Scenic Trains of Europe Series: Climb to the Top of Europe With the Jungfrau Railway

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Junfrau Railway cars with Kleine Scheidegg in the background, Switzerland

Enjoy the next installment of our Scenic Trains of Europe blog series covering some of Europe’s finest scenic trains. The CEOs of train services in these European countries will share an insider’s perspective of how their service began, and also give you birds-eye views of some of the stunning vistas you can see when you travel on their trains. 

At the end of each post, we’ll ask a trivia question and you’ll have 1-week to answer on Rail Europe’s Facebook page. From all correct answers, one winner will be selected to receive a complimentary iPod Touch, an approximate retail value of $229.

Urs Kessler - CEO of the Jungfrau Railway
Urs Kessler – CEO of the Jungfrau Railway

The Jungfran Railway With CEO Urs Kessler

The Jungfrau Railway rates as one of the most impressive railway-construction achievements in Switzerland. Continue reading to learn more about this railway with its CEO, Urs Kessler.

How did your railway get started?

The idea came to Adolf Guyer-Zeller on 27 August 1893, when the 54-year-old industrial magnate and fiscal politician saw a Wengernalp Railway train travelling up to Kleine Scheidegg and made a decision that would boost tourism to an unimaginable degree. He planned to build a railway from Kleine Scheidegg up to the Jungfrau. That same night, he used a piece of paper to sketch the route that the railway would take. Criticism from the Swiss Alpine Club and certain media circles met with little response. The inhabitants of the valley were far too convinced of the future potential of the Jungfrau Railway. On 21 December 1894, Guyer-Zeller was granted the concession for the pioneering project.

The first cut in the soil was made on 27 July 1896; however work progressed at a far slower rate than planned. Financing was often uncertain and reliant on short-term bank loans. The greatest setback was Guyer-Zeller’s death from pneumonia in Zurich at the age of 60. In 1903, Guyer-Zeller’s original plan was changed by the construction management. The final station would no longer be on the Jungfrau summit but on the Jungfraujoch at 11,332 feet above sea level. On 21 February 1912 all hardships were forgotten. At 05.35 h, after using an excessive amount of dynamite, the miners peered through a hole in the rocks and saw the morning sky above the Jungfraujoch. The Swiss Federal Council granted the operating license on 29 July 1912. A train carrying invited guests made the first trip up to the Jungfraujoch on 1 August 1912, 16 years after the start of construction.

Can you provide us with a description of your scenic train route? 

The Jungfrau Railway leads from Kleine Scheidegg up to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe at 11,332 feet above sea level, the highest-altitude railway station in Europe. For many visitors, the journey to the Top of Europe is the highlight of their trip to Switzerland. A large section of the 5.8 mile-long route that the train covers on the way to its destination is through a 4.35 mile-long tunnel hewn out of the rock. In the process it crosses through two mountains, the Eiger and the Mönch, climbing nearly 4,600 feet to the top station. The journey is broken twice for passengers to visit viewing halls with huge panoramic windows at two intermediate stations; firstly the Eigernordwand (Eiger North Wall) with enthralling views down the Eiger North Wall into the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valleys and secondly the Eismeer (Sea of Ice) with views over the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier.

The Jungfraujoch has been one of the most spectacular excursion destinations in Europe for over 100 years. In 2001, UNESCO designated the area a UNESCO Natural World Heritage, the very first region in the Alps to be awarded the label.

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Stunning sunset from the Top of Europe, Switzerland

Are there any special tips you can provide travelers, in order to have the best experience?

Although I’m on the Jungfraujoch 30 times every year, for me the trip to Europe’s highest-altitude railway station is still always something beyond compare. The Alpine Sensation is one of my personal favourites on the Top of Europe. We opened the experience subway during the 2012 centenary year.

The Ice Palace is very impressive and best combined with a detour to the Ice Bar, which can be reserved for groups. And I never miss going up to the Sphinx vantage terrace in good weather to get a view of the wide world.

My latest insider tip is the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, which was recently opened by tennis star Roger Federer. The chocolate-experience shop is truly unique. My personal highlight is the chocolate machine, which continuously produces Lindor chocolate balls to take away.

Trivia Question:

How were Guyer-Zeller’s original plans changed by the construction management after his death? Click here to enter your answer on Facebook!

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