One of the best known mountains in Switzerland is the Matterhorn located near the town of Zermatt. The tip of this huge pointed chunk of rock lies at 4,478 metres (14,692 feet) making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. Unlike other Swiss mountains it remained unclimbed until an international competition led to its first summit in 1865. Unfortunately four of the climbers, led by Edward Whymper, died during the descent. It is estimated that over 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhornsince that first climb making it one of the deadliest mountains in the Alps.
Whymper, an Englishman, had an arrangement with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) whereby he promoted the Canadian Rockies during his talks in Europe and Asia. In exchange CP paid for himself and four guides to ascend Mount Whymper and Stanley Peak in the Canadian Rockies during 1901.
The town of Zermatt lies at an elevation of 1,620 metres (5,310 feet) near the foot of the Matterhorn. An 1891 steam powered railway linking the town of Visp to Zermatt was electrified by 1930. Since 1930 Zermatt has been connected across Switzerland to St. Moritz by the Glacier Express panoramic train. Zermatt is completely free of internal combustion vehicles so it can only be reached by Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) trains. Electric vehicles are used around the town.
The metre gauge Gornergrat Bahn (GGB) trains depart from their station directly across the street from the MGB station in Zermatt. First constructed in 1898 the GGB climbs to an elevation of 3,089 metres (10,135 feet) offering a view of the Matterhorn, when the weather permits of course !
Construction of the Gornergrat Bahn began in 1896, five years after the Visp-Zermatt-Bahn (VZB) had linked Zermatt to Visp in the Rhone Valley. The line opened on 20 Aug 1898 and was electrified from the start. Initially it only operated in summer, but year-round operation was extended to the lower section of the line in 1929 then to the summit in 1941. The upper terminal at Gornergrat was remodelled in 2004.
The rack railcars currently in regular service are the Stadler built low floor two-section articulated railcars class Bhe 4/6 powered by three-phase 725 volt electricity. They were constructed in 2006.
Note to self... if planning to visit Swiss mountain summits for the view, May is too early in the season.
As you will discover by looking at the photos with this article taken on the 19 May 2015. It was mostly overcast at the railway's summit of Gornergrat but overcast with light rain in Zermatt upon the return.
One other thing, as it was too early in the season the Riffelalp Tram (see the map) was not operating. During the summer season it connects the Riffelalp GGB station with the Riffelalp Resort.
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