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From the palm trees straight to the Alps: a train ride with a view

The three-and-a-half-hour journey from Montreux to Interlaken on the brand new Montreux Oberland Railway is a true delight: the trip takes in three different cantons and connects the hot spots of Lake Geneva with those of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz – and all without changing trains.

The railway meanders leisurely through the heart of Montreux’s residential area, passing magnificent houses and Jugendstil villas and climbing high above the city – up and up until Switzerland’s Riviera, the glittering lake, and the shores of France across the water spread out before you in all their splendor. It’s not only the visitors from the USA and India who whip out their cellphones in awe of the panoramic view; two ladies from Western Switzerland who have treated themselves to the three-and-a-half-hour trip on a day out wax lyrical about it – and about being tourists in their own country.

And that’s exactly how it should be. “We reckon that locals make up more than half of our passengers,” says Jérôme Gachet of Montreux-Berner-Oberland- Bahn AG (MOB), the Swiss railway company that operates the GoldenPass Express. This is particularly evident in the winter months, he says, when there are very few foreign visitors traveling around the country. “We get a lot of Swiss tourists using this route because of the trains, but also because of the magnificent scenery.”

115.34 kilometers from palm trees to glaciers
A good five months ago, on December 11 last year, the GoldenPass Express made the 115.34 kilometer journey from the Mediterranean Lake Geneva via Château d’Oex, Gstaad, Zweisimmen, and Spiez to Interlaken Ost in the mountainous Bernese Oberland for the very first time. It accomplishes what until now seemed impossible: a direct train connection from the hot spots of the Swiss Riviera to the hot spots of the Alps, or – in marketing terms – from palm trees to glaciers.

An old idea reimagined
The idea for this spectacular route goes back a long way, with the first written record of it dating back to 1873, according to MOB. Even then – in the era of great railway projects – people dreamed of uniting the economic centers of Lake Geneva, Gstaad, Lake Thun, and Lake Brienz and of improving connections to the mountain regions. The first section of the MOB railway between Montreux and Les Avants was inaugurated as a meter-gauge track, adapted to the steep terrain, in 1901. At the same time, a train line was built between Interlaken and Zweisimmen, but with a standard-gauge track (1.435 m). From then on, a connection did effectively exist, although not a direct one, as passengers had to change trains in Zweisimmen and Interlaken.

The idea of a third rail was rejected several times for technical and financial reasons, until MOB announced in 2008 that they wanted to overcome the barrier between standard and meter gauge using trains with variable-gauge bogies. Just two years later, the company presented to the press the solution it had designed and developed, the EV09. Following further refinement and successful testing by rail manufacturer Alstom, it was ultimately unveiled as the EV18 in 2019. Thus the regauging was complete, paving the way for an idea that was over a hundred years old and would eventually be implemented with a CHF 89 million price tag.

Maximum comfort and regional enjoyment
For foreign visitors, the direct connection offers significant added value. “Eliminating the need to change trains is a must for travel groups and boosts travel convenience for all passengers,” MOB notes. But at the same time, it has finally made a long-cherished dream of tourism professionals and rail fans come true. The fleet comprises 23 cars, all of which feature panoramic windows. Each formation offers second, first and prestige class travel. The latter boasts heated seats that all face in the direction of travel and are raised up by 40 cm. “This allows passengers to be even more immersed in the surroundings and makes them feel like they are sitting right in the middle of the landscape.” Along the route, the GoldenPass Express connects several attractions such as Chillon Castle near Montreux, Maison Cailler in Broc, Glacier 3000 in Gstaad, the Stockhorn in Erlenbach im Simmental, and, last but not least, the Queen of the Alps, the Jungfrau, in Interlaken.

To make the journey even more enjoyable, a choice of Swiss delicacies are available to sample. The on-board catering, which must be prebooked, features breakfast baskets, appetizer platters, and snacks, made with regional products. In addition to wines from Weinhaus Testuz, there are sausages from the Bernese Oberland butchery Buure Metzg and beers from the Interlaken brewery Rugenbräu. Oona caviar from Tropenhaus Frutigen is served in first and prestige class. 

L’offre s’enrichit
Actuellement, le GoldenPass Express circule entre Montreux et Interlaken Est une fois par jour, dans chaque direction. Même si les chiffres ne sont pas encore disponibles, l’occupation des trains est plus que satisfaisante. « Les trains sont souvent très remplis, tant au départ de Montreux que d’Interlaken », confirme J. Gachet. À compter du 11 juin 2023, l’offre passera à quatre allers et retours par jour – resserrant ainsi les liens entre la ville et les massifs, les lacs et les montagnes, les cultures et les langues, mais aussi et surtout entre la Suisse romande et la Suisse alémanique.

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