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DE > EN automatic translation with DeepL; RhB original in German here.

In its 75-year history, the Glacier Express has undergone continuous development in several stages. In 2006, the last phase for the time being, four new trains with a total of 24 panorama cars will upgrade the Glacier Express.

A coherent rail network is being created
The existing meter gauge network between Zermatt and St. Moritz was not planned in its present form. The construction of the railroad lines developed at the end points of today's Glacier Express, and the originally independent sections were only connected in the course of time. The oldest section, the Visp-Zermatt line, was put into service by the Visp-Zermatt Railway on July 18, 1891. On the 35 km long line, the locomotives used six rack sections according to the Abt system with a total length of 7.7 km to overcome the gradients. The maximum gradients were 25‰ on the adhesion sections and 125‰ on the rack sections. The trains were pulled by steam locomotives (HG 2/3) and operated only in the summer months.

Independently of this railroad construction, the construction of the first sections of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) started at the other end in the canton of Grisons. On July 10, 1904, the railroad line from Chur to St. Moritz (Albula line) was opened. With the opening of the Albula line Chur-Thusis-Samedan-St. Moritz and the earlier completed line Reichenau-Ilanz, a large part of the later Glacier Express line was already in operation in Graubünden. On August 1, 1912, the railroad line between Ilanz and Disentis was completed as the last section of the RhB network on which the Glacier Express would later run. The lines of the Rhaetian Railway were built without racks and the trains were operated with steam locomotives.

When the aforementioned railroad lines were completed, the railroad pioneers were not yet thinking of a connection between the Matterhorn village and the Engadine, the two end points Visp and Disentis were still 100 kilometers apart. Although the first projects for a meter-gauge railroad from Brig or Visp to Gletsch and on via Furka-Andermatt-Oberalp to Disentis had already been worked out in 1904, it was to take many more years before they were realized.

After the foundation of the railroad company Brig-Furka-Disentis (BDF) in 1910, construction work finally started in 1911 in Goms, in May 1912 in Andermatt and in July 1912 in Disentis. The first section of the Brig-Furka-Disentis Railway (BFD) from Brig to Gletsch was officially opened on June 30, 1914. After the outbreak of the First World War, however, the extension in the direction of Furka was delayed, the Italian guest workers left the construction sites within a few days and returned to Italy, and the financial resources of the predominantly French shareholders dried up. Finally, the BFD had to file for bankruptcy in 1923. In 1925, an interest group led by VZ and RhB bought the Brig - Disentis line at auction for 1.75 million Swiss francs and founded the Furka Oberalp Bahn (FO) as a successor company. With financial support from the federal government (military strategic aspects were decisive for) in the amount of 3.5 million francs, the still unfinished structures and tracks were completed. Already on October 18, 1925, the first test train ran as far as Disentis. The Gletsch - Andermatt - Disentis line was officially opened on July 3, 1926. As with the VZ, larger gradients were overcome with the help of toothed racks (Abt system). From this date onwards, the first direct railcars ran between St. Moritz and Brig, but not under the name of Glacier Express.

In 1927, the decision was made to electrify the Visp - Zermatt line with alternating current 11 KiloVolt, 16 2/3 Hertz. This meant that the Visp - Zermatt line had the same power system as the Rhaetian Railway, and electric operation began on October 1, 1929. The route network of the Rhaetian Railway had already been fully electrified since 1922.

Already in 1928, when the concession application for the line Brig - Visp was submitted, the introduction of direct connections between Furka and Zermatt, Göschenen and Zermatt, Chur and Zermatt as well as St. Moritz and Zermatt was thought of and in a protocol of the board committee of the FO, the name "Glacier" appeared for the first time, proposed by the then director of the RhB and representative of the RhB in the board of directors of the FO, Mr. Bener. The Nouvelliste Valaisan informed its readers in the January 14, 1930 issue that the connection between Zermatt and St. Moritz would be called Glacier Express.

From the beginning, all 3 railroad companies invested substantial financial resources in the improvement and renewal of the rolling stock. The RhB commissioned a saloon car (ABs4ü 61) with cogwheel brakes; delivery took place in 1929. The RhB also rebuilt existing 2nd and 3rd class cars (ABC 4ü 604-607), the FO modernized the passenger car (C4ü 260); all cars were equipped with a closed platform and bellows crossovers. The VZ, which before the opening of the Glacier Express only used coaches with 2nd and 3rd class compartments, ordered 3 coaches with 1st class, 2nd class and saloon compartments (AB4ü 101-102); one of these coaches is still available today for nostalgia trips. The German company MITROPA, which operated dining cars for various European luxury trains, ordered a meter-gauge dining car (today's Gourmio car 3812), which was initially used on the Chur-Disentis route.

