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Switzerland - SEPT. 29-OCT. 16, 1999
Wednesday, September 29
I flew from Toronto to Montreal at noon on a Canadian Airlines Fokker F28 Jet to catch the late afternoon Swissair flight 135 to Zurich. I was going to attend a Conference for about 150 Travel Agents from all over Canada and the U.S.A. who have passed the Home Study Course on Switzerland issued by the Switzerland Tourism Office in New York City. The Conference included 3 days of seminars and workshops as well as an excursion and gala dinner in Zermatt and then 3 days in my assigned city of Zurich to visit 2 hotels, take a bus tour of Zurich, a ride on a ship on Lake Zurich and a self-planned excursion from Zurich.
We left Montreal right on time at 5:10PM on a new Swissair A330 Airbus on a non-stop flight for Zurich.
Thursday, September 30
The television display on the plane predicted an arrival 20 minutes early at 5:55AM in Zurich and, sure enough, that was when we stopped at the gate! This was still before midnight back home in Toronto! About 6 of us including our escort from the Toronto Tourist Office for Switzerland boarded the 0643 train at Zurich Airport for Bern. It was, as I expected, one of the new IC 2000 double-deck trains bound from St. Gallen to Interlaken Ost. At Bern we caught the 0822 to Brig and then the 1023 to Zermatt. Of all the 150 agents, we were the very first to arrive!
Friday, October 1 No train activity.
Saturday, October 2
Our afore-mentioned Gala Graduation Dinner was held at the Riffelberg Hotel at the station of the same name on the Gornergrat Railway 30 minutes from Zermatt on the way to Gornergrat-a mountain lookout 10,000 feet about sea level. A special train was reserved for us and it took us first all the way to Gornergrat for a group picture, then back to the Hotel for a superb dinner complete with music played with Swiss Hand Bells on a table and a spectacular fireworks display outside at night. We left soon after 11:00PM to return to our hotels in Zermatt.
Sunday, October 3
We checked out of our hotels to head for our various assigned locations all around Switzerland. We all had until 6:00PM to arrive and we could choose our own routes. As we were given free First Class (!!) Swiss Passes as part of our package (my first as I had been using Eurailpasses for my previous 8 (!) trips to Europe), I chose to ride the 0852 First Class only Glacier Express to Chur and then the 1516 IC to Zurich to arrive there at 1650. This was my golden opportunity to ride the GE using a Swiss Pass which is accepted by all 3 railroads which operate the GE. Only one, the Rhaetian Railway from Disentis/Muster eastwards accepts the Eurailpass. Two cars on the GE were reserved for us.
Prior to the GE, I rode the 0730 shuttle to Tasch where all vehicles bound for Zermatt must park and then the 0750 back to Zermatt. The ride was great and I was ready to film the new branch line on the Furka Oberalp Railway at Sedrun built with rack sections to access a building site for the Gotthard Base Tunnel which will be about 50 kilometres long!
At Disentis/Muster we were connected to a long RhB train with its unique twin-unit dining car-the front part of which was reserved for us for lunch. I long wanted to ride in that dining car, having seen it several times in the past. Arrival in Chur was close to the 1431 advertised and we had plenty of time to catch the new double-deck IC train for Zurich.
Monday, October 4
After completing my assignments in Zurich, I rode the 1657 train to Basel and the 1808 back to Zurich. They were both non-stop, but the first ran via Baden and Brugg and the second via the 8 km. Lower Hauenstein Tunnel near Olten and then through Aarau.
Tuesday, October 5
My rail destination was Luzern, but I wanted to ride to Sihlbrugg on one of the 2 lines of the Sihltal-Zurich-Uetliberg Railway from Track 1 or 2 of the Zurich Hauptbahnhof which are underground and separate from the other tracks in the station. The SZU trains used to start from an outdoor station called Zurich Selnau before the tunnel was built to the Hauptbahnhof. The new Zurich Selnau Station is also in the new tunnel. The trains to Sihlbrugg usually have an SZU locomotive and three coaches-the middle one being a double-deck like the ones on the Zurich S-Bahn trains. Naturally I rode on the upper deck of the 0743 to Sihlbrugg.
