Running between these towns on the edge of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), this tramway was owned by the Société Électric Vevey-Montreux, and was the first electric tramway in Switzerland. The postcard was produced by H.Guggenheim & Co. of Zürich. Our copy was posted on 24/5/1904 from Montreux to Basle. Judging by the lack of many advertisements and the condition of the tram, the original photograph is certainly older and may well date from as early as 1890.
The first proposals for a tramway on this route were made in 1878, at which time it was surveyed by the Mékarski company with a view to working it with compressed air. The Paris exhibition of 1881 demonstrated many uses of electricity, among them a 500m long tramway by Siemens & Halske using a slotted tube overhead power supply. An engineer, E.Miauton, suggested this could be applied to the proposals for Vevey. In 1884 a concession was granted for the building of a tramway run by electricity or other non-steam mechanical method (cable had also been considered), but problems were encountered with raising the necessary capital. In 1886, Emile-Louis Roussy, a major shareholder and director of Nestlé, became involved and helped with the business problems, and construction began. Trams were running from Vevey to Territet by 1st May 1888, although the official opening did not take place until 4th June, the final section to Chillon opening on 16th September.
Trackwork was constructed to metre gauge by means of a 42mm wide bull head rail and a 25mm wide bull head check-rail bolted together with a 30mm gap between them. The route was 10.4 km long and was single track with passing loops. Power was supplied at 450-480 volts direct current from hydroelectric generators, using a steam generator as emergency back-up. The Depot was at Clarens, about half way along the line, and was fitted with a traverser to move the vehicles. Access to the depot was via a turntable, which was also used to reverse the trams from time to time, so as to even up the wear on the wheel treads and the sun's weathering of the paintwork.
At this time all telephones in Switzerland used a single wire and earth return, their exclusive right to do so being protected by law prior to 1891. To avoid interference, the tramway was forced to use double (bipolar) overhead, instead of relying on the track/earth for its return circuit. The current collection was of an unusual type and was provided by Siemens to a similar design as that shown by them at the Paris exhibition, and which had also been used from 1883 on the lines at Mödling-Hinterbrulh (near Vienna, Austria) and Frankfurt-Offenbach (Germany), and was to be used from 1890 in Clermont-Ferrand (France). The overhead, carried on masts and supporting wires, consisted of a pair of hollow rectangular copper tubes of 20-25mm diameter with an inside diameter of 15mm. There was a slot at the bottom edge of each tube, and inside slid a shuttle bobbin. This was connected to the tram by a flexible steel rope and insulated copper cable, and fixed to one end of the roof via a steel tube. This tube was replaced in 1890 by a frame mechanism which provided a greater lateral movement of the cables, allowing them to follow the overhead better.
Number 5 was one of the batch of twelve cars (1-12) built 1888-89 by Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) of Neuhausen for the opening of the tramway, and was similar in design to the horse trams being built by SIG at that time. The electrical equipment was made by the tramway company itself. The cars were two axle but only one was driven, by shaft and gears from a 15 horsepower motor. In the first few months of operation, steel springing was replaced by a part rubber suspension, to give a smoother ride. Power was fed from a six notch controller, mounted under the seats and worked by a chain from the driving positions, via resistances on the roof, and which also provided rheostatic braking. One axle had a hand operated wheel brake, this being changed to both axles in 1890. The cars were double-deck with a spiral staircase at one end, and seated 12 inside and 8 outside both on longitudinal wooden benches. In winter the inside seats were provided with cushions and a small heater was put below the bench. At first the cars were lit by oil lamps, but these were replaced in 1890 by electric lights run from a small accumulator.
Trams 13-15 were added in 1890, and were almost identical to the first batch. Cars 16-23 were built in 1892-95 and were to the same design, but were only single-deck and had their overhead equipment in the middle of the roof instead of at one end. The early livery of the system was probably a blue-grey and off-white.
From 1898, the company also ran a single car (no. 24) rack assisted tramway connecting the VMC at Trait near Montreux to the village of Planches 392 metres away, but this closed in 1912 due to a derailment which damaged the tram.
From 1903 a separate company built a 2.4 km extension from Chillon to Byron and Villeneuve. As with the VMC two overhead wires were used, but with normal trolley pole collection. The trams (1-3), also from SIG, were thus unable to through run with the VMC, and passengers had to change vehicles at Chillon.
In 1913 the two companies were combined and the system modernised. The track was re-laid with grooved tram rail, and the overhead throughout was replaced by a single wire with Siemens bow collectors. All the original VMC rolling stock was withdrawn from service, being replaced by new larger single-deck trams 1-22 from SIG with electrical equipment by Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon. Nine trailers to a standard design were supplied by SIG, 50-52 in 1918-19, 53-55 in 1927, and 56-58 in 1930, and trailers 40-41 were rebuilt from CBV 1 and 3 in 1918-19.
Amazingly two of the first batch of cars survived. In 1950 Number 4 was renovated and fitted with a bow collector to run in Vevey, celebrating the half century. It is now fully restored to its original condition. The body of number 10 was converted into a single deck SIG style horse tram, was painted brown, and numbered as Zürich 27, ran in that city in 1960. Both are now in the Lucerne Transport Museum.
Between 1952 and 1958 the line was replaced in stages by trolleybuses, which mode of transport still serves the route today. The last tram ran on 19th Jan 1958.
After this postcard do you fancy a Swiss fondue? Then try the Fond-U-Like fondue website.
Go to Postcard Of The Month Index