Pilatus Bahn 130 #2

Pilatus Bahn 130 #2

How a railway was built up Pilatus:

This continues from the first part of the Pilatusbahn feature celebrating its 130th anniversary. No doubt the idea of a railway up Pilatus has a fairly substantial history. The earliest was a sort of wooden tramroad, or rolling railway, which transported logs and trunks from the forests on the western sides of the mountain in the mid 19th century. That was known as the Holzrollbahn.

Queen Victoria ascended the mountain in 1868 and popularised it so much that the Swiss thought it necessary to have a railway up this iconic mountain. After all it was thanks to Britain and its Queen that the mountain acquired international fame. The Swiss had already built a railway up the the Rigi, so why not Pilatus?

Pilatus Kulm in 1875 – just seven years after Queen Victoria had made her ascent. The Hotel Bellevue (pictured) had been built just a few years before the Royal ascent. Source: Swiss Info

Following the Royal visit to the mountain, an early form of railway to the summit was envisaged in 1873, partially this route and then round the west side of the mountain. The plans were promoted by the Creditanstalt Luzern.

Whilst that was a good route and largely viable for a Riggenbach or even a later Abt rack rail route, it was deemed a quite lengthy detour. The big problem however was the last section to the summit itself would have to be extremely steep.

The solution was eventually down to a Swiss engineer. Eduard Locher.

With this in mind Doctor (or Colonel) Eduard Heinrich Locher-Freuler (the man responsible for the construction of the twelve mile long Simplon Railway Tunnel) sought a different way up the mountain and decided upon a direct route from a site near Alpnach.

Locher-Freuler. Source: Scripophily

Much of the ascent up the Alpnach side of the mountain was at 1 in 3 and 1 in 2, and even though there was a section at about 1 in 5 immediately above Ämsigen, Locher knew it was was beyond the capabilities of the Abt and Riggenbach systems.

He thus devised his own rack technique which of course is known as the Locher system. Its a unique one off rack railway but it does the job brilliantly.

The system demonstrated at Alpnachstad. Source: Twitter

The Locher system consists of horizontal rack teeth, and the cog wheels have a flange underneath as an extra measure to prevent the train lifting off the rack. Basically the trains are guided by the rack rail and the wheels are not powered but simply for stabilisation and support. The flanges of these are on the outside.

Guyer-Freuler. Source: Scripophily

The work was done in collaboration with his cousin Eduard Guyer-Freuler and his chief engineer Häussler (of whom little is known.) One of the chief backers of the scheme (and indeed a founder of the Pilatus Bahn company) was Melchior Britschgi-Wallimann who owned the Hotel Bellevue at the summit, as well as that other, that on the Klimsenhorn.

After the railway had opened no sooner than that Britschgi-Wallimann had begin building the huge Pilatus Kulm hotel on the flanks of the Tomlishorn.

Early view of the Pilatus Kulm hotel. This was built by Melchior Britschgi-Wallimann. Source: Scripophily

The line was built in just 400 days. The first train to reach the summit was on 17th August 1888, carrying the directors of the Pilatus Railway Comapny. The official ceremony to inaugurate the line was on 17th May 1889 and public services began on 4th June 1889.

Alpnachstad in the line’s early days. The depot can be seen high above the station. Source: Twitter

More about the trains – both steam and electric – and some new ones on the way!

Steam railcar at Alpnachstad in 1898. Source: Twitter

The steam trains were unusual – they were combined steam locomotives and carriages, the locomotive bit being at the bottom end, the tank in its own compartment between the locomotive and carriage and the carriage section was stepped, with eight compartments and meaning each compartment was higher then the previous. The line was so steep this was the only means by which passengers could be kept quite level compared to other rack railways which use conventional carriages.

The locomotive and the car form a single vehicle. The car is divided into four compartments, placed one above another, and each accommodating 8 passengers. Its lower part is occupied by a water tank having a capacity of 100 gallons. The axles are arranged in such a way that curves of very small radius may be taken despite the distance apart of the axles, viz., 20 feet. Four pairs of cog wheels, two in front and two behind, serve for the propulsion, running, and braking of the vehicle. Rings that embrace the head of the rails prevent the car from being blown from the track in a gale or from running off because of ice or snow that may exist upon the roadbed.

