The ingenious new train route in Switzerland: directly from Montreux to Interlaken | Holiday Switzerland

Ahen the train climbs the slope above the north shore of Lac Léman and leaves Montreux behind, I know exactly where we are going because I have made this journey before. The hustle and bustle of the so-called Swiss Riviera gives way to the quiet farmland of the Pays d’Enhaut, followed by the upscale resort of Gstaad before gently descending to Interlaken between the twin lakes of Thun and Brienz in the Bernese Oberland. This 70-mile route that crosses the Rostigraben (French-Swiss-German language border) and connects some of the most famous tourist centers in Switzerland, has existed for over 100 years. But today there is a big difference: Thanks to a world first in rail technology, I don’t have to change trains halfway.

Railway map of Switzerland

The GoldenPass line, as it is known, opened in stages between 1901 and 1916, the realization of a decades-old dream to connect Lake Geneva, Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland by rail. But the journey was not seamless. Because of the mountainous terrain, the Montreux to Zweisimmen line required metric gauge rails (1 meter wide), while the Zweisimmen to Interlaken line was built with standard gauge (1,435 meters wide). Since no train could run on either, passengers had to change trains in Zweisimmen.

A view from the train window. Photo: Caroline Bishop

Not a big inconvenience, one might think. Nonetheless, the Swiss love a technical challenge, and it was one that the Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB) and BLS (the two railway companies that operate the line) were keen to solve. After decades of wrestling with this technological conundrum, MOB proposed a solution in 2008: a custom-made bogie (the part of a train’s undercarriage that supports the wheels) that can be made narrower or wider to accommodate the different widths of the two railroads, as well as to adapt to their different platform heights.

The technology developed by Alstom in Switzerland is unique. Although there are variable gauge bogies elsewhere, none can adapt as well as this one, making it a world first for Switzerland – a country that just loves a rail record. The Alpine state already has the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world (Gotthard Base Tunnel), the steepest funicular in the world (Stoosbahn in Schwyz) and the highest railway station in Europe (Jungfraujoch at 3454 meters). The most variable bogie in the world does not have exactly the same rim, but it is still a remarkable achievement in the field of train engineering.

Passengers get great views of the mountain slopes.
Passengers get great views of the mountain slopes. Photo: Caroline Bishop

Beginning December 11, the brand new GoldenPass Express trains equipped with these bogies will offer passengers 3 hours and 15 minutes of non-stop travel without having to cart luggage halfway from platform to platform. That’s not the only reason why MOB has invested £77m in the project. It also wanted to bring glamor to the line. The new carriages have large split windows and table seating in all three classes – 2nd, 1st and Prestige. The latter is literally a step up; The carriage sits 40cm higher than the rest and is said to offer passengers more complete immersion in the scenery (although I find the second-class scenery just as gorgeous), while its heated, reclining seats can be rotated for the direction of travel. The onboard menu of local produce also has an added wow factor and prestige, including Swiss caviar from the Tropenhaus in Frutigen, a fish farm that uses thermal waters from the mountains.

A GoldenPass train on Lac Leman
A GoldenPass train on Lac Léman. Photo: David Bochud

As beautiful as it all is, nothing beats the view. This state-of-the-art ride takes us past rural railway stations, traditional wooden chalets and farm buildings, fresh snow-covered woodland and the 15th-century church of Château d’Oex, which due to its location on the rock of La Motte is a photogenic focal point during the hot air balloon festival, which held here every January. Although the idea of ​​the GoldenPass Express is that you don’t get off, there are plenty of temptations along the way.

The technological magic happens about two hours later when we reach Zweisimmen train station. When the wagons travel over a special ramp installed on the track, flaps carry their weight to allow the bogies to adjust without pressure. It happens in a matter of seconds and so smoothly it goes unnoticed, and that’s the point. Most of the eight-minute idle time is taken up by switching the locomotive that drives the train, since the two trains also run on different electrical voltages.

The new trains can run on different track gauges.
The new trains can run on different track gauges

Then it’s on, on and gently descending until we come out of the hills and skirt Lake Thun en route to Interlaken where our journey ends. We’ve swapped French for Swiss German, the palm trees and vineyards of Montreux for views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (Grindelwald with its new Eiger Express cable car and onward connection to the Jungfraujoch is only half an hour away) and it’s finally time to disembark walk. However, the GoldenPass line doesn’t really stop here. From Interlaken, travelers can continue to Lucerne, but with a change, as part of this railway line is a rack railway. Could the new trains be adjusted accordingly? It’s another technical challenge for the Swiss to solve – and I have no doubt that one day they will.

This trip was offered by Switzerland Tourism and Swiss Travel System. A single trip from Montreux to Interlaken costs from CHF53 (£46) in the second grade. Seat reservations are recommended at an additional cost (£17).

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