But it was not until June 5, 1930, with the opening of the 9 km connecting line between Visp and Brig on the meter gauge, that a through trip from Zermatt to St. Moritz became possible.

1930: The birth of the Glacier Express
Those responsible for the railroad had been waiting for this completion for quite some time. For as early as June 22, 1930, the Glacier Express began operation as a through train on a trial basis between Zermatt and St. Moritz. At the committee meeting of the FO Board of Directors on June 10, 1930, it was announced that the opening of the Glacier Express was scheduled for June 25/26 and 27, 1930. The first official Glacier Express, without changing cars and transferring passengers, ran from Zermatt to St. Moritz on Wednesday, June 25, 1930. The first train in the opposite direction departed from St. Moritz on Thursday, June 26, 1930. Around 70 people were invited to the inaugural trip to St. Moritz, a first party was held in St. Moritz at the Suvrettahaus, and the next day the guests traveled on the Glacier Express to Zermatt. The 43rd annual report of the Rhaetian Railway commented on this epoch-making event as follows: "On June 26, the first express train from St. Moritz to Zermatt, the promising 'Glacier Express', was opened in a festive passage with dining car. The hopes placed in it were not deceived. Today, the Glacier Express is also a "hit" for the entire Swiss propaganda. In its first year, the new parade train ran between July 1 and September 10, 1930 as an express train on the original route and between September 11 and October 4, 1930 as a "passenger train" between St. Moritz/Chur and Brig.

The Glacier Express showed the official union of the 3 railroads and the 3 regions with a composition consisting of one passenger car each of the RhB, FO and VZ. The official inauguration took place with a special train consisting of two dining cars, two 1st and 2nd class cars of the FO (AB4), the saloon car ABs4ü 61 of the RhB (the AS 1161 which is still in service as a saloon car) and an F4ü of the RhB. Subsequently, the three railroads Brig Visp Zermatt Bahn (BVZ), Furka Operalp Bahn (FO) and Rhätische Bahn (RhB) used their best vehicles: the RhB its As 4ü 61 a 2nd/3rd class car of the series 604-607, the BVZ a 1st/2nd class car with saloon compartment and the FO a C4ü 260. In addition, there was a new dining car ordered by MITROPA (today's "Gourmino" car 3812). Although the line was continuous, steam locomotives were still in use between Brig and Disentis, as this section was not yet electrified.

The trains of the Glacier Express were pulled by the following locomotives at the beginning and for a long time:

Between Zermatt and Brig, VZ used the famous HGe 4/4 "Crocodiles" as draught horses. The electric locomotives with a power of 1'000 HP could pull train loads of 80t and reached a speed of 45 km/h on the adhesion sections and 20 km/h in the rack sections. Locomotives No. 11 and 13 are still in service today with the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway for freight trains and nostalgia trips.

In Brig, the 1913/14 built HG ¾ type steam locomotives with 600 hp and a train load of 60t of the FO took over the train to Disentis until 1942. The maximum speeds were 45 km/h on the adhesion lines and 20 km/h on the rack lines. Three of these steam locomotives are in service today with the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (nostalgia railroad) between Realp and Gletsch.

From Disentis to St. Moritz, the Rhaetian Railway used the well-known Ge 6/6 I electric crocodile. The locomotive has a power of 1075 hp, the maximum speed at 55km/h.

In Brig, the steam locomotives of type HG ¾ built in 1913/14 with 600 hp and a train load of 60t of the FO took over the train to Disentis until 1942. The maximum speeds were 45 km/h on the adhesion lines and 20 km/h on the rack lines. Three of these steam locomotives are in service today with the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (nostalgia railroad) between Realp and Gletsch.

From Disentis to St. Moritz, the Rhaetian Railway used the well-known Ge 6/6 I electric crocodile. The locomotive has a power of 1075 hp, maximum speed at 55km/h.

The travel time between Zermatt and St. Moritz lasted from 7h30 to 18h20 and in the opposite direction from 8h15 -18h55, i.e. almost 11 hours. Between Zermatt and Brig and Disentis - St. Moritz, the Glacier Express was operated electrically from day one. The line Brig - Disentis was electrified only since July 1, 1941. As with the RhB (1922) and the VZ (1929), the FO chose single-phase alternating current (11kV - 16 2/3 Hertz) as operating power. Thus, all 3 railroads of the Glacier Express had the same operating power and the Glacier Express route was completely electrified. The times of steam traction with relatively little power were thus replaced by the more powerful electric traction. The FO used the newly built electric locomotives HGe 4/4, which has a power of 1'200 HP and reaches a maximum speed of 55km/h (train sections: 30km/h), for the Glacier Express. The higher trailer load (80t instead of 60t). the higher speed and the elimination of stops for water and coal collection meant that trains could run considerably faster on this line from 1942.

