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The Pilatus railway in Switzerland connects Alpnachstad on Lake Lucerne, to a terminus near the summit of Mount Pilatus at an altitude of 2,073 meter. The track climbs a slope of more than 1,600 meters in just 4.6 km, making it the steepest track railway in the world. It has an average gradient of 38% and a maximum of 48% - steeper than the steepest street in the world.

The project to build the line was proposed in 1873, suggesting a 1,435 mm standard gauge and 25% maximal gradient. However it was concluded that the project would not be economically viable. Then Eduard Locher, an engineer with great practical experience, devised a unique system with the maximal grade raised to 48% to cut the length of the route in half. Conventional systems at the time could not handle such gradients because the vertical cogwheel that is pressed to the rack from above may, under higher gradients, jump out of the engagement with the rack, eliminating the train’s main driving and braking power. Instead, Locher placed a horizontal double rack between the two rails with the rack teeth facing each side. This was engaged by two cogwheels carried on vertical shafts under the car.

pilatus-cogwheel-railway-8

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