Solving the mystery of Interlaken’s two rail bridges

June 30, 2021, 5 Comments

Interlaken isn’t big but it has two train stations, West and Ost. Take the train from one to the other and you’ll cross the River Aare not once but twice – even though both stations are on the same bank of the river. Why does the town have two stations and two rail bridges?

Reaching Interlaken used to involve a tranquil boat ride across Lake Thun followed by a chaotic coach ride into town. The steamers were too big to sail up the Aare so docked at Neuhaus, about 4km away, and unleashed their passengers into the maelstrom of carriages.

In 1870 there were 244 horse-drawn carriages running the short route to Interlaken, where the only alternative was walking along the same road. That meant enduring the dust storm created by the carriages and “wading ankle-deep through the horse-shit”, as one commentator said.

Then came the train. The Bödelibahn opened in August 1872, running double-decker trains with an open top deck. Loud opposition came from the carriage-drivers, who didn’t object to the flood of tourists but wanted to maintain their income stream. They lost.

Neuhaus was bypassed by the new line from Lake Thun and the carriage-drivers went bust. Trains arrived at what is now Interlaken West, with Ost opening later to serve the new lines up into the mountains. And of course, a railway connected the two stations.

That line crosses the River Aare twice between the stations for no geographic reason. It could easily run along the south bank but the planners were wary, and sneaky They could envisage a time when the Aare might be widened to create a navigable canal between the lakes.

Steamers would be in direct competition with the railways and tourists might simply sail past Interlaken altogether. So they purposefully diverted the new line across the Aare and back again, a double crossing that stopped any such canal plans in their tracks.

There was once an idea to have one grand central station in the middle of town, on the south bank of the Aare behind the line of posh hotels. It was prevented mainly by the impossibility of getting ships to dock beside any central station, thanks to those two rail bridges.

Today’s trains still make that unnecessary diversion and ships still cannot navigate the Aare. And the two stations carry on serving their respective lakes, West for Thun and Ost for Brienz, so that passengers can transfer directly from boat to train, or vice versa.

My second book tells the story of how tourism began in Switzerland, including how it affected Interlaken. This is one of a series of articles about Interlaken and the Bernese Oberland. For more information visit Interlaken Tourism website.

5 Comments on "Solving the mystery of Interlaken’s two rail bridges"

  1. Chris Wilson Wednesday June 30th, 2021 at 02:01 PM · Reply

    I find interlaken attractive more so as a base for exploring the Bernese Oberlands.

    What surorises me is the Rather tacky Hooters located in Hoheweg right next door to a 1000chf a night hotel built iver 150 years ago!!

  2. Jean LeJeune Wednesday June 30th, 2021 at 07:05 PM · Reply

    My husband’s cousins live in Lauterbrunnen and we went to visit two years ago. He has been there many times and it just gets more beautiful. Of course we took the Ost!

  3. Esther Rookes Wednesday June 30th, 2021 at 07:32 PM · Reply

    The history of interlaken is fascinating. I miss visiting and look forward to next time

  4. Gabrielle Wednesday June 30th, 2021 at 10:56 PM · Reply

    Thank you for explaining this!

  5. Tim Osborn Tuesday July 6th, 2021 at 06:47 PM · Reply

    Great article, loved reading Swiss watching reminded me of my Swiss family. Would love to read a slow train to Switzerland

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