Glacier Express train Switzerland

Glacier Express History

The first Glacier Express departed Zermatt on June 30 1930 at 07:30 in the morning. It was operated by three different companies: The Visp-Zermatt Bahn (VZ), the Furka-Oberalp-Bahn (FOB) and the Rhätische Bahn (RhB).

Because of various mergers in the industry both VZ and FOB are now the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) which runs the the world-known Express together with RhB. The train in itself is not particularly special, at least not from an engineering, design or aesthetic stand point. The carriages use large windows to give the passengers scenic views, audio-guides tell you throughout the whole journey about interesting facts depending on where you currently are and in order to deal with the massive height difference a rack-and-pinion system helps the ascend and descend in the alps.

The route makes the Glacier Express an incredible experience. Adding to that is the fact, that in 2007 the Albula Railway and Bernina Railway sections were jointly recorded in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the name Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes.

The route from Zermatt starts at the Mattertal, just below the world-famous Matterhorn. The route traverses the 291 kilometer-long (181 miles) journey through the Swiss Alps while crossing over 291 bridges and riding through 91 tunnels. Amongst them is the 15.4 km-long (9.6 miles) Furka Tunnel at an elevation of 1,500 m (4,900 ft) in order to circumvent the Furka Pass.

The train then makes an intermediate stop at Andermatt, where Egyptian investor and real-estate tycoon Samih Sawiris is building the next “St. Moritz”. The crown jewel is the Chedi hotel and resort which was named hotel of the year by Gault-Millau in 2017.

After the stop in Andermatt the train traverses its highest point on the Oberalp Pass at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in order to descend to its lowest point at Chur at 585 m (1,919 ft). From Chur, the capital of the canton of Graubünden, the Glacier Express backtracks to higher altitudes again in order to reach the resort St. Moritz in a further valley to the south.

Crossing this almost hostile terrain is not possible at high-speeds at all. This makes the Glacier Express the slowest express train in the world.

Do not let the word express fool you here. Similarly to the Orient Express, the Glacier Express is not a high-speed train. “Express” in this particular case means that it does not stop where all the local trains usually would while offering a one-seat 8 hour long journey.

The latest addition to the Glacier Express is the excellence class. Normally, there is a first and second class system used all over Switzerland for public train and ship transportation.

The operators of the already elegant train decided to adhere to new demands from customers in the form of a guaranteed, spacious window seat, five-course menu with aperitif from the Glacier Bar (exclusive to excellence class guests only), concierge and infotainment.

Our 12 day Swiss Alps Grand Train Tour includes 11 of the world’s most legendary trains, including the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Voralpen Express, GoldenPass Line and the Furka Steam Train.

View Glacier Express on Wikipedia.