We had an exceptionally early start in the morning and had the opportunity to witness a number of buses leaving the depot behind our hostel to start a day of work.
After a quick breakfast at Bodega café and stocking up on drinks from the COOP supermarket which had already opened despite the early hours of the morning, we quickly located our train from the departure board and commenced our journey into the scenic Bernese Oberland region.
The 2 hour long train journey was operated by Zentralbahn (ZB) which was formed when the operations of the SBB Brünigbahn (Lucerne–Interlaken line) were sold to the Luzern-Stans-Engelberg-Bahn (LSE) on 30 Jun 2004. Through a series of complicated stake acquisitions, ZB is 2/3 owned by SBB and the carriages carry both the logos of ZB and SBB, while the locomotives are only adorned in the livery of ZB.
Shortly after leaving Lucerne station, we had a glimpse of Mt Pilatus to the west and the train ran along the banks of Lake Lucerne which was backlit at the hour. The Brünigbahn was originally built to provide a link between Lake Brienz to the south and Lake Lucerne to the north across the Brünig Pass in 1888. The line was further extended from Alpnachstad to Lucerne a year later in 1889.
Following which, the train followed the Sarner Aa River to the town of Sarnen. The 'old-school' carriages were equipped with half-height drop down windows which allowed us to lean out and photograph the exhilarating journey while enjoying the cool morning breeze on our faces. Unfortunately, they had been scheduled to be replaced by new Stadler ABReh 150 EMUs in 2013.
Lake Sarnen soon came to view in good lighting on the right side of the train and is the second of the four lakes which we would be passing through during our journey.
The train began its ascent up to the Brünig Pass after leaving Giswil which is located on the other end of Lake Sarnen. The Riggenbach ladder rack system is engaged immediately after the station to aid the locomotive in overcoming a maximum gradient of 12% during the climb.
The train ran beside Lake Lungern on a very short sector after Kaiserstuhl station, and then climbed up the slope by the lake towards Lungern town while passengers seated on the right hand side of the train were treated to a panoramic view of the lake and the town. Situated at an altitude of 750 metres above sea level, Lungern is located at the foot of the Brünig Pass and is also the highest village in the Sarneraa Valley. The town is tightly hemmed in by steep mountains to the south and drained by a basin which opens to the north.
Beyond Lungern, heavy vegetation lined the tracks on the way to the summit station and the flexibility afforded by the narrow 1000mm gauge was amply demonstrated by the tight curves and rock cuttings along this sector. Brünig-Hasliberg station sits at an elevation of 1,002m above sea level and our train waited for a short while for an inbound Golden Pass Panoramic tourist train to clear the track ahead of us. The Brünig line forms part of the heavily marketed Golden Pass Line which stretches from Lucerne to Montreux, with the Lucerne-Interlaken sector already comprising 4 of the 6 lakes mentioned in the official tagline: Two languages, three worlds, six lakes, one line. It is noteworthy that the Lucerne-Interlaken sector is also operated by ZB and the second class carriages are identical to the ones which we were on with the exception of a special livery.
After cresting the pass, the train descended towards the Aare River valley, where it switched direction at Meiringen station. The station is also the terminus of the local Meiringen-Innertkirchen Bahn (MIB) narrow-gauge railway, which links the town with the nearby village of Innertkirchen. In addition, visitors can also take the Reichenbachfall-Bahn (RfB) from nearby Willigen to the Reichenback Falls where the famed fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes met his demise after plunging off a ledge into the falls during a fight with the villianous Professor Moriaty in the novel "The Adventure of the Final Problem".
The rack-and-adhesion HGe101 locomotive which had hauled the train from Lucerne was detached, while an adhesion-only De110 locomotive was attached at the other end of the train to operate the remaining sector to Interlaken which is relatively flat. Meiringen is also a major staging ground for ZB and we were able to photograph a variety of locomotives, shunters and rolling stock in the expansive yard such as this ABt 926 driving trailer.
From Meiringen, the train followed the arrow-straight Aare River to Lake Brienz, and skirted the northern bank where we had our first glimpse at the mesmerising turquoise waters of the lake.
The lakeside station of Brienz was formerly the southern terminus of the Brünigbahn before the final extension saw the line being extended to Interlaken Ost in 1914. Passengers can also transfer to the Brienz Rothorn Bahn at this station and experience the novelty of riding a steam operated funicular up to the summit of the Brienzer Rothorn mountain.
We continued to be deeply enthralled by the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz as the train continued on its journey south towards Interlaken Ost. It was most definitely one the most scenic sights during the entire course of our Europe trip.
