Tue Jan 20th, 2015 at 03:20:45 AM EST
In this second instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I introduce the Engadin Line, which runs along the upper valley of the Inn river (in the local Romansh language: En). Although less well-known to foreign tourists than the rest of the RhB, it runs in scenic landscape with castles, and experienced a traffic surge in recent years thanks to a tunnel that was a mega-project by narrow-gauge standards. The vegetation is rather different from the upper Rhine valley: the dominant tree is the European Larch, so I scheduled my visit there for the Golden Autumn in October. I had no luck with the Sun, though.
Receding up-valley, RhB Ge 4/4 II No. 632 "Zizers" is about to pass station Cinuos-chel-Breil with a south-bound limited-stop RegionalExpress (RE) push-pull train
The area served by the trains from Pontresina to Scuol-Tarasp, the lower Engadin, was isolated backwoods for most of the 20th century, and the rail line received much less attention from tourists than other RhB lines. This changed with the opening of the Swiss National Park nearby and later the Vereina tunnel (which I'll cover in this diary), though tourists still seem to be mostly domestic.
Map from Wikimedia
Let's begin the journey at the south-western end of the present timetable line 960. While the famed luxury resort and winter sport town St. Moritz is terminal station for two RhB lines from the north (Albula Line) and south (Bernina Line), there is a cut-off line between the two (opened 1908). It starts in Pontresina on the Bernina Line and parallels the latter at the bottom of a glacier valley for the first few kilometres.
Having just departed Punt Muragl, Ge 4/4 II No. 631 "Untervaz" pushes an all-stopper train (R) towards Pontresina. Two overhead line poles of the Bernina Line are visible above the bridge on the right
The line then crosses the wide flat area (a filled-up lake) at the confluence of the Flaz and En (Inn) rivers.
The same push-pull train with Ge 4/4 II No. 631 "Untervaz" nears station Punt Muragl. The mountains in the background are about 4 km away
Between junction stations Samedan and Bever, there is a short shared section with the Albula Line. From the paths along the northern valley side, you get a beautiful panorama of the 3000+ m mountains towards Italy.
Pushing its R train towards Pontresina, Ge 4/4 II No. 624 "Celerina/Schlarigna" is about to reach Samedan
At Bever begins the Engadin Line proper. When it opened in 1913, it was the first on the RhB network with the then brand-new single-phase alternating current (AC) electrification system, which is now used on all but one line on the RhB network. The first third runs along villages near the bottom of a wide U-shaped glacier valley. In Zuoz, there is a weird former power switching station with a covered external staircase.
The second third of the line runs along small canyons cut by the river into the onetime flat glacier valley bottom. The village of Cinuos-chel-Brail is between the first two of these, and trains cross the river on the most spectacular bridge of the line.
Above and below: motor car Be 4/4 No. 513 with trailer cars on a limited-stop RE service from St. Moritz to Klosters Platz
At Zernez, the line loses elevation on a large horseshoe curve (sorry I have no good photo) towards a side valley, which is one of the two entrances into the Swiss National Park. Established 100 years ago, the aim of the park is to re-establish a pre-agricultural habitat. (Unfortunately, I had no time to visit.)
After Zernez, the line is narrow again. The short tunnels on this section protect against rockslides and landslides.
Cut-and-cover rail runnel and road gallery near Zernez, seen from an RE train to Klosters Platz
North/east of the beautiful village of Susch (see comments), right next to an old short tunnel of the Engadin Line, is one of the two Inn valley exits of the Vereina Tunnel. This exit is used by a couple of limited-stop trains only.
Above: Ge 4/4 II No. 632 "Zizers" recedes towards the south/west with an RE from Klosters Platz
Below: moments earlier, the same train just left the Vereina Tunnel
At the other end of the short tunnel:
Ge 4/4 II No. 623 "Bonaduz", in a livery commemorating the 125th anniversary of the RhB (to be precise, the first of its progenitor private railways), with an R train to Scuol-Tarasp
The above dam is right next to the main Inn valley portal of the Vereina Tunnel, towards junction station Sagliains. I discovered only on the spot that the passenger platform is only meant for transfers, with no exit – since I planned to take a walk from here, I broke rules and crossed tracks. But the main function of the station is as terminal for a road vehicle shuttle.
Cars board a shuttle train to be pushed on the way back across the tunnel by Ge 4/4&nsbp;III No. 645 "Tujesch"
Indeed the main reason for the construction of the Vereina Tunnel was to provide a winter-safe alternative to the road across the Flüela Pass (elevation: 2,383 m), until then the main connection of the lower Engadin to central Switzerland. At 19,042 m, it is the longest metre-gauge tunnel in the world, and thus a mega-project by narrow-gauge standards. Since the Inn valley is some 250 m higher than the other side of the pass, the tunnel is only a semi-base tunnel, rising at a relatively steep 15‰ for most of the distance. The project was approved in a 1985 referendum and opened in 1999. It proved a success beyond expectation: making the lower Engadin accessible on a day trip from Zurich, it transformed Scuol from a sleepy town into a town bustling with (mostly domestic) tourists and construction work. The road shuttle is well-used even in the snow-free season.
The new fast connection is also used to transport fresh vegetables, here unattended at the bike racks on-board a new electric multiple unit
The single-track tunnel operates at capacity, thus delays cascade between trains from opposed directions for hours – a second tube for a second track would make sense in the near future, also for increased safety.
My RE train for Klosters Platz is stopped at the passing siding in the middle of the tunnel
The north-western exit of the Vereina Tunnel is at terminal Selfranga, high above Klosters, another resort town in a side valley of the Rhine, but the Vereina Line continues its descent in a question mark-shaped shorter tunnel and a covered concrete bridge to Klosters Platz station, where it meets the Davos Line (subject of the next part in my series).
Diesel locomotive Gmf 4/4 No. 243 in front of the new bridge over the Landquart river at the end of Klosters Platz station. Here shunting during track renewal works on the Davos Line, the loco is also tasked with standing ready for hauling the emergency rescue train of the Vereina Tunnel
Now let's return to the Engadin Line. On the last third of the route, the line starts to climb the valley side. The well-kept station buildings are still the old buildings in the local style.
My R train from Pontresina to Scuol-Tarasp, which has nearly all seats taken on this section despite the rain, stops at Lavin
Here the En (Inn) starts to dig an ever deeper canyon into the former glacier valley. The rail line runs on or near the edge, curving around ridges or crossing them in a few long tunnels.
Ge 4/4 II No. 631 "Untervaz" just left Ardez with its push-pull R train and recedes on its way to Pontresina
I close with a photo of the most-photographed spot: below the castle ruin of the town of Ardez.
22-month-old electric multiple unit ABe 4/16 No. 3105 "Angelika Kauffmann", a member of the "Allegra" family, on an RE service from Scuol-Tarasp to Klosters Platz
The next diary in the series will take you on a trip on the line to Davos, the first with a real "mountain" section.
:: :: :: :: ::
Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.