How did the mountain get its name?
How did Pilatus get its name? There are various claims, the biggest of all is that its named after the Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. His cursed body simply refused to stay buried so the Romans brought it here around AD/CE 37-39. In those days the Alps were cold and inhospitable, a place where Pontius would have to die properly. Its a nice story if a bit grim – and yet its the one that’s most frequently disputed for its nothing more than a fantasy.
It seems more likely the name comes from pileatus (or the latin pileus) meaning cloud-topped – scientifically its the most plausible explanation for the mountain’s name.
Pilatus dragon 1723. Source: Twitter.
Nowadays Pilatus is far more known for being the mountain of dragons, indeed the new hi-tech cableway (built 2015) from Fräkmüntegg to Pilatus Kulm is known as The Dragon Ride. Indeed all the cableways and rack railway have the dragon as their logo. The mountain was reputed to be the home of dragons with magical powers.
The Drachenstein got its name after a farmer swore that he had seen a dragon land on a rock on Mount Pilatus. In the summer of 1421, according to legend, a huge dragon flew to Mount Pilatus and crashed down so close to a farmer that he fainted from fright.
The Pilatus Bahn logo. Source: Wikipedia.
New railcars for the Pilatus Bahn – expected 2021/22:
The railway has for years experienced a huge surge in popularity, however in the last few years there has been a slight drop in patronage due to the new Dragon cable car up the other side of the mountain from Fräkmüntegg. Its no problem because both are owned by the same company who are making plans for expansion of the Pilatus Bahn including new trains (expected 2021/22) and alterations to the line’s three stations.
The new railcars will be faster. The aim is to provide a regular half hourly timetable, rather than the uneven departures that can currently be offered with the present trains. The new trains will also have regenerative braking. The company has said:
In the summer of 2018, we signed the contract for the construction of eight passenger cars and one freight wagon with Stadler Bussnang AG. The engineering work is under way. In April 2019, the extensive documents of the planning approval process for the adaptations at the Alpnachstad, Ämsigen and Pilatus Kulm stations were handed over to the Federal Office of Transport (FOT). The process takes about a year to complete. The realization of the structural measures and the production of the railcars will then take two to three years to complete. (Source: Pilatus-Bahnen AG)
Illustration of the new Pilatus Bahn railcars also a new north side platform at Alpnachstad. Source: Emch & Berger Group
The fact Alpnachstad will have two platforms will be a boon. It means the present arrangement where trains have to move off the platform tracks as soon as they have unloaded, and move from the secondary track onto the platform tracks when they are ready to load up, will cease.
Car 29 ascends the other track having transferred from the platform track. Source: Flickr
Full description of the above picture: Car 29 (the white one) has just transferred from the platform track to the secondary track. It will wait here while the other two railcars (including number 24 on the upper platform section which has to move down to allow another waiting to enter.)
Car 29 will wait until these two railcars (including 24) have loaded up and and are on their way back up the mountain, before transferring back across to pick up passengers and also commence its journey up the mountain. Its this rather awkward arrangement, a relic from the steam era, the company want to get rid of.
If its just one or two railcars in service its not a problem, there’s no need for this shuttling back and forth. At busy periods three, four, even six railcars, will be needed to cope with demand and this is when the trains have to play this game of ‘musical chairs!’
The new railcars will have longer platforms on both sides (as opposed to the one) thus this shuttling back and forth across the tracks will no longer be necessary. It will require new pointwork above the station but what is more important is it will offer greater flexibility.
The current fleet has ten railcars, eight dating from the 1930s and two from the 1960s. The new fleet will total eight new railcars (all wheelchair accessible) with a ninth for freight/engineering duties plus the two 1960s built railcars for extra duties.
Pilatus was the subject of attempts to build a very early form of téléphérique!
Interestingly Pilatus was the subject of proposals during the 1890s for a cable car (pictures below) which would have been the world’s first passenger undertaking. The plans fell through and the honour for the first ever went to the short lived Wetterhorn bahn near Grindelwald, of which only the first stage was built.
Early plans for a cable car to the summit of Pilatus. Source: Scripophily
The first line up Pilatus – Holzrollbahn:
I have other posts on Pilatus and one of these covers Queen Victoria’s ascent in the 1860s. The route of that particular ascent is roughly the course of earlier proposals for a line up the mountain. This apparently was to follow part of the former course of what was known as the Holzrollbahn.
To explain the Holzrollbahn in more detail during the 19th Century roads up into the mountains had begun to be built in earnest, and then came the French Road, so called because it was built in 1833 by a Frenchman called Franzose Cellard. He adopted the old mountain paths in order to exploit the extensive forests on the lower slopes of the mountain. The road was so well made oxen and horse carts could easily use it as far as Lütholdsmatt.
Eventually around 1870 the foresters got so savvy they built a wooden roller conveyor – the Holzrollbahn or Rolling Railway to transport logs down the mountain! Quite a few Swiss/German books of the time detail the French man’s attempts to tame the mountains, however its a history that’s barely been written into the English language. Here’s a link to those early attempts to tame the mountains (in German.)
Pilatus Bahn 130th Anniversary Posts: