Background

The Postbus conquered the Gotthard 100 years ago

The first Postbuses travelled over the Gotthard Pass in June 1922. The catalyst for the legendary leisure tour was actually an economic crisis, similar to what has occurred with the coronavirus pandemic. Transport historian Kilian T. Elsasser knows the backstory.

Katharina Merkle

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Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s.   (Image source: Museum of Communication)
Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s. (Image source: Museum of Communication)

In the 19th century, up to 60,000 people were still braving the important north-south route over the Gotthard by mail coach every year. The Gotthard railway made the pass one of the most important transalpine routes from 1882. Mail coaches crossed the Gotthard for a total of just 40 years. However, the era of spectacular travel by mail coach from Flüelen to Camerlata has not been forgotten. Rudolf Koller immortalized the mail coach in 1873 with his painting “St Gotthard Mailcoach”, which now hangs in the Kunsthaus Zurich museum. Today, a historical mail coach maintained by an association carries tourists over the pass every summer. “And any regularly staged open-air theatre in Andermatt and Göschenen must have a mail coach,” says transport historian and Gotthard expert Elsasser.

Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s.   (Image source: Museum of Communication)

Army trucks converted into Postbuses

Back to the year 1922, when a new era began: PostBus offers its first journeys over the Gotthard. Travelling by Postbus was quite adventurous, as cabriolets were often used, though it was less bumpy and dusty than making the trip by mail coach. The Gotthard route gave the leisure transport segment at PostBus a boost. The journey from Andermatt to Airolo was no longer taken just to get from A to B, but instead purely for pleasure.

Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s. (Image source: Museum of Communication)

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Transport historian Kilian T. Elsasser

“The catalyst for the new PostBus route over the Gotthard was the post First World War economic crisis. Just as during the recent coronavirus pandemic, there was a lack of passengers from abroad and it was necessary to create attractive offers for the locals. PostBus also had the advantage of receiving trucks from the army free of charge. These were converted into Postbuses,” Elsasser explains.

Transport historian Kilian T. Elsasser

Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s.   (Image source: Museum of Communication)
Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s. (Image source: Museum of Communication)

As popular as ever: multi-pass journeys

Another (literal) big break for the railway was the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016. At 57 kilometres, it is the world’s longest railway tunnel. But the more leisurely PostBus journeys over the pass are just as popular as before. The PostBus route celebrates its 100th anniversary this summer. The journey between Airolo and Andermatt will be offered multiple times a day from 25 June until 9 October 2022. It takes about 50 minutes and can be easily combined with pass journeys in the Central Alps, which vary widely in their scenery and are offered by PostBus every summer. These multi-pass journeys, which are undertaken by 20 drivers each, are among the highlights of Switzerland’s public transport services for tourists.

Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s.   (Image source: Museum of Communication)
Historical photographs of the Postbus journey over the Gotthard from the 1920s. (Image source: Museum of Communication)

written by

Katharina Merkle