World’s Steepest Cogwheel Train Is An Engineering Feat

World's Steepest Cogwheel Train Is An Engineering Feat
PHOTOGRAPH: AFIB | Photo shows the Pilatus cogwheel railway.

Keen on hearing tales of rails and hiking off to majestic mountains? Mount Pilatus, composed of multiple peaks and overlooking Lucerne in Central Switzerland, beckons. After spending time at the summit soaking up amazing views over the Swiss Alps, visitors will travel down to Alpnachstad through the steepest cogwheel railway before boarding a boat for a scenic cruise across Lake Lucerne.

Climbing a slope of over 1,600 meters in just 4.6 km, the Pilatus cogwheel railway carries the record of being the steepest in the world. It is an engineering feat, and credit for bringing railway construction up Mount Pilatus goes to Colonel Eduard Locher-Freuler of Zurich for devising a unique solution to make the railway a reality.

Early Days of the Mountain Railway

The railway project was first proposed in 1873, with a suggested 1,435 standard gauge and 25 percent maximum gradient. It was not only deemed as not economically viable; it was also regarded as a crazy idea.

Nevertheless, the trailblazing efforts of Locher-Freuler paid off. Colonel Locher worked with his brother-in-law Eduard Guyer-Freuler.

His idea allowed a maximal gradient of 48 percent and he was able to reduce by nearly half the length of track required. On  June 24, 1885, Locher & Co. and Eduard Guyer-Freuler received the Confederation’s decision — the concession for the railway construction of the railway. The final plans were submitted in December 1885.

Actual work began in early April 1886. The 4618-meter stretch of railway from Alpnachstad to the Pilatus Kulm (summit) started operating in 1889.

Colonel Eduard was an esteemed building engineer who constructed numerous bridges, waterworks and railways. His novel design involved opposing twin horizontal cogwheels carried on vertical shafts (with the rack teeth facing each side) underneath the train car.

The design removed the possibility of the train toppling over, or the cogwheel/rack becoming disengaged. Custom automatic breaks were also devised to prevent speeding of the train. The cogwheel train is among the world’s amazing design and engineering marvels.

Thrilling  Cogwheel Train Ride

These days, the cogwheel train is not the only means for visitors to make their way up and down  Pilatus, given the availability of cable cars from Lake Lucerne below, but it has remained the most thrilling. It gives a whiff of history, too.

The cogwheel train can transport around 300,000 passengers a year from the Alpnachstad station at Lake Lucerne, Obwalden, to a terminus near the top of Mount Pilatus in 30 minutes.  Some of those who have experienced riding the cogwheel train have shared their amazing travel adventure above the clouds on Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne.


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