Many people still find it unusual: women in the cab of a train. But there are now quite a few women train drivers working for the Rhaetian Railway. Two of them even drive trains over the Bernina Pass – that makes their job just perfect.
The train puffs and hisses as Claudia Martinez skilfully manoeuvres the engine with the futuristic name 'Ge 4/4 III' along the tracks in St. Moritz station. Accompanied by her colleague Zegna Schmid she has come here specially today from Samedan so they can travel over the Bernina Pass together. But before they get under way, they quickly shunt the train from Samedan so that their colleagues can add on a few extra carriages before it starts its return journey.
8:38 am. The new train driver has not arrived yet. Schmid quickly runs right across the station while Martinez waits for her colleague in the cab. After all the regional train to Tirano should set off on time. It is standing waiting on platform 7 and already has some of the panoramic cars attached that make up the Bernina Express in the summer. The train guards are already waiting; Schmid climbs into the cab of the ALLEGRA railcar. Martinez follows on behind and at 8:48 am the train departs.
«Now I have a mobile office and can work in the great outdoors all day.»Zegna Schmid
By chance across the Bernina
Claudia Martinez does the first stint. She confidently steers the train through the sun-soaked landscape of Engadin. While she does so Zegna Schmid smiles as she tells us: "I did not always dream of becoming a train driver." The 28-year-old was looking for a job with variety when she finished the Swiss equivalent of 'A' levels - a job which did not entail sitting in an office from nine till five. "And I also like working alone," says the native of Savognin in Graubünden. Then she suddenly had the idea of becoming a train driver – and it was perfect. "Now I have a mobile office and can work in the great outdoors all day with the protection of the cab around me." After she finished her training, Schmid was posted to the train depot in Samedan. And if you work there, you drive over the Bernina. And as she was the first female train driver to work in Samedan, she also happened to be the first to drive a train across the Bernina.
«The Bernina Pass is simply even more beautiful than the other routes.»Claudia Martinez
Extra training for driving over the pass
The scenery becomes spectacular after the stop in Pontresina. Piz Bernina, the highest peak in Graubünden at 4,049 metres, rises up from the clouds; shortly afterwards we see Piz Palü. The train drivers swap places in Bernina Suot – Zegna Schmid takes over. Normally they drive on their own of course, but for Contura they have made an exception and are sharing the cab. Like Schmid, Martinez also took an extra qualification when she was posted to Samedan to be able to drive trains across the Bernina Pass. The train drivers travel across the pass with experienced drivers around ten times to get to know both the route and the engine. Because at this point RhB travels with direct current instead of alternating current, and furthermore the gradient is challenging as are the weather conditions.
"You’ve got to know the route by heart over the Bernina," says Zegna Schmid. Because there are times you can hardly see the speed limits for snow and wind. "Sometimes it is really thrilling travelling across the Bernina," the engine driver says with a laugh. Generally though it is more the landscape and the slowness that fascinate both women. "This route is quite simply more beautiful that the rest of the standard network," says Claudia Martinez. The 24-year-old has no desire to go back to her home in the Zurich lowlands. She originally trained there with Swiss Federal Railways SBB as a logistics specialist and had already decided on a further course. Luckily she saw the light in time: "I just couldn’t work in an office," says Martinez. Since she already knew the ropes, she decided to apply to the Rhaetian Railway as an engine driver. When she was transferred to Samedan having completed her training, she was in seventh heaven: "Up here you simply have the most diversity when driving the train."
"The others make a fuss"
The male colleagues are no longer bothered about the fact that there are two women engine drivers, and therefore Bernina drivers, in Engadin. Which is good, considering there will soon be three - one female colleague is currently undergoing training. "I know that the first ever female driver for RhB had a considerable struggle. But today it’s absolutely normal," says Schmid before the train takes the last bend before the Ospizio Bernina. Although in her private life, she says, she often has to say how she makes her living more than once as people initially think they have misheard her. Martinez agrees, laughing: "The others make a lot more fuss about our job than we do." Just a few more minutes and the unusual journey of our two train drivers is over. Claudia Martinez gets off in Alp Grüm. She has to return to Samedan to start her proper shift at 2:30pm. Zegna Schmid continues on her way to Tirano. After Alp Grüm she elegantly steers her train round a bend, waves and blows the train’s horn to say goodbye. Yes, there’s always a thrill at the Bernina.
Travel with an experienced train driver in the cab of an RhB locomotive through the Albula Valley or along the Bernina Line, the highest train line in the Alps, while experiencing the UNESCO World Heritage route from the unique perspective of the driver’s cab. Certificate and souvenir snapshots included.