The International Steam Pages


Rack (Cog) Railways of the World - Europe

Some of the biggest challenges faced by railway builders through the years have been presented by hills and mountains. Splitting trains, multiple locomotives, tunnels, curves, even horseshoes and spirals are all commonplace in my book, sometimes it needs something a little more interesting... For some general coverage in Wikipedia, see a short list of relevant articles at the bottom of this page to get started there. These pages instead highlights outstanding currently open (and relatively recently closed) examples especially outside Europe and North America, particularly where reports exist on this website.

By and large there are three solutions for when the problem gets really serious, each one reflecting a more extreme need to climb, these are covered in these pages:

Home Reverses / Zig Zags
(20th Jul 2016)
Rack / Cog
(19th Nov 2016)
Cable Haulage
(5th May 2015)

I would like to thank James Waite for not only suggesting the creation of these pages but also doing a lot of the spade work both in the field and virtually. I would welcome further pictures to illustrate this page.


I have also included notes on some rack railways which survived into the second half of the 20th century, because people like me 'of a certain age' will have enjoyed visiting some of them and maybe will like to learn something of 'the ones that got away'.

The main Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rack_railway also includes excellent descriptions of the various types of rack systems.

This website contains a list of rack railways, I know much of the Indonesian information is wrong, so, like Wikipedia, the further the railway is from Europe the more the data should be treated with suspicion, http://www.stadtinfoseiten-deutschland.de/z/cgi-bin/njw.pl?Query=Zahnradbahn (German language). Of course, I have also relied on web sources and will also, no doubt, have introduced errors in what follows.

Europe

Many of Europe's rack railways were built for tourist operation, those that were not have almost completely faded away.

Austria

Erzbergbahn, Styria - The standard gauge 'iron mountain' Riggenbach rack line at Vordernberg survived into the 1970s but even before it 'failed' the passenger services had been turned over to adhesion rail cars. The rack disappeared long ago but the railway sees a weekend railcar service in summer - http://www.erzbergbahn.at - and there is a museum in Vordernberg with two of the line's steam locomotives on show.

Wikipedia - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erzbergbahn (German language)

Wikipedia - locomotive information in German language

For details of preserved rack locomotives from here - http://www.dampflok.at/index2.html?/53.htm 

Bashing the Iron Mountain - Part 1 Summer 1971

Bashing the Iron Mountain - Part 2 Winter 1976

Achenseebahn, Tyrol is a 7km long metre part Riggenbach rack gauge railway running between Jenbach and Lake Achensee

Website - http://www.achenseebahn.at/

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achenseebahn  

See also James Waite's historic pictures and Filippo Ricci's photoreport from Summer 2012 (24th August 2012).

Schafbergbahn, Upper Austria

Website - http://www.schafbergbahn.at/.

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schafbergbahn

Schneebergbahn, Lower Austria

Website - http://www.schneebergbahn.at/

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schneebergbahn

See also - also on this site - which include James Waite's picture from 1979:

France

The Petit train de la Rhune is a 4km long electrified metre gauge Strub rack railway at the western end of the Pyrenees:

Website - http://www.rhune.com/

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petit_train_de_la_Rhune

The Chemin de fer du Montenvers is a 5km long electrified metre gauge Strub rack railway in the Haute-Savoie region - see some notes from James Waite (30th August 2011):

Website - http://www.compagniedumontblanc.fr/fr/presentation-des-sites/montenvers-mer-de-glace (link modified 30th August 2011)

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montenvers_Railway

The Tramway du Mont-Blanc is a 12km long electrified metre gauge Strub rack railway  in the Haute-Savoie region - see some notes from James Waite (30th August 2011):

Website - http://www.compagniedumontblanc.fr/fr/presentation-des-sites/tramway-du-mont-blanc (link modified 30th August 2011)

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Blanc_Tramway

Lyon Metro Line C

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyon_Metro_Line_C 

Germany

The Drachenfels Railway is a 1.5km long electrified metre gauge Riggenbach rack railway the North Rhine-Westphalia region:

Website - http://www.drachenfelsbahn-koenigswinter.de/

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drachenfels_Railway

See Thomas Kautor's report (22nd June 2015)

The Zahnradbahn Stuttgart is a 2km long electrified urban metre gauge Riggenbach rack tramway:

Website of Stuttgart tramways - http://www.ssb-ag.de/ 

Wikipedia - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zahnradbahn_Stuttgart

