Europe’s Highest Railways


Railway transport is known to have its origin in Europe during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Railway transport has seen tremendous progress with the continent having vibrant networks of railways which pass through mountains and even go under the waters of the English Channel. In the Alps, the railways are built on extremely high altitudes and are among the highest railways in the world. Several of the railway lines are located at altitudes higher than 5,000 feet above sea level. These railways are mainly narrow-gauge railways.

1. Jungfrau Railway (Switzerland)

Jungfraujoch train tours - SwissPrivateTours

The Jungfrau railway line in Switzerland is classified as a meter gauge railway. The railway runs 5.6 miles from the town of Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch which is known as the highest railway station in Europe. The railway runs on the Monch and Eiger mountains and reaches a peak altitude of 11,332 feet above sea level at Jungfraujoch making the Jungfrau railway the highest railway in Europe. Jungfrau railway passes through the Jungfrau underground tunnel which runs through the two mountains. Construction of the Jungfrau railway was commenced in 1896 and was completed 1912. The Jungfrau railway runs on electricity using a 3-phase current system with 1,125 volts. Jungfraubahn Holding AG owns the rail line the company also owns the Lauterbrunnen–Mürren mountain and Wengernalpbahn railways.

2. Gornergrat Railway (Switzerland)

Gornergrat | Zermatt, Switzerland

The Gornergrat Railway is a Swiss railway line located in the Alps. The railway runs 5.8 miles from a resort village of Zermatt to the summit of the Gornergrat which is a popular destination for hikers who chose the Gornergrat for its proximity to several Alps peaks and is also an excellent location for skiing. With its highest elevation reaching 10,135 feet, the Gornergrat railway is the highest open-air railway in Europe and is second overall to the underground running Jungfrau. The Gornergrat runs on a single track and is a one-meter gauge railway it also uses Abt rack system throughout. The Gornergrat is one of the few electric railway lines in the world running on a three-phase electric power that requires two overhead conductors, with the track forming the third conductor.

3. Bavarian Zugspitze Railway

Accident gondola of the Zugspitz cable car rescued | DW Travel | DW |  21.09.2018

The Bavarian Zugspitze Railway is a German railway which is classified as a one-meter railway and runs for 11.8 miles from the town of Garmisch to the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze. At its highest point of elevation, the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway attains 8,694 feet above sea level making the railway the highest in Germany and the third highest in Europe. Construction of the railway commenced in 1928 and was completed in 1930 where it featured a 14,652-foot Zugspitze Tunnel which was closed in 1987 after the building of the 3,199-foot long Rose Tunnel. The Bavarian Zugspitze Railways is electrified with 1,500 volts. Tourists use the railway to reach Zugspitze Mountain for hiking as well as skiing.

Narrow-Gauge Railways At High Altitudes

In the construction of the majority of the high-altitude railway tracks, the narrow-gauge track is employed. A narrow-gauge railway refers to a railroad track with a width not exceeding 4ft 8.5 inches (1.435 meters). The reason why the narrow-gauge railway is preferred is due to the small locomotives who use it. The narrow gauge railway is also used for its cost effectiveness.