Daily Archives: August 17, 2013

Some Foreign Lines – The Glacier Express

Some Foreign Lines

The Glacier Express

Glacier Express bei PredaThe Glacier Express in the Albula Valley.

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Service type – Inter-city  Status Operating  Locale Graubünden, Uri and Valais, Switzerland   Current operator(s) Rhaetian Railway  Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn   Former operator(s) Furka Oberalp Bahn  BVZ Zermatt-Bahn


Start St Moritz / Davos / Chur   End Zermatt

On-board services – Class(es) – 1st and 2nd – Disabled access Yes

Catering facilities Restaurant car – Observation facilities Panorama cars

Technical – Rolling stock  Panorama cars  Restaurant car

Track gauge  1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge –  Electrification  11 kV AC 162⁄3 Hz

800px-GlacierLandwasserGlacier express on the Landwasser Viaduct

9 September 2006  Own work  Champer  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

   The Glacier Express is an express train connecting railway stations of the two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. The train is operated jointly by the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) and Rhaetian Railway (RhB). For much of its journey, it also passes along and through the World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes.

The train is not an “express” in the sense of being a high-speed train, but rather, in the sense that it provides a one-seat ride for a long duration travel. In fact it has the reputation of being the slowest express train in the world. As St. Moritz and Zermatt are home to two well-known mountains, the Glacier Express is also said to travel from Piz Bernina to Matterhorn.

The Glacier Express first ran in 1930. Initially, it was operated by three railway companies: the Brig–Visp–Zermatt Bahn (BVZ), the Furka Oberalp Bahn, and the RhB. Since 2003, the train has been operated by RhB and a newly established company, the MGB, which arose from a merger between the BVZ and the FO.

The trip on the Glacier Express is a 7½ hour railway journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in altitude. The entire line is metre gauge (narrow gauge railway), and large portions of it use a rack-and-pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those grades.

800px-OberalpTrain Station of Oberalp

19 August 2009  Own work  Gio 2000


Early years

The completion of the final portion of the FO in 1926 opened up the Cantons of Valais and Graubünden to further tourist development. In particular, a pathway was laid for the introduction of Kurswagen (through coaches) between Brig and Chur, and between Brig and St. Moritz.

In early June 1930, the then Visp–Zermatt Bahn was extended to Brig by the opening of a metre gauge line along the Rhone Valley between Visp and Brig. For the first time, it was feasible to operate through coaches all the way from Zermatt to St. Moritz and return. On 25 June 1930, the first train of such coaches set out from Zermatt to St. Moritz, under the name Glacier Express.[2] The new train’s name honoured the Rhone Glacier, which is near Gletsch, on the Furka Pass.

Until 1982, the Glacier Express operated only in the summer months, because the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass were both snowed over in winter. Initially, the train was made up of first to third class salon and passenger coaches, supplied by all three of the participating railway companies. Between Chur and Disentis/Mustér, passengers could enjoy a hot lunch in a Mitropa dining car. From 1933, the Glacier Express through coaches were attached to normal passenger trains between Brig and Zermatt.

In the earliest years of the Glacier Express, electric locomotives were used to haul the Glacier Express on the BVZ and the RhB, but steam locomotives were used on the FO. That changed in 1941-1942, when overhead catenary was installed on the FO, enabling completely electric operation for the full length of the route. However, no through trains were operated between 1943 and 1946, due to World War II.

Upon the resumption of daily through trains in 1948, the dining car service was extended from Disentis/Mustér to the top of the Oberalp Pass. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, both the BVZ and the RhB introduced new locomotive classes that, when attached to the Glacier Express, enabled reductions in schedule times. Meanwhile, the dining car service was extended further, to Andermatt.

Year round operations

In 1981 a Glacier Express era came to an end, with the final closure for the winter of the FO line over the Furka Pass and through the Furka Summit Tunnel, between Oberwald and Gletsch. In June 1982, that FO line was replaced by the newly opened Furka Base Tunnel. As a consequence, the Glacier Express not only became disconnected from its namesake Rhone Glacier, but also could now, for the first time, be operated on a year round basis.

At that time, the BVZ, FO and RhB took the opportunity to relaunch the Glacier Express as a tourist attraction. Promotional material focused on the train’s status as “the slowest express train in the world”, covering 291 km or 181 mi, 91 tunnels, and over 291 bridges. A special promotional wine glass on a sloping base emphasised the steepness of some parts of the route. Passenger numbers rose from 20000 in 1982 to over 53000 in 1983, and to just over 80000 in 1984.

800px-Glacier_Express_in_der_VorderrheinschluchtTwo Glacier Expresses coupled together and pulled by a single Ge 4/4 III in the Rhine canyon between Versam-Safien and Valendas-Sagogn.

 24 August 2008  Own work: http://www.bahnbilder.ch/picture/2450  Kabelleger / David Gubler (http://www.bahnbilder.ch)

 Recent developments

In 1985 the Glacier Express timetable was completely revised. Between 1986 and 1993, the BVZ and the FO invested nearly 40 million Swiss Francs in constructing 18 new first class panorama cars for the train.[2] By 2005 more than 250000 passengers were travelling on the Glacier Express each year.

In 2006 a few scenes of the documentary film The Alps were shot inside the train, and further new panorama cars were added to the Glacier Express passenger car fleet. On 7 July 2008, the Albula Railway and the Bernina Railway were jointly recorded in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, under the name Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes. Currently, the Glacier Express is especially popular with tourists from Germany, Japan, and, increasingly, India.