Auto train for a rack railway

Auto train for a rack railway

The Appenzeller Bahn (AB) in Switzerland has ordered a rack-and-pinion rail vehicle for its 1.96km long Bergbahn Rheineck–Walzenhausen. The line has one intermediate station at Ruderbach. What is most unusual for this rack railway is its new vehicle is to be fully automated and have no driver – thus the world’s first such example of a rack rail vehicle to be enabled. The rather short length of the Walzenhausen line makes it an idea candidate for an auto rack rail service.

Stadler’s new rack rail vehicle will be equipped with CBTC and means the rail service can be fully automated. It will have both CBTC and CCTV to relay its progress to central control. Even though there will be no staff on the train those at central control can intervene should the railcar alert them that something untoward is happening.

How the new auto rack train for the Walzenhausen line will look. Source: 20 Minuten.

The north-east Swiss railway company made the announcement just over a week ago. Here’s their Facebook page with the news.

There are of course other automated systems across the world with no staff present on the trains. However as much of the rail media are pointing out, the Appenzeller Bahn will have the first such example to work on a line with no fencing and runs through open land. This is what is called a ‘free-field’ operation (as opposed to the enclosed nature of current automated rail lines.) There too will be on board equipment to enable the railcar to monitor the track ahead for obstructions.

Stadler’s representative says of the new innovation: ‘The implementation of automated and driverless operation on the Rheineck–Walzenhausen line is a milestone in the digitalization of rail operations… We are proud to be leading the way in association with Appenzeller Bahnen and look forward to working together.’

The company also adds ‘the new vehicle on the Rheineck–Walzenhausen line will be a fully automated train running as an open system in free-field conditions. The CBTC solution must therefore also take over the monitoring of the track and the detection of obstacles.’

The present (64 year old) rack car on the Hoftobel Bridge. Source: Wikipedia.

Its an interesting innovation because the line has tunnels, embankments and bridges as well as traversing a mix of open countryside and built up areas. Much of the line is considerably steep and on a straight alignment – until 1958 it was in fact a funicular railway.

The line’s one railcar in 1971. Employed for the line’s conversion from a funicular in 1958 this railcar is still at work today. Source: Facebook.

The section from Rheineck to the bottom of the incline is of course an extension to provide interface with the nearby SBB station. Certain modifications to the route will have to be implemented including open level crossings as well as rebuilding the stations at Rheineck and Walzenhausen to provide full accessibility onto the new train.

Rheineck - Walzenhausen Mountain Railway

The station at Walzenhausen. This will need much work undertaken to bring it up to the standards needed for automated operation as well as provide accessibility. Source: Flickr.

Its said the new service should be up and running by 2026. Other metre gauge lines are looking at the scheme with interest whilst the Appenzeller Bahn are considering whether to take their 7km long Altstätten-Gais (Gaiserbähnli) as the next line to be converted to this automated system. This wont be easy as its a more complex and longer system than Walzenhausen’s.

The reason for this conversion is of course the nature of the line’s passenger traffic. Its considerably low. What it means is the cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen have investigated whether the Appenzeller Bahn’s three rack lines ( Rheineck-Walzenhausen, Altstätten Stadt-Gais – taken over by the AB in 2006, and Rorschach Hafen-Heiden) might possibly benefit from ‘more customer-friendly and cheaper alternatives.’ These include replacement bus services.