Sun Jun 21st, 2015 at 06:29:18 AM EST
In this fourth instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I show the two shortest lines of the network, both of which provide access to winter sports centres and are famous for landmark viaducts.
After traversing the Langwieser Viaduct and stopping at station Langwies, ABe 8/12 No. 3512 "Jörg Jenatsch" (a powerful mountain-fit member of Stadler's Allegra family) continues its descent to Chur
In 1909, RhB opened an extension of the Davos Line to Filisur, on the Albula Line (subject of the next diary in the series).
Map from Wikimedia
The line descends 460 m over a distance of a little under 20 km in the valley of the Landwasser river, which has two very different sections. For the first half from winter sports centre Davos, it's a post-glacial U valley with grazing fields. (I had no luck with the Sun on the two days I rode along this line.)
Station Davos Platz, looking towards Filisur, with articulated loco Ge 6/6 II No. 701 "Raetia" in front of a work train
After about 10 km, the Landwasser falls into a deep, narrow, rocky-walled canyon, and the railway line runs mostly in tunnels.
Ge 4/4 III No. 650 "Seewis im Prättigau" left station Davos Wiesen and enters tunnel Wiesen II (96 m) with a push-pull local train to Davos Platz
The highlight of the rail line is the Wiesener Viaduct, a masonry arch bridge with a 55 m span and a height of 89 m above the Landwasser.
Above: view from the south; an ABe 8/12 as local train to Filisur
Below: view from the north; Ge 4/4 III No. 653 "Vals" with a local train to Filisur
Just next to Davos Wiesen station, there is a run-down café on a run-down farm whose owners all look like alcoholics, but it was great to drink tea there after freezing in clothes wet from rain and sweat. They spoke a few words in English but no German, an experience I made half a dozen times in the Romansh-speaking villages of Graubünden.
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The other short line, the Arosa Line, connects Graubünden's capital Chur (584 m above sea level) to winter sports centre Arosa (1,739 m). The line was opened by a private company in 1914, and then taken over by the RhB in 1942, but it retained a separate identity due to technical characteristics. It wasn't fully integrated into the network until 1997, when its unique 2.4 kV direct current (DC) electrification was changed to RhB's standard AC system (11 kV, 16.7 Hz).
The start of the line – from Chur main station (where the platforms are on the street side of the building to the outskirts of the city – runs on streets and has the appearance of a light rail line.
ABe 8/12 No. 3507 "Benedetg Fontana" just left Chur Stadt station and runs along the shore of the Plessur river
Leaving the city, for over half of the distance, the line climbs ever higher on the steep northern side of the V-valley of the Plessur river. The inclination is up to 60‰, which is quite high for a non-rack railway. In addition, the alignment is very curvy, thus even the modern trains run slow and constantly shake and squeak and creak – that is, alone on the well-built RhB network, you get a real narrow-gauge rail experience.
ABe 8/12 No. 3506 "Anna von Planta" is about to reach Peist on its descent to Chur
Side valleys are crossed in big horseshoe curves. I remember I felt quite good sitting in the sunshine on the hillside when I made the photo below: I was recovering from summer flu.
ABe 8/12 No. 3512 "Jörg Jenatsch", hauling two additional trailers, left station Langwies on its descent to Chur
Then comes the highlight of the line: the Langwieser Viaduct. This was the first major reinforced concrete arch bridge on the Graubünden network. The 100 m main span provides a height of 62 m above the Plessur river. On the photo below, you can also see that there is still significant freight traffic on the line, with freight cars usually attached to the regular passenger trains.
ABe 8/12 No. 3510 "Alberto Giacometti", which hauls wagons laden with rock down from Arosa, crosses the viaduct before stopping at Langwiesen station
On the final section to Arosa, the line gains elevation with several semi-serpentine curves.
My train (ABe 8/12 No. 3510 "Alberto Giacometti", descending towards Chur) is about to reach Litzirüti station, where another train to Arosa is waiting for the train meet on the single-track line
I show no photo of Arosa station because it was in the state of reconstruction when I was there, but there is an Arosa photo in the seed comment. During my short stay there, I had dinner and ate tea at a Turkish restaurant, while trying to listen in to the conversation of the owner and a Czech guest worker, but I barely understood a word: both spoke in Swiss German dialects, barely intelligible for this Central German speaker.
The next diary in the series will take you on a trip on the Albula Line, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.