The Swiss Just Assembled The World’s Longest Passenger Train And The Challenges They Faced Might Surprise You

Longesttrain

A railway in Switzerland is claiming a new world record for an incredibly long train that ran through the Alps. In celebration of the 175th anniversary of the country’s first railway, the Swiss rail industry assembled the longest passenger train in history. The train was 1.2-miles-long with 100 cars, 7 drivers, 4,550 seats, and weighing in at 3,295 tons. Let’s dive into it!

This year marks 175 years since passenger rail services began in Switzerland. As the Museum of Transport notes, Swiss passenger rail transport began in 1847. Switzerland’s first railway, the Swiss Northern Railway (also known as the Spanish-Brötli Railway), operated the Zürich–Baden line. The Switzerland Times explains what this very first rail line was like:

The “Spanish-Brötli-Bahn” started regular operation on August 9, 1847 with four trips per day. The trains needed 33 minutes for the 23-kilometer route without stopping. A trip in third class cost 80 centimes (four hourly wages). Those who afforded first class paid twice as much. The rail connection was not profitable.

The first Swiss railway line was built in just 16 months, including bridges and stations. The five-meter-long Schäflibach Bridge near Dietikon ZH that was required for this is today the oldest railway bridge still in operation in Switzerland.

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The first two locomotives of the “Spanish Brötli Railway” were ordered in Karlsruhe (D). They were called “Limmat” and “Aare”. The original locomotives ran for 19 years until 1866, when they were converted into shunting tank locomotives. The «Aare» locomotive was demolished in 1868 and the «Limmat» in 1882.

A Huge Train Celebration

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ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Switzerland is very proud of its railway history and has been celebrating this 175-year mark all year with different festivities. Swiss Federal Railways celebrated this history with festivals and events in different regions. These festivities included everything from rides on historic trains to construction sites, train maintenance, fire and rescue trains, and more. Another region hosted even more of the same, but with historic buses, trams, and cars. Basically, it sounds like Switzerland has been just one huge train party in 2022.

And it didn’t end there. Private rail operator Rhaetian Railway decided to celebrate the country’s history by organizing the longest passenger train in history. To do this, the railway operator obtained 25 Stadler Rail Capricorn trains. Unveiled back in 2019 and entering service in late 2020, Capricorn trains measure in at 249-feet-long and consist of four units in a single consist.

As Railway Technology writes, these trains are pretty smart, featuring low floors for ease of entry, accessibility for disabled passengers, and compartments for all kinds of gear that passengers may carry. But the important feature for Rhaetian Railway is that Stadler Rail designed the Capricorns so that they could easily be connected together and operated as one long single train, then disconnected again and operated as separate trains.

The Incredible Logistics Of Assembling And Operating A Record-Setting Train

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swiss-image.ch/Mayk Wendt

Rhaetian Railway decided to connect 25 of these four-unit trains together to create one 6,266-foot (about 1.2 miles or 1.91 kilometers) train. The railway has been planning this for months. At the front of the train was train driver Andreas Kramer. He was joined by six other train drivers and 21 technicians, each working with their section of the train to make sure that their part of the train wasn’t accelerating or decelerating too much. This was done to prevent too much strain from being exerted on the trains and the rails. These other operators also had control of their own emergency braking systems.

The railway’s preparation for the record attempt involved a number of test runs; the first of which was a failure because one of the drivers could not operate their emergency brake. Making matters even more of a challenge was the fact that the drivers had no way of easily communicating with each other over the huge length of the train. Radios and telephones were not going to work in the tunnels. The drivers solved the communications issue with field telephones from the Swiss Civil Protection.

Additionally, the operators limited the trains to no more than 21 mph. The reason for this has to do with the train’s regenerative braking. Kramer says that when going down a hill, the train’s regenerative brakes feed energy back into the overhead grid, and there was a concern that with a train this big, the regen would blow fuses in the trains or literally melt the overhead catenary lines. To avoid overloading both the grid and the trains, the operators limited the train’s speed and software to limit how much power gets fed back into the grid.

Rolling Into The History Books

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swiss-image.ch/Philipp Schmidli

On Saturday afternoon, the prep paid off as Switzerland’s over mile-long train rolled slowly through picturesque mountains, setting a new world record:

It has been officially confirmed and accomplished: on Saturday afternoon, Rhaetian Railway (RhB) took the longest narrow gauge passenger train in the world on the UNESCO World Heritage route from the Albula Tunnel in Preda to the world-famous Landwasser Viaduct just outside Filisur. Several thousand guests and railway fans attended the public event in Bergün or positioned themselves along the route mentioned above to experience this unique journey.

