Track services

Watch a train in Switzerland change track gauge without stopping

Due to its unique geography, Swiss trains are some of the strangest in the world. The nation’s approach to infrastructure, it seems, is pure engineering. This would explain why (and how) the Swiss developed a train that can transition between tracks of different widths, without even stopping.

Track gauge, or the distance between rails, varies widely around the world, having been adapted to imported or independently developed rolling stock on an arbitrary scale. One constant, however, is that narrower rails, known as narrow gauge, tend to be favored where space is at a premium, such as in some industrial applications or on precarious mountainside routes. As such, it is only natural that Switzerland is one of the world’s few users of the self-explanatory “metric gauge”, although it also uses the common “standard gauge” four-foot-eight-and-a-half inches, the predominant gauge of most countries in the world, including the United States, home of the infamous poop train.

The MOB GoldenPass Express with change of gauge, Pininfarina

Sometimes these or other gauges meet at what is called a gauge break, which presents a problem that is often solved by simply changing gears. This was the solution so far for the Swiss tourist route Golden Pass Line, which connects some of the biggest tourist destinations in the country. Soon, however, the train will no longer have to stop at all thanks to innovations with bogeys on its new express train that will serve all destinations on the line, without forcing passengers to disembark.

Designed by Pininfarina and manufactured by Stadler (who supplied the new Pikes Peak rack cars) to the International Railway Journal, the new GoldenPass Express train will be able to make the transition between metric and standard gauge tracks at line gauge breaks. It does this via variable gauge bogies, the axles of which are designed to telescope in and out as the gauge breaks. Although these systems are not unknown in the world (they are widely used in Spain to connect the Iberian gauge to modern infrastructure), they are not as often associated with height adjustment as on the GoldenPass Express. This allows the train to accommodate platforms that would vary in height by seven inches, for safe boarding. The system can be seen in action at Zweisimmen station in a video shared on YouTube by the Swiss rail publication Bahn online.

Although the technology is obviously working as expected, the new express train did not enter service in June 2021 as expected. Instead, Bahn online reports that the supply of variable gauge bogeys has not kept pace with that of coaches, having been delayed due to COVID. As a result, the first passenger service of the GoldenPass Express is not expected to take place until December 11, 2022, when Switzerland could be on the verge of the busiest winter tourist season since before the pandemic.

Have a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: [email protected]