Zürich Central & Polybahn - Day 1

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Zürich

Mention Zürich and the first impression of the city that comes to the minds of many are streets lined with private Swiss banking institutions which had gained a reputation for their code of secrecy that they offer to their well heeled clients. While one is more likely to see a row of shops with a decidedly premium mix of boutiques and fine dining restaurants instead, the financial capital is still commonly referred to in jest by both residents and visitors as “Zu Reich” (too rich).

The geography surrounding the city meant that one is heavily dependent on luck to chance upon clear and sunny weather during one's visit to Zürich as it rains often in summer while fog and snow are rather common events during the winter season. Nonetheless, the city has much to offer visitors where one can unwind on a leisurely cruise down the River Limmat in the evening after a day's hike along well marked trails in Uetliberg, or simply wander along the tree lined streets and conjure up thoughts of having a fair amount of assets stashed in one of the city's numerous financial institutions.

Moreover, the excellent Swiss Transport System puts the famed Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen within an hour's train ride from the historic Hauptbahnhof located in the city centre, and transport enthusiasts would certainly be impressed with the excellent spotting locations available at Zürich-Kloten Airport (which is one of the most centrally located airports in Europe), or spend an hour or two admiring the collection of old trams at the Tram Museum in Burgweis.

The map belows show an overview of the places that we had visited in Zürich. (Map courtesy of Google Maps).
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Hotel Marta

Nested in between hip art establishments and clubs along Zähringerstrasse, Hotel Marta is a newly renovated hotel which is conveniently located in the city's Central district and is only a tram stop away or a leisurely 10mins walk from the Zürich Hauptbahhof. We decided to pay slightly more for this centrally located hotel instead of a youth hostel in a south-western suburb based on online reviews and careful consideration of the typical accomodation costs in this pricey city. The lobby is tastefully furnished with a modernistic touch and we were soon handed our respective room keys by the friendly receptionist.

The amenities were found to be well maintained and clean, but the economy room turned out to be rather crammed with the double bed being slightly narrow to sleep two people comfortably. Moreover, there was no air-condition in the room (which was to be the case for all our other accommodation in Switzerland), and ventilation was achieved by the hopper windows. While it was reasonably cool during our stay, we were unable to shut the windows completely to keep out noise from a nearby pub.

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Fraumünster /Grossmünster Churches

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We began our sightseeing by visiting the Fraumünster and Grossmünster Churches which are easily accessed with a short tram ride along the banks of the River Limmat from our hotel . 3029, a Be 5/6 "Cobra" tram was photographed at Helmhaus in front of the Grossmünster Church.
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The Fraumünster abbey (which means [Our] Lady Minster in English), was founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. One of the prominent features of the abbey is the distinctive clock tower, as well as the five large stained glass windows which were designed by artist Marc Chagall. Each of the stained glass windows depicts a famous Christian story and were installed in 1970.
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Interior view of the Fraumünster abbey showing the elegant Gothic and Romanesque design of the abbey. We discovered that there were no access to the clock tower and were directed by the information counter to the Grossmünster Church which lies across the River Limmat.
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A Classic Trolley sightseeing bus operated by Gray Line outside the Fraumünster abbey. In addition, we were also able to obtain a number of photos of other coaches which were dropping off their passengers at the Münsterplatz besides the abbey.
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According to legend, the Grossmünster was founded by Charlemagne, whose horse fell to its knees over the tombs of Felix and Regula, Zürich's patron saints. A Carolingian church was reportedly commissioned at the site by Charlemagne, and upon which the present structure was constructed in 1100. The twin towers of the chruch allow visitors to have an expansive view of the city for a fee, but there was unfortunately a service at the time of our visit. In addition, it would certainly not be a wise choice to head up the towers with the church bells pealing within them!
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Central

We proceeded back to Central to camp for photos of the numerous trams and trolleybuses which ply along the busy Bahnhofbrücke (Railway Station Bridge). The depressing overcast conditions were mitigated by the fact that we were able to station ourselves on the opposite side of the bridge to obtain photos of trams against a nicer background.
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2113 on service 7. This particular Tram 2000 series tram was used as a prototype in 2001 when an additional low floor section was inserted in between the 2 carriages to extend the coverage of low floor tram services in the city. As a result of this modification, the trams are redesignated as Be 4/8 instead of Be 4/6
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A Mercedes Benz O405GTZ trolleybus on service 46 laying over at Bahnhofquai stop near the Haupthbahnhof. The 'Z' in the prefix indicates that this model was customised for Zürich.
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Fleet number 3088 Be 5/6 "Cobra" departing Central towards Hauptbahnhof. Almost all trams and buses operated by or on behalf of VBZ (Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich) adorn the simple white and blue livery. The Pininfarina styled low floor trams had a difficult entry into service, with severe noise and vibration issues besetting the prototypes which had earned them the unfortunate nickname of 'rattlesnake' by the local media.
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Framed against a backdrop of contemporary European stone buildings, a pair of Be 5/6 "Cobra" trams awaited their turn to cross into Bahnhofquai from Bahnhofplatz.
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A key feature of the Swiss Transport System is the seamless integration of all modes of transport. This includes buses, trams, trolleybuses, funicular railways as well as river boats. ZSG operates a ferry service along the River Limmat which also doubles as an excellent river cruise for visitors. The best part? It is included in the ticket price for holders of the Swiss Card or Swiss Pass and some of the day/hour passes.
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UBS Polybahn and ETH Zürich

