Transports Publics Fribourgeois #3

Transports Publics Fribourgeois #3

With the conversion of the line from Bulle to Broc-Fabrique (and its continuation as a private rail network right into the Nestle chocolate factory itself) the delightful La Gruyère system (the GFM, aka the Gruyère-Fribourg-Morat or as it was officially known, the Compagnie des Chemins de fer Fribourgeois) is no more. The 42 km of metre gauge line from Montbovon to Bulle and Palézieux still exists but that’s about it. That to Broc has gone along with its delightful private freight network often involving standard gauge wagons riding on Vevey bogies – those narrow gauge bogies capable of carrying heavy standard gauge freight stock! There’s little freight traffic what remains is now largely a passenger railway.

One blessing comes in the form of the GFM Historique, based at Montbovon, the organisation set up to preserve the stock from the former GFM/La Gruyère system – who are able to run special workings and even enact examples of freight trains on the remaining metre gauge network. Anyway, the following quote should explain the situation concerning the Broc line:

The TPF Bulle – Broc-Fabrique line is an old and winding metric gauge section. The TPF decided to correct the geometry of this section to shorten the journey time, to bring the stations and stops located along the section into conformity and to switch to a normal gauge gauge. Consequently, a certain number of civil engineering structures (bridge, PI, walls, hopper) must be built or adapted, as well as 4 stations / halts. The infrastructure and superstructure are being renovated, including the drainage of the platform and the station / stop areas. The elements necessary for railway technology are also renewed (gutters, chambers and batteries for cables, foundations for IS and LC masts). Source: IM/IUB Engineering.

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The Tour de Treme junction with the Broc line. In future the metre gauge will go straight ahead whilst standard gauge stock will turn left! Source: Facebook

As mentioned in the previous instalment on this special GFM/TPF coverage, the track between Bulle and Tour de Treme shall be of mixed gauge. An added complication is the OHLE which will need to accommodate two different systems – The metre gauge at 900v DC, and the standard gauge at 15KV. Its not totally unheard of however as there’s quite a few other examples in the country where lines with different operating voltages often use the same stations and tracks.

The old order at La Tour Treme station. This will be rebuilt to to the modern standards now being required of all Swiss railway stations. Source: Google Streets.

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The new Sarine bridge near Broc Village. The old structure was replaced a few years ago, evidently with a view to future-proofing it for the standard gauge. Screencap from Youtube.

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The station at Broc-Village undergoing modernisation. The trackbed runs behind the building. Direction of Bulle is left and Broc-Fabrique at right. Source: TPF.

Between Broc Village and Broc-Fabrique, the line drops quite steeply down into the Sarine valley where the chocolate factory is sited. The former line, being metre gauge of course, was able to accommodate the steep gradients and sharp curves. To enable standard gauge stock to operate this section considerable engineering work has had to be undertaken. This invovles easing the steep gradients and eliminating sharp curves.

Beyond Tour de Treme junction, the line had a fairly easy alignment despite having a pair of substantial viaducts en route. This situation existed as far as Broc Village station. Beyond this however lay the most difficult section of line. This is why we’re seeing a staged re-opening of the Brock line. Its because the easier bit is being reopened first, eg that to Broc Village in 2022. The more difficult section of course requires substantial re engineering, for example new tunnels, new embankments, cuttings, and so on. And that’s the very reason why it wont be ready until 2023.

This article from Lac Tu De Genève shows pictures and a video of the metre gauge tracks at Broc-Village being taken up.

Reconstructing the Broc line

The line’s three stations will be rebuilt. if you’ve read it as four, that’s right because TPF are including the nearby Ronclina station on the Montbovon line as part of this particular project. The three stations on the Broc Line are La Tour Village (Tower Village), Broc Village and Broc Fabrique (Broc Factory.) The following map illustrates the extent of the works, which is concentrated on the section from Broc Village to Broc Fabrique. That’s because this section is steeply graded with sharp curves, and as has been indicated, is most unsuited to any operation of standard gauge stock. This map isn’t available in the TPF repository because as far as I can ascertain, its a project map submitted as part of a document covering the works and what is required to achieve it – and this is for companies that wish to tender for the works.

Works map for the Bulle to Broc line. The section marked ‘troncon commun’ or common trunk indicates the dual gauge section. The main specifications for the work from this document are listed below. Source: Konkurado.

