After 148 years of relentless efforts, Swiss engineers have finally achieved their long-standing goal of connecting Lake Geneva to the Bernese Alps via the GoldenPass Express train.
Initially proposed in 1873, the task of connecting the two contrasting track gauges - standard and metric - resulted in delays. The variances in voltage requirements, gauge height, and width made it necessary for passengers traveling between Interlaken and Montreux to switch trains in Zweisimmen.
Yet as of December 2022, the GoldenPass Express has overcome this challenge. This cutting-edge panoramic train can easily switch between the two gauges, eliminating the need for passengers to switch trains. This makes the journey between Interlaken and Montreux more comfortable than ever before.
That's why I'm proposing that the GoldenPass Express is a game-changer for train travel in Switzerland. With Intelaken and Montreux being premium destinations for tourists worldwide, it only makes sense to connect the two hubs in the most efficient way.
Even after the launch, the Montreux Oberland Bernois (MOB) rail company still operates other popular train compositions on the stretch between Montreux and Zweisimmen. But unless you plan and research the timetable, you never quite know what composition you'll get on your journey.
For example, on a recent trip to Gstaad, I was on a historic Belle Époque coach, and it felt like time travel as I passed through the alpine landscape with grazing Simmental cows. A few hours later, Mamiko followed on a GoldenPass Panoramic train with front-row seating and views of the rails.
Gauge-Switching Technology in Action
The idea of connecting three tourist hotspots and lakes with a single train line was born in 1873. The idea was to build a line from Montreux on Lake Geneva through Gstaad to Interlaken on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
But connecting the three tourist hotspots was easier said than done, as the tracks of the railway companies were incompatible due to different gauges. To this day, the tracks between Zweisimmen and Montreux are 1000mm apart, while they widen to roughly 1435mm between Zweisimmen and Interlaken, making it necessary for travelers to switch trains in Zweisimmen.
Around a decade ago, MOB commissioned Alstom to develop technology that would allow a train to switch from a narrow gauge to a wider one and vice versa. Think of the GoldenPass Express as a chameleon that can adapt to different environments. It can simply switch from the narrow MOB tracks to the wider standard tracks by adjusting the distance between its wheels.
Variable gauge mechanisms are not new, but the GPX trains go a step further, being the first trains in the world to switch between these two gauges.
The complex trucks beneath each carriage are like the legs of a giraffe, raising the body height to meet the higher platforms of the stations between Zweisimmen and Interlaken; similar to how a giraffe can stretch its legs to reach tall trees. The coach elevates from 350mm to 550mm in just seconds, making this a world-first feature.
When Ferrari Designers take on a Train
For the branding and appearance of the train, MOB hired the renowned design firm Pininfarina, located near Turin in Northern Italy, to overhaul its fleet. With 700 employees catering to clients such as Ferrari and Maserati, Pininfarina also designs trams, yachts, and private jets.
The GoldenPass Express is like a Ferrari on rails, with a royal blue and white color scheme instead of racing red. I can confirm that the train truly has this sleek, futuristic look. When I first saw the new train during a test drive, I was taken aback by its sleek and aerodynamic race car shapes.
The engine sits in the center of the composition. As a result, the front coach is for steering only, allowing for an unobstructed view of the rails ahead. This is where the Prestige class seating with its floor-to-ceiling windows is located.
With the age of Instagram in mind, engineers have also positioned lighting inside the train to minimize reflections on the windows. The glass has been engraved with a microscopic pattern to reduce glare further.