Tim Frank points out some of the unusual sites as he explores scenic Switzerland by rail.
NOWHERE else will you find such a good rail system where the trains are punctual, the freight traffic is well-organised and travelling is a pleasure.
In Switzerland, the railways are supported by the people and the government. The whole public transport system is fully integrated and its railways reaches from InterCity trains to little rack railways found high up in the mountains.
On top of that, the rail lines pass through an amazingly beautiful landscape – at least as long as they don’t disappear in one of the many tunnels.
Taking a train in Switzerland is by itself a form of sight-seeing and travelling. Read on to learn more about some of the not-to-be-missed rides in this country:
A journey through the Alpine tour
The Rhätische Bahn in the East of Switzerland is definitely one of the world’s most fascinating railway operations.
This narrow gauge railway connects important holiday resorts such as St. Moritz and Davo and also stations of small villages.
Across high viaducts, through narrow valleys, over spirals and loops and through many tunnels, the trains run through a beautiful mountain landscape.
In most of the carriages the windows can be opened, so that a fresh breeze can enter or one can welcome or say goodbye to people and places. The progress of air conditioning has yet to sanitise this railway.
Nevertheless many of the vehicles are new. One of the modern Ge4/4III appears out of the cloud-covered mountain forest near Cavadürli, just up from Klosters. Darkness is already approaching as the train heads for Davos.
Trains on the Rhätische Bahn run on the hour until late at night. Push/pull trains are used between Davos and Landquart and have the new Ge4/4III locos assigned to them. Many of these engines are covered with commercials and therefore appear in all sorts of colours.
Apart from the locos that come in multiple-colours depending on what commercials they are carrying. Most of the railway’s rolling stock has a characteristic red colour. No wonder it’s often advertised as the small red railway.
After leaving Klosters station, the train will head down the valley towards Landquart. Spot the catholic church of Klosters in the background. The reformed church of Klosters is the older of the two. It is right in the centre of the resort and its tower is visible from the station precinct.
From Klosters station, a curved bridge carries the tracks into a tunnel, or rather two separate tunnels.
One of them loops around inside the mountain continuing the line up the valley towards Davos.
The other tunnel turns east to exit at Selfranga after about 2 km. From there the line continues through the 18km long Vereina tunnel to the Engadin region.
A class Ge4/4II engine brings the train from Scuol into the Klosters station. This class was derived from the standard gauge class Re4/4II (420 according to the new scheme) of the SBB.
Regular car shuttles operate through the Vereina tunnel. There is a road over the Vereina pass, but it is fairly long and windy and at times inaccessible.
The Engadin region is a remote mountain area. With its amazing mountains, small villages and quaint buildings it certainly is something special. In many villages, the people still speak Romanche, a language derived from Latin that has survived the passing of time. One of these villages is Susch. It is also the crossing station for trains between Pontresina and Scuol.
The valley widens towards St. Moritz. Madulain is a small village close to the river. Farmers still cultivate their little holdings while tourists come here mainly to cycle in the surrounding area.
Samedan is the major junction of the Engadin region. From here, the lines divide to go to St. Moritz and Pontresina. As trains from the West do not stop in Bever, it is also the junction for trains going up the Engadin towards Scuol and the line through the Albula tunnel towards Filisur.
West of the Albula tunnel the railway line descends the valley through loops, tunnels and viaducts that cross between the valley sides. In some areas, galleries are required to protect against avalanche damage.
One of the heavy Ge6/6II engines hauls a freight train up this section of line over one of the smaller viaducts. These locomotives were built from 1958 onwards and now mainly haul freight trains and heavy passenger trains. The front section has been rebuilt, changing its appearance.
At the end of the 1940s, the Rhätische Bahn got these little engines of the Ge4/4I class. They were able to haul light passenger trains at an increased speed. After a rebuilding programme, these engines still fulfil their daily duties and reliably haul passenger trains.
The Ge4/4III loco hauls the Glacier Express across the most visible viaduct in the upper Albula valley.
The Glacier Express is probably the most well known of Switzerland’s scenic trains. It connects Zermatt via the narrow gauge rail network through the Furka tunnel with St. Moritz and other resorts in eastern Switzerland.
The best known structure of the Rhätische Bahn is not far from Filisur. The Landwasser viaduct crosses the narrow gorge with graceful stone arches. High above the mountain stream it clings to a vertical rockface where trains enter directly into a tunnel.
From its base the viaduct looks even more imposing. Between rocks, cliff-faces and trees the structure rises from the valley, seeming to touch the sky. High above trains pass by.
Clinging to the mountainside, the track descends via several smaller viaducts after the spectacular viaduct over the Landwasser gorge. Above the railway line, the meadows so characteristic of the Swiss Alps can be seen.
By caring for the land for centuries, Swiss farmers continue to maintain the mountain landscape, even though it may be judged inefficient in international comparison.
In Filisur, another line branches off towards Davos. One can complete the round trip of the Vereina mountains by travellign on this line.
Brünig line between Luzern and Interlaken
There are more interesting narrow gauge lines in Switzerland. One of them is the Brünig line between the tourist centres of Luzern and Interlaken.
For many years, the line was the only narrow gauge railway operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). In 2005 it was taken over by the Luzern-Stans-Engelberg-Bahn (LSE) and the new venture was renamed Zentralbahn (Central Railway). It now operates long distance, commuter and local trains.
Still in the colours of the SBB Brünigbahn, this class 101 electric arrives with its train in Brienz. Over the Brünig Pass it operates as a rack railway. Here in the valley, the loco just requires adhesion to haul the train. The carriages sport the livery of the Golden Pass Panoramic Express Tourist venture.
It is probably the same locomotive that hauls its train 50 minutes later in the opposite direction along the shore of Lake Brienz. On its way from Interlaken to Luzern, the train does not stop at the small flag station of Ebligen.
For local traffic, the Zentralbahn has put into service a new railcar series in 2005. Designated SPATZ (Schmalspur-PAnorama-Trieb-Zug; Narrow gauge PAnorama Motor Train) it operates on the valley lines of the railway.
Between Meiringen and Interlaken the trains provide a frequent service along the shore of Lake Brienz and in the upper Aare valley.