We are pleased to introduce our new blog series covering some of Europe’s finest scenic trains. Over the course of the next several months the CEOs of these train services will share an insider’s perspective of how their service began, and also give you birds-eye views of some of the stunning vistas you can see when you travel on their trains.
At the end of each post, we’ll ask a trivia question and you’ll have 1-week to answer on Rail Europe’s Facebook page. From all correct answers, one winner will be selected to receive a complimentary iPod Touch, an approximate retail value of $229.
Rhaetian Railways’ Bernina Express With Hans Amacker
Ever dream of seeing the glory of Swiss alpine vistas? This series begins with your discovering some amazing areas of Switzerland by special trains. Read on for the first post of our series, as we talk with RhB’s Director, Hans Amacker, about the Rhaetian Railways’ Bernina Express.
Grüezi, Bonjour, Buongiorno, Allegra!
How did your railway get started?
What a history!
The idea of Dutchman Willem Jan Holsboer (1834-93) to build a railway across the canton gained devotees. He finally managed, in 1887, to found the company, secure finance and start building work on the first railway in the Swiss canton Graubünden, the narrow-gauge line between Landquart and Davos.
The line began operations to Klosters just two years later and, a year after that, to Davos. He was unfortunately unable to see any other of his railway projects for the canton come true, as he died in Davos at the age of just 59. But his pioneering spirit helped to develop the company to an efficient mountain railway for the region, including the Albula- and Bernina line finished in 1910.
This all-year-round line, designed to run even in winter weather, is a symbol of the Rhaetian Railway’s modern approach to providing railway services for the canton.
Can you provide us with a description of your scenic train route?
Bernina Express – From glaciers to palms
The train takes you from Chur (at 585 meters above sea level), through the wild valley of Albulatal and into the region of Upper Engadin, from where it climbs to the railway’s highest point at Ospizio Bernina (at 2,253 meters above sea level), before descending to Tirano (429 metres above sea level!), in an itinerary that takes about four hours.
The line links extremes of climate, along with various cultures and languages and never fails to impress. It includes winding switchback tunnels, the towering viaducts of the valley of Albulatal and, as you cross the Alps via the Bernina Pass, glaciers that look almost close enough to touch.
The Bernina Express runs trains consisting only of observation cars on its runs from Chur, Davos and St. Moritz to Tirano and vice versa. The train arrives in Valposchiavo at around noon – just in time to let you enjoy a typical lunch of the area. After their midday break in Tirano, travelers can choose between a return trip on the Bernina Express, following the Bernina-Albula route, or a ride on the popular Bernina Express Bus, which runs through the Veltlin region, along Lake Como to Lugano.
The Bernina Express covers the entire 122 kilometre-long UNESCO World Heritage route from Thusis to Tirano, over the border in Italy.
Are there any special tips you can provide travelers, in order to have the best experience?
My personal highlights
It is not easy to name one highlight – there are too many. But one of the most impressive moments is the crossing of the Landwasser viaduct. This unique building, close to the station of Filisur, is a masterpiece of engineering.
The view from the Montebello curve to the ice covered peaks of the Bernina range is unbeatable.
A hidden gem is Alp Grüm, only accessible by train or foot. The view to the Palü glacier, the fresh, clean mountain air and the view to Lake Poschiavo and the Italian Alps is unique.
How many meters above sea level is the train station of Ospizio Bernina?