This station also happens to be on the SBB's main line to the Gotthard Route from Zurich and I caught a single-level S-Bahn train at 0814 for Zug and then the 0828 double-deck IC train to Luzern. In typically progressive Swiss and European fashion, service between Zurich and Luzern has been doubled to every 1/2-hour from May 30, 1999!
After my 0849 arrival in Luzern, I went to the Tourist Office to get detailed info on Burgenstock where I had never been before. Then I had my first walk across the handsome wooden covered Chapel Bridge which was rebuilt after a serious fire a few years ago.
The 1015 ship brought me to Kehrsiten-Burgenstock at 1050 in plenty of time to ride the 1110 Funicular which climbed 445 metres in 7 minutes to Burgenstock-a cliff high above the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons with several hotels. My target was a 25-minute walk away along the cliff's edge-the famous Hammetschwand Lift. It is an elevator running mostly in a glass shaft outside the cliff going up 165 metres to a bridge at the top connecting it to the cliff itself. I had seen pictures of it for years and had always believed that it started from ground level, not from a point nearly 500 metres above ground!
The 1330 Funicular brought me down for the 1440 ship to Alpnachstad at the base of the Pilatus Rack Railway. I easily caught the 1430 train to Pilatus Kulm. There was snow on the ground up there! The cable car and gondola brought me down to Kriens and dry ground and a trolley bus brought me to the Luzern Bahnhof.
Some more typically Swiss and European progress! The Voralpen Express, which runs over 3 railroads from Luzern to Romanshorn, had been running every two hours. However, effective May 30/99, it runs every hour and uses the newly re-opened direct line between Luzern and Immensee via Meggen. I rode the 1645 VE to Arth-Goldau and then caught by the skin of my teeth the 1712 back to Zurich.
Wednesday, October 6
Today most of the rest of my travel-agent colleagues returned home, but I was granted a 10-day extension to October 16 with my return flight still part of the Convention package despite my extended stay. Switzerland Tourism also kindly extended my First Class Swiss Pass for me! 6 days is way too short a stay for an avid European Railway enthusiast like myself!
By a very round-about route, I made my way to my favourite base location-Spiez! I left Zurich on the 0707 Schnell Zug to Goschenen. Using the same route as far as Zug, the 0701 left for Luzern and the 0704 Cisalpino left for Milan!
Arriving Goschenen at 0838, I then walked the few kilometres down hill to Wassen, the location of the famous white baroque church on the hill and the spiral loops on the North Ramp to the Gotthard Tunnel. This walk took longer than I expected, so I didn't make it to the church where I videotaped trains on all 3 railway levels during my first trip in 1988. Since then direct rail service was discontinued to Wassen-a very rare case of discontinuance in Europe. Connecting Swiss Postal Bus service is provided to Wassen from Erstfeld. I did make it to the station where I caught the 1000 bus back to Goschenen.
I watched some action until my 1050 train to Biasca-the first stop past the three-level loops on the South Ramp to the Gotthard Tunnel. Arriving there at 1141, I awaited the 1218 back to Goschenen at 1308. Using my Swiss Pass, I rode the 1313 Furka Oberalp shuttle to Andermatt at 1325. This run climbs 1,000 feet!
While awaiting the 1448 First Class only Glacier Express to Brig, I videotaped trains climbing and descending the famous hill just east of Andermatt where trains climb or descend more than 1,000 feet!
The GE arrived in Brig close to the 1614 advertised and I easily caught the 1626 non- stop train up the spectacular South Ramp to the Lotschberg Tunnel and Spiez! I checked into what I fondly consider my "Second Home"-the Bellevue Hotel in Spiez! The 1800 took me along the shore of the Thunersee to Interlaken during I had dinner at McDonalds before returning to Spiez.
Thursday, October 7
Having passed Kandersteg many times, I have often seen the special trains which carry cars, trucks and buses through the Lotschberg Tunnel, and I long wanted to ride in someone's car on one of these trains through the Tunnel to Goppenstein. So I rode the 0856 from Spiez to Kandersteg at 0924 and, with 25CHF in my hand, I went to the toll booth and told the man that I would pay the fee for the first car that would let me ride in the front passenger seat through the Tunnel. The first car took me on the train and I videotaped the experience!
At Goppenstein I visited the public display of info on the new 50-kilometre Lotschberg Base Tunnel on the second floor of the Goppenstein Station before catching the 1123 back to Spiez at 1203. After lunch, the 1306 train brought me to Zurich at 1457.