We moved on to take a ride on the UBS Polybahn from Central to the main building of ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule or Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Apart from the renowned ETH Zürich campus, the funicular also serves the neighbouring UZH (Universität Zürich or University of Zürich). It was with the interest of improving the accessibility to these 2 tertiary institutions that the city authorities had provided a concession to Zürichbergbahn (Zürich Mountain Railway) to build and operate this line in 1886. Completed in 1889, it had since been informally referred to as the Polybahn, after the old name of ETH Zürich (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum or Swiss Federal Polytechnic).

As the 176m long funicular serves the needs of the campus, it has limited operations on Saturday and do not operate on Sundays. The entrance to the lower station at Central is seemlessly integrated with the building facade.
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The funicular railway faced heavy losses and it was only with UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) stepping in to take over the operations in 1976 that the railway was saved from closure. The railway underwent several modifications and refurbishment, with a rebuilt in 1996 which saw the century old track and cars being replaced along with the automation of the line. Today, the UBS Polybahn had evolved over and beyond its original purpose of ferrying students and faculty. The classic scene of the bright red Polybahn railcars crossing over Seilengraben had been replicated in many postcards as the funicular had since grown into an icon of Zürich.
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The railcars used on the funicular have an open balcony section at one end of the car to allow passengers to enjoy an unobstructed view of the journey and for ease of photography.
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The short ascent whisk visitors to the upper station in about 100 seconds and negotiates an altitude difference of 41m.
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Located just besides the upper station in front of the main building of ETH, visitors are offered a magnificent view of downtown Zürich against Uetliberg in the background.
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Although our prior research had indicated that the campus canteens are closed at the time of our visit, we decided to explore the campus to try our luck.

The grandoise entrance to UZH Palaeontology and Zoology Museum.
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2109 Be 4/8 "Tram 2000" on svc 6 along Rämistrasse which runs parallel to the ETH Main Building. Tram service 6 which plies between the Zoo and Bahnhof Enge is considered to be one of the more scenic routes as it involves exceptionally steep slopes and tight bends.
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We eventually decided to return to the Hauptbahnhof for lunch on a VBG Cobra tram. This company sports a slightly different livery from VBZ and service 10 provides an alternate tram connection between the city centre and Zürich-Kloten Airport.

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The Be 5/6 "Cobra" tram represents the latest low floor trams in VBZ's fleet, and the unique construction of the tram where certain segments are 'floating' (i.e. pivoted rather than equipped with drive axles) allow for a spacious and clutter free interior.
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Bahnhofstrasse

Extending southwards from the Hauptbahhof, Bahnhofstrasse (Railway Street) had been converted into a partial pedestrian street where trams are the only vehicles allowed. Flanked by both sides with numerous high-end fashion boutiques and restaurants yet not overly oppressive, it was truly one of my favourite places in Zürich. Be 5/6 "Cobra" tram was photographed working route 13 as it turned into Bahnhofstrasse with Zürich-Hauptbahhof in the background.
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Fleet number 2111, a Be 4/8 "Tram 2000" picking up passengers along Bahnhofstrasse. The leafy shaded sidewalks make for a very pleasant stroll along the street.
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We decided to opt for a takeaway meal at Kauffmann, and initially had difficulties ordering due to the language barrier and concern over the final cost of the meal as the items were priced by weight. Such butcher shops are a popular choice in Germany and Switzerland where the high cost of living meant that eating out is a pricey affair, but such shops offer the convenience of prepared food at an affordable price. We each ended up with macaroni with schnitzel or chicken leg with a sidedish of potato balls or steamed baby carrots with peas at a total cost of about CHF17-19. The servings however, were huge and of very decent quality which we hungrily tucked in while people watching from a bench along Bahnhofstrasse.
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The reappearance of a vintage tram that was operating a special lunch and sightseeing service prompted us to temporarily abandon our meal and tested our reflexes at getting a photo as we had previously only managed to obtain a rear shot of the tram while camping at Central earlier in the day. The vintage tram is operated by VBZ on a 2 hour long "Discover Zürich" tram tour which operates on every alternate Saturday. It costs CHF 29 per adult and reservations are recommended. The vintage tram #1330 is a Ce 4/4 "Elephant" built by SWS and MFO in 1930.

