Scenic Trains Rides in Switzerland
The following text has been written by Jobst Brandt
(firstname.lastname@example.org) and distributed via the misc.transport.rail.europe
There are a few Swiss specialties that rate high on the "must"
list as I see it. Depending on your specialty, the order of importance may
800mm gauge Locher horizontal opposed cogwheel drive. Steepest cog in the
world at 48% (42% average) with spectacular view over Lucerne. Goes from
Alpnachstad (alt.441 m) to Bergstation Kulm (alt. 2070 m). It was inaugurated
with steam power on 4th June 1889, electric power introduced on 15th May 1937.
Runs from mid May to the end of November. To get there, take the SBB meter
gauge Brunig line from Lucerne to Alpnachstadt.
- Brienzer Rothorn Bahn (BRB) 800mm gauge steam cog line with
spectacular scenery. Runs turn of the century steam Abt cog equipment. Arrives
at Rothorn Kulm (alt. 2244m, 7362ft). Inaugurated in 1892. Can be reached by
SBB Brunig meter gauge adhesion/cog (Riggenbach) rail line from Lucerne or
Interlaken to Brienz.
- The Postauto trip from Meiringen (where Meringue was
invented) to Rosenlaui and Grindelwald over the Grosse Scheidegg pass is a
spectacular introduction to the Eiger-Moench-Jungfrau Massif. In the shadow of
the Wetterhorn this scene, framed in rugged glaciers, is a fitting start to
the train up the Jungfrau. This trip, starting in Meiringen, passes the cliff
on the Reichenbach waterfall where Holmes and Moriarty fought to the death as
they both went over the falls. The Sherlock Holmes bar is in Meiringen adorned
by the old sleuth's visage in bronze.
- Jungfraujoch Bahn
with meter gauge Strub cog up through the Eiger to the Jungfrau overlook.
Arrives at Jungfraujoch (3454 m, 11'333ft) the highest altitude railway
station in Europe. Unique 99% in tunnel cog rail. Must be seen to be believed.
At mid tunnel, huge windows give views out of the famous north face and then
the south face overlooking the Aletsch Glacier. Don't miss this one if you
ever get near it. Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) meter gauge adhesion/Riggenbach
cog from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald, then by Wenger Alp Bahn
(WAB) 800mm gauge Abt cog to Kleine Scheidegg and then the Jungfrau Bahn.
- Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) to Schynige Platte from Wilderswil
(about 4 km out of Interlaken on the BOB mainline). This 800mm gauge line uses
Riggenbach rack and has no adhesion drive. From the Schynige Platte, a
panorama of Wetterhorn, Eiger, Moench, Jungfrau, and many others to the south
fill the view. In the Aar valley to the north the Thunersee, Interlaken, and
Brienzersee spread out below with a backdrop of mountains to fill out the
- Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (DFB) formerly Furka Oberalp (FO) meter
gauge Abt cog (max 11%) with steam operation over the Furka Pass on the
old line from Realp. This is a resurrected mountain line that was bypassed
through a tunnel. Original steam locomotives from 50 years ago were recovered
from the jungles of Vietnam along with two much larger steamers built by SLM
for Vietnam. These larger ones that had never run in Europe have about twice
the power of the original steamers. Although currently not a through railroad,
the DFB is one of the most interesting parts of the FO that runs from Brig to
Disentis where it connects to the RhB. It makes connections to the SBB and BLS
mainline at Brig and the SBB at the Gotthard tunnel via the Schoellenenbahn
(part of FO).
- Vitznau Rigi standard gauge Riggenbach rack from Vitznau on
the lake to the top of the Rigi gives a grand panorama. Take the lake steamer
(real steam) to Vitznau from Lucerne. Return from the top of the mountain by
way of the ARB Arth-Rigibahn to Goldau on the other side of the mountain. The
VRB and ARB were merged recently into a single railroad but they retain their
livery of blue and white for the ARB and red for the VRB. They are compatible
and share track. The VRB was Riggenbach's first cog railway that he copied
from Marsh's Mt Washington NH railway, the first cog line in the world.
