The Salzburg Festungsbahn and Reisszug Funiculars

Post by Julia

This is a guest post by Ross Edgar.

Hohensalzburg Caste from Salzburg

The Salzburg Festungsbahn is a funicular railway that transports tourists from the historic heart of Salzburg to the Hohensalzburg Castle — impressively perched on a steep hill overlooking the city. The Salzburg fortress is one of three castles that was rapidly expanded during the Thirty Years’ War by the Archbishop Count Paris of Lodron in order to protect the territory controlled by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. With a length of 250m and a width of 150m, Hohensalzburg Castle is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.

The Festungsbahn.

The Festungsbahn funicular was originally opened in 1892, providing a link from Festungsgasse, located to the north under the castle walls, to the fortress itself. The Festungsbahn was constructed initially as a water balance funicular. In such a system water is be used as a ballast in the upper car, thus both assisting in the upper car’s descent and counterbalancing the ascent of the lower car.

The funicular line is 198m in length, ascending a total of 98m with a maximum gradient of 68%. From the time of its opening the Festungsbahn operated two cars along a single track with a passing loop at the midway point.

The Modern Day Festungsbahn. Image from Salzburg-ag.at.

In 1960 the two funicular cars were entirely replaced and an electric motor was installed to supersede the water balance system. Thereafter, the Hohensalzbrug Castle and Festungsgasse stations were remodelled in 1975 and 1976 respectively. The line was further modernised in 1991 with brand new cars featuring an enlarged passenger space and greater ascent speeds. Today’s Festungsbahn operates at a maximum speed of 5 m/s, resulting in a journey time of approximately one minute. Each car has a maximum capacity of 48 passengers. While the funicular cars are particularly modern looking, they do not feel out of place.

Festungsbahn Lower Station. Image from Salzburg2.at.

The station designs and architecture are both sympathetic to the heritage of the city. The lower station is seamlessly integrated into the historic Festungsgasse. The cars then travel through the fortress walls to reach the upper station, which is also located within the fortress walls. The majority of the upper half of the line is supported from below by a steel bridge with a wooden footbridge, which crosses the line mid route.

Reisszug. Photo by Michel Azéma via Funimag.

Perhaps even more interesting is the Reisszug, which transports goods from Nonnberg Abbey below the eastern walls of the fortress to the central courtyard of the fortress itself. What makes this funicular particularly interesting is its age. The line was first documented in 1515 but historians speculate that it could have been in existence as early as 1495 or 1504 due to inference in historical documents. Whatever the exact date of construction, the Reisszug is certainly the oldest documented funicular in the world and arguably even the world’s oldest documented railway still in operation.

The Reisszug travels through defensive walls and large wooden doors.

The Reisszug was originally operated by either human or animal power and continued to be powered in this manner until 1910. Along its route the funicular passes through the five independent layers of defensive walls, each equipped with a robust protective door, that make this fortress so foreboding and maintains its defensive integrity. It is speculated that runners may have originally been employed on the Reisszug, however historical records indicate that wooden rails and a hemp rope were readily adopted.

The Reisszug has been refined and entirely reconstructed on several occasions over the years, especially between 1988 and 1990. At present, the funicular has modern steel rails, steel wheels, and a steel haulage cable, in place of the wood and hemp parts of the past. The system is powered by an electric motor. The line is 190m in length with a total ascent of 80m and a maximum gradient of 67%. The Reisszug can transport three passengers and 2,500kg of goods at a time, with a maximum speed of 0.5m/s, resulting in a journey time of just over five and a half minutes.

The significance of the Reisszug speaks for itself. The age of this system testifies to both the simplicity and the endurance of the principles that lie behind funicular railways and perhaps even cable systems in general — still being as relevant today as it was 500 years ago. The Festungsbahn is also noteworthy, albeit from an entirely different perspective. This funicular demonstrates the potential to integrate a cable system seamlessly within a historic city. This is particularly poignant as Salzburg Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. While the Festungsbahn is by no means an inner city trunk route it does experience high volumes of traffic during the summer tourist season and copes with this passenger volume admirably.

All images by Ross Edgar unless otherwise noted.

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  1. Never thought that a funicular could operate in a castle!

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