Rhaetian Railway - Main Network - Description

Description | Pictures | Route map and facts | Index

Other lines: Main Network | Bernina | Bellinzona-Mesocco | Chur-Arosa | Vereina

The Rhaetian Railway (RhB) is divided into the Main Network, the Bernina line, the Bellinzona-Mesocco line and the Chur-Arosa line. Because of this, these pages are also divided. You can change between the lines by following the links at the top of this page.
In the final analysis, the Rhaetian Railway owes it existence to the Gotthard line. More than a century ago, the Grisons had counted on the construction of a transit line through the Splügen. But when, after much argument, a sudden decision was made in favour of the Gotthard line, the Canton itself set out to build a modern transportation system to provide access to its 150 valleys. Thus a large narrow-gauge system was laid out between 1889 and 1913, as a replacement for the never realised standard gauge line through the eastern Alps.

It was, however, a private citizen who took the first step toward building a railway. The Dutchman Jan Willem Holsboer was the owner of a hotel in Davos, and thought with good reason that a railway would bring a considerably larger stream of tourists to the famous high valley than the horse-drawn carriages and mail coaches. Consequently the Landquart-Davos Railway (LD) was founded, and in 1889 its line was opened as far as Klosters, reaching Davos in 1890. The planned extension through the Scaletta into the Engadine, the valley of the Inn, was not carried out in the end, but the Davos-Filisur section, opened in 1909, ensured the connection with the Albula Railway and hence with the Engadine.

The real main line through the Grisons is the Albula line connecting Chur- Thusis- Filisur- Albula- St. Moritz. One of its best known structures is the Landwasser viaduct near Filisur. In 1896 the line reached Thusis, in 1903 Celerina, and finally in 1904 St. Moritz in the famous Engadine. This line was meant to be ultimately extended, too, across the Maloja Pass to the Italian town of Chiavenna. However, World War I put an end to all plans of this kind. Eventually a connection with the Valtellina Railway was made, though "only" by a tourist railway.

>From the Albula main route various branches spread out in all directions. The Chur-Thusis section and the connection with the Davos line at Landquart were opened at the same time. In 1903, the line to Illanz in the Vorderrhein valley was completed and extended to Disentis by 1912. The Unterengadine branch to Scuol-Tarasp was put into operation in 1913. This line was planned to link up with the Arlberg Railway at Landeck, but after 1914 all plans for a possible extension had to be dropped.

A decisive event in the history of the RhB was the electrification of its network. When the Albula line was built between 1896 and 1904, electric traction had not yet been developed to such a degree that it could have been considered as feasible. As yet there were only electric streetcars, interurban tramways and several mountain railways. The situation had changed by the time the Unterengadine line was constructed, after 1910. The trial runs between Seebach and Wettingen (1904-9) with the new single phase low-frequency alternating current (AC) system had been successfully completed. Consequently, the RhB decided to operate the St. Moritz-Scuol line that opened in 1913 using single-phase alternating current of 11 kV and 16 2/3 cycles per second.

The electrical system in the Unterengadine proved so successful that the RhB introduced electrification on its other lines between 1919 and 1922. Thus the RhB was in a position to maintain its service without restriction for the good of the Canton even during the years when coal was extremely scarce.

The Vereina tunnel was opened November 19, 1999. This new railway line between Klosters and Lavin in the Unterengadine increases the capacity of the whole railway. With modern locos and coaches and a state-of-the-art infrastructure the RhB is well prepared for the future.

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Copyright © 1996 Stefan Dringenberg, last change on 2002-02-10