BERNESE OBERLAND, SWITZERLAND, March 17, 2018 — There is nowhere on the planet with a better transportation network than Switzerland. The Swiss Travel System railway is the most efficient, easiest to use, best connected and most convenient as well. The Swiss Travel System is more than an interconnecting web of railways.
Rather it is a concept that takes mobility to new heights, both figuratively and literally.
Swiss Travel System
Not only do the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB, CFF or FFS depending upon whether you speak German, French or Italian) serve as the foundation that intertwines thousands of rail lines in a mesh of parallel steel tracks, the system also includes local buses, trams, private rail services, postal buses, ferries, lake steamers, cable cars, and funiculars.
So, with a little planning and not much effort, it is possible to see much of the country from one form of transportation or more while setting your watch to the arrival and departure times.
Brienzer Rothorn Rack Railway
One railway in the Bernese Oberland is the Brienzer Rothorn Rack Railway. This train climbs from the woodcarver’s village of Brienz on the shores of Lake Brienz nearly five miles to a summit at more than 7,300 feet above sea level.
Following two years of construction, the railway opened in June of 1892 using a newly developed technology designed by Roman Abt known as the Abt double lamella rack system.
Today the Brienzer Rothorn Train is the fourth highest railway in Switzerland and can be accessed by car, rail or water. However, until 1916, the only way to get there was by boat service on the Lake of Brienz.
Soon after it opened, the line ran into financial difficulties due to low capacity. Designed to carry 25,000 passengers a year, it only managed to accommodate 5,000 in the first year. Later the problem was magnified with the opening of the nearby Schynige Platte Railway in 1895 and the Jungfraubahn in 1898.
The Jungfrau train remains the highest railway in Europe and second highest in the world today.
Thus, the Brienzer Rothorn ceased operating in 1914 due to World War I and did not re-open until June of 1931.
Thanks to superb maintenance, even during its 17-year hiatus in service, the railway was relatively easy to recondition. Unlike other Swiss mountain trains the BRB, as it is most frequently referred to by locals, was not electrified.
From 1953 until 1990 it was full steam ahead for the “little engine that could” as it pushed and shoved its way high into the Alps as the only line operating by steam only.
Other lines now offer special “steam” trips and diesel locomotives along with electric trains, but the Brienzer still huffs and puffs its way to the top.
Lake of Brienz
The line begins in Brienz just a few short steps from the main railway station on the Lake of Brienz or by steamer at the dock used by BLS AG Shipping. Boats take about an hour to cross from Interlaken to Brienz.
It is also easy to arrive by car.
The amazing one hour train ride is a kaleidoscope of scenery. The train passes through five tunnels that reveal lush green pastures, meadows, forests and sheer chiseled rock faces.
Just when you think you have reached the top, the train bends around a corner and new worlds re-open above and below.
Interlaken derives its name because it nestles between the lakes of Thun and Brienz. As the steam engines pushes its way to the summit, both lakes unveil themselves beneath majestic alpine vistas.
The railway consists of a single track with three passing loops to allow for two-way traffic. Geldreid is the first at slightly more than 3,300 feet.
Next comes Planalp Station, the halfway point in the journey. Here older steam locomotives take on water before continuing the climb. Oberstafel is the third passing loop before arriving at the upper terminus at Rothorn Kulm station just below the summit of the mountain.
Leave it to the Swiss to recognize the need for visitor comfort.
Regardless of which mountain train you take anywhere in the country, there are always restaurants and restrooms along the way and at the final stop.
Once at the top, many people enjoy hiking along the trail connecting Brunig-Hasliberg station with the Rothorn.
The BRB frequently has specialty services throughout the year. Every Tuesday is Senior Citizens Day. Female riders 64 and above and male passengers 65 and up receive a discount as well as lunch.
On Wednesdays beginning at 10 am, try the Dampfwürstlibummler, the Steam Sausage Cruiser, where you can sample delicious “Heizerwürstli” Steam Sausages along with rack rail bread and a drink.
On Sundays in July, August and September riders can depart at 7:30 in the morning to watch daybreak far below.
During four specified Saturdays, twice in July and twice in August, travelers can catch a 5:30 am train. Magnificent sunrises included for free.
Train travel to dinner at the Rothorn Kulm Restaurant
For those who prefer to sleep in, there are evening excursions as well which include a three-course dinner at the Rothorn Kulm Restaurant amid moon and starlit villages and lakes.
For true gourmands, the Salon Rouge special combines onboard cuisine aboard a stylish vintage train coach. Hot and cold selection range between one and 13 courses as you are pushed by a first-generation engine accompanied by a small cargo car.
Travelers using a Swiss Travel Pass receive a 50% discount on the Brienzer Rothorn train and the cable car from Sörenberg to the Brienzer Rothorn while the train to Brienz and the bus to Sörenberg are free.
If this all sounds too good to be true, just remember, the Brienzer Rothorn is just one of the hundreds of unique rail journeys in Switzerland.
But as we said, Switzerland just may be the best transportation network in the world.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up