The boiler, which is of the tubular type, is 6 feet in length, has a heating surface of 225 square feet, and employs a working pressure of 12 atmospheres. It is placed at right angles with the axis of the track, in order to prevent the various gradients from producing fluctuations in the level of the water. The average gradient is 38.1 per cent; the minimum, 19.2 per cent; and the maximum 48 per cent. The engine cylinders are 8.75 inches in diameter, and the piston stroke is 12 inches. The normal speed of the trip is a little over three feet a second. The dead weight is 9.6 tons, and the load with 32 passengers, 2.4 tons. The locomotive is of about 70 horse-power. The braking arrangement has naturally been very carefully looked after. It consists of a compressed-air brake, an automatic brake, and two friction brakes. The suspension of the vehicle is assured by a system of four pairs of elliptic springs combined with spiral ones. The play of the car is prevented by safety stops, so that the vibrations are no greater than they are in an ordinary well-suspended train.

These descriptions of the trains are from Scientific American for August 1904 .

The summit station in 1929.

The way to the Tomlishorn, 1929.

Steam railcar no.5 arriving at Amsigen en route to the summit in 1929.

Rare view of electric and steam traction at Amsigen.

The current trains (both the 1930s and the pair of 1960s built railcars) are unusual in they only operate on electric power during the ascent. The descent is simply by gravity and an excellent system of braking is employed so that the trains maintain a smooth and even descent rate.

Just a couple of weeks ago passengers had to be evacuated from a train that had just entered a tunnel when there was suddenly a bang and fumes emanated from it. Pic shows passengers being evacuated after another railcar rescued the stricken train from the upper Spycher tunnel. Source: 20 Minuten

The Pilatus Bahn confirmed that the train had a technical defect, probably in connection with the driving mechanism. According to CEO Godi Koch, there was never any danger to the passengers. “The trains are secured with three braking systems,” says Koch. It was absolutely unusual that a train could not continue because of technical problems, the rolling stock was very reliable, although some 80 years old. Source: 20 Minuten

This incident comes in the light of moves to retire the 80 year old trains and use brand new stock. There’s more on this including a picture in later paragraphs. It means of course most of the present fleet will be disbanded although the two 1960s railcars will be retained for additional duties. I would think a 1937 railcar will be kept aside for historic reasons.

Nice picture showing the steepness of the line. Incidentally one can see the original terminus was on a steeper incline than the modern one. Source: Twitter

The original summit station is still in use mainly during busy periods. Because of its position next to the summit complex it offers a dedicated level access route from the platform and is also used whenever a train has someone in a wheelchair.

The line operates from May to November only. At the end of the season the power cables on the upper section are taken down because of the high number of avalanches.

As mentioned earlier, the railway kept a steam railcar in reserve. This situation ensued until the 1980s. There were the occasional special trips with the steam railcar which was also used for winter duties and power line installation work. Here’s one picture from 1966 (and obviously of very good quality!):

No.9 steam railcar visits the summit during a run in December 1966. This and other images take from the same day can be seen at Flickr (NOTE: The account or pages seems to have been removed thus an archived image is used here.)

The steam railcar proved to be useful when it was necessary to install the cantenary system at the start of the season (or remove it at the end) from the upper sections above Ämsigen and along the Mattalp (there are many avalanches in the winter.) It was transferred to the Swiss Transport Museum in Luzern when a diesel railcar was built to replace those duties.

No.9 on the section near the Mattalp during re-wiring duties in 1981. Source: Semaphor

No.9 nearing Alpnachstad after work to install cantenary wires higher up the mountain. Source: Bahn Bilder

No.9 again, with its carriage, at Alpnachstad, May 1982, in readiness for a public trip. Source: Twitter

Sadly there were no steam operations for the line’s 100th anniversary. It seems there are no pictures or videos of that anniversary anywhere on the internet. The 125th has some presence on the internet however as that was only five years ago.

As for the 100th Anniversary, if only there was someone who could put something on the internet for all to see? Well I do know someone – me! On a holiday to Switzerland 30 years ago I made a side trip to Luzern and Alpnachstad (but not up the mountain however.) The photograph below is one I took as our train arrived at Alpnachstad (which explains the blur in places) and the huge banner for the Pilatus Bahn’s 100th anniversary can be clearly seen placed on the rockface above the station. I had to search through piles of photographs to find this!

The Pilatus Bahn base station seen from our Brunig line train as it arrived at Alpnachstad from Luzern.

Continued in part three.

Pilatus Bahn 130th Anniversary Posts:

Pilatus Bahn #1

Pilatus Bahn #2

Pilatus Bahn #3