Glacier Express Head End Ride.
My approach to things that seem unattainable at first blush is simply to ask—the theory being, the worst possible result is that they will say, “No.” And so, on a European trip in 2015, I emailed the Swiss Tourism Office and asked if I could get an hour-long ride in the head end on the Glacier Express. And they said yes!
The Glacier Express is operated by the Rhaetian Railway and operates between St. Moritz and Zermatt. There is one train a day in the winter months and three a day during the summer. On this trip, I boarded in Chur and, by prior arrangement, was escorted up to the head end at Andermat for the hour and a half ride to Brig.
Much of the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, with farm houses scattered up and down the verdant slopes.
The windows are huge, as you can see, and spotlessly clean, which is what you would expect from the Swiss.
The engineer—they refer to him as the driver—spoke no English and was a man of few words, even with a representative from the railroad with us to interpret. In a way, the Glacier Express is a misnomer, because top speed on straight flat stretches, which are few and far between, couldn’t have been more than 40 mph.
The windows in the head end are also huge and I had a great view from the left hand seat.
As expected, the train makes some steep climbs and descents along its route and is assisted in both the ups and downs by a gear-like device beneath the locomotive that locks into the special track between the two rails in those areas. Technically, I believe it’s a rack and pinion system. Without it, the train would lose traction.
I took this photo earlier in the ride and it certainly illustrates how mountainous parts of the Glacier Express’ route is.
The Rhaetian Railway also operates the Bernina Express which crosses into Italy, terminating at the town of Tirano. Both are great rides, but my personal opinion is that the Bernina Express is the better of the two. Best idea: do both!