The Swiss proudly hail the Glacier Express as the world’s slowest express. The train takes almost eight hours and the services of two private, narrow-gauge railroads to traverse the 168 mountainous miles between two posh resorts—Zermatt and St. Moritz. The Alpine route of the Glacier Express is what makes this train so marvelous. A serious quibble: we long for the old, second-class equipment which allowed us to open windows and photograph the fantastic scenery.
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The complete Oslo-Bergen line was opened in 1909 as the only year-round land transport between Norway’s two largest cities. The 300-mile length of track passes through 200 tunnels and 18 miles of snowsheds in addition to crossing more than 300 bridges. The scenery on the 7-hour Bergen Railway trip across the Hardanger plateau, the largest wilderness area in Europe, is breathtaking.
The spectacular Bernina line was completed in 1910 and is run by Rhaetian Railways. Beginning in Chur, St. Moritz or Davos, it passes the glaciers of Piz Bernina, making this the highest railway crossing in all of the Alps. It travels over 38 miles, climbing grades of up to 7%––without rack and pinion––to more than 7,391 feet at the Bernina Pass summit, and drops down to just 1,408 feet at Tirano, Italy.
Switzerland’s Panoramic Express trains boast vista-dome cars for maximum viewing of the spectacular mountain scenery between Montreux and Zweisimmen. Super Panoramic Express trains also have a special, eight-passenger viewing area in the front of the train, above the driver, for the ultimate in ringside seats.
With the Flåm Railway, it’s what you see outside that counts. In about an hour, the line climbs some 2,833 feet from Flåm station, nestled in the innermost corner of the Aurlandfjord, to the mountain station at Myrdal on the Bergen Railway. On the 12.4-mile-long ride, you’ll see rivers that cut through deep ravines, waterfalls cascading down the sides of steep, snow-capped mountains and farms clinging dizzily to sheer slopes.
The Flåm Railway is one of the world’s steepest standard-gauge railways, with a gradient of 5.5%. The railway recently underwent a facelift; its new fleet of trains, in forest green livery, comprises five engines and 12 cars. It also boasts new interiors and a unique guide and loudspeaker service.