When you look at advertisements for Swiss trains, you often see pictures of a train crossing an imposing stone viaduct through the mountain wilderness. This photo is on the Bernina-Express, the Rhaetian Railway, from Graubünden to Veltlin. The portion between Thusis and Tirano is a UNESCO world heritage site, the third train to receive such an honor. It received the distinction for its combination of engineering and impressive scenery.
Completed in 1910, you can take it from Chur (on the Albula Railway), St. Moritz or Davos, to Tirano, Italy. On the way, It passes through 55 tunnels, crosses 196 bridges and overcomes gradients of up to 7%. Incredibly, it does it all without the benefit of a cogwheel drive (rack and pinion).
The Bernina Express, which is one of Switzerland’s special panoramic train journeys. The cars have larger windows to for a better view of the amazing scenery. I hear that in the summer there are open air trains. They would be great to avoid the glare.
The best part about the Bernina Express is the dramatic change in scenery during the four-hour ride. It starts in near Heidiland in Chur. You pass farms, cows and even vineyards. Not long after, the train hits the Domleschg Valley (famous for Turner’s romantic paintings of it). The valley is strategically positioned on the route to three main Alpine passes (the Splügen Pass, the San Bernardino Pass and the Julier Pass) and is rich with castles that were built to control these trade routes.
For at least 20 minutes, there is always a castle in view. We oohed and aahed over the castles, having no idea just how much cooler it was about to get.
From the Domleschg Valley, the train climbs to the famous Landwasser Viaduct shown above. Constructed from stone, it is one of the world’s most famous railway viaducts and in most Swiss tourism brochures. Built in 1902, it necessitated the development of new construction methods. They didn’t use scaffolding. Instead, they built steel towers and covered them in stone. Notice the sheer drop exiting the tunnel? Construction started there!
Unfortunately, these were the best shots I could get. I love to take pictures and hate to sit still, but was worried about being rude leaning over people. The guys above had no problem leaning over groups of four to film or get their shot. After seeing everyone else out of their seats snapping away, I decided to get up and stand in an empty area. My pictures improved dramatically. I’ll post more about the journey tomorrow.
- Take a Train Ride Through the Swiss Alps Without Even Getting Off Your Arse (gizmodo.co.uk)
- Google Street View now takes users on a virtual train ride through the Swiss Alps (theverge.com)
- All aboard! Street View takes to the tracks to capture the Swiss Alps (digitaltrends.com)
- Google Street View reaches trains, rides the Swiss Alps (electronista.com)
- Journey through the Swiss Alps with Google Street View (sociable.co)