On average, the Gornergrat is covered in snow for 8 months per year. During a winter season the snow clearance team will complete around 90 operations.
40 tonnes of machinery versus immense snow masses
In the winter of 2017/2018 the Gornergrat received a total of 12.9 metres of new snow and in order to clear it all away the snow-blower worked for 92 days. In January alone it cleared 916 kilometres of snow.
On call in winter
When the snow starts in the night the shift begins at 5.00 am. The length of the entire railway track from Zermatt to the Gornergrat is 9,339 metres, almost 4 kilometres of which are double tracks so that trains can pass each other. The snow-blower shifts around 3,000 tonnes of snow per hour from the line – under normal circumstances the track can be cleared to a maximum width of 3.5 metres by 7.00 am. In bad weather the work can easily take several hours longer. Once one line of track has been cleared then work can begin on the second line. When the snowfall is intensive it can happen that after clearing both lines the first has been buried again and the work can start from the beginning once more.
Teamwork is the key
The snow-blower itself cannot drive and therefore has to be pushed by a motorised vehicle. Together, the two machines weigh in at 40 tonnes. The machines are only deployed uphill. On reaching the top the train composition goes into reverse downhill to start on the next track. However, snow clearance is not just a case of driving the snow-blower. The team comprises 7 members: the train driver is responsible for the motorised vehicle and the other 6 team members are on board; they then split into groups of two to clear the points and gear-rack of ice and snow at the Riffelberg, Rotenboden and Gornergrat stations with pickaxes and shovels.