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The Sernftal Railway

Before 1825, the Sernftal was only accessible via a steep footpath from the main valley of Glarus. The little road built in the same year improved the access only insignificantly. It was not until a new road - a good 30 years later - that the valley was connected to the big world. In the Sernftal, a few small industrial enterprises were established. In 1859 first the railroad line Weesen-Glarus was opened and in 1879 via Schwanden to Linthal. In the Sernftal communities of Engi, Matt and Elm, plans were made to open up the valley with a standard-gauge railroad connection, but this failed for the time being due to the general conditions. The advent of electric streetcars in western Switzerland gave new impetus to the railroad project. Blumer, a member of the Sernftal Council of States from Engi, continued to pursue the project and succeeded in making the idea of a railroad from Schwanden to Elm palatable to the population.

The communities pledged initial funds, which meant that planning could begin. In 1892, the Glarner Landsgemeinde approved the joint use of the road by the railroad, the use of hydroelectric power, and the acquisition of shares worth 500,000 francs. After several expert opinions, the project was ready for construction in 1903 and the financing was secured thanks to the generous foresight of the Canton of Glarus and the neighboring communities. A contract for work was concluded with Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO). MFO contracted out the track construction work and the erection of the buildings to local construction companies, and the power plant was built by Bell & Cie. of Krierns. Only the more difficult section in terms of construction - the steep ramp through the Schwandenwald - was awarded to the experienced firm of Locher & Cie. of Zurich. Maschinenfabriken Nürnberg (MAN) acted as subcontractor for the vehicles, with the electrical part of the railcars, as well as the entire remaining electrical installation, being supplied and assembled by MFO itself.

The largest structure on the route was the Brummbach bridge at Matt with a span of 19 m (stone arch bridge). On the winding road through the Schwandenwald forest, the valley floor of Engi was reached with gradients of up to 61 ‰. Shortly before Elm, at the Meissenboden stop, there was even a short ramp of 68 ‰. At Engi-Vorderdorf, the depot and workshop facilities were established. The car shelters were erected in Schwanden and Elm. Thanks to the competent construction management by Ing. Keller, the facilities were completed on schedule and on budget in July 1905.

The official collaudation was carried out on July 27, 1905. However, a strike at the Nuremberg machine factories prevented the timely delivery of the rolling stock. As a result, the Sernftalbahn could not be officially inaugurated until September 12, 1905. The railroad had three BCFe 2/2 numbers 1 - 3, one freight motor car Fe 2/2 number 21, and three passenger trailer cars BC numbers 11 - 13 and a total of nine freight cars were available. The vehicles were initially painted light gray with blue trim. The road dust put a serious strain on this paint scheme, so that the vehicles were later repainted dark gray with green-blue trim. Freight traffic initially fell short of expectations, but the trend made the railroad company optimistic, so that two more freight railcars were purchased as early as 1906. The main goods transported were wood and the products of the local industry (weaving mill). But also the delivery of building materials was now done by rail. Later, slate slabs and also the Elmer table water were transported.

Passenger traffic was subject to very large seasonal fluctuations. In order to attract more tourists to Glarus, even a modest advertising campaign was launched. The First World War 1914-1918 stopped the travel possibilities of the tourists and thus the passenger traffic collapsed. Freight traffic developed positively, as the railroad had to provide transport from a quarry. After the First World War, many companies acquired used trucks from army stocks in order to be able to take care of the transports from the Sernftal themselves.

This hit the railroad twice. On the one hand, the railroad lost transports to road competition, on the other hand, the increasing traffic on the valley road also resulted in higher maintenance costs, as the tracks were severely damaged by the heavy trucks. Passenger traffic developed favorably in the twenties. In 1928, another railcar BCFe 2/2 number 4 (SIG/MFO) was purchased. In the 1930s, however, the transport services declined massively. The world economic crisis made itself felt and the tourists stayed away. For this reason, a study was commissioned in 1939 by the Glarus government council to examine the consequences of a change in operation (as was the case with other narrow-gauge private railroads in Switzerland at that time). However, the results of this study were delayed due to the outbreak of war. In the meantime, the board of directors of the Sernftalbahn, on the basis of the new railroad aid law of 1939, asked the federal government for financial help. The federal government waited for the results of the study.

