Traveling by Car
I like traveling by Car. On June 4, 2016, on my way to Italy I traveled the Gotthard Pass as the Gotthard tunnel seemed to take a lot of time because of the traffic lights regulating the number of cars in the tunnel (two lanes only). There I noticed that the road to the Gotthard pass crossed the Furka Pass road. A road to the Rhone Valley in the Swiss Kanton Valais (or Wallis). In the past I had spent a couple of winter sport holidays at the other side of the Furka Pass in the Bettmeralp ski region and was curious to explore a bit of the eastern side of the pass. The first photo shows part of the road being widened which resulted in several one lane traffic light regulated stops. That also took some time. But then a bit further on the Furka Pass Road in Realp I ran into a part of Swiss narrow gauge Railway history, the Furka Steam Railway.
Just west of Realp is a golf course and it mus be one of the steepest golf courses of the world, as it stretches along the road to the Furka pass.
Opposite the golfcourse is a depot of DFB AG with several very interesting trains and wagons.
One of the most romantic train journeys is the Swiss Glacier Express which connects the three pioneer cities in Alpine sport Zermatt, Sankt Moritz and Davos. Part of the journey is the narrow gauge railway track between Brig and Andermatt/Disentis. Currently the Glacier express is operated by the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and the Rhaetian Railway.
History of the railway track and DFB AG
The first concession for a railroad through Goms (a distict of the Wallis Kanton rougly between Brig and Andermatt) and via Bedrettotal to Airolo was issued in 1886.
Financial problems prevented the construction. It was followed by numerous other projects.
In 1907 a licence to operate an electric narrow gauge railway with partial gear operation from Brig to Gletsch and on to Andermatt Oberalp Disentis was granted. Since the majority of shares in Brig – Furka – Disentis Bahn BFD was held by French shareholders, the French called the shots and required to operate the railway with steam locomotives rather than electric locomotives,in order to save costs.
On June 30, 1914, the steam operation between Brig and Gletsch was opened.
When the First World War broke out shortly thereafter, the Italian railway workers went home and the construction work between Gletsch and Disentis had to be postponed. Because of the incomplete-ended route and the war, the BFD came in financial difficulties. The French shareholders didn’t want to grant extra money and in 1923 the company was liquidated.
Politicians knew that the still unfinished, 100 km long Alpine railway was a dire need. A new company called Furka – Oberalp Bahn FO was founded and led the construction work quickly to end. In 1926 train-traffic between Brig and Disentis was finally possible.
From the beginning, only a summer operation was provided on the Furka, a winter operation came not because of the exposed position in question. This circumstance was of course an obstacle for tourism on both sides of the Furka and the FO took the both 7-month separate operating higher expenses and lower income massively.
Furka Base Tunnel
In 1964 first plans for a Furka Base Tunnel were presented. Building commenced in 1973, but only after huge political resistance to the tunneling work. In 1982 the 15.4 km base tunnel was opened despite enormous geological problems. The mountain part of the railway was split in Oberwald and Realp. Electrication was taken away and it fell into a deep sleep. The prince to wake it up came in the form of some enterprising people (then called Spinner) who wanted to take the mountain route as tourist train back into service. The “Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway” DFB AG was founded and with volunteers from the six world track and also the rolling stock has been put back into operation in stages. The total distance Oberwald – Realp could again be driven in 2010. A great achievement of the DFB employees and many many volunteers
DFB AG means a company with shares named Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke. It is a publicly held company that owns the license to drive with trains on the track.
It has nothing to do with the Glacier Express as the Glacier Express travels through the Furka Base Tunnel nowadays, but I needed the use of their map to guide you to the exact location of the Furka track in mid Switzerland.
The Glacier Express travels the Furka Base tunnel that you don’t see on this map except both entrances at the Oberalp and Realp sides. The red track on this map is the Furka Steam Railway – DFB AG part.
More details in the next post.