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Bernina Express
Crossing the Alps by Train

A ride on the Bernina Express (BEX) is a journey of contrasts. It is one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world. Raging mountain streams are bridged by spectacular structures and tunnels are dug into sheer rock faces.

The route leads through lovely meadows up to rugged peaks and glaciers, along lakes and passes through different climate zones and Graubünden's three different language regions in a matter of just over four to five hours, depending on the route.

Bernina Express on the Brusio viaduct Brusio circle viaduct in the Poschiavo valley

Important as ever, the Bernina Bahn transports people and goods for over 100 years - surviving two world wars and several recessions. The extraordinary beautiful Albula and Bernina landscape together with the Bernina line became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Historical and Technical Bits

The Berninabahn (BB) was built between 1906 and 1910 between St. Moritz and Tirano and was independent until 1943, when the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) bought the line due to financial problems.

The Bernina Express route is renowned for its dramatic bridges and spiral tunnels that are necessary to overcome height. The train travels over 196 bridges and through 55 tunnels. Due to the tight turns and spiral tunnels, the length of the Bernina Express is restricted. The single track one metre gauge railway climbs up to the Bernina Hospiz at 2253m / 7,392 feet above sea level and descents into the Poschiavo valley with gradients up to 70 per thousand (7 percent) without the help of rack rails.

Between Alp Grüm and the town of Poschiavo, the line overcomes approximately 1000 meter/3'281 feet difference in altitude on a stretch that measures 5km/3miles as the crow flies. It is the highest adhesion railway in the Alps and one of the steepest adhesion railways in the world. It is the only Swiss Railway that overcomes a main Alpine divide without a vertex tunnel. Needless to say it needed brilliant ideas and more than conventional engineering knowledge to build the line.

The Berninabahn (BB) was created in the heydays of electrically powered railways and runs to this day on a different DC system than the Rhaetina Railway (RhB). Since 2011 it is not necessary anymore to change locomotives in Pontresina. However, the power system still has to be switched.

Bernina Express | Bernina Express Bus

Tickets & Passes | Seat Reservations

Good to Know

Bernina Express Train (BEX)

The Bernina Express (BEX) travels between:

  • Chur and Tirano (4 hours and 5 minutes)
  • Landquart and Tirano (4 hours and 56 minutes)
  • St. Moritz to Tirano (2 hours and 30 minutes)

The Bernina Express connects Graubünden's capital, Chur, with the Engadin on one route, and Landquart through the Prättigau Valley with the Engadin on the second route, and continuous over the Bernina pass through the rugged Puschlav valley before crossing into Italy.

The train not only crosses a national border but aso three of Switzerland's four official language borders: From German to Rumantsch to Italian - all three of them are spoken in Graubünden.

The Bernina Express journey map Bernina Express route within Switzerland: Chur or Landquart to Tirano and Lugano ©Swiss Travel System

From Switzerland's oldest city - Chur - the Bernina Express follows for a short bit the river Rhine before turning into the Domleschg valley with its farm fields and castles along the river Albula.

Shortly after Filisur, the train has to overcome height by passing through spiral tunnels. It runs across the most imposing bridge on this route - the Landwasser viaduct - before disappearing straight into another tunnel. The train emerges in Spinas where it meets the river Bever and crosses the language border from German to Rumantsch.

Shortly after, the train arrives in the Engadin. The power system has to be switched in Pontresina (now the Bernina line) before the Bernina Express is twisting its way along scenic view points up to the highest point on its journey, the Bernina Hospiz at 2253m / 7,392 ft) above sea level.

Right after Morteratsch station, the Montebello turn offers great views to the Morteratsch Glacier. Both stations, Diavolezza and Bernina Lagalp, are departure points for cable ways - very popular for hiking and skiing. And of course, the Bernina Glacier is another extraordinary sight.

After the Arlas Gallery (avalanche protection) two small lakes appear, Lej Pitschen and Lei Nair, and directly behind them the Lago Bianco dam which also marks the watershed between the Danube and Po.

