Friday, January 30, 2009

Travel: Reaching Davos

A Rhaetian Railways train between Chur and St. Moritz, part of the "back route" to Davos, traveled along the Rhein near Reichenau, Switzerland on 16-February-2004

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland has been in the news this week, largely for the lack of "rich people" there and for a spat between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan which left Erdogan saying, "From now on, Davos is finished for me. I will not come back." The statement seemed symbolic of concerns that the forum, first held in 1971 to bring together political and business leaders, might indeed be on the wane if people decide not to show up. The very inaccessibility of Davos that led its selection for the forum may contribute to this trend.

There aren't very many places in Switzerland that cannot be reached by a single-seat ride on a train (that means no connections) straight out of the train station at Zurich Airport. A number of those places are in Switzerland's largest canton, Graubünden, located in the southeastern corner of the country. Graubünden not only features Switzerland's only national park and resort towns like Davos and St. Moritz, but has a fourth official language beyond German, French, and Italian--Romansch, a Latin-related language I once heard spoken in the canton at Scuol.

Unlike much of the country that is served by the standard-gauge Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), most of Graubünden is served by the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway. The fastest way from the airport to Davos Platz (the most prominent of the stations in Davos) takes just under three hours, involving changing SBB trains at the Zurich main station, and then transferring to the Rhaetian Railway at Landquart for a trip through Klosters into Davos.

A Rhaetian Railway train climbed out of the Rhein valley toward the Albula Pass over a high viaduct on 17-February-2004.

While that route does head through the Alps, for those willing to spend another half hour and endure another transfer, there's an even more scenic way to get to Davos. By staying on the SBB train to the canton's capitol of Chur and transferring to the Rhaetian Railway there, one can take a "back route." By boarding a train for St. Moritz, one can run past the headwaters of the Rhein, turn into the mountains, and cross the famous Landwasser Viaduct, a curved structure 65 m above the Landwasser River, heading straight into a tunnel that opened in 1902. Just above the Landwasser Viaduct, one transfers at Filisur to a train that runs up the valley to Davos.

A Rhaetian Railways switch engine sat in Davos, Switzerland on 17-February-2004. Note the road name on the locomotive--"Viafier Retica" is Romansch for "Rhaetian Railways"

I first visited Davos at about this time of year, mid-February 2004, and found skiers traveling between the slopes and their hotels dominating the Filisur to Davos shuttle trains. If the World Economic Forum does ever fade away, there will be no need to feel sorry for Davos--skiers will happily take the place of the politicians and businessmen, even if they are a bit more frugal.

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