This is how Europe’s first mountain railroad was created: instead of hiking up the mountain, a mechanic named Niklaus Riggenbach in Switzerland dreamed of a comfortable train ride to the top of the mountain. But how could 1000 meters of altitude be covered in a short distance? He invented a cogwheel train. His invention led to the construction of the Vitznau-Rigi Railway in 1871, which went down in history as Europe’s first mountain railroad and heralded the dawn of modern tourism.
Europe’s first mountain railroad to the Rigi
Those were the days: In 1868, Queen Victoria had herself carried in a sedan chair to the highest peak of the Rigi on Lake Lucerne. Her two Rigi porters received six pieces of gold for their efforts, as the Rigi Kulm Hotel records in its annals. Three years later, the Rigi porters were no longer needed, as they were replaced by a steam locomotive: Europe’s first mountain railroad was launched on May 21, 1871.
Cogwheel railroad was considered a world sensation
Tourism flourished with the invention of the cogwheel railroad. Just three years later, the new cogwheel railroad was transporting over 50,000 guests a year to Mount Rigi. At this time, steam locomotive 7 was already in use, pushing the passenger carriages uphill, huffing and puffing.
Locomotive 7 made its maiden voyage in 1873 and this jewel from the Lucerne Transport Museum has been restored to working order. It is the only still-running cogwheel steam locomotive in the world that is operated with a stationary boiler.
Today, locomotive 7 is the world’s only running cogwheel steam locomotive with an upright boiler.
Who was the inventor of the cogwheel railroad?
How can a train on rails overcome a gradient of 25 percent? Niklaus Riggenbach, who was born in Alsace in 1817 as the son of Swiss emigrants, asked himself this question. He became a locomotive builder in Karlsruhe and later faced this question as the manager of a Swiss railroad.
The invention was a rack like a ladder. It lies between the rails for the wheels, with teeth that get wider towards the bottom. A large cogwheel is mounted under the locomotive, which engages with the rack. The Riggenbach system was patented in 1863. It took a few more years before he had the money, expertise and license to build Europe’s first mountain railroad.
Rigibahn first mountain railroad in Europe in 1871
After two years of construction, the cogwheel railroad on Mount Rigi opened in 1871. Between Vitznau and Rigi Staffelhöhe, it climbs a good 1000 meters in altitude over five kilometers. Two years later, the final stretch to Rigi Kulm was completed. When the Vitznau-Rigi Railway transported over 100,000 passengers in its fourth year of operation in 1874, it was considered a world sensation. This was followed by the opening of the Arth-Rigi Railway in 1875.
The racks that Riggenbach’s engineers installed back then are still in use today. If the teeth become loose or the material wears down, they are repaired. The route from Goldau to Rigi Kulm is 8.6 kilometers long. If it weren’t for the racks, the railroad line would have to be 70 kilometers long to overcome the 1000 meter gradient. There are 86,000 teeth between the rails.
On May 27, 1905, the general meeting of the Arth-Rigi Railway decided to electrify the line. On May 1, 1907, the Rigi Railway from Goldau to Rigi Kulm became the first standard-gauge cogwheel railroad in the world to be electrified.
The Kräbel-Scheidegg aerial cableway was opened in 1953. The Weggis-Rigi Kaltbad aerial cableway followed in 1968.
Some trains from the early days are still in operation today, when steam rides are on the program at weekends from July to September.
Rigi-Nostalgia steam rides very popular
Vibrating metal pistons and drive shafts, the smell of burning coal, hissing steam and spraying sparks cast a spell over steam train passengers and make the train ride up the Queen of the Mountains an unforgettable experience. Nostalgic steam trips to Mount Rigi are one of the last true adventures of our time!
Steam engine Lok7
It was revamped for the 150th anniversary of the Rigi Railways and has been back on the Rigi ever since. Locomotive 7 has been steaming up the Rigi again since 2021, comfortably at a top speed of 7.5 km/h. It has been delighting young and old for generations. The Lok 7 basket rides are particularly popular. Locomotive 7 has a basket at the front, where you can breathe the steam air of the original mountain railway pioneers.
Further information incl. travel times at: Locomotive 7
Steam locomotive 16 and 17
The steam locomotives 16 and 17, which went into operation in 1923, reach a top speed of 9 km/h. The vintage locomotives and carriages from the early years have been lovingly and expertly restored, which is why the old ladies still steam comfortably up the Queen of the Mountains today. A first-class experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.
The steam locomotives have to be warmed up for four hours before the smooth operation of the powerful mechanics can be set in motion. Once set in motion, they are very hungry: they consume an average of 450 kg of coal and 2,000 liters of water on the route from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm.
Steam locomotives No. 16 and No. 17 will be working extra shifts from August 1 on the lines from Goldau and from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm and between Rigi Staffel and Rigi Kulm.
Further information on current nostalgic steam journeys at: Steam train timetable
Video Lok 7 nostalgia train
The 150-year-old locomotive No. 7, affectionately known as “Lok 7,” is once again in operation on the RIGI Queen of the Mountains in Switzerland. This cozy steam locomotive, with a top speed of 7.5 km/h, has been captivating both young and old for many generations.
Up to 7 guests can simultaneously enjoy a RIGI journey in the “Basket” on Lok 7, either in front or behind the locomotive. Lok 7 is the world’s only operational cogwheel steam locomotive with a vertical boiler, featuring a “Basket” where the 7 guests can experience the steam air of the original mountain railway pioneers.
Video steam locomotive 7 on the Rigi
Lassen Sie sich mit Lok 7 ins Jahr 1873 zurückversetzen…
Video “Körbli” locomotive 7 on RIGI Queen of the Mountains
In action on June 11, 2023: Let us take you back to the year 1871…