The Jungfraujoch Railway
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:
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.
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)
Ice Palace, Jungfraujoch
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