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Taking a train to the top of the world
Wednesday April 4, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

It is one of the most impressive train journeys in The Alps and yet you can see very little out of the window, to begin with that is. 100 years ago men dug a tunnel up through The Eiger and built the highest railway station in Europe. PlanetSKI jumps aboard.

The view from the top of the line at the Jungfraujoch railway quite literally takes your breath away.

In part because it is at 3,454m but also the panoramas across the surrounding landscape are some of the most impressive in the high mountains.

From here there are magnificent views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and the longest glacier in The Alps, the Aletsch, stretches away into the distance.

On clear days, you can see as far as the Vosges mountains in France and Germany's Black Forest.

The building of the Jungfrau railway is a fascinating story in its own right and is being celebrated in 2012, the centenary of the railway's opening.

In the 19th Century, attitudes to the Jungfrau Railway, which now carries s around 650,000 passengers and tourists a year, were mixed.

Members of the Swiss Alpine Club were concerned it would create obstructions for mountain climbers.  

A few club members even wanted to call for a national protest movement. However, most people of the valley saw its potential to attract tourism to the Oberland so gave it their backing. 

The project was the dream of Adolf Guyer-Zeller.  

In 1893, the 54 year old industrial magnate was hiking from Schilthorn to Mürren with his daughter. Suddenly he stopped and said, "Now I've got it!" As he saw a train of the Wengernalp Railway travelling up to Kleine Scheidegg, he hit on the idea of building a railway from there to the top of the Jungfrau.

That night he sketched his idea on a sheet of paper.

It shows the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau as well as the route he planned for the Jungfrau Railway.

Just under four months after his hike in August, Guyer-Zeller submitted his proposal to the Federal Council. It optimistically said the station on the Jungfrau summit would be reached four years after the start of construction.

It would begin at Kleine Scheidegg and from there, the electrically-driven cogwheel railway would travel up over open terrain to the first station, the Eigergletscher, and then enter a tunnel. That would go straight though the mountain.

It would stop at three stations on its way up to the Jungfrau summit.

Each station would have its own special appeal with different vantage points and be a tourist destination in itself especially as the railway would be opening in stages.

On 21st December 1894, Guyer-Zeller received approval for his ambitious project.

On 27th July 1896 Dr Friedrich Wrubel, secretary of the Jungfrau Railway, made the first cut in the soil and construction began. At first, work concentrated on the open-air section between Kleine Scheidegg and the Eigergletscher station.

The task aheadThe task ahead













The 2km section was built by hand just using picks, shovels and muscle power.

The first section was opened on 19 September 1898.

The first 2km were the easy bit, the next 7km went straight through the mountain and into the Eiger itself.

Dirty, hard workDirty, hard work













Clearing the rubbleClearing the rubble













On 7th March 1899, at 2,865m, the tunnellers reached the intended site of the Eigerwand station.














However the following month on April 3rd Adolf Guyer-Zeller, the driving force behind the Jungfrau Railway, died.

Responsibility for construction passed to his sons but it wasn't until 28th June 1903 before the Eigerwand station in the middle of the Eiger North Wall was officially opened.

People could now marvel at the views down to Grindelwald from the terrace.

Quite a viewQuite a view













Two years later on 25th July 1905 the section to Eismeer, at 3,160m opened, giving guests stunning glacier views to the south.

However financial problems hit and instead of sticking to the original plans of a station below the Mönchsjoch and continuing the railway to the Jungfrau summit, the Jungfraujoch was set  to become the end of the line.

Work continued to Jungfraujoch on the saddle between the Mönch and the Jungfrau and in August 1912, 16 years after construction began, the first train travelled to the top at 3,454m.

It completed the 1,400m journey in 50 minutes.

But it arrived 9 years later than planned.

In this centenary year a special exhibition has opened marking the occasion.

A 250m subway called 'The Alpine Sensation' creates a direct link between Sphinx Hall and the Ice Palace with moving walkways. There are alcoves that show the development of tourism in the Alps and the history of the Jungfrau Railway.

Over New Year special celebrations were held including the beaming of the Swiss Cross onto the mountain that we reported on at the time here on PlanetSKI.

Lighting up the JungfrauLighting up the Jungfrau












At this time of year in April ski tourers are travelling to the Eismeer station to set off on various routes off the back and over The Aletsch glacier.

We did the tour a few years ago and for those that know high mountain ski touring the first day usually begins with an exhausting 4 or 5 hour climb up to achieve height.

This one simply involves taking the train.

Lets go ski touringView from the back














Setting off for a ski tourSetting off for a ski tour













and here's why we do it...

Altitude and solitudeAltitude and solitude














Back of the JungfrauBack of the Jungfrau













Of course you don't have to be an advanced ski tourer to ski in the area.  It is possible to use the train, as do 99.9% of visitors, as a wonderful sight-seeing experience.

And then there is the skiing in the area.

Grindelwald is one of the largest ski resorts in the Jungfrau region with great vistas.

Despite having some of Europe's most spectacular peaks towering above it, the resort itself is low at 1,034m and its slopes are mostly gentle with 24 blues, 36 reds and 12 blacks.

The ski area is divided into three: Kleine Scheidegg with 50km of pistes; Männlichen with 100km of pistes at the base of the Eiger; and then neighbouring Wengen offering a total of 213 kilometres of pistes and reaching up to an altitude of 2,500m.

The Schilthorn in nearby Mürren is also part of the Jungfrau region ski area and reaches an altitude of 2,971m.

The skiing is some of the most picturesque, and historical, in The Alps.

View across the valley from MurrenView across the valley from Murren












Additional reporting by Katy Dartford.

Photos of construction c/o Jungfrau Railways.

For the spirit of the mountains

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