(CNN) — High within the Swiss Alps, St Moritz made its title as a spot for pushing the boundaries of winter sport. By the time it hosted the second Winter Olympics Games in 1928 its popularity as a playground for rich adventurers was already properly established.
On Saturday, the area continued its lengthy custom of increasing the boundaries of what’s attainable 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 business got here collectively to run the world’s longest-ever passenger prepare — 100 automobiles, 2,990 tonnes and nearly two kilometres lengthy.
Formed 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.
Like the legendary Cresta Run toboggan monitor, the Albula Line is known for its countless 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.
Prior 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.
Following a part of the route taken by the world-famous Glacier Express 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 probably much more astonishing for going down on a slim gauge railway.
Unlike most Swiss and European railways, which use the “standard” gauge between the rails of 1.435 meters (4 ft 8.5 inches), RhB rails are only one meter aside.
Combine this with a route with notoriously tight curves, steep gradients, 22 tunnels and 48 bridges over deep valleys and the challenges change into apparent.
Previous 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.
However, preparations began months forward of the RhB occasion, together with check runs to make sure the distinctive prepare may very well be operated safely.
“We all know the Albula Line very well, every change of gradient, every incline,” stated lead driver Andreas Kramer, 46, forward of the massive day. “It goes without saying that we’re going through the process again and again.”
He added: “We need to be 100% synchronized, every second. Everyone has to keep their speed and other systems under control at all times.”
An preliminary check 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 an alternative used a brief area phone system arrange by the Swiss Civil Protection group to take care of communications because the prepare ran at as much as 35 km/h by means of numerous tunnels and deep valleys.
Specially modified software program and an intercom between the seven drivers allowed the 25 trains to work in concord. Any mismatch in acceleration or deceleration in the course of the journey would have exerted unacceptably excessive forces on tracks and energy provides, creating a significant security concern.
RhB Director Renato Fasciati stated: “Switzerland is a railway country like no other. This year, we are celebrating 175 years of Swiss railways. With this world record attempt, RhB and its partners wanted to play their part in achieving a pioneering feat that had never been seen before.”
The prepare was made up of 100 automobiles.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
On the lengthy descent, pace was managed by regenerative braking, much like that used on some electrical automobiles, which fed present again into the 11,000-volt overhead energy provide strains.
However, 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 facility being fed again.
Additional 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 have been capable of witness the file try by way of a stay TV feed whereas additionally having fun with native leisure and gastronomy. Normal companies by means of the Albula Tunnel to St Moritz and past have been suspended for 12 hours.
Three satellite tv for pc uplinks, 19 cameras in drones and helicopters, on the prepare and alongside the monitor filmed the prepare, offering a novel file of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. This alone was a significant problem in a distant, mountainous area with restricted cell telecoms protection.
A railway nation
The file try was organized to have fun 175 years of Swiss railways.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
For a small nation with a mountainous panorama which, at first look, appears unsuited to railways, Switzerland punches properly above its weight within the business.
Necessity has lengthy made it a pioneer in electrical, mechanical and civil engineering and its expertise and experience are exported everywhere in the world.
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 total annual complete. In frequent with different European international locations, mobility has exploded in latest a long time — the typical annual distance travelled by automobile and public transport has doubled within the final 50 years.
They traveled 19.7 billion passenger kilometers by rail in 2019, the final “normal” 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 properly 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 not with out good cause; many journeys in and round Switzerland’s largest 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.
Adding the 70-plus “private” commonplace and slim gauge railways, lots of that are additionally partly or totally in public possession, takes that community to round 5,300 kilometers, the densest rail community on the earth.
Decades of long-term funding have created a core community of intensively used most important strains linking all of the nation’s main cities. Feeding into this are high-frequency S-Bahn (metropolis rail) programs across the largest cities plus regional and native railway strains, tramways and mountain railways, lots of which offer a crucial hyperlink to the skin world for rural and upland communities.
Despite large funding over the past 4 a long time, by means of long-term growth applications similar to “Bahn 2000.” Switzerland’s railways have gotten a sufferer of their very own success. While SBB’s total punctuality nonetheless appears spectacular to outsiders, there may be concern about deteriorating efficiency, rising prices and its means to fund important upkeep and main initiatives after the devastating monetary losses of 2020-21.
Disruption continues to be comparatively uncommon on the SBB community, however reliability has decreased lately on account of congestion, workers shortages and poor punctuality of trains arriving from neighboring international locations.
The prepare dropped practically 800 meters in its descent from the mountains.
Sitting on the coronary heart of western Europe, between the economic powerhouses of Germany, France and northern Italy, Switzerland additionally performs a key strategic function within the wider European economic system — because it has for the reason that Middle Ages.
For centuries, the Alps introduced a formidable barrier to vacationers and commerce throughout this a part of Europe however over the past twenty years, billions of Swiss Francs have been invested to construct the prolonged Gotthard and Loetschberg Base Tunnels deep beneath the Alps.
While 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 automobiles.
Enhancement of the prevailing community to create additional capability is to be prioritized over extra main infrastructure initiatives. Transport Minister Simonetta Sommaruga says: “It’s not a question of saving a few minutes on a trunk route such as Zürich-Bern. Rail is already unbeatable on routes like that. It is rather about expansion where rail has been left behind.”
Expected to be handed into legislation by 2026, the plan’s aims embrace 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 “significantly” and making certain that rail companies are much more intently built-in with different transport modes to offer better 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 might be unimaginable to create comparable built-in public transport networks in bigger international locations.
It’s 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 unbelievable achievement on October 29 is a vastly spectacular demonstration of Switzerland’s world-class capabilities within the area of railway expertise.