Travel special: Happy 100th birthday to Europe’s highest railway

August 1, 2012

Spectacular views from the top of the Jungfrau Railway

This week Swiss National Day was celebrated on the same day as the highest railway in Europe, in the Swiss Alps, celebrates its 100th anniversary. Travel Editor ANNE GORRINGE travels through the centre of the Eiger on the journey to the top

Hiking with his daughter in the Alps back in 1893, industrial entrepreneur Adolf Guyer-Zeller spotted a train travelling up from Grindelwald to the foot of the Eiger. Maybe it was the beauty of his surroundings, or the effort of the walk, but it sparked an idea for a project that became a passion.

Stopping suddenly in his tracks he exclaimed, “Now I’ve got it,” as the plan to build the highest railway in Europe was born.

It would connect the existing train line, which than ended in Kleine Scheidegg, up through a tunnel carved into the heart of the Eiger through two stations to finally reach a height of 3,454m on the Jungfraujoch, the dip between the peaks of the Mönch on one side and the Jungfrau on the other.

Right: The journey up from Kleine Schneidegg

One stop allows passengers to get out of the train to peak through windows which actually look out through the notorious North face of the Eiger where, in the past, climbers have perished. On the slopes below, when I was there in March, skiers strained their eyes as they gazed up from the runs, trying to spot this lookout point.

In the very early days this viewpoint was open to the elements, with a balcony overlooking the drop. Now it’s safely closed in with glass.

And the spectacular railway journey attracts around 700,000 tourists a year, so it’s well worth pre-booking tickets in peak seasons and keeping an eye out for special offers and train deals.

Reaching the summit itself is simply breath-taking – and not just because of the magnificent views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau as well as the longest glacier in the Alps, the Aletsch. 

There’s also a snow fun park there in summer months where until early October, depending on the weather, you can slide around in rubber tubes on the snow. And, the altitude can make breathing a little difficult when you’re exerting yourself.

As part of the centenary celebrations, a new 250m subway attraction has been added. This includes a photography exhibition, giving visitors a pictorial history of the railway and linking the spectacular ice palace with the station when you leave the train.

On site there are also several cafes where you can relax and, as I tucked into glass of wine and admired the views, the scene outside was somewhat reminiscent of an old Bond film. So it was no surprise to learn that the 1969 movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, had actually been filmed in the area with George Lazenby in the 007 role.

Left: Anne's on top of the world at the summit of the Jungfraujoch

A staircase at the top of the building led to double doors which, once outside, took you to the highest point of the complex.

Here, the strength of the wind and the cold made me realise how difficult it must have been for the construction workers who brought this railway to life more than 100 years ago.

Work actually began on the project in July 1896 but it took a total of 16 years to complete, with the official opening on August 1, 1912, as the last section reached the top.

Yet it’s opening, as in the case of our own pioneering masterpiece, the Bristol Suspension Bridge, took place after its creator’s death. Adolf Geyer-Zeller died in April 1899 when responsibility for finishing the railway was then passed on to his sons.


Right: Walking through the an ice tunnel in the palace

Jungfrau Railway Factfile:-

• The 9km-long cogwheel railway takes passengers up to a height of 3,454m where Europe’s highest-altitude railway station opens onto a world of rock, ice and snow

Seven kilometres are in a tunnel through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch. The train stops for five minutes at each of two intermediate stations, the Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and Eismeer (Sea of Ice), where passengers can look through panorama windows

The Jungfrau Railway climbs a height difference of 1,400m in 50 minutes

Construction was marked by blasting accidents, strikes and financial problems but it became one of the greatest technical achievements of its time

Attractions at the top include restaurants, a surround-sound Imax image screen, an exhibition on the history of the railway and a walk through an ice palace


Anne travelled  to Grindelwald with Inghams. Seven nights half board at the 4.5-star Hotel Belvedere starts at £1,189 per person for a week, including flights from Heathrow to Zurich and transfers by second-class Swiss Rail. Bristol flights available in August and September travelling via Geneva. More info from, or phone 01483 791111. The cost of rail tickets on the Jungfrau railway is extra. 

For more information on Switzerland visit or Swiss Rail, including details of 2-for-1 September offers, call the Switzerland Travel Centre on freephone 00800 100 200 30

Or, if you’re in London during the Olympics, see the House of Switzerland mini village with tourist and travel information on the South Bank of the Thames

Above: The railway's construction, blasting through and out of the mountain – c/o Jungfrau Railways


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