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The SLF Story
This railroad is part of the FS (Ferrovie dello Stato) system. It runs north from Domodossola, through the Toce river valley and Passo San Giacomo, to Oberwald in Switzerland. The change from Italian to Swiss systems actually takes place at Oberwald.
SLF (blue line) from near Crevoladossola to Passo San Giacomo
Dottore Ingeniere Bacco pioneered this route at the turn of the century. He envisioned a railway over the Alps even while others were contemplating the massive effort that would eventually result in the Simplon Tunnel. Borrowing a page from infamous North American railroad barons, Dr. Bacco financed his effort largely through the sale of land that constituted the only usable right of way between Domodossola and the south portal of the Simplon. Unfortunately, the completion of the Simplon provided a better, faster connection to the countries north, and the SLF ended up in financial ruin. The FS and SBB took over the line, but service was sparse.
As Italy industrialized, this entire northwest corner of the country began to figure significantly in such diverse endeavors as agriculture, building materials, hydroelectric power, and chemical production. Proximity to the important international connection of the Simplon ensured easy transport to markets both north and south.
Artist's conception of the aerial view looking north from Lago Maggiore to the Simplon - Click on the picture to enlarge it
World War II
The area saw some excitement during the closing months of WWII. Italy had surrendered in September of 1943, but the northern half of the country remained occupied by Nazi forces and Italian units still loyal to the Fascist movement. The Toce valley and the surrounding countryside was a hotbed of underground partisan activity, and even though rail connection to Switzerland was suspended, some sabotage of rail facilities was carried out.
Partisan activity was so successful that in the Fall of 1944, the entire area was part of the self-proclaimed "Independent Republic of Ossola." This heroic but futile action was suppressed after only a month and a half, nevertheless it proved to the Allies and the Italian people that it would only be a matter of time before the Germans were driven from the country. Fearing reprisals (that never materialized) after the fall of the short-lived republic, many civilians fled to neutral Switzerland via the Simplon Tunnel and over the Pass.
Ironically, in the final weeks of the war a garrison of German troops attempted to ride the rails to neutral sanctuary in Switzerland. Quick action by partisans foiled the Germans, but the sabotage blocked the line just north of Formazza until the mid-Fifties.
As Europeans prospered, more time and money became available for leisure pursuits. Local authorities recognized this trend, and successfully lobbied the FS to restore the line as a means of getting to the new resort and ski areas of this alpine area. Though still secondary to the Simplon route, the old SLF still carries freight and passengers over the Alps daily.
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