Rhaetian Railway launches record bid for world’s longest passenger train

SWITZERLAND’s meter gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB) has announced a bid to operate the world’s longest passenger train – comprising 100 vehicles with a total length of nearly 2 km – on the Albula line from Preda to Thusis, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The date set for the record tender is October 29 and the train is to be made up of no less than 25 of Stadler’s newly introduced four-car Capricorn EMUs – a name inspired by the wild Alpine ibex goat that forms part of the ridge in the canton of Graubünden across which the meter gauge mountain lines of the RhB form the main rail network.

The world record attempt route is 24.9 km long and descends 789.4 m in height, the journey is expected to take about 46 minutes at a speed of 30-35 km/h.

The RhB placed its initial order of 173 million Swiss francs (US$184 million) for 36 four-car EMU Capricorns from Stadler in June 2016 – the company’s largest ever rolling stock purchase. The trains broke new ground for the RhB by being separable multiple units, which means that on routes like that from Landquart to Davos ski resort, two four-car trains can be run as multiple then uncoupled at Klosters station Platz, with one part going to Davos and the other to the exclusive seaside resort of St Moritz in the Engadine valley.

An additional 20 Capricorn EMUs were ordered by RhB from Stadler in June 2020.

October’s world record attempt will consist of 25 of these four-car trains running in groups over the many viaducts, curved tunnels, spiral tunnels and mountainside galleries of the Albula line in the upper part of The valley. These were built in 1898-1903 to reduce the gradient on the 400m descent between Preda station at 1789m and Bergun station at 1372m from a direct distance of 5km to a more manageable gradient using a winding loop track that measures a total of 12 km. The adjacent road in this part of the valley is so steep that in winter it is closed to traffic and used as a toboggan run, with RhB trains carrying people between the lower and upper parts of the route.

Also part of the course of the record attempt is the section of line between Filisur, at an altitude of 1080m, and the point of arrival in the Haut-Rhin valley at Thusis (697m). On this stretch, the railway crosses the famous 65m high Landwasser Viaduct – where a series of curved arches culminate with trains plunging directly into a tunnel in an overhanging cliff – and the 89m high Solis Viaduct. high, which boasts the longest single arch in the RhB system, as well as negotiating a number of canyon-like ravines overlooked by ruined castles.

The spectacular Landwasser Viaduct is one of the features that has earned the Albula Line of the RhB its World Heritage Site status. Photo: RhB

While the setting for the record tender is spectacular, there are also a number of technical challenges to overcome, including ensuring the communication that will be required between the seven conductors and 21 other staff members of the Capricorn trains.

The director of the RhB, Mr. Renato Fasciati, revealed that the solution to the problem has been found in the field of civil protection, since a field telephone line almost 2 km long is being installed to connect the different trains. For the record offer to work, all 25 trains must be able to accelerate and decelerate at the same time, although only four trains can be controlled from each driver’s cab. An electric loop has been designed to ensure that the trains will brake at the same time, as the high weight of the train means that high forces will act on the infrastructure and car bodies if they do not.

On the descent, the trains are fully braked using electric recuperation, which generates electricity that is normally fed back into the public grid. Special measures will therefore have to be taken during the record run to ensure that the tension in the catenary does not increase too much. a high level of 25 trains running along it at a time.

The special train will carry 4,450 people including 150 guests – and the RhB wants the event to be marked as a public holiday in the region and will therefore set up a festival area for 3,000 guests in the village of Bergun in the upper valley. Tickets were to go on sale August 2.

One of the drivers selected for the record auction, Mr Andreas Krame, 45, admitted to being slightly worried but added that he was very excited about it because “you can only do something like this once in a lifetime”. Indeed, RhB officials told a press conference that if the weather turned out to be bad that day, there would be no possibility of postponing the attempt, simply because of the amount of preparation involved. .

Jose P. Rogers