The Glacier Express

One of the main reasons I came to Switzerland this time was tp travel the whole length of the Glacier Express in winter.  I had done all the bits in summer, but none in winter.

The Glacier Express runs from Zermatt to St Moritz and back.  The journey takes nearly eight hours, and crosses some very wild and high country.  Details of the technical stuff here.

The train leaves Zermatt at 09.52 – a very civilised hour as one can have a leisurely breakfast before leaving ones Zermatt hotel!  There were about 6 carriages doing the whole journey, and others were added on at Brig and Chur.  I started life in the second carriage from the front, but arrived in St Morritz in the middle of a 14 carriage train.

The first part of the journey was down to Visp, then on to Brig, a junction and the place where the train really filled up.  The only slightly sour point of the day was that at Brig a lady in a wheel chair came on with a companion.  The chair was placed opposite my seat, and the companion’s place was a couple of seats back, not at a window.  They made it quite clear that they thought I should have moved.  But my seat had been booked months ago, and theirs only 2 days before. It was also clear that they were not interested in the scenery, so I stood (or sat!) my ground.

The section between Visp and Brig is in the floor of the Matter valley, and relatively low.  Once we left Birg, though, we began climbing again, through the Rhone Valley, and were soon back into heavy snow.  High peaks rose on both sides of the track, and the ‘panorama’ carriages, with high windows, allowed you to see both sides.

As we got higher, the snow through which the train ran got deeper and deeper.  The Swiss have developed snow clearing equipment second to none, so that this line and those like it are kept open all year round.  Sudden heavy falls can close lines for a few hours, but that is fairly rare.

One of the features of the Glacier Express is that a three course meal is served to you at your seat.  This consisted of a clear soup with strips of pancake in it, then a main course of veal casserole, followed by a choice of cheese or chocolate torte.  All was delicious!

Andermatt is a small town where several valleys meet, and is an important railway junction.  As the train comes out of the town the railway does a series of figures of eight, gaining height.  You keep going in to tunnels and when you come out, you are still looking at Andermatt – but it is in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the line is at Oberalppass.  Then it was downhill to Disentis where we changed engines.  Until now we had been pulled by a Matterhorn Gottard Bahn loco, and much of the line had been rack assisted.  Now we changed to the ‘ordinary’ loco of the Rhatische Bahn.  The two different companies had different strategies in the past, with the MGB going for rack and pinion, and the RB going for more tunnels and less steep gradients.  The lack of the rack system means that more motive power is needed, and by the time we got to St Moritz there were thee locos hauling the train.

As we came down from the snow fields, we ran through the Rhine gorge (yes – it was Rhone on the other side of Andermatt!).  This was another fascinating stretch of scenery that was almost impossible to photograph!

Then it was on to Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland.  Here we gained eight more coaches and two more locos, ready for the run up to the Upper Engadine and St Moritz.

By now it was 4 pm and the sun was lowering, so that the deep valleys were in shadow.  As we began to climb, we went through an area of fairy tale castles high up on rock spurs:

Soon we were in snow again. with evening clouds gathering over the mountain tops.

Then it was the final stretch of ‘interesting’ line.  Known as the Albula line, this bit has loads of tunnels and bridges, with figures of eight to gain height.

One of the bridges, the Landwasser Viaduct, is very famous.  It is curved and on the far side goes straight into the Landwasser tunnel.  Being in the centre of the train meant I got shots of the engine about to go into the tunnel…

…. and the tail of the train coming over the bridge.

And as the light was fading, just one more pic.  This is of one of the loops to gain height, and you can see the line we have just travelled below the train.

It was almost exactly 6 pm when we arrived at St Moritz.  I was met by the hotel people carrier and taken to check in.  More about the hotel another time!


8 thoughts on “The Glacier Express

  1. Hi,

    I’m having a wonderful time on YOUR trip!

    The pictures and commentary are great. What a fascinating place. I loved the layers of snow on the roofs in the fourth picture–that clearly shows what a ‘blanket’ of snow is.


  2. The castle on the cliff face belongs in a book of fairy tales. Just unblievable that it was built with manual labor and not dropped in place by helicopter. More impressive (imho) than all the pyramids.

  3. Liz, the photos are beautiful, but what interested me the most was the soup served at your meal. Where I came from we called it “Flaedle Suppe” i.e. soup with threads. The pancake is basically a crepe which is rolled up and sliced into thin strips and then added to a home made beef broth with some fresh minced chives as a garnish. The batter is made from flour, eggs and milk and unlike American pancakes does not contain baking powder. Thanks for the memory. I haven’t made it in ages, but I will since the taste buds are now craving for it.

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