Luzern, a lakeside city in central Switzerland, is an excellent destination for a family holiday.
It is easily accessible from all parts of the country – and, indeed, would be an excellent base to explore it from. You can reach Luzern by train from Zürich airport in just an hour, with the added bonus for fans of loco haulage in that these are powered by class 460 electrics as opposed to multiple units. Indeed, there is quite a lot of loco haulage to be experienced in the Luzern region, as well as the Swiss Transport Museum.
The Kapellbrücke, Luzern’s most instantly recognisable tourist attraction, situated just two minutes’ walk from the railway station (JW)
Luzern station is particularly interesting. Having burnt down in 1971 (the former portal entrance to the station now stands alone on the station forecourt) the station was rebuilt in 1990 to a design by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava (some of his other work will be famous to many of us as he also designed the stations at Liège-Guillemins and Zürich Stadelhofen). It’s a 14-platform terminus beneath an overall roof; some of the platforms are standard gauge and some – those on the Zentralbahn network – are metre-gauge.
The Zentralbahn network comprises of the routes from Luzern to Interlaken – the very steeply-graded mountain “Brünigbahn” route – and the branch from Luzern to Engelberg. At the time of writing, the latter is the last bastion of narrow gauge loco haulage in this area (although some vice turns have been reported on a very occasional basis on the Brünigbahn).
Luzern to Engelberg
The 20.8-mile-long branch from Luzern to Engelberg enjoys a fully loco-hauled service, with trains in the hands of HGe4/4 II electric locos working in push-pull configuration.
101 966 awaits departure from Luzern, 31/10/18 (JW)
There are eight of these locos (101 961 to 101 968) in the fleet, but they are not intensively used, with the hourly service on the Engelberg route being managed by two locos.
The route is very scenic, following as it does the Engelberger Aa river valley as it climbs into the mountains. The final section of the route, from Grafenort is rack-assisted. Until very recently this was via a particularly scenic section of line, but one that was susceptible to flooding. A 2.5-mile-long tunnel (incorporating the rack section) was opened in December 2010, bypassing this. The original route surprisingly is very difficult to trace now, having returned to nature. The cut-off has sadly resulted in the loss of the scenic views – a proposal to retain the original route on a heritage basis came to nothing – but it has slashed journey times and the service is far more reliable as a result of it.
101 962 sits on the blocks at Engelberg, 31/10/18 (JW)
In order to travel behind both HGe4/4 IIs, it is possible to travel out from Luzern behind one of them at xx:10 as far as the first stop at Stans (arrive xx:23), swapping over to the inbound working with the other (depart xx:34, arrive Luzern xx:49).
Alternatively, you could travel throughout on one loco, arriving at Engelberg at xx:53. Return departures are at xx:02, so with 69 minutes to explore the ski resort, you could then take the other machine back to Luzern.
Do not panic if you walk along the blocks at Luzern to be greeted by what you think is a selection of sliding-doors plastic EMUs! The locos run with mixed sets of stock, the last three are “Gelenksteuerwagen” – very modern Stadler-built vehicles which provide low-floor access.