Switzerland - Bern-Lötschberg-Simplonbahn, BLS Group + ex. RM Regionalverkehr Mittelland

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BLS AG, or as their full name is, Berner Alpenbahn Gesellschaft Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon, is one of the "big" rail companies of Switzerland. It is privately owned, but the state SBB has a minority stake in the company. It operates trains on almost all normal gauge and normal electricity rail lines in the country, even visiting Germany close to Basel, but their "home ground" is the Lötschbergbahn route from Bern to Thun and Spiez close to Interlaken, then up the valley to Kandersteg and then through the world famous Lötschberg line to Goppenstein, down to Visp and Brig in the next valley and further through the Simplonpass to Italy, Domodossola, where it connects to the Italian line to Milano. The Lötschberg line was opened in 1913 and it was a world sensation. For example, trains make full turns inside a mountain and pass one and the same lake three times at different elevations while climbing up the Lötschberg. But nowadays only a few trains use the old scenic route. Most of the traffic runs under the mountains now that a new Lötschberg "basis tunnel" has been opened.

Key services of the BLS group are: 1) they run the majority of the local commuter train services ("S-Bahn") of the Bern area and of the Solothurn to Bern area (former RM Regionalverkehr Mittelland), 2) they run a successful cars-on-train ("Rollende Landstrasse") service every 15-30 minutes through the mountain between Goppenstein and Kandersteg (and during the summer from Domodossola to Kandersteg) and 3) they run a big and lively cargo business in co-operation with the French SNCF to Italy. SNCF owns a part of BLS Cargo. Although the state SBB is a part owner and has placed many of its own new locomotives in the BLS blue house colours to operate BLS services, BLS and SBB have also been bitter rivals for years. In 2001-02 it was announced that BLS Lötschbergbahn stopped operating express trains and express train coaches (e.g. between Basel and Brig or Italy) and handed all their long distance coaches over to SBB and SBB on the other handed over the Bern area S-Bahn traffic to BLS. In 2019 the opposite is happening and BLS is announced to again start operating longer distance express trains in cooperation with SBB and BLS is even founding a new subsidiary to do so.

This is BN Re 4/4 I no. 180 in Bern, 19 September 1995. The Bern-Neuchâtel Railway BN was a part of the "Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon" group before BN became totally integrated into BLS Lötschbergbahn.
Photo by Erik Hjelme.


BLS Lötschbergbahn Re 4/4 locomotive no. 179 doesn´t much resemble the looks of later versions of type Re 4/4. While the SBB was first time experimenting with direct drive electric motors on the axels, the BLS went on to thyristor technology and built 35 of these - that time - powerful locomotives in three series for their steep Lötschberg ramps. In fact these locomotives are among some of the very earliest to be based on modern thyristor steered AC technology, although their looks are almost directly from the SBB´s Re 4/4 1. series of the fourties. These BLS engines were really ahead of their time in the seventies. They were first designated Ae 4/4 II series, but were later renamed Re 4/4, adding to the vast confusion of different locomotives with that same "name" Re 4/4. This no. 179 is of the last BLS series, built in 1972. It is 15,47 meters long, weighs 80 tons, generates 4 990 kW of power and has a maximum speed of 125 km/h. Here it is pulling an SBB express train bound for the BLS Lötschberg line and Italy. Usually it was mainly used with lighter passenger trains and car-on-train "Rollende Landstrasse" services along the Lötschberg - Simplon axle.
In today´s new numbering scheme this engine is designated Re 425 no. 179. (In the old numbering Re means rapid and electric and 4/4 means that all 4 axles out of 4 deliver power. In the new numbering the first 4 indicates it´s a 4/4 series locomotive, the 2 indicates it is from second generation [number 1 would be the Re 4/4 1. series of SBB from 1948] and the last 5 indicates the owner, the BLS group).
Photo from Bern station in June 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The RABe 535 "Lötschberger" is a new electric multiple unit type, which has largely superceded locomotive pulled BLS trains on routes such as the Bern to Neuchâtel and Bern over the Lötschberg mountain pass to Brig routes. They were built by Vevey Technologies and Bombardier at Bombardier's Swiss factories in Vevey 2008-2009. It's a 160 km/h fast EMU with a power rating of 1000 kW. There are 28 seats in first class and 143 in second class.
Picture from Luzern 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This is a so called NINA train of BLS. NINA stands for Niederflur-Nahverkehrszug or low floor commuter train. They are actually the train class BLS RABe 525 and they were built by Bombardier, Alstom and Vevey Technologies 1998-2001. They have mainly been used in the Bern area local commuter traffic. NINA has been a very much liked train type and actually BLS would have wanted to buy more of them during 2007-2008, but security legislation and requirements had been changed. The end result was the newer but similar type Lötschberger which is pictured above. NINA trains had originally 28 first class and 143 second class seats, but during renovations first class has now been removed as unnecessary in short haul commuter traffic. Top speed of the NINA trains is 160 km/h and just like the later Lötschberger trains, they also have a power rating of 1000 kW. NINA is 85% low-floor.
Picture from Luzern 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This doubledecker regional and commuter train type is made by Stadler and Stadler calls it Stadler KISS, but BLS has named its KISSes "MUTZ". Mutz is Bernese dialect and means bear. There is a bear depicted in the emblem of the city of Bern. BLS uses these MUTZ-trains mainly in their Bern to Interlaken traffic. According to BLS their shorthand MUTZ stands for Modern, Universal Multiple Unit Train. Officially it is called class RABe 515. It is a fixed set of four double decker coaches and a maximum of four units can be combined yielding a 16 coach train which can take up to 1340 people. Their maximum speed is 160 km/h. BLS plans to use MUTZ trains also in their future longer distance express train traffic.
Picture from the station Interlaken Ost 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


