(CNN) — High in the Swiss Alps, St. Moritz has made a name for itself as a place to push the boundaries of winter sports. By the time the second Winter Olympics were held in 1928, it had already established a reputation as a playground for wealthy adventurers.
On Saturday, the region continued a long tradition of pushing the boundaries of what is possible with epic world-record attempts: not on snow or ice, but on rails.
To mark the 175th anniversary of Switzerland’s first railway, the country’s rail industry came together to run the world’s longest passenger train, with 100 cars, 2,990 tons and a total length of nearly 2 km.
Formed by 25 new ‘Capricorn’ trains, the record-breaking 1,906-meter train takes almost 1 hour to run the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Albula Line from Preda to Albaneu in eastern Switzerland for about 25 kilometers (about 15 miles). It took time.
Like the legendary Cresta Run Toboggan Track, the Albula Line is famous for its endless steep curves and steep descents. A world-renowned masterpiece of civil engineering, his 62-kilometer line between Thugis and St. Moritz was built in just five years, despite requiring 55 bridges and 39 tunnels.
Until its completion in July 1904, visitors had to make a perilous 14-hour journey over rough roads by horse-drawn carriage or sleigh.
The centerpiece of the Rhine is the 5,866-meter-long Albula Tunnel, which runs deep in the basin between the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Spirals, towering viaducts and tunnels
The train spiraled down the track switchbacks through the mountains.
Following part of the route traversed by the world-famous Glacier Express since 1930, the world record challenge incorporates the spectacular Landwasser Viaduct and the extraordinary Spiral, securing the Rhine’s International Heritage status. did.
In less than 25 kilometers, the train swooped from 1,788 meters above sea level at Preda to 999.3 meters above sea level at Alvaneu, using a series of spirals, elevated viaducts and tunnels.
This record attempt was organized by the Rhaetian Railway (Rhaetian Railway, or RhB) and supported by the Swiss railway manufacturer Stadler.
Unlike most Swiss and European railways which use a ‘standard’ gauge of 1.435 meters (4 feet 8.5 inches) between rails, the RhB rails are only 1 meter apart.
Combine this with a route with notoriously tight curves, steep grades, 22 tunnels and 48 bridges over deep valleys, and the challenge becomes apparent.
Belgium, the former holder of the world’s longest passenger train record, and before that the Netherlands, took advantage of standard-gauge railways over flat terrain.
However, preparations began months before the RhB event. This includes commissioning our own trains to ensure they are safe to operate.
“We all know the Albula line very well: every change of grade, every incline,” said 46-year-old lead driver Andreas Kramer ahead of the big day. “Needless to say, we go through this process over and over again.”
The first trial run failed when it was found that the emergency braking system could not be activated before the train moved, and that seven drivers in numerous tunnels could not communicate with each other via radio or mobile phones. it’s over.
With the help of six other drivers and 21 technicians, Kramer instead used a temporary field telephone system installed by the Swiss Civil Protection Organization to help the train navigate through countless tunnels and tunnels. Maintained communication while driving 35 km/h through deep valleys.
Twenty-five trains were operated in harmony with specially modified software and an intercom between the seven drivers. A mismatch in acceleration or deceleration during travel would have exerted unacceptably high forces on the track and power supply, creating a serious safety hazard.
RhB Director Renato Fasciati said: I’ve never seen it before. ”
The train consisted of 100 cars.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
On long descents, speed was controlled by regenerative braking, similar to those used in some electric vehicles, feeding current back into the 11,000-volt overhead power line.
However, with so many trains on the same section of track, there was concern that too much current would flow back through the system, overloading both the trains and the local power grid. To avoid this, the train’s maximum speed was limited to 35 km/h, and the software had to be changed to limit the power fed back.
Additional safety control cables also had to be installed throughout the train to support standard mechanical and pneumatic connections between trains.
On the big day, RhB will host a railway festival in Bergün, where 3,000 lucky ticket holders will be able to witness the record attempt via a live TV feed while enjoying local entertainment and gastronomy. I was. The normal service from the Albula Tunnel to St He Moritz was interrupted for 12 hours.
