60 years ago, with the timetable change on 2 June 1957, the era of the “Trans Europ Express” began. Starting from Zurich, the elegant multiple unit trains travelled at first to Paris, Hamburg and Amsterdam. From 1961 onwards the electrically operated Swiss RAe TEE II compositions were used, which in the 60s and 70s became the embodiment of luxury rail travel.
After the end of World War II and at the beginning of the Wirtschaftswunder years, the railways throughout Europe were in a difficult situation: In light of the strong increase in private motor traffic and constantly evolving air transport, innovative ideas were needed. Therefore in late 1953 Franciscus Querien den Hollander, President of Dutch Railways, proposed creating a European express train network. The railway companies involved decided to run the trains under a single brand name: “Trans Europ Express”, TEE for short.
The concept’s cornerstones included uniform maroon and cream paintwork, an on-board kitchen, compositions that ran continuously from end point to end point and a layout with no more than three seats across the coach’s width. The purely first-class trains also had to have representative names.
Though the first TEE were still powered by diesel, the Swiss RAe TEE II four-voltage multiple unit trains introduced in 1961 set new standards in terms of technology. Never before had there been a composition capable of running on all four conventional European current systems.
In 1959 it was decided that SBB would procure the multiple units. The trains were ordered from SIG in Neuhausen without a further tender. The price per composition was 2.2 million Swiss francs, and thus below SIG’s actual offer. Apparently the order was also important for the manufacturing company, who justified the price reduction saying “that it is an especially valuable project for our company from a technical perspective”. The elegant SBB multiple units travelling between Milan, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam became the showpiece of the Swiss rolling stock industry.
The TEE also reached a new level in terms of interior design and travel comfort. Excellent food in the on-board restaurant, a well-stocked bar and luxurious seats surpassed the comfort of air travel by far. A special feature were the separate ladies’ and gentlemen’s toilets, and the women’s compartment even had a three-piece beauty mirror in the vestibule.
The interior design was created by architect Walter Henne from Schaffhausen. More than 30 years later, it was recognised as “one of the most outstanding achievements of Swiss design culture”.
The last scheduled journey of a Swiss TEE composition took place on the evening of 24 September 1988 from Milan to Zurich. Although the trains were later used as IC and EC trains after undergoing modification, the charm of the TEE era can only be fully experienced today on a journey on the restored RAe TEE II 1053 with SBB Historic.
Text: Martin Cordes, Head of Archives at SBB Historic.
Images: SBB Historic
Chr. Zellweger, TEE. Ikone der Luxuszüge. 2003.
Fr. Romero, Die Ausgestaltung der TEE/EC Züge der SBB, in: Der Architekt, Ausg. 10/1992.