Bayerische Zugspitzbahn is a 19km long electrified metre gauge Riggenbach system

Website - http://zugspitze.de/ 

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bavarian_Zugspitze_Railway 

Wendelsteinbahn is a 7km long electrified metre gauge Riggenbach system

Website - http://www.wendelsteinbahn.de/ 

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendelstein_Rack_Railway 

Greece

The 750mm line between Diakofto and Kalavryta is a (part) Abt rack system which in theory could see steam charters but no reports of such seem to have been made in recent years. James Waite attended the line's 120th anniversary celebrations which included a special train with Dk8.001 on the adhesion section near Kalavryta (19th November 2016)

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diakofto_Kalavrita_Railway

Wikipedia (German) - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahnstrecke_Diakopto%E2%80%93Kalavrita - the pictures includes one of the preserved steam locomotive

Hungary

One of Budapest's trams is actually an electrified cog railway:

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Cog-wheel_Railway

Report - http://hampage.hu/trams/thg2bp/route56.html (scroll down) and http://hampage.hu/trams/fogas/e_index.html (this is an interesting depot visit).

Click here for more pictures.

Italy

The Superga Rack Railway is a 3km long electrified 1445mm gauge 'tramway' style Strub rack railway in Turin:

Website - http://www.comune.torino.it/gtt/turismo/sassisup.shtml (link dead by 26th April 2014) 

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superga_Rack_Railway

Enthusiast Reports:

The Genoa 'Funicular' Railway is a 1km long electrified 1200mm gauge Riggenbach rack railway:

Report of a visit - http://www.funimag.com/funimag07/GENOVA04.HTM, note this report is in several parts and you need to click through... More information from the railway's management is on http://www.funimag.com/funimag07/GENOVA08.HTM. See also http://www.photorail.com/phr0/tram/altre%20reti/amt-genova.htm

Ferrovie della Calabria

There have historically been a number of 950mm lines in Southern Italy with rack sections. James Waite has written a short introduction to these relatively unknown systems.

This is Stefano Paolini's historical picture of 506 at Catanzaro Lido:

Romania

The standard gauge Subcetate - Boutari rack (Abt system) railway line in Romania closed in 1978, but CFR 40.004 survives in Sibu Museum, see http://www.bda-train-blog.blogspot.com - some notes on the locomotive. For a 1973 journey on the line read http://www.albico.cz/zubacka/Eng/rumun3.htm.

Slovakia (updated 1st April 2015)

The trbsk Pleso - trba rack railway is an electrified metre gauge rack railway (formerly Riggenbach, now Strub system) in the High Tatras.

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%A0trbsk%C3%A9_Pleso_-_%C5%A0trba_rack_railway

See also - http://spz.logout.cz/uzke/sk_strba/strba.html (Czech language)

From Tisovec Pohronsk Polhora is a 16km Abt section on the Brezno Tisovec line.

See - http://www.albico.cz/zubacka/contents.htm

The rack wass no longer actually in use but Mike Swift told me (21st July 2014) that this railway has finally taken delivery of its 4-6-2T rack tank from Romania following overhaul. It was launched on 3rd May 2014, though the first public operation were some months later owing to the need for bridge work associated with a new road. See http://www.zubacka.sk/ and more specifically http://www.zubacka.sk/sk/blog/tisovec-privital-parnu-zubacku-je-odstartovane/.

This is Alex Jesserer's picture of 4296 (Ex CFR 40.006) on a first test run on the rack on 26th July 2014 (added 9th August 2014). A photoreport of the first specials is available elsewhere on this website (11th October 2014). The 2015 operating timetable is available on http://www.zubacka.sk/sk/blog/jazdy-parnej-zubacky-a-historickych-vlakov-v-roku-2015/, thanks to Alex Jesserer for this (1st April 2015)

Spain (updated 8th August 2015)

The Montserrat Rack Railway is an electrified metre gauge rack railway (Abt system) which reaches a hill top monastery. James Waite was here in November 2010 and his report includes pictures of two preserved rack steam locomotives which formerly worked here (14th November 2010).

Website - http://www.cremallerademontserrat.com/website_cremallera/cat/index.asp

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montserrat_Rack_Railway

The Vall de Nria Rack Railway is an electrified metre gauge rack railway (Abt system) which connects Ribes de Freser with Nuria in the Pyrenees. Thomas Kautzor visited in July 2015 and his report includes pictures of one preserved rack steam locomotive which formerly worked here.

