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BVZ Zermatt-Bahn:

125 years of momentous history

The history of the BVZ Zermatt-Bahn (BVZ), which began near the end of the 19th century, was capped in 2003 with its merger with the Furka Oberalp Bahn to become the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. The railway originally came into being thanks to the fascinating appeal of the Matterhorn. After the first ascent was achieved by British climber Eduard Whymper in 1865, the 4478-metre-high mountain and the entire region enjoyed ever-increasing popularity. Zer-matt, however, was still only accessible by foot in those days and the demand for a railway line into the Matterhorn village was therefore great.

Only a summer operation initially

This led to the start of construction in 1888 of the metre gauge railway Visp-Zermatt-Bahn – which was the name of the BVZ Zermatt-Bahn at the time. Three years later, on 18 July 1891, the en-tire 44-km-long route from Visp to Zermatt was opened. However, due to the risk of avalanches and the fact that tourism was still limited to the summer, the narrow gauge railway operated ini-tially from June to September only. Just a few years after operations began, the number of pas-sengers had already significantly exceeded ex-pectations. This positive development for the railway was due in large part to the opening of the Gornergrat Railway in 1898 along with the Sim-plon Tunnel (1906) and the Lötschbergbahn (1913). Unfortunately, this growth was halted ab-ruptly by the outbreak of World War I. The com-bination of a drastic decline in tourist numbers and a rise in coal prices caused problems for the railway and led to heavy financial losses. It was not until 1927 that passenger volumes regained their pre-war levels.

Electrification and year-round service

The Visp-Zermatt-Bahn was always focused on offering its passengers the highest comfort possi-ble. As a result, it replaced its steam locomotives with electric engines in 1929, and the long-awaited section of track from Visp to Brig was finally opened on 6 June 1930. However, it was only in June 1962 that the name was changed to the Brig-Visp-Zermatt-Bahn. Thanks to the new section of track, the route from Zermatt to St. Moritz with the Visp-Zermatt-Bahn, the Furka Oberalp Bahn and the Rhaetian Railway was now passable all year, and thus the largest Swiss nar-row gauge railway network was formed. Efforts and attempts by the BVZ to maintain rail service to Zermatt during the winter as well had been un-derway for a long time. However, this goal was only achieved in 1933 because of the weather conditions and lack of avalanche protection structures. The effects were felt immediately, as Zer-matt began to expand its range of tourism ser-vices on an ongoing basis.

Electrification and year-round service

The Visp-Zermatt-Bahn was always focused on offering its passengers the highest comfort possi-ble. As a result, it replaced its steam locomotives with electric engines in 1929, and the longawaited section of track from Visp to Brig was finally opened on 6 June 1930. However, it was only in June 1962 that the name was changed to the Brig-Visp-Zermatt-Bahn. Thanks to the new section of track, the route from Zermatt to St. Moritz with the Visp-Zermatt-Bahn, the Furka Oberalp Bahn and the Rhaetian Railway was now passable all year, and thus the largest Swiss narrow gauge railway network was formed. Efforts and attempts by the BVZ to maintain rail service to Zermatt during the winter as well had been underway for a long time. However, this goal was only achieved in 1933 because of the weather conditions and lack of avalanche protection structures. The effects were felt immediately, as Zer-matt began to expand its range of tourism ser-vices on an ongoing basis.

Modernisierung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Wie schon 1914 bis 1918 brachen die Passagierzahlen der Visp-Zermatt-Bahn auch während des Zweiten Weltkrieges ein – zumindest jene ausländische Touristen betraf. Dank Schweizer Reisenden und regelmässigen Militärtransporten konnte die Bahn ihren Betrieb weiterführen. Auch tangierte der wiederum steigende Kohlepreis die Bahn nicht mehr, da diese seit 1929 elektrisch betrieben wurde. In den Jahrzehnten nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg modernisierte die BVZ Rollmaterial und Infrastruktur laufend. So wurden die Personenwagen erneuert, praktisch alle Brücken auf der Strecke durch Stahlbetonbauten ersetzt, Lawinenschutzbauten erweitert und ein Streckenblocksystem zur Erhöhung der Sicherheit eingesetzt. Dem zunehmenden Passagieraufkommen begegnete die Bahn im Jahr 1972 mit der Einführung eines regelmässigen Pendelverkehrs zwischen Täsch und Zermatt. 2006 konnte die BVZ Holding den Matterhorn Terminal Täsch eröffnen – eine moderne Umsteigeplattform für die Besucher Zermatts, die mit dem Auto anreisen.

100 Jahre BVZ im Zeichen von Unwettern

Das Jahr 1991 hätte für die Brig-Visp-Zermatt-Bahn ein erfreuliches werden sollen, gab es doch das hundertjährige Jubiläum zu feiern. Stattdessen ereigneten sich in diesem Jahr gleich mehrere Felsstürze, bei denen zwar keine Personen zu Schaden kamen, jedoch grosse Teile des Bahntrassees. Beim Felssturz vom 18. April 1991 stürzten nordwestlich von Randa riesige Felsbrocken auf die Schienen, so dass der Verkehr auf die Strasse verlegt werden musste. Drei Wochen später rutschte der Berg erneut ab und staute die Vispa auf. Der untere Dorfteil von Randa wurde überschwemmt, und nach heftigen Regenfällen stand Mitte Juni auch der Bahnhof unter Wasser. Ein knapp drei Kilometer langes Stück des BVZ-Trassees wurde am 1. August an einer neuen Stelle in Betrieb genommen, jedoch kurz darauf ebenfalls überschwemmt. Am 10. August konnte der Bahnbetrieb endlich wieder regulär aufgenommen werden. Die für Juli 1991 vorgesehenen Feierlichkeiten anlässlich des Jubiläums waren auf den Herbst verschoben werden. Der Gesamtschaden für die BVZ belief sich auf mehrere Millionen Schweizer Franken.

The name of the railway was also changed once again in 1991 – it then became known as the BVZ Zermatt-Bahn. On 28 June 1999, the sharehold-ers of the railway finally agreed to the conversion of the company into BVZ Holding AG. This was a key preliminary decision for the eventual merger with the Furka Oberalp Bahn (as it was known at the time) to become the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn in January 2003.