The Bernina Railway is an international line connecting St. Moritz, in the Swiss canton of Grisons, with the Lombard town of Tirano, Italy. Completely opened in 1910, it’s one of the most famous railways in the world due to the spectacular landscapes along its route and for its advanced level of engineering, especially in the time when it was built. Together with the Albula Railway, it’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes” since 2008.

The most distinguishing feature of the Bernina Railway is that it follows the landscape adapting to it, rather than modifying it with great and complex works. This has several reasons, technical and historical. The first one is that the designers had to renounce to a rack railway because the line should be suited to passenger and freight service, and the rack system can’t stand too heavy trains. The second one is that the Bernina railway should serve valleys (Engadin and Valtelline through the Valposchiavo) that keep strong cultural and commercial relations since a long time, but had become of secondary importance in the late XIX century after the opening of railways through other Alpine passes like the Gotthard or Brenner. So speed and efficiency weren’t a primary need and the line was designed also for tourism purpose.

The line is almost a “local product”, with bridges, tunnels and other works made with local materials, and the trains are powered by electricity produced exploiting the vast water resources of the area. The construction of the Bernina Railway saved the territory from a perpetual depression, stopping emigration and fostering the local development through tourism and trade (and with the building and maintenance of the railway and electric infrastructure, of course).

The gallery follows the line from Tirano to St. Moritz on board and, for the first section until Brusio, from the path Via Albula/Bernina, created exactly to explore the railway… by feet. Every picture has a caption with facts and figures about the depicted situation and the railway.

We start in Tirano. On Piazza Stazione the station of the Italian railway Trenitalia (left) faces the counterpart of the Rhaetian Railway, RhB (right).

We start in Tirano. On Piazza Stazione the station of the Italian railway Trenitalia (left) faces the counterpart of the Rhaetian Railway, RhB (right).

The RhB (here the Romansh name) incorporated the Bernina Railway in 1944.

The RhB (here the Romansh name) incorporated the Bernina Railway in 1944.

Several rolling stock of the RhB is visible at the station.

Passenger, freight and also tourism! The Bernina Railway is one of the most popular Swiss destinations. Here the typical, panoramic coaches

Passenger, freight and also tourism! The Bernina Railway is one of the most popular Swiss destinations. Here the typical, panoramic coaches.

Another typical coaches of the Bernina trains are the yellow, open-top wagons. In origin they were open freight cars, built since 1908, and are still in use for tourism purposes.

Another typical coaches of the Bernina trains are the yellow, open-top wagons. In origin they were open freight cars, built since 1908, and are still in use for tourism purposes.

Now we are ready to go!

Now we are ready to go!

Probably the most famous image of the Bernina Railway: the Bernina train crosses like a tram the square in front of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Tirano. The beautiful Sanctuary was built in 1513 after a local apparition of Mary. It's "guarded" by the church of St. Perpetua on the top of a vineyard, built in the XI century.

Just after the departure we have the most famous image of the Bernina Railway: the Bernina train crosses like a tram the square in front of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Tirano. The beautiful Sanctuary was built in 1513 after a local apparition of Mary. It’s “guarded” by the church of St. Perpetua on the top of a vineyard, built in the XI century.

Before the Swiss border the train faces the abandoned hotel “Castello di Piattamala”.

If you take the pathway Via Albula/Bernina, the first thing of Switzerland you meet exiting the forest is the penstock supplying the power plant of Campocologno, one of the several providing electricity to the Bernina Railway. The water comes from the Lake of Poschiavo.

If you take the pathway Via Albula/Bernina, the first thing of Switzerland you meet exiting the forest is the penstock supplying the power plant of Campocologno, one of the several providing electricity to the Bernina Railway. The water comes from the Lake of Poschiavo.

The station of Campocologno and its own café, typically decorated.

We now approach the most famous work of the Bernina Railway.

We now approach the most famous work of the Bernina Railway.

Every work of the Bernina and Albula Railways, bridge, viaduct, tunnel or station proudly shows its cultural value.

Every work of the Bernina and Albula Railways, bridge, viaduct, tunnel or station proudly shows its cultural value.

The spiral viaduct of Brusio allows the railway passing from 7 mt to 17 mt height over the soil. The viaduct's construction was necessary to limit the railway's grade to the required maximum of 7%, otherwise the train would slip on the way up, or be uncontrollable on the way down.

The spiral viaduct of Brusio allows the railway passing from 7 mt to 17 mt height over the soil. The viaduct’s construction was necessary to limit the railway’s grade to the required maximum of 7%, otherwise the train would slip on the way up, or be uncontrollable on the way down.

Yeah, riding it with the train it’s like model railroading on natural scale!

After the viaduct a group of "crotti" rests under the tracks. Crotti are a natural cave typical of the Italian Alps. They were used to store ice, cheese and other food.

After the viaduct a group of “crotti” rests under the tracks. Crotti are a natural cave typical of the Italian Alps. They were used to store ice, cheese and other food.

A view on Brusio.

A view on Brusio.

Waiting the train in Brusio allows you to perceive the steepness of the Valposchiavo. We started in Tirano at 447 mt, now we are at 780 mt. The valley continues to climb until the lake at almost 1000 mt. The train leaves Brusio not on a straight line, but following a series of narrow bends like a mountain road.

