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After more than three decades, the record for the world’s longest passenger train has been smashed – and the record breakers didn’t exactly make it easy for themselves.
Switzerland's Rhaetian Railway company is now the proud holder of the record, set on 29 October in the Swiss Alps. The record-setting train was 1.2 miles (1.9 km) long, made up of 25 electric trains connected end-to-end, totaling four engines and 100 carriages. The journey was intended to honor the 175th anniversary of Switzerland’s railway, with thousands of onlookers dotted along the hills and valleys to watch the train’s progress.
In around an hour, the train traveled for 16 miles (25 km) from Preda to Alvaneu along the Albula Line, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southeast Switzerland that passes through beautiful yet challenging terrain featuring valleys, mountain passes, 22 tunnels, and 48 bridges. The engineers and drivers had practiced for months to familiarize themselves with the route's sharp curves, steep inclines, viaducts, and switchbacks. The seven drivers, assisted by 21 technicians, could communicate over an intercom system. Coordinating their speed and acceleration was essential to avoid exerting excess force on the track. The train’s top speed was limited to 35 km/hour, preventing it from feeding too much current into the power supply.
- Until the Swiss attempt, the National Belgian Railway Company had held the world record for the longest passenger train since 1991, when an electric locomotive and 70 passenger cars, totaling just over a mile (1.73 km) in length, traveled from Ghent to Ostend to raise money for a cancer charity. While impressive, that record was set on a standard-gauge railway traversing a flat landscape – nothing like the undulating curves of the Albula Line.
- Making the achievement even more incredible is that the Swiss train descended from 1,788 meters (5,866 ft) above sea level to 999 meters (3,278 ft). And it did this on a narrow-gauge railway, with rails only a meter (3.3 ft) apart. The Albula Line was completed in 1904, giving people much easier access to the region than the previous transport options of horse-drawn carriages or sleighs.
- It's worth noting that freight trains are often much longer – three kilometers (1.86 miles) or more – so this record only applies to passenger trains.
- If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, this story probably made you think of the graphic novel/film/TV series Snowpiercer, which features a perpetually-moving train housing the last people on Earth. That train is famously 1,001 cars long, stretching 10 miles (16 km) through the frozen post-apocalyptic landscape.