130 years of railway pleasure in Graubünden – and who invented it?

It wasn't anyone from Switzerland who got the trains started in Graubünden at the end of the nineteenth century, but someone from the lowlands, a seafarer in fact.

Erika Suter, Editor, 06. November 2019

In 1888, the Dutchman Willem Jan Holsboer founded the “Schmalspurbahn Landquart – Davos AG” narrow-gauge railway company thus laying the foundation stone for the development of Rhaetian Railway (RhB). In the spring of that year, construction began on the first section of what was to become the RhB. The Dutch captain and merchant came to Davos in 1867 with his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis, in the hope that the fresh mountain air would help her recover. Unfortunately the illness had the upper hand, but Holsboer remained true to his new home after the death of his wife – for which the Graubünden railway is eternally grateful. Thanks to the dynamic entrepreneur, the first scheduled train chugged its way from Landquart to Klosters exactly 130 years ago, on 9 October 1889.

With a slight delay ...

Actually it was standard practice to have new sections of track opened on the first of the month, but a landslide in Klosters spoiled the planners’ schedule in the autumn of 1889. So the official opening took place on 9 October, with just over a week's delay. It was not, however, the first time that a locomotive from Landquart had entered what was then a terminus station in Klosters: on 29 September 1889, ten days before the public opening, the inaugural train carrying invited passengers had already taken the journey to Klosters. With 272 HP, the two locomotives G 3/4 No. 1 and 3 safely brought their illustrious passengers to their destination on the first official use. From summer 1890 Davos Platz could also be reached: in those days just four trains a day travelled the 50-kilometre stretch on the narrow-gauge railway Landquart-Davos (LD). While the mountain trip through Prättigau took three to four hours – depending on the number of tank stops for the steam trains –, the trip through the valley took one to one and a half hours less time.

... but at exactly the right time

The start of railway operations was at exactly the right time for the Swiss canton of Graubünden: the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in 1882 had effectively stopped transit traffic from one day to the next; the canton looked as if it would be losing touch. It is down to the commitment and ambitious entrepreneurial spirit of Willem Jan Holsboer that RhB today runs through the spectacular Graubünden landscape like a red lifeline charging its way through to the most remote places in the canton. The modest 50 kilometres of the first section have now grown to become a network of 385 kilometres with 115 tunnels and 624 bridges. And even though the foundation stone for this impressive achievement was originally laid by a Dutchman, there is still very definitely a good reason to celebrate 130 years of railway culture in Graubünden. So here's wishing you a Happy Birthday, RhB!

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