In snowy winters, clearing the tracks on the Gornergrat is a major challenge. Train driver Adrian tells us how it is done.
The thermometer shows a cold -10 degrees. Adrian can see his own breath in the cold winter air. It’s 5 am on the Gornergrat. He takes a sip of hot coffee and looks into the distance, where masses of snow are piled up in front of him. This January morning in 2018, the snow station measures 334 cm of snow. Adrian does not yet know that, together with his colleagues, he will be working on the snowplough for 92 days this winter and that a total of 13 metres of snow will fall over the winter.
The only thing that is certain is that he and his colleagues have to move huge masses of snow in order for the Gornergrat Railway to continue operating. While the village is still asleep, they get to work.
Adrian loves his job as a snow clearer. Even as a young boy, he was fascinated by it. His father was also a train driver and explained to him just what it means to work on the mountain:
“The snowplough is pushed by a railcar and can remove around 3,000 tonnes of snow from the tracks every hour. Together they weigh 40 tonnes,” he said.
As Adrian knows today, snow clearing doesn’t just involve driving a snowplough. In addition, there are six other workers on board. They disembark in groups of two at the Riffelberg, Rotenboden and Gornergrat stations and clear the points and racks of snow and ice – by hand. Only together and as a team can the men hope to be successful on the mountain against the masses of snow.
New “monster” in action
In 2023, Adrian is working with a new snow-clearing vehicle. This is because the snowblower from the 1970s was no longer able to keep up in the record winter of 2017/18.
“In a first step, the new snow-clearing vehicle can clear a width of 3.6 meters. The snow blowers are driven by a 300 kW electric motor. The track plough between the axles is responsible for clearing the snow that has been left between the tracks,” explains Adrian proudly.
Today, it is his turn to look into the bright eyes of children when he tells his daughter about his work.