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Geolocation challenge: A Swiss train
This writeup was written in parallel with a fantastic article on the same geolocation by my friend annie. Give it a read!
Yesterday evening, my friend maia posted a geolocation challenge in a Discord server we share. I’ll give you a chance to solve it yourself—you should read until the first bolded header below to get some important information while still avoiding spoilers—but here’s the photo it posted:
A bit of important context:
maia’s Swiss and politically locked within the borders of the country.
maia uses a Google Pixel phone, and the filename of its photo was
Discord scrapes EXIF data from photos, meaning no useful data is contained within the photo.
If you want to give the photo a shot, you can now!
The photo, however small, allowed for some rather interesting observations:
At least three sets of tracks separate maia and the train.
The train is on the last track, with a wall behind it.
A support pole is labeled with the maintenance code
Three sets of overhead wires are visible, as well as a utility pole supporting them.
The train has the text
RBDe 56visible. The rounded top of a third number after the 56 is also visible.
Two houses in the back are clearly visible.
Extrapolation & Investigation
What location am I searching for?
maia’s almost certainly inside a train station. Three to four tracks running next to each other would not be abnormal interstation, as would overhead wires and a utility pole, but most of that interstation area is rural; urban or suburban photos will likely be close to or inside of a station. Additionally, the maintenance code
261P is one that probably would appear on an in-station pole.
How do I start narrowing down stations?
With the train!
A Google search for the text on the train gives the RBDe 56x line of Swiss trains. They’re the only ones with RBDe in their name. The line has 9 train models:
SBB RBDe 561
SBB RBDe 562
BLS RBDe 565
MThB RBDe 566
SOB RBDe 566
BLS RBDe 566-II
PBr RBDe 568
It’s easy to rule a lot of these out. The SBB 561, SBB 562, SBB 565, and BLS 566-II are no longer in use. Some models (the SOB 566 and PBr 568) use a single color scheme that doesn’t align with the photo, and some models (the MThB 566) only have service outside of Switzerland. This leaves the TPF-TRN 567 and SBB 560.
But the windows lack a black stripe across them, and I could not find a 567 model with such a stripe. This leaves the SBB 560, which also can appear with TPF paint, and this time there is a black stripe:
One can further confirm the classification by looking at the top of the cut-off text, which allows for a
0 as the last character:
Where do these trains run?
The TPF has webpages giving specifications for their whole fleet, including the RBDe 560. Other than giving the train numbers, however, it doesn’t give the lines they’re used for. A bit of research into the individual numbers resulted in me finding this passage from the German Wikipedia, citing an article in the Schweizer Eisenbahn-Revue (“Swiss Railway Review”):
2021 kauften die TPF für den Betrieb der Durchmesserlinien S20/21 des RER Fribourg/Freiburg von den SBB 11 drei- und vierteilige Domino-Züge RBDe 560 235–243, 245 und 247.
In 2021, the TPF purchased 11 three- and four-car Domino trains of the models RBDe 560 235–243, 245, and 247 from the SBB for the operation of the RER Fribourg/Freiburg S20/21 through routes.
The S20 is an hourly service that serves three legs: Neuchâtel to Ins (on the Bern–Neuchâtel), then Ins to Fribourg (on the Fribourg–Ins), and finally Fribourg to Romont (on the Lausanne–Bern). The S21 is a similar hourly service, offset 30 minutes from the S20, that operates its latter two legs (from Ins to Romont).
What stop was the photo taken at?
Here, we can line up the timetables for the S20 and S21 (they’re split in two, from Neuchâtel to Fribourg and from Fribourg to Romont) with the time the photo was taken. While Discord doesn’t preserve EXIF data, it does preserve the Google Pixel filename
PXL_20230917_012607611.jpg, which gives this datetime (2023-09-17 at 01:26:07.611 UTC, or 3:26 Swiss time). And…
It’s a match at Fribourg, on the S21, coming from Neuchâtel and arriving at 01:19, then sitting for 3 hours until its first morning run. Being on the track closest to the wall and coming from the north, the S21 must be on track 8 or 9:
Pinpointing & Verification
It’s safe to say the photo was taken from somewhere on the platform between tracks 4 and 5 in the above photo, looking northwest towards Rue Louis-d'Affry. Google Earth has this set of houses:
The best candidate is the residential building on the far right. The roof color and body color generally match, and it appears to have similar height and window locations:
Street view from 2014 shows the residential building in more detail, confirming a match of the railing, stairs, and general house orientation:
And a 2017 photosphere truly confirms the geolocation, showing a potted plant on the second-floor balcony and array of posters in the lower door:
The photo was taken at 46°48’10.4” N, 7°09’01.0” E.
You can contact me on Twitter (@RhinozzCode) and Matrix (@rhinozz:matrix.org).