First Leg: Andermatt to Göschenen
I leave The Chedi in Andermatt at 11h30. It is a beautiful day outside, with a bright and sparkling blue sky. The railway station is only two minutes on foot from the hotel. Andermatt is on the route of the famous Glacier Express from Chur to Visp and Zermatt. The route from Andermatt to Göschenen is merely a branch line.
My train connects to the Glacier Express coming from Zermatt, which departs four minutes after my train. The journey from Andermatt to Göschenen takes 16 minutes.
The service is operated by a funky little train with an incredibly powerful engine. The train is made up of two full second class coaches and a third coach that is half first class and half second class.
The cabin of the first class coach is pretty retro. It even has windows that can be pushed down!
About three minutes after it departs the station, the train passes through the first tunnel, where the cogwheel is engaged for the descent. Given the steep gradient of most of the network of the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, the trains are all equipped with cogwheels for use on the steeper segments of the journey. The train emerges on the other side of the tunnel onto a bridge across the Schöllenen Gorge, near the famous Teufelsbrücke – the Devil’s bridge, and the controversial Suworow monument.
For a very long time, Schöllenen Gorge made the Gotthard pass inaccessible. Then in 1595 the first stone bridge across the gorge was built. The Devil’s bridge gets its name because legend has it that the mountain folk sought the Devil’s service to help them build the bridge. However, once the work had been completed, they refused to pay the Devil his due. Enraged by the breach of contract, the Devil waited for the first two pedestrians to cross the bridge. When they were halfway across the bridge, he pushed them off the bridge to their death and dragged their souls with him to the underworld to claim what he considered rightfully his. The picture below shows the second bridge that was finished in 1830 and above it the third bridge for road traffic.
At the other end of the railway bridge, the train enters a tunnel and starts its steep descent towards Göschenen.
In Göschenen, the Matterhorn Gotthard train stops on the opposite platform from the mainline trains of the Swiss Federal Railways. The transfer time in Göschenen is three minutes, which is ample time to make the connection.
Second leg: Göschenen to Arth-Goldau
Göschenen station is located by the northern portal to the first Gotthard tunnel. The tunnel was inaugurated in 1882. It was the brain child of entrepreneur Alfred Escher. The contribution of Escher’s to the creation of modern Switzerland cannot be stated enough. Apart from the Gotthard tunnel, he was also one of the founders of Swiss Re, the ETH technical university, and the Credit Suisse. Sadly, Escher never got to see the completed tunnel. The project ran into severe financial trouble, until eventually the government of the newly formed Swiss federation had to intervene and pick up the bill. Escher became persona non grata, to the point that he was not even invited to the grand opening of the tunnel. He died the following year.
The service from Göschenen to Arth-Goldau is operated by a train of the Südost Bahn.
The journey to Arth-Goldau is one hour and takes passengers along what must be one of the best-known stretches of railway in Europe. The next stop after Göschenen is Erstfeld, which is 20km away. Over the course of those 20km, the train has to descend 700 metres, which it achieves by meandering in and out of a string of winding tunnels that are used for the train to double back as it gradually sheds altitude. As a result of the doubling back, the train passes the church in Wassen three times, always at a slightly different altitude relative to the church.
Third leg: Arth-Goldau to Olten
At Arth-Goldau I have seven minutes to make the connection to Olten. Normally, the train would run all the way to Basel. However, due to construction works on the line at the station in Liestal, traffic to and from Basel is limited at the weekends. As a result, my train will only be running as far as Olten, and I will need to change to the the intercity from Berne to Basel.
At Arth-Goldau passengers can connect onto the Goldau-Rigi Bahn, the station of which is located on a bridge across the main line. The Rigi is a mountain on the shores of Lake Lucerne that is popular for family outings, mainly because it is possible to walk all the way up to the summit even if you’re not an expert climber. There are two trains that go up the Rigi. The Goldau-Rigi Bahn from Arth-Goldau and the Vitznau-Rigi Bahn from Vitznau, which is located right on the lake. The two trains take different routes and only merge at Rigi Staffel, the last stop before the summit at Rigi-Kulm.
The service from to Olten is operated with a Giruno composition arriving from Milan. These are my favourite trains. They’re very new, quiet and comfortable.
The train stops in Lucerne on its way to Olten. We pull out of the station at Arth-Goldau and make our way up the western shore of Lake Zug. In the distance I see the train I arrived with from Göschenen as it heads up the eastern shore of the lake on its way to Zürich.
Fourth leg: Olten to Basel SBB
From Arth-Goldau to Olten takes just under 80 minutes. Although that is partly also because the train calls at Lucerne and stops there for 15 minutes before it continues its journey.
In Olten I catch the intercity from Berne, which is operated by one of the old twin-deck trains, which are still very comfortable and are currently in the process of being updated and refurbished.
Eventually I arrive back in Basel just after three in the afternoon, after a journey of just over three hours through some really beautiful landscapes. Apart from the fact that the journey really is very nice, the Swiss railway system truly is beyond belief. My longest connection was seven minutes in Arth-Goldau. The shortest connections where three minutes in Göschenen and five minutes in Olten. Every connection worked seamlessly.
Being the long Easter weekend, many of the trains were quite full in second class. However, on the SBB app you can book an upgrade to first class for an individual journey. If you’re lucky, you might even find a train with a super saver upgrade fare available. The fare difference from second to first class cost me CHF24.50, which I think is very reasonable.