Three satellite uplinks, 19 cameras mounted on drones and helicopters filmed the train inside and along the tracks, providing a unique record of this once-in-a-lifetime event. This alone was a major challenge in remote mountainous areas with limited mobile coverage.
This record attempt was organized to mark the 175th anniversary of the Swiss Railways.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
A seemingly inhospitable mountainous country, Switzerland has a much larger share of the rail industry.
Necessity has long been a pioneer in electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, exporting its technology and expertise worldwide.
With good reason, the Swiss are among the world’s most avid train users, traveling an average of 2,450 kilometers each year. This corresponds to a quarter of the total distance traveled each year. As in other European countries, mobility has exploded in recent decades. The average annual distance traveled by car and public transport has doubled over the past 50 years.
They traveled 19.7 billion passenger-kilometers by rail in 2019, the last “normal” year before the Covid-19 pandemic. Passenger numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels as Switzerland marks his 175th anniversary of the opening of the first railway between Zurich and Baden, although it has fallen to 12.5 billion passenger-kilometers in 2021. I have.
Public transport users in Switzerland have very high expectations, and even the slightest delay is a source of quiet frustration. Not without good reason. Many modes of transportation in and around Switzerland’s big cities are multimodal, relying on smooth connections between trains, trams, buses and even boats at well-maintained interchanges.
In 2021, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) operated 11,260 trains carrying 880,000 passengers and 185,000 tons of freight per day on a 3,265-kilometer-long network with 804 stations.
Add over 70 “privately owned” standard and narrow gauge railroads, many of which are partially or fully publicized, and their network is about 5,300 kilometers, making it the densest rail network in the world. .
Decades of long-term investment have created a core network of intensively used trunk lines connecting all major cities in the country. Added to this are the high-frequency S-Bahn (urban rail) systems around large cities, as well as regional and regional rail lines, trams and mountain railways, many of which are open to the outside world for rural and highland communities. Provides important links.
Despite the huge investments made over the last 40 years through long-term expansion programs such as the “Bahn 2000”. Swiss railways are becoming victims of their own success. SBB’s overall punctuality remains impressive to outsiders, but after catastrophic financial losses in 2020-21, declining performance, rising costs and significant maintenance and major projects There are concerns about the funding capacity of
Disruptions are still relatively rare on the SBB network, but in recent years it has become unreliable as a result of congestion, staff shortages and punctuality of trains arriving from neighboring countries.
The train fell nearly 800 meters on its way down the mountain.
Centrally located in Western Europe, between the industrial powerhouses of Germany, France and northern Italy, Switzerland plays an important strategic role in the wider European economy, as it has since the Middle Ages.
For centuries, the Alps were a formidable barrier to travelers and trade across this part of Europe, but billions of Swiss francs have been invested in the past two decades to build the long Gotthard and Lötschberg bases deep in the Alps. A tunnel was built.
While other countries are debating and hesitant about public transport spending, in June 2022 the Swiss Federal Council started consultations on the next program of long-term rail investments. Perspektive Bahn 2050 is a detailed set of proposals with a clear focus on developing short- and medium-haul passenger services to facilitate the shift away from automobiles.
Expanding existing networks to add capacity takes precedence over major infrastructure projects. Minister of Transport Simonetta Sommaruga said: “It doesn’t matter if we save a few minutes on a main route like Zurich-Bern. The railway is already unbeatable on such a route. It’s important to expand,” he said.
The plan, which is expected to be enacted by 2026, aims to increase annual public transport use from 26 billion passenger kilometers to 38 billion passenger kilometers by 2050; and to secure rail service. It will be even more tightly integrated with other modes of transport to provide greater mobility for all.
Critics often cite Switzerland’s small population and relatively short distances when comparing them to countries such as the UK and Germany, making it unreasonable to build a similar integrated public transport network in a large country. I argue that it is possible.
It is true that the Swiss built something ideally suited to their geography, culture and population density, but whatever the debate elsewhere, the incredible achievement of the RhB on 29 October is a very impressive demonstration of Switzerland’s world-class competence in the field of railway technology.
Lead image credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images