At seven-and-a-half hours from beginning to end, it’s also the longest rail journey in Switzerland.
Today, after more than eight decades of service, the Glacier Express is not only the best known train trip in Switzerland, but also the most popular.
It began in June of 1930 when three rail companies combined routes to operate trains between Zermatt and St. Moritz. At that time, there were three classes of service in converted passenger cars that had been redesigned into salon-style coaches.
Until 1982, the Glacier Express was a summertime route only due to the hazards of traveling through the Furka Pass in winter. With the opening of a tunnel between Oberwald and Realp, a project which took nine years to complete, the train was finally able to provide year round travel.
The route, which links Zermatt and the Matterhorn with Chur and then Davos or St. Moritz, is a narrow gauge railway that features 291 bridges and 91 tunnels. Several places along the long incorporate rack rails which allow the train to ascend and descend uncommonly steep grades in the track. The company even gives passengers a souvenir wine glass with a tilted base to emphasize the steepness of some of the places along the line.
The Glacier Express has always maintained a high level of service with constant upgrades that reflect advances in technology and improvements in rolling stock equipment. All of which translates to magnificent panoramic coaches plus an elegant three-course meal which are standard components of every Glacier Express itinerary.
The highest point of the journey is the Oberalp Pass which reaches an altitude of nearly 6,700 feet. From towering Alpine walls of rock, to spectacular countryside with rushing mountain streams and infinite valleys, the Glacier Express is a visual feast that creates a lifetime of memories.
The Landwasser Viaduct is a highlight and a masterpiece of architectural design. With six-arches resting on five pillars that tower 213 feet to span the Landwasser River, the viaduct is a signature structure of the Rhaetian Railway, which still owns and operates it.
The 446-foot curved track disappears into or spills out of the 709-foot Landwasser Tunnel to the delight of everyone aboard. Thanks to the circular path of the track, passengers get a clear view of stunning structural achievement of the combination viaduct/tunnel with the mind-boggling vistas below.
Along the Glacier Express route, the train regularly tunnels through passes and passes through tunnels.
Another popular sight comes in the canton of Graubunden where the Rhine Canyon, better known as the “Swiss Grand Canyon,” is a remote haven for wildlife due to the difficulty of access. In fact, the rail line is the only way reach this forested region with its steep cliffs and roaring streams.
The route is equally spectacular in either direction, however the most preferable direction might be from St. Moritz or Davos through Chur to Zermatt. The reason being that Zermatt, though somewhat touristy with its pedestrian-only streets, looks more like the Switzerland most travelers come to see. Add the beauty of the Matterhorn and it’s a pleasant way to end the journey.
Going in the other direction, Chur has a lovely old town that is well worth exploring. It is also the gateway to another lovely hour-long train trip which goes high into the Alps to the ski resort of Arosa.
St. Moritz has been a playground for the rich and famous for decades, and it lies in a beautiful setting with three lakes that dot the route into the village.
Finally, here’s a dirty little secret: The Glacier Express route consists of several different rail lines. If the fee for the Glacier Express itself is too steep, you can still do the same route with your Swiss Rail Pass for no additional charge, although you will have to stop and change trains along the way. And, of course, you will not have the advantage of the panoramic cars, the earphone explanations or the meal. For travelers on a budget, it’s a very good way to savor the experience without the additional cost. (www.myswitzerland.com) (www.raileurope.com)
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC, founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Clubbook, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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