Why Switzerland constructed a 2-kilometer-long prepare

Why Switzerland constructed a 2-kilometer-long prepare

(CNN) — Excessive within the Swiss Alps, St Moritz made its title as a spot for pushing the boundaries of winter sport. By the point it hosted the second Winter Olympics Video games in 1928 its status as a playground for rich adventurers was already effectively established.

On Saturday, the area continued its lengthy custom of increasing the bounds of what’s potential with an epic world file try — not on snow or ice, however on rails.

To have fun the one hundred and seventy fifth anniversary of Switzerland’s first railway, the nation’s rail trade got here collectively to run the world’s longest-ever passenger prepare — 100 vehicles, 2,990 tonnes and nearly two kilometres lengthy.

Fashioned of 25 new “Capricorn” electrical trains the record-breaking 1,906-meter prepare took nearly an hour to cowl round 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) over the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Albula Line from Preda to Alvaneu in jap Switzerland.

Just like the legendary Cresta Run toboggan observe, the Albula Line is legendary for its limitless swooping curves and steep descents. A world-renowned masterpiece of civil engineering, the 62-kilometer line between Thusis and St Moritz took simply 5 years to construct regardless of requiring 55 bridges and 39 tunnels.

Previous to its completion in July 1904, guests confronted a dangerous 14-hour journey over tough tracks in horse-drawn carriages or sledges.

Centerpiece of the road is the 5,866-meter-long Albula Tunnel, which runs deep beneath the watershed between the Rhine and Danube rivers.

Spirals, hovering viaducts and tunnels


The prepare spiraled down a switchback of tracks by means of the mountains.

swiss-image.ch/Philipp Schmidli

Following a part of the route taken by the world-famous Glacier Categorical since 1930, the world file try took within the spectacular Landwasser Viaduct and the extraordinary spirals that secured the road’s worldwide heritage standing.

In lower than 25 kilometers, the prepare plummeted from 1,788 meters above sea degree at Preda to 999.3 meters at Alvaneu, utilizing a succession of spirals, hovering viaducts and tunnels.

The file try was organized by the Rhaetische Bahn (Rhaetian Railway, or RhB), supported by Swiss train-builder Stadler, and is maybe much more astonishing for happening on a slender gauge railway.

Not like most Swiss and European railways, which use the “commonplace” gauge between the rails of 1.435 meters (4 toes 8.5 inches), RhB rails are only one meter aside.

Mix this with a route with notoriously tight curves, steep gradients, 22 tunnels and 48 bridges over deep valleys and the challenges turn into apparent.

Earlier holders of the world’s longest passenger prepare file — Belgium and, earlier than that, the Netherlands — used commonplace gauge railways by means of flat landscapes to their benefit.

Nonetheless, preparations began months forward of the RhB occasion, together with take a look at runs to make sure the distinctive prepare might be operated safely.

“Everyone knows the Albula Line very effectively, each change of gradient, each incline,” mentioned lead driver Andreas Kramer, 46, forward of the massive day. “It goes with out saying that we’re going by means of the method time and again.”

He added: “We should be 100% synchronized, each second. Everybody has to maintain their pace and different techniques beneath management always.”

An preliminary take a look at run resulted in failure earlier than the prepare had even moved when it was found that the emergency brake system couldn’t be activated and the seven drivers couldn’t talk with one another by way of radio or cellphone within the many tunnels.

Kramer, assisted by six different drivers and 21 technicians as a substitute used a brief discipline phone system arrange by the Swiss Civil Safety group to keep up communications because the prepare ran at as much as 35 km/h by means of numerous tunnels and deep valleys.

Specifically modified software program and an intercom between the seven drivers allowed the 25 trains to work in concord. Any mismatch in acceleration or deceleration throughout the journey would have exerted unacceptably excessive forces on tracks and energy provides, creating a serious security situation.

RhB Director Renato Fasciati mentioned: “Switzerland is a railway nation like no different. This 12 months, we’re celebrating 175 years of Swiss railways. With this world file try, RhB and its companions needed to play their half in attaining a pioneering feat that had by no means been seen earlier than.”

Occasion ambiance

The train was made up of 100 cars.

The prepare was made up of 100 vehicles.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Photographs

On the lengthy descent, pace was managed by regenerative braking, much like that used on some electrical vehicles, which fed present again into the 11,000-volt overhead energy provide strains.

Nonetheless, with so many trains in the identical part of line, there was concern that they may feed an excessive amount of present again into the system, overloading each trains and native energy grids. To keep away from this, the highest pace of the prepare was restricted to 35 km/h and software program needed to be modified to limit the ability being fed again.

Further security management cables additionally needed to be fitted all through the prepare to help the usual mechanical and pneumatic connections between trains.

On the massive day, the RhB organized a railway competition at Bergün and three,000 fortunate ticket holders had been in a position to witness the file try by way of a reside TV feed whereas additionally having fun with native leisure and gastronomy. Regular companies by means of the Albula Tunnel to St Moritz and past had been suspended for 12 hours.

Three satellite tv for pc uplinks, 19 cameras in drones and helicopters, on the prepare and alongside the observe filmed the prepare, offering a singular file of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. This alone was a serious problem in a distant, mountainous area with restricted cellular telecoms protection.