Waiting the train in Brusio allows you to perceive the steepness of the Valposchiavo. We started in Tirano at 447 mt, now we are at 780 mt. The valley continues to climb until the lake at almost 1.000 mt. The train leaves Brusio not on a straight line, but following a series of narrow bends like a mountain road.

At Miralago we reach the Lake of Poschiavo.

At Miralago we reach the Lake of Poschiavo.

The lake was created by a landslide which made a natural dam in the stream of the Poschiavino, a river that flows down in the valley and reaches the Adda in Tirano.

Poschiavo is the control and maintenance center of the RhB for the southern part of the Bernina Railway.

Poschiavo is the control and maintenance center of the RhB for the southern part of the Bernina Railway.

Poschiavo is one of the most beautiful Swiss villages. Worth of visits are the "Palazzi", the elegant villas built by the bakers emigrated across the world in the XIX century.

Poschiavo is one of the most beautiful Swiss villages. Worth of visits are the “Palazzi”, the elegant villas built by the bakers emigrated across the world in the XIX century.

The hamlet of San Carlo di Poschiavo.

The hamlet of San Carlo di Poschiavo.

We now start to climb meters quite rapidly. The section between Poschiavo and the Lago Bianco is the most complicated and was the last to be completed. It’s a dizzying zigzag! The station of Cavaglia lies at 1.692 mt. After it two 180° curves together with several bridges and tunnels bring us over 2.000 mt.

The station of Alp Grüm offers a stunning belvedere on the Valposchiavo and (depicted) the Palü Glacier and Lake.

Some locals...

Some locals…

The Scala dam originated in 1911 the Lago Bianco (White Lake).

The Scala dam originated in 1911 the Lago Bianco (White Lake).

The name derives from the color of the water, originated by the Cambrena Glacier. The Lago Bianco supplies several hydroelectric power plants of the region.

The name derives from the color of the water, originated by the Cambrena Glacier. The Lago Bianco supplies several hydroelectric power plants of the region.

At 2.253 mt., Ospizio Bernina is the highest station of the Bernina Railway. The name comes from the hospice on the alpine pass road just above the railway. The station features a particular building: a covered turntable for the steam-powered snowplough.

At 2.253 mt., Ospizio Bernina is the highest station of the Bernina Railway. The name comes from the hospice on the alpine pass road just above the railway.

We start the descent to St. Moritz, much less steep than the climb.

We start the descent to St. Moritz, much less steep than the climb.

Leaving the Lago Bianco is like leaving a part of Europe...

Leaving the Lago Bianco is like leaving a part of Europe…

The small Lej Nair (Black Sea in Romansh) originates from natural springs. It lies next to the Lago Bianco, but it's a different world. Between the two lakes there is the watershed between Adriatic Sea and Black Sea. It's also the border between Italian and German languages.

The small Lej Nair (Black Sea in Romansh) originates from natural springs. It lies next to the Lago Bianco, but it’s a different world. Between the two lakes runs the watershed between Adriatic Sea and Black Sea. It’s also the border between Italian and German languages.

While we face the Piz Alv mountain, it's important to remember that, between Italian and German, a third language mixing Latin with ancient Celtic and Rhaetian heritage is currently spoken in these valleys: it's the Romansh, the fourth national Swiss language.

While we face the Piz Alv mountain, it’s important to remember that, between Italian and German, a third language mixing Latin with ancient Celtic and Rhaetian heritage is currently spoken in these valleys: it’s the Romansh, the fourth national Swiss language.

The cable car going to the Diavolezza viewpoint and ski resort on the Bernina Range.

The cable car going to the Diavolezza viewpoint and ski resort on the Bernina Range.

Meeting at Berlina Lagalb.

Meeting at Berlina Lagalb.

The train reaches another famous viewpoint: the Montebello Curve which offers a fantastic view on the Morteratsch Glacier.

The train reaches another famous viewpoint: the Montebello Curve which offers a fantastic view on the Morteratsch Glacier.

Pontresina is, together with St. Moritz, one of the two junction stations that connect the Bernina Railway with the RhB core network. The Bernina Railway hosts also an intense freight traffic, avoiding the economic isolation of the valleys. It's vital for the import of goods but also for the export of local products.

Pontresina is, together with St. Moritz, one of the two junction stations that connect the Bernina Railway with the RhB core network. The Bernina Railway hosts also an intense freight traffic, avoiding the economic isolation of the valleys. It’s vital for the import of goods but also for the export of local products.

The majestic, Belle-Epoque hotels of Pontresina are witnesses of the early tourism exploitation in the Grisons. Some of them are national monuments.

The majestic, Belle-Epoque hotels of Pontresina are witnesses of the early tourism exploitation in the Grisons. Some of them are national monuments.

In its final stretch another famous sightseeing of the Bernina Railway: the partly-ruined church of St. Gian marks the entrance in the Engadin.

In its final stretch another famous sightseeing of the Bernina Railway: the partly-ruined church of St. Gian marks the entrance in the Engadin.

In its final stretch another famous sightseeing of the Bernina Railway: the partly-ruined church of St. Gian marks the entrance in the Engadin.

The chalet-styled station of Celerina (Schlarigna in Romansh).

The world-famous Alpine resort St. Moritz is the final stop of the Bernina Railway.

The world-famous Alpine resort St. Moritz is the final stop of the Bernina Railway.

We end the journey with a view on the Lake St. Moritz and the spa resort of St. Moritz-Bad.

We end the journey with a view on the Lake St. Moritz and the spa resort of St. Moritz-Bad.

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