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Express tourism on the Eiger

More turmoil to come under the North Face of the Eiger? © Thanthia, flickr

The North Face of the Eiger in the Bernese Oberland is an inspiration for every mountaineer. A new railway project is now intended to make the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains even more accessible. Swiss environmental groups are, however, critical of the project.

The Jungfraubahnen AG company is seeking to refurbish its rail lines by 2016. A new lift system from the Grindelwald to the Eiger glacier is also being planned, the so-called Eiger Express. This will allow even more visitors to reach Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch, in record time. The operators argue that this will keep Switzerland competitive as a tourist region, creating and preserving jobs while boosting the local economy.

But what seems at first glance obvious, might in fact backfire. The Eiger Express allows visitors to be transported at high speeds. But express tourists leave behind little by way of value-added. Christian von Almen, a local businessman and an opponent of the project, states: “The unique Alpine landscape just becomes a backdrop when tourism is aimed solely at producing a spectacle for tourist groups”. In the long term, the population of the valley, tourists seeking peace and quiet and above all the unique scenery of the mountain trio formed by the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau would also suffer.

The project would, according to environmental organisations, be a major blot on the landscape as the construction of the Eiger Express would cut across the world-famous North Face of the Eiger. The area forms part of a UNESCO world heritage site and is listed in the federal inventory of landscapes and natural monuments of national importance. This is also why environmental organisations are demanding an appraisal of the landscape effects.

In October 2014, the voters of Grindelwald are going to the polls to vote on the change to the zone plan needed for the railway project – thus also voting on the development of tourism in their region. It is up to them whether the tourist infrastructures will be further upgraded or whether the Jungfraujoch will remain an unspoilt emblem of the region and beyond.

Source and further information: http://www.eiger-express-nein.ch/ (de), http://bo.bernerzeitung.ch/Region/dossier2.html?dossier_id=2298 (de), http://www.jungfrauzeitung.ch/news/dossier/10125/ (de)