Maybe, maybe not
Visionary stretches of railway at RhB
Train routes that were planned but never implemented, tunnels with underground stations and train lines that were put into operation and then decommissioned again: the railway in Graubünden has witnessed a number of ideas and projects that were put forward as quickly as they were shelved again. A small collection of plans that were shelved and never realised.
Via Chur to find Italian flair?
In the period between 1838 and 1938 around fifty projects, some of which - not to put too fine a point on it - were crazy, were put forward as serious suggestions. Hardly any were ultimately put into practice. The remaining ideas failed either due to lack of funding or simply because they were a little over the top. Today it is very difficult to comprehend what the focus was in each case and what connections and intermingling were behind the proposals. In the middle of this whole railway boom, that in fact was a major power struggle, the railway arrived in the mountain canton of Graubünden in 1858: the first train of what was then the United Swiss Railways pulled into Chur station. At the time, the station was seen as a stopover for international connections that were travelling on to Italy...
There was one Alpine railway project after another. International interest in connecting the canton of Graubünden grew and an Eastern Alp Transit Railway was planned on the north/south axis. Three different lines were discussed: from Chur via the Lukmanier, Splügen or San-Bernardino Pass to Italy. But the projects were all rejected because other valleys would have suffered because of them. And the various interests and individual project ideas competed against and damaged each other until the plans were ultimately discarded and the passes acquired good roads thanks to rich trading towns such as Milan and Venice. International treaties and the strivings of the cantons of Zurich and Ticino also played their part in promoting the building of the Gotthard Railway instead.
Even the idea of initiating a Septimer Railway, that would have provided connections to Italy from Thusis over the Septimer and Maloja Pass to Chiavenna, was shelved.
The pioneer Willem Jan Holsboer promoted the Scaletta Railway, which would have lengthened the line in Davos and gone over the Scaletta Pass into Engadin and right down to the Italian town of Chiavenna. But it soon became clear that the route to Engadin via Davos was too long and the project failed for engineering, topographic and, ultimately, political and financial reasons. The canton of Graubünden ended up approving only funding for the Albula project that was implemented at that time.
The Orient Railway, also often called the Ofenberg Railway, would have taken passengers from Thusis to Venice and even Treist via Filisur, Albula and the Ofen Pass. The proposal was put forward by Zurich-based railway pioneer Adolf Guyer-Zeller in 1895. The railway line would have connected Engadin with the Vinschgau Railway in what was then Austrian South Tyrol. In 1911 heated discussions were still taking place in South Tyrol about exactly where the line could join the Vinschgau Railway and whether it should be designed as a standard-gauge line up to the Swiss border.
The prospects for the economic success of the railway were not bad because cars were still banned at the time in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, a ban that was lifted as the result of a referendum in 1925. The outbreak of World War I and the annexation of South Tyrol by Italy put paid to the plans for the Orient Railway.
New century – new ideas
In the new century, during World Wars I and II, there was less activity as far as railway projects in Graubünden were concerned. The inner cantonal railway network of the Rhaetian Railway was now virtually complete. But even in this new age, the discussion about international connections for the mountain canton went on. To increase the attraction of the canton for tourists, Graubünden would have to be easier to reach by rail from Zurich, Milan and Munich – the argument being that the canton would suffer financially without faster connections.
The Misoxer Railway between Bellinzona and Mesocco in the southern part of the canton was opened in 1907 making it one of the few projects that was actually realised. The entire network comprised three tunnels, 28 bridges and 18 stops. There were repeated attempts to lengthen the line from Mesocco over the San-Bernardino and Splügen Pass to Thusis and connect it to the rest of the RhB network but these plans could not be realised.
In the1960s it was decided that the main A13 road running parallel to that route should be extended as a safe north-south connection in winter. The railway, in comparison, was seen as an obstacle. This resulted in discussions about decommissioning the railway in 1966. Three years later, the Swiss Confederation ordered the railway be closed, something that not even protests from the valley could prevent: in 1972, passenger trains of the Misoxer railway stopped running and were replaced by post buses. In 2003, a stop was also put to goods trains. Until 2013 an old-timer railway was operated for tourists on a remaining section of track.
The idea of a Splügen Railway was raised again in 1965. This second Splügen project envisaged a connection from Landquart to Chiavenna via Chur. A senior civil servant from Graubünden, Dr. Gion Willi, explained at the time that creating the international transit railway through the Splügen Pass would not only bring the emergent Italian and German economic areas north and south of the Alps closer together but also finally provide viable connections to the Eastern part of Switzerland and particularly Graubünden, areas which to date had effectively been left out of transit traffic. But this project too was shelved.
2010 - 2012
Between 2010 and 2012, the canton of Graubünden commissioned the examination of various new traffic connections and projects: the increase in speed on the SBB line Zurich – Chur, the inclusion of Chur – Lenzerheide – Arosa, the inclusion of Chur – Lenzerheide, an increase in speed in the journey through the Prättigau region and a Wolfgang tunnel, a basic tunnel from Andermatt – Sedrun, the Bellinzona – Mesolcina – Valchiavenna route, a tunnel from Litzirüti to Davos, an increase in speed through the Surselva region, the connection from Engadin to Vinschgau as well as a connection from Scuol to Landeck. These projects were divided into Category A (projects suitable for further deliberation), B (put on hold until further notice) and C (to be discarded).
Between 2015 and 2018, the national STEP 2030 planning committee will examine extensions such as Landquart station with the dual track Landquart - Malans, the Wolfgang Tunnel, the Fideris by-pass and the extension to St. Moritz Bad. A decision about the implementation of these projects will be made by the Swiss Federal Council and Councillors in 2018.