The Bernina Railway is a single track metre gauge railway line forming part of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB). It links the spa resort of St. Moritz, in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland, with the town of Tirano, in the Province of Sondrio, Italy, via the Bernina Pass. It also ranks as the highest adhesion railway in the Alps, and - with inclines of up to 7% - as one of the steepest adhesion railways in the world.
On 7 July 2008, the Bernina Railway and the Albula Railway, which also forms part of the RhB, were recorded in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, under the name Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes. The whole site is regarded as a cross border joint Swiss-Italian heritage area. The most famous trains operating on the Bernina Railway are known as the Bernina Express.
In the year following the completion of the Albula Railway in 1904, the Bernina-Bahngesellschaft (BB) was established, with the objective of opening a railway line between St Moritz and Tirano, via the Bernina Pass. After obtaining a concession for such a line in 1906, the BB opened it from 1908 onwards, in several sections: on 1 July 1908 between Pontresina and Morteratasch, and between Tirano and Poschiavo; on 18 August of the same year between Pontresina and Celerina; and on 1 July 1909 between Celerina and St Moritz, and between Morteratsch and Bernina Suot. It was only on 5 July 1910 that the whole line could be opened, upon completion of the most difficult section, between Bernina Suot and Poschiavo. From the beginning, the line was electrically operated with DC current, although in 1935 the voltage was increased from 750 V to 1000 V.
Originally, the Bernina Railway was intended for use only in summer, but in 1913/14 the BB commenced winter operations as well. This development was associated with major weather related problems, necessitating further erection of avalanche barriers. In the first years of its existence, the BB was always on the verge of bankruptcy. The costs of construction expenditure on the line to 1915 amounted to around 15 million Swiss francs. Even the introduction of a restaurant car in 1928, and packages for tourists, could not save the little railway from ruin. Due to its difficult financial situation, it was taken over by the Rhaetian Railway in the middle of World War II in 1943.
Description Of The Railway
St Moritz is the terminus of both the Albula Railway and the Bernina Railway. As the two railways are powered by different electrification systems, they meet at the same station, but operate on separate lines from separate platforms. The Bernina Railway leaves St Moritz station in an easterly direction, and crosses the Inn River on a 64 m (210 ft) long viaduct. It then passes through the 689 m (2,260 ft) long Charnadüra-Tunnel II, the longest tunnel on the entire route.
The next station, Celerina Staz, is, at 1,716 m (5,630 ft) above sea level, the lowest point on the north side of the Bernina Pass. From there until Ospizio Bernina, the line will now climb almost continuously. After returning to the banks of the Inn, the line reaches the small station Punt Muragl Staz. At this point is the valley station of the funicular to Muottas Muragl, opened in 1907.
Rolling Stock and Traffic
Today, the following classes of railcar and locomotive are used in scheduled commercial services on the Bernina Railway: fifteen ABe 8/12I from 2010 until today, to replace the old series of engines, such as four ABe 4/4I and also nine ABe 4/4II. Still in service also six ABe 4/4III und two Gem 4/4 that can operato also without electrical feeding, thanks their diesel-generator inside (double engine locomotives). This fleet, consisting predominantly of railcars, also carries freight traffic. Some freight cars are added to passenger trains until the maximum towing capacity of such trains of 140 tonnes is reached.
For reasons of safety, due to the presence of dangerous goods, other freight cars are operated in pure freight trains. Despite being set up originally only for tourist traffic, the Bernina Railway now also assists trade with Italy by carrying not inconsiderable quantities of freight, consisting mostly of heating oil, fuels and timber. Additionally, the regional shopping businesses of the Poschiavo valley are served partly by rail.