The extensive Swiss rail network is the mode of choice for travelling long distances in the country and offers unparalleled convenience and flexibility to the independent traveller. Cutting through the heart of the charming Swiss countryside, rail travel allows passengers to also enjoy a grandstand view of the very best scenery that the country has to offer while travelling in comfort.
The Bernese Oberland (Bernese Highlands) is one of the five administrative regions of the canton of Bern and comprises of the area around Lake Thun and Lake Brienz as well as the valleys of the Bernese Alps.
A dedicated compartment had been set aside in one carriage for passengers to stow their bicycles on board the train (left). Manual destination signs located at the side of each carriage indicate the direction of the train service (right).
As another sterling example of the seamless integration that is typical of the Swiss Transport System, we caught sight of a Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) at the opposite platform which was scheduled to depart shortly after possibly picking up passengers who had just arrived on our train. BOB operates the first of the three sections of railway line to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. On most trips, the two train compositions to Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald are coupled together when departing Interlaken Ost, and split at the last station of the common sector at Zweilütschinen.
Interlaken Ost is one of the two stations located in the town of Interlaken (the other being Interlaken West situated by the banks of Lake Thun). The station is notable in that although lines converge on it from three directions, it is the terminus of every service which enters it. There are no through services due to incompatibilities in gauge and electrical systems. The line to the west (used by the SBB-CFF-FFS, BLS and Deutsche Bahn services) is standard gauge while the BOB and Zentralbahn tracks are metre gauge. In addition, the BOB trains use 1500V DC while the rest of the lines use 15kV AC.
After a quick visit to deposit our luggage at the coin-operated lockers located in the station compound, we decided to make use of the favourable sunlight direction to obtain photos of the PostAuto buses that call at the station. BE610533 is a shortened 10.5m long Citaro K with the updated front mask and was photographed working service 104 which operates as a local bus service.
BE610539 is a Solaris Urbino 12 on service 103 which is a bi-directional service and calls at Interlaken Ost Bahnhof to/from Interlaken West Bahnhof. Although Interlaken Ost is served by 5 PostAuto services and 1 STI service, the volume of buses was rather low as they operate with a frequency of 30mins.
An overview of the places which we had visited and the lake cruises during our short day trip in Interlaken. Credits to Switzerland Mobility (Link) for this detailed topological map of Interlaken.
The Harder Bahn is the longer of the two funicular railways which operate from Interlaken to the mountain of Harder Kulm. The funicular railway was opened on 15 May 1908 after 3 years of construction and operates only during the summer season. Swiss Pass holders are able to obtain a 50% discount off the ticket price.
Passing loop of the Harderbahn funicular railway where the descending car acts as a counterweight to the ascending car. The metre gauge railway is powered by a 400V three-phase system and the 1,435m line is also laid out in a quadrant rather than a usual straight line to minimise the disfigurement of the landscape.
The upper station at the peak has an elevation of 1322m above sea level and is located 755m above the lower station at Interlaken.
The two new cars were delivered in 2008 to commemorate the centenary of the railway in 2008. Built by Gangloff Cabins AG of Bern, each car can hold 65 persons in three sections on its tiered seating arrangement. A metal basket is also fitted on the uphill-facing end to transport cargo up to the summit.
It was a short five minute walk from the upper station to the popular vantage point at the pavilion style Harder Kulm Restaurant.
The excellent weather conditions allowed us to enjoy a spectacular view of the famous Bernese Oberland peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau across the Lütschine valleys.
The town of Interlaken takes its name from its geographical position as it is situated between Lake Brienz to the east and Lake Thun to the west. This was especially apparent from our vantage point as we were able to clearly see and identify both of the lakes.
It was quite a thrilling experience sitting at the very front of the car and descending the steep slope (with a maximum gradient of 64%) with a full view of Interlaken from the wide windscreen in front of us during the 8 minute long journey. In addition, some hikers had also taken the opportunity to snap a photo of our car from an overhead bridge along the line!
We also took the opportunity to obtain a few photos of trains that were passing though the level crossing in front of the Harderbahn station towards/from Interlaken Ost station.
SBB-CFF-FFS operates an hourly Intercity service between Basel and Interlaken Ost via Bern and Spiez.
BLS is a regional operator that specialises in operating regional train services and S-bahn services. In addition, the company also operates the Lake Thun and Lake Brienz cruises.
Lindner Grand Hotel Beau Rivage is a top five-star rated property located by the banks of the River Aare near the lower station of the Harderbahn.
Due to time constraints, we settled for burgers from Take Away Mr. Grill for lunch. Most of us had chicken burger which cost only CHF5.50 – a bargain in expensive Switzerland and the touristy town of Interlaken.
Next Post: Interlaken's Twin Lakes - Day 5
Lucerne City - Day 4