From St Gallen
I traveled to St Moritz. Considered a jet-set ski haven and brilliantly
situated in the Alps, St Moritz is itself architecturally undistinguished.
All the major high-brow stores have their locations here so if you wish to
pick up the latest creation from renowned jewelers, Cartier in between ski
runs it only takes money. Besides German you'll hear Italian which along
with French and Romansh make up the four official languages of Switzerland.
Moritz also serves as one of the starting points of the Glacier Express
where I find myself this morning. Playfully called the "slowest express
train in the world" it actually started rather briskly at 9:02 in the
morning. A few minutes later we made our first stop reminding us that this
is at its root a working train yet one provided with special "panorama cars"
with picture windows for us the wide eyed tourist. As luck would have it the
weather did its part and it turned out to be a beautiful day with the sun
shining over snow covered alpine meadows ... a glorious day for a train ride
with each turn, tunnel and bridge a new picture is presented.
small village begs the question, how do these people make a living and what
sacrifices must be made to live in such a beautiful locale? Mother, father,
sister, brother each was carrying skis or pulling on toboggans, even
grandparents seemed not immune to sliding and slushing in the snow. Hills
were dotted with ski lifts and pathways turned into luge runs. Feeling
removed from reality in our air-conditioned cars we longed to join the
crowds. Of course playing in the snow is a lot different then having to live
in it but I would rather guess that you would be hard put to gather any
complaints from the local people, at least none that they would admit in
mixed company! We sat gape jawed at the images seen through the windows, it
seemed too perfect. I have often remarked that train travel delivers you to
the backyards of society. A view a little to personal, the side of a house
hidden from the street was bared open to the train traveler. On the Glacier
Express all that was turned on it's engine and you were presented with the
best of what was on offer.
The three railway companies of that
period the VZ later the Matterhorn Gotthardbahn (BVZ), the Rhatische Bahn
(RhB) and the Furka-Oberalp Railway (FOB) respectively took advantage of the
tourism potential at hand with the opening of the route between the Valais
and Graubunden in 1926 followed by the introduction of the through coaches
Brig - Chur and Brig - St.Moritz met with a lot of interest amongst the
traveling public. Yet unless they wished to be snowed in during the winter
the Furka alpine route would take another 50 years before it could stay open
all year long.
June 25, 1930 saw the opening of the connection between Visp and Brig
allowing the Glacier Express to operate between Zermatt and St.Moritz for
the first time. To cater to the well healed travelers elegant salon coaches
and dining cars were introduced on the route between St.Moritz and Disentis.
Whilst the VZ and RhB were already equipped with state-of-the-art electric
locomotives the "Crocodiles". The Furka-Oberalp Railway was still working
with steam engines (HG 3/4), which were sent to Vietnam in 1947 only to be
recalled back to Switzerland during the 1990s by enterprising promoters of
the Furka alpine route for nostalgic steam-engine trips that today are more
popular than ever.
At the beginning of the 1940s the Furka-Oberalp Railway was converted to
electricity and on September 1, 1942 the through electric route Brig ?
Disentis was officially celebrated. With the turmoil of the Second World
War, express traffic was withdrawn from 1943 onwards to be reintroduced with
slight changes in 1948.The Glacier Express also benefited from technological
advancement during the 1950s and 1960s: faster engines produced shorter
traveling times even for the "world's slowest express train". Construction
work on the Furka basis tunnel between Oberwald and Realp began in 1973 and
service could finally start through the tunnel on 26 June 1982: the Glacier
Express now runs all year round! Today tourists are carried in modern
air-conditioned panorama coaches.