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A Brief History of Rigi Cogwheel Train

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A Brief History of Rigi Cogwheel Train

Did you know that the oldest cogwheel train in Switzerland is already more than 150 years old? Its old steam locomotive still takes passengers with to the top of Mount Rigi near Lucerne.

In this brief history of Rigi cogwheel train we’ll tell you more about the origin of legendary Mount Rigi Coghweel Railway.

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The Dawn OF Tourism In Central Switzerland

Central Switzerland, where lush green hills dotted with wooden chalets meet the crystal blue waters of Lake Lucerne, became a popular tourist destination practically from the beginning of the movement itself.

Tourists coming to Lucerne in the mid-19th century quickly discovered the pleasure of outdoor activities. Lucerne, thanks to its convenient location, offered a plethora of attractions, from gentle countryside walks and accessible vantage points with breathtaking views to lake cruises and more demanding hikes.

Two mountains the closest to Lucerne, Mt. Rigi, and Mt. Pilatus, became the first to be conquered by mass tourism. It is no surprise, then, that this is where the brief history of Rigi cogwheel train begins. 

brief history of rigi cogwheel train

Riggenbach's Vision For Mt. Rigi

Mount Rigi cogwheel railway was the first cogwheel train to be opened for public use in continental Europe in 1871.

A Swiss engineer, Niklaus Riggenbach, was responsible for designing and overlooking the building of the Rigi-Vitznau cogwheel line. In preparation for this monumental project, he famously said: “I want to make it possible for everyone to travel up into the mountains and enjoy the glory of our magnificent country!”.

At the time, the cogwheel trains already existed – in 1861, the first rack railway designed by designed by Sylvester Marsh opened at Mount Washington, USA. Riggenbach further developed the already-known Abe cogwheel rail system and patented it on his own. 

brief history of rigi cogwheel train

Rack-And-Pinion System

The definition of a rack railway (also rack-and-pinion railway, cog railway, or cogwheel railway) is a steep-grade railway with a toothed rack rail, usually between the running rails.

Trains are fitted with one or more cog wheels or pinions that mesh with this rack rail. This allows the trains to operate on steep grades above around 7 to 10%, which is the maximum for friction-based rail. The rack lies between the rails. The pinion gear is connected to the actual train car.

brief history of rigi cogwheel train

The Birthday Present

On Riggenbach’s birthday, May 21, 1871, the inauguration of the new line took place. Riggenbach himself was in command of the first 300-meter-long ride from Vitznau, a village on the eastern side of Lake Lucerne, up to Rigi Staffelhöhe.

It was, overall, a great success, and the further development of the line quickly followed. The brief history of Rigi cogwheel train doesn’t end here: the beginning of the 20th century saw the Rigi cogwheel train reach its top, the Rigi Kulm. 

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Old But Gold - The Original Steam Locomotive

The original Mt. Rigi locomotive is still in use. Built in 1858 (the plate on the loco and other sources show the later date, 1873), it is the oldest Swiss locomotive surviving and also the only remaining standard gauge rack-fitted vertical boilered locomotive in the world.

The two-cylinder steam engine provides 196 PS power under 7.5 km/h speed. The loco was removed from service in 1937, when the railway was electrified, but has been returned in 2009.

Brief History Of Rigi Cogwheel Train

Today, more than 150 years later after the initiation of the line, the ride up the first Mt. Rigi cogwheel train is a true ride back in time.

The small, stubby locomotive, painted in shiny forest green color, diligently pushes three red carriages full of excited tourists up and down the hill – just as it’s been for the last 150 years.

The rack system developed by Riggenbach works without failure, giving a testimony to the quality of Swiss rail engineering. 

Explore Swiss Railways Jewels

A ride with a Mt. Rigi cogwheel train, a true railway jewel, is part of many of our day and multi-day rail tours. On our 12-Day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, we start our tour de Suisse with this particular nostalgic ride.

This brief history of Rigi cogwheel train shows the bold beginnings of the Swiss railways and sets the tone for future achievements. Join us for our Rigi Day tours and Rail Tours to explore other engineering wonders Swiss railways have in stock.

Check your benefits of 12-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland below. 

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