TO OVERCOME DIFFICULT GRADIENTS the engineers on the Bernina Railway have used a spiral location near Brusio. On some stretches the Bernina Railway electrically operates trains working by adhesion, up to gradients as steep as 1 in 14.
THE Republic of Switzerland, owing to its geographical position between France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, is traversed by several railway routes of international importance. Along these main lines run the “Simplon-
Spiral sweeps and corkscrew tunnels abound, and even rack-
THE ROUTE OF THE EXPRESS. Although the journey described in this chapter begins at Tirano, the “Glacier Express” runs as shown between St. Moritz and Zermatt.
The difficulties of the route will be best appreciated by looking at the map. In mountainous countries road and railway engineers alike naturally gravitate to the great river valleys, as the lines of least resist-
The switchback nature of the journey will be understood with the help of a few statistics.
From Tirano at 1,405 ft the line rises to 7,400 ft on the Bernina Pass, dropping to 1,995 ft at Reichenau-
A FINE SWEEP OF LINE on the Furka-
Tirano, where we begin our journey, is the terminus of a branch of the Italian State Railways. From Leeco, at the southern end of Lake Como, the branch skirts the eastern shore of the lake, and then, for over forty miles, climbs the Val Tellina -
A mile out of Tirano we cross the frontier into Switzerland, in the narrow defile of the Poschiavino torrent, noticing near the line the enormous 36,000 hp Brusio hydro-
A tremendous problem now lay before the builders of the railway. The main rampart of the Alps of the Bernina and the Rosegdies directly athwart the path of the line. The lowest level at which it could be crossed was the Bernina Pass, less than six miles ahead, but more than 4,000 ft above Poschiavo How could this be done?
The answer was to steepen the gradient to 7 per cent -
What is more, this 1 in 14 grade is worked entirely by adhesion, without any rack-
7,400 ft. by Adhesion
First the line sweeps to and fro in two great double curves on the open mountain side at the head of the valley, making the elbow bends by means of short spiral tunnels. Then it finds a narrow opening -
The descent to Pontresina and St. Moritz involves no great engineering difficulties, since these two well-
AN EXTRAORDINARY SPIRAL. Descending from Preda to Bergün the line is carried through three spiral tunnels, and round a loop in a lateral valley, to achieve a descent of 1,368 ft. in 3¾ miles. The railway actually travels 7½ miles in making the descent.
The next morning, immediately after breakfast, we return to the railway station, in order to catch the “Glacier Express”, which makes an early start. We hope for the finest of fine days, as otherwise many of the most spectacular features of the scenery may be obscured by clouds. The first section, from St. Moritz to Thusis, is known as the Albula Railway. It was built between 1898 and 1903, at a cost of one million pounds. We begin by descending the Upper Engadine, past Celerina and Samaden, to Bevers, whence a thirty miles branch continues onwards down the Inn almost to the Austrian frontier, at Schuls-
AN ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE hauling an express on the Visp-
This is the Albula Tunnel, which carries the line through from the watershed of the Danube to that of the Rhine. Although its length of 3¾ miles is but modest as compared with such giants as the Simplon, the St. Gothard, and the Lötschberg, yet the difficulties overcome in its construction were exceptional. They arose because of the altitude at which the work was carried out, for the centre of the tunnel is 5,998 ft above the sea. Ice-
At Preda the train emerges into the Albula Valley, and, apparently, into a new world. Here much more vegetation is to be seen than in the high-
This difference of level is much less than that on the Bernina Railway between Alp Grüm and Poschiavo. But the relative importance of the Albula Railway rendered such gradients as 1 in 14 out of the question. An inclination of 1 in 29 was the steepest that the engineer dare contemplate. This could be effected only by doubling the length of line between Preda and Bergün, in order to flatten out the gradient. Two out of the 7¾ miles are in spiral tunnels.
And so, shortly after leaving Preda, we find the train turning to the right into the mountains at the side of the valley. Through Zuondra Tunnel, 586 yards long, we proceed in a complete corkscrew turn. Emerging, we cross the Albula by a viaduct, and almost immediately re-
AN IMPRESSIVE MASONRY VIADUCT on the Furka-
RACK AND ADHESION locomotives haul trains on the Furka-
At Filisur the Albula River falls into the Landwasser. Here we part company with the branch line which makes its way up the Landwasser Valley to Davos-
Another remarkable bridge is that at Solis, where the Landwasser has dropped into the beginning of the abysmal Schyn ravine. Here the waters of the river are 292 ft below the rail level, but good foundations for the main arch of the viaduct -
Rapidly descending through a series of tunnels, and with no gradient over this section of the line steeper than 1 in 40, we find ourselves at Thusis, 38½ miles from St. Moritz. Thusis is a small market-
At the station of Reichenau-
The most interesting part of this section of the journey is the romantic and sinuous course that the river has carved for itself through the immense prehistoric landslip of Flims. The precipitous sides of this gorge do not consist of rock, but of avalanche debris, from which large stones often fall in the springtime. It has, therefore, been necessary to protect the railway, partly by leaving a space, into which the stones may fall, between the railway and the din, and partly by building the line, with the protection of large masonry dykes, in the bed of the stream, which here is very wide. Disentis, thirty-
Electricity now gives place, for the time, to steam. We are about to pass from the Rhaetian Railways to the Furka-
Shortly after leaving Disentis, with its great white Benedictine abbey, the rack comes into use, and in the next twelve miles, carrying the line to the crest of the Oberalp Pass, there are two long stretches of rack-
Here we cross the St. Gothard main line from Lucerne to Bellinzona and Milan. But we cannot see it, as the trains are passing over a thousand feet below us in the St. Gothard Tunnel. A short electric line, however, runs up the Schöllenen Gorge from Göschenen to Andermatt, thus connecting the two lines.
WIESEN BRIDGE on the Rhaetian Railways. The structure is situated on the Davos-
And now we have to climb to the highest altitude that is attained by the “Glacier Express”, although we were a little higher in level when coming over the Bernina Pass on the way from Tirano to St. Moritz. The barrier between the Rhine and Rhone lies immediately ahead. Fortunately for the locomotive, the full height of the Furka Pass, which is 7,990 ft. above the sea, has been avoided by the boring of the Furka Tunnel, 2,138 yards in length, through the crest of the ridge. But even the tunnel is at an altitude of 7,120 ft, and the approaches from both sides consist of long stretches of rack-
High above us, on the opposite side of the Rhone Valley, which we have just entered, are seen the zigzags of the road to Meiringen, which climbs over the summit of the Grimsel Pass from Gletsch. A railway route has been surveyed between Gletsch and Meiringen, which would link the Furka-
Leaving Gletsch, we proceed down the Rhone Valley, high mountains on each side, until, near the village of Griengiols, we pass an almost perpendicular cliff, with another railway emerging far below us, in a lower basin of the valley. This is, of course, the continuation of the Furka-
Gradients of 1 in 8
Once more the “Glacier Express” reverses its course. One of the fine modern electric locomotives of the Visp-
It is a fitting end to an astounding trip. Beside the line, all the way to Zermatt, rushes the blue-
Still steadily climbing, the train reaches St. Niklaus, where the sides of this narrow V-
At 7 o’clock in the evening we run into Zermatt, 5,280 ft above the sea.
The journey of the “Glacier Express” is finished. Our time of 10 hours 40 minutes for the 167½ miles from St. Moritz may not appear remarkable, but the train has been lifted over sixteen thousand feet.
THE STATION AT GLETSCH on the Furka-
[From part 16, published 17 May 1935]
“The St Gotthard Pullman Express” on this website.