On 3 June 2023, the Bernina Express turned 50. Launched as a tourist experience on 3 June 1973, the train runs between Chur, Switzerland and Tirano, Italy. The train link is the highest train crossing in the Alps and a portion of it forms part of Glacier Express journey, which links the Zermatt and St. Moritz ski resorts.
The four-hour railway journey crosses 196 bridges, passes through 55 tunnels and reaches an altitude of 2,253 metres above sea. The Albula and Bernina lines that make up Bernina Express’s route were jointly declared a World Heritage Site in 2008.
The Albula line was constructed between 1898 and 1904 and the Bernina line was built between 1908 and 1910. Trains on the route climb more than 1,800 metres. Typically this requires a rack and pinion system of rotating cogs that pull the train upwards. Instead, this line was built using spiral track that never exceeds a gradient of 7%, allowing the use of regular trains.
The Bernina express is Europe’s highest train crossing. The four higher altitude railways in Europe are all dead end journeys. These are Switzerland’s Jungfrau (3,454m) and Gornergrat (3,090m) railways, the Zugspitze in Germany (2,650m) and the Mont Blanc Railway in France (2,372m).
Chur (592m), at one end of the journey, is the capital of the canton of Graubunden. Tirano (441m), at the other end, is in Italy’s Lombardy region next to the Swiss border. It is around an hour by road from Lake Como.
For more information on the Glacier Express, possibly Switzerland’s greatest train journey, click here.