I plan on doing these routes in the last week of February. Will the trains be completely packed or empty? Debating whether taking these particular trains or doing the locals with transfers. Thoughts or suggestions? I have a Eurail pass.
I did part of what was basically I believe to be Bernita Express Taking a local out of Chur and going over the famed viaduct. My experience with that train and its Windows was such that if I was doing it over and had the time and the money I would take the tourist trains as it is my understanding that they have much better windows. It is not that you couldn’t see out the regular windows it is just that thier is SO MUCH. to see that the bigger windows would be advantageous. And if you are taking the train it is presumably to see the scenery so you should see as much of it as you can. I think of this as kind of like spending the money to all the way over thier to say Neu Schwanstien and then spending the extra money to go inside it. Still beautiful but you are spending all that time and money to go there you may as well spend a bit more and see it all.
In my case it was a matter of time. I didn’t have the time to take the full run so I needed the shorter local. It is something I WOULD do differently if I was doing it again. I would adjust my schedule as needed.
Hope that helps a bit.
I haven't taken either, but I am planning the Bernina Express in an upcoming trip to Italy. I have absolutely no interest in Switzerland, but I want to do that train route, so will alter plans to make it fit. It isn't so expensive as it is time consuming.
Have you read about it and watched the videos posted on seat61?
I don't know if you can use the Eurail Pass on it, but I would certainly consider at least one of these.
We took the Brenina Express early March 2017 on a mid-week day from Klosters-Davos to Italy and back the same day. The Bernina Expresss Panoramic cars required seat reservations. We booked a day before and got the last two seats in the Panoramic Second Class cars. There may have been more seats in the standard (not panoramic) cars and First Class.
BTW the end of the panoramic cars (doors) had operable windows if you don't want glass between the views and your camera.
It's ski season, so people will use trains to get to and from ski areas and weekends may be busier than mid-week. When I took the Glacier Express on a Saturday last March, I did book ahead and my 1st-class car was quite full, more so than any other train I took on that trip. I did not walk through the train to check other cars. Your rail pass covers either type of train. If you don't want to book ahead or don't want to pay for seat reservations, then those unreserved trains with the extra connections will always be an option for you.
Don't forget the compulsory reservation which is required for the Bernina Express. If you have a reservation, it won't matter whether the train is packed, as you'll have a guaranteed seat.
If you want to use the panoramic BE cars with the large windows, as I recall that only has one trip each day in each direction.
Second class on the Bernina Express from Tirano to St. Moritz in September 2018 was packed. Ski season in February won't be any better on those trains. I don't know f the Eurail Pass applies, but the route is certainly scenic and worth taking.
I took the Bernina Express from Chur to Tirano last summer, stopping overnight in Pontresina, using local trains for the entire trip. From Chur to Pontresina, second class had somewhat larger than normal windows that didn't open. The view was quite good as long as you didn't want to take photos ... but I did, and the glare made that difficult. The next morning, based on the crowds on the platform, I decided to purchase a first class ticket so I'd have a better chance of being able to move from one side of the train to the other. I figured that I had saved money by not booking a panoramic train so I could justify it, and if I remember right the fare difference (with a half fare card) was on the order of 10 CHF.
That train had older cars with windows that opened. I had only one companion in the first class section of the car, a man who loved trains and had ridden the route several times before, and he kind of narrated the route for me. We had a wonderful time running from one side of the train to the other and hanging out the windows to see the views and photograph them.
I hope you all don't mind me jumping into this thread. My family of 3 will be taking the train from Lucerne to Milan. If I understand correctly, there are tourist trains and the Swiss train (SBB). The tourist trains are the Bernina Express, Glacier Express and Golden Pass (please correct me if I'm wrong). My husband and daughter have never been to Switzerland and I want them to be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Is it worth it to take one of the tourist trains or can you see as much beauty taking the SBB? I definitely don't want to ride on a train that just goes through tunnels. I understand the Bernina Express has beautiful views but can take 10 hours. Is there another alternative to the Bernina that has beautiful views but won't take as long?
SBB = Swiss Federal Railways. They run most (but not all) the rail routes in Switzerland. Who runs the trains is not very important.
All rail routes in Switzerland have at least one train per hour - an important fact not to forget. The Bernina Express, Glacier Express and Golden Pass trains are extra trains on top of this hourly service. They follow the same routes, and you see the same mountains as you do on the normal trains. They do however have larger panoramic windows, meal service etc.
All train routes have some tunnels. that is inevitable.
"I understand the Bernina Express has beautiful views but can take 10 hours." The Bernina route is Chur - St Moritz - Bernina Pass- Tirano. It takes 4 to 4½ hours. This route goes over the Alps, hence the views. The trouble is you are then on the opposite side of the Alps. OK if that is where you want to be, otherwise it takes an equal time to get back.
Since you are going from Luzern to Milan, you could take the direct route (3½ hours), which goes through the new Gotthard base tunnel, the longest rail tunnel in the World. OR you could go Luzern - Chur - Tirano - Milan, i.e. via the Bernina route "over the top", which would take 9-10 hours. You could do this in one day, or split it up with a night in a town along the route.
You can look up train times on the SBB website: https://www.sbb.ch/en
Going from Luzern to Milano the most ideal scenic tourist train is the Gotthard Panorama Express.
I took the Bernina Express this past April. I know people say you can take the local train for less. Sometimes in life it pays to spend a little more.
Take the Bernina Express. Not only do you get bigger windows but my train stopped to allow passengers to get off and get better photos.
I took the Glacier Express from Zermatt to Chur and then the Bernina Express from Chur to Tirano. (Not in one day.)
The train was pretty full. I was in first and it was full. This is a popular route and I doubt you'll see many empty seats.
But then the Glacier Express has mandatory seat reservations, so even if you are the last on board, your seat will be there.