Like a mountain goat...the Brienz Rothorn Bahn

Part of my Swiss rail experience was a trip on the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn. This cog railway winds it way from the little village of Brienz on the east end of Lake Brienz to the summit station at Rothorn Kulm. In a bit over 4 and a half miles the railroad manages to climb 5500 feet to the summit station. The track gauge is 2 feet 7 1/2 inches with the Abt rack system. The gradient is at 25 %. This is apparently the only non-electrified railway in Switzerland. The main power are steam engines with an 0-4-2 wheel arrangement, though the company does have a few diesel locomotives. 

The route of the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn

The line was opened in 1892 after a two year construction period. It quickly ran into financial difficulties and was shut down in 1914. Reopened in 1931 it has been doing fine, mainly due to the attraction of steam haulage. 

A memorial plaque at the summit station depicting the builder and engineer on the right. The guy who paid for it all is on the left.

The village of Brienz is on the lake of the same name and easily accessed from Interlaken via the Zentralbahn's new electric multiple unit trains. 

A Zentralbahn EMU waiting at Interlaken Ost station. 

The Rothorn Bahn Brienz Station is just across the street from the Zentralbahn Station. Of course this being Switzerland, the timetables of both railroads are coordinated. 

The Zentralbahn Station at Brienz

The Brienz Rothorn Bahn base station.

We begin our adventure with a tour of the railroad workshops. The Brienz Rothorn Bahn has some steam locomotives dating from the 1930s. Those are coal fired and those are by their very nature labor and maintenance intensive. In the early 1990's the railway started to aquire brand new steam locomotives from SML (Schweizerische Lokomotiv & Maschinenfabrik, Winterthur). These had been developed by SML to achieve very high effiency quotients, were fired with oil and could be operated by one person.

Steam locomotive number 5 in the workshop for an overhaul. Coal fired number 5 was one of the original locomotives built in 1933 by SML.  

A diesel locomotive in the shop for some attention. This unit was built in 1975 by Steck and MTU and has a diesel-hydraulic transmission. 

At most the trains have two coaches. Those are always coupled to the motive power on the uphill side and are semi-permanently attached to the locomotives.

Detail of the semi-permanent coupling. Below a train ready for departure from the Brienz station.

The train winds it way up the mountain and since this is a single track railway, there are a few passing loops were we meet trains returning from the summit on their way back down to Brienz. 

About half way up the mountain we take on water for the steam locomotive:


We finally pass the treeline and are rewarded with some spectacular views of Lake Brienz and the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately that view is a bit marred by power lines coming up from the valley.

About an hour and a half after setting out, we reach the summit at Rothorn Kulm.

From the top of the mountain one can see more trains chugging up the mountain. It is July and high season, so not surprisingly, as they say, the trains are coming fast and furious. Well, maybe furious, but certainly not fast!


After a hearty lunch at the summit restaurant we make our way back down to Brienz.


From Brienz our motly crew transfers to a paddle steamer for the trip back to Interlaken. The Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon Railway Company operates a couple of steam powered ships on Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. We take the steamer "Lötschberg" back to Interlaken taking full advantage of the ship's fine bar.

The "Lötschberg". Photo from Wikipedia CommonsWe pass by the quaint little town of Niederied: 

About three hours later we arrive back at Interlaken Ost. Not a bad day at all.


Here is a short video of the trip:


Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Ralf Meier using a Sony alpha 7 II camera.