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Chur - Zermatt, Glacier Express vs regular trains


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travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 25, 2022 - 9:35 PM

Hello everyone,

i have been planning a short trip to Switzerland at the end of July, using an interrail pass. I planned to take the Glacier Express train, but then I discovered that the option of taking regular, regional trains on the same route also exists. Since I am travelling on a tight budget, I have been thinking about whether the Glacier Express is really worth the 50 CHF extra? What is your opinion?

Also, if I take the regular trains, I would like to get off the trains at some stations for a shorter walk, since I believe that would somewhat balance the length of the trip - could you recommend such places please?

In the same time, I would have just 3-4 minutes for change in Chur (coming with a train from Zürich) and Disentis/Mustér - do you believe that would be enough?

Thank you in advance!

1960man
1960man
3626 posts
expert
May 25, 2022 - 10:48 PM in reply to travella136

1) First of all it is important to understand the concept of 'panoramic' 'express' trains in Switzerland.

Switzerland has seemingly become so desperate to keep long-haul overseas tourists happy that the branding, marketing and publicity for 'panoramic' trains has overtaken the reality that they are just extra trains on otherwise regular railways, where there are also trains used by commuters, shoppers and 'regional' tourists.

2) The Glacier Express suits travellers who want to have a 'luxury' train experience, and travellers who are on organised tours, and travellers who don't mind spending several hours in a sealed train just watching the mountains. It does not suit travellers who want (like me) to have (a) a more local, 'real' railway experience (b) want to - at times - get out and actually sample the mountain air and spend some time sitting still in beautiful surroundings.

Based on these facts, you are clearly someone for whom the regular trains would be ideal. To travel from Chur to Zermatt, in the 2022 timetable year you would normally take a Rhaetische Bahn (RhB) train Chur - Disentis/Muster, changing there into a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) train to Andermatt. At Andermatt you change onto an Andermatt - Visp regional train. At Visp change into a regional train to Zermatt.

My recommendations for places to break your journey on the route include: Oberalp Pass (the road pass summit and the lake are worth seeing), Naetschen (with spectacular views over the valley below), and perhaps Andermatt itself

1960man
1960man
3626 posts
expert
May 25, 2022 - 10:55 PM in reply to travella136

Short connecting times are built in to the Swiss railways timetable, and are usually guaranteed to be held. It doesn't take as long as many people think to actually switch platforms.

Ildiko
Ildiko
1958 posts
top member &
moderator
May 26, 2022 - 8:31 AM in reply to travella136

Hi travella136 and welcome to MySwissAlps.com!

If the timetable gives you that route with the short connections then yes, it is doable.

You can travel via local trains, you'll have the same landscape, maybe you'll have to change more often. You can read about the differences here: www.myswissalps.com/glacierexpress, search for the title 'Regular trains versus Glacier Express'.

At www.myswissalps.com/plantrip/doityourself/savemoney you'll find some money saving tips.

I hope this helps,

Ildiko

Cigarshaped
Cigarshaped
5 posts
new member
May 26, 2022 - 10:12 AM

We saved up for our Glacier Express trip and paid for the onboard meal. It was nicely done with a plate of tasty meatloaf, veg and potato with gravy. You can choose your drinks, etc. A sweet or cheese and biscuit to follow. Coffee extra. The train stopped at a couple of places for 10 mins to get out, no time to walk far!

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Ildiko
Ildiko
1958 posts
top member &
moderator
May 26, 2022 - 4:43 PM in reply to Cigarshaped

Hi Cigarshaped,

thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I am happy that you liked the Glacier Express and the food on it. The pic looks good.
Ildiko

More about 'dining on the move in Switzerland': the www.myswissalps.com/activities/culinary/dineonthemove

JohnYorks
JohnYorks
89 posts
active member
May 27, 2022 - 9:18 AM in reply to 1960man
  1. I'd completely agree with 1960man about the extra pleasure to be had by taking the ordinary trains between Chur and Zermatt.