- In Zermatt, the (GGB) Gornergrat Bahn runs double track up to
Gornergrat with twin pantographs under dual overhead three phase on meter
gauge and Abt rack, cog drive only. This has an exceptional panorama from
Monte Rosa on the left to the Gemini in the middle and the Matterhorn to the
right to name a few. Access from Brig is by the (BVZ) Brig-Visp-Zermatt meter
gauge adhesion and cog line, an extension of the FO and the start of the
- Glacier Express from Zermatt to Chur over the BVZ meter gauge
adhesion and Abt cog from Zermatt to Brig where the train continues on the FO
that uses similar equipment to climb up the narrowing Rhone Valley to the
Furka tunnel from Oberwald to Realp, the route that the DFB covers over the
pass with steam. After Andermatt, it's over the Oberalp Pass with horseshoe
cog drive tunnels. The RhB takes over in Disentis with adhesion only and goes
to Chur where you can catch the Arosa branch or the Bernina Express the next
day or continue on to St. Moritz, the terminus of the Glacier Express.
- The Bernina Express on the RhB runs from Chur to Italy over
the Albula and Bernina Pass route. Meter gauge adhesion but 7% grades. One of
the most photographed lines in Switzerland. The Albula grade includes loop
tunnels and stone arch viaducts that cross the valley in grand loops before
ducking into the tunnel to the Engadin and the Inn river. This line has the
famous curved stone arch bridge that dives into a sheer granite wall high over
the Landwasser at Filisur. At Samedan, after passing through the Albula
tunnel, it picks up 1000VDC power for the run over the Bernina section of the
RhB. Reach Chur either by SBB or from the FO and RhB through Disentis.
- Martigny-Chatelard-Chamonix meter gauge Strub cog line from
Martigny to Chamonix. This 1000 VDC line runs third rail through the
countryside with no protection. Its climb out of the Rhone valley leads to an
unbelievable ride on the edge of a "grand canyon" in a manner that defies
description. Mont Blanc is a fitting terminus for such a ride. The SNCF
operates the section from the border to Chamonix and beyond.
- The SBB Gotthard line from Lucerne to Locarno (or Lugano) and
then by the Ferovie e Autolinie Regionale Ticinese (FART) meter gauge
Centovalli line to Domodossola and back to Brig through the Simplon is a
worthy adventure. The Gotthard and Simplon are probably the earliest of the
great tunneling mainlines, both of which make use of stacked double track loop
tunnels between which they barely emerge to get a breath of air in narrow
canyons with spectacular vertical granite walls. All this as a prelude to the
two great tunnels, the double track Gotthard at 16 km and the twin bore
Simplon 20 km long.
- After the Simplon, in Brig you could take the BVZ meter gauge
cog to Zermatt or the FO to the Furka Pass or the Bern Loetschberg Simplon
(BLS) mainline back to Interlaken.
- While you were going south, instead of going straight to
Locarno you could go to Lugano and take the balanced funicular that goes from
the train station to the marvelous downtown for a tour of the shops. This
cable car was formerly run with water ballast, filled into the descending car
at the top and drained at the bottom station. Lugano has two other funiculars
that deserve special mention, the Monte Bre not far from downtown and the two
stage San Salvatore. Both use balance cars in the classic manner with double
flanged wheels on one side only so they can pass at the halfway mark without a
switch. Or even better go to Chiasso and next door to to the Italian city of
Como that has an enchanting waterfront and endless shops with worldwide
appeal. An ancient city with lots of charm and a funicular of its own.
- The Monte Generoso 800mm Abt cog at Capolago, at the end of
the lake from Lugano, is a great ride that overlooks Lugano and Como and has a
panorama over the Po valley with Milano on the horizon on a clear day. This
one, as many of the cog railways, has one or more steamers that get pulled out
for special occasions. They don't run regularly because they cannot fit into
today's timetables that are based on higher speed electrics. The BRB is an
exception as is the DFB. Take a lake steamer or an SBB local from Lugano.
- The Niesenbahn up Mt. Niesen (2372m) is one of the longer and
steeper funicular lines that offers both an excellent ride through rugged
cliffs as well as a great view from the top. The car starts from Muelenen
(700m) just out of Spiez on the BLS going toward Brig.
Many of these Swiss trains are nearly free on a Swissrail pass except for the
super cog lines that only give a small discount. This pass is valid on the meter
gauge lines, lake steamers, all postal busses and city buses and trams. Get a
second class one for one week or less. They can always be extended at any train
station if need be. The Eurail pass is not valid on any of the private lines,
nearly all of the ones listed. The Swissrail is worth it.