have been kept largely as they are externally with the upgrade works being an internal feature.
The tunnels at La Tine in 1909. See also the next picture. Source: Wikipedia
Workers on the tracks at the La Tine galleries. Source: Twitter
One can see from the above picture very clearly the line’s early overhead electrification system consisting of wooden poles and simple metal cross spans. There was not any need to insulate these spans because the wooden poles in fact formed the insulation! Some of these OHLE structures in fact survived until very recently, having done a sterling job for more than a hundred years!
Train near La Tine station probably just before WW1. Source: Trainspress NZ.
La Tine in 1904. Source: Notre Histoire
Rossinière station about mid 1904. This could well have been a test run from Montbovon as far as this point, since the line opened on 19th August 1904. These are not railway workers but a local band or similar and they were possibly being given a trip along the new line. The location has not been identified at all, however I recognised it was Rossinière and I found a photograph of mine that would conform the location. Source: Notre Histoire.
Train on the viaduct with the Grand Chalet de Rossinière in the background. 1905-1909. Source: Notre Histoire.
The Grand Chalet de Rossinière is one of the largest and oldest in Switzerland. No other Swiss chalet has the amount of space this one has – 500 square metres of floor space, 5 floors and 113 windows.
La Chaudanne-Les Moulins station no longer exists. It was demolished around twenty years ago because the space was needed for a substantial roads improvement program. If you see La Chaudanne-Les Moulins on a system map and think I’m telling tales, the answer is no. The attractive station (or the second iteration as it was rebuilt later) is no longer. A replacement was provided slightly further east and with its single platform and small shelter its more of a halt than anything. The one advantage for the MOB was the road crossing just west of the old station was a busy one. The new road has totally avoided any requirement for crossing the line on the level thus the railway company has been able to raise speeds quite considerably on this section.
La Chaudanne station in the line’s early days. Source: Notre Histoire.
Not quite the same location as the old photograph but near enough!! La Chaudanne station building was sited about where the car is. The retaining wall seen in the old view still exists on the left. The small shelter that is now the La Chaudanne-Les Moulins request stop can be seen. It must be said a new accessible platform and train indicators have now been provided as part of an upgrade. The tunnel at the far end is Chaudanne tunnel (190m) and this can be seen in both views. Source: Google Streets
This is one of the MOB’s more notable stations. It opened in 1904. The station building like most others remains but that is about all. A few years ago the entire station layout was remodelled to provide subways, lifts, ramps and more accessible platforms. The 21st Century Château-d’Oex station is undoubtedly the most impressive of all the MOB’s intermediate stops. I write about that in a separate post.
Château-d’Oex’s new station under construction in 1904. Source: Notre Histoire.
Château-d’Oex sometime around 1909. The company is already doing a trade in freight including timber. Source: Notre Histoire.
Thursday August 18, 1904 was a great day for the Pays-d’Enhaut. This is the date of the inauguration of the section of the Montbovon – Château-d’Oex line of the MOB line. It marks the end of secular isolation.
Château-d’Oex’s celebrated chalet-style station – much in the style of the town’s many buildings. Source: Twitter
Rougemont station in 1912. Source: Notre Histoire.
The Hôtel Pension de la Gare Rougemont in 1923. Note the smartly dressed rail staff! Source: Twitter
Even though its only a couple of kms from Rougemont to Saanen, its a long way in terms of language! The French speaking part of Switzerland ends here and the Swiss German part begins. The French region is known as Le Pays d’Enhaut (in the Canton of Vaud) and the line crosses the border to the Canton of Berne, the region being the Berner Oberland – or if one prefers, the Oberland Bernois.
Saanen in 1904 with cattle being loaded onto the train. Source: Notre Histoire.
Saanen station, possibly 1970s. Source: Geneanet
The delightful station building at Saanen. Note the inscription on the wooden canopy which announces the station is at a height of 1010 metres and a distance of 43.36 kilometres from Montreux. Source: Twitter
Gstaad wasn’t planned as a stop on the Montreux Oberland Bernois line for it would have entailed a five kilometer detour from the approved parliamentary line at Saanen. The following passage from Gstaad Life perhaps sums up the situation best:
To build a railway between Lake Geneva and the Berner Oberland was an idea that began more than 120 years ago. At that time, the economy in Saaenland was in bad shape: numerous bankruptcies were recorded and people emigrated. Things changed in 1898 when the federal assembly gave a concession for an electric train from Montreux to Zweisimmen. Rail planners saw Saanen as an ‘important station on the line’ but left Gstaad out of the planning as they could not see ‘any possible advantage in the five-kilometer detour.’ The line was to run directly from Saanen to Schönried, bypassing Gstaad entirely. It wasn’t until SFr 100,000 could be secured that Gstaad got its railway.