The works for the line are specified as follows:
The main objectives of the project are:
•The modification of the gauge of the rails in normal gauge between Bulle and Broc-Fabrique to ensure continuity between the Bulle line – Broc Fabrique and the Bulle line – Romont (- Friborg), for both passenger and freight traffic.
•Improving the facilities offered to travellers and increasing their comfort as well that of their safety at Ronclina, Tour-Village, Broc-Village and Broc-Fabrique stations. Particularly in regard to compliance with the Law on Equality for the Disabled, the extension of the platforms as well as the creation of awnings for these stations.
•The elimination of the old platforms and passenger facilities which required the use of steps.
•Adaptation of the route, with a general increase in the radii of curvature and, for the descent Broc Village – Broc Fabrique in particular, a decrease in the slope longitudinal, allowing an increase in the maximum speeds allowed on the section.
•Modification and adaptation of the route between Broc Village and Broc Fabrique. This part of the route has very small radii of curvature. The profile is modified and requires a large number of adaptations compared to the current terrain.
•The decrease in the slope towards Broc Fabrique at 40% by moving the start of the descent towards Broc Village.
•The complete renewal of the infrastructure required by the new planned speed of 80km/h.
•The complete renewal of the superstructure necessary for the new railway and new gauge.
•Renewal of the OHLE.
•Renewal of security installations.
•Renewal and removal of certain level crossings.
•Remediation of existing structures and construction of new structures.
•Carry out all of the above main works during a 14 month stoppage of rail traffic.

The former line crossed the Route des Moulins (Mill Road) in Broc Village before beginning the most difficult sections of line. Sharp curvature and steep gradients were the order of the day. Not a problem for the narrow gauge, but unfortunately very much so for the standard gauge. The innovative solution engineered for the conversion of the route has been to build a tunnel and a cuttings, new embankments, a new pedestrian underpass, as well as brand new stations that comply with the Swiss transport requirements for access and disabilities.

As the following images shows, the route to Broc Fabrique involves a very steep descent and there’s also a road crossing at Route des Moulins – this being practically at the start of this descent. What has been done is the descent has been re-engineered to begin much earlier and that involves the use of a cutting and a new tunnel – which also eliminates the road crossing in question. The new line hence tunnels underneath Route des Moulins and has a much gentler descent into the valley itself. Here we see before and after pictures which clearly illustrate what is being done.

The former metre gauge line at Route des Moulins. The old road crossing can be seen in the upper part of the picture. Beyond the crossing the line itself descended steeply. Compare with the image below. Source: Youtube.

This is how the line will look once the line is reopened as a standard gauge railway. The new tunnelled section and approach cutting enables the gradients to be far more generous. The view looks in the direction of Broc-Fabrique. Source: Youtube.

Beyond Route des Moulins further heavy realignment of the railway has been necessary. The sharp curves (as well as the gradients) of the metre gauge line have been replaced by a new alignment with a curvature profile that suits the requirements for a standard gauge operation.

Work underway to create a new alignment – incorporating both gentler curves and gradients – for the standard gauge between Broc-Village and Broc-Fabrique. The metre gauge tracks are seen at right whilst the new alignment is on the left. Source: Programme-Bulle.

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The same location in November 2021 showing progress on the new standard gauge alignment. Its about 250 metres from this point to the terminus at Broc-Fabrique. Source: Youtube.

According to the upgrade information the former metre gauge alignment at this point will become a new pedestrian and cycle route linking up with Broc Village. This will pass beneath the standard gauge embankment in a short tunnel before continuing alongside the railway to the world famous chocolate factory.

Broc-Fabrique – In retrospect

Before we take a look at the changes to Broc Fabrique, here’s an evocative look at the old order on the line, including its celebrated mixed narrow gauge/standard gauge freight traffic. The old order at Broc is one I’m sure many will remember.

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The old order at Broc-Fabrique. This is without a doubt the now defunct metre gauge ‘Chocolate Express’ operated by the Montreux Oberland Bernois railway. Its stabled on the siding at the rear of the station so as not to interfere with service trains. Source: Mapio

Although there will be the prospect of special through trains to Broc Fabrique from other parts of the Swiss standard gauge rail network such as Bern, the special tourist trains that were a feature of the narrow gauge will no longer be possible. The Montreux Oberland Bernois, the GFM Historique and the Blonay-Chamby railway museum will however still have the possibility of special rail tours on the remainder of the former GFM network between Montbovon and Palézieux.

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The sad appearance of the terminus at Broc-Fabrique without tracks or OHLE. November 2021. Source: Youtube.

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The old order at Broc-Fabrique – a mixed gauge train leaving the Cailler factory for Bulle where the larger wagons will be moved off their temporary Vevey bogies (or as sometimes is called, Vevey converters) onto the standard gauge itself. Source: Bahnbilder.

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Arrival at Broc-Fabrique with a consist of standard gauge wagons for the chocolate factory. July 2018. Source: Facebook.

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Going back further in time, this photo shows a standard gauge Interfrigo wagon on its Vevey bogies. Its being shunted onto the factory’s private railway system. I took this picture on a visit to Broc in September 1991. I’d like to show more of my photos however many don’t seem to scan very well especially where the dynamic range is limited. Photo by the author.

