Joweid Zahnradbahn

The rack railway of the Maschinenfabrik Rüti

Locomotive No.3 on the incline

Caspar Honneger was born in the town of Rüti, in the Swiss Canton of Zürich, in 1804. His father, Salomon, was the proprietor of a yarn spinning factory in the town, where there had been Honeggers living for at least 200 years.

Caspar started work in his father’s factory in 1820, at the tender age of 15. By 1842, he had set up his own factory in an area of the town known as the Joweid, where he would manufacture a new type of loom that he himself had invented. Thus the Maschinenfabrik Rüti (MR) came into being.

By 1858, the railway had reached Rüti, but it was not possible to link the factory into the network because of the significant difference in level between the Joweid and the Rüti station. Only in the 1870s, with the invention of the rack railway, did a solution become available. Even then, construction was not simple. It involved the building of a long embankment, with the steep ruling gradient of 102‰ (1 in 9.8) and a minimum radius of only 80m.

The embankment in 1876
The embankment in 1876

The new line opened on 14th July, 1877, the steam locomotive replacing a succession of horses and carts. In the words of W Keller, writing in the MR house journal 100 years later: “The works transport master exchanged the tools of his trade, whip, linament, currycomb and muck rake, for locomotive, coal shovel and oilcan.” The “Establishment” (as the factory became known) grew rapidly and by the turn of the century the railway line was carrying over 2000 wagons each year. As Keller notes “It is hardly conceivable that the same quantity of goods could be managed using only horses and carts.”

In the early days the “Establishment” was constantly in dispute with the main line railway over fees charged by the latter for access to the station. For a while, this was resolved reasonably amicably by the State Railway (SBB) remitting the fees in exchange for the use of the factory locomotive for shunting duties at the station. However, by 1915, at the height of the First World War when coal prices has soared in less than a year from just 30 Francs per tonne to over 225 Francs per tonne, the SBB took unfair advantage of this arrangement by shutting down their own shunting locomotive at Rüti and using the MR locomotive exclusively. One driver complained that he was spending at least two-thirds of his time on shunting duties at the mainline station. Clearly, this state of affairs could not continue, and in 1918 it was agreed that the MR locomotive would enter the station area only to collect and deposit wagons to and from the factory, and a fee would once again be charged. The fee was finally abolished in 1931.

Locomotive No.3 on the incline
Locomotive No.3 on the new viaduct
Date uncertain, but probably shortly after opening

In 1955 the ramp was replaced by a new concrete viaduct. Because of limitations of space, it had the same steep gradient and tight curves of the original, necessitating the continued use of special short wheelbase locomotives.

The Locomotives

Steam traction remained in use until a very late date. Electric traction with overhead wires was ruled out on grounds of safety within the factory complex. As early as 1917, battery electric locomotives were considered, but battery technology would not allow of sufficient power to climb the steep bank hauling a train. As for diesel locomotives, even by the 1940s when they were coming into general use elsewhere, they would have been of little use on this steep bank. As a result, No 3 was brought into service in 1951. It held the record of being the last steam locomotive built in Switzerland, until several new locomotives were built for the Brienz Rothorn Bahn in the 1990s. No 3 was eventually replaced by a diesel locomotive in 1962.

All 3 steam locomotives
All three steam locomotives, posed in front of the Rüti factory
No.3 in 1977
Locomotive No.3 pictured in 1977
on the occasion of the line’s centenary
Built in 1876 by the Internationalen Gesellschaft für Bergbahnen, Aarau. Reboilered in 1893. Extensively rebuilt in 1925. Further rebuilt 1943. Withdrawn from service 1950. Now located at Technorama, Winterthur
Built in 1909 by the Schweizerische Lokomotivfabrik (SLM), Winterthur. Withdrawn from service 1963. Was located on static display at the Knies Kinderzoo, Rapperswil, until 2012; believed to have been subsequently scrapped.
Built in 1951 by SLM, Winterthur. In use as principal loco until 1962 and as reserve loco until line closure. Now owned by Eurovapor-Sulgen, given the name Rosa, and has been used for passenger excursions on the Rorschach to Heiden line of Appenzeller Bahnen. It has been out of service since 2017 awaitin boiler repairs.
Built in 1962 by SLM/Brown Boveri. 12 cylinder diesel engine with electric transmission driving on both rack gear and adhesion wheels. In use until line closure. It remained in store for a number of years, although it did make a brief appearance on the Rorschach Heiden Bergbahn (RHB) in 2002 when it hauled works trains as part of a catenary renewal contract. In 2006 the locomotive was purchased by Appenzeller Bahnen, the new owners of the RHB, and has since been used for works trains and shunting at Rorschach station. For several years it appeared in yellow livery carrying the number 237 916. It was repainted bright red in 2012.

Rosa on the Rorschach Heiden Bergbahn

"Rosa" at work on the RHB
Locomotive No.3 Rosa at work on the Rorschach Heiden Bergbahn

Later History of the Company

The Maschinenfabrik Rüti became part of the Sulzer group in 1982. In 1999 it was renamed Sulzer Textil, becoming Sultex in 2003, and a division of ITEMA Weaving in 2008. In an interesting example of continuity, the company has sourced gear wheels for many of its weaving machines from Hans Christen AG, who also make the toothed wheels for rack railways.

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© 2004-2018 Glyn Williams
Black and white photos from the archives of Sultex AG
Colour photo by M. Simmons, courtesy of Eurovapor-Sulgen
The author wishes to express his sincere thanks
to René Koenig of Sultex AG and to Arthur Germann of Eurovapor-Sulgen
for their invaluable assistance in preparing this article,
also to Markus Giger for some recent updates.