One of the Most Spectacular Railway Routes in Europe
One of the Nord “Super Pacifics”, on the “Golden Arrow” at Paris (Nord). An engine of this type is used to haul the Engadine Express from Boulogne to Laon.
THIS month we are to go for a sightseeing trip over one of the most spectacular railway routes in Europe, rather than to note any exceptional feats of load haulage or speed. Indeed, such feats could hardly be expected over a line with a ruling gradient of 1 in 29, and constant and very sharp curves -
First of all, where is the Engadine? The name has been given to the easternmost big valley in the easternmost Canton of Switzerland. The river, that flows through it -
Except, possibly, for the broad valley of the Aar, there is barely a square mile of Swiss soil that could be described as other than mountainous. But if Switzerland generally is mountainous, the easternmost Swiss Canton, the Orisons, is so in a most exceptional degree Roughly one-
The railway network known as the Rhaetian Railways now connects Coire directly with St. Moritz, and has reduced what was previously a journey of 13 hours by horse drawn diligence to one of just under 2½ hours in smoothness and comfort by the Engadine Express. It is true that during this period we cover a distance of only 55½ miles, but we shall see presently over what kind of a route this is done. The Rhaetian Railways have extended their tentacles in other directions also. A loop route starts out from Coire alongside the Swiss Federal line down the Rhine Valley to Landquart, then turns eastward into the deep valley known as the Prattigau, through an extraordinary natural gateway in the mountains rightly called the “Klus”, or key. Ascending this valley to Klosters, it then climbs high up the mountain side and over the ridge into the valley in which is situated another famous resort -
Another branch ascends the valley of the Vorder Rhein -
The third Rhaetian branch runs down the Inn Valley northeastward from St. Moritz to the well-
Altogether the Rhaetian Railway authorities, with rare enterprise, have laid just over 170 miles of railway through this terribly difficult Canton. It is entirely of metre gauge, which, although at the expense of speed and earning capacity, makes it possible to use sharper curvature, so that cutting and embanking can to some extent be kept down by the track closely hugging the irregular mountain sides. Even so, much heavy engineering work has been necessary, including 81 tunnels -
But before we can travel on the narrow-
It is a “Blue” train, and so will immediately arouse the interest of every Hornby Railway Company enthusiast. Now that the “Blue Train” proper (from Calais to the Riviera, which is run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only), has become a “super-
We soon find our own cars, labelled “Boulogne -
The first train away from Boulogne after the arrival of the boat is the ordinary express for Paris, which leaves at 5.53 p.m. We are due to start nine minutes later, at 6.2 p.m. There is little doubt that the engine of our heavy express, whose formation in the height of the season may turn the scale at anything from 500 to 600 tons, will be one of the famous super-
The Engadine Express ascending the spirals in the Aibula Valley, Rhaetian Railways.
We have travelled previously over the main line of the French Northern Railway, when we flew from Calais to Paris by the “Golden Arrow”. After passing slowly through the “Ville” station at Boulogne, we join this route at the “Bifurcation d’Outreau”, or Outreau Junction, as we should call it. We then follow the same course through Etaples and Abbeville to Amiens, where we diverge to the north, as we are to avoid Paris altogether by taking a more northerly route through Laon and Rheims. The most interesting features of this part of the journey are the remarkable feats of reconstruction that have been carried out by the Chemin de Fer du Nord authorities since the Great War. Here we are passing through the heart of the Western Front where, when hostilities ceased, little vestige of any main lines of railway remained. Now all the bridges have been re-
During this part of the journey we have been dining very comfortably in the palatial British-
While we are sleeping soundly in our comfortable berths we are hurried on through Rheims to Chalons, which is the next stop, and then to Chaumont and Belfort, where we drop the Bernese Oberland section of the train and exchange our Est locomotive for one of the Alsace-
of the war to the traveller is that it is no longer necessary to pass through a corner of Germany between Belfort and Basel, so that the customs examination in the middle of the night at Petit-
With one more call, at Mulhouse, we pass on to Swiss territory and find ourselves in the great Central Station at Basel at 5 o’clock in the morning, having travelled 460 miles from Boulogne. Over an hour is allowed here, for the Customs officials have to visit us -
