St. Moritz

Strassenbahn St. Moritz

This postcard which is numbered 15129, was produced by Wehrli A.G. of Kilchberg, Zurich in 1919, our copy being posted in that same year. It shows a tram of the Strassenbahn St. Moritz heading down the hill from St. Moritz-Dorf to St. Moritz-Bad. The tram is on the passing loop at the Englische Kirche. The town of St. Moritz Dorf can be seen in the background. The tram shelter (Trambänklein) just visible on the right still exists today, albeit in use as a bus shelter, and is the only surviving relic of the tramway.

St. Moritz (San Murezzan in the locally spoken Romansh language) is in the Upper Engadine in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. It is in two parts, on the hillside St. Moritz Dorf (town) with its expensive luxury hotels, and in the valley bottom St. Moritz Bad (spa) which has a reputation for its spring water rich in iron and carbonic acid. Originally just an alpine village, St. Moritz developed into the internationally famous winter sports venue it is today (including the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948) after tourism, mostly by the British, began in the late 19th century. The nearby Cresta Run down to the village of Celerina for skeleton racing toboggans was created in 1884 and proximity to the mountains and glaciers encouraged other winter pastimes. In the summer tourists visited the Kurhaus for the waters.

Initially Dorf and Bad were connected by horse bus for the benefit of summer visitors to the spa, but in 1892 the design for a tramway by C.J. Schumacher, an engineer from Lucerne, was accepted and a concession was granted for the Strassenbahn St. Moritz company to build and operate the line. Construction by Huder-Walt of Chur began in 1894 (the first nominated contractor, Ghielmetti of Dietikon, having dropped out) with electrical installations being undertaken by Schuckert & Co. of Nuremberg (who merged with Siemans & Halske in 1903), but work could only be undertaken during the summer months. Wood for overhead masts was obtained locally but other supplies had to come in via devious rail routes through Italy to Chiavenna and then over the Maloja pass. After inspection on 3rd October 1895, the tramway opened to the public on 5th July 1896 with what was always to be a summertime only service. From the outset the company had huge debts arising from the construction costs, and revenues were insufficient to service that debt in most years, subsidies being received from the town.

The single track metre gauge tramway was 1.6 km long with double track stubs at each terminus and a passing loop in the middle. It started from the Postplatz in St. Moritz Dorf (1823 metres above sea level) just in front of the Hotel Schweizerhof (built in 1898 and known throughout much of the life of the tramway as Hotel Suisse), and a short distance from the bottom station of the Chantarellabahn funicular (opened 1913). Most of the line followed the Via dal Bagn running downhill at a maximum gradient of 5.5% and a tightest curve of 30m radius. Fine views of the St. Moritz Lake could be seen on the way. There were stops at the hotels, Casper Badrutt, Belvedere, Bellevue and Central before reaching the loop at Englische Kirche where our postcard photograph was taken. From there it continued past the Hotel du Lac and crossed the River Inn (En in Romansh) by bridge before reaching a stop at St. Moritz Post and the final terminus at St. Moritz Bad Stahlbad (1775 metres a.s.l.) where the depot was also located. The tram ran every 12 minutes from about 7.30 in the morning to 7.30 in the evening. The journey time was 8 minutes with the tram waiting 4 minutes at each terminus. The fare was 20 rappen (cents of the Swiss Franc) single and 30 rappen return with a price reduction for the purchase of multiple tickets.

The rolling stock consisted of four small trams numbered 1 - 4. They were built in 1895 in Nuremberg by Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg AG (MAN) and with electrical equipment by Schuckert & Co. As with much of the other electrical equipment, the trams were transported from Nuremberg by train to Chur, where they were dismantled and carried by horse and cart via Lenzerheide, the Julier pass and Silvaplana to the depot at St. Moritz Bad for reassembly. The tiny cars were on simple 4-wheel 1.6 metre wheelbase trucks and with two 20 horsepower motors. The bodies were just 6 metres long (2 m wide and 3.6 m high) and seated 10 with 12 standing passengers. The maximum speed was 20 kph although the running speed on the line was restricted to 16 kph. They weighed 7 tons. The line voltage was 500 volts DC (later raised to 550 volts) and current collection was by trolley pole. There was also one small flat wagon on which a tower ladder could be temporarily mounted. The trams were painted dark blue with white lining. The waist panels carried the title "Elektrische Strassenbahn" in German on one side and "Tramway électrique" in French on the other. The rocker panel carried a "winged wheel" emblem and in the early days the name of the electrical contractor Schuckert & Co. Around 1920 the cars became white with light blue rocker panels. These rocker panels carried the title "STRASSENBAHN ST.MORITZ". The colour given to the tram in our postcard is incorrect. The initial ideas had been that there should be three somewhat larger and more powerful trams, but the smaller cars where thought more suitable for the gradients. As the line only had the one passing loop and a 12 minute interval, only two cars were needed to run the route, but two uncoupled cars could be run together in each direction at peak periods. In 1919/20 the cars received a major overhaul during which they were fitted with windscreens enclosing the platforms.

Over the years several extensions to the tramway were considered, a loop line round Bad, a route from Bad to the lake at Champfèr and an extension from Dorf to St. Moritz railway station and beyond, but none were constructed due to lack of funds. The Rhätische Bahn from Chur over the Albula line reached St. Moritz Station in 1904 (the Berninabahn in 1909). A link to the town centre by tram would have been most useful as the walk from the station to the town centre is about 800 metres all uphill.

Tourism and hence tramway traffic fell off badly during the Great War and in 1917 the operation of the tramway was taken over by the town authority (gemeinde). The fares were then halved for town residents. For a while traffic improved but the line rarely made a large profit except in 1928 (37,378 Swiss Francs). This was the high water mark for the tramway and was due to the holding of the Second Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. This was in fact the first true Winter Olympics held as such, as that four years earlier in Chamonix was just a week of winter sports as part of the normal games, and was only named as the Winter Olympics retrospectively. The events were held on 11th to 19th February and the traffic figures suggest that the tramway must have run at that time. In 1926 buses started operating in the area and by 1930 the drop in tourism as a result of the world economic downturn caused a collapse in tramway traffic to half the previous average. As a result it was decided to replace the trams by buses and the last car ran on 18th September 1932. Today "Engadin Bus" still operates a shuttle service between Dorf and Bad over much of the old tram route but as you might expect it does also continue to the railway station.

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