Monday, 28 October 2013

The Spectacular Pilatus Railway in Switzerland

The Gorgeous Pilatus railway in Switzerland connects Alpnachstad on Lake Lucerne, to a terminus close to the summit of Mount Pilatus at an altitude of 2,073 meter. The incredible track climbs a slope of over 1,600 meters in just 4.6 kilometer, making it the steepest track railway in the world. It has an average gradient of 38% and a maximum of 48% steeper than the steepest street in the world. This arduous project was planned to build to propose in 1873, suggesting a 1,435 mm standard gauge and 25% maximal gradient. Therefore it was concluded that the project would not be economically viable.

The mastermind engineer Eduard Locher, with great practical experience & knowledge devised a devised an exclusive system with the maximal grade raised to 48% to cut the length of the route in half. Conventional systems at the time could not handle such gradients since the vertical cogwheel that is pressed to the rack from above May, under higher gradients, jump out of the engagement with the rack, eliminating the train’s main driving and braking power. As an alternative, Eduard Locher placed a horizontal double rack between the two rails with the rack teeth facing each side. This was engaged by two cogwheels carried on vertical shafts under the car.

This design eliminated the option of the cogwheels climbing out of the rack, and as well prevented the car from toppling over, even under the stern cross winds common in the area. The system was also able of guiding the car without the required for flanges on the wheels. Definitely, the first cars on Pilatus had no flanges on running wheels but they were later added to let cars to be moved through tracks without rack rails during maintenance. The line was opened using steam traction on 4 June 1889 and was electrified on 15 May 1937, using an overhead electric supply of 1550 V DC.

The original 32-passenger steam cars averaged 3 to 4 KM per hour and took over an hour to arrive at the summit. These day’s 40-passenger electric cars run at 9 kilometers/h and make the trip in about half an hour. The line still uses the original rack rails that are now over 100 years old. While they have worn down, it was found that this can be fixed by simply turning the rails over, providing a new wearing surface that would be enough for the next century as well. The scenery route operates between May and November, when the cog railway is not buried by snow, with trains departing every 45 minutes during the day. In winter, access to Mount Pilatus is only achievable via cable car.