The Jungfrau Region boasts the title of one of the most visited places in the Swiss Alps. The mighty trio of peaks, Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger, form a massive mountain wall dividing the canton of Valais from the canton of Bern. Their sky-high silhouettes overlook several valleys, such as Lauterbrunnen or Lütschental.
But it’s not only their natural beauty that brings people here even today. The building of Jungfray Railways at the beginning of the 20th century contributed to the status of the Jungfrau region as a go-to destination in Switzerland.
In this post we are sharing a brief history of Jungfrau Bahn and its creator, Adof Guyer-Zeller.
The Vision Of Adolf Guyer-Zeller
The Jungfrau Railways was conceptualized first in 1893 by an industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller. Born in Bäretswil in Switzerland, Zeller was a son of a well-to-do Swiss entrepreneur. His father owned a cotton mill, and the family had means to educate their children. Young Adolf studied engineering at ETH and after finishing his education, he traveled to England, France, and even USA.
After coming back, he joined his father in managing the family business, the spinning mill. Besides expanding the textile business by creating an export trade center in Zurich, Zeller started investing in a new, booming business – railways. He soon became the president of Swiss Northeastern Railway and started building his biggest dream: the Jungfrau Railway.
Ascending the Jungfrau
The first documented ascent on Jungfrau took place in 1811. Only 80 years later, Zeller envisioned Europe’s highest railway station on the top of Jungfrau.
In 1893, he applied for a concession to build a railway from Kleine Scheidegg, which was already a popular tourist location reachable by Wengneralp Railway, to Jungfraujoch.
His idea was to drill a long tunnel through Eiger and Mönch, through which the railway would pass.
He received the concession a year later and soon the preparations started.
Providing Electric Power
Jungfrau Railway was supposed to be fully electrified. To produce enough power, Zeller built hydroelectric power plants on the rivers in Lütschental. Soon after the source of electricity was secured, in 1896, the construction works began.
As predicted, the construction process was slow and strenuous. Zeller employed mostly Italian workers, some of whom tragically died in various accidents, which plagued the construction site in the later years.
The technology Zeller chose included a three-phase current and 1-meter gauge, promising a more efficient source of power and stability.
The First Stage Is Complete
Two years after the construction started, in 1898 the first open-air section from Kleine Scheidegg to Eiger Gletscher was opened.
Zeller was planning to add one new station every year, which was a very ambitious plan which, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to see through. He died of a heart attack in 1903. His sons continued his work and in 1905 the tunnel reached the Eismeer station at 3160 meters (10,367 ft) above sea level.
At the time, the original plans changed: due to lack of funds the line was shortened. Instead of reaching the summit of Jungfrau, it was to end at Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Jungfrau and Monch.
The Jungfrau Railway Opens in 1912
The final years of the construction of the Jungfrau railway were marked by accidents, lack of funds, strikes, and disagreements, which delayed the opening of the railway by 9 years.
Only in 1912 was the last station at Jungfraujoch at 3,454 meters (11,332 ft) above sea level, completed. In February of the same year, the construction team blasted through the glacier on Jungfraujoch, and five months later, on the 1st of August 1912, an official opening celebration took place.
Created by a visionary for people who simply wanted to stand above clouds and touch the glacier, Jungfrau Railway also benefitted science.
In 1931, a research station was opened, which has been working non-stop ever since. The Sphinx Observatory opened six years later, providing space and tools for meteorological measurements.
The meteorological station on Jungfrau provides important information about climate change based on the glacial behaviors.
Brief History of Jungfrau Bahn: A Dream That Lives On
More than 100 years after its launch, the Jungfrau Railway still brings thousands of tourists every day to the top of Europe’s biggest glaciers. The travel time has been considerably reduced: from 1 hour and 15 minutes to a mere 25 minutes from the station at Eiger Glacier.
The station and observatory provide a range of attractions and activities, including several restaurants, shops, an Ice Palace and a tunnel of theme-decorated grottos.
To be sure, a trip to Jungfraujoch, aptly dubbed “top of Europe” still provides a thrill just as its visionary and founder, Zeller, imagined.
If you’d like to join us for a trip to Jungfraujoch, among 11 other fantastic train rides around Switzerland, join our 12-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. Travel in comfort with a small group, luggage transfers and under care of local English-speaking guides.
Check details below.