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RhB Is Preparing For A World Record

posted on 1st Jun 2022 15:46

As part of this year's celebrations of the 175th anniversary of the Swiss railways, Rhätische Bahn wants to set a record by running the world's longest passenger train. Scheduled to take place on Saturday 29 October 2022, the train will be 1,910 m long and will consist of 25 four-car Class ABe 4/16 Capricorn EMUs (each 76,432 mm long over couplings), i. e. 100 cars in all.

This train will run on the Albulabahn between Preda (1,789 m above sea level), Bergün (1,372 m above sea level) and the famous Landwasserviadukt, covering a distance of around 25 km on a gradient of up to 35 ‰. The record-breaking train will then continue from the Landwasserviadukt to either Tiefencastel (884 m above sea level) or Thusis (697 m above sea level), which is yet to be specified. 

The technical feasibility and safety tests for this run have already been started in advance, among other things to test the ability to reliably supply such a powerful train with 11 kV 16.7 Hz voltage, since with a nominal power of 1,000 kW for each Capricorn, this is a total of astonishing 25,000 kW! Although this train will rather just be braked by electrodynamic brake when running „down“. Even so, the presence of so many EMUs on such a short stretch of line will place a considerable strain on the catenary supply, even just for the arrival of units and the assembly of the almost 2 km long train, which will take place at the top of the line in the Bever - Spinas - Albulatunnel section, i. e. before Preda station.

The speed on the record run will be limited and will certainly be far from the maximum speed of the Class ABe 4/16 (120 km/h) or the maximum line speed on the RhB network (100 km/h), as the operator defines it as „we will drive slowly down the valley.“ With each unit weighing 114 t empty, the total weight of the record train will be around 2,850 t. Preparations also include the necessary adjustments to the multiple control by Stadler for such a large number of coupled Capricorns. 

The trials take place at night and during the first run from 23 to 24 March the train was formed by eight EMU, during the second run from 11 to 12 April already by fifteen and during the third run from 8 to 9 May 2022 by sixteen Capricorns. The photo taken during the latter night in the upper part of the Albula valley shows unit 3122 at the front of the train heading towards Bergün, which has just left the Rugnux spiral tunnel. Above the rest of the 1,223 m long train glows into the darkness. As the results of the tests so far have been good, no further test runs are planned in the near future. 

The RhB plans to unveil details of the forthcoming record on 29 June 2022. The aim of the run, which is to be entered into the Guinness Book of Records, is to promote tourism and raise the profile of the masterpiece of the railway pioneers. The 1,000 mm gauge Albulabahn which links Thusis (697 m above sea level) with the spa town of St Moritz (1,775 m above sea level) is 61.7 km long and with its 144 bridges (spanning more than 2 m) and 42 tunnels and galleries, is one of the most spectacular narrow-gauge railways in the world, which is why it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 (together with the Berninabahn). 

It is worth remembering that in May 2022 it will be exactly 100 years since the electrification of the (present-day) RhB network was completed. This history is presented by a second photo showing a work method that is unthinkable today... The reason for electrification at the time was the lack of coal for steam locomotives around the time of World War I. Even so, the work was beset by problems because other materials such as steel for the poles, copper for the catenary and porcelain for the insulators were also in short supply.

Therefore, improvisations had to be made and, for example, instead of steel poles, wooden poles, more precisely larch poles from the village of Zernez, were used, since "poles made from trees grown at this altitude can be expected to have a respectable lifetime even without impregnation", as the annual report from 1918 states. Since 2013, all the electricity for the trains on the RhB network has come from hydroelectric power stations.

At the same time, the operator wants to draw public attention in a record-breaking run to the Capricorns coming from the largest vehicle contract in RhB history, of which it will receive a total of 56 (ABe 4/16 3111 - 3166) with a delivery date set for 2024. Initially, 27 units were ordered in June 2016. Then further nine were ordered in December 2016 and a further 20 in June 2020. RhB currently has 30 Capricorns, 28 of which are in service, with further units being delivered in the monthly period. In November last year, 3133 was delivered, which includes the 500th bodyshell manufactured at the Altenrhein works.

The RhB’s record run is to break the SNCB's existing record of 1,732 m, when electric locomotive 2711 hauled a total of 70 passenger cars on 27 April 1991. The train, weighing around 2,800 t, covered 62 km between Gent and Oostende at an average speed of 52 km/h in 71 minutes as part of a charity event for the Belgian Cancer Fund.

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