A BLS MUTZ train is crossing a river quite next to the station of Interlaken Ost.
Picture from the station Interlaken Ost 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


In 2004 BLS bought from the Swiss federal railways SBB used so called Swiss Express trains consisting of sets of EW III (Einheitswagen III, standard coach III) and locomotives of the type Re 4/4 II. BLS renamed the locomotives to Re 420. This is one of those locomotives and coach sets. This coach set was taped with advertisement tapings of the biscuit factory Kambly and therefore this one train got the nickname "Kambly-Zug". There were even H0 scale model trains made of this train.
Picture from Luzern 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The "Kambly-Zug" or set of EW III coaches of BLS all covered with advertisements of biscuits made by the biscuit factory Kambly.
Picture from Luzern 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


A similar train like the one pictured above, composed of one old Re 420 locomotive and a fixed rake of EW III coaches, but this time in BLS' regular livery and not in a biscuit company advertisement painting as above. When these same trains were still used at the federal railways SBB these trains used to be called Swiss Express and they were painted orange and creme.
Picture from Interlaken Ost station 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Same train as above, but seen from the other side. This is the steering cab coach of a former Swiss Express train (EW III coach).
Picture from Interlaken Ost station 1.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Extremely heavy cargo train led by two BLS Re 465 locomotives in full speed between Basel and Bern, a fraction of a second before passing the photographer, on the way to the Simplon line and south to Italy. The Re 465 is a modification of the Re 460, the so called "Lok 2000", the former pride of Switzerland. Re 465 is 18,5 metres long, weighs 84 tons and has a maximum speed of "only" 230 km/h. Difference between the original Lok 2000 alias SBB`s Re 460 and the Re 465 is that the 465 has been adapted for use on the extremely steep slopes of the Simplon mountain line; therefore it is slower but stronger. The company BLS, Bern-Lötschberg-Simplonbahn, has 8 of its own of these blue beauties and in addition to that the state SBB, part owner of BLS, bought 1996-97 a further ten (numbers 009-018; so this one we see here is actually an SBB locomotive) and painted them in the blue colours of the BLS. The original painting of the Lok 2000 is bright red, as seen at the SBB Re 460s. Matter of taste, but I find the BLS blue more attractive. The stylish design of the locomotive is from the famous Italian design company Pininfarina. The picture actually shows a modern paradox: an SBB locomotive in "enemy colours" pulling a cargo train for the competitor of SBB. This is a typical train pulled from Germany with BLS engines all the way through the Simplon pass.
Photo from Herzogenbuchsee station in October 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Re 465 no. 9 of the BLS, Bern-Lötschberg-Simplonbahn at Zürich Hauptbahnhof station ready to take an SBB passenger train across the Alps to Italy. The Re 465 is otherwise the same "Lok 2000" locomotive as the Swiss national railroad SBB´s famous Re 460, except that it has been slightly modified for slower speed ("only" 230 km/h) and higher power (7000 kW vs. 6100 of the SBB Re 460) for use at the Lötschberg mountain line. The first series, numbers 1 to 8, were built in 1994. This one no. 9, belongs to the second series, no. 9-18, built in 1996 and actually is not owned by the BLS but by the SBB, despite the BLS paintings. SBB ordered these engines for the so called NEAT transito traffic along the Lötschberg - Simplon - Italy mountain line, but lets BLS operate and maintain the engines.
Picture from Zürich in June 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Glistening from rain, the BLS Lötschbergbahn Re 465 locomotive "Simplon" has just led an SBB express train from the other side of the Alps to the Bern station. Now it´s time for the state SBB to put their own locomotive once again in front of their train while "Simplon" will lead another train back to the Lötschberg tunnels and - Simplon. The picture shows well the famous Italian Pininfarina design of the "Lok 2000" engine. Basically the same engines have also been exported, most notably to Norway and to Finland. German DB was also highly interested, but opted instead to create a new design themselves because of "the astronomic costs of the Swiss engine": about 3 times the cost of their Br 101, which made it "impossible to afford such luxury". Their cheaper design became the Br 101, which still today is the main locomotive on long-haul IC and EC trains in Germany.
Photo from Bern 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


