Transports Publics Fribourgeois #2

Transports Publics Fribourgeois #2

This second part covers the new Bulle station and the famous Bulle to Broc line in part. This line is famous because it connected directly to the celebrated Nestle chocolate factory in Broc. Also famous for considerable standard gauge freight traffic carried via the narrow gauge as well as the celebrated ‘Chocolate Express.’ Not now as all of this is no longer possible. The controversy revolves around the decision to convert the line to standard gauge which means freight traffic can no longer be employed because there’s no facilities for this in Broc! Its being seen as some sort of slight that doesn’t help in terms of the environment as well as avoiding the need for numerous lorries on the roads. The upside is through passenger traffic can now be enabled from other parts of Switzerland, although its limited to EMU operation.

Bulle (also the line to Broc)

The Broc line has been closed since April 2021 (expected reopening mid 2023.) The intent here is to make it a standard gauge line instead of metre gauge. During the same period the station at Bulle will be moved to a new site – the whole environment will be elevated with underpasses and subways a lifts to facilitate full accessibility. The total cost is expected to be 86 million Swiss francs. The work will also upgrade the Bulle-Romont-Fribourg line and facilitate through opportunities for trains from other parts of the country. Steep gradients and sharp curves on the Broc line will also be eased to facilitate the passage of standard gauge stock and instead of level crossings the tracks will tunnel under the roads. The new station at Bulle will be slightly further west than the current but occupy a much smaller footprint.

It is said the line upgrade, the conversion to standard gauge, is the biggest such conversion that has taken place in Switzerland. Whether that is true or not, the claim is made in this article on the works pending conversion of the route.

Map showing the work on the Bulle-Broc line. Source: TPF.

The existing train yards in the centre of Bulle will be moved fully to the much improved Planchy depot, just outside Bulle. The new station site will enable the platforms to be much wider than they have been. The surplus land made vacant by the old site will be used to build a new development including offices, shops, and two public piazzas. There will be a brand new bus station too – in essence a whole new town will be built around the new train station!

One downside of this is the popular ‘Chocolate Express’ from both Montreux and Zweisimmen will no longer run – not even if there was a standard gauge version. The new station at Broc will be a simple affair and although the conversion will in theory provide more transport connections to other parts of Switzerland the historic aspect and tourist potential of the metre gauge system is being lost. One advantage however is the Broc line shall receive a half hourly service instead of the old hourly frequency. One blessing in terms of the metre gauge is the TPF, in conjunction with the GFM Historique, will continue to see the popular Fondue Express and other heritage specials operate on the remaining narrow gauge system. It means the memory of the ‘La Gruyère‘ (the former GFM) system and its associations with the famous town of Gruyère will continue.

Part of TPF’s press release (19th March 2021) detailing the closure of the Bulle to Broc line. Source: TPF

Artist’s rendering of the new look Bulle station from the adjacent piazza. Source: TPF

Artist’s rendering of the new look Bulle station at platform level. Source: TPF

Upgrade works map dated November 2021. Its not the final product however it does show more or less the old station at right (somewhat reduced in size – the Hall Gare is the old station building), and the new station, which is not yet finished, at left. On the TPF website its said starting 7th December 2021, train services will gradually move from the old to the new. Clearly there are diversions and closures right up to the completion of the new station in mid 2022. Source: TPF.

The partially finished station at Bulle. Source: TPF.

This new video shows the partially built modern station at Bulle. The large subway area beneath the platforms are already utilised and there’s a temporary ticket office in use. This video is sort of an introduction to the current state of transport there, letting people know how, despite the ongoing building work, they can access the rail services especially from platforms two and three.

Platform at the new Bulle station. This is one of two for the S50 and S51 services – those on the Montbovon-Bulle and Bulle-Palézieux lines respectively (although some of the time it will be a through service anyway.) Source: TPF.

The old order at Bulle looking in the Broc direction! The unit was later preserved and kept at Châtel-St-Denis. It is however now used by the MOB. The standard gauge tracks are behind the photographer. Source: Facebook

Standard gauge Stadler Flirt at the old Bulle station. Source: Wikipedia

The eastern station throat (eg Broc direction) at Bulle in 2013 showing the standard gauge and metre gauge tracks. Compare this with the scene below. Source: Visite Suisse.

The old station buildings at Bulle will no doubt be demolished to make way for a vast new development that will change the face of the city centre completely. The image below is an artists rendition of how the new development on the site of the old station buildings will look.

Plus ça change! This is how the same location as the previous picture will look when completed! Totally unrecognisable except for the two tracks at right which will more or less be on the old alignment. The mixed gauge tracks to the junction with the Broc route will run just out of sight at left. Source: Programme-Bulle.

The present (well not for long!) station buildings at Bulle. It will disappear totally. Its said the Bull (the town’s namesake which can be seen on the traffic island) will remain in its current position but be the centre of a new square to be built here. Source: Wikipedia.

The former rail transporter unit at Bulle. Sadly it seems the TPF wont be carrying goods on the narrow gauge anymore, especially in light of the conversion of the Broc line to a simple standard gauge passenger route with no freight facilities included. Source: Facebook

Work underway at Bulle station. The standard gauge tracks have gone but the metre gauge still exists. Source: TPF

View towards the metre gauge siding at Bulle from the old station then still in use. Construction of the new station in the distance can be seen. April 2021. Source: Twitter

Work underway on constructing the new ‘village’ which will eventually surround the new railway station. The old one can be seen at right. Source: La Gruyère

Aerial view of the work site at Bulle. Old station bottom left hand corner, new in the centre. Source: 20min.Ch.

If this is anything to go by, the crossing at Rue Saint Dennis will be the only one on the new standard gauge route. All the other crossings on the line to Broc are being replaced by bridges and tunnels, which is certainly an explanation why so much work to realign the route is needed. Of course the realignment work serves another purpose besides eliminating crossings, and that is to ease out the sharp curves and considerable gradients in order to enable standard gauge trains to operate on the line.

Rue Saint-Denis Bulle

Its said there will be a number of underpasses beneath the new mixed gauge line in Bulle, including Rue de Vevey which will be for pedestrians. However the Rue Saint Dennis crossing looks like being retained. A metre gauge train for Broc is seen passing the crossing. Source: Flickr.

An added complexity is the metre gauge and standard gauge use different voltages. The former is 900v DC, the latter 15KV. As well as a third rail, the OHLE will need to accommodate the different voltages depending on which services are using the route. Its not unheard of however as there’s quite a few other examples in the country where lines with different operating voltages use the same stations and tracks.

Not exactly a rail based video but rather one depicting the new look Bulle development – which will of course be derived largely from a retrenchment of the old station’s environs, giving a much smaller but totally modern and fully accessible station – whilst releasing substantial land for what is essentially a new town (or village as they call it) with apartments, hotels, shopping centres, offices, and public squares. Source: Youtube.

The above video is interesting because it shows merely a part of the new development around the old station environs. What isn’t mentioned is there will also be a huge new bus station to complement the railway station. There’s stuff on this that can be found in the Bulle upgrade programme website.

One sobering aspect of this new development is it was designed before the current pandemic, which has clearly changed a fair bit of outlook on how people should work, travel, socialise and entertain themselves. The Bulle development was really designed for a pre Covid world. How it will turn out – and whether it will have been worth the effort and sacrifices – remains to be seen.

Continued in Part Three with a focus on the line from La Tour Treme to Broc.

The other articles on the GFM/TPF upgrades are as follows:

Upgrading the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF) #1
Upgrading the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF) #2
Upgrading the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF) #3