RhB travelled along the Albula Line on Saturday afternoon, 29 October 2022, with 25 four[1]part Capricorn railcars from leading Swiss manufacturer Stadler. The 1,906-metre-long record train was lined up like a string of pearls in the Albula Tunnel during the night from Friday to Saturday and on Saturday morning. It then set off in Preda at about 2.20 pm. Shortly after 3.30 pm, the record-breaking train reached its destination: the spectacular crossing of the Landwasser Viaduct. “After intensive preparation, we are overjoyed to have achieved this world record. Not only did we have a wonderful railway festival here in Bergün, but we were able to present ourselves around the world as a fascinating and innovative mountain railway thanks to our dedicated partners, sponsors and an incredibly dedicated team,” says Renato Fasciati, Director of RhB shortly after the world record was set. The success of the world record was officially confirmed on site by GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™

As CNN Travel notes, this line had plenty to offer for railfans, and a challenge for the operators. The line is famous for its spirals, viaducts, and tunnels:

In less than 25 kilometers, the train plummeted from 1,788 meters above sea level at Preda to 999.3 meters at Alvaneu, using a succession of spirals, soaring viaducts and tunnels.

[…]

Combine this with a route with notoriously tight curves, steep gradients, 22 tunnels and 48 bridges over deep valleys and the challenges become obvious.

As a result of the twists and turns of the line, you get these awesome photos of the train looking like it’s appearing in more than one place at once. This train didn’t go too far, traveling just 15 miles down the Albula Line. But it was enough to beat the previous record, set by the National Belgian Railway Company in 1991. That train was 5,685-feet-long and featured 70 coaches. It similarly traveled a short distance, just 38 miles.

To be clear, this train wasn’t the longest in the world. That distinction goes to a train that ran in Australia in 2001. Mining company BHP Group Limited ran a bulk train consisting of eight General Electric GE AC6000CW locomotives hauling 682 cars. This monster was about 4.5-miles-long and carried 181 million pounds of iron ore.

Now that Rhaetian Railway has this huge passenger train in the record book, the Capricorns will be separated back into their original units, where they will go into regular service.

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18 Responses

  1. That’s really cool and what a gorgeous route! Those bridges make me think of Roman aqueducts and it helps picture what they might have looked like when they were new. It’s also interesting with all the things that have to be considered to put this together. No maple or red oak trees (and whatever else turns bright orange and red) there, apparently, though I guess the high end of the rail is on the line for red oak altitude tolerance.

  2. That’s really impressive! It might have been a waste of time/money/labor, but still pretty cool 🙂
    When I worked in the yards, the most I ever switched was 16 with a diesel on an outer track. I DID do a few maneuvers with 14 electrics (I would have gotten in big trouble had those gone wrong, lol) on 3rd rail, and a gazillion 12-car switches in/out of shops.

    The surprising thing to me is that they couldn’t hook up their intercom systems together. It’s tough to see from the video, but I guess they were just knuckle-coupled and had their own independent air brakes? That part seems pretty dangerous because if (let’s just say for fun) that half the consist lost its air, it’d be dragging ass around that bend and potentially derailing or ripping down CAT wires. But hey, they wanted to do it and did it.

    Nice one, Mercedes! 🙂

  3. Interesting. But… I’m left wondering how you would reasonably load and unload passengers (you wouldn’t). Load up part of the train, advance 200 yards, load up more people, repeat? Or just tell your passengers to schlep their luggage a mile down the track to get to their seat? Loading and unloading would take more time than the trip.

    1. I used to do double-stops at the same platform on occasion (usually only for the disabled or if it was a police thing). It’s a real pain in the ass, though, and not really safe or accurate if the platform was on a curve.
      And yes, the main m/o for short platforms is to tell people to walk up the 2/4/6 cars or whatever.
      This train, however, would be an utter waste of time to run in actual passenger service for a multitude of reasons just involving signals and switches. Not even to speak too much on labor and safety.

  4. 1847: “The trains needed 33 minutes for the 23-kilometer route without stopping.” [26 mph]

    2022: “Additionally, the operators limited the trains to no more than 21 mph.”

    Yeah, real great advancement in 175 years……/s

  5. GREAT photo!

    I’m wondering why no one has gone for a crazy record attempt.With trains it’s relatively easy to keep adding carriages and locos and still call it one train.
    What would be the limiting factor?
    Overheating rails perhaps?The limited number of carriages you can afford? lol

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