A typical locomotive of BLS Cargo today, this is the Re 485 (equal to Br 185 of Germany). It is a Bombardier TRAXX MS multiple electric systems locomotive, which can - at least in theory - pull a train all the way for example from Holland via Germany and Switzerland right into Italy. BLS uses nowadays many TRAXX family machines.
Picture from Spiez 2.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The same train as above. It is here leading a "Rollende Landstrasse" (rolling highway) service bringing lorries from Italy over the Alps to Germany. Lorry drivers can rest in the attached sleeperette coach while their trucks are being hauled over the Alps - or rather, under the Alps, as it most often is today.
Picture from Spiez 2.5.2016 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This ABDe 4/8 number 751 of the BLS Lötschbergbahn is the first one built in 1964, in the third series of similar trains. The first series was built in 1945 (see the pictures from Önsingen-Balsthal-Bahn OeBB ABDe 4/8), the second series in 1954 to -57. Ten years later BLS ordered a further four of almost exactly similar short distance commuter trains. The trains were designed for S-Bahn local commuter traffic around the capital, Bern. This third series from the sixties differs from the earlier ones by a "newer" front design which resembles the Re 4/4 locomotives of BLS of that time (see bls-re425-179.jpg). The electrical parts of these trains were modernised in 1977, which allowed for a higher maximum speed of 125 km/h.
The two-coach unit is 46,8 metres long, weighs 102 tons (sic! - _thick_ iron!), but generates a modest 1180 kW of power. The original ABDe 4/8 pair was designed in 1945. The idea was that these pairs could form trains which could be used for through-the-Alps traffic all the way to Italy. This was however never realised and the trains have been in valley line traffic around Bern. The very last trains of this kind were still in use on less-than-important local commuter routes like here between Reichenbach and Thun in 1999.
Photo from Reichenbach station in June 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Another view of the BLS Lötschbergbahn ABDe 4/8 no 751. This electric motor unit was a fixed two coach pair. The electric systems of these trains were built in 1964 and renewed in 1977, raising the maximum speed to 125 km/h. From three different series, there are 13 of these pairs, 10 of which were in 1999 still operating under the blue-white colours of the BLS. Three pairs of the oldest series from 1945 were already in 1999 sold to two other private railroads, OeBB and RVT. Originally, the trains were designed in the fourties to be retrofitted with a second drive system to accommodate also the differing voltage in Italy in order to allow short-haul passenger trains of this type to pass through all the way through to Domodossola in Italy. This plan was never realised, but it explains why there is plenty of empty space on the roof to accommodate a second pantograph and coolers.
Photo from Reichenbach station in June 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The RBDe 4/4 (or with the new numbering scheme RBDe 565) was built in three series between 1982 and 1991. It is still today used in BLS´s short haul services, especially in the S-Bahn network around the capital Bern. It is very similar to the RBDe 560 of the state SBB and in fact almost 1:1 identical with the prototype series of SBB´s trains, named NPZ or Neue Pendelzug (new pendeling train). Still in the nineties similar or almost similar trains took care of the majority of traffic on other private companies networks as well, such as EBT, GFM and RVT/Regionalverkehr Mittelland, SüdOstBahn, Bodensee-Toggenburgbahn, MittelThurgauBahn and others. BLS had 22 of these units. Just like SBB also BLS later retrofitted old aluminium express train coaches of the EW series ("Einheitswagen" - a similar coach used by the majority of Swiss companies) to be used as extra coaches in the middle of the originally two-car units, but BLS and some other companies also later ordered middle coaches to exactly fit into the look and feel of the NPZ trains. This picture shows one of those later "tailor-made" middle wagons. The original two-coach unit is 25 metres long, weighs 69 tonnes, has a maximum speed of 125 km/h and generates 1700 kW of power. Photo of the "S2" line S-Bahn of Bern close to the station of Belp in June 1999 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Every major station used to have its own permanently stationed locomotive in Switzerland in reserve and for switching work - a luxury which was standard practise there, but almost nobody elsewhere could afford. This means that the country was full of very small, most often electric locomotives, most of which were officially classified as rail tractors. All of them were used very seldom. This example, Tm 215 of the BLS Lötschbergbahn is a rarity - BLS only has this one - but almost exactly similar new locomotives were still built in the beginning of the 1990s for other companies. For example the state SBB had over 200 of the Tm II series engines which looked very similar to this one. This BLS Te 215 from 1925 (modernised 1956) was 8,13 m long, weighed 36 tons and had a maximum speed of 50 km/h.
Photo from 1999 from Herzogenbuchsee by Ilkka Siissalo.


