The Gotthard Bahn

The Gotthard Bahn

The Gotthard Railway is one of the world’s most spectacular railways. It was a very difficult line to build however it set the standard for mountainous terrain which railways needed to traverse. It too had the world’s longest tunnel, although that was eventually superseeded by the Lotschberg and ultimately the Simplon tunnels. The latter remained the longest in the world until far bigger projects such as the Channel Tunnel and others came on stream.

Cover depicting the Gotthard line’s spectacular spirals on the southern section of line at Biaschina.

I remember the Gotthard Line in in the older days when the road pass with its 42 hairpin bends was still the major route through this part of the Swiss mountains. The Schöllenen Railway (linking Göschenen and Andermatt) always fascinated me with its semi open tunnels and numerous snow shelters alongside the Gotthard Pass road itself.

There was of course the option of taking one’s vehicle on the train ferry through the Gotthard tunnel, but we opted our clapped out Commer van took us over the top instead! The van wasn’t a camper version but a very hard working delivery vehicle. It made it despite having to stop many times when it seemed on the verge of expiry, to allow it cool down and replenish the water in the engine 🙂

Göschenen – Workmen & their narrow gauge engine at the partially built portal of the Gotthard tunnel.

This post isn’t about any particular anniversary linked to the Gotthard line, however its a look at a book that was first published fifty years ago in 1968 under the title ‘Die Gotthardbahn’ and published by Orell Füssli of Zurich. Its a lovely book and it must have so endeared enthusiasts that a bi lingual version was published very soon after by Ian Allan under licence from Orell Füssli.

Ian Allan’s books were usually English only however the Gotthard Railway was printed in the three main Swiss languages (these being of course German, French, Italian, I don’t know if that was a nod to the SBB-CFF-FFS seen on most Swiss trains) plus of course English.

Some of the cantenary used to electrify the line in 1919 was carried up the mountains by mules! These remote single track sections were far too busy to permit trains to stop for the purposes of dropping off new infrastructure.

The book was published at a time when a good part of the Gotthard Railway still had quite a few stretches of single track. Its a completely different railway today, being mostly double track though some single sections do remain. Whats more the Gotthard Base tunnel opened in 1996, which means the railway itself set another new standard for Swiss railways and Lotschberg and the Furka Oberalp have both followed with their own base tunnels.  The Gotthard’s base tunnel once again gives the railway the record holder for the longest railway tunnel in the world with a length of 57km (over 35 miles long.)

Single track bridge over the Reuss near Oberrüti, now replaced by a double track structure.

This post covers a few of my favourite selection of pictures from the book, such lovely trains, including those famous spirals and Switzerland’s fantastic scenery! Switzerland was always the place to go because it had both elements, trains and mountains.

Northbound train for Zurich heading towards Sempach with Pilatus in the background.

Pilatus is perhaps the most iconic mountain on the northern section of the Gotthard Railway. Any mention of this mountain invariably brings to mind its famous rack railway built by Dr. Eduard Locher – and here’s my post on that.

The Axen tunnels near Flüelen in the canton of Uri – on the far side of Lake Lucerne.

There are nearly 100 photographs in the book. This is just a very small selection of those. Many pictures are full page, hence I’ve cropped them somewhat otherwise the trains would look a bit too small amongst the magnificent scenery!

TEE on the lower section of line at Wassen, with a freight visible on the upper section.

The TEE, for Trans Europ Express, was a famous train service that ran over much of Western Europe from 1957 to 1995 with different countries contributing their own particular train sets. The sets that belonged to Switzerland were perhaps the most recognisable trains in the TEE group.

Wassen church framed by the railway bridge. A nice sixties make of car included!

Wassen is where some of the railway’s famous spirals are. The line runs circles around the church practically! It begins by burrowing underneath the church and as it gains height it passes the church at different elevations during the climb towards the north portal of the Gotthard tunnel at Göschenen.

The delightful roadside/lakeside stretch alongside the Haldenstrasse at Luzern. To this day its one of the remaining single line sections of the Gotthard railway.

The line alongside the Haldenstrasse at Lucerne is practically on the other side of the lake opposite Bahnhof Luzern. This train has just left the main line terminus and thus completed almost an entire circle of the city just to get here. Its one and half kilometres as the crow flies, but 5 and half kilometres by train!

Meienruss viaduct from the Susten road tunnel portal in winter.

Schweizerische Bundesbahnen guys await a passing train at Airolo, southern portal of the Gotthard tunnel.

The above scene is unrecognisable today with a large covered way across the line at this point carrying the Via della Stazione road and a roundabout.

The men pictured are gangers whose job is to regularly inspect the Gotthard tunnel. Certainly the job is now done differently with modern technology however in those days it took two men a whole eight hours just to inspect the nine miles long tunnel!

We began with the Biaschina spirals looking down from the viaduct. This view looks up to the viaduct! The locomotive is one of the Gotthard’s Ae 6/6 workhorses, built specially for the line.

The title picture!

The title picture is of a train at Küssnacht in the canton of Schwyz on the far side of Lake Lucerne with the unmistakable shape of Pilatus visible. The mountains in the distance are those in the Bernese Highlands (Berner Oberland) and if I am right, the Eiger and Jungfrau can be seen fairly easily.

This is another stretch of the Gotthard line that’s still single tracked to this day however this is in fact the Luzern branch and not the main railway itself.