A million people on top of Europe

High in the Swiss alps, the Aletsch glacier, various mountain climbers’ huts and the Sphinx observatory all seem to be impossibly far from the “real” world. At almost 4,000 metres above sea level, the air is thin and the terrain can be dangerous. However, the 2015 statistics from the Jungfrau Railway show that they’re not as far from the everyday world as they feel.

Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

The ten-kilometre railway line from Eigergletscher to the Jungfraujoch was tunnelled through the inside of the towering mountains at Kleine Scheidegg at the turn of the twentieth century. Building work began in 1896 and was completed – mainly through manual labour – sixteen years later. Since then, the line to the highest train station in Europe has become steadily more and more popular.

Kleine Scheidegg with Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, photographed from the Lauberhorn

The mountains through which the Jungfraujoch railway tunnel winds

In 2015, the trip is one of the top-rated excursions in the country, despite the expensive sFr. 200.– return ticket. Last year saw the largest number of annual visitors ever: just over a million trips were made to the summit station. In December, thanks mainly to the un-seasonally mild weather, the caretaker of the Mönchsjochhütte opened the hut especially for seasonal tourists. According to the tourist organisation, several hundred people took advantage of the offer every day.

Walkers en route to the Mönchjochshütte

Walkers en route to the Mönchjochshütte

Although the local tourism industry is grateful for the success, the sheer volume is leading to a necessity for the Jungfrau Railway to start making changes. Although three-quarters of the reviews on Tripadvisor have received full marks, many comments relate to over-crowding. In particular on the station platforms and the trains, the latter of which are often standing-room only despite the occasionally steep gradients and 1¾-hour trip from the valley floor. The destination was completely booked out on 44 days in 2015, reaching the summer daily limit of 5,000 people.

Changes in 2016 are a requirement for seat reservations, and an increased timetable frequency. Whether this will reduce the problems of so many visitors to such a small destination remains to be seen; the CEO of the railway wants to maintain the current limits on daily visitors, but help those who visit to do so without the chaos of recent years.

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