Pilatus Railway


For 130 years the Pilatusbahn (Pilatus railway) in central Switzerland has been taking guests from the village of Aplnach on the banks of Lake Alpnach to Mount Pilatus Kulm, the mountain nearest to the town of Lucerne. This railway, the steepest cog railway of the world manages the incredible gradient of 48 %!


Until the mid-1930s, the railway was driven by steam. At the lower end of the train’s traction unit and facing the valley, was the driver’s cabin together with a boiler mounted at right angles to the direction of travel. For each trip to the summit, 800 l of water and 300 kg of coal were required. Of course, you mustn’t forget the additional weight of the two train drivers, the conductor and a maximum of 32 passengers. With a weight of around 12 tonnes the Pilatusbahn needed around 70 minutes to cover the 4,618 km long route to the summit station at a height of 2,073 m.


In 1935 the railway operators recognised the need for electrifying the route. This change in technology would not only save time but also a great deal of money. After the conversion to electrically powered drive, the railway was reopened on 15 May 1937. The railway was now driven by two motors, which could be minded to by one driver rather than two. As the electrical drive unit required less room than the steam power unit together with the boiler, the number of passengers for each traction unit could be increased to 40.






That was the first reaction of the client and financier of the Pilatusbahn when the engineer Eduard Locher presented in 1985 his first drafts for the new railway line. At that time there was an unwritten law limiting railways of a standard gauge to a gradient of 25 %. In addition, the radius of a curve should be at least 180 m. But the gifted engineer wasn’t put off and developed the so-called Locher system.


Eduard Locher simply ignored all the notions in force at that time. He planned that the Pilatusbahn, with a 80 cm track gauge, would reach the summit station via seven tunnels. To overcome the extreme gradient he designed gear racks engaged by horizontal pinion gears – the Locher system.
In April 1886 the construction work started in the valley and was completed after only 400 working days, which must have been a record at that time. On 4 June 1889 the new railway was put into operation.


Built 130 years ago, the Pilatusbahn is even today popular with visitors from the whole world. The uphill speed is 9 to 12 km/h and the downhill speed, a maximum of 9 km/h. So the total time of travel is 30 minutes uphill and 40 minutes downhill. The many passengers, a maximum of 340 per hour, obviously love it, enjoying for the whole of the trip marvellous views of the fantastic landscape.