The paddle steamer "Montreux" (named after the famous namesake resort town on the shores of Lake Geneva) is currently the most unique and most modern steamboat in Switzerland, if not in all of Europe for that matter. At the same time, its "modern" features, including its stunning and brand-new two-cylinder inclinded marine steam engine are highly classical in design and appearance, and visually rather impressive to behold. The "Montreux" was originally built as a classic Belle Epoqueside-wheeler in 1904, at the height of turn-of-the-century European tourism and as a classic product of its era - stylish, elegant and very refined. It originally featured an inclinded 2 cylinder compund steam engine built by Swiss manufacturers and steam giants Sulzer Brothers of Winterthur, and ran as a classic steam powered touristic vessel for nearly 60 years on the lake.
In 1964 the managment of the shipping company however decided to replace the steam propulsion on the ship with diesel-electrical drives, and the ship was converted from a charming vintage vessel, to a spartanic and rather crudely modernized motor ship, with a particularly noisy and shaking diesel engine. Most of the elegant interior furnishings were also ripped out, and the individual first class cabins on the upper deck dismantled for an unappealing open space. In short the Montreux had become again a product of its time, but this time it was a step back. It was nothing more then a floating platform, propelled by paddle wheels, because the shipping company didnt have enuff money to buy entirely new motor vessels, and instead considered it cheaper converting its steamers into makeshift motor boats, only retaining the paddle wheels and the old era shapes of the boats.
That epoch of the "Montreux" lasted for about another 30 years. Then came a remarkable turn, when the diesel electrical units on the ship reached the end of their usefullness and the end of their life span. A decision had to be made on how to continue to propel the ship, and after Swiss manufacturers SLM made the suggestion to build upon the success of modern steam units on land, and design a brand new and first-of-its-kind modern era marine steam engine, it was decided in 1997 and 1998 to equip the "Montreux" once again with steam propulsion, only this time with a revolutionary modern steam engine, that would feature a remote control as well as a fully automated boiler, so as to enable it to be run with the same low number of staff as a motorboat, so as to save on operating costs. The engine of the "Montreux" was indeed purposefully designed be directly controlled from the wheelhouse, elimating the need for an engineer at the levers, down below. The ship was taken out of service in 1998 and comprehensively rebuilt until 2001, as also much effort went into restoring the interior of the ship, and especially the salon and the uppder deck, to a state more similar and representative of the ships turn-of-the-century design.
The "Montreux" hence is a very symbolic and representative ship, as it is the first example of where steam kicked diesel overboard, and not the opposite. Thanks to the "Montreux" a whole new term has come about in Switzerland and in Swiss steamboat circles, namely that of "re-steaming" a ship.
The engine of the Montreux has operated in manual as well as in remote control operation since its return to service in 2001, and has performed with near 100% mechanical reliabitly, only on one or two occasions a few screws having to be replaced. It is the most impressive ship on Lake Geneva, and the signature vessel of the Lake Geneva General Shipping Company (CGN), as well as the star of the fleet on the lake.
Andrew Thompson also recomments the following websites for further photos and information about SS Montreux:
Page created 15 Dec 2003