The Jungfrau Railway in the Swiss Alps brings tourists to Jungfraujoch, sitting at the very top of Europe.
KLEINE SCHEIDEGG – The carriage door closed and passengers looked for seats on the Jungfrau Railway, in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps.
The small cogwheel railway, which starts in Kleine Scheidegg, is a top attraction for tourists, many of whom are Japanese. They all want to ride up to the Jungfraujoch; it’s a saddle between the Jungfrau and Moench peaks and the site of Europe’s highest railway station.
Journey to the Top of Europe
The railway takes over a half-million tourists from the foot of the Eiger Glacier, some 2,060 metres above sea level, to what is billed as the Top of Europe, an observation platform with a view of the Jungfrau, at 4,158 metres the region’s highest mountain. Around 60 percent of the tourists are Asian, mostly from Japan. Many also come from South Korea, India, Taiwan and China.
The number of passengers keeps growing. There were 702,000 in 2007, a new record. The Jungfrau Railway plans to break the 1 million barrier soon.
Jungfrau Railway route
Built between 1896 and 1912, the railway stretches 9.3 kilometres. Passengers receive a cardboard “nostalgia ticket”, resembling the tickets issued in the 1950s, as a souvenir. The route starts in the open and then enters a long tunnel. The first stop is Eigergletscher, 2,320 metres above sea level. The route continues inside the mountain to the next station, Eigerwand, 2,850 metres above sea level.
Eigerwand is equipped with panorama windows blasted through the mountain. On this particular day, ice covered the inside of the glass panes. Several Japanese and Korean tourists posed for photographs next to the station’s sign and beside the doors of the train.
The train does not halt for long, and the next stop, Eismeer, is not far. There are panorama windows there, too. And once again, a group of East Asian tourists got out and took photographs.
The high point of the ride is the next and last stop, Jungfraujoch, 3,454 metres above sea level. The complex of buildings there includes a station concourse, several restaurants with a total seating capacity of several hundred, an atmospheric research station, an Ice Palace, an observation terrace and Switzerland’s highest-altitude post office.
The Ice Palace, carved out of glacier ice and decorated with ice sculptures, consists of cavern-like passages that widen into rooms and halls. Getting lost is easy; the head of the Korean group carried a Swiss flag that she sometimes raised to keep her crowd on course.
The Sphinx observation hall
A lift takes tourists, at a speedy 6.3 metres per second, another 108 metres up to the Sphinx observation hall and terrace, the highest accessible point at the Top of Europe. There, you can gaze at the mountains through the windows or step outside if you are not afraid of the cold. The wind is bracing at such a high altitude.
Standing on the terrace, as snowflakes fall so quietly, can be mind-blowing. How do you say that in Japanese?