A railway nation

The record attempt was organized to celebrate 175 years of Swiss railways.

The file try was organized to have fun 175 years of Swiss railways.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Photographs

For a small nation with a mountainous panorama which, at first look, appears unsuited to railways, Switzerland punches effectively above its weight within the trade.

Necessity has lengthy made it a pioneer in electrical, mechanical and civil engineering and its expertise and experience are exported everywhere in the world.

Engineering feats such because the Gotthard Base Tunnel, opened in 2016, proceed a protracted custom of increasing the boundaries of the potential.

With good cause, the Swiss are the world’s most enthusiastic rail customers, touring a median of two,450 kilometers yearly by prepare — 1 / 4 of their general annual whole. In widespread with different European international locations, mobility has exploded in current many years — the common annual distance travelled by automotive and public transport has doubled within the final 50 years.

They traveled 19.7 billion passenger kilometers by rail in 2019, the final “regular” 12 months earlier than the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021 this fell to 12.5 billion passenger kilometers however as Switzerland celebrates 175 years since its first railway opened between Zürich and Baden, ridership is effectively on the best way again to pre-pandemic ranges.

So excessive are the expectations of public transport customers in Switzerland that even a small delay is a supply of quiet dissatisfaction. And never with out good cause; many journeys in and round Switzerland’s greatest cities are multi-modal, reliant on slick connections between trains, trams, buses and even boats at well-organized interchanges.

In 2021, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) operated 11,260 trains carrying 880,000 passengers and 185,000 tonnes of freight per day on a 3,265 kilometer-long community with 804 stations.

Including the 70-plus “personal” commonplace and slender gauge railways, a lot of that are additionally partly or absolutely in public possession, takes that community to round 5,300 kilometers, the densest rail community on the earth.

A closely co-ordinated community integrates SBB’s trains with quite a few different operators, in depth slender gauge railways such because the Rhaetische Bahn (RhB), mountain cog railways, funiculars, publish buses, cable vehicles, boats and extra, offering reliable car-free entry to each nook of the nation (see www.swiss-pass.ch).

Many years of long-term funding have created a core community of intensively used primary strains linking all of the nation’s main cities. Feeding into this are high-frequency S-Bahn (metropolis rail) techniques across the greatest cities plus regional and native railway strains, tramways and mountain railways, a lot of which give a vital hyperlink to the skin world for rural and upland communities.

Regardless of large funding during the last 4 many years, by means of long-term enlargement applications equivalent to “Bahn 2000.” Switzerland’s railways have gotten a sufferer of their very own success. Whereas SBB’s general punctuality nonetheless seems spectacular to outsiders, there’s concern about deteriorating efficiency, rising prices and its potential to fund important upkeep and main initiatives after the devastating monetary losses of 2020-21.

Disruption remains to be comparatively uncommon on the SBB community, however reliability has decreased in recent times on account of congestion, employees shortages and poor punctuality of trains arriving from neighboring international locations.

Strategic place

BERGUEN, 29OCT22 - Impression of the world record run of the Rhaetian Railway's longest passenger train (1.91 kilometers) on the UNESCO World Heritage route, the alpine Albula line, in Graubuenden on October 29, 2022

The prepare dropped almost 800 meters in its descent from the mountains.


Sitting on the coronary heart of western Europe, between the commercial powerhouses of Germany, France and northern Italy, Switzerland additionally performs a key strategic position within the wider European economic system — because it has for the reason that Center Ages.

For hundreds of years, the Alps introduced a formidable barrier to vacationers and commerce throughout this a part of Europe however during the last twenty years, billions of Swiss Francs have been invested to construct the prolonged Gotthard and Loetschberg Base Tunnels deep beneath the Alps.

Whereas different international locations argue and dither over public transport spending, in June 2022 the Swiss Federal Council opened consultations on its subsequent program of long-term rail funding. Perspektive Bahn 2050 is an in depth set of proposals with a transparent give attention to growing brief and medium-distance passenger companies to advertise a shift away from vehicles.

Enhancement of the present community to create additional capability is to be prioritized over extra main infrastructure initiatives. Transport Minister Simonetta Sommaruga says: “It isn’t a query of saving a couple of minutes on a trunk route equivalent to Zürich-Bern. Rail is already unbeatable on routes like that. It’s somewhat about enlargement the place rail has been left behind.”

Anticipated to be handed into regulation by 2026, the plan’s goals embody rising annual public transport utilization from 26 billion passenger-kilometers to 38 billionn passenger-kilometers by 2050, rising rail’s share of the passenger and freight markets “considerably” and guaranteeing that rail companies are much more carefully built-in with different transport modes to offer larger mobility for all.

Critics usually cite Switzerland’s smaller inhabitants and comparatively brief distances when evaluating it to international locations such because the UK and Germany, claiming that it could be not possible to create related built-in public transport networks in bigger international locations.

It is true that the Swiss have constructed one thing ideally suited to their geography, tradition and inhabitants density, however regardless of the arguments elsewhere, the RhB’s unimaginable achievement on October 29 is a massively spectacular demonstration of Switzerland’s world-class capabilities within the discipline of railway expertise.