The 122 km Raethian Railway line between Thusis in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy became World Heritage in 2008

From north Italy and into Alpine Switzerland, a little red train with big panorama windows travels through 55 tunnels and over almost 200 viaducts and bridges. On its winding way from deep valleys up to glacial heights it has to climb 7% inclines in some places, to a record 2253 meters above sea level at the highest point.

The Raethian Railway is in fact two historic railway lines in one, both built about 100 years ago in the Albula and Bernina regions. The 67 km Albula line runs between Thusis and St.Moritz in the central Swiss Alps. The 61 km Bernina line takes you from St.Moritz, then southward, just across the Swiss border to Tirano near Lake Como on the Italian side. The total length of the Albula-Bernina line is 122 km with a travelling time of about 4 hours.

The circular viaduct in Brusio
The circular viaduct in Brusio


The 65 meter tall and 136 meters long Landwasser viaduct in Filisur (see header photo) is beautiful construction that leads the train through a sharp curve and right into the Landwasser tunnel.

Another engineering highlight on this line is the circular viaduct in Brusio, about 6 km from Tirano at 717 meters above sea level. The viaduct has a 70 meters radius and 7% incline at this particular point on the line, rising 70 meters per 1000, that is.


Scenic Switzerland


A scenic ride in Alpine landscape

Sitting there on the train enjoying the slow and steady movement as we wind our way through the spectacular Swiss landscape, you get the sensation that this railway is indeed part of the landscape. Every turn, left or right, through a tunnel or over a viaduct has a graceful and aestetically pleasing movement to it that makes this journey so special. It is as if it was sculpted by artists using the landscape as material. It’s up to the traveller to appreciate this work of art. On a more practical note; this single track railway line is a so-called ‘narrow gauge’ line, 1 meter wide in stead of the standard 1.435 meters. The cars are therefore smaller and this may account for the smooth and apparent light movement of the train.


The view the Palü glacier from the terrace at Alp Grüm station (2091 m)
The of view the Palü glacier from the terrace at Alp Grüm station (2091 m)


All photos by Asgeir Pedersen, IN Editions
This article was first published 16 July 2017.