Swiss Tour Day 5: Where fantasy meets reality visiting the Matterhorn

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Monday, September 17, 2018

ZERMATT, Switzerland — Alright. I admit it. I wanted to show off with the picture above. 

And after I bragged to fellow photogs on the Trains’ 2018 Switzerland tour, they all went for their own version: on Canons, Nikons, in 4K, and on film. This particular shot is not iconic, but it is less common, if only because the Matterhorn (that spiky mountain in the background) is often shrouded in clouds or fog, even on otherwise nice days. 

Of course, since we were on a rail tour, I HAD to get a picture of the mountain with a train. It’s practically obligatory. 

I could bore you with details about the man unicycling down the mountain, another man carrying a suitcase down the mountain, or the really good elderberry cake I ate for lunch, but I want to offer a word or two instead about track and structures on the MGB or the Matterhorn Railway. 

For starters, it’s all purpose built: for passengers, baggage, and bicycles. But for the resorts, trail heads, and scenic overlooks, there is absolutely no reason to build a railroad — let alone a meter-gauge rack railroad — up here.

And the first thing I noticed are the track fasteners. Incredible!

From what I could see, from the base to the tippy top, and on every switch and siding, the Swiss have three-bolt clamps with a washer to ensure tightness. Two on each side of the rail hold gauge and one more on each side literally clamp the web of the rail to the ties.

Oh, the ties. They’re all metal or concrete. Really, unless there’s a water built-up, they will be impervious to weather practically forever on well-graded, immaculately maintained ballast. This goes double for the catenary installation that looks nearly new. May I say. The whole thing is overbuilt. Surely a few broken bolts or rotted ties wouldn’t hurt, would they?

As for operations, there were absolutely no delays or hiccups, and the railroad itself ran as thought it were an integral part of the regular Swiss network. And in effect, it is.

After two hours viewing the Matterhorn, we descended to Zermatt where we caught another meter gauge train to see more mountain peaks, waterfalls, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, and plenty more tunnels, bridges, and viaducts. 

You know — every day ordinary scenery. 

And then it hit me. All the things model railroaders often get criticized for: unrealistic heights, too many bridges, too steep of grades, too tight radii. It exists in Switzerland.


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