When engineer Eduard Locher proposed building a railway on the Pilatus in the 19th century, many though he had gone mad. But in 1889 the 4,618-meter-long railway opened from Alpnachstad to the Pilatus Kulm. With a gradient of 48% it is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. Since its opening until today, that has not changed. It takes cleverly devised technology to move a train forward at such a steep gradient. The ingenious design with two horizontally rotating cogwheels made it possible. This masterpiece was exhibited at the World Fair 1889 in Paris.
48% GRADIENT – THE SPECIAL COGWHEEL SYSTEM
Since well over one hundred years, the rail cars of the Pilatus railway have climbed to the summit of the imposing Pilatus on the boldest cogwheel railway in the world. At a maximum gradient of 48% it is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world and the only one of its kind. Such exceptional steepness bore the risk that the driving teeth used at the time would jump out of engagement. The engineers therefore had to create a special cogwheel system with a special toothed bar.
Until 1937 there were eleven steam rail cars which managed to travel the 4,618 meter stretch via the passing and water station Ämsigen (today an official stop), via Mattalp and along the Eselwand to Pilatus Kulm in 70 to 80 minutes.
FROM STEAM OPERATION TO ELECTRIFIED RAILWAY
The idea to transition from steam to electrification was already put forward in 1905. But this electrification project had to be put off due to the high costs at the time. In 1931 the management of what was then known as Pilatus-Bahn-Gesellschaft again looked into electrification of railway operations due to heavy wear on the existing vehicles. On 15 May 1937 electric railway operation was inaugurated with the new rail cars. Two of the steam rail cars still remain. They can be viewed in the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Switzerland, and in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.