The station opened at the end of 1904, some four months after that at Château-d’Oex. Gstadd is roughly 16 km (or 10 miles) from the company’s other terminus at Zweisimmen.
As history has shown, Gstaad has indeed been one of the line’s most successful stops. Indeed its because of the MOB that Gstaad originally prospered and in turn the MOB has prospered because of the town’s world-wide fame. Its popularity means there are more services from the east to Gstaad, which means both ends of the MOB, this being Montreux to Les Avants and Zweisimmen to Gstaad, receive more train services than the central section between Les Avants and Gstaad.
Gstaad in 1906. Source: Notre Histoire.
Rare aerial photo! Gstaad again in 1906 this time showing the viaduct. Gstaad at the time was basically a small village! other photos in the series show an exponential growth of buildings just a couple of years later. Source: Pastvu
Huge crowds at Gstaad station. Source: Pastvu
Gstaad probably 1980s. Source: Geneanet
Gstaad viaduct in c1907. Note the sparsely populated area at the time! Source: Twitter
Gstaad viaduct (or Grubenbach bridge) – another of the line’s major structures to be featured on its posters. This rare English language example is from c1936. Source: Pinterest.
It appears by the time the line had opened this far, the company were running the line’s first restaurant cars. These were no doubt the very early forerunners of the line’s famed Golden Mountain Pullman and today’s La Belle Epoque. These restaurant cars were fully introduced once the line had reached Zweisimmen this the picture below could have been for publicity or even that restaurant cars were being used on round trips from Montreux to Gstaad.
Montreux Oberland Bernois restaurant car pictured in January 1905. Source: Notre Histoire.
The delightful chalet style station at Saanenmöser. Source: Mapio
Beyond Saanenmöser the line reaches its highest point at 1270 m (3937 ft) and from here its a descent of almost 300m (1000ft) to Zweisimmen just over 6km distant.
Oeschseite is one of the line’s smaller stations and is on the descent towards Zweisimmen.
Oeschseite station, seen in 2012 with ABDe 8/8 4001. This is the unit that has the Swiss coat of arms on its sides. Source: Wikipedia.
Ge 4/4 6004 is seen at the head of its train climbing towards Oeschseite with the Simmental valley behind. Source: Rail Pictures.
Trains for Montreux leave Zweisimmen in the wrong direction as the line needs to climb out of the Simmental valley towards the Saanen Pass. Its barely more than half a kilometre from the station to the point where the train seen in the picture below is. The distance travelled by trains is however three and half kilometres.
Montreux bound train which has just left Zweisimmen is soon high above the town climbing towards Oeschseite and the line’s summit near Saanenmöser. Source: Bahnbilder.
A Montreux bound train climbing out of Zweisimmen. The direction its heading is towards Lenk. The line soon enters the Moosbach tunnel (a helicoidal or loop tunnel – in German its Schleifentunnel) which turns the tracks the other direction back towards Zweisimmen, before climbing towards Saanenmöser. The line’s next level (after the tunnel) which this train will reach can be seen further up. Source: Pinterest
The MOB’s attractive station at Zweisimmen in 1907. The BLS (or rather the SEZ) hasn’t yet reached the town. Source: Notre Histoire
I’m not sure of the history of the standard gauge at Zweisimmen however the Spiez-Erlenbach-Zweisimmen-Bahn (SEZ) reached the town in 1902 – it must have been a separate station that existed before being extended to meet up with the MOB. The Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon railway provisionally operated the SEZ’s trains until 1997 when ownership of the SEZ was undertaken.
The year is very likely to be 1936. Note how the MOB has established another platform on the far side of the station. Clearly the company wanted to ensure passengers had a smooth transition as possible and this remains to this day. The BLS train seen here may well be the standard gauge portion of the Golden Mountain Pullman. Source: Trains CH
A modern comparison – this is before the remodelling work done a few years ago. Zweisimmen in 2014. Source: Wikipedia