Crossing the Alps via the Albula, Furka and Loetschberg passes

Up to now I always crossed the Alps in a north-south direction however on this trip I decided to travel along the alps from east to west. I started off in the morning in Sankt Moritz and finished my day at Kandersteg, continuing the next day towards Montreux at the border of the Lake Geneva.

It was an early start in Sankt Moritz, and after taking the escalators down towards the station I still made a small walk along the lakeside before boarding my RhB train in the direction of Chur. This train was formed of a modern Allegra emu and a brand-new Alvra seat of coaches. As the the seats in the leading emu where all reserved for a group, I found myself a seat in one of the Alvra coaches behind. A rarity in these coaches is that the toilets here both have a traditional toilet as well as a urinal, presumably to avoid creating wet toilet seats.

I positioned myself on the left hand side of the train, as that would provide me with the best views. We left the station of Sankt Moritz right on schedule, at the stop of Samedan we waited for a connection on the train coming from Pontresina (for passengers coming off the Bernina line) and after that we started the climb up towards the Albula tunnel. The Albula tunnel is the longest tunnel on the line and they are currently building a new tunnel alongside as the old tunnel is getting old and showing signs of aging. After exiting the tunnel we start descend back to valley level. Hereby we cross some points such as Preda, Bergun, Filisur, the Solis viaduct and finally Thusis where the UNESCO world heritage section of the line ends. As with the Bernina line there where some stunning views and civil engineering works along the route. I continued my trip in this train up to Reichenau-Tamins where I would be changing trains.

After a short wait of about 15 minutes in the junction station of Reichenau-Tamins (whose main function is providing interchange between the lines Thusis – Chur and Disentis – Chur) my connecting train towards Disentis rolled into the station. This train was formed of a traditional locomotive hauling a rake of older coaches, still sporting the older corporate design from RhB inside.

The route took us along the Rhine gorge for the first part of the trip before slowly climbing up in the Rhine valley towards Disentis. Even though the nature was comparatively less spectacular than the Bernina and Albula lines, there still where a lot of lovely sights to see.

Upon arrival in Disentis I had a short 3 minutes connection to the MGB train down to Andermatt, luckily it was a cross-platform interchange so no running and stressing was needed. This train consisted of older MGB rolling stock, still in its original condition.

When we pulled out of the Disentis station the Glacier Express pulled in, heading the opposite way, filled to the brim with photo snapping tourists. The route of the MGB has some steeper sections as their train are equipped with rack rails, these are steep pieces of track where a toothed middle rail is added where a cogwheel mounted on the trains gets extra traction to make it up the hill. While this is a very effective system to tackle steep slopes, it is quite slow as the system is not designed for high speeds. On This part of the journey there was also a coach filled with a school group that got off at a small stop in the middle of some very beautiful nature but otherwise nothing, this will probably have been a very interesting school excursion for some of the students. The most breathtaking part of the journey was the descend into Andermatt, spiralling down the hill using turning tunnels and offering spectacular views of the valley and town of Andermatt coming closer every meter you go down.

In Andermatt we had to Change trains again, This time towards a slightly longer and recently refurbished MGB train taking us the rest of the way into Brig. This part of the trip would take us through the famous Furka base tunnel, built in the 1980’s to bypass the Furka mountain track so that the line could be operated year-round. The moment you exit the tunnel at the western end you can get a nice glimpse of the Rhone Glacier on your right-hand side. After exiting the tunnel the line follows the Rhone River all the way down to Brig. This train was also equipped with STOP buttons, like on a tram or bus, to signal that you want to get off at a certain stop. In Switzerland it happens more often that some stops are on demand only, so if you do not push the button for the train to stop it will just drive through the stop.

In Brig the train halts on the station square in front of the mainline SBB train station, while the train still continues onwards towards Visp and you can get a connection on the MGB up to Zermatt, I changed trains here in Brig. As I had changed trains in Brig before, I knew how the station was laid out and I was able to make the 3 minute connection with the BLS Loetschberger service leaving from the last platform in the station. This train was operated by 2 Loetschberger emu’s, they were designed specifically for the operation of the old Loetschberg mountain line when the long-distance trains where transferred to the newly opened Loetschberg base tunnel.

As I would be staying the night at the Waldhotel Doldenhorn in Kandersteg I had to take the regional train over the old mountain route as Kandersteg is located on it. Luckily it is far from a punishment as the train offers a spectacular view of the Rhone valley and the cities of Brig an Visp down in it as it climbs up the slope towards the old Loetschberg tunnel (make sure you sit at the left-hand side for the best views!). After exiting the tunnel we already arrived in a cold and wet Kandersteg, in typical mountain fashion we had some gorgeous sunny weather at the Brig side of the mountain, but it proved to be quite different once we reached the other side. Luckily it wasn’t raining heavily so my half-hour walk through the picturesque town of Kandersteg to my hotel was not too bad.

As usual Switzerland lived up to its reputation of wonderful and extraordinary nature and it sure is a great country to discover by train!

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