Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway crosses one of the most picturesque, and definitely most famous Swiss mountain passes. Furka pass runs for approximately 35 km (22 miles) over the border of cantons Uri and Wallis, from the small village of Obergoms to the more well-known Alpine resort of Andermatt. Its winding lane offers truly breathtaking views of rugged mountain peaks, glaciers, and green alpine pastures.
It was here where a famous car pursuit from James Bond’s film series “Goldfinger” took place, effectively putting Furka Pass on the map. But it’s not the cars we’re talking about in this blog post but a rather earlier invention: the Furka cogwheel steam railway.
Furka Pass in the Grand Tour of Switzerland
Over the years, Furka Pass was a staple in what was beginning to be known as a grand train tour of Switzerland. In 1925, the Furka line first started running under steam power – offering visitors stunning Alpine scenery views up to 2,160 meters (7,087 ft) above sea level, making it one of the highest rail lines in Switzerland. This segment was part of the original Glacier Express route because of the large Rhone Glacier that could be seen from the window. The Rhone Glacier extended all the way down to the village of Gletch. The guests staying in the Hotel Glacier Du Rhone could actually see and walk out to the glacier.
Furka Base Tunnel Opened
Although picturesque, the Furka pass was proving an increasingly inconvenient and time-consuming way to cross the mountain ranges separating the central east (cantons Uri, Obwalden, and Grisons) from the west (canton Wallis). In 1982, a new railway Furka base tunnel was opened, which made the old mountainous section of the Furka Oberalp Bahn (FO) obsolete. Subsequently, the track was abandoned altogether.
Reactivation of Furka cogwheel Steam Railway
In 1983, a number of Swiss railroad retirees conceived an idea to re-activate this historic railway line and started the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway Club. One of the first steps was to start gathering funds to refurbish the track and rolling stock. The financial support came pouring in, especially from nostalgic Swiss expatriates living in the United States. One of the major challenges the club had to overcome was the disappearance of most of the locomotives. By going into the archives, the Furka Club found several of the old Swiss-built engines had been sold to French-ruled Vietnam.
Bringing the Original Locomotive from Vietnam
The steam and rack locomotive SLM HG 4/4 No. 40-308, seen here in the 1960s on the line Krong Pha – Da Lata, was delivered by Schweizerische Lokomotiv und Maschinenfabrik Winterthur in Vietnam in 1930. The Club members were adamant about bringing the original locomotive back to Switzerland to have it run on Furka Pass again. Now, the challenge was to negotiate with the North Vietnamese to purchase and transport it back to Switzerland.
It was a laborious process that took millions of dollars, but in the end, the rusty steam engine landed back in Switzerland. Now, more money was needed to bring the old engine back to its former glory.
The Volunteer’s Work
Eventually, the club attracted thousands of members from across Europe, who invested their own time – about 200,000 working hours – and millions of Swiss francs to make this dream come true. The actual work took many years and was all done by Swiss volunteers.
Today most of the people associated with the running of the Furka Steam Train are volunteers. The ticket prices do not cover all the operating expenses of the Furka train line so there is a Foundation Furka Mountain Line providing the additional funds to keep the rail line open.
Ride Furka Steam Railway With ECHO Rails
Currently, ECHO Rails is the sole rail tour company offering the Furka steam locomotive experience as part of our 12-Day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland Experience. Starting from Realp above Andermatt, we board the old-fashioned carriages with wooden benches for a nostalgic 2-hour journey through the stunning alpine landscapes. Around 18 km long, this rail trip will take you along the Reuss River (the same that flows through Lucerne), let you take a look at the Rhone Glacier, and admire endless swaths of lush green alpine pastures.
Highlights of the Furka Steam Railway Experience
- Many of steel girder bridges, such as the “Steffenbachbrücke” bridge. Interestingly, this bridge is formed in three parts so it can be lowered during the winter months. This prevent it from being destroyed by a notorious avalanche path that destroyed older stone bridges.
- There are x number of tunnels the steam train goes through.
- At the 7086 ft summit, the train stops for 20 to 30 minutes so you can get off and check out the beautiful alpine scenery.
Riding on a Furka steam train is a one-of-a-kind experience. Meticulously restored by people passionate about historical steam engines, Furka Steam Railway is a testimonial to the generational-long Swiss passion for railway engineering.
Experience this nostalgic ride with our 12-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, along with many other exciting train rides, including the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Voralpen Express, Pilatus cogwheel train, and GoldenPass Line.
Check out our Grand Rail Tour of Switzerland and join us in one of our next escorted small group rail tours.