Capturing the Landwasser Viaduct
Photography: Mirko Nicholson
Words: Laura Pendlebury
We were driving through Switzerland from Laax to Filisur in search of the Landwasser Viaduct; a single track, six-arched curved limestone railway bridge standing at 65 metres high and 136 metres long. We drove between mountains, snaked around fields and small, picturesque towns. The closer we were to our destination, the narrower and more twisting the roads became. At one point the gravel covered lane opened out onto a deserted, steeply sloped field where the path abruptly ended and became a simple, mud-covered dirt track. Carefully rolling the car down the field, windows open to listen for the pop of a tyre giving up against terrain it was not designed for, we edged our way towards the small village below us. Leaving the car in a quiet, empty railway station car park, we set off towards the viaduct, an impressive structure designed by Alexander Acatos and built between 1901 and 1902 by Müller and Zeerleder for the Rhaetian Railway. Following a small wooden sign, we made our way through a peaceful, densely packed forest to a wooden viewing platform jutting boldly out from the side of the mountain. Although this gave us a great view of the viaduct itself, we were disappointed. We wanted to be directly above the viaduct, looking straight down onto the tracks below. We could make out a viewing platform in this exact position in the distance, although there was no clear path up to it, and decided to wait for one train to pass before heading that way. Initially we waited with excitement, camera poised expectantly, ready to capture the iconic Glacier Express the second it thundered past. Several minutes later, the train had not passed and the camera was lowered slightly. Half an hour of waiting found us sitting with our backs against the wooden platform, eyes closed, basking lazily in the hazy heat of the summer afternoon. After nearly an hour a man carrying several gigantic camera lenses hurried up the path to join us, ‘Have you seen the train yet?’ he panted urgently. ‘Nope… not one.’ Eventually, after over an hour of waiting we heard the distant rumble and screech of metal pierce the stillness of the valley. Immediately jolted out of our sleepy daze we jumped to our feet, snatching up the camera and finally, the Glacier Express thundered across the viaduct in front of us, curving around the bend and over the valley before it disappeared into the tunnel and silence descended upon the mountain once more. We immediately set off for the second viewing platform, determined to make it before the next train stormed out of the tunnel. Hurriedly following a narrow path in the vague direction of the viaduct, we wound around the mountain, crossed the train line and passed through a series of empty fields, the late afternoon glow casting lengthening shadows across the shaded valley. The silence of our surroundings was intensified by the fact it was deserted; we passed no one else on our way there. Curving steeply upwards, we left the path and clambered over a series of small rocks, the route we had taken getting steeper as we reached the top and finishing up on top of the actual railway line itself. We walked alongside the track before crossing the line and climbed up the short slope to the wooden platform above us. No other train had gone past since, so we knew that this time we would not have long to wait. The immediate rumble and screech echoing around the mountains told us we were just in time.