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Pilatusbahn: Riding the world’s steepest cogwheel train

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For over a century, the Pilatusbahn, also known as the Pilatus Railway, has been the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. A marvel of engineering, it traverses a maximum gradient of 48% and an average gradient of 35%, with breathtaking views at every elevation.

Visitors can experience the railway from the end of May to mid-November, or enjoy this autumnal POV video all year round thanks to Switzerland is Life. It has a few ad interruptions, but the wordless journey is worth it.

“The train ride will take you through picturesque landscapes, surrounded by majestic mountains, as you make your way to the summit of Mount Pilatus. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding alpine landscape.”

climbing up the mountain
Engineer Eduard Locher first proposed the railway in the late 1800s, but his vision was met with skepticism from those who thought he was mad. Nevertheless, the railway was opened to the public in 1889 and has become an enduring symbol of Swiss engineering.

looking back at the views at the first stop
The railway’s unique design, featuring two horizontally rotating gears, was unveiled at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris and has remained unchanged since its inception. From The American Society of Mechanical Engineers:

“To keep the propulsion cogwheels from literally climbing out of their mating racks on the steepest portions of the Pilatusbahn, Zürich engineer Eduard Locher (1840 – 1910) devised a unique system that turned the rack on its side. The rack actually was doubled, engaged by opposing twin horizontal cogwheels. The combination not only ensured positive meshing of the racks and wheels even under extremes of loading, but guided the cars along the rails in place of conventional flanged running wheels and literally locked the cars to the mountainside…”

tunnel ahead

“Key to Locher’s design are the flanges on the lower side of the horizontal cogwheels. The cogwheels then roll along both sides of the rack support beam and under the rack itself. This serves two purposes: it guides the car, and it prevents any combination of wind and gravity from lifting the car and disengaging the cogwheels from the rack.”

The Mount Pilatus route of 4.62 kilometers (2.87 miles), from Alpnachstad on Lake Lucerne to the Pilatus-Kulm summit station near the mountain massif‘s Esel peak, takes 30 – 40 minutes, and rises 6,791 feet (2,070 meters) above sea level. At the top: Hiking, ibex-spotting, stargazing, a hotel and restaurant, the view, and more.

walking at the summit
Watch these related videos next:
• The Oeschinenesee summer toboggan run in Switzerland
• Ride the Sommerrodelbahn Alpine Coaster in Mieders, Austria
Ride the longest and highest urban cable car in the world
• Palm Springs Tram Ride
• From Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari, a time lapse of India’s longest train

Bonus POV: Take a ride on an eagle’s back over France’s Rhone-Alpes.

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