With the completion of the electrification of the Brig - Disentis line and the official opening on July 1, 1942, the travel time between Brig and Disentis was reduced by 40 minutes to about 4 hours, and the total trip was shortened to about 10 hours.

The train enjoyed good demand. Passenger numbers were around 20,000 per year during the operating period between July and September. The high alpine terrain on the Furka Pass forced the FO to suspend operations between Oberwald and the Urseren Valley at the onset of winter. The catenary had to be dismantled and the wooden pylons removed on sections of the line that were particularly at risk. The Steffenbach bridge was put into winter position and the tunnel portals were closed to prevent snow from entering. This complex work took a lot of time in the fall and especially in the spring, together with snow removal, and cost several hundred thousand francs each time. The lack of foreign guests could be temporarily replaced with Swiss guests after the outbreak of World War II and the parade train continued to operate until the fall of 1942. Due to the war, Glacier Express operations were discontinued between 1943 and 1946.

The gradual development (1947-1982)
After the war, the Glacier Express was revived in 1947, but without the saloon cars, but with first class cars of the Rhaetian Railway. Furthermore, the RhB used cars with 2nd class compartments and - as already since 1930 - the cars ABC 1604-1607 (ex 604-607). During the war years, the FO renewed several passenger cars in its own workshops, which are now used for the Glacier Express. The circulation of the dining cars was extended from Disentis to Lake Oberalp. In the same year, the RhB received a new type of locomotive, the Ge 4/4, which meant a higher cruising speed (75km/h) and a higher output (1560 HP).

At the beginning of the 1950s, the demand was already so great that the FO, which could only carry 5 cars, had to introduce double runs of the train. The steel meter gauge cars built in Switzerland in the pre-war period were not optimal for operation on the FO's 110‰ rack sections because of their high dead weight to handle the increasing traffic. The FO therefore commissioned Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke Altenrhein to produce an aluminum car of self-supporting box-type construction. This was the first time that a passenger car with 64 seats and a weight of only 11.7 tons could be built. This new concept proved to be successful and was subsequently adopted by the other wagon manufacturing companies. This created a new standardized meter gauge unit car, which was subsequently built in large series for various railroads. In 1951, the journey time from St. Moritz to Zermatt was around 10 hours and 9 hours 40 minutes in the opposite direction.

On June 3, 1956 (on the FO in 1959), first class was abolished throughout Europe and the two-class system was introduced on trains. On the Glacier Express, third-class compartments temporarily became second class, and second-class compartments were converted to first class (mostly without conversion, only the address was changed).

The procurement of new, more powerful traction units and locomotives by the RhB and the BVZ (the VZ was renamed Brig-Visp-Zermatt-Bahn in 1962) with travel speeds of up to 65 km/h and the shortening of the 20-minute stopover in Andermatt gradually reduced the travel time to less than 9 hours. In the 1950s and 1960s, major investments were also made in safety and infrastructure.

In the 60s, the rolling stock of the train was modernized and renewed by all 3 railroads. Thanks to the new light alloy and light steel cars, the train load on the FO line could be increased to 6 cars.

In 1962, new direct cars were used for the express train from and to Pontresina. These direct cars were abandoned again in 1965, the railroads reverted to the traditional original route between St. Moritz and Zermatt. Thanks to the new ABDeh 8/8 railcars of BVZ, the travel time was further reduced to 8 hours 36 minutes.

Another striking change was made in 1968, when the 3 railroad companies decided to wrap the Glacier Express in a uniform red.

From 1969, the dining cars were extended to Andermatt.

In 1970, the Swiss parliament approved a credit of CHF 78 million for the construction of the Furka Base Tunnel. In 1973, construction work began simultaneously on the Valais and Uri sides.

Due to increasing demand, the Glacier Express had to be run twice on the FO route on weekends from 1975. The BVZ and the FO received new locomotives (Deh 4/4), the cruising speed could be increased to 65 km/h - as far as the routing allowed. The maximum trailer load was increased to 90t.

During the construction of the new tunnel from Oberwald to Realp, passenger numbers increased sharply. As the demolition of the line between Gletsch and Realp was planned, a huge demand set in to ride the Furka mountain line one last time and to get a glimpse of the famous Rhone glacier one last time. Triple tours of the parade train became a daily sight in 1981. On September 13, 1981, the FO had to operate 56 relief trains in addition to the scheduled trains!

After various geological difficulties, the breakthrough took place on April 2, 1981, and the official opening of the Furka Base Tunnel was celebrated on April 30, 1981. In the end, the costs for the realization of the tunnel amounted to CHF 311 million. On October 11, 1981, the last train (special train of the Swiss Army with soldiers) left Brig via the Furka mountain route to Andermatt.