I've enjoyed both experiences, the Glacier express (on package holidays), and the regular trains (with my Interrail ticket), and if you have that extra bit of time to explore, and don't mind train-hopping, the regular trains win hands down for me. First, the view is the same, and photography usually easier. Then your carriage is likely to be far less crowded and stuffy, and less dominated by large groups. If you have time, you can delay at any station, and there's usually another train in an hour's time. You can stroll into the town or village, get some fresh air, and buy snacks for the next journey. And you will travel with local people.

If you have the chance to stay an extra night along this line, somewhere like Brig would be ideal. I think it's a much more interesting town than Visp, in a lovely setting, has a lot of shops, and (in 2018) there was a very nice café / bakery on the station. From Brig, with an Interrail pass, I strongly recommend a short trip to Kandersteg or Spiez over the old Lötschberg mountain line - spectacular! Your narrow-gauge 'Glacier Express' line has its platforms immediately outside Brig station.

Andermatt is a very different location to Brig - much more a small, elevated,mountain resort. Another Interrail-valid excursion I would recommend from the Chur - Zermatt route is the very short branch line from Andermatt to Göschenen which drops like a stone in its brief fifteen minutes to the junction with the original North-South Gottard mountain line. The engineering of railway, road, tunnels, bridges and gradient in a very small area is amazing! On this short spur, there are trains just about half hourly all day.

Good luck, and enjoy your adventure!

John

Anna
Anna
2900 posts
expert &
moderator
May 27, 2022 - 1:10 PM in reply to JohnYorks

Thanks John for your input. I agree, taking the regular train is a practical option for train-hopping and if you want to spend more time exploring the various lovely villages in between.

Regards,

Anna

travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 27, 2022 - 1:55 PM

Thank you very much everyone for their advice!

I have decided to take the regional trains, after considering everything you mentioned. :) I believe they will serve me better than a luxury tourist-train.

In the same time, I have some questions to ask:

1. As unfortunately due to the tight schedule I cannot spend 1-1 hour both in Naetschen and at the Oberalp Pass, which do you recommend me to choose for exploring? (Note that my schedule is tight partly because I have also built in a little trip to Göschenen. Here I need to thank John for his recommendations about visiting some areas from Brig too, but unfortunately I already have reserved my accomodation in Zürich, so I cannot travel there.)

2. At some trains the SBB timetable says "Please note: Due to the national Pfadi camp "mova" in Goms, capacity between Brig and Andermatt for further groups is very limited.". What does this mean? Should I be particularly worried about something?

Thanks in advance!!

Anna
Anna
2900 posts
expert &
moderator
May 27, 2022 - 2:28 PM in reply to travella136

Hi travella136,

I'm sure you'll enjoy your rides on the regular trains.

1. If you have a tight schedule, I recommend just one quick stop in Andermatt before your side trip to Goeschenen. From Goeschenen you can take the regular train back to Zurich via Flüelen (and maybe a quick stop in Flüelen too if you have time).

2. This is just extra information about an event taking place on that day. Due to the event, group bookings may be affected. So nothing you should be overly worried about if you're travelling on your own.

Hope this helps.

Regards,

Anna

travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 27, 2022 - 3:02 PM in reply to Anna

Thank you!

Although I meant the "tight schedule" as in the case I travel all the way from Chur to Zermatt (this is something I really want to do). :)

1960man
1960man
3626 posts
expert
May 27, 2022 - 7:24 PM in reply to travella136

I'm afraid I've now lost track as to what you actually want to do. You seem to be cutting so many things out and adding so many things in that your original plan is becoming almost unworkable.

What is your overall itinerary?

travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 27, 2022 - 8:35 PM in reply to 1960man

I'll send you the itinerary I worked out:

Zürich-Chur: 07:38-08:52 (4min change)

Chur-Disentis/Muster 08:56-10:11 (3min change)

Disentis/Muster-Oberalppass 10:14-10:53 (1 hour time spending)

Oberalppass-Andermatt 11:53-12:22 (7min to change)

Andermatt-Göschenen 12:29-12:44

Göschenen-Andermatt 13:12-13:22

Andermatt-Visp: 13:37-15:50 (18min to change)

Visp-Zermatt: 16:08-17:14 (almost 1 hour to spend)

Zermatt-Visp-Bern-Zürich: 18:13-21:28

----------

So my question is/was, whether it would be better to stop for an hour at the Oberalpass or in Naetschen, given that I cannot have both due to the (as you can see) tight schedule? (Or maybe I should stop at both locations and cut out the short "deviation" to Göschenen instead?)

