The amazing new Swiss mountain train that can jump rail tracks

(CNN) – Combining elegance and comfort with 21st-century technical masterpieces, Switzerland’s newest panoramic train journey will begin on December 11, three years after it was planned and 150 years after it was first offered.

The new Golden Pass Express (GPX) directly connects three of the country’s most important tourist destinations: Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken, made possible by a revolutionary new train capable of changing wheel size and truck body height. .

Thanks to the unique design of the new train, passengers can sit in their comfortable seats for three and a quarter hours and enjoy the ever-changing scenery through the huge panoramic windows.

The spectacular journey takes in some of Europe’s most beautiful lakes, valleys and high mountain passes, following trade routes dating back to the Middle Ages through central Switzerland.

The result is a truly memorable journey for travelers, but has always been a challenging task for railway engineers and operators.

Until now, the Golden Pass Express concept has been a marketing exercise by three rail companies connecting tourist hotspots such as Montreux, Interlaken and Luzern, but requires two train changes.

As a result, GPX has never captured the imagination of tourists like the legendary Glacier Express.

From December, one of these disruptions will disappear, and the Montreux Oberland Bernois (MOB) railway is confident that the stylish new GPX panoramic trains will boost the route’s popularity, especially for international visitors who want a seamless experience.

In a matter of seconds, trains will switch from MOB’s metric gauge to the Swiss standard’s 1435 millimeter gauge, eliminating the need for passengers to change trains en route. Between Zweisimmen and Interlaken, trains run over Switzerland’s largest private railway, the Bern Lotchberg Simplon (BLS).

Trains that can change gauge (the distance between the wheels) are nothing new — Spain’s Talgo trains have been able to switch between standard gauge (1,435 millimeters) and wider Iberian tracks for decades — but GPX trains have an added level of complexity. making them world first.

A memorable experience

GPX Winter 001

The new train will be put into operation in December 2022.

MOB

Along with the gauge change, the complex trucks under each cart raise the body height to match the elevated platform of the BLS station.

Gauge changes are made easier by designing the truck with two half-frames that can slide sideways 435 millimeters apart. To do this, they are equipped with a pair of independent wheels without axles between the two sides of the truck.

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The stylish carriages are a collaboration between Swiss train manufacturer Stadler, global transport giant Alstom, which designed and built gauge-changing carriages, and legendary Italian design studio Pininfarina.

Known for its automotive creations from Ferrari to Peugeot, Pininfarina is not new to the rail industry. It was responsible for the exterior of the Italian high-speed train ETR500 and the exterior color scheme of the Eurostar, and in 1993 Pininfarina and MOB collaborated on an earlier generation of trains known as the Crystal Panoramic Express.

“The implementation of new safety standards has encouraged rather than limited our creativity,” said Alfredo Palma, design project manager at Pininfarina.

“In every project, automotive, transport, architecture, etc., our goal is to create beautiful objects while overcoming technical and regulatory barriers. Together with MOB, we have created a train that offers a travel experience that is in complete symbiosis with natural beauty. environment.”

Just 23 cars cost $93.5 million (89 million Swiss francs) and are an expensive solution to a problem that dates back 150 years when direct service between Montreux and Interlaken was first offered.

However, this cost is offset by the obvious benefit of providing a more convenient direct service, which is likely to attract additional passengers. Many of those passengers will be international tourists from North America and Asia, who are used to paying premium prices to experience Switzerland’s alpine beauty from its countless scenic railways.

A technological challenge

GPX Rougemont

It is hoped that this train will help develop tourism in Switzerland.

MOB

Despite delays due to production problems and the Covid-19 pandemic, MOB and its partners BLS, the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Vaud and the Swiss Federal Transport Office believe that the investment will make an immediate contribution. regional economy.

“With Gold Pass Express, we’re taking on the incredible technological challenge of going from fine gauge to standard gauge,” said George Oberson, general manager of MOB.

“We also wanted this tourist train to be beautiful and elegant, which is why we commissioned Pininfarina, one of the most prestigious design companies in the world.”

