The unique history of a successful rail partnership that has lasted over 100 years

2016-05-24 - The success stories of the Rhaetian Railway and ABB are tightly intertwined. Reliability, a pioneering spirit and commitment to innovation are important constants in the partnership, which has lasted for over 100 years. Energy efficient solutions from ABB promise a successful future for railways as the need for environmentally friendly mobility grows.

The recent history of the Canton of Graubünden is closely tied to that of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB). The unique history of the company began 127 years ago. On September 29, 1889, the company's first train traveled along the section of what was then the narrow-gauge Landquart-Davos line between Landquart and Klosters in Switzerland. This was also the start of a superb pioneering effort molded by vision, daring and expertise. In the years that followed, the company built a system of tracks that covered almost the entire Canton of Graubünden – an unparalleled rail line through breathtaking landscapes that also contributed significantly to the development of the canton's tourism.

The safe journey along the precipitous gorges of the Albula Valley or through the rugged countryside of the high Alps along the Bernina pass still delights countless tourists from far and near. It is thus a fitting legacy for these pioneers that the "Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes" was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 2008.

Unprecedented demands on technology and people
The RhB's red rail cars travel a distance of 384 kilometers year-round, negotiating countless curves, tunnels and viaducts, up and down across high peaks and through deep valleys.The Canton of Graubünden's topographic and climatic conditions present an enormous challenge to the railway infrastructure and rolling stock. Accordingly, the common history of the Rhaetian Railway and ABB began very early. The RhB section to the Lower Engadin was already electrified in 1913 and was one of the first AC lines in operation. Since then, ABB or its predecessor company BBC and mechanical OEM Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon have supplied practically all of the electrical equipment for the motive power units and a major part of the railway system's power supply.

Successful partnership for over 100 years
Some of ABB's roots as one of the world's leading suppliers of electrical equipment for the rail sector are therefore also connected to the over 100-year collaboration with the Rhaetian Railway. An external symbol of this historic railway partnership is the Allegra train carrying the ABB logo and slogan, in honor of the company's 125th anniversary.

The Allegra fleet consists of fifteen multiple unit trains supplied by Stadler Rail in 2010/2011. ABB has worked closely with Stadler Rail for over ten years. Almost all of Stadler's rail vehicles are equipped with ABB traction converters and transformers. State-of-the-art trains driven by ABB components can be found not only in Graubünden, but throughout Switzerland and elsewhere around the world; for example the United States, Norway and Russia.

For the challenging RhB network railway lines, ABB developed an innovative, energy efficient drive package consisting of a traction converter and transformer. The Bernina Pass, the highest open Alp crossing for rail vehicles, is at an altitude of 2,253 meters above sea level and the RhB trains have to negotiate the pass year-round. The exposed rail route includes some of the steepest adhesion sections in Europe. This together with tight curves makes the demands on the train's design and its drive systems extremely challenging. For example in winter, the catenary system is routinely covered in ice. In addition, the Allegra railcar must be able to pull additional passenger cars added during peak demand periods. Another unique factor that must be dealt with is the RhB railway network's use of two different power systems. The Bernina section is powered by DC, while the rest of the network is AC.

Custom solutions from Turgi
ABB developed and manufactured custom traction drives at its Turgi location to meet the unique specifications for these new Allegra trains. The traction transformers for the drive package were manufactured in Geneva. The innovative drive, developed especially for RhB, is now used on the Bernina line as well as the rest of the company's rail network. For the first time ever, it is now possible to travel from Chur to Poschiavo without changing the motive power unit. ABB's custom solution is based on modular, proven power modules, thereby contributing significantly to reliable rail transportation. The drive is also very energy efficient: during the descent into a valley, the braking energy is fed back into the grid, where it can be used by ascending trains on the same system.

ABB has a long tradition of expertise in the rail sector. At the same time, the company systematically enhances the key technologies – such as power semiconductors – to make them even more efficient and reliable. These innovations are not only used in rolling stock, but also on railways' infrastructures. For example, two converter stations, rated twenty megavolt amperes (MVA) each, are located in Landquart and Bever. This low-maintenance ABB technology converts 50 Hz power from the country's main power grid into the 16 Hz required by the railway. Such forward-looking ABB solutions contribute significantly to making the infrastructure environmentally friendly.

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