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Kreuzplatz

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After lunch, we headed southeast on our first ride on a HESS BGGT-N2C “lighTram3” bi-articulated trolleybus. It proved to be a very interesting experience as it was the first time for many of us to ride on a bi-articulated bus, and we were suitably impressed with the ability of the bus to negotiate the sharp hair-pin turn just before the Central bus stop. In addition, the fully low floor cabin was quiet and smooth at the rear trailer with the electrical traction motors located in the centre section of the bus.

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The lighTram3 is manufactured by Carrosserie Hess, which is a Swiss bus, trolleybus and commercial vehicle manufacturer based in Bellach (near Solothurn). Spanning an impressive length of 24.7m and licensed to carry 192 passengers (or only 128 passengers in comfort from VBZ's definition), the lighTram3 is the third and latest variant of the HESS lighTram family. The first prototype was developed in 2003 when a third section was added to an existing SwissTrolley 1 which was operated by Transports Publics Genevois in Geneva. Following the successful trial of the prototype which continued to be in active revenue service today, the lighTram 2 was developed with the addition of a low floor trailer to an existing NAW / HESS / ABB car 155 (type BGT 5-25, built in 1991) that was operated by the traffic authority of St Gallen.

With the exception of the older vehicles in the fleet such as the Mercedes Benz O405GTZ, the majority of the trams and buses in VBZ's fleet are fitted with a LCD screen at the front of the vehicle which serves as a next stop announcement system and also displays the estimated arrival time for other connecting services at selected stops. The seamless integration of the various transport modes and services is just one of the many hallmarks which help affirm the Swiss Transport System as a truly world class public transport system.
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The main highlight of Kreuzplatz is the service S18 operated by Forchbahn, or FB. Although it is officially recognised as a narrow gauge light rail in the S-bahn network, the service shares tracks in the centre of the roads with the VBZ urban trams between Zürich Stadelhofen station and Rehalp , and only operates on dedicated tracks like a S-bahn or typical railway in the suburban areas.

In addition, the cars are double-ended for turnaround at the suburban terminals, and have doors on both sides to cater for side platforms in the urban area and island platforms at suburban stations. A Stadler Be 4/6 was photographed approaching Kreuzplatz stop towards Stadelhofen.

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Hegibachplatz

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Moving on towards our next destination at Tiefenbrunnen, we transit through Hegibachplatz which is also the terminating stop for the service 31 bi-articulated trolleybus service. In addition, Forchbahn svc S18 also serves this stop and we were able to obtain a photo of the older Be 4/4 "Tram 2000" stock which is very similar to the examples operated by VBZ. However, they are appreciably wider than their VBZ counterparts and automatically switch from 1200V to 600V when entering the urban system at Rehalp towards Stadelhofen.

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Tiefenbrunnen

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A ride on the Mercedes Benz O405GTZ was one of our main joyride targets in Zürich as we were keen to experience the difference between an electrically powered version and the diesel version which we were intimately familiar with back home. The bus initially sounded like a hybrid bus in electrical drive mode when moving off from rest before progressing to resemble a diesel O405G with a stuck gearbox but without the accompanying revving of the engine that usually occurs in such circumstances. It was also interesting to hear hub reduction associated with an electric motor instead of a diesel engine.

Fleet No. 114 is one of the several Mercedes Benz O405GTZ trolley buses which had been allocated to service 33. It was photographed approaching Tiefenbrunnen station where it would make a brief layover before heading back to Morgental.
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Interior of the Mercedes Benz O405GTZ with the dated cream and brown panelling.
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Situated on the eastern bank of Lake Zürich, Tiefenbrunnen is the southernmost district of Zürich and the train station lies on the boundary of Fare Zone 10 for the city centre. In addition, Tiefenbrunnen also serves as a hub for bus services to the neighbouring district of Meilen.

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3 of the 9 services operated by AZZK call at Tiefenbrunnen and unlike other contracted operators which had adopted the standard white and blue VBZ livery, AZZK buses had retained the company's unique brown livery. Fleet no. 54, a standard Citaro 12m with v2 bodywork, was photographed at Tiefenbrunnen in Zurich working on svc 916 by AZZK on behalf of VBZ.
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Double-deck trains form the backbone of the S-bahn network in Zürich as they are able to offer significantly more carrying capacity on the heavily utilised lines. The 'DPZ' stock consists of a Re450 four axle electric locomotive coupled to 3 double deck passenger carriages. Manufactured by SLM (Schweizerische Lokomotiv- und Maschinenfabrik or Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works), the DPZ stock forms the largest part of the S-bahn fleet.
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The RABe 514 is a four-car double deck electric multiple unit (EMU) which was manufactured by Siemens in partnership with Stadler Rail, with the first of the 61 units being introduced into revenue service in 2006. Considered as part of the Siemens Desiro Double-deck family, they are also referred to as 'DTZ' stock after the German word Doppelstocktriebzug (Double deck multiple unit).
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