Glacier Express, Switzerland
The Glacier Express is an express train connecting railway stations of the two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. The train is operated jointly by the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) and Rhaetian Railway (RhB). For much of its journey, it also passes along and through the World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes.
The train is not an “express” in the sense of being a high-speed train, but rather, in the sense that it provides a one-seat ride for a long duration travel. In fact it has the reputation of being the slowest express train in the world. As St. Moritz and Zermatt are home to two well-known mountains, the Glacier Express is also said to travel from Piz Bernina to Matterhorn.
The completion of the final portion of the FO in 1926 opened up the Cantons of Valais and Graubünden to further tourist development. In particular, a pathway was laid for the introduction of Kurswagen (through coaches) between Brig and Chur, and between Brig and St. Moritz. Initially, the service was operated by three different railway companies. Since 2003, the train has been operated by RhB and a newly established company, the MGB, which arose from a merger between the BVZ and the FO.
In 1981 a Glacier Express era came to an end, with the final closure for the winter of the FO line over the Furka Pass and through the Furka Summit Tunnel, between Oberwald and Gletsch. In June 1982, that FO line was replaced by the newly opened Furka Base Tunnel. As a consequence, the Glacier Express not only became disconnected from its namesake Rhone Glacier, but also could now, for the first time, be operated on a year-round basis.
Duration: 7 hours 30 minutes
The Glacier Express offers passengers both first and second class seating. Panoramic first class has 36 seats with oversized windows showing off the wonderful views. In Panoramic second class the views are just as special but there are 48 seats in the compartment. Both classes benefit from a recorded tour about the sights you can see along the route, described in German, English, French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese.
The route between Disentis and Zermatt is privately owned. You will need an additional ticket even if you have a Eurail pass which includes Switzerland. However you will be entitled to a 25% discount on the additional ticket. A seat reservation is mandatory for this train and is included in the price of your ticket. Please note that seats are auto-allocated by train carriers. Depending on availabilities, carriers will ensure that all passengers of a same party are seated together. Seats can be swapped only once on-board. You must make a reservation to book a seat on the Glacier Express.
Glacier Express tickets are open for booking 90 days ahead. Opt for off-peak trains when you have to travel short notice. They are more affordable than morning and evening trains along with those running on holiday eves, Friday and Sunday afternoon.
The trip on the Glacier Express is a 7 hour 30 minute railway journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in altitude. The entire line is metre gauge (narrow gauge railway), and large portions of it use a rack-and-pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those grades.
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