No. 99: The Swiss National Railway Musuem

On Friday I took my family on a long Labor Day weekend trip to the Ticino region of Switzerland, close to the Italian border, for a weekend of hiking and swimming.  On the way we stopped in Lucerne, which is about a 90-minute drive south of the Germany-Switzerland border at Berne, and visited the Switzerland Transportation Museum.

The Swiss Transportation Museum is small but breathtaking.  As you can imagine it is clean and perfectly organized.  The museum devotes a separate building to automobiles, trains, airplanes and shipping, and has a lot more going on, like a planetarium and a chocolate museum, plus a whole lot of cool hands-on stuff for kids.  My kids are outgrowing a lot of the hands-on stuff but we agreed that the things they had here are about the coolest things we’ve seen at any museum.  More to follow on that later.

The Prototypes

The first thing that greets you at the main entrance to the railroad museum is this Crocodile, which was famous for hauling freight trains on the steep grades through the Alps.  There were 51 of these electric engines running from the 1920s into the early 1980s.  The engine below is in perfect mechanical condition.


Here’s a heavy 2-10-0, set up over a pit so you can walk underneath the engine and inspect the running gear.  I have never seen the underside of a steam engine until now.


The museum is full of fabulous locomotives, including this cool mainline electric commuter train set…


…and a whole bunch of rack or funicular engines…



…and my growing favorite, a little narrow gauge steam engine.  This one is kept safe on a retired flat car.  This particular engine was built in 1880 to a gauge of 750mm (that’s 2.44 feet) and was retired after World War II.  It was the first engine preserved by the museum.  


The Museum also included a number of trolley or streetcars, which I am learning to enjoy more as I get older.  This one below looks like an old Brill car and was my favorite.


The Models

The models at this museum are second to none.  Perfectly scaled, exquisite models abound here in all the museums.  Here are a few of the thousands of impressive ship models in the shipping museum.  This is a warship…in 1/48 no less…


Here’s are a few more of the big models.  There were probably another 500 upstairs, all scratchbuilt models of boats that served on the Swiss lakes.



It is the railway models, however, that steal the show.  In the railway building are hundreds of models in all scales in glass cases. 

THIS is the motivation we prototype modelers need to do our best work.  If our models—ships, planes, trains or something else—are the best, maybe they’ll someday be featured in a place like this.  Second-rate models won’t be saved.




Interactive, computer-operated models are here too.  Touchpads, seen at each end of this case, bring these models to life.  It’s a lesson for us on the value of animation.


Finally, here is a model of sorts of the new Gotthard Tunnel.  The Gotthard Tunnel was completed through the Alps in 2016 and is 57 kilometers in length.  That’s just over 35 miles.  35 miles!  The model is an interactive display that describes each mile of the tunnel and how it was built.  The model itself must be 100 feet long, maybe more.  They even have huge chunks of granite from the tunnel here, and offer you a hammer and chisel so you can try and whack chunks off of it (you can’t)—all to demonstrate the power of Swiss tunnel-drilling machines.


The museum is so proud of the tunnel that they’ve included a model of the tunnel at the exit of the museum:


The museum was full of interactive things for kids to do.  In the rail museum they have this fun train yard where kids could assemble trains and move cars around from yard to yard.  


Outside the museum there’s a huge open area in the middle with all kinds of race cars and boats and things for the kids to play with.  There is also this huge inter-model set, where boys were loading equipment onto trains and moving it down the line to an unloading crane.  They could also load containers on ships in the adjacent pond.  Everything was steel, and the loads were going on and off the cars with a crash.  It was great!


South to Tochino

Today we were in Locarno, Switzerland, and I was able to photograph a few passenger trains as the stub-end station in town.  There’s nothing too remarkable about these trains other than they are fast, efficient, reliable, clean and operate on time.



On the way to our rented cottage in Ronchini we parallel a 3-meter gauge suburban trolley for about a mile.  My son was able to get a few photos through the windshield—in pouring rain—as we raced one of the trains to town.  


It’s been a great trip and I’ll get back to more modeling of Ackley, Iowa circa 1950 in a couple of days.  – John G


One thought on “No. 99: The Swiss National Railway Musuem

  1. John:
    Many thanks for sharing your tour of the museum with us. Would never have known such an excellent facility existed or been able to “visit” without your sharing. May you and your family enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend excursion.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s