Dominique Reichenbach, practical trainer for train drivers

Dominique Reichenbach can do what many people probably dream of: he drives the legendary “Crocodile.” Today we get the chance to learn a lot about his exciting day at work and he explains why he prefers older engines to modern ones.

Tanja Thaler, Communications expert, 19. May 2021

1 Dominique, would you like to introduce yourself first?

I have been a train driver for RhB since 2015 and have had the privilege of driving the “Crocodile” since 2018. I was born in Ticino 53 years after the birth of the “Crocodile,”  and grew up in Mendrisiotto, in the very south of Ticino. After working in various positions throughout Switzerland (in Liestal, Kreuzlingen, Martigny, Biel, Gruyère, Fribourg, Bern and Thun), it was love that brought me to Graubünden. This also led me to have the courage to pursue a new career path by now being able to observe technology, people and nature as a train driver. And now I’m the proud father of two girls.

2 What is the main difference between driving a historical locomotive like the “Crocodile” and a modern engine?

This question is like asking me what the difference is between a typewriter and a PC. It is very similar for the locomotives: the “Crocodile” is a locomotive in which the driver is the computer and controls it. As an engine driver, you don’t just work mentally, but also physically. The Capricorn, on the other hand, is full of state-of-the-art computers and lots of technology, as well as monitoring systems that make the work of the train driver easier.


3 What do you personally enjoy more? Historical or modern?

I prefer older locomotives, where I, as a train driver, can use the resources available to me as I see fit – according to my experience and the sensitivity I have acquired. I am talking about things like acceleration, braking, vehicle sensitivity and track knowledge. The older locomotives do not have cruise control, so you have to feel the driving and adapt to the weather and surroundings.

4 Did you need any additional training to drive the “Crocodile”?

I had some special training and also a few days of driving with someone alongside me. What is special about the “Crocodile” is that it requires knowledge for starting up and parking. And I learned how to do that during the course. 

5 Can you describe a typical day when you are assigned to drive the “Crocodile” between Davos and Filisur?

I actually start getting ready for the day at home when I put on the nostalgic uniform and cycle to the depot, attracting lots of attention. I then put the locomotive into operation and get it ready for the journey: all oil levels have to be checked, the taps opened and the bars lubricated with the various oils and greases. The time flies by and, in the end, your hands and arms are pretty dirty.

Then the locomotive is attached to the carriages, the train is prepared and we drive to the platform. There are often passengers standing on the platform who can hardly wait to board the nostalgic train. But first they want to photograph the train from every angle. Sometimes passengers speak to me directly and ask me a lot of questions. They often know more than I do about the different “Crocodiles” that exist in Europe. These discussions are really exciting and I like interacting with the passengers. Whenever I have time, I like to show them the driver’s cab or give them the opportunity to take a photo of themselves as an “engine driver” in the cab. But I have to disappoint them if they say: “Now I’d really like to drive off myself!” This privilege is something only the drivers get to enjoy. 

When it’s time to set off, the train crew, who are also in nostalgic uniforms, issue the departure order and, after a nice, loud whistle, some physical work is required to ensure passengers can enjoy the journey.

There is no “stop on request,” so we stop at every station between Davos Platz and Filisur. In addition, there are three “low-speed sections,” where we travel really slowly to allow passengers to take pictures of the “Bärentritt” waterfall, the Wiesen Viaduct and, from a distance, the Landwasser Viaduct. In Filisur, the locomotive has to be taken around to the head of the train again.

Here, the temperature of the side rod is measured in order to detect any hot runners and – if necessary – to relubricate. We take the same route back, but it is more difficult for the two engines because we’re travelling uphill. As soon as we get to Davos Platz, the composition is parked away from the platform and we take our well-deserved lunch break. In the afternoon we go on the same trip, but in the evening we have to park the locomotive and check everything, refill it, clean it and prepare it for the next day.

You can really feel you’ve worked hard when the day comes to an end. You’re dirty and physically tired from the work and the heat. But that doesn’t bother me because the satisfied guests and bright children’s eyes make it all worthwhile. I feel totally satisfied when I finish my work. Then I go home and treat myself to a shower and a nice “supper”. 

6 The “Crocodile” locomotive was built in 1929. Is it still safe to be using this locomotive?

These locomotives are still safe if every employee and the passengers act correctly. You have to work with respect and caution. This also means that train spotters – as with all trains -  are kept away from the tracks when they are taking their photos. For its age, the locomotive is still very reliable if it is properly operated, maintained and treated with respect. 

7 What is the greatest challenge when driving historical locomotives?

I would say that you consciously have to pay attention to a lot of things. You have to stay focused and still have the freedom to be able to deal with any disruptions or irregularities quickly.

8 Is there any special situation relating to the “Crocodile” that particularly sticks out in your mind?

I often wear the uniform I got from my landlady. Her father was also a train driver for RhB and was stationed at the Pontresina depot. She gave it to me when she saw we were wearing the same uniform for the ride with the “Crocodile” locomotive. I wear it with pride and it gives me great pleasure to be able to continue wearing this uniform.

I find it fascinating that this locomotive was in existence before I was born. What has this locomotive already seen or experienced, or how many drivers have already driven it? I think it’s really unique. 

A special experience that I will never forget: some passengers once got into the scenic carriage despite very bad weather (rain and cold) – and stayed there for the entire journey. They must have been frozen on it. I was simply thrilled with their perseverance.


9 What do you think is the particular attraction of the “Historical trips between Davos and Filisur” offer for our passengers?

Passengers experience what the railway is or was like. They simply climb aboard and enjoy the trip in the various carriages while observing or rediscovering the landscape from a different perspective. You feel transported back in time and can switch off from today’s rather hectic everyday life. Guests enjoy embarking on a journey into the past and being able to ask the train staff about the locomotive and the highlights during the trip. 

10 Have you ever travelled privately on this nostalgic train? What did you like about it?

I’ve been on it with my colleagues, as well as with friends, family and acquaintances. Everyone just loved the trip and the locomotive. I’m also extremely proud to be able to tell them a lot about it and hand on information. And I am very proud to be a part of this team. 


Ann Glen 14.02.2024

Uplifting to read Dominique's 'report' about his experience of driving a 'Crocodile'. Pleased to say that I have travelled on a train hauled by a Crocodile from Filisur. It was about 20 years ago. Have also visited the RhB's impressive works in Chur. Amazing electric locomotives to see, and we are doing 'catch up' here in Scotland where our scenic lines in the Highlands are not electrified as yet. Our heritage railways have steam locomotives and the famous excursion is the 'Jacobite from Fort William to Mallaig and return - over 80 miles - with splendid views and steep climbs to thrill the passengers.


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