Switzerland Built The World’s Longest Passenger Train And Sets World Record

The nation’s rail industry banded together to run the world’s longest passenger train, measuring 100 cars, 2,990 tonnes, and almost two kilometers in length, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Switzerland’s first railroad.

St. Moritz, located high in the Swiss Alps, gained notoriety as a location for pushing the limits of winter sports. When it played home to the second Winter Olympics in 1928, its status as a haven for affluent explorers was well known.

With an epic world record attempt on rails rather than snow or ice, the area continued its long tradition of pushing the boundaries of what is possible on Saturday.

The record-breaking 1,906-meter train made up of 25 brand-new “Capricorn” electric carriages, took almost an hour to travel the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Albula Line from Preda to Alvaneu in eastern Switzerland.

The Albula Line is renowned for its never-ending sweeping twists and steep descents, much like the storied Cresta Run toboggan run. The 62-kilometer railway connecting Thusis and St. Moritz, which is regarded as a global masterpiece of civil engineering, was constructed in five years despite requiring 55 bridges and 39 tunnels.

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Visitors had to endure a treacherous 14-hour journey over treacherous terrain in horse-drawn carriages or sleds prior to its completion in July 1904.

The 5,866-meter-long Albula Tunnel, which runs deep into the watershed between the Rhine and Danube rivers, is the focal point of the route.

Spirals, Soaring Viaducts, And Tunnels

The world record attempt included the beautiful Landwasser Viaduct and the amazing spirals that ensured the line’s classification as an international historic landmark. The route followed part of the path traversed by the globally recognized Glacier Express since 1930.

The train descended by a series of spirals, towering viaducts, and tunnels from 1,788 meters above sea level at Preda to 999.3 meters at Alvaneu in less than 25 kilometers.

The fact that the record attempt took place on a narrow-gauge railway makes it all the more amazing. It was sponsored by Swiss train manufacturer Stadler and arranged by the Rhaetian Railway, or RhB.

The World's Longest Passenger Train
The World’s Longest Passenger Train

RhB rails are only separated by one meter, in contrast to the majority of Swiss and European railroads, which have a “normal” rail spacing of 1.435 meters (4 feet 8.5 inches). The difficulties become clear when you add this to a road that has 48 bridges spanning deep valleys, 22 tunnels, and a history of notoriously tight turns and high inclines.

Belgium and the Netherlands, which held the previous record for the world’s longest passenger train, took advantage of standard gauge rails in flat terrain. Nevertheless, preparations for the RhB event began months in advance and included test runs to make sure the unusual train could be operated safely.

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The lead driver, 46-year-old Andreas Kramer, noted before the big day that everyone in the group “knows the Albula Line very well, every change of gradient, every hill.” “It should go without saying that we are repeating the procedure.”

Added him: “Every second, we must be completely synced. Everyone must always maintain control over their speed and other systems.”

The emergency braking system was unable to be used during the first test run, and the seven drivers were unable to communicate with one another through radio or smartphone due to the numerous tunnels, which caused the test run to fail before the train had even moved.

Kramer utilized a temporary field telephone system established up by the Swiss Civil Protection group to keep in touch while the train zipped through many tunnels and steep slopes at up to 35 km/h with the help of six other drivers and 21 technicians.

The 25 trains could coexist thanks to specially updated software and an intercom between the seven drivers. Any disparity in the rate of acceleration or deceleration throughout the trip would have put excessively high stresses on the tracks and power sources, posing a serious safety risk.

Renato Fasciati, director of RhB, said: “There is no place like Switzerland for railroads. We are commemorating 175 years of Swiss railroads this year. With this effort at a world record, RhB and its collaborators hoped to contribute to the accomplishment of a ground-breaking feat that had never been done before.”

Party Atmosphere

Regenerative braking, which is similar to that used on some electric automobiles, was utilized to manage speed during the lengthy descent by feeding current back into the 11,000-volt overhead power supply wires.

There was a concern, though, that with so many trains on the same length of track, they may overload the system by feeding too much electricity back into it, overloading both the trains and the local power grids. The train’s top speed was restricted to 35 km/h to prevent this, and software had to be changed to reduce the power being sent back.

The regular mechanical and pneumatic connections between trains also required the installation of additional safety control cables throughout the train.

3,000 lucky ticket holders were able to watch the record attempt via a live TV stream while also taking advantage of the local entertainment and cuisine on the big day thanks to the RhB’s organization of a railway festival at Bergün. Regular services to St. Moritz and beyond through the Albula Tunnel were interrupted for 12 hours.