Last modified on May 27, 2022 - 8:36 PM by travella136
1960man
1960man
3626 posts
expert
May 27, 2022 - 10:40 PM in reply to travella136

Thank you - I was beginning to suspect that what you were planning was a day trip. Usually a holiday in Switzerland would comprise a few days in the mountains so that you can sample the mountain air, amble through the flower meadows etc. From a base in Zurich it is better to visit parts of the so called Glacier Express route in sections, for example one day to see the Chur / Oberalp end of the line, a separate day to see the Albula railway to St Moritz, another separate day (or days!) to see Zermatt

I will now advise what I thought might be the case, which is that your itinerary is really quite unusual for a trip in one day.

I don't recommend such an itinerary, for the following reasons:

If the weather is poor on your one day, everything is wasted

If the weather is poor at the Zermatt end you will have wasted around 5 - 7 hours of your time getting to Zermatt to see very little

The only truly 'spectacular' thing on the Andermatt - Zermatt leg is the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa at the far West end of the journey

travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 28, 2022 - 5:04 AM

You are right.

Thank you very much for the advice. I will think about it. Though, if I see on the trip that the weather is bad, I could always change my direction, since Interrail allows me that.

Unfortunately this year I cannot spend more than this time in Switzerland (I am arriving on the afternoon of the day before, and have to leave, unfortunately, the day after the trip), so that's why I was trying to schedule as many places as possible in one day. But I have been there before, and will definitely return in the future, for some longer trips! :)

Last modified on May 28, 2022 - 5:05 AM by travella136
Anna
Anna
2900 posts
expert &
moderator
May 28, 2022 - 7:59 AM in reply to travella136

Hi travella136,

I agree with 1960man that it might be practical to just pick a section or 2 of the Glacier Express route if you're planning a day trip from Zurich with the regular trains. Realistically, the Glacier Express is the best way to see the route if you plan to do it in one day. The local trains are an alternative to cover only part of the route or do it in multiple days.

You can read about the different sections here: www.myswissalps.com/glacierexpress/gettingthere

Hope this helps.

Regards,

Anna

1960man
1960man
3626 posts
expert
May 28, 2022 - 6:25 PM in reply to travella136

Even if the weather is good I nevertheless strongly recommend a shorter itinerary.

Probably the best use of your time and the best way to allow some good breaks in the mountain air is a round trip Zurich - Andermatt - Oberalppass - Chur - Zurich. This circuit would give you:

1) the Goeschenen - Andermatt Schoellenen Gorge railway

2) the spectacular climb up from Andermatt to Naetschen

3) The Oberalp Pass lake and pass summit

4) the Swiss Rhine Gorge between Disentis and Chur

Between points (2) and (3) you have the option to hike between the two stations

JohnYorks
JohnYorks
89 posts
active member
May 29, 2022 - 11:46 AM in reply to 1960man

Hello travella136

I too love long travelling days by train in Switzerland, soaking up as much as I can with an Interrail ticket - but hat's off to you - that's an ambitious day's tour!

However, if you want to cut it back a bit, but still enjoy many of the main elements, here's another idea to consider. It cuts off 2.5 hours from your original plan, leaving Zürich HB after 8am and getting back before 8pm. It omits the eastern and western legs of the Chur - Zermatt route, but includes all the essential bits in the middle, and even includes some new routes with spectacular scenery. Also, you can adapt it once you get beyond the Andermatt stage.

