Sunday, 27 November 2011

Zürich Uetliberg - Day 3

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The Silhtal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn (SZU)

Silhtal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn (SZU) was formed through the merger of the Zürich-Uetlibergbahn (now S10) and the Zürich-Silhtalbahn (now S4) in 1973. In addition to these two flagship lines which exist as S-bahn services within the Zürich S-bahn network, the company also operates the Felseneggbahn cable car, or LAF (Luftseilbahn Adliswil-Felsenegg) which connects Felsenegg mountain with Adliswil town in the Sihl valley. In addition, SZU also operates the Zimmerberg bus line in the district of Horgen with a mix of MAN and Volvo buses.

SZU operates from Platform 1 & 2 at Zürich Hauptbahnhof which was originally built as U-bahn station. However, the eventual scrapping of the U-bahn project led to the platform being disused until 1990 when the Uetlibergbahn and Shilhtalbahn were extended to the station to integrate with other services to form the Zürich S-bahn network. As a result of operational constraints, the two lines remain independent of each other with each platform handling trains of the same service in both directions although provisions had been made for the trains to use either platform. The 'eye' symbol on the station sign indicates that the train service is a 'self-check' zone where passengers are expected to buy and validate their ticket before boarding the trains as no tickets would be sold onboard. An abuse of this trust system would most certainly entail a hefty fine (CHF 80) by the friendly yet professional ticket inspectors if passengers are caught without a valid ticket during the journey.
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S-Bahn S4 / Silhtalbahn is operated with a varied fleet of electric locomotives hauling a mix rack of double deck carriages and single deck carriages due to the higher passenger demand along this line. Re 456 542 was photographed at its platform at Zürich Hauptbahnhof and was built by SLM in 1993. The Re 456 locomotives were purpose built for Switzerland's private railways and were also referred to as 'KTU-Lok', where KTU stands for Licensed Transport Operators (Konzessionierte Transport-Unternehmungen), a term that was once commonly used to describe the private operators (i.e. non SBB-CFF-FFS).
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Uetlibergbahn commenced operations in 1875 and was initially owned by a private company of the same name. but the railway was not profitable. The City of Zürich took over the company as a major stakeholder in 1922 to form the Zürich-Uetlibergbahn. Electrification of the line followed shortly in 1923 with 1200V DC.

A Be4/4 556 awaiting its next trip at Zürich Hauptbahnhof. Built by Siemens/SLM and introduced into service in 1992, the Uetlibergbahn is currently operated by these powerful EMUs that comprise of two double ended railcars with an additional low floor carriage in the middle of the train rack. The S10 / Uetlibergbahn operates the full route to Uetliberg every 20mins on weekends and public holidays while only 1 in 3 trains continue on to Uetliberg on weekdays although the line operates with a headway of 10mins.
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Interior of a double ended railcar showing the high floor configuration due to a need to house the bulky traction motors and electrical equipment. The dull maroon interior is reminiscent of the early 1990s when such contemporary decor was in fashion!
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Interior of the low floor carriage which allows wheelchair-bound passengers to be able to enjoy the ride up to Uetliberg as well.
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With a maximum gradient of 7.9% along the line, the Uetlibergbahn holds the record for being the steepest standard gauge adhesion railway in Europe. This means that no cogwheels or racks are used to cope with the steep gradient along the railway.
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Selnau station. This new underground station under the bed of the River Sihl replaced the former terminus at Selnau when the Silhtal Line and Uetliberg Line were extended to Zürich Hauptbahnhof in 1990 to coincide with the launch of the Zürich S-bahn network. The lines were renamed as S4 and S10 respectively and SZU also took the opportunity to use their historic names of Silhtalbahn and Uetlibergbahn for branding purposes.
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Shortly after leaving the underground station, the train ran at-grade and made a gentle ascent to the base of Uetliberg at Triemli which also functioned as a transfer stop to other citybus routes. Following which, there was a noticeable increase in the grade of the line as the train wound through numerous ungated level crossings with hiking paths on the hills. Moreover, there were distinctive sharp hissing sounds which might be due to sanding equipment dropping sand on the tracks to increase the available traction on a wet morning.

Uetliberg station building. The station building is the jumping off point for several well marked mountain hiking trails and houses a large station cafe to cater to weary hikers and the weekend crowd.
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Uetliberg station lies at an elevation of 814m above sea level. Visitors can continue on to access the summit of the mountain at an elevation of 869m for panaromic views of city and Lake Zürich by following well signposted paths.
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Be556 522 laying over at Uetliberg station before commencing on the return trip to Zürich Hauptbahnhof. It only takes 20 mins to traverse the entire length of the 10.2km long Uetlibergbahn.
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A small fleet of Volvo sedans are parked near the station building to ferry guests to the luxury Uto Kulm Hotel which is situated at the summit of the mountain.
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Uetliberg - Planetenweg

The Planetenweg, or Planetary Trail, is a 1:1 million scale reproduction of the relative distance of the planets from the sun in the solar system in Uetliberg. Several travel guides recommend a half-day trip which entails a S10 ride to Uetliberg (starting point of the trail) to begin the largely downhill hike to Felsenegg, where one would be able to catch a ride on the Luftseilbahn Adliswil-Felsenegg (LAF) cable car to Adliswil. This would be followed with a short ride on the S4 S-bahn service back to the city centre.

