Unimog in winter services at the Brienz Rothorn Bahn.

With a combination of Herculean strength and state-of-the-art technology: Unimog U 430 in winter Services.

A brand-new Unimog ensures that one of Switzerland’s oldest cog railways can start into the season in the Bernese Oberland.

Metre for metre, the Unimog U 430 works its way forward,with 220 kWof sheer power! The rotary snow plough mounted at the front cuts through the glistening white top edge of the snow. From the ejection chute the snow flies in a high arc and splatters onto the steep slope a few metres further down.Way down in the valley Lake Brienz sparkles in the morning sun, against the majestic backdrop of the Bernese Alps with the famous trio of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. This is a spectacle Frank Zobrist has no time to enjoy. Hismission is to clear the tracks of the Brienz Rothorn railway below the upper station still covered in deep snow even at the end of May.

“After a normal winter, the snow here is four to six metres deep. Sometimes even ten,” says Daniel Schlosser, technical director of the railway, one of the oldest cog railways in Switzerland, in service since 1892. Steam locomotives still predominate on the 7.6 kilometre route. At present, the route continues to the middle station, where gentian violets have already been in bloom for some time now. However, most passengers want to go right to the very top, at an altitude of 2 244 metres. Waiting for the snow to thaw of its own accordwould takeweeks. And the season reallymust be in full swing by early June – it only lasts until the end of October.

Teamwork is the key.

For this reason, it is always time to clear the snow frommid-May. “A team of five usually handles that task,” says Daniel Schlosser: Two railway employees use hand-held snow ploughs to remove the snowy peaks. A third colleague uses a PistenBully (ski-slope maintenance vehicle) to clear a first rough track. Colleague number four clears rocks away. Colleague number five – Frank Zobrist, who heads the clearance crew – then uses the Unimog to clear the bulk of the snow.

This year work began above the middle station, with the clearing of individual snowfields. All the men know the terrain like the back of their hands, especially the most snow-critical zone at an altitude of about 2 000 metres: it is in the shape of a funnel where the track traverses the slopes in a steeply rising curve hundreds of metres long.

The Unimog is working with 220 kwh pure power.
The snow is hurtling out of the lange because of the special high pipe of the Unimog.
With a joystick you can operate many functions of the Unimog.
The powerful moulding cutter is tilling through a lot of snow.
It's good to be think of skid chains when driving on steep ground.
The Unimog is working with 220 kwh pure power.

Only a Unimog can pull off this job.

Franz Zobrist is nobody’s fool when it comes to the Brienz Rothorn. He has been responsible for clearing the snow there since 1984. Always self-employed, and always with the Unimog. “You probably couldn’t handle this tough job with any other vehicle.” Until 2015, the 60-year-old used his own U 406. Now he works with a vehicle that the railway operators purchased under Zobrist’s guidance: a U 430 equipment carrier. It has a Euro VI engine with an engine capacity of 7.7 litres, a torque of 1 200 Nm, additional rear-axle steering (RAS), a hydrostatic drive train and a rotary snow plough made by Kahlbacher – all top-of-the-line equipment.

“Thanks to RAS, the Unimog can even dowhat is referred to as the “dog’swalk” in German,” says Zobrist. “Turning the wheels slightly on both axles allows me to reverse out again once I’ve worked my way deeply into the snow. The Unimog has always been fantastic, but the new technology makes yet another enormous difference!” And off he goes, back into the driver’s cab. Whatmakes the job so hard, apart fromthe incline and the sheer mass of the snow are its properties at this time of year. “Some of it has been lying there since November and is unbelievably hard. It’s better if it is not too soft either, though, otherwise the surface becomes too slippery,” says Zobrist.

Fluctuations in the snowfall.

The team must constantly be on the lookout for avalanches and rock falls. Many tourists in the Alps are concerned about climate change; to date it has barely had an impact on the amount of snow on the Brienz Rothorn. “In exposed areas the volumes have remained steady; there have always been fluctuations from one year to another,” says Schlosser. Snow falls were particularly severe in 2012; at the time the technology chief worked out that over 1 500 railway wagons would have been necessary to transport all the snow away.

Under steam since 1892

From the station in the valley near Lake Brienz, the train travels all the way up to an altitude of 2.244 metres on the Brienz Rothorn, 1.678 metres in height. The incline on average is 22.5 per cent. Two vertically mounted cogs drive the locomotive forward. The locomotives are mostly steam-driven; three of them have been in service since 1892. Many railwaysin Switzerland have been refurbished and electrified. In contrast, the Brienz Rothorn railway continues to travel on steam – and this is exactly what attracts many of the visitors – more than 140.000 of them each year.

This year the volume of snow to be cleared is somewhat less, yet the job must be done more quickly. “Last autumn we newly laid a long section of track starting from the middle station, and we weren’t able to complete it by the time winter set in,” Schlosser explains. “This is why we needed to finish it off now.” Only after that were the snow clearance crew able to start their work: an incomplete track section means that the Unimog and the Bully couldn’t be transported up to the snow.

Franz Zobrist is convinced that the Brienz Rothorn railway will be ready to start the season on time again this year. He points an index finger up in the direction of the mountain. A few hundred metres ahead of the Unimog, the track disappears into a tunnel that leads through a ridge. “After that there’s just a short section, followed by another tunnel, and then we’re done.” And what happens once the snow has been cleared? More work here on the mountain! Transporting concrete or timber to repair the farmhouses – on the Unimog.

Source: Transport Magazin 4/2016
Text: Florian Oertel
Photos: Henrik Morlock

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