Tyne & Wear Metro on the Rigi!

Tyne & Wear Metro on the Rigi!

As the news blurb said, it was an unknown train that had heated up the rumor mill. ‘For some time now, a strange train has been standing on track 13 at Arth-Goldau station.’ What was this strange train doing in this part of Switzerland? It was a brand new Tyne & Wear Metro train – unit number 555002 – which stood on the tracks that belonged to the Arth-Rigi Bahn. According to the local news its presence had got many puzzled. ‘Judging by the black and yellow exterior, it could be a train for the Uri region. Or are the Rigi railways testing a new vehicle concept with regard to energy supply in winter in order to save additional trips and thus energy?’

Tyne & Wear Metro Class 555 no 002 in its bright yellow colours on the Rigi Bahn track at Arth-Goldau. The mountains in the background are in the clouds.

Tyne & Wear Metro Class 555 no 002 on the Rigi Bahnen track at Arth-Goldau. Source: Twitter.

There’s been discussion in the UK what the Class 555 is doing at Arth-Goldau. The Tyne & Wear Facebook page has a few gems which made one smile….

‘If it can cope with Swiss snow and temperatures, we will be on a good thing.’

‘These poor trains are seeing all the beautiful parts of the world before ending up in one of the worst parts.’

‘Can it handle low rail adhesion?’

A question for some must be why are Stadler so involved in the procurement of these new trains especially as that has invoked ongoing controversy. Tyne & Wear Metro say ‘We undertook a global procurement exercise, all train builders were invited to tender. Stadler were selected following a rigorous selection process.’ Thus the answer is simple – its Stadler who secured the contract and they are building and testing the new trains in Switzerland – and that’s before ultimately maintaining the trains at the new Tyne & Wear Metro depot in Newcastle. Stadler were given the ‘keys’ to the system in October 2020. The first of the stabling roads at the new depot were opened in November 2021. The older 1980s built Metro trains will too be maintained here until the final withdrawals sometime in 2025. The first of the old units entered the depot on 25 November 2022.

The new Tyne & Wear Metro depot, recently opened, has the word Stadler in large along one side.

The new Tyne & Wear Metro depot at Gosforth, Newcastle – where all testing, evaluation and eventual maintenance work on the new trains is to be undertaken by Stadler. Source: Twitter.

Anyway the Class 555’s presence on Swiss mountain railway infrastructure is for two simple reasons. The Rigi Bahnen operates on 1500v DC and is one of a number of Swiss mountain lines to use that particular voltage. What is perhaps more important is the Rigi Bahnen are the only standard gauge Swiss mountain railway system. These two positives evidently prompted Stadler’s decision to utilise the mountain railway’s track as it forms a direct connection with the SBB national rail system – thus Stadler can easily transfer Class 555s from its depots to Arth-Goldau.

The decision to employ the track at Arth-Goldau does not seem in any way to be linked to the recent decision to delay delivery of the first Class 555s until January 2023 because of issues with delivering the new trains to Newcastle. This problem with delivery is said to be due to various line closures across the European and UK rail systems.

I’m not sure of the problems on the Europe side however in terms of the UK side the lines are closed between York and Northallerton/Middlesbrough throughout the Xmas holiday period. Thus the new Class 555s cannot reach Newcastle by rail easily as the alternative is to use the West Coast Main Line then the Newcastle to Carlisle line. It means the dedicated Stadler depot built in Newcastle wont be able to test the new trains as early as had been hoped – thus Arth-Goldau is a means of doing some elements of that testing work in Switzerland instead.

Some curiosity arises however because around the time the unit was moved to Arth-Goldau, the media n Newcastle were celebrating the announcement the city would see the first of the new stock in early December 2022. This news was short lived however, but it can be seen at Sunderland Echo and Chronicle Live. Just two days later the media was ‘commiserating’ the latest announcements the stock would not be arriving until early 2023. For example ITV News and Chronicle Live.

One wonders what the rapid turn around in that news actually involved. It doesn’t seem at first glance there is actually any closures that would affect the delivery of the Class 555s. Show me the Journey has a list of affected lines but none that so clearly affect the transit of any stock from Switzerland to England. A perusal of the SBB notices doesn’t reveal anything either other than occasional line restrictions due to works. Maybe there is something that affects the tracks into the Stadler depots and that’s not listed.

Anyway, even though Stadler has a standard gauge 1500v DC test track at its Erlen works for this purpose as well as the use of another test track at Velim in the Czech republic, the problem evidently is as more completed trains come off the production line there just isn’t enough 1500v DC test track to do the increasing number of units which need to be retained in Europe until January 2023 thus the Arth-Rigi Bahn’s exchange sidings at Arth-Goldau have come into use at the right time. No doubt Stadler were aware of that potential for they had very recently supplied the Rigi Bahnen with brand new trains!

Shit happens! New Rigi Bahn arrival at Arth-Goldau saw the unit losing its tracks just three days before its inauguration last year! Its the same line the Class 555 is parked on! The Twitter headline says: ‘Bumpy start in Arth-Goldau: New Rigi railway falls off the rails before maiden voyage.’

How long has the unit been at Arth-Goldau? It seems it was delivered there in early November. There’s a tweet that shows it on the national rail network at Kloten (near Zurich airport) on the 7th so that’s the date it arrived at the Rigi Bahnen’s track.

Tyne & Wear Metro Class 555 002 at Kloten near Zurich.

As the unit is a static test bed it wont inadvertently be going up the Rigi (!) but in theory at least it could use the mountain line as far as the first stop by the E41 highway which is Goldau A4. That’s because this initial section out of Arth-Goldau has a maximum grade of 4% – and amazingly in 2016 Nexus specified the new stock should be able to negotiate gradients of 4% on the Tyne & Wear Metro system! Talk about coincidences!