In the 1950s, Zermatt was famous for its breathtaking mountain landscape and the popular Gornergrat Railway. But then Paul Schneller, Director of Gornergrat Railway, was faced with a new challenge: the construction of the Gornergrat-Hohtälli-Stockhorn aerial cableways and the Grande Dixence power plants changed the region. The railway had to change from a purely tourist attraction to a freight railway, which presented numerous challenges.
Major project leads to protests in Zermatt
In 1956, Grande Dixence SA started to build the dam, a project which lasted several years and was completed in 1961. For the massive construction project, tunnels were dug into the ground to channel river water from the Zermatt area to the Dixence reservoir. Initially, the building materials were transported by lorries through the narrow streets of Zermatt. However, it soon became clear that transport was a heavy burden for residents and guests. Resistance grew accordingly.
New transport route
The municipal council of Zermatt and those responsible for Grande Dixence decided to use a different transport route. The goods were first transported by Brig-Visp-Zermatt Railway (BVZ) to Zermatt and then by Gornergrat Railway to Findelbach. From there, the onward transport took place via Furi to the construction sites.
This new route challenged the railway, so action had to be taken quickly. New sidings and a large transfer station were built in 1956/57 in the forest near Findelbach.
Reinforcement of bridges
Transporting heavy loads was another challenge. It soon became clear that the existing bridges over the Vispa and the Findelbach would have to be strengthened. Iron-reinforced concrete and cement injections increased the stability of the bridges.
Transport at night
Transport often took place at night so as not to interfere with daytime traffic.
Locomotive No. 4 was specially converted for freight transport. Transport volumes increased rapidly, from 700 tonnes to over 6,000 tonnes. In 1959 alone, BVZ and GGB transported more than 25,000 tonnes of freight to Findelbach.
By the way: you can catch glimpses of another dam wall called Zmutt from the Gornergrat Railway trains between Findelbach and Riffelberg.