Switzerland – the ultimate railway paradise

Switzerland – the ultimate railway paradise

Switzerland is a paradise for railway fans and train travellers alike. And that’s the main reason I wanted to go there. I had three wishes. One – take a train to Switzerland from Slovakia. Two – take the famous Glacier Express that runs between Zermatt and St. Moritz. Three – take the Bernina Express from Swiss St. Moritz to Italian Tirano. It was going to be the ultimate Swiss railway adventure. And it was, it really was.

Railjet Express: Bratislava – Zürich

On Tuesday, the 8th of September I took a direct train from Bratislava, the Slovak capital to Zürich. It’s the second season that the Austrian national carrier runs this train and I get all excited when my home country has new international train connections. The train leaves (until early December 2020) at 6.10 am and reaches Zürich at 3.20 pm. It’s a railjet train which offers a high standard of travelling. The views of the Alps along the way are spectacular and I also enjoyed the stretch along the Zürich lake. So beautiful.

Off to Switzerland, baby! Finally!
The super cool Railjet Express train at the Zürich railway station

Interrail Pass

Switzerland is an extremely expensive country to travel around. In order to save some money while making most of my trip I decided to buy an Interrail pass. It’s a special ticket which enables you to travel for a certain number of days within a month or a certain number of months in a specific country, or in case of a global pass across 33 countries in Europe. This required a little bit of planning the result of which was that I bought a 5-day one country pass. There are also 3, 4, 6 and 8-day passes and you can travel on as many non-consecutive days within a month.

An alternative would have been the Swiss Half Fare Pass which enables you to get 50% discounts on train, ship and cable car fares but in my case Interrail was a much better bargain. It definitely paid off. My Interrail pass cost me 221 Swiss francs (204 euros), the online price is 197 euros, but there is a delivery charge. It’s very expensive but you only live once, don’t you.

Panoramic trains in Switzerland

Only when I was in Switzerland did I realize that there are many more mountain express, or rather panoramic trains. So I ended up taking more such trains than I had planned. Because I spontaneously decided to take them when I found out about them.

I took the following panoramic express trains:

  1. Voralpen Express: St. Gallen – Lucerne
  2. Luzern Interlaken Express: Lucerne – Interlaken
  3. Golden Pass Panoramic: Zweisimmen – Montreaux
  4. Glacier Express: Zermatt – St. Moritz
  5. Bernina Express: St. Moritz – Tirano

In addition, I took trains on the following rack railways:

  1. Pilatusbahn: Alpnachstadt – Pilatus Klum
  2. Schynigge Platte Bahn: Wilderswil – Schynige Platte
I travelled all around Switzerland by train (the blue flags)

Voralpen Express

So the first interesting train connection was the Voralpen Express, connecting the cities of St. Gallen and Lucerne. It’s operated by the Südostbahn, not the national carrier SBB-CFF-FFS. This was quite an interesting find – there is a fairly high number of railway companies operating in Switzerland.

During the journey lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes you will pass the Sitter Viaduct, the highest railway bridge in Switzerland (99 metres), 8.6 kilometre long Ricken Tunnel, and travel at different altitudes ranging from 408 to 933 metres. In addition, you will be able to enjoy the view of the Zurich lake, the Rothenthurm upland moor, the Pilatus mountain and Lake Lucerne.

For more information, click here: Voralpen Express

Voralpen Express
Off to Lucerne

Pilatus Railway

Pilatusbahn, or the Pilatus railway in English, was a must do thing for me. I’m a railway fan after all. It’s one of the ways to get up to the Mount Pilatus and it’s an exciting train adventure, as it’s the steepest rack railway (or cog railway) in the world with the maximum gradient of 48%. The line starts at Alpnachstadt (440 m) and terminates at Pilatus Klum (2.073 m).

The views of the surrounding mountains, meadows and the tunnels the railway passes through are superb. As it’s quite an expensive journey, I only bought a one way ticket and hiked down. I got a 50% discount with my Interrail pass and paid 18 francs.

For more information, click here: Pilatus Railway

The Pilatusbahn railway station in Alpnachstadt
Pilatus Railway
The mountains around the Pilatus Railway
The mountains around the Pilatus Railway
The mountains around the Pilatus Railway
Pilatus Railway
Pilatus Railway – steep isn’t it?
Another train going up

Luzern Interlaken Express

Another train that I took was the Luzern Interlaken Express, connecting as you might have guessed the cities of Lucerne and Interlaken. The journey takes 1 hour and 50 minutes and I enjoyed it even more than the one on the train to Lucerne. Why? Because the views of the many mountain lakes on the way were magnificent. Just to mention a few: Alpnachersee, Sarnersee, Lungerersee and my favourite by far Brienzersee. When ascending, the train uses the cogwheel technology in order to make it to Brünig Pass, the highest point of the journey (1.008 m).

For more information, click here: Luzern Interlaken Express

Luzern Interlaken Express
Luzern Interlaken Express

Schynige Platte Railway

The historic Schynige Platte railway (Schynige Platte Bahn), that runs from Wilderswil to the Schynige Platte is another great thing to do if you’re a railway fan. Although I didn’t plan on taking a train at first, I couldn’t resist the temptation. And it saved me some energy so that I could hike more in the more beautiful parts of the mountain range. A one way ticket costs 32 francs and having an Interrail pass I paid 24 francs. The journey takes approximately 1 hour as the train is super slow.

