This is Switzerland: Furka Steam and other delights

on Monday, September 16, 2019

This morning’s journey began at Chur aboard the Glacier Express train, known as the world’s slowest express. It boasts grades of more than 12%, double cogwheels with a rack-and-pinion system that allows the train to tackle these extreme grades. The seats were more than comfortable with a large table to write yesterday’s blog and drink a too-small cup of coffee I bought for 5 francs. But with the smooth ride and beautiful mountains, that was really all the fuel I needed. Our train pulled into Andermatt, where I would meet the steam engine that would take us to Oberwald. And this would become my very first steam train trip!

Hello, Furka Cogwheel Steam train! It was fascinating to watch the crew shovel the coal and fill the tank with water. I was able to get lots of pictures and video before this ride. The 2-hour train trip on the 10.6-mile railroad included a couple of short stops where passengers could disembark, take pictures, grab a snack or souvenirs at Gletsch and another short stop on Furka Pass alongside the tracks. Furka Pass was electrified in 1942, but dedicated rail enthusiasts rebuilt the line to run cogwheel steam locos. Our train was led by 2-6-0T No. 1, which made its way up with a diesel pusher on the end through one exceptionally long, steep tunnel. Jim Wrinn in May 2013 Trains called it “Switzerland’s Cumbres & Toltec,” due to its short operating season, departing in small towns, and dependence on volunteers. Furka has 2,000 volunteers. Furka has grades up to 11.5% and a sprinkler system that douses the area with water after a steam train passes to prevent fires. The terminus is at Realp, where we took a tour of the depot and maintenance facilities. The Furka buildings were clean (as they could be when dealing with coal), tidy, and quite elaborate. The coal they use comes from Wales because it doesn’t crumble as easily as other types. The volunteers will manufacture parts, if needed. The volunteers were so cheerful and seemed to love spending their time at their railroad.

We rode two more trains this day: one to Brig and then another to Zermatt. Tomorrow? Unobstructed views of the Matterhorn!

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