Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Promised Land

U  City Notte trains have 4 berth cabins but no frills . Out like a light almost as soon as we get under way until brutally roused by our leader at about 6 a.m. Today has always been planned as an essential part of the circuit and all is looking good. Italian Railways have found form at the perfect moment in this tournament and delivered us into Milano Porta Garibaldi about 20 minutes early.  The metro ride to Centrale goes without a hitch and without too much waiting we are installed in a comfy second open on the 8.20 for Tirano.

As regards scenery and passing points of interest this train is no slouch, taking us out via Monza towards the Alps and then threading its way through the mountains to run alongside Lake Como for a good half hour. When we leave the lake we turn east up a broad, gently climbing valley with terraced vineyards, which takes us to the border town of Tirano. There is a separate station on the Swiss metre gauge electrified  Rhaetian Railway system right beside the Italian terminus and this is where we will start our quest for the Holy Grail of train trips.

Ingredient one is an open truck with reversible wooden seats which gets attached to the rear of the regular train. It is soon shunted into the platform and we get to climb on board. The train proper then arrives, shunts and couples up to the open truck. Then with a minimum of fuss we are on our way. To start with we run like a tram up the middle of the street but soon move onto a separate formation. The twists and turns, the gradients and undulations would put some roller coasters to shame.

A couple of kilometres out we cross the border into Switzerland with no fuss or bother at all. As far as Schengen goes the UK now lines up with FYR Macedonia and Serbia. Doesn't sound like a winning combination. Very quickly we get to the circular viaduct which goes through 360 degrees to gsin height. And then we just keep climbing, using horseshoe curves, 180 degree curves all in tunnels and unbelievably steep gradients for a non rack railway. Fairly regularly we stop to cross southbound trains. There is a good servive but not all carry open trucks.

For a rail fan this trip really is it - only steam is missing but that can be forgiven. It just couldn't cope with these gradients. The non rail fans are also suiably impressed.  This trip has to be added to the list of things that everybody should do before they die.
Der Fuhrer has indeed delivered us to the promised land. In return Switzerland delivers. Mountain peaks with snow, chocolate box houses and cows with bells. The trains really do depart exactly on time.

We have five more Swiss trains before we get to Zurich including the crossing of the Oberalp pass by rack railway. This is amost as good as the Bernina but relies on climbing and descending incedibly steep gradients rather than loops or spirals.This train delivers us to Andermatt from where we take  another rack line down a precipitous gorge to the junction with the main line. The standard gauge express to Zurich is staffed by a conductor who is a WW1 history nut. He has great admiration for Highland regiments.

We arrive in Zurich on time of course. A veil will be drawn over the Zurich City backpackers hostel and the £8 beers.

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