After spending some time on the Internet, I rode to Zug on the 1634 S-Bahn Line 9 train from the underground track 21 or 22 of the Zurich Hauptbahnhof. This run interested me because it takes a completely different route from the normal one via Thalwil. After stopping at Hardbrucke and Altstetten on the line to Bern and Basel, we turned sharply southwards, climbed a ridge and headed through open farmland through Hedingen and Knonau to Zug to arrive at 1720, shortly before which we joined the main line coming from Luzern. I easily caught the 1728 back to Zurich at 1753. After dinner, the 1903 double-deck train returned me to Spiez at 2057.
Friday, October 8
This was the day for my annual ride in the front seat of the Crystal Panoramic Express, so I rode the 0956 train to Brig at 1100 and then the 1126 to Montreux at 1237. This gave me time for lunch and to explore Montreux before the 1400 departure for Zweisimmen at 1534. Two months earlier, I reserved by E-mail my Seat 81 in Car 31 on the CPE, the flagship train of the Montreux-Oberland Bernois Railway. It was a perfect, sunny day and the ride and scenery were spectacular as usual.
At Zweisimmen I walked to the Rinderberg Gondola to ride up 1,057 metres for a superb view! Then the 1704 local BLS train brought me to Spiez at 1751 in time to catch the 1756 to Brig at 1900 to have my annual dinner of steak and french fries in the Victoria Hotel. The 2029 train with sleeping cars for Brussels returned me to Spiez at 2132.
Saturday, October 9
The original Frankfurt Airport Station opened in the early '70's with 3 underground platforms served mainly by S-Bahn trains until 1985 when regular-interval InterCity trains began serving the Airport as well. However, on May 30, 1999, a second station with 4 platforms called the Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof opened to serve the long-distance InterCity Expresses, InterCity and EuroCity trains, thus diverting them from the original station which is now called Frankfurt Flughafen Regionalbahnhof. This station is on ground- level and is ultra-modern.
A connection was built to allow trains running between Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof and Mannheim to serve the Airport for the first time. Trains come into the Airport from either Mannheim or downtown Frankfurt and reverse there to continue their journeys. Also, trains enroute between Mainz and Mannheim are now diverted to stop at the new Airport Station. These trains do not require reversal. The new station is built on the first part of the high-speed Neubaustrecken being built between Frankfurt and Cologne which will open in May 2002 and will cut the running time from 2 hours 15 minutes to 1 hour flat! More typical European progress!
I just read that a link to the Cologne/Bonn Airport will be built off the above-mentioned Neubaustrecken which will also be opened in 2002. European progress never stops!
Of course I wanted to see all this for myself, so I boarded the 0558 Spiez to Basel SBB at 0756 and then the 0813 train directly to Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof at 1102. This train used to head directly to Mainz and beyond from Mannheim without passing through the Frankfurt area.
My train followed the normal route north to Frankfurt until it reached Zepplinheim where it turned off to the right, descended, then turned left into a tunnel heading west and came into daylight just before entering the new station. Then, after lunch and some time on the Internet, I rode the 1241 ICE for its 11 minute run into the massive 24-track Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. This train came into the east end of the new Airport Station from Stuttgart and Mannheim where it reversed to take me to downtown Frankfurt on its journey to Kiel in northern Germany.
After buying the heavy new DB System Timetable, I boarded the 1346 IC to Mainz at 1413 on its trip to Leipzig. The 1438 EC Berner Oberland from Amsterdam arrived about 15 minutes late, but made it up by Basel SBB. As we entered Basel SBB, I stood at the rear and even before we stopped, an SBB Re 4/4 II was already on its way to hook up for reversal. We had just cleared a double-slip switch when it changed to allow the Re 4/4 II to come in behind us! The train returned me directly to Spiez from Mainz at 1957.
In May 2000, a similar new Airport Station will open at Dusseldorf Airport. However, this will be much more significant for the Dusseldorf Airport as no long distance trains have ever stopped there. This is because the station is a stub-end terminal served only by S-Bahn local trains. The Frankfurt Airport Station, on the other hand, has always been a through station. The new Dusseldorf Flughafen Fernbahnhof will be on a newly-built through line between Dusseldorf and Duisburg.