The dramatic Bernina landscape is of archaic beauty, pure and untouched - so it seems. But the Lago Bianco (white lake) is actually a manmade water reservoir, where sheets of ice still float late into spring or even early summer.

The train runs along its banks to Bernina Hospiz. The Rhaetian Railway is thereby the highest railway line in the Alps operating year round.

From here, the red train steadily descents via Alp Grüm through the Poschiavo valley toward Tirano. Alp Grüm marks the last station before the Italian linguistic border (Alp Grüm is only accessible by train or on foot). From here, one has great views to Palü Glacier and after the sharp turn following the station Lago Palü (Lake Palü) comes into sight. If one looks back from the shores of Lago Palü one can see three different avalanche protection galleries.

Val Poschiavo in Graubünden Poschiavo valley

Poschiavo is a lively town with Italian flair and chestnut forests. The small town is unusually rich in history and architecturally interesting.

The route continues through the valley and along the river Poschiavino and Lake Poschiavo toward the last viaduct on this journey that helps the line adjust height. The nine-arched circular Brusio viaduct is not the most technically challenging structure on this route, though it has become the landmark of the Bernina line.

Right after crossing the national border but before arriving at Tirano station, the Bernina Express passes the Basilica and shares the road with oncoming traffic.

Bernina Express Bus

In the summer months (between April and October), the Bernina Express Bus connects the dots with southern Switzerland.

The red Bus operated by the Rhaetian Railway runs from Tirano through the Veltlin valley - famous for its fine wine - picturesque villages and along the banks of Lake Como to Lugano.

Bernina Express Bus waiting for passengers Bernina Express Bus in Tirano

Tickets and Rail passes

Seat Reservations

Seat reservations are compulsory. You can make the reservation as early as three month before your actual travel date and without getting a ticket. Click on "Tickets" on the Bernina Express website.

Connections in Tirano

  • The Bernina Express Bus between Tirano and Lugano is serviced between end of April and mid October;
  • Connecting Italian trains bring you from Tirano to Milano in a couple of hours and beyond;
  • Bus to Edolo and then train to Venice (St. Moritz - Venice route);
  • Or return by Bernina Express or the regular RhB train back to the Engadin and beyond;
  • During the summer months, a very scenic postal bus route leads from Tirano over the Stelvio pass into the Val Müstair and to Zernez in the Engadin.

Good to Know

    BEX Brochures are ready at the seat Bernina Express Brochure at your seat
  • The Bernina Express travels year round both ways - between Landquart (through the Prättigau Valley), and Chur (through the Domleschg Valley) to Tirano and back;
  • The Bernina Bus between Tirano and Lugano is serviced between April and mid October;
  • Panoramic windows offer unobstructed views;
  • First and second class coaches;
  • There's only a minibar for basic refreshments; no dining car. If you need more than just a snack, there are and stores and kiosks in the train stations in Chur and Landquart (and more a short walk from the train stations);
  • Commentary provided in different languages along the route as well as a pamphlet with information;
  • You can get a Bernina Certificate for free at the train stations in Chur, Landquart, St. Moritz, Poschiavo and Tirano;
  • Regular passenger trains (no panorama windows and no refreshments at all) travel the exact same route year round too. No reservation necessary. And most of these coaches have windows that can be opened to make better photos;
  • The Alpine city of Chur is often neglected by travellers - unfortunately;
  • If you plan to interrupt the journey in the Engadin, then Pontresina is a good option for a base. It's not as famous as St. Moritz but it's "more Swiss" than its glitzy neighbour. The train station is a bit outside the village but buses run frequently; wide variety of accommodations;
  • Tirano is a wine growing community. The main attraction is its pilgrimage church "Madonna di Tirano". It's believed that the Madonna appeared here in 1504.

Best Time to Travel

The journey is beautiful year-round, though I prefer January and February and July to October.

Enjoy the journey!

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View through the larger Bernina Express Panorama Windows
Panorama Windows bring you close to nature
Street view in Tirano
Cobbled street in Tirano
The imposing Landwasser viaduct
Landwasser viaduct near Filisur

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