Added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2008, the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes, brings together two historic railway lines that cross the Swiss Alps through two passes. Opened in 1904, the Albula line in the north-western part of the property is 67 km long. It features an impressive set of structures including 42 tunnels and covered galleries and 144 viaducts and bridges. The 61 km Bernina pass line features 13 tunnels and galleries and 52 viaducts and bridges.
As per the World Heritage description page:
“The Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes constitutes an outstanding technical, architectural and environmental ensemble and embodies architectural and civil engineering achievements, in harmony with the landscapes through which they pass.”
Below you will find additional information on this breathtaking railway route along with more photos and reasons to add this to your bucket list.
The Albula Railway
The Albula Railway is a single track metre gauge railway line, in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. It links Thusis on the Hinterrhein (697 m (2,287 ft) above sea level) with the spa resort of St. Moritz in Engadine (1,774 m (5,820 ft) above sea level). Construction of the Albula Railway was begun in September 1898, the opening took place on 1 July 1903, and the extension to St. Moritz commenced operations on 10 July 1904. With its 55 bridges and 39 tunnels, the 61.67 km (38.32 mi) long line is one of the most spectacular narrow gauge railways in the world. [Source]
– The 5,866m (3.6 miles) long Albula Tunnel, which passes under the watershed between the Rhine and the Danube a few kilometres west of the Albula Pass. With its maximum elevation of 1,820 m (5,970 ft) above sea level, the tunnel is, after the Furka Tunnel, the second highest alpine tunnel in Switzerland
– Between Tiefencastel und Filisur, the train crosses the 35 m (115 ft) m high and 137 m (449 ft) long Schmittentobel Viaduct. Shortly before Filisur, it reaches one of the trademarks of the Albula Railway – and often also the Rhaetian Railway in general – the 65 m (213 ft) high 136 metres (446 ft) long Landwasser Viaduct (seen in the first two images of the post), which in a curve of only 100 m (330 ft) radius leads directly into a tunnel through the cliff face at the opposite end.
– At Filisur station is the junction between the Albula Railway and the branch line from Davos Platz. Between Filisur and Bergün, the train ascends 292 m (958 ft), and runs through the first spiral tunnel. The next section, between Bergün and Preda, is the most demanding example of rail technology on the Albula Railway: in order to overcome the height difference of 417 m (1,368 ft) between Bergün and Preda – in only 6.5 km (4.0 mi) as the crow flies – without requiring excessive slopes or radii, the route is extended by 12 km (7.5 mi) by various engineering structures (including three spiral tunnels, two curved tunnels and four valley crossing viaducts).
The Bernina Railway
The Bernina Railway is a single track 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge railway line forming part of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB). It links the spa resort of St. Moritz, in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland, with the town of Tirano, in the Province of Sondrio, Italy, via the Bernina Pass. Reaching a height of 2,253 metres (7,392 ft) above sea level, it is the highest railway crossing in Europe. It also ranks as the highest adhesion railway of the continent, and – with inclines of up to 7% – as one of the steepest adhesion railways in the world. [Source]
– St Moritz is the terminus of both the Albula Railway and the Bernina Railway. As the two railways are powered by different electrification systems, they meet at the same station, but operate on separate lines from separate platforms. The Bernina Railway leaves St Moritz station in an easterly direction, and crosses the Inn River on a 64 m (210 ft) long viaduct. It then passes through the 689 m (2,260 ft) long Charnadüra-Tunnel II, the longest tunnel on the entire route.
– Just past Morteratsch station is the world-famous Montebello Curve, where the line meets the road over the pass. The line and the road will now accompany each other as far as Ospizio Bernina.
– Along the eastern bank of the lake, and, near Ospizio Bernina, Bernina reaches its highest point, at 2,253 m (7,392 ft) above sea level. The Bernina Railway is thereby (mountainside railways excluded) the highest railway line in the Alps, operating as a public railway with year round traffic. As the section from here to Poschiavo is particularly badly affected by drifting snow, countless engineering structures have been erected from the southern dam wall onwards.
The Glacier Express / Bernina Express
Starting in 1930, the Glacier Express is an express train connecting railway stations of the two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. For much of its journey, it also passes along and through the World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes. The train is not an “express” in the sense of being a high-speed train, but rather, in the sense that it provides a one-seat ride for a long duration travel. In fact it has the reputation of being the slowest express train in the world.
The trip on the Glacier Express is a 7½ hour railway journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in altitude. The entire line is metre gauge (narrow gauge railway), and large portions of it use a rack-and-pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those grades. [Source]
The Bernina Express is a train connecting Chur (or Davos) in Switzerland with Poschiavo and Tirano in Italy by crossing the Swiss Alps. For most of its journey, the train also passes along and through the World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes.
The trip on the Bernina Express through this World Heritage Site is a four-hour railway journey across 196 bridges, through 55 tunnels and across the Bernina Pass on the highest point at 2,253 metres in altitude. The entire line is 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) (metre gauge). The Bernina Express uses gradients of 7% to negotiate the difference in height of about 1800 meters from the summit at Ospizio Bernina to Tirano. [Source]
Google Street View Train Ride
From 2011 – 2012, the Google Street View team captured 75.8 miles/122 km of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Albula/Bernina railway line. It was the first railway route in the world to get the Street View treatment. The Street View trike was connected to the front wagon of a Rhaetian Railway train. From the very front of the train, the trike took 360-degree images along the expansive track. Click here to take a tour of this famous railway route on Google Street View!