The capricorn amongst trains: the Bernina Express

Sublime Commuting

Ennio Buoni never risks being late for his shift. Whenever the pass road with its numerous hairpin turns is blocked by avalanches or landslides, he leaves the car in the garage and mounts the red train at Tirano station. The small town in the Italian Veltin Valley, bordering Switzerland, is the starting point of a world-wide unique train, the Bernina Express. Ennio has been a chef in one of the fine hotels in 50 km distant St. Moritz for almost twenty years now and never been late. This would not be worth mentioning, were it not for Pass Bernina and some other glaciers studding the way to the famous skiing resort. So when Ennio joins his team in the kitchen, he has already crossed some of the highest mountains of the Alps and arrived literally in high spirits.The Bernina Express does not just connect an Italian and a Swiss town. It combines the highest achievement of technical engineering and the most breathtaking beauty of landscape. Ennio would not want to change with anyone, even though his way to work involves some flexibility. But commuting from the outskirts to the centre of London takes almost as much time on the tube, without the awesome panorama that he never tires of. There are hardly any obstacles for the red train. In winter a spectacular snowplough deals with massive snowfall or avalanches allowing the slowest Swiss express on its metre-gauge tracks to run on schedule.

Climbing passes and records

In St. Moritz some of the passengers continue to Chur, the capital of canton Graubünden and the final stop of the express. But most tourists hop onto the Glacier Express for Zermatt, another breathtaking feat of high-altitude technology. This shows how fortunate tourists as well as locals are when using public transport in Switzerland. Here we can only hint at another similarly eccentric means of transport that the Swiss are proud of: buses creep up to the highest mountain villages over narrow and bendy roads shocking the unfamiliar riders close to cardiac failure. They may be thinking of accidents in the Andes or in Himalayan regions while this bus driver is steering the yellow bus with its red ribbon as laidback as a farmer guiding his tractor in Lower Bavaria. To the Swiss people trains are not only an object of necessity, but also one of desire. The Swiss train system is second only to Japan’s for its comprehensiveness and popularity among the locals.[1] The trains run like clockwork and are connected with other means of transport and their schedules. And somehow they blend with the awesome landscape as if it was made for the trains and not the other way round.

In 2008 the Bernina Express has been added to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites. Constructed as early as from 1902 to 1915 it is still attracting high-altitude-engineers today that marvel at this elaborate system of narrow passes, viaducts and rock-hewn tunnels.[2] Returning home Ennio Buoni is carried gently from the snow-covered St. Moritz at a height of 1800 m along 4049 m high Piz Bernina and famous glaciers like Piz Palü and Morteratsch to Tirano station at 430 meters where a mild breeze welcomes the commuter back from his trip to work in one of the most pathbreaking and pioneering transport systems.

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