Post by Nick Chu
This is a guest post by Ross Edgar.
The Swiss city of Zurich has a long heritage with the operation of funicular cable systems. At one time there were three funiculars within the city limits until the Dolderbahn was converted into a rack railway in 1973. Today, two funiculars remain in Zurich: the Polybahn in the city centre (map) and the Rigiblock Funicular (Seilbahn Rigiblick) (map) which climbs the Zurichberg in the north-east of the city.
The Polybahn is an iconic symbol for Zurich, being possibly one of the most well known funicular railways in the world. Since 1889 the Polybahn has carried passengers between Zurich city centre and the main ETH Zurich university building, originally known as Eidgenossisches Polytechnikum. Between its opening in 1889 and its conversion to electric power in 1897, the Polybahn operated as a water balance funicular.
The line has been overhauled on a couple of occasions in its history. In 1976 both the track and the cars were refurbished, but in 1996 a more extensive rebuild was completed with the installation of new track and a new, automated haulage mechanism. Today’s Polybahn is 176m in length and ascends a total of 41m at an average gradient of 23%. The line features the standard funicular layout of two cars and two stations with a single passing loop at the midway point. However, at 955mm the Polybahn’s track gauge is far from standard. Each car has a capacity of 50 people with a travel time of just under two minutes.
The line is significant in its integration within the wider Zurich cityscape. The lower terminus is situated within a row of grand terraced townhouses with the entrance appearing just as any other building in the row. At the opposite end of the building the funicular emerges from the terminus at first storey level, immediately crossing a main road by means of a steel bridge. The Polybahn is a prime example of how a cable system can blend seamlessly and intelligently into a city environment.
The Seilbahn Rigiblick, in contrast, is located in Zurich’s largely residential outer suburbs. The funicular originally opened in 1901 but it was refurbished with all-new cars in the early 1950s and again in the late 1970s, together with an extension of the line at the upper terminus. Today’s Seilbahn Rigiblick is 385m in length and ascends a total of 94m at an average gradient of 25.3%. Interestingly, the line features two cars but a total of five different stops; two termini and three intermediate stops. Each car has a capacity of 30 people with a travel time of two minutes without any intermediate stops.
With its connections to both city tram routes and trolleybus routes, the Seilbahn Rigiblick is a prime example of how cable systems can be integrated within a wider urban transport network. Moreover, while it is not uncommon for funicular systems to feature intermediate stops at the midway point, intermediate stops in addition to this are indeed uncommon. However, as long as the intermediate stops are at uniformed intervals there is no reason why additional intermediate stops could not be a possibility.
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