In 1945, the time had finally come, the federal government and the canton of Glarus pledged funds for a financial and technical renovation of the Sernftalbahn . (The also considered trolleybus and bus solutions could not prevail). Thus, a first technical rehabilitation could be initiated. Three modern four-axle railcars CFe 4/4 number 5 - 7 were ordered from SWS/MFO (engine power 4 x 100 HP / maximum speed 45 km/h, compared to 25 km/h of the old railcars).

Before the new railcars could be used, the catenary system had to be renewed by Kummler & Matter. Certain sections of the line also had to be provided with new tracks. In 1949, the three new railcars could be put into service. In addition to the much better driving characteristics of the four-axle vehicles, they also made it possible to introduce single-man operation. Travel time was reduced from about 52 to about 42 minutes.

The old railcar BCFe 2/2 number 1, which was still almost completely in its original condition, was parked and was practically never used again. From parts of the CFe 2/2 number 2, a modern-looking freight motor car (Fe 2/2 number 22) was built in the workshop, which replaced the old Fe 2/2 number 21. The CFe 2/2 number 3 was rebuilt after a serious accident in 1925 and, like the similar looking CFe 2/2 number 4, remained in service. In 1952, the Wart stop was upgraded to a crossing station and equipped with drop switches. Three excellently preserved passenger cars as well as freight cars could be acquired from the stocks of the former Zugerland Strassenbahn (ESZ). The goods wagons became necessary above all because in 1956 the unique opportunity arose to transport large quantities of round timber from the Sernftal to Schwanden in cooperation with the SBB.

Due to the notorious lack of money, doubts about the continued existence of the Sernftalbahn became widespread in the 1950s, so that for this and other reasons the renewal was stopped. As a result, the condition of the track, especially on the rear section of the line, deteriorated from year to year. The railroad had to mobilize all its forces in order to be able to guarantee operational safety. Competition from the roads was also increasing, as the railroad was losing a number of freight transport services to cheaper and more flexible truck operators. In 1957, another study was commissioned to examine the possibility of converting to bus service, which, however, was again in favor of maintaining and modernizing the rail service. However, a tank training area was planned by the military department on the municipal area of Elm. For the access of the tanks, the tramway was simply in the way, but also the narrow village crossings seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle.

The population initially expected an economic boost from the military investments, but the mood changed after military requirements increasingly took precedence over civilian ones. The discussions dragged on, so that in 1965, independently of this and based on the positive expert opinion, the railroad again asked the federal government for financial help. When the federal government rejected the request, and supported by a new expert opinion, demanded the immediate conversion to bus operation, the end of the Sernftalbahn was sealed. In 1967, the Glarner Landsgemeinde also clearly spoke out in favor of the conversion to bus service. The railroad immediately began to convert freight traffic to trucks in order to free up personnel for retraining. But the last winter of 1968/1969 put the Sernftalbahn to the test once again: avalanches buried the track in several places.

With great efforts, the railroad could be made afloat again for the last months. On May 31, 1969, the last hour of the Sernftalbahn struck. For the last time, the cars rumbled over the completely "worn out" tracks from Schwanden to Elm. For some of the cars, buyers could be found: the modern BDe 4/4 5-7 went to AOMC (for the valley trains Aigle-Monthey, today TPC, in 1985/1986 they were sold to Stern & Hafferl in Austria), the Xe 2/2 No. 22 (ex Fe 2/2 No. 22) to Oberaargau-Jura-Bahnen and the BDe 2/2 No. 4 found a new home at the museum railroad Blonay-Chamby. Almost all of the rolling stock was scrapped.


H.R. Lüthy-Pavan, "Die schmale Spur", reports on narrow gauge, cogwheel and local railroads,

Sernftal Railway Museum in Engi Vorderdorf

Have you already visited us? In April 2009 we opened the "small but fine" Sernftalbahn museum in Engi Vorderdorf in the former goods shed, a wonderful timber-framed building, which we spruced up and now dedicate to the 40 years ago discontinued narrow-gauge railroad in the remote mountain valley of the Sernf Schwanden - Elm with the 1st exhibition "from then, the last years". The start was successful: the opening brought a big crowd, now is quieter. Combine a visit to us with a hike, a visit to the Museum of Natural History Engi or the Landesplattenberg Engi.

Come and visit us! We are open every 3rd Saturday until October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., i.e. on July 19, August 16, September 20 as well as on October 18, 2009 or for groups also on other dates. A small offer of souvenirs completes the exhibition. The restaurant Chly-Tal ex Bahnhöfli is vis-a-vis. Bus stop Engi-Vorderdorf 10 meters.

Source: Sernftalbahn Association / as of 2009 Contact:

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