Bernina Express

Searching for cracks in the core

Searching for cracks in the core - Bernina Express

While electronics are capable of many things, they are still no match for the human eye. Linesman Fazli Berisha and his colleagues are therefore out on the RhB tracks every other week, making sure no cracks, no stones and certainly no broken bolts go undetected. 

On a sunny spring day, Fazli Berisha pulls out his pen and carefully fills out the fields in his little book: date, track inspection from Davos to Filisur, time, safety confirmed ... Naturally, he knows the timetable for every train running on this track like the back of his hand. But first, everything must be in order and second, there is no shortage of extra trains and rail tractors running on the track at irregular intervals. In addition to his pen and little book therefore, the linesmen is never without his mobile phone.

«Check a track daily and you run the risk of no longer seeing the wood for the trees.»
Fazli Berisha

Checking the tunnel takes time
"We always have to phone through the exact section of the tunnel we are currently checking," says the 51-year-old. "If necessary, our colleagues can then close the tunnel for us." In this case, the 96-metre-long Wiesen II tunnel. Berisha takes his torch and shines it along the dark walls. "A wall like this takes time to check," he says, searching for cracks, especially in damp areas. Wintertime is particularly dangerous, as ice can form inside the tunnel. Back in the light of day, the track worker calls through to his colleagues in the control centre: "I’m out of the tunnel. Track’s free. Carrying on to Filisur." At a small railway crossing he checks for any stones lodged in the grooves between the rails and the crossing. On the way to Davos Wiesen railway station he looks out for any cracks in the rails, keeping an eye on the fixtures on the railway sleepers and watching out for any changes in the rock face along the track. Maximum concentration is called for here – which is why each linesman only checks a track once every two weeks. "My colleagues used to check a different track every day, but eventually you run the risk of no longer seeing the wood for the trees."
Only in winter do the native Kosovar and his six colleagues from the district of Davos go out once a week. For this is when ice and snow tend to pile up on the track.

Everything is documented
Fazli Berisha has been working with the Rhaetian Railway for 26 years. And it’s fair to say that nothing escapes his trained eye. The most obvious being damages or defects on the rails: cracks, fractures, surface flaking – or worst of all, even a broken rail. "Naturally in this case, the track has to be closed straight away so that we can make the necessary repairs," says Berisha, resignedly: "This used to happen quite a lot before the quality of the rails significantly improved – much to our benefit I might add. To be honest, I think I’ve only ever come across a broken rail maybe three times in the last 20 years." Around Davos Wiesen railway station the linesman mainly focuses on the fixtures for the buffer stops and the points. Are they sufficiently lubricated? Are there any cracks in the core, i.e. the frog point and the two wing rails? The abundance of cables found in today’s railway stations, for example from telephone network providers, must also be taken into account. "Not that we repair such damage ourselves," says Berisha, laughing. "All I do is take a photo with my mobile and send it to my colleagues. It’s up to them then to call in the experts." Any defects are also entered into a report sheet, together with the kilometre section, any observations and the relevant measures to be implemented. Then it’s on to the Wiesen Viaduct, the Rhaetian Railway’s highest viaduct. Berisha greets the hikers walking along the narrow trail beside the tracks and lists any other potential damage to the rail network: Are all signs clearly legible? Are there any kilometre boards missing? Are the barriers in working order – or are there any skirts missing or twisted turnpikes? Is there any evidence of a rockfall? Do the trees lining the tracks look like they are in danger of falling down? Are there any signs of soil erosion around the bridges and tunnels? Is there any damage to the retaining walls, footpaths or bridges? Are all of the bulbs in the signals working? The list of things to consider is rather long. "Naturally, we can rely on our colleagues to lend a hand," says the linesman, shrugging it off. "On particularly exposed tracks, the first train drivers of the day look out for anything
unusual, such as loose rocks on a slope, and report it."

En route to Filisur
After passing the viaduct, Fazli Berisha pulls out his pocket rule in a sweeping curve and measures the gauge width of the tracks: "It should be 1,000 millimetres, anything above 1,015 millimetres calls for a correction of the track gauge width. This is particularly important in the curves." Concrete bollards lining the curve are designed to prevent the soil from sliding onto the rails. "We’ve often had problems here. These have now been resolved, however, thanks to the new slope fence." Berisha puts his folding ruler back in his pocket and takes his leave. Today, his journey will take him as far as Filisur. And there is certainly plenty to do en route to prevent any cracks in the core of the RhB.

From glaciers to palms
The Albula and Bernina routes link northern and southern Europe, building bridges between language regions and cultures. The panoramic journey on the Bernina Express is one of the main highlights.
In winter from Chur to Tirano from CHF 72.00  (Basis: 2nd class, incl. mandatory seat reservation)