The starting point of the planetary trail - the 'Sun'.
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Due to time constraints and the reluctance to hike too far, we only planned to walk to “Earth” instead of the entire trail to reach “Pluto” where the LAF cable car station is located. However, the walk took far shorter than expected and we had nearly missed an inconspicuous stone sculpture located at the side of the path which unceremoniously represented 'Erde' or 'Earth' and her moon with two metal studs.
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View from a lookout point located near the location of the 'Earth' along the Planetary trail. However, the view was less than impressive as it was facing away from the city and we decided to walk uphill along a track leading to the TV tower and the Uto Kulm Hotel for a better vantage point.
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Whimsical lamp posts with the individual lamps ingeniously mounted on top of the deer 'antlers' line the access road to the TV Tower and the Uto Kulm Hotel.
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View of Zürich city centre from a picnic ground located next to the TV Tower. Despite the cloudy conditions, it was still possible to identity the prominent spires of the Fraumünster and Grossmünster churches in the old city quarter. The difference in elevation between the summit of Uetliberg and the city centre is approximately 450m.
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The Zürichsee located to the south of the city and the residential estates bordering the lake.
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We decided not to continue the walk to the official viewing platform located besides the Uto Kulm Hotel for a better and less obscured vantage point as we were unsure of how long it would take us to reach the platform. Moreover, we decided to return to the station and obtain more photos of the unique Uetlibergbahn train.

A S10 Be556 EMU at Uetliberg showing the unusual off-centre location of the pantograph to good effect. However, SZU's S4 trains have the pantograph placed at the centre of the train instead. This novel arrangement allows both S4 (15,000V AC) and S10 (1200V DC) trains to share tracks with each respective train collecting the correct current from the corresponding overhead cables. The new Be510 Stadler EMUs which are expected to be introduced into service from 2013 would be equipped with movable pantographs and dual voltage operation.
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The initial part of the downhill ride was quieter due to greater reliance on the brakes than the traction motor. After reaching Zürich HB, we made a quick trip to the hotel to pick up our luggage and returned to the station to catch the train to Lucerne.

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InterRegio IR2327 to Luzern on the IC2000

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Trains are the main form of travel between cities and regions in Switzerland, and it is easy to see why with well published timetables, high frequencies and comfortable carriages that allow passengers to reach the city and town centres with ease and haste. Moreover, SBB-CFF-FFS maintains a user-friendly and useful website which allows passengers to plan and book their journeys in advance and one even has the option to create a personalised timetable in pdf format for easy reference!

However, rail travel in Switzerland is reflective of the high cost of living in the country and fares are expensive, with the 69km journey between Zürich and Luzern costing upwards of CHF22 for a single trip in second class and CHF36.40 in first class. A more economical option is to purchase a Swiss Pass / Swiss Card which is of incredible value for money as it also includes substantial discounts to museums and travel on private railways. In addition, it would certainly spare one of the hassle to purchase tickets and reservations for most of the routes and thereafter remembering to validate the ticket before boarding!

A Swiss Youthpass ticket for youths 25 years of age and below. In addition, the SwissSaver Pass also offers substantial discount over the regular SwissPass where at least two names are listed in the same pass. The SwissPass must be validated with a stamp in the indicated box at a SBB-CFF-FFS ticket counter before use.
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Zürich Hauptbanhof concourse. A large destination board in the concourse areas allows passengers to easily locate the platform that their trains would be departing from. It is definitely adviseable to cater additional time before the scheduled departure time as the station concourse can be huge and trains are the epitome of legendary Swiss precision with 'scarily' punctual departures and arrivals.
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SBB-CFF-FFS operates frequent half-hourly connections on the trunk line between Zürich Hauptbanhof and Luzern via Zug, with the bulk of the trips being operated with IC2000 double deck carriages. The IC 2000 came about from the initiative to increase capacity and renew rolling stock as part of the Bahn 2000 large-scale project to improve the quality of the Swiss railway network. A total of 341 carriages were delivered by the Bombardier-Alstom consortium between 1997 and 2004 over five batches, making the IC 2000 the first double-deck inter-city train to be used on a nationwide scale in Europe.
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Upper deck 2nd class interior of the IC2000 carriage with 2-2 seating. These carriages are similar to the ones operated on the Zürich S-bahn services, except that the connecting gangway is on the upper deck instead of the mezzanine level to facilitate the movement of the snacks trolley during the journey. In addition, there are also seats arranged in a semi-circular fashion around a small table for groups at either end of the carriages.
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Shortly after leaving Zürich, the train passes through the southern lakeside suburbs of the city towards Thalwil. A seperate parallel track to the intercity tracks is used by the Zürich S-bahn trains.
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Suburban farmlands offer a welcome break from the densely built up urban areas in the major cities and towns. The 69km long journey between Zürich and Luzern takes approximately 45-50mins to complete.
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Luzern Hauptbahnhof platform. The majority of large train stations in Switzerland (Hauptbahnhof, also often branded as RailCity by SBB-CFF-FFS) have end-on platforms for the intercity trains. This design helps to avoid passengers from having to lug their luggage through tunnels to exit the station and is especially practical for a major rail hub that experiences high passenger volume with a large number of terminating rail services at the station.
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Schaffhausen, Rhine Falls and the River Limmat - Day 2




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