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Cog Railways In Switzerland

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Switzerland. A Cog Railway Country

Adventurers from the former British Empire discovered the Swiss Alps in the early nineteenth century as a perfect playground for their leisure activities. The discovery of the Alpine peaks by mountaineers like Sir Edward Whymper, wo conquered the famous Matterhorn above Zermatt got widespread media attention. Soon, people started to follow in the path of these discoverers. Most of these followers were not mountaineers but were looking for distraction of the urban life in the fresh air and amazing nature of the Swiss alps. As more and more visitors went to Switzerland a special infrastructure for this early mass tourism began to emerge.

Cog railways were an important part of this infrastructure which helped even non-climbers to access the high alpine environment and to enjoy the breath-taking scenery of the highest peaks of Switzerland. Hence, these cog railways are the true veterans among the many mountain railways and cable cars in the European Alps. Until today some of these cog railways belong to the most visited tourist attractions in Europe.

An old photo of the Rigi cog railway (around 1910).

An old photo of the Rigi cog railway (around 1910).

The Rigi cog railway today. Photo by Hullie distributed under CC Attributions Share Alike 3.0

The Rigi cog railway today. Photo by Hullie distributed under CC Attributions Share Alike 3.0

The Steepest Cog Railway Of The World: Pilatus

The Pilatus above Luzern. Photy by sondrekv

The Pilatus above Luzern. Photy by sondrekv

Books About Switzerland

The Gornergrat cog railway and the Matterhorn around 1890

The Gornergrat cog railway and the Matterhorn around 1890

The Gornergrat cog railway and the Matterhorn today

The Gornergrat cog railway and the Matterhorn today

The Eiger North Face and the Moench towering above the alpine meadows of the Kleine Scheidegg. Photo by cable1

The Eiger North Face and the Moench towering above the alpine meadows of the Kleine Scheidegg. Photo by cable1

Glacier Express Between Zermatt And St. Moritz

The Most Attractive Cog Railways In Switzerland

Rigi Cog Railways

The mount Rigi (1797m) is probably the most visited mountain of Switzerland. The Rigi is not a mountaineers' mountain but perfect for those who want to enjoy the breathtaking view over the amazing landscape around the Vierwaldstädter See. This view was appreciated by famous people like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Felix Mendelssohn or Mark Twain. So it is no wonder that the Rigi continues to attract uncountable numbers of visitors in our modern days as well. The high attractiveness of the Rigi resulted in early plans for building a cog railway. And indeed, the cog railway from Vitznau to Rigi-Kulm, finished in 1871, was the very first cog railway of Europe. Soon the success of this cog railway attracted additional investments and a second railway from Arth-Goldau was built (1875).

Pilatus Cog Railway

The Pilatus (2128m) towers high above Luzern and the Vierwaldstädter See. According to old legends the Pilatus housed old ghosts and demons and the body of the Roman governor in Palestine Pontius Pilatus had been buried there. This might have been the reason why is was forbidden to venture into this area. Of course, the enlightment and emergence of natural sciences in the eighteenth century changed this perception of the mountains and stopped the fears associated with the rugged rocky landscape around the Pilatus. With the beginning of tourism this very landscape started to be of great economic value. Then in the nineteenth century, even Queen Victoria of England traveled to Luzern and visited the Pilatus. When the people of Luzern realised the success of the nearby Rigi cog railway they soon started to plan for their own cog railway up to the Pilatus. There were quite huge technical difficulties to be mastered but in 1889 the project was finally finished. With a maximum incline of 48 percent this cog railway is still the steepest railway of the world.

Gornergratbahn in Zermatt

Zermatt with the famous Matterhorn (4477m) towering high above the village is probably the most famous of the many notorious Swiss clichés. And the cog railway Gornergratbahn is a perfect way to enjoy the some of the best views to the Matterhorn and even much more since there are breathtaking views in every direction from the many stations of the Gornergratbahn. This high alpine cog railway transports the visitor directly into the heart of the huge glaciers and sky-scraping peaks around Zermatt. The Monte Rosa (4634m), the highest mountain of Switzerland, is directly opposite the top station of the Gornergratbahn at the summit of the Gornergrat (3090m). The view down to the huge glaciers below the Monte Rosa is truly breathtaking and one of the most famous of the entire Alps. The top station of the Gornergrat cog railway is perfectly equipped with a fine restaurant, a viewing platform, a modern shop with the notorious Swiss products and even a planetary observatory.