Website - http://www.cremallerademontserrat.com/website_cremallera/cat/index.asp

Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vall_de_N%C3%BAria_Rack_Railway

Switzerland

Wikipedia (see below) lists no less than 18 rack railways, some of the most interesting are highlighted below, you would need a month to do justice to them all in comfort:

Regular steam operation

Brienz Rothorn Bahn (800 mm (2' 7") gauge, Abt system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brienz_Rothorn_Bahn and http://www.brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch/en.html

These pictures are from Robert Wilson and show original (1891) and modern (1992) SLM locomotives at work on 13th September 2014.

Furka Heritage Railway (metre gauge, Abt system) - See James Waite's 2009 report also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furka_Heritage_Railway and http://www.furka-bergstrecke.ch/eng/. This is James Waite's 2009 picture: For a YouTube video of 3 locomotives active for the 100 year celebration see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuQduLMcDWY (added 20th August 2014) also a report of the centenary celebrations (30th August 2014).

Rigi-Bahnen (standard gauge, Riggenbach system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigi-Bahnen and http://www.rigi.ch/en/welcome.cfm

This is James Waite's 2009 picture of their vertical boilered locomotive #7 (SLM 1/1873!), it was a rare working year for it:

Very occasional steam operation:

The Brnigbahn, (metre gauge, Riggenbach system) between Interlaken and Lucerne, operates steam between Interlaken Ost and Giswil a few times a year in the Summer,  http://www.dampfbahnen.ch (link dead by October 2014). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brnigbahn, also James Waite's report.

Monte Generoso Railway (800 mm (2' 7") gauge, Abt system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Generoso_Railway and http://www.montegeneroso.ch/en/13/homepage.aspx 

Schynige Platte Railway (800 mm (2' 7") gauge, Riggenbach system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schynige_Platte_Railway, also James Waite's report

No current steam operation but see the first link!

Pilatus Railway (800 mm (2' 7") gauge, Locher system) - http://www.pilatus.ch, James Waite's report and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilatus_Railway. This is James Waite's 2009 picture:

Some others:

Jungfraubahn (metre gauge, Strub system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungfraubahn

Wengernalpbahn (800 mm (2' 7") gauge, Riggenbach system) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wengernalpbahn

The full Wikipedia list is here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Rack_railways_of_Switzerland

United Kingdom

The UK's only true rack railway (Abt system) is that up Snowdon, it uses a mixture of steam and diesel locomotives and has an unusual (for Britain) gauge of 800 mm (2' 7"), although this seems quite common among Swiss systems.

Official Website - http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk/

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowdon_Mountain_Railway

These pictures are from 1989:

The 1067mm (3' 6") gauge Snaefell Mountain Railway on the Isle of Man is not a true rack but similar in concept. It is equipped with the Fell (friction) system with a centre rail for braking on the descent but this is not normally used as the cars are now fitted with rheostatic braking. 

Wikpedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snaefell_Mountain_Railway and http://www.iomguide.com/mountainrailway.php

Report - More vintage 1968 pictures from James Waite.

(Former) Yugoslavia

It's all history now, but the 760mm narrow gauge railways round Sarajevo had Abt rack sections (check out also the main page for more coverage of non-rack sections http://www.penmorfa.com/JZ/index.htm).

Komar - Sattel (Goles - Donji Vakuf) - Pictures from 1969 - http://www.penmorfa.com/JZ/Donjivakuf.html 

Ivan Pass (Podorasac - Bradina) - Pictures from 1966 - http://www.penmorfa.com/JZ/hdahlhaus3.html

97-028 from these systems is preserved in the railway museum in Ljubljana

97.029 is preserved at the Frojach narrow gauge railway museum in Austria - http://www.club760.at/html/LokomotivenE.htm (link dead 29th March 2012). 97.036 is preserved in its homeland, formerly at Turbe, it is now at Travnik and may go to Banovici for restoration in due course, for pictures see http://www.dampflok.at/index2.html?/274.htm


As always Wikipedia is some help in a specialist subject but when 'push comes to shove' you soon find gaps in the coverage, not to mention things which are downright wrong...  Worse still are the 'Look Alike' sites which lift material from Wikipedia in a bid to make money from advertisements and thereby foul up the search engines.

Hill Railways in General - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillclimbing_(railway) (link corrected 26th April 2014)

Mountain Railways - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_railway 

Rack Railways - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rack_railway and http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zahnradbahn#Liste_der_Zahnradbahnen - look for conflicts!

Reverses - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zig_zag_(railway)

Funiculars - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funicular

There are many sub-links within these pages, some to specialist technical information, others to items on individual railways.


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk