The paddle steamer “Montreux” (named after the famous resort town on the shores of Lake Geneva) is currently the most unique and modern steamboat in Europe (or the World). Its modern features include a brand-new two-cylinder inclined marine steam engine of classical appearance yet modern design.
The “Montreux” was originally built as a classic Belle Epoqueside-wheeler in 1904 as a classic product of its era – stylish, elegant and very refined. It originally featured an inclined 2-cylinder compound steam engine built by Swiss manufacturer and steam giant, Sulzer Brothers of Winterthur. It ran on Lake Geneva as a classic steam-powered tourist vessel for nearly 60 years.
In 1964 the management of the shipping company decided to replace the ship’s steam propulsion with diesel-electric drive, and to convert the ship into a spartan and rather crudely modernized motor ship, with a particularly noisy and vibrating 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. Once again, the Montreux had become a product of its time; only this time it was a backward step, becoming nothing more than a floating platform propelled by paddle wheels because the shipping company didn’t have enough funds to replace it with an entirely a new motor vessel.
That epoch of the “Montreux” lasted for about 30 years. Then came a remarkable turn of events when the ship’s diesel electrical unit reached the end of its useful life. When a decision had to be made on how to continue to propel the ship, Swiss manufacturer SLM put forward a proposal to build upon the success of its then recently-built modern steam rack lccomotives by designing a brand new and first-of-its-kind modern era marine steam engine.
In 1997 a decision was taken to equip the “Montreux” once again with steam propulsion, only this time with a revolutionary modern steam engine, featuring remote control as well as a fully automated boiler to enable it to be run with the same low number of staff as a motorboat and thus save on operating costs. Montreux’s new engine was designed to be directly controlled from the wheelhouse, elimating the need for an engineer/operator in the engine bay.
Between 1998 and 2001, the ship was taken out of service and comprehensively rebuilt. In addition to the new engine, much effort went into restoring the interior of the ship, and especially the saloon and upper deck, to a state representative of its original design. The “Montreux” has thus become a replica of an earlier era and at the same time the first example of a “modern steam” engine supplanting diesel power on a boat. Thanks to the “Montreux” a new terminology has come about in Swiss steamboat circles, namely that of “re-steaming” a ship.
Since its return to service in 2001, the engine of the Montreux has operated in manual as well as in remote control operation, and has performed with near 100% mechanical reliability. 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.