European Narrow Gauge Circle Tour - 1995
Part 3 - Switzerland
This photo essay covers an escorted tour I took in 1995 through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. My photos were lost in a house fire but about 50% of the negatives survived. My brother Ian scanned and cropped the useable film and here they are. The mix is about equal parts real trains, large scale model trains, and scenic images. I hope you enjoy the trip.
The Swiss portion of the trip was the highlight in many ways. We rode on a lot of trains and saw a lot of scenery. The Swiss National Railway (SBB) is standard gauge (1435 mm). Click here to see a map of the Swiss rail network.
First stop was in St Galen to ride the Appenzellbahn and visit the St Galen LGB Club large scale outdoor railway. Many trains in Switzerland operate almost like interurban streetcars. The Appenzellbahn is one of them. It heads into pastoral farmland on a narrow right of way, sometimes encroaching onto the equally narrow automobile roads.
Swiss train, bus, ferry, and even airplane schedules are highly integrated. The bus is timed to meet the ferry which is timed to meet the train - often with only a minute or so to spare. This clockwork efficiency over-rides corporate and state boundaries, something we could use a lot more of in North America.
The St Galen LGB Club layout is a work of art and it's hard to tell how many trains are running; there are quite a few. It rained just a bit, so some trains would spin a bit on the grades, but all performed extremely well. There are more than 1000 meters (3300 feet) of track, all of it with automatic block signals and station stops.
Next stop was Chur, the headquarters for the Ratischebahn (RhB), and our tour group for a few days. The city is the most ancient in Switzerland, dating back at least 5000 years. Some of the cathedrals are more than 500 years old. The library has documents written by Irish scholar-monks dating back more than 1000 years!
Chur to Arosa and return is a day trip with lots of time to wander around town, shop, and view the lake. The trains are short groups of modern self-propelled cars running on a narrow, sometimes steep, right of way. Most passengers are tourists but the local citizenry are also regular travelers.
Chur to Tirano (in Italy) and return on the Bernina Express is a long day trip. Leaving about 6 AM and arriving in Italy in time for a short lunch (I chose spaghetti carbonara). The return leaves at 1 PM for a 7:30 PM arrival in Chur. The scenery is breathtaking and, frankly, more interesting than on the Glacier Express. The circular viaduct at Brusio is an amazing structure. The Italian language and architecture, once the train passes the summit of the Alps, is a real surprise for the uninitiated.
The Glacier Express is actually a number of trains on a number of routes. One route is from St Moritz to Disentes via the RhB, which meets another Express from Chur. When merged, they head to Andermatt on the Furka-Oberalpbahn, then to Brig and Zermatt on the Brig-Viss-Zermattbahn. The latter two railways use rack locomotives and every second car on the train must have rack braking systems. Locomotives change at each change in railway ownership, and passenger cars are added or deleted as necessary. Through coaches stay connected so you hardly know anything is happening.
Zermatt and the Matterhorn are beyond words - visualize your fondest dreams of the classic Swiss chalet backed by the most sinister mountain peak. A lot of people have died on the Matterhorn; the cemetery is beside the main street. The only internal combustion engine in Zermatt belongs to the garbage truck. All other vehicles are electric and scarily quiet.
We rode the Gornergratbahn closer to the Matterhorn, but it snowed so we didn't see much of the mountain. This is a steep rack line with one-way traffic.
No buses reach Zermatt. You have to take the train back at least one stop to the bus parking lot, where we departed for Lucerne on our faithful German tour bus. In Lucerne, we visited the Swiss Transportation Museum, cruised Lake Lucerne on the old steam powered ship, and rode the Rigibahn from Vitznau to Goldau.
After a farewell dinner with the tour group, we were bused to Zurich where the group boarded for home. I then spent a week in Schafhausen with friends, viewed the Rhine Falls, floated down the Rhine for a sumptuous lunch, toured the towns, countryside, monasteries, and coffee shops. Finally, I trained it back to Frankfurt via SBB and a DR ICE with only one train change at Munich.