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On the RhB 3: the Davos Line

by DoDo Sat Apr 11th, 2015 at 08:05:52 AM EST

In this third instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I follow the line to winter sports centre Davos. This is both the oldest part of the network at 125 years and one of the most heavily modernised (due to rising traffic in recent years). It is also the first in my series to leave the valleys and climb up into the mountains.

ABe 8/12 No. 3507 "Benedetg Fontana", a powerful steep-mountain version of Stadler's "Allegra" electric multiple unit family, just left the Cavadürli horseshoe tunnel on its way to Klosters Platz, high above the valley of the Landquart river
You can actually see three levels of the line: I stood on the highest, which threw the shadows at bottom left, and the lowest runs next to the road visible deep below in the valley

The capital of Graubünden canton was reached by a standard-gauge railway along the flat Rhine valley in 1858, but projects for further rail expansion into the side valleys floundered due to the challenges of the mountainous landscape. The decision of the developers of a line to Davos to build in metre-gauge (to save costs) and without rack sections would become a defining feature for the rest of the network. This first successful project was opened in two sections in 1889 and 1890 by a private company named Schmalspurbahn Landquart-Davos AG (Landquart-Davos Narrow Gauge Railway Co.), which renamed itself Rhätische Bahn in 1895. Two years later, a referendum mandated its nationalisation by the canton.

Map from Wikimedia

The present-day timetable line 910 also includes the tracks from the cantonal capital Chur to RhB main depot site Landquart (this was part of the second-oldest line, opened in 1896), which parallels the standard-gauge line of Swiss Federal Railways SBB. With six SBB and two RhB trains per direction per hour, train frequency on the Chur–Landquart relation resembles a commuter line next to a major city,  but it did happen that I found no seat to sit on. Just north of Landquart, the two lines diverge.

An RhB push-pull train from Davos left the Landquart valley (that narrow gorge in the background) and will soon arrive in Landquart, synchronously with the SBB IC train I sat on

The first third of the Davos line follows the valley bottom of the Landquart river, a tributary of the Rhine. The steep-sided, castle-dotted valley is heavily populated; the hourly services of Chur's S-Bahn suburban network extend until here.

Above and below: ABe 4/16 No. 3101 "Meta von Salis", a suburban version of the "Allegra" family, is about to reach Grüsch on an S1 service to Schiers

With the S-Bahn service and the trains across the Vereina Tunnel (see On the RhB 2), this section is one with the highest train frequencies on the largely single-track RhB network. To ease the situation, a few years ago, a number of long passing loops were built (see Infrastructure against delays for the theory) where top speed is 90 km/h.

My RE train to Chur (with a Ge 4/4 II in front) races along the passing loop at Furna

The second third of the line, until winter sports centre Klosters Platz, still follows the Landquart, but in a steep climb on the valley side due to the river's sudden drops in elevation. I have no good photos from there because it rained on my summer trip and the section was closed for track renewal on my autumn trip. During the latter, trains were still full, the boarding of the dozen buses shouldering the replacement service took about 7-8 minutes, but there were no complaints.

Above: passengers brought here by bus from Klosters Platz board an RE for Chur at the temporary platform in Fideris

Below: diesel shunters Gmf 4/4 242 and 243 with a ballast train between Klosters Dorf and Klosters Platz

The station of Klosters Platz is again at the valley bottom, but from here on, the line winds up a mountain-side to a pass. Originally, the station was also a switchback, but the start of the climb was re-aligned into a horseshoe tunnel in 1930. To also accommodate the new line across the Vereina Tunnel (again see On the RhB 2) and deal with geological difficulties, the bridge between the station and the tunnel was replaced with a new tubular concrete structure in 1993.

Above: a push-pull train from Davos Platz with the barely visible Ge 4/4 III No. 647 "Grüsch" at the end just reached Klosters Platz

Below: a minute before the previous photo, the same push-pull train is about to enter the Klosters Horseshoe Tunnel

What follows is a long climb along which trees obstruct the scenery in spite of the steep mountainside.

1970s EMU with motor car Be 4/4 No. 512 climbs the mountainside on its way to Davos Platz

The view opens at the Cavadürli Horseshoe Tunnel.

The then four-year-old ABe 8/12 No. 3507 "Benedetg Fontana" leaves the horseshoe tunnel on its way towards Davos Platz

I spent almost two hours here, waiting for sunlight and trying several angles.

Above: an EMU with motor car Be 4/4 No. 511 at the end just left the horseshoe tunnel on its way to Klosters Platz

Below: the then four-year-old ABe 8/12 No. 3507 "Benedetg Fontana" recedes towards the horseshoe tunnel on its way to Klosters Platz

After a third (non-tunnel) horseshoe curve and the summit of the line (1,625 m above the sea) in the forest, the line passes two glacial lakes.

My train from Davos Platz to Landquart on the summer trip rounds Lake Davos in the rain

The line then reaches Davos, a winter sports Mecca consisting of ten thousand hotels – mass tourism although even the cheapest hotels are rather expensive. The terminus of the Davos line is the station of Davos Platz, at the southern end of the city.

A train waiting for departure to Landquart (with the white loco Ge 4/4 III No. 643 "Vals" in the middle!) and a work train at Davos Platz, in front of the 71.2-metre tower of the church of St. Johann, which is special for a spiral spire (sadly barely visible on the image)

The next diary in the series will take you on a trip on two shorter lines on steep mountain-sides: from Davos to Filisur and from Chur to Arosa.

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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

Here are some non-rail photos made during the same two trips.

The first three are autumn impressions at Cavadürli:

One photo of the Landquart valley below Klosters in the summer rain:

Finally, the creek across the town of Grüsch:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 11th, 2015 at 08:10:48 AM EST
10 spectacular rail journeys ... that you've probably never heard of | Travel | The Guardian

Classic trains such as the Orient Express and Trans-Siberian have the name and the fame, but there are hundreds of lesser-known - and more-affordable - rail journeys that are their equal when it comes to stunning scenery

  • Have we missed your stop? Share your rail journey tips in the comments
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 13th, 2015 at 03:38:59 AM EST
You leading a European rail tour any time soon DoDo? :-) I presume the costs would be prohibitive, but it wold be lovely to go on one with such a well-informed guide!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 13th, 2015 at 05:33:37 AM EST
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by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2015 at 08:20:11 PM EST

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