The planned demolition of the mountain line was delayed because the commissioning of the Furka base tunnel was not yet completely assured. In addition, there were numerous attempts to save this technically unique line. In 1983, the Furka Mountain Line Association was founded and the preservation of the line was secured. After the gradual reopening of sections, nostalgic steam trains have been running between Realp and Gletsch since June 2000, partly with the former steam locomotives of the Glacier Express.

Year-round operation for the Glacier Express
On June 26, 1982, the Furka Base Tunnel was opened and with it the year-round connection between Valais and Graubünden. At that time, the Furka Base Tunnel was the longest meter-gauge tunnel in the world at 15.4 km. This record was not held by the RhB until the Vereina Tunnel, which is not used by the Glacier Express, was opened in 1999. Until the tunnel was opened, the Glacier Express usually ran from the beginning of June to mid-October. In 1982/83, the Glacier Express ran in winter for the first time; in the first winter season, 17,600 guests traveled on the express train.

Fears that the Glacier Express would lose significant interest due to the elimination of the Furka mountain route fortunately did not materialize. Demand for the parade train rose sharply in the years that followed.

In order to spare passengers on the Glacier Express the stress before departure, the possibility of individual seat reservations was introduced on June 3, 1984 - an absolute novelty in Swiss domestic transport. Due to the lack of a connection to the EDP system, reservations and their confirmation were made by telephone or postcard. For groups, the reservation obligation was introduced earlier. The Rhaetian Railway had a new carriage built for the Glacier Express, which was in service from 1984.

In 1985, two additional Glacier Express trains were introduced in each direction under the same brand name in order to better cover the high demand during the summer half-year. This meant that 3 pairs of trains were running in each direction during the high season.

From summer 1985, a wing connection from Davos was created to complement the Glacier Express St. Moritz - Zermatt. At the same time, the dining car service and the minibar service had to be expanded. With the exception of one train (Zermatt-Chur), all express trains carried a dining car, which was always transferred to the oncoming train in Andermatt or Brig.

Innovation push on the Glacier Express
From 1986, first the FO and from 1990 also the BVZ used the new multi-purpose locomotives HGe 4/4 II, which are still in service today, as "train horses" on their lines. Thanks to these powerful locomotives (2'500 HP), the train load could be increased to 130t, the top speed is now 90 km/h, but can rarely be fully utilized due to the curve radii.

With the aim of offering the passengers of the Glacier Express a maximum travel experience, the FO started the use of a panorama car on a trial basis in 1987. Since this was an experimental operation, a new, lightweight steel car body was placed on an older, but still well-preserved undercarriage of a retired passenger car. This car was very popular with passengers, so that three more practically identical panorama cars were built in the following years. The experience was so positive that BVZ and FO ordered 14 new panorama cars from the Italian manufacturer Breda in mid-1990. A decisive aspect was the cooperation of the manufacturer with the well-known Italian designer Pininfarina, who gave the interior and exterior appearance an unmistakable character. Since the timetable change on May 23, 1993, the new panorama cars have been predominantly used in the Glacier Express trains and have shaped their appearance.

In 1993, the 903/905 panorama train pair opened a new era. Each of these two trains carries 5 first-class panorama cars of FO or BVZ and between St. Moritz and Brig a nostalgic dining car of RhB. The new rolling stock helped to further increase demand. In the summer months, 9 train pairs now travel daily as the Glacier Express, 4 in the direction of St. Moritz and 5 in the direction of Zermatt.

On January 1, 2003, the Furka Oberalp Railway and the Brig Visp Zermatt Railway merged to form the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, and from then on the Glacier Express was still operated by two railroad companies.

Phase 5 (from 2005): Relaunch of the Glacier Express
The Boards of Directors of the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway and the Rhaetian Railway approved the procurement of new panorama cars for the Glacier Express at their meetings on June 16, 2003 and August 29, 2003, respectively. This comprises 4 trains, each consisting of 5 panorama cars and one service car, worth around 60 million Swiss francs. The contract was awarded to Stadler Altenrhein AG, while part of the work will be carried out by the two railroads themselves. The new rolling stock is scheduled to go into service with the timetable change in May 2006. In addition to the new rolling stock, a new operating concept will be introduced in 2005 and a new catering concept in 2006. The existing 14 panorama cars will be modernized over the next few years and their interior and exterior design adapted to the new cars. From 2006, the Glacier Express will offer panorama cars in 2nd class for the first time (48 seats), comfort in the first-class cars will be greatly improved and the number of seats will be reduced from 48 to 36.