The train was videotaped by 19 cameras in drones and helicopters, three satellite uplinks, and cameras on the train and along the track, creating a one-of-a-kind record of this once-in-a-lifetime event. This in itself posed a significant difficulty in an isolated, mountainous area with patchy mobile telecoms service.
a railroad country

A Railway Nation

Switzerland is a small nation with a mountainous topography that, at first appearance, appears to be unsuitable for railroads, but it excels in the sector.

It has long been a leader in electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering due to necessity, and its technology and knowledge are exported worldwide.

Engineering achievements like the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which was completed in 2016, carry on a long heritage of pushing the envelope of what is feasible.

With good cause, the Swiss are the most avid rail travelers in the world, covering an average of 2,450 kilometers by train annually, or 25% of their total yearly mileage. Similar to other European nations, mobility has surged in recent decades; in the past 50 years, the average yearly distance traveled by vehicle and public transportation has doubled.

In 2019, the last “normal” year before the Covid-19 epidemic, 19.7 billion passenger kilometers were traveled by rail. However, as Switzerland marks 175 years since its first railway opened between Zürich and Baden, ridership is well on its way back to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, this figure plummeted to 12.5 billion passenger kilometers.

Users of public transportation in Switzerland have such high expectations that even a brief delay causes subdued displeasure. And with good reason: many trips in and around Switzerland’s largest cities involve more than one mode of transportation and depend on seamless connections between trains, trams, buses, and even boats at efficiently run interchanges.

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) ran 11,260 trains in 2021 on a 3,265-kilometre network with 804 stations, carrying 880,000 passengers and 185,000 tonnes of freight daily.

The world’s densest rail network reaches approximately 5,300 kilometers when including the more than 70 “private” standard and narrow gauge lines, many of which are also wholly or partially owned by the government.

SBB’s trains are integrated with various other operators, long narrow gauge railways like the Rhaetische Bahn (RhB), mountain cog railways, funiculars, post buses, cable cars, boats, and more in a highly coordinated network, enabling dependable car-free access to every region of the nation.

A core network of heavily trafficked main lines connecting all the major cities of the country has been built over many years of long-term investment. High-frequency S-Bahn (city train) networks around the largest cities, as well as municipal and regional railway lines, tramways, and mountain railways—many of which serve as a vital conduit to the outside world for rural and upland communities—all feed into this.

Switzerland’s railways are succumbing to their success despite significant investment over the past four decades through long-term extension initiatives like “Bahn 2000.” Outsiders may still find SBB’s general punctuality to be excellent, but there are worries about its declining performance, increasing expenses, and capacity to finance significant projects and necessary maintenance in the wake of the disastrous financial losses of 2020–21.

On the SBB network, disruptions are still comparably infrequent, but reliability has declined recently due to traffic, a lack of employees, and tardy neighboring country trains.

Strategic Position

Switzerland, which is located in the middle of western Europe and is sandwiched between the industrial giants of Germany, France, and northern Italy, plays an important strategic role in the overall European economy and has done so ever since the Middle Ages.

The Alps have been a tremendous obstacle to trade and travel in this region of Europe for centuries, but during the past two decades, billions of Swiss Francs have been invested in the construction of the extensive Gotthard and Loetschberg Base Tunnels, which run deep beneath the Alps.

The Swiss Federal Council began consultations on its upcoming long-term rail investment program in June 2022, while other nations dispute and hesitate about spending on public transportation. To encourage a transition away from cars, Perspektive Bahn 2050 is a comprehensive set of recommendations with a strong focus on developing short- and medium-distance passenger services.

The improvement of the current network to add capacity should take precedence over larger infrastructure investments. Simonetta Sommaruga, the minister of transport, says: “On a major route like Zürich to Bern, a few minutes cannot be saved. On lines like those, rail is already invincible. Instead, it’s about advancing where rail has fallen behind.”

The plan’s goals include increasing annual public transportation use from 26 billion passenger kilometers to 38 billion passenger kilometers by 2050, increasing rail’s share of the passenger and freight markets “significantly,” and making sure that rail services are even more tightly integrated with other modes of transportation to ensure greater mobility for all. It is anticipated that the plan will become law in 2026.

When contrasting Switzerland with nations like the UK and Germany, critics frequently point out that Switzerland has a smaller population and relatively short travel distances, arguing that it would be impossible to establish such integrated public transport networks in larger nations.

Whatever the other arguments, the RhB’s incredible accomplishment on October 29 is a hugely impressive demonstration of Switzerland’s world-class capabilities in the field of railway technology. The Swiss have indeed built something perfectly suited to their geography, culture, and population density.

Last lines

High in the Swiss Alps, St. Moritz is known as a place where winter sports are pushed to their limits. By the time the second Winter Olympics were held there in 1928, it was already well known as a place where rich people went to have fun.

Stay tuned with us on Leedaily.com for further details.

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