Meritorious Achievements of the Swiss Mountain Railways
THE GIANT MATTERHORN forms a striking background to the Gornergrat Railway at the Riffelberg Station, 8,430 ft above sea-
MORE spectacular railway routes are crowded within the comparatively limited confines of the Alps, in all probability, than in any other area of comparable size in the world. There are the important main lines, which have been laid in all directions through this great mountain chain, and on which no expense has been spared in easing the gradients to provide for heavy and fast traffic. Of these the two most remarkable -
Then there are the minor lines, which have been carried through even more difficult country from the engineering point of view, but with steeper gradients, and, in some instances, with even more astonishing feats of engineering. Examples of these narrow-
Among the short lines which make considerable ascents without the assistance of rack-
SOARING UPWARDS out of the Rhone Valley on the Martigny-
Climbing steadily, on an average gradient of 1 in 16½, the railway skirts slopes of ever-
Among the railways which employ both rack-
The Rhone, during past ages, has worn itself a valley of great depth and width. Most of the lateral valleys in this part of its watershed are at a considerably higher altitude than that of the river; their waters pour down to the Rhone either by way of enormous waterfalls, as with the Pissevache fall at Vernayaz, or through the deepest of gorges. Consequently any railway intended to establish communication between the main line and one of these lateral valleys has first of all to climb up the precipitous wall of the Rhone Valley.
Leaving Martigny, the Martigny-
From Salvan onwards the passenger over this highly spectacular route finds the train travelling along a kind of shelf, with mountains on his right and the deep Trient Gorge far below on the left. Between Le Tretien and the popular resort of Finhaut, with its magnificent view across the junction of two abysmal ravines at the Tete Noire, the line is carried on the extreme edge of a precipice, dropping 1,325 ft sheer to the Trient. In the eight and a half miles between Vernayaz and Chatelard, the railway rises from 1,490 ft altitude at Vernayaz to 4,060 ft at Finhaut, and then falls again to 3,680 ft at Chatelard. From Martigny to the French frontier station of Vallorcine the distance is thirteen and a half miles.
THE STEEPEST FUNICULAR IN EUROPE is that which carries passengers from Piotta, in the Canton Ticino of Switzerland, up to Piora Terminus, seen in this picture. The funicular is alongside the pipe-
On the adhesion sections the steepest gradient is 1 in 14, and the average speed maintained is twelve and a half miles an hour, whereas on the 1 in 5 rack-
Not far away to the west is the parallel valley of the Visp, up which there runs to Zermatt the electrically operated Visp-
Up the various rack-
With maximum speeds up to twenty-
But the railway journey need not end at Zermatt, for by means of the Gornergrat Railway the passenger may mount yet another 4,920 ft in altitude to the Gomergrat, where the railway terminus is 10,235 ft above the sea. This unique station offers one of the finest glacier views in the world. Immediately opposite the observer, and at close quarters, there stand in line the ice-
Though not attaining by a thousand feet to the maximum altitude of the Jungfrau line, the Gornergrat Railway earns no small distinction by being, with the exception of one short tunnel, in the open air, so that views are obtained throughout the journey as well as from the summit. There are two intermediate stations, at Riffelalp and Riffelberg, each of which boasts a large hotel, and there is another at the Kulm, or summit, which is, of course, the highest open-
SWINGING UP THE FLANKS OF MONT BLANC, the suspension railway that climbs towards the summit of the Aiguille du Midi reaches Les Glaciers Station at a height of 8,740 ft. In the background are some of the “Aiguilles”, the gigantic needles of rock which help to make the
Chamonix valley famous.
The electric current used on the Gornergrat Railway is three-
From Interlaken trains of the Bernese Oberland Railway run to Grindelwald, twelve miles away. For most of the distance, partly with ordinary adhesion working, and partly with the help of rack-
It would seem at first sight that no railway could possibly be carried up out of this valley, but the engineers of the Wengernalp Railway have found one sloping break in the continuity of the cliffs on the east side. Up this, looped to and fro on a forty-
From Wengen the climb continues, first across the pastures high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and then turning eastwards into the Trummel Valley, with rack-
The distance from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch is exactly twenty miles, the journey requiring the services of three railways and lifting the traveller roughly 9,500 ft. The most attractive excursion from Interlaken is to ascend to Jungfraujoch by this route, and to return from the Scheidegg to Interlaken by way of Grindelwald, thus completing a circuit of unparalleled scenic attraction.
EIGER, MONCH AND JUNFRAU, the trio of giant peaks of the Bernese Oberland, are best viewed from the Schynige Platte, to which the rack-
A COLOSSAL ARCH OF 350 FT. SPAN across the Plessur Valley at Langweis, on the Chur-
Also belonging to and worked by the Bernese Oberland Company is the rack-
Reference has been made in earlier chapters to cable-
A Power Station Funicular
Still more terrifying in its inclination is a contractor’s funicular up which the writer travelled -
Nevertheless, it is pertinent to remark here that, no matter how hazardous some of these airy Alpine ascents may appear at first sight, no traveller on a Swiss mountain railway need entertain any fears for his personal safety. In the whole history of the purely mountain railways of Switzerland, not one single passenger has ever lost his life as the result of an accident. This immunity is all the more remarkable when the spectacular routes of the Swiss mountain railways are taken into consideration. Switzerland is entitled to congratulate herself on so fine a record of safe working in such extraordinary conditions. At regular intervals each Swiss mountain line is subject to inspection by a representative of the Federal Government, who has power to order any replacements of material or alterations in working that he may deem necessary in the interests of continued safety.
HIGH ABOVE THE ABYSS of the Trient Valley, the Swiss Martigny-
1,325 ft deep, with the Trient torrent foaming below.
Of all the Swiss cable-
The lower terminus of the Niesen Railway is at Miilenen-
The construction of the line in two sections both obviates the use of a haulage cable over two miles long, which would have been necessary had the ascent been made in one stage, and also doubles the carrying capacity of the railway. Each of the four cars, two of which are used on either section, passing each other at the half-
In the matter of suspension railways, or telepheriques, as they are known in the Alps, descriptions have been given of various examples in earlier chapters, but the most startling of them all has yet to be mentioned. To discover it we need to cross the frontier from Switzerland into France, and make our way to the popular resort of Chamonix, in the deep valley of the Arve, dominated by the great chain of Mont Blanc on the south side of the valley. The oldest mountain railway here is the steam-
But of more recent years the builders of suspension railways have been busy running these lines in various directions up the mountains round Chamonix, chiefly with the object of affording to sightseers better views of the mountain mass of Mont Blanc and its outlying peaks -
The first of the telepheriques from Chamonix boldly attacked the Mont Blanc range itself, and was opened in 1924. It has been carried up the flank of the Aiguille du Midi as far as Les Glaciers; the lower terminus is 3,455 ft above sea-
On the opposite side of the valley the suspension railway builders first carried a line up the lower slopes of the Brevent until they reached a shelf on the mountain-
But on reaching Planpraz the sightseer still finds himself more than 1,500 ft below the summit of the Brevent. Furthermore, the face of that mountain is a sheer cliff over 1,000 ft high, and between the two there is a valley of considerable depth. Nothing daunted, however, the French engineers have swung cables across this enormous gap, and the suspension railway from Planpraz to the Brevent is now in being.
For additional security and also for the purpose of lightening the weight of each individual cable, the main supporting cables are doubled; the breaking strength of the pair, each of 1-
CLIMBING FROM ZERMATT TO GORNERGRAT. The entire six miles of the electrically-
[From part 44, published 29 November 1935]
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