Two "rail tractors" or small helper locomotives of the type Tm 235 of the BLS Bern-Lötschberg-Simplonbahn. The one in the middle, number 70, shows the original painting from years 1962-75, whereas the one on the right, number 68, has undergone a total revision during 1993-95 and is now painted bright red. These small ones weigh 9,1 tons, they are 5,24 m long and they can pull a couple of coaches at speeds up to 45 km/h with their tiny diesel engines.
Photo on 15.10.2001 from Bern-Weissenbühl station by Ilkka Siissalo.


Closeup of the Tm alias Tm 235 (according to a new numbering scheme) of the BLS, in the original state of the sixties, having undergone no revision. In Switzerland it is the habit that almost every station, no matter how small, had at least one small locomotive or "rail tractor" - as the smallest are usually called - always present, just in case. They are rarely used and even when they are, it is just a matter of moving or switching a wagon or two. The state railroad SBB usually has a bit bigger electric locomotives for this purpose, whereas private companies such as the BLS have settled for something as small as one can get. Very few other countries can afford keeping tens of locomotives on every station just standing still, for just-in-case. And even in Switzerland the numbers of these small helper locomotives are now rapidly falling.
Photo on 15.10.2001 from Bern-Weissenbühl station by Ilkka Siissalo.

The former RM Regionalverkehr Mittelland


RM or Regionalverkehr Mittelland was a private company that took care of both local passenger and cargo traffic east and north of the city of Bern. RM operated on normal gauge 15 kV 16,7 Hz electricity just like the federal railways and the networks of RM and the federal SBB partly overlapped. RM used to have around 1999-2001 16 electric and 2 steam locomotives, around 30 rail tractors and numerous EMUs. RM used to be one of the largest private rail companies in Switzerland. It had its headquarters in Burgdorf. RM itself was the fusion product of altogether nine former rail companies: Emmentalbahn EB, Burgdorf-Thun-Bahn BTB, Langenthal-Huttwil-Bahn LHB, Huttwil-Wolhusen-Bahn HWB, Ramsei-Sumiswald-Huttwil-Bahn RSHB, Solothurn-Münster-Bahn SMB, Huttwil-Eriswil-Bahn HEB, Emmental-Burgdorf-Thun-Bahn EBT and Vereinigte Huttwil-Bahnen VHB. As a company RM was established 1.1.1997 and dissolved by fusion into the BLS group in 2006.

