101.7 FM IN GENEVA DAB+, CABLE & SATELLITE ACROSS SWITZERLAND
CAPREZ: I like the diversity. Every time I drive the Albula line, it‘s a different experience even for me after all those years.
Driver Gion Caprez of the Rhaetian Railways. Caprez has been driving the Albula and Bernina lines for more than 20 years. He‘s also a history buff who walked the length of the lines to help prepare the study submitted to UNESCO.
CAPREZ: The Bernina line is a survivor. The technology of the electric inter-urban railway was universal. Most of them are gone now but the Bernina line is stilll there.
The railway lines are the central element of the UNESCO listing. They run for 120 kilometres from Thusis via St Moritz to Tirano in Italy. But the application is also about the cultural landscape. The lines cross language divides - German, Romansh and Italian cultures.
In the Albula valley, an ingenious system of loops and spirals, tunnels and bridges allows the train to climb 700 metres in 12 kilometres, a feat which would not normally be possible without a cog-wheel railway. Higher and higher above the valley, the train enters tunnels whose exits are visible directly above us in the rock face. Caprez says the Bernina line is not only a great feat of engineering. It is more or less in its original state.
CAPREZ: In the case of the Bernina line, authenticity means it serves exactly the same function, it did 100 years ago. It still brings tourists to the spots where they can view the glaciers, take walks throught alpine meadows. The Bernina line still serves the valley of Poschiavo as its link to the rest of Switzerland.
UNESCO listing brings obligations as well as prestige. Caprez says the railway will have to seek expert historical advice when it carries out replacement work but otherwise maintains a fairly free hand.
CAPREZ: “In principle anything that is needed to keep the line working is fine with UNESCO. We are allowed to maintain our tracks, to use new rolling stock, to rebuild bridges, strengthen bridges, replace them if needed.”
The highest point on the journey is Ospizio Bernina, 2,250 metres above sea level. It‘s about two hours from the glaciers of the pass to the palm trees of Tirano in Italy. On the curved viaduct near Brusio, we go round in circles to lose height. Soon we are in the Italian speaking Poschiavo valley and before you can say “Arrivederci and goodbye” it’s Tirano and journey‘s end.