For more information, click here: Schynige Platte Railway

The Schynige Platte railway station

The cute Schynige Platte train

Another Schynige Platte train

Golden Pass Panoramic

A third unplanned panoramic train adventure, and the one I enjoyed the most from the three, was on board the Golden Pass Panoramic that runs between Zweisimmen and Montreaux, on the shore of Lake Geneva. The scenery was fantastic. Going from Zweisimmen, you get to see majestic mountains, beautifully green meadows, picturesque neat villages with the traditional Swiss houses before the trains starts to descend to the stunning Lake Geneva. It was an unforgettable train journey which I’d like to go on again. I took a modern train but there are old school train carriages, too. Next time!

For more information, click here: Golden Pass Panoramic and Montreux Zweisimmen Line

The charming engine of the Golden Pass Panoramic
The journey aboard the Golden Pass Panoramic was phenomenal
Golden Pass Panoramic
Golden Pass Panoramic
An old school train carriage of the Golden Pass Panoramic

Glacier Express

Taking the Glacier Express was one of the main reasons I came to Switzerland. I had wanted to take the train for a long time. If you are a railway fan you cannot NOT do it. I wanted to take a train all the way from Zermatt to St. Moritz but you can choose a shorter trip between the two stations. What’s different from the previous three panoramic trains I took is that you need a seat reservation for this one. It costs 43 Swiss francs. A one way ticket costs 152 Swiss francs. Having the Interrail pass, I only paid for the compulsory seat reservation.

During the summer season there were two departures a day in each direction. From Zermatt, at 8.52 am and 9.52 am. I took the later train. The journey takes 7 hours and 46 minutes.

While on this trip, you will go over 291 bridges and 91 tunnels. The highest point of the journey is the Oberalppass at 2.033 metres aboves sea level. When the train started climbing from Andermatt to the pass it was one of the highlights of the trip. Another one was the Rhine Gorge, which some refer to as the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.

The most beauitful and exciting part of the journey for me, however, was the part between Chur and St. Moritz. It’s the Albula line of the Rhaetian Railway which is a UNESCO world heritage site and an impressive sight if you’re a railway fan like myself. The train winds its way up the mountains without the use of rack technology and crosses the Rhine valley from one side to another multiple times offering great views and guaranteeing a great experience. One of the most spectacular places on the line is the famous Landwasser Viaduct. Being 65 metres high, 142 metres long and curved it’s an impressive structure that has become the symbol of the Glacier Express.

You are provided with a booklet in multiple languages as well as earphones and you can listen to interesting stories about the railway, mountains or Switzerland in general while admiring the beauty around you. If you’re not on a budget you can feast on different dishes while having a railway adventure of a lifetime.

Although taking the Glacier express is a wonderful adventure, I missed one thing. Open windows. Yes, the train does have panoramic windows, but nothing compares to a train with open windows.

For more information, click here: Glacier Express

Glacier Express is ready for departure
Glacier Express at the Zermatt railway station
Glacier Express at the Andermatt railway station
The beautiful Muchetta mountain near Filisur (shot through a window)

Bernina Express

Another train I definitely wanted to take was the Bernina Express. Again, I wanted to take the train all the way, from St. Moritz to Tirano. Bernina Express, however, also runs from Chur to Tirano, meaning the stretch between Chur and St. Moritz, also called the Albula line can be taken aboard the Glacier Express as well as the Bernina Express.

A seat reservation is again compulsory and it costs 16 Swiss francs. A one way ticket costs 32 Swiss francs. Having the Interrail pass, I only paid for the compulsory seat reservation.

During the summer season there were two departures a day in each direction. From St. Moritz, at 9.39 am and 3.11 pm. I took the later train. The journey takes 2 hours and 21 minutes.

This is not a rack railway and the train slowly winds its way up and down the mountains while making a lot of right and left turns. There are 55 tunnels and 196 bridges along the entire length of the railway. And it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. The highest point is at the Ospizio Bernina railway station sitting at the altitude of 2.253 metres above sea level. On the flipside, the Italian city of Tirano is at 443 metres. What a difference, right?

While aboard the Bernina Express you will get to sea the highest peak in the region, Piz Bernina (4.049 m), the Morteratsch glacier, Lago Bianco, Val Poschiavo and Lago di Poschiavo, and last but not least, the Brusio spiral viaduct.

Again, this is a train with panoramic windows, as opposed to open windows. But the door of each carriages does have a tiny window which you can open. There is, however, only one such window in a single carriage and there are more passengers who want to take that photo of a lifetime.

Before taking the Bernina Express, I had found out there were regular train connections between Chur, St. Moritz and Tirano. So what I did was I took a couple more trains which comprised, both old and modern carriages, where you could open windows. This was the best thing I could have done. I was able to travel along the most interesting stretches of the Rhaetian railways, the Landwasser viaduct included, while on a train with open windows. I had a blast!

For more information, click here: Bernina Express

Off to Tirano. Bye bye Switzerland!
Bernina Express
Bernina Express
Mr. Big Railway Fan
San Carlo, a village in Val Poschiavo as seen from a train
A regular train of the Rhaetian Railways on its way to St. Moritz
Lago Bianco is just next to the Bernina Line of the Rhaetian Railway
A panoramic compartment on a regular train of the Rhaetian Railways
The scenery along the Albula Line
One of the numerous viaducts on the Albula Line of the Rhaetian Railway

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