Landwasser Viaduct

Landwasser Viaduct in Winter

The country of Switzerland has many large areas that are covered with enormous mountains. Before the 19th century, this terrain made it very difficult to travel across the country. In addition to its challenging terrain, cold winters often create frequent and deep snowfall. Although beautiful, this makes travel of any kind quite a challenge.

Location of the Landwasser Viaduct, Switzerland Location of the Landwasser Viaduct

The Swiss railway engineers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had to be creative, innovative, and downright courageous to build a railway network as complex as required by the country's mountainous geography. A major limitation of rail transport is its sensitivity to grade changes. As such, engineers had to plan and construct many bridges and tunnels to cross rivers and canyons and to pass through mountains in order to keep railways as level as possible.

One of the most impressive feats was the construction of the Landwasser Viaduct on the Albula railway near Filisur village, in the canton of Graubünden. It is a perfect example of the combination of bridge and tunnel construction so common throughout the country of Switzerland.

Completed and operational by October 1902, this single track railway is one of the more famous in the world today. The Landwasser tunnel exits its mountain through a shear rock cliff. Engineers had to begin the viaduct starting at the end of this tunnel. The bridge stands at 213 feet at its tallest point. It has six arches, each spanning 65 feet in length. It was completed in a mere 13 months.

landwasser viaduct construction Photographed 1901 - photo credit: Rhaetian Railway

The Landwasser Viaduct became famous among engineers because of new techniques employed during its construction. Unlike arched bridges of the past, no scaffolding was used to build the pillars. Instead, steel towers were built and the limestone pillars were constructed around them. Wooden scaffolding was still used to construct the arches connecting the pillars together at their tops. The tunnel at the end of the viaduct was bored with drilling machines to a length of 709 feet. All totaled the viaduct required 12,033 cubic yards of masonry and cost CHF 280,000 (7.8 million in 2014 US Dollars). This bridge and tunnel were crucial in the completion of the Rhaetian Railway. Making travel from Zurich to Thusis and on to St. Moritz much more speedy and reliable.

This railway is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. Passing through seemingly endless tunnels and over marvelous bridges, all the while surrounded by the natural beauty of the Alpine mountain range. Many mountain villages are serviced by this line, themselves adding to the beauty of the region. This railway was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in July 2008. The first railway to receive such an award.

landwasser construction longitudinal Photograph by G. Lorenz, 1902
photo credit: Rhaetian Railway

landwasser arches construction photo credit: Grace's Guide


Originally published
Updated August 2019
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

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Landwasser Viaduct - Albula railway, Switzerland

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