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Web Story Zurich, Switzerland 27-02-2020

3 min read

Travelling safely on Mount Rigi: one of Switzerland’s most spectacular journeys

ABB’s surge arresters ensure passengers have a safe train ride with Mount Rigi Railways and are protected against potential overvoltage hazards.

Standing like a solitary guardian against the backdrop of the snow-clad Swiss Alps, Mount Rigi is one of Switzerland’s most spectacular tourist destinations. So breathtaking are its beauty and its panoramic views, that the famous British painter J.M.W. Turner once created more than 30 sketches and drawings of the mountain. The mountain isn’t particularly high at 1,800 meter above sea level, but beautifully located between Lake Zug, Lake Lucerne and Lake Lauerz, earning itself the title of ‘Queen of the Mountains’. It is also home to Europe’s first-ever mountain railway.

Mount Rigi Railways is a pedigree of the alpine railway network in Europe. The track from the shore of Lake Lucerne up one of the slopes of Rigi became Europe's first mountain railway in operation in 1871. In 1875, an arguably even more scenic stretch was inaugurated on the other side of the mountain, from Goldau to Rigi. The rail network was electrified in 1906. Today, Mt. Rigi Railways transports more than 600'000 guests a year and is operated by RIGI BAHNEN AG.

The latest system upgrade of the railways has been carried out between 2010 to 2017 by Furrer Frey AG:– the leading solutions provider for overhead rail networks. As part of the upgrade, a safety concept based on an ABB solution has been introduced between Goldau Junction and the Rigi Kulm, an 8.5 kilometer stretch that starts from 520 meters above sea level and rises steeply to 1.750 meters above sea level.

Safety risks can occur along a rail network

Mount Rigi Railways runs on a direct current (DC) supply of 1,500 volts. This supply ensures high energy efficiency and facilitates frequent starts-and-stops. To avoid the so-called stray current corrosion, the tracks are laid in an insulated manner without fixed earthing. In the rare event that the overhead contact line breaks and falls on a track, a life-threatening high contact voltage can build up between the track and the adjacent metallic structures- potentially lethal if a person touches them.

“Catenary breaks are extremely rare. And, of course, it would be dangerous if the cables would fall in such a way that they energize the track,” says Michael Lang, Head of Railway Infrastructure at RIGI BAHNEN AG. “But that cannot be ruled out 100%. And safety for our passengers is the highest priority for RIGI BAHNEN AG.”

ABB surge arresters are an insurance for human safety

ABB offered a unique solution that ensures human safety as well as protection of the electric network - a voltage limiting device for DC rail network. The solution has been developed in the competence centre for surge arresters in Switzerland. Thanks to a simple and mechanically strong design, the voltage limiting device can be installed in any environment.

“Furrer Frey AG recommended the installation of ABB’s voltage limiting device along the rail route of Mount Rigi Railways at stops with high passenger movements,” explains Albin von Rickenbach, Project Manager for rail infrastructure at RIGI BAHNEN AG. In case of an overvoltage in the DC network, such as in a catenary break, the voltage limiting device operates and provides a grounding path to electricity. “This is the safety insurance we need for the passengers and underlines our commitment for a safe ‘Mount Rigi experience’”.

ABB’s surge arresters-based safety solution makes sure your spectacular adventure to the Rigi is as Mark Twain once described “…the charmingest place…for repose and restfulness.”