Monday, 20 December 2010

Switzerland’s Glacier Express (Part 3)

In this part we are going to look at the line over and under the Furka Pass. The original line over was bypassed by the Furka Base Tunnel under in 1982. The old line is  now a heritage railway. It is operated by the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway and is a rack operation.

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We start for today at Andermatt, a railway town through and through. Apart from the east-west bisection of the MGB (our line), Andermatt also has the Schöllenenbahn rack railway heading north to join the Gotthard line at Göschenen, where the north portal of the Gotthard rail tunnel is near, and the tunnel passes beneath Andermatt. Heading west, the Matterhorn Gotthard Barn is in the steep sided, narrow valley Ursental. A little west of Hospental is a short curved viaduct. Past Zumdorf the line is right next to the road and straight for a few hundred metres until it reaches the tunnel on the outskirts of Realp. After passing through the station the junction of the old and new routes is met just next to the portal of the Furka Base Tunnel.

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Here you can see the old route over the top at the left and the current MGB line to the right as it enters the tunnel. Since we cannot see any features of the tunnelled line in Google Earth, the following description will be of application to the Furka Pass line, the original route of the Furka-Oberalp-Bahn for 70 years from 1911 to 1981. After leaving Realp the line climbs steadily and crosses a short viaduct taking it from the north to the south side of the Furkareusse. After passing through three tunnels the legendary Steffenbachbrücke folding bridge is reached. The legend is that this bridge was made to be foldable in order to protect it from the severe winter conditions such as avalanches. How did the conditions become anticipated in order to know when to fold the bridge? Well, the line was closed totally for the winter and reopened in the springtime. It was even necessary in the latter times when the line was electrified for the overhead electric wires to be removed in order that they should be protected from the severe snowfalls and such. Passing through Tiefenbach to Steinstafel the eponymous viaduct is reached. Furka Station is at 2160 metres, a climb of more than 600 metres since Realp. It was the terminal station of the Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke (Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway) until 1999.

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The train now leaves the station and runs 150 metres to the 1874-metre length Furka Summit Tunnel, passing under the Blauberg. There is a slight drop through the tunnel until Muttbach-Belvédère station is reached at 2118 metres. After almost 20 years abandonment the tunnel was reopened in 2000, the geological conditions that had dogged its original construction were in force again during the hiatus and transfer to the DFB resulting in much work being needed to get it into operation once more.  As the line heads west it becomes necessary to cross the main road, formerly with danger for two wheeled traffic due to the rack rail in this section. The DFB has altered the position of the line slightly so as to make it truly a “level crossing” so that the rack can be discontinued for the part of the line in the road. Finally, Gletsch is reached at 1757 metres being some 400 metres lower than Furka.

From 2000 this was the DFB terminus. The line to Oberwald was reopened just in August this year and will be covered in a bit more detail in Part 4 along with the Furka Base Tunnel route.