The main outline plan involves a loop Zürich - Andermatt - Operalppass - Andermatt - Brig - Kandersteg - Spiez - Interlaken Ost - Luzern - Zürich, and takes in some of my favourite, most spectacular, corkscrew and scenic routes in Switzerland. Even if the weather is unkind, there's plenty to excite the senses, and plenty of breaks!

I've cobbled together this adaptable timetable, but it's always wise to check! It should just about be available on any day of the week...

Zürich HB dep 08.05; Göschenen arr 09.50

(direct train, this will probably be one of the posh new copper-coloured Treno Gottardo trains)

Göschenen dep 09.54 (or 10.12); Andermatt arr 10.06 (or 10.22)

(notice the original main line Gotthard tunnel portals at the south end of Göschenen station, which the Treno Gottardo will plunge into on its way into Italian-speaking Ticino canton. Your train climbs 1,000 feet from here on its short journey - plenty of engineering to marvel at, from the LH side of the little train)

Andermatt dep 10.28; Oberalppass arr 10.47

(a further 1,000 climb to Nätschen, via a bewildering set of switchback very tight curves to gain height - you can actually view the tortuous zig-zag route up the hillside from Andermatt station). You could delay here further, or as 1960man suggests, walk from Nätschen to Oberalppass or v/v. The beauty is that you can decide at the moment. If you miss out stopping off at Nätschen, you can probably get a decent view anyway from the train. I'll continue with my original scheme...)

Oberalppass dep 10.53; Andermatt arr 11.22

Andermatt dep 11.37; Brig arr 13.33

(Excellent place for a lunch break and a bit of sightseeing. If you want to delay further anywhere up to this point you can dash back to Zürich from Brig in 2.5 hours, via a long tunnel and Bern, but it would miss so much of Switzerland's most impressive scenery from the train. May I strongly recommend the following?...)

Brig dep 14.36; Spiez arr 15.44

(via the original Lötschberg mountain main line, which climbs spectacularly out of Brig - terrific vista over the Rhône valley, then encroaching jagged mountains, the summit tunnel and the lovely Kandersteg valley, followed by the descent to Spiez via a series of bewildering reverse curves, tunnels and confusing directions

Spiez dep 16.05; Interlaken Ost arr 16.26

(the railway skirts the south side of beautiful Lake Thun on this short run)

Interlaken Ost dep 17.04; Luzern arr 18.55

(one of the famous scenic routes, the eastern leg of the so-called 'Golden Pass' route, via Lake Brienz, Meiringen and Sarnen)

then a quick dash back to your starting point...

Luzern dep 19.09; Zürich HB arr 19.50

Almost all services are at least hourly.

I hope there's something there that may appeal, though of course you may have seen some of these locations before. Many of these places are on my list of spots to revisit when I take my next 'Global' Interrail trip in September - despite its name, and its availability stretching from Finland to Portugal - I shall be using it mostly in Switzerland.

Good luck, and enjoy the ride

2018 Photos:

1) engineering feats between Göschenen and Andermatt

2) at Andermatt station you can trace the 'Glacier Express' route leaving to the right and zigzagging wildly up the hill; the Göschenen train is coming in from the left

3) spectacular view west into the Rhône valley, from the climb out of Brig towards Kandersteg

4) lovely Kandersteg village

John

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travella136
travella136
6 posts
new member
May 29, 2022 - 3:26 PM

Thank you all for your suggestions!

Now I have so many possibilities to choose from, that I have literally have no idea what I will do!

I especially thank John for putting this schedule together for me. I would gladly follow the route he mentioned, however, I have already visited the Bern-Interlaken-Luzern area a few years ago, and given that Switzerland offers so many places to visit, I would rather go for new areas now, before revisiting the already seen ones! :)

I will consider every bit of information I received and then probably cut down my selected route to a shorter one. Or maybe even leave deciding some details up to my day of departure.

Many thanks for everything!!

Arno
Arno
15021 posts
expert &
moderator
May 31, 2022 - 9:30 AM in reply to JohnYorks

Thanks for your input and your pictures John! That sure is a great plan for anyone looking for a varied and rewarding train trip from Zurich.

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