This train was one of RM's so called NPZ or Neue Pendelzug trains, new pendeling train of the class RBDe 566, formerly EBT's RBDe 4/4 II. In front in the picture is the motorless steering cab coach Abt 929 of the train. These trains were built first in 1973-74 and more similar ones in 1984-85. Compare with the picture of a similar one in BLS' blue and creme livery higher up on this same page.
This picture is from Langenthal 15.10.2001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The other end of the same train as above. RM's NPZ trains consisted of two coaches, one motorised and one unmotorised steerig cab coach. This one was the motorised wagon, RBDe 566 II no.229 from the year 1984.
This picture is from Langenthal 15.10.2001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This train is Regionalverkehr Mittelland's RBDe 566 I, a train which can be seen as kind of an early prototype of the later so calld NPZ (Neue Pendelzug) trains. This train RM and later the BLS group inherited from the train company EBT, Emmental- Burgdorf-Thun-Bahn, which was fusioned into RM in the beginning of 1997. Here we see it on the Burgdorf to Solothurn service as it has just arrived at Burgdorf. RM had eight of these trains which were delivered to EBT in 1973-74. In the year 2020 as this text is being written, BLS is just now in the process of taking these trains out of use and scrapping them. Today they wear BLS' green and grey livery.
Picture from Burgdorf 20.102001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This motorwagon was of the type BDe 576. They were older trains than the NPZ model shown above. These trains were used by both EBT and VHB before they merged into RM. There were initially three of these motorwagons and they were from the year 1966. One was later sold to OeBB Oensingen-Balsthal-Bahn, one to SOB Südostbahn and the last one in 2005 to the Club del San Gottardo, which is a club that restores and saves historic trains.
Picture from Burgdorf 14.10.2001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This train was old already at the time when this picture was taken. It was the De 586 no.267 (formerly De 4/4). These motorwagons were built originally in 1932-33 and they used to have all wooden chassises. They were thoroughly rebuilt in 1980-81 and they got by then the metal chassis that we can see. At the time when this photo was taken, this oldie was no longer used in regular traffic, but just kept as a reserve, should some of the more modern EMU trains fail for some reason. Originally there were four of these motorwagons, all with wooden chassises.
Picture of RM De 586 no.267 from Burgdorf 14.10.2001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


A similar oldie, this is the De 586 no.235. Originally with a wooden chassis, but here rebuilt and redesigned in the style of the 1980s.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


RM's electric locomotive Re 436 no.115 was a former SBB Re 4/4 II from the sixties. After the company RM was dissolved, the machine ended up at Crossrail and after Crossrail suspended all its operations, the machine went on to another private operator. It has been in many different colours, but this colouring was maybe the prettiest of them all.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This very small electric shunter locomotive was classed as an "electric tractor" as class Te 216 I. It came to Regionalverkehr Mittelland originally from the company VHB, Vereinigte Huttwil-Bahnen (united railroads of Huttwil) which then was fusioned into EBT Emmental-Burgdorf-Thun-Bahn, which was later fusioned with RM and then finally with BLS Group. The small locomotive is presumably from the year 1944. Since 2006 it has now been with the association VDBB, Verein Dampfbahn Bern (association steam locomotive Bern).
Picture from Burgdorf 20.10.2001 by Ilkka Siissalo.


This small Henschel diesel locomotive Tm 236 no.340 was used by RM to move wagons at their depot.
Picture from Zell 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The same Henschel diesel seen from the other direction.
Picture from Zell 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


A historic old electric locomotive of RM, the Be 4/4 no.171 (later Be 416 no.171). It is a former machine of the company SMB. It's from the year 1932. It was later in the year 2000 sold to a private person.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The same old Be 4/4 no.171 as above, here seen from its side.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Still the same old Be 4/4 no.171 as above.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


And still the same old Be 4/4 no.171 as above.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


An old coach, so called Seetalwagen of the former EBT, which later became part of RM and still later BLS.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


Two more old Seetalwagen coaches. These were used in 2002 in touristic nostalgic trains especially with the steam locomotives of RM.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


These were the two steam locomotives which RM owned in 2002. The small locomotive in the front is Ed 34 no.11 from 1908. The one behind is an old German locomotive of the German class Br 64.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.


The same two steam locomotives seen from the other side.
Picture from Huttwil 1.9.2002 by Ilkka Siissalo.
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