Passengers have a choice of three classes: 2nd Class, 1st Class, or the luxury of Prestige Class leather seating for 28 lucky people per journey. First and Prestige Class travelers can order locally produced food and beverages to enhance their journey.

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Initially, the new GPX trains will run from Montreux to Interlaken and vice versa only once a day, leaving Montreux at 9:35am and Interlaken at 9:08am.

From 11 June 2023, the service will operate four return trips a day, departing from Montreux at 7:35am, 9:35am, 12:35pm and 2:35pm, with departures at 9:08am and 11:00am. will return. 8 am, 2:08 pm, 4:08 pm

Amazing views

The train departs from Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The train departs from Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

What can travelers expect from a GPX tour and how does it compare to other scenic railways?

The journey east begins on the shores of Lake Geneva in the beautiful city of Montreux, home to world-renowned jazz festivals and generations of musicians and artists. A tourist hotspot for over 150 years, it remains very popular with international tourists and is an ideal base for exploring western and central Switzerland.

The MOB trains quickly climb the hillside from their downtown station, the train makes a 180-degree turn through the vineyards and sidesteps the lake to reach the heights, and the spectacular view of the lake continues to grow.

Eventually, if no further climbing is possible, the line plunges into the 2.5km long Jaman Tunnel, emerging in the majestic Hongrin Valley of the Gruyère region, famous for its dairy cows and the cheese and chocolate made from their milk.

High mountains tower over verdant valleys as the MRC passes through carefully tended farmland and equally pristine Alpine villages.

After leaving the Montbovon Junction station, the line climbs again, passing the Château d’Oeux to the world-famous resort of Gstaad, a winter playground for the rich and famous.

Passengers can connect to the railway that crosses the north face of the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station.

Passengers can connect to the railway line north of the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station.

NICHOLAS RATZENBOECK/AFP via Getty Images

Bridging the language gap between the Swiss-German-dominant French-speaking Cantons of Vaud and Canton of Bern, the railway winds its way through sparsely populated mountainous terrain to reach the top of the line before descending in a series of loops to Zweisimmen.

Previously, GPX passengers had to change from their MOB panoramic train to the larger, more traditional BLS train to continue their journey, but now they can relax in their seats as the train passes over the next gauge change complex.

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As the name suggests, Zweisimmen is located at the confluence of the Gross Simme and Klein Simme rivers of the Simme River. Our route takes us 35 km north along the river Schönberg, then through the beautiful Simmental in the east, to the shores of Lake Thun in Spiez.

Spiez is a major railway junction where our route crosses the main international line from Basel and Bern to Italy via the Lötschberg and Simplon tunnels.

Day-trippers can change here and take the spectacular Lochberg first route to Brig in the Rhône Valley before heading straight back to Montreux.

Unforgettable trips

Gstaad is located on the GPX routes.

Gstaad is located on the GPX routes.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

But the GPX continues past Lake Thun, gradually descending to the water’s edge, until its final, unforgettable finale to its destination and the Swiss tourist hotspot of Interlaken.

Interlaken, which literally means many German place names, is a city located on a narrow strip of land between Switzerland’s two largest lakes, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

It’s a landmark in itself and the starting point for one of Switzerland’s most memorable hikes — a three-stage journey across the north face of the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station at 3,454 meters (11,332 feet). ).

You can also take the Zentralbahn panoramic train to Luzern via Meiringen and the Bruni Pass. Meiringen is a “must-see” for Sherlock Holmes fans, near the Reichenbach Falls, where Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional hero and his nemesis lost their lives.

Like many scenic railways in Europe, the MOB relies heavily on tourism. It has been hit hard over the past three years by restrictions on international travel and a lack of visitors from key Asian markets. According to recent studies, passenger numbers are not expected to return to pre-Covid levels until 2024 at the earliest.

However, MOB has added some great new GPX trains to the Golden Pass route, which will surely allow many new visitors to experience this underrated travel gem.

Best photo credit: MOB

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