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Kleine Scheidegg, Jungfraubahn

The Bernese Oberland is one of the most famous regions in Switzerland. British tourists discovered this marvelous alpine region in the nineteenth century. Their influence is still to be felt and many old British habits and manners still live in this part of Switzerland. The many belle epoque hotels in Wengen and Grindelwald with their particular art noveau style are a perfect reminder of “good old times”. The landscape in the Bernese Oberland is characterized by a unique mix of lakes, pristine alpine meadows and huge, wild mountains. The contrast between the green pastures of the Kleine Scheidegg and the triumvirate of Eiger (3970m), Mönch (4099m) and Jungfrau (4158m) is unique even in Switzerland. Cog railways start from both villages, Wengen as well as Grindelwald and converge around the Kleine Scheidegg (2061m). From there a masterpiece of Swiss railway engineering leads via tunnels through the famous Eiger North Face directly up to the Jungfraujoch (3454m), the highest railway station of Europe. On top of the Jungfraujoch the visitor looks down to the huge snow fields of the Aletsch Glacier, with a length of over 20 km the largest glacier of the European Alps. The ice of the Aletsch Glacier is up to 800m thick, a still impressive reminder of the ice ages.

The list of cog railways in Switzerland is even longer. There are additional cog railways around the Lake Geneva (Rochers de Naye, Col de Bretaye), around the Lake Constanz (Rohrschach-Heiden, Rheineck-Walzenhausen), near the Lake Como in Ticino (Monte Generoso) and near Lake Brienz (Brienzer Rothorn, Schynige Platte). There are even some sections of standard railroads which use the cog railway technique due to the steepness of the rails. Examples are the railway to Zermatt or the railway over the Furka Pass. So even if you travel by train in the Swiss Alps chances are high that you will experience cog railways.

Further Information On Cog Railways In Switzerland

  • Gornergratbahn
    The Gornergratbahn in Zermatt provides access to one of the most stunning views of the entire Alps. The glaciers around Monte Rosa and the famous Matterhorn are the highlights of the mountain view.
  • Jungfraubahn
    The Jungfraubahn markets itself as Top of Europe for having the highest railwaystation of Europe. Going up to over 3400m this slogan is really appropriate.

Discover Cog Railways In Neighboring Austria

  • Cog Railways In Austria
    Today there are still three mountain cog railways in operation in Austria. All of these three cog railways were built in the late nineteenth century and provide easy access to amazing mountain views.


Madeleine Salin from Finland on February 01, 2012:

I always dreamed of visiting Switzerland as a child. I ended up living there for almost a year. I have been in Luzern many times, but never went by the cog railway to Pilatus. I wish I could go to Switzerland again to do that and to see Matterhorn. Great hub that I'll vote up and SHARE with my followers.

euro-pen (author) from Europe on September 13, 2009:

Hi Waren E. Thanks for stopping by. I guess that Switzerland is a dreamed of travel destination for many travelers. I still remember the days when I was a child and studying the Swiss maps in the school atlas and dreaming of all these awesome places. Lucky me, that I was able to visit many of these places.

Waren E from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............ on September 13, 2009:

Now there's something worth adding to a list of goals!splendid!:D

euro-pen (author) from Europe on September 10, 2009:

Hi blue dog. Thanks for stopping by. I should warn you. Visiting Switzerland can easily become quite addictive. I spent quite a bit of my money traveling to and in Switzerland. Though it is worth every euro.

blue dog from texas hill country on September 10, 2009:

hi euro,

i should have stayed smart and only looked at the photos. but no, i had to read your hub. now, switzerland has moved up my short list of places to photograph. thanks for the informative hub!!

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