This Is the First Train in the World That Will Change Height and Jump Tracks — and It Connects 3 Idyllic Swiss Towns

The route used to require two transfers, but is finally united as the GoldenPass Express.

Golden Pass Express rail through Switzerland during summer

Tobias Ryser/MOB Golden Pass Express

Riding the rails from Switzerland's Montreux to Interlaken has long been one of the most picturesque train rides in the world, passing through the Vaud Riviera with the Bernese Alps and Pays-d’Enhaut. But it has always been a hassle, requiring passengers to go through the trouble of two transfers because of the different sizes of tracks along the route. 

Now, travelers can sit back and enjoy the ride in one contiguous stretch, as Dec. 11 marked the debut of the GoldenPass Express, nicknamed GPX, a seamless single ride that takes about three hours and 15 minutes. While it’s currently operating just once a day in each direction, it will expand to four round-trip journeys a day starting June 11, 2023. 

Map of Golden Pass Express rail through Switzerland

© MOB Golden Pass

The idea for the direct route first came up in 1873. “Since back then the idea was to connect three of the country’s economic centers by opening up the mountain regions,” the train operator said on its site. But there was a major hurdle since the tracks themselves had different gauge widths, meaning the same car couldn’t travel across the tracks of differing sizes. A metric gauge, which is one meter, was used between Montreux and Zweismmen, while the standard system of 1.435 meters was used between Zweisimmen and Interlaken. 

The GoldenPass Association was founded in 1924 to figure out how to solve the problem, and in 1930, offered the idea to install a third rail. But challenges kept arising, whether technical or financial. Then, in 2006, progress came to a screeching halt because of “various factors making it impossible to cross Spiez station without an underground track," according to the GoldenPass Association website.

Golden Pass Express rail station in Switzerland during summer

© MOB Golden Pass

Two years later, efforts began again — and this time they were turned upside down. Instead of changing the rails, why not change the train cars themselves? That’s exactly how the system now works.

Using variable gauge bogies and a gauge adapting ramp, the trains can now pass from one sized track width to another, ultimately, as some call it, “jumping” the tracks. During the transition, the cars go about 15 kilometers per hour (about 9.3 miles per hour), and reposition themselves to the new width. At the same time, they also adjust their height from 350 millimeters to 550 millimeters to account for difference in the platform heights.

“The gauge width change takes eight minutes: only a few seconds crossing the ramp, most of the time is required for the change of locomotives and related checks,” the GPX explained on its site. The process happens on Tracks 6 and 7 in Zweisimmen.

After successful tests in 2019, the approval process started. Though the pandemic delayed its first launch date, in June 2021, the first commercial trip happened yesterday, Dec. 11, 2022.

Passengers have the choice of three different classes aboard the scenic ride: second class, first class, and the prestige class, where comfortable heated seats allow passengers to face the direction of travel and is raised 40 centimeters (about 15.7 inches) for a sprawling view of the panoramic views. 

A selection of drinks and snacks are available for purchase on board, as well as the option to book meals in advance — with the choice of a breakfast box, apero-plate package, or caviar package.  

Golden Pass Express charcuterie plate and wine onboard

© MOB Golden Pass

With the current schedule, one trains leaves Montreux at 9:35 a.m. with stops in Montbovon, Château-d'OEx, Gstaad, Zweismmen, Spiez, before arriving in Interlaken Ost at 12:50 p.m, while the other departs Interlaken Ost at 9:08 a.m., hitting the same stops in the opposite direction before arriving in Montreux at 12:20 p.m. When the new summer schedule kicks in, there will Montreux departures at 7:35 a.m., 9:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m. and 2:35 p.m. and Interlaken ones at 9:08 a.m., 11:08 a.m, 2:08 p.m., and 4:08 p.m. Tickets can be purchased two months in advance. 

During our search, we found second class seats for CHF 73 (approximately $78), first class for CHF 113 ($120). The Prestige Class upgrade was CHF 35 ($38) on top of the first class seat. For more information or to book your tickets, visit the GoldenPass Express site.

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