Zurich Polybahn

16
Jan

2013

Zurich’s Urban Funiculars: The Polybahn and Rigiblick Funicular

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.

Polybahn. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

Rigiblick Funicular. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

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.

Polybahn's integration with city and public transit. Image by hrs51.

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.

Rigiblick Funicular at Hadlaubstrasse stop. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

Rigiblick Funicular at Lower Base Station. Image by Flick user hrs51.

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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10
Feb

2010

Sometimes . . .

. . . we miss the little things because we’re too focused on criticizing the big things.

A restaurant critic slams a new local bistro but fails to notice the washrooms. Too bad, because the sinks would’ve fit perfectly in his tiny downtown condo.

A professional football scout skips the Ivy League schools because they’re “too brainy.” Too bad, because a junior at Princeton would’ve filled his need for a place-kicker perfectly.

An entrepreneur’s invention is dismissed wholesale by a team of venture capitalists. Not what they’re looking for. Too bad they didn’t look closer: The invention might have been a dud, but the entrepreneur’s innovative financing strategy would’ve solved a problem the venture capitalists had been struggling with for years.

What Thomas Edison said: To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.

Remember that when you look at the  Zurich Polybahn video below. It’s a comically short funicular of only 176m. Barely worth considering from a transportation perspective, except when you look at it’s station design.

More often than not, there’s always something useful in the useless. We just tend not to notice… Too bad for us.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Funiculars / Zurich Polybahn
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