Polaris Matterhorn

“Looking ahead with the same courage”

Story 125

In this interview, Fernando Lehner, Director of the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and BVZ Holding AG, looks back on the past 125 years of the Gornergrat Railway and ventures a look into the future. 

Fernando Lehner, the Gornergrat Railway is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2023. What emotions does this trigger in you? 

Fernando Lehner: “I have great respect for what was built 125 years ago. Building a high Alpine railway and trusting that the project would succeed required incredible courage. As Managing Director of the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and Gornergrat Railway, I hope that we will continue to look to the future with the same courage over the next 125 years.” 

How has the company developed since it was founded and what milestones have been reached along the way? 

Fernando Lehner: “Since the start of operations 125 years ago, the railway and the Gornergrat have continued to develop, both technologically and in terms of the variety of services on offer. The story began very impressively with the construction – building such a railway in two years using the technical means available at the time 125 years ago is almost unimaginable from today’s point of view. 

And the construction of the galleries just three decades later to protect the railway from avalanches is equally impressive. This enabled winter operation and the expansion of winter sports from 1928/1929 onwards. The excavation of the tunnel in 1971 was very forward-looking, both in view of the increasingly critical space conditions and with regard to the topic of sustainability, which is so central and important today. Since then, the depot has provided space for 24 carriage units at a constant temperature of 14 degrees without additional air-conditioning equipment. 

In another way, I was fascinated by the record of the largest alphorn orchestra in 2009 on the Gornergrat, which was broken again in 2013 at the same place, and the Swiss wrestling festival in 2014 on the Riffelberg. Recent events include the opening of the interactive exibition "ZOOOM the Matterhorn" and the launch of the new, very customer-friendly multiple-unit trains POLARIS last winter.” 

What do you consider to be the best feature of the Gornergrat Railway? 

Fernando Lehner: “I am particularly proud of our employees, who work hard every day to ensure an unforgettable customer experience. With the breathtaking view of the Matterhorn and the glacier world and the 360° panoramic view of 29 four-thousand-metre peaks, we have a unique selling point in the whole of Switzerland, which never ceases to amaze our guests.” 

How did you celebrate the 125th anniversary? 

Fernando Lehner: “We organised various activities and offers in the anniversary year. The new attractions include, for example, the NostalChic Class, the new photopoint on the Gornergrat and the highest Alpine Garden in Europe. The “Meet the Sheep” offer, which allows visitors to get close to the animals typical of the Valais region, is also very popular.” 

What role does innovation play in the long-term competitiveness of the Gornergrat Railway? 

Fernando Lehner: “Innovation, especially in the area of travel experiences and holidays in the mountains, is essential. That’s why we constantly look at what needs exist, what options there are for implementing them and how they can be realised in harmony with nature. The best examples of this are the Meet the Sheep and Alpine Garden programmes already mentioned. These ideas were drafted and developed together with customers in workshops. Digital support for guests before, during and after their trip is also becoming an increasingly important part of the overall experience. Here, too, it is important to always stay on the ball and, if possible, to be a bit ahead.” 

What challenges does the Gornergrat Railway have to overcome next? 

Fernando Lehner: “We are increasingly seeing that climate change is having an impact on permafrost and thus on geological stability. Nature is our most valuable asset and that means that we will have to handle it even more carefully in the future, which is why we are increasingly focusing on sustainable development. Consequently, the orientation of the Gornergrat as a “close to nature mountain for excursions and adventures” is at the heart of the 2030 vision. 

What is your vision for the future of the Gornergrat Railway? 

Fernando Lehner: “We want to continue to delight our guests in the majestic mountain world with gentle development and outstanding technology. A trip to the Gornergrat should continue to be as impressive an experience as Mark Twain described it in 1878:  

“Authorities agree that there is no such tremendous ‘layout’ of snowy Alpine magnitude, grandeur, and sublimity to be seen from any other accessible point as the tourist may see from the summit of the Riffelberg. The Matterhorn is always experimenting, and always gets up fine effects, too.”  

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