Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

High in Sky over Lake Lucerne; Ingenuity of Swiss Engineering Sees Traveller David Ellis with His Head in the Clouds

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Sunday (Maroochydore, Australia)

High in Sky over Lake Lucerne; Ingenuity of Swiss Engineering Sees Traveller David Ellis with His Head in the Clouds

Article excerpt

WHEN Swiss engineer Eduard Locher revealed he'd got the government's OK to build a railway from the shores of Lake Lucerne to the summit of the 2200m high Mount Pilatus in the centre of the craggy Swiss Alps, folks decided that either the government was mad, Mr Locher was mad - or they both were mad.

It was the 1880s, and while rail was the newest craze driving the equally-newest craze of mass tourism, steam trains simply couldn't climb gradients steeper than six degreesa[degrees] although in America a new-fangled invention called a cogwheel railway actually climbed at an incredible 37degrees up Mount Washington.

But Mr Locher's railway would need to climb Mount Pilatus at an even steeper rate than this: his would need rise at an extraordinary 48degrees.

And to achieve it he would have to re-think what the Americans had done with their cogwheel, which relied on the driving cogs of the engine engaging a "rack" of teeth cut vertically into the railsa[degrees] and which Mr Locher feared at 48-degrees could simply pop out with calamitous runaway results.

After much experimentation, he ultimately came up with a wheel-and-cog arrangement that had horizontal teeth rather than vertical ones, engaging into both sides of a centre rail that made it impossible for the driving cogs to disengage while either climbing up or braking down Mount Pilatus.

But although the government had given him permission to build his railway, when he asked for a taxpayer-funded subsidy to get his cogwheel railway on track, so to speak, he got a very firm "No".

Undaunted, he went to private investors who willingly gave him the money - again much to most people's dismay - and in June 1889, three years after starting work with 800 construction workers, the Mount Pilatus Cogwheel Railway carried its first passengers up into the Swiss Alps.

To this day, it is still privately operated, has never suffered a financial loss and is still the world's steepest cogwheel railway.

The first Mount Pilatus trains were steam powered, but this was changed to electric traction in 1937, and today 10 little red railcars that each carries 40 passengers, take 30 minutes to ascend the 4. …

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