By PHILIPP JENNE
ZERMATT, Switzerland (AP) — A train packed with tourists left from a snowbound resort town near Switzerland’s famed Matterhorn peak Wednesday, marking the resumption of railway service that had been halted for two days because of avalanche risks and had stranded around 13,000 visitors.
The Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn train, with a capacity for 250 people, eased out of Zermatt station after teams cleared huge snowdrifts from the more than a meter (39 inches) of snow that blanketed the region over a one-day period, coating railways and roads.
“After being cut off for almost two days, Zermatt can now be accessed by train again,” the local tourism office said. Teams were working “as a matter of urgency” to try to open roads to the bucolic Swiss Alpine town.
The move came as Switzerland’s avalanche institute, SLF, lowered the avalanche risk from the highest level, five, to four earlier Wednesday.
Local officials had initially hoped to get trains moving earlier, but the timetable was delayed after helicopter crews spotted a new snow mass left over from an avalanche days earlier.
Mayor Romy Biner-Hauser said “heavier machinery was needed … and that’s why the operation is live only now again.” She said she expected roads to be passable sometime Thursday.
A helicopter “air bridge” ferried down hundreds of passengers Tuesday and early Wednesday as ground travel became all but impossible, and other helicopter teams were also deployed to trigger controlled avalanches to release snow buildup.
Frank Techel, an SLF avalanche forecaster, said roughly three to four meters (about 10-13 feet) of snow had been dumped on the Zermatt area so far this year, which he called an “extraordinary” amount for the region in such a short span.
Local officials said no lives were ever in danger and the situation was calm, with cafes open and many streets walkable.
“The guests and local residents weren’t placed in any danger at any time — they had power and supplies,” the tourism office said.
Some visitors were more upset that nearby ski slopes were closed than getting stranded in the posh, picturesque resort town.
“Unfortunately, no skiing today,” said Kurt Tulleners, a visitor from Hong Kong, before the train service resumed. “So yeah, we’re just kind of stuck.”
Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.