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The Jungfraujoch Railway


Jungfraujoch Railway Jungfraubahn

ABOVE: The railroad station at Kleine Scheidegg, with the Mönch and Eiger behind.

Is it worth it?

That's the question you have to ask yourself when faced with the decision of whether to spend up to SFr 190,20 for a second-class railway trip to the top of the Jungfraujoch during your visit to Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland.

We'll get back to this question later. First, let's talk about the Jungfraujoch Railway and why it's considered the classic tourist excursion in the Swiss Alps.

A monument to 19th Century engineering

The Jungfraujoch Railway has its roots in the mid-1860s, when Swiss hotelier Friedrich Seiler planned to drill a pneumatic tube railway to the summit of the Jungfrau. His scheme never came to fruition, but the idea of a Jungfraubahn proved irresistible in a country where railroad track was already being laid between every city, town, and village that hoped to attract tourists. Other ideas, including a tunnel big enough to hold a chalet-style hotel and an elevator to the summit, were proposed to investors over the next 30 years.

Still, it wasn't until 1893 that Adolf Guyer-Zeller became the first engineer to develop a workable plan based on cogwheel-railway technology that had already been proven on New Hampshire's Mt.Washington Railway and the Vitznau railway near Lucerne. Guyer published his proposal in 1894, and investors flocked to the Jungfraubahn just as tourists do today.

Work began on July 27, 1896 and was hampered by a series of disasters, including the accidental explosion of 30 tons of dynamite in 1908. The blast reportedly was heard in Germany, more than 60 miles away.

The railroad was completed in stages, with ticket revenues from train rides to the viewing platforms at the lower stations being used to finance the remaining work. The project's total cost was 14.9 million Swiss francs (about 12.35 million euros at today's exchange rate).

The highest railroad in Europe

Eighty-five years after the first electric train rolled into the Jungfraujoch station, the railroad is still pulling in the crowds. Very little has changed since the author of Muirhead's Switzerland published this description in 1923:

"The Jungfrau Railway, the highest railway in Europe and one of the most interesting of all mountain lines, was constructed in 1896-1912 from the designs of Adolph Guyer-Zeller of Zürich. It attains a height of over 11,000 ft., thus bringing the most unathletic into the upper regions of the expert climber.

"Most of the line is on the rack system (Strub's patent), with overhead trolleys (steepest gradient 1:4), but there is also a short section beyond Eismeer on the ordinary or 'adhesive' system (gradient 1:14).

"The power is generated in works near Lauterbrunnen and Burglauenen, whence it is transmitted by high-tension lines. The gauge is 3 ft. 4 in. The first section of the line is in the open air, but beyond Eigergletscher it runs through a great tunnel (4-3/4 m. long, 10 ft. high, and 10 ft. wide), piercing the limestone and gneiss rock of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

"From the Jungfraujoch the intention was to carry up the line for 2000 ft. more, leaving the summit to be attained by an elevator 242 ft. high, but there does not seem any immediate prospect of completion of this scheme. Telescopes are provided at the stations for the use of visitors.

"The trip can hardly be recommended except when the weather is such as to make a clear view from the top practically certain. The transit of the long tunnel (fully 1/2 hr.) is rather wearisome."

Jungfraubahn train

ABOVE: Approaching the Jungfrau.

At the Jungfraujoch

When you leave the train at the Jungfraujoch Station, take it easy to avoid dizziness and headaches. (Remember, you're more than two miles above sea level.)

There's plenty to do when you're on top of the Jungfraujoch--after all, the mountain has been a tourist destination for 85 years. You'll find an ice palace (free with your train ticket), dogsled rides, a weather station, ski lessons, a restaurant, and an observation post called the Sphinx terrace that you reach via a 364-foot (111m) elevator.

Minimizing your costs

Earlier, we asked the question, "Is it worth it?" That depends on your budget and how much you're willing to spend on what may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can make it easier to rationalize a "yes" decision by taking advantage of these money-saving options:

Use your Swiss Card or rail pass. Railroad travelers with the Swiss Card pay less than 50% of the normal price on the Jungfraubahn. Holders of the Swiss Pass and Eurail Pass get smaller discounts. also get a substantial discount. Check with the Jungfraubahn for current discounts with Bernese Oberland and Jungfrau Railways passes.

Set your alarm clock. From May through October, you can save money with a "Good Morning Ticket." You'll need to catch the 8 a.m. train from Kleine Scheidegg and return from the Jungfraujoch station by noon.

Take the kids. Children under 16 travel free if they're listed on a Family Card, available at any railway station in Switzerland or from travel agents that sell the Swiss Pass.

For more information, see the English-language Jungfrau Web site's "Top of Europe" section. (The section titled "The Jungfrau Railway - A Pioneering Work" is also worth browsing.)

Cheaper alternatives

If the price of a Jungfraujoch rail trip still seems too high, consider taking one of the less costly mountain excursions in the area.

Schilthorn (Piz Gloria)
This revolving restaurant and observation deck was featured in the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It offers spectacular views and is reached by cablecar from Stechelberg, near Grindelwald and Interlaken.

Schynige Platte
Great mountain views from a classic overlook. Accessible by cogwheel railway from Wilderswil.

Harder Kulm
This 12-minute funicular ride starts near Interlaken Ost station. From the upper platform at 4,337 feet, you can go hiking and enjoy the views of Lake Brienz and Lake Thun.

Related article

Ice Palace, Jungfraujoch
Explore a free tourist attraction carved inside a glacier. (It's just a short walk from the railroad station on the Jungfraujoch.)