Posts Tagged: Reisszug



Military Cable Cars

Guest post by Ross Edgar.

Over the years, the Gondola Project has discussed numerous different applications of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT), highlighting the versatility and adaptability of such technology. However, one particular avenue of CPT remains largely unexplored: military cable systems.

Military applications of CPT do not readily spring to mind, yet in Alpine nations CPT has been used extensively for this purpose. An early example of this is the Reisszug in Salzburg which has provided a supply route from the city to the fortress since the early sixteenth century. More extensive use of CPT for military applications can be found throughout the twentieth century, particularly in Switzerland.

Reisszug. Image by Wikipedia User Magnus Manske.

The Swiss National Redoubt, originally conceived in the late nineteenth century, was designed as a defensive system to protect the country in the event of invasion. The National Redoubt was subsequently revised on a number of occasions throughout the twentieth century, most notably under General Henri Guisan during the Second World War. The strategy pragmatically recognised the limited resources and manpower of Switzerland in comparison to the major European powers. Therefore, a strategy was created that did not endeavour to compete with such power, but aimed to ensure that any incursion into Swiss territory would be so bloody and would result in such huge losses that invasion would be rendered entirely unattractive. This strategy repelled both Nazi and Soviet aggression and guaranteed Swiss neutrality throughout the twentieth century.

The twentieth century National Redoubt featured static defences protecting strategic transportation nodes including mountain passes and railway tunnels. These defences included forts, gun emplacements, bunkers and other hardened positions which formed an armoured ring around the Swiss interior, creating a fall-back position for the government and the population and denying access to the aggressor. These defences are characterised by their highly effective concealment with examples including bunkers disguised as chalets and gun turrets disguised as large boulders.

Today, such hardened positions have been largely replaced with more technological defences but the exact details are not in the public domain. However, the majority of structures still exist and a number are open to the public as museums. A select few of the original defences remain in military use and have been widely upgraded to meet modern threats.

It is as part of the National Redoubt that Switzerland employs CPT technology in a military context. Due to the topography of Switzerland and the strategic advantage of altitude, many defences are constructed on mountain passes, in high pastures or even on mountain peaks. While providing a military advantage, this also presents a logistical challenge with the requirement for transport of men and materiel to such inaccessible locations. Therefore CPT is used to connect installations, both with other installations and with the valley below.


Can you seen the cable system? Image by Ian Edgar.

The example illustrated in this post is on the Weissfluhgipfel above Davos in the east of Switzerland. It is not entirely clear what military facilities are present on the Weissfluhgipfel or what specific purpose the cable system serves in this instance, but the presence of CPT technology serving a military facility is very clear. The terminus pictured is evidently built into the mountainside and presumably has subterranean access to the facility above. This facility has been clearly designed to blend into the surrounding landscape.


Subterranean station? Image by Ian Edgar.

Information on Alpine military cable systems is not readily available as many of these defensive networks have not been methodically catalogued and, particularly in the Swiss case, are shrouded in secrecy. However, both Italy and France built similar extensive defensive lines in the Alps in the twentieth century, known as the Alpine Wall and the Alpine Line respectively. It would be logical to conclude that the obvious benefits of CPT technology in an Alpine environment would have been utilised here also.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.

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The Salzburg Festungsbahn and Reisszug Funiculars

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

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

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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