The Albula Railway ( German : Albulabahn; : Ferrovia dell’Albula) is a part of Rhaetian Railways core network in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. It runs from Chur / Thusis in the Hinterrhein region to the popular resort St. Moritz in Engadine.
This nearly 62 km long narrow gauge railway, which make use of 55 bridges and 39 tunnels, offers spectacular views of the mountanous environment. In 2008, the Albula Railway and the Bernina Railway (which starts in St. Moritz and runs to Italy) was jointly accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name “Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Berninan Landscapes”.
The two most famous trains on the Albula Railway are the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express.
Basic facts about the Albula Railway
|Type||Metre gauge heavy rail|
|Line length||61.67 km|
|Number of tracks||1 (single track)|
|Track gauge||1,000 mm|
11 kV AC 16 2/3 Hz
|Highest elevation||1815 metres above sea level|
Construction of the Albula Railway started in September 1898 and the formal opening took place on 1 July, 1903. Roughly twelve months later, the extension to St. Moritz was ready for traffic. The Bernina-Bahngesellschaft (BB) was established and obtained concession for a line between St. Moritz and Tirano through the Bernina Pass.
The first sections of the BB line, from Pontresina to Morteratsch, and from Poschiavo to Tirano, premieered on 1 July 1908. The following month, a line between Pontresina and Celerina was added. It would then take until next summer before the lines Celerina – St Moritz and Morteratsch – Berninan Sout commenced traffic on 1 July 1909. On 5 July 1910, the whole line was finally opened, upon the completion of the complicated section between Bernina Sout and Poschiavo.
Year round operations
Originally, the Bernina-Bahngesellschaft didn’t intend to operate their trains outside the summer season. Pretty soon, the owners changed their mind and in 1913/1914 the Bernina-Bahngesellschaft started running their trains year round. The winter season unsurprisingly turned out to be problematic for the trains high up in the Alps, and more barriers protecting the railway from avalanches had to be constructed.
The Albila Railway had electricity right from the start and it was in the form of DC current. In 1935, the voltage was boosted from 750 to 1000 volts.
A restaurant car was added in 1928.
The Bernina-Bahngesellschaft was continously struggling to become financially viable. The company tried to attract tourists by offering special tourist packages, but it wasn’t enough. BB was always on the brink of bankruptcy, and in 1943 it was finally taken over by the Rhaetian Railway (RhB).
The Rhaetian Railway modernised the line, and the section at the top of the Bernina Pass got a complete overhaul. It wasn’t just for civilian reasons – the railway was important from a military perspective as well.
When the railway was constructed back in early part of the century, the north ramp of the Bernina Pass had been laid out in curves. These curves made it possible for the train passengers to enjoy spectacular mountain views, but they also placed the railway in the path of avalanche courses. Now, the curves were removed to make the journey safer. The catenary and the flat bottomed rails were discarded, but you can still see the substructure in mountains.
Rolling stock and traffic
There is one passenger train per hour in each direction, year round. If you wish to enjoy the stunning views, your best choice is the fully panorama car equipped Bernina Express and the Trenino Rosso.
The Albila Railway is used by both passenger trains and freight trains. Sometimes freight cars are added to passengers trains, provided that the goods isn’t classified as dangerous.
During winter time, several snowplows are employed, including an old steam rotary one from 1913! This steam powered snowplow attracts train enthusiasts from all over the world who wants to see it in action in the Alps. There is also two electric rotary snowplows from 1968 and two more modern engines from 2010.
In late winter, when the risk of avalanches is at its greatest, the Rhaetian Railway fires artillery at certain spots in the mountains to deliberately trigger avalanches. This is safer than waiting for them go off naturally.