ABB in the Alps
Snow-capped mountains against a sky of blue is an iconic image of Switzerland.
The magnificent Swiss Alps span the country offering breath-taking panoramic views and year-round adventure. Yet the challenges of providing gateways to, through, up, down and around these spectacular mountains have been monumental, requiring feats of technical innovation and engineering expertise spanning more than a century of development. ABB technological innovations have paved the way for many pioneering Swiss alpine transport and infrastructure projects and continue to provide alpine access with reliable, secure, and energy-efficient technologies.
Today ABB technology is being used in any physical way possible to get to a Swiss mountain top, including ski lifts and chairlifts, gondola lifts, funiculars, aerial tramways and trains. Our technology has been, and continues to be, an integral part of the infrastructure of many alpine transportation providers. Being at the forefront of the Energy and Fourth Industrial Revolutions enables us to provide technology solutions that are energy efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable.
ABB has a long and successful history in the Swiss mountain railway sector. The first electric mountain railways in Switzerland at the end of the 19th century were already using our company’s electrical equipment.
Dating back to the delivery of the railway’s first ABB-equipped electric train in 1913 ABB and the Rhaetian Railway’s (RhB) successful partnership have a long history of conquering the mountains together. The topographical and climatic conditions in the rugged Graubünden region place the highest demands on the Rhaetian Railway’s railway infrastructure and trains. ABB, or its predecessor, BBC, has been supplying practically all the electrical equipment for the traction units and a large part of the railway power supply. Also, innovative ABB traction system have turned RhB trains into energy-saving Alpine icebreakers to meet the demands of the high Bernina pass, which is listed in the UNESCO world heritage. The breakthrough technology is also being used in railways in China to secure operations under harsh conditions.
The history of the Gotthard Tunnel is also closely linked to the technologies of ABB. BBC was responsible for the initial electrification of the Gotthard tunnel, first completed in 1882. BBC, together with the Swiss locomotive and engine factory SLM, built electric locomotives for the Gotthard railway from the 1920s onwards.
Fast forward to 2016 and the opening of The Gotthard Base tunnel, Switzerland’s “construction project of the century.” ABB technology plays a crucial role in the world’s longest railway tunnel, the 57 km Gotthard base tunnel through the Alps. Described as the ‘muscle and lungs’ of the tunnel, ABB supplied the major electrical components for the entire power supply of the tunnel infrastructure, as well as the power supply and control systems for the ventilation system.
Jungfrau Railways – Top of Europe
ABB technology helps Jungfrau Railways trains travel to The Top of Europe, a world-famous tourist attraction (in 2015 more than one million people traveled on the train) in the Bernese Alps. The Jungfrau Railway began operation in 1912 after 16 years of construction and since then has been bringing tourists to the highest European train station on the Jungfraujoch (3454 meters above sea level). BBC’s electrification of the train made the rail trip possible. Thanks to a drive train custom-made by ABB, the Jungfrau Railway trains can safely and uninterruptedly run throughout the year despite heavy snowfall. Although two-thirds of the rail route is in tunnels, the tunnel-free area between the Kleine Scheidegg and the Eiger Glacier is exposed to the elements and snow can accumulate very quickly.
In contrast to cutting through the Alps, ABB also supplies the technology for smoothly going up and across a mountain. The center piece of the vast Arosa-Lenzerheide ski resort is the cable car Urdenbahn, which is an aerial cableway between Hörnli in Arosa and the Urdenfürggli on the Lenzerheide powered by ABB motors and converters. With a capacity of 150 people per cabin, the shuttle service is one of the largest in Switzerland. The hourly transportation capacity is 1,700 persons per direction. The two pendulum crossings that cross the Bündner Urdental stretch a distance of 1700 meters without a single mast. Because the two pendulums run in parallel, but function independently, they can be flexibly adapted to passenger traffic, which saves costs and increases energy efficiency.
The cable car features a further digitally enabled innovation: on the top of the mountain is a microgrid. Thanks to ABB technology, the energy flows can be optimally regulated and adapted to the grid.
An impressive example of the constant technological progress at ABB are the modern AC drives used for the gondola lift between Engelberg and the “Stand” station at Titlis, near Lucern, Switzerland. ABB AC drives enable the Titlis Express as well as Rotair, the world’s first rotating gondola, to efficiently carry over one million passengers annually. Titlis is not only a major attraction in summer because of its unique panoramas, but also very popular with winter sports fans.
The Swiss Alps have long been a proving ground for ABB technologies which are being used all over the world. ABB is working continuously so our technologies are even more efficient and more reliable to create a sustainable energy future, not just in Switzerland but around the world.