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Even standard gauge coaches reached Broc via the narrow gauge! SBB’s cinema coach took a trip to Broc in 1976 and its seen here on the line’s older Sarine viaduct. Source: Delcampe.

The above picture was taken when the old way of carrying standard gauge on the narrow gauge was in use. Its a clearly more cumbersome method involving a pair of flat wagons with the standard gauge coach placed on top of these – and that’s why the Rollblock and the later Vevey system was created. These simply enable standard gauge stock to be rolled straight onto narrow gauge bogies, and this proved to be a great timesaver. The newer system is in use on many narrow gauge lines across Europe although in some locations its being removed because the requirement for transfer of standard gauge onto the metre gauge system is no longer needed. More on the Rollblock/Vevey system.

Why was the freight system disbanded?

I claim to be no expert on this matter, however I have done a fair bit of research and it seems the decision to abandon the freight was largely historic and related to infrastructure changes made quite a few years ago. Despite various issues it seems TPF were willing to continue the freight operation. The stumbling block then would have been the necessity that the private network in the ground of the Nestle factory would also have had to be converted to standard gauge.

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The news headlines in June 2018. Nestlé abandons freight rail transport to its factory. Source: Facebook.

The article pictured above, ‘Nestlé abandonne le transport par rail pour son usine de Broc’ can be seen here. Its for subscribers only however thus I can’t translate the document via Google. The above reproduction isn’t great but at least one can read some of the context if they understand the language. The issue appears to have been one of cost – eg upgrading a small rail network against the cost of say perhaps more environmentally friendly road freight.

Was this a decision made by Nestle or TPF? Upon research it seems it could have been a decision made twenty years ago by the national Swiss Rail authority! What this entails is SBB/CFF/FFS had made a decision to restructure its freight services and this caused angst among a number of companies including Nestlé whose factory was specially built around rail operations to ensure an efficient reception and despatch of freight trains. At the time, this being 2005, Nestlé had suggested any cessation of its rail based freight would create an additional 800 to 1000 trucks a year through Broc. For the SBB/CFF/FFS decision that was made in regards to freight operations Le Temps has the story.

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The strange question of the line’s ending at Broc Fabrique. Looking at this map (which was conceived in early 2019) there’s some indication of a spur that would link the standard gauge to the Nestle factory. However in the actual drawings showing the station site the spur is not present. It does seem that the idea of a continued freight link was mooted but soon dropped. Source: TPF.

Plan from 2017 showing the new arrangement at Broc-Fabrique. What is interesting is provision – in the form of pointwork – was drawn up for a continued freight connection into the chocolate factory premises. However as other images show, this section of track is now plain lined. Source: Youtube.

Further research does show that TPF had expressed a view its freight operations still had a future and it was willing to ensure freight did continue especially for important customers like Nestle and Liebherr. To this end the TPF said it would create the necessary framework conditions to allow these operations to continue. As we can see from the above rail maps, TPF no doubt viewed freight to Broc as a continuing operation. If one reads this La Gruyère news article from June 2016, its clear at that point in time there was every aspiration to continue the freight operation to Broc.

Ultimately it appears the need to upgrade the private factory rail system to standard gauge was the deciding factor. No doubt part of the factory would need modification too as well as the necessity of a new standard gauge electric locomotive to haul stock about the site.

For many no doubt its a huge disappointment Broc no longer has the metre gauge nor any rail based freight operations. We must all accept that. This once busy operation however showed rail could easily do better than road. More crucially it was an operation that had less impact on the environment than any road based operation could possibly have.

The end of metre gauge services on the line to Broc-Fabrique 27/28 March 2021. Youtube.

Reconstructing the Broc line 2

The terminus of the line at Broc Fabrique will gain a totally new look by the time it reopens in 2023. The iconic chalet style station building will remain as an integral part of the new station, much like many other stations on the remainder of the TPF metre gauge system – excepting of course Châtel-St-Denis.

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The proposed terminus at Broc Fabrique – without any freight connection into the factory depicted. Source: Bus-Tram-Geneve.

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How the standard gauge terminus at Broc-Fabrique will look. Although standard gauge trains will serve Broc Ville by 2022, the final and very steeply graded section to Broc-Fabrique won’t be opened until 2023 due to the heavy engineering works necessary. Source: Programme-Bulle.

Wikipedia (in French) also has a page dedicated to the line upgrade.

In concluding this three part series on the GFM/TPF, I was surprised to find the UK Government listing the Bulle to Broc upgrade as a possible tender operation for UK companies. Does the UK even have companies with the necessary experience that’s required, especially as now the metre gauge lines are also using ZBMS (the Swiss standard for automated train control and protection) including ZSL-90 and ZSI-127? These are totally different to the UK’s train control systems and sadly its likely any UK Rail companies would indeed have had any experience with this newer form of European train control systems.

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