Switzerland to bid a fond farewell to the iconic Re 420 trains

Switzerland to bid a fond farewell to the iconic Re 420 trains

60 years after they first took to the tracks, the iconic Re 420 series trains will slowly be phased out, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has confirmed. The workhorse of public transport in Switzerland, the 300-strong fleet will be gradually scrapped and sold over the coming years.

Re 420 trains: The workhorse of Swiss Federal Railways

Known originally as the Re 4 / 4 to SBB, and nicknamed the “BoBo” by railway workers due to its wheel and axel arrangement, the first Re 420 was built in the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works in Winterthur in 1964. Between 1964 and 1985, 300 BoBos were built in Winterthur, Baden, Zurich and Geneva, making the train series the largest that Swiss railways has ever known.

Initially, the Re 420s were used as the backbone of SBB, pulling anything from high-speed Intercity trains and services in the mountains to commuter and freight routes. The iconic boxy design, red paint job and Swiss cross on the front make it one of the most recognisable trains on the lines today.

Re 4 / 4s beloved by train drivers in Switzerland

Drivers speaking to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) said that the train is famed in the industry for its versatility and extreme reliability - perhaps not a surprise, given some trains are now approaching 40 years old and are still running well. “The locomotive has never let me down,” one operator told the newspaper. 

However, time waits for no locomotive, and since its heyday in the pre-2000s, many more advanced models have come around seeking to replace the Re 420. Today, the trains are only used on freight services, a limited number of S-Bahn routes in Zurich, some cross-border routes, extra services for football games and other events and as replacements for when the more modern trains break down.

BoBo trains to be phased out of Swiss railways in 2033

Now, sadly, SBB confirmed that the BoBos are approaching their swan song. The trains are expected to be gradually phased out and replaced across Switzerland, with the final locos set to be retired in 2033. Writing on LinkedIn, Peter Füglistaler, the director of the Federal Office of Transport, said that “there is sadness when your favourite locomotives are taken out of service after 60 years of operation.”

While it is unclear whether the remaining Re 4 / 4s will be scrapped or sold to other countries, trainspotters will still be able to see them. Speaking to the NZZ, the Historical Heritage Foundation of the Federal Railways said it plans to take one of the BoBos and have it preserved for posterity. An association in Koblenz has already restored one of the trains to its former glory, sporting the green paint job once synonymous with SBB.

What’s more, the NZZ noted that several private companies are hoping to purchase the trains to run on freight networks across Europe, meaning that even when they’ve been phased out of SBB, they could still be spotted in Switzerland from time to time.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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