The 1970s were a time of great change on the Swiss railways, with the building blocks being positioned for their modernisation into a system fit for the 21st century. In common with most other railways in Western Europe, they had lost market share through the 1960s with the growth of popularity of the private car, and were now fighting to regain it.
In an attempt to make rail more competitive for passenger transport, significant changes were planned in terms of service provision. The entire country’s timetable was recast as Samuel Stähli’s “Taktfahrplan”, a clockface schedule centred on Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof, which was developed in the late 1970s, came into force in 1982 and which later formed a cornerstone of the “Bahn 2000” project. Speeds were also planned to be raised up to 200km/h, facilitated by the project which grew into the “Lok 2000” (which eventually manifested as the Re460s which appeared on the scene from early 1992).
In advance of that, however, new technology required to be tested prior to the ordering of such new high-speed locomotives, which were to represent a real step-change in Swiss motive power. This was done in the form of four prototype machines – classified Re4/4 IV and numbered 10101 to 10104 – which were built by SLM at Winterthur and which entered service with SBB for rigorous on-the-job testing between August and October 1982.
Based to some extent on the similarly experimental RABDe8/16 “Chiquita” EMUs dating from 1974, these lightweight but powerful (6,650hp) locos were rated for 160km/h and were all painted in different variations of SBB livery, later replaced by a standard colour scheme in 1986. However, problems with the locos in the form of teething troubles, combined with technological developments in the wider industry in the 1980s, led to the eventual decision that the “Lok 2000” project would require much further work on from these prototypes before a production locomotive design was finalised. However, elements of the basic design did find their way into class Re450 and Re456 that followed in the late 1980s.
The locomotives continued in service with SBB, generally in the Rhône valley, and testing did continue – one of the locos clocked up a record speed of 192km/h (119mph) – and in 1992 they were allocated the UIC class code of Re440 and the numbers 440 000 to 440 003. However, they remained a small non-standard class within a big fleet.
In 1994, SBB – an operation by then seeing a future, outside of Zürich at least, based around Re4/4 II and III, Re460, Ae6/6 and Re6/6 – took the opportunity to engineer a convenient exchange of these four non-standard machines with the four Re4/4 III locomotives of the Schweizerische Südostbahn (SOB), 41 to 44, the latter three of which had been SBB machines until the early 1980s anyway. With the SOB, the prototypes were overhauled and reclassified as Re446 and renumbered 446 445 to 446 448 – later amended to 446 015 to 446 018 in 2001.
446 016 – the former SBB 10102 – in a special Voralpen Express livery is seen at Luzern Verkehrshaus, 29/10/18 (JW)
The SOB put the locos to use on the “Voralpen Express”, the two-hourly service between Romanshorn, St Gallen and Luzern, later increased in frequency to hourly. The service on this scenic route is now marketed as a tourist attraction in its own right (see Trip Advisor here!) and had been operated under the brand name since 1992.
Current Passenger Work
Nearly a quarter of a century later, the four Re446s remain on these duties (now operating only over the St Gallen to Luzern section), shared with the SOB’s six Re456 locos and also with four RBDe561 EMU motor vehicles.
Five sets of stock are in use on the “Voralpen Express” on a standard day, and run in top-and-tail formation – generally sets are arranged loco/loco or EMU/EMU, although on my most recent visit in October 2018, 446 016 was mated with EMU motor vehicle 561 082.