This is at the outset up the wide Rhine valley, but presently, at Stein, we turn up a branch valley, tunnel for 1½ miles under the crest of the ridge at Effingen, and drop down to the valley of the Aar, with our first distant view of the snowclad Alps away to the right. Crossing the rapid river, we pass through the large station at Bragg, where we are joined by an important main line from Berne, through Olten; then, passing the spa of Baden, we approach the outskirts of a great city. Drawing slowly into a large terminal station, we find we have arrived at Zurich, the biggest and most important town in Switzerland, with 207,000 inhabitants. We have travelled from Basel to Zurich behind a powerful electric locomotive, and have taken 76 minutes for the steeply-
At Zurich our train is reversed. Electrification of the main line from Zurich to Coire has now been completed. Last time I travelled over the route it was only partly electrified, with the result that our heavy train went out with a steam locomotive as train engine, piloted by an electric, locomotive -
At Sargans we are to lose from the rear of the train the portion going over the Arlberg to Innsbruck and Vienna. This goes down the Rhine Valley for a short distance towards Lake Constance, whereas we are to turn southward up the valley. So it is with a comparatively light train that we leave again at 9.11 am on our short 16-
We have now to say good-
Eighteen minutes are allowed by the authorities for the transfer at Coire, and at 9.56 am we set out, once again electrically hauled, toward the highlands of the Grisons. There is no booked stop ahead of us for just over two hours, during which we shall cover 51 miles; and in view of the gradients to be surmounted, the average scheduled speed of 25 miles an hour is remarkably high. At first we see little of note from the engineering point of view Reichenau-
No gradient on this part of the route is steeper than 1 in 40. The valley is broad enough until we approach the town of Thusis, where the mountains appear to close in all round us. From the depths of an amazing chasm known as the Via Mala -
For over seven years, in fact, the railhead of the Rhaetian Railways remained at Thusis, and the remainder of the journey to the Engadine had to be made by coach, until the engineer Hennings had devised Ids astonishing location of the line tip the Albula Valley, and had opened the route through to Celerma in 1903. From Thusis he swung round left ward into the Schyn Ravine, deep in the bottom of which the Albula tempestuously forces its way to join the Rhine. We climb high up the left bank, with glimpses between many tunnels of the foaming torrent, far down a precipitous slope below us. Emerging into more open country at Solis, Hennings found it necessary to carry his line across to the opposite bank, and this he did by the great Solis Bridge. Founding his main piers on the rock on both sides of the gorge, lie built his beautiful masonry arch, carrying the rails 292 ft above the water. The Wiesen Bridge, which figures in one of the illustrations, is of a very similar type, save that in this case the foundations had to be carried almost down to the water-
Wiesen Bridge the other section of the Rhaetian main line, coming up from Landquart through Davos to join us at Filisur. Before the two sections can effect a junction, however, we have also to jump across the same Landwasser River -
Climbing has now to begin in serious earnest. For the final ascent of the Albula Valley a gradient of 1 in 40 is of little use,
and the figure steepens to “35 in 1,000”, as it is reckoned abroad, or about 1 in 29. This climbing naturally has the effect of reducing our speed somewhat, but we still find our powerful locomotive travelling upward at a steady 20 miles an hour. Just beyond Filisur we enter a spiral tunnel, and on emerging, at an altitude higher by 80 ft, look down on the stretch of line over which we were running just previously. Steadily ascending, with the Albula for most of the distance far below us on the right, seen through a dense pine forest, we approach the prominently situated village of Bergun; in 5½ miles from Filisur we have climbed 960 ft.
Now the most tortuous part of the journey lies immediately ahead. Preda is but 3½ miles away, in a bee-
The remarkable spiral location of the Rhaetian Railways main line between Bergun and Preda.
If you look out of the carriage window in a forward direction just before the tunnel is entered, you will see right through it, as it is perfectly straight from portal to portal. But you will be pardonably astonished as you travel through to find that it is no less than 3¾ miles in length. You can well understand that boring so long a tunnel at this tremendous altitude was no easy task. The temperatures were very low, and some of the worst difficulties arose from the tapping, at three different points, of powerful springs of very cold water, which between them held up the work for 15 months. For over a mile the rock pierced is so hard that it has not been necessary to line the tunnel here with masonry.
It takes us about ten minutes, or slightly less, to pass smoothly through, and on emergence we find we have come out into another world. We have passed from the watershed of the Rhine into that of the Danube. The luxurious vegetation and dense forests of Western Switzerland give place to a comparative barrenness. In the crystal-
The Engadine express crossing Schmittentobel Viaduct, Rhaetian Railways. The Landwasser Viaduct is seen in the background.
[From The Meccano Magazine, April 1929]