It climbs steeply!
The new Swiss funicular to Stoos is the steepest funicular in the world and runs day in day out from the valley community of Schwyz right up to the center of the mountain village of Stoos. Two chairlifts continue onwards to the Fronalpstock peak with breathtaking views over Lake Lucerne. The operating staff, under Gregor Annen, ensure that all passengers can enjoy uninterrupted alpine views.
Welcome to Stoos!
Switzerland has countless wonderful mountain peaks and steep slopes. In Central Switzerland, around 45 minutes from Zurich, a world record has been broken. Since December, the new Stoos Mountain Railway carves a spectacular path from Schwyz in the valley up to the mountain village of Stoos, and makes its way up the mountain more steeply than any other funicular in the world.
The funicular manages an extraordinary 110% gradient, leaving the world’s steepest roads appearing pretty harmless in comparison. Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, is top at 35%; San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street managed 27% before being replaced by a road with switchbacks.
"Safety is of course the most important thing,” Gregor Annen explains. For him, this also means that everything should be perfectly clean. For the last nine years, the 53-year-old has shouldered responsibility for the mountain railway’s operation, and has worked alongside the high-tech railway’s long conceptual phase. "The Stoos Railway is a technological wonder,” he says. "A masterly effort for all those involved.”
In summer, the railway transports up to 3,500 passengers up the mountain every day; in winter as many as 4,000. From the valley station up to Stoos, the train gains 2,400 feet in just five minutes, before heading back down the mountain again in the same time.
The carriages, with their four compartments, each offer unhindered views through the windows and their curved panoramic roofs. These require cleaning every day. A particular challenge here is the cylindrical shape of the cabins, attached to each other like giant washing drums. The funicular has been constructed so cleverly that the passenger always stands on a flat surface, however steep the climb up the mountain.
Uninterrupted view upwards
The lowest cabin with its open view of the tracks is particularly susceptible to dirt, as passengers not willing to miss a moment’s excitement place their noses and hands on the window panes.
The glass panes in the rail stations’ entrances and train departure areas where guests wait are cleaned to perfection daily.
In the summer, the cabins have to be cleaned of mud walked in by passengers in their hiking boots, while in winter there is snow and slush to be removed. And at all times of year there are crumbs, liquids, packaging material and even dog hair. When snow melts on the floor, the puddles are easily cleaned up with a dry vacuum cleaner.
Local people travel daily
While a hand-held scrubbing machine in the station exit areas removes bits of paper, leaves and grass, or slush in winter, the areas outside the valley and mountain stations are regularly cleaned of leaves and rubbish with a ride-on sweeper. Here, buses drop off day trippers, suppliers unload their products. Up on the mountain, in the car-free village at 4,260 feet above sea level, a good 150 people live and use the funicular for their daily trip to school or work.
Everything that is needed in Stoos has to be brought up by funicular. This not only includes food and drinks, but also cement, wood, and other building materials for houses. The Stoos train has a loading platform with skips for this purpose.
Powering up to the summit
Annen starts his early shift with a trip on the train just after six in the morning, taking fresh bread and newspapers with him up the mountain. Beforehand, it is checked whether everything is in order on the railway. "Nights can be stormy,” the Swiss man, who originates from the canton of Schwyz, says.
Having his job on the Stoos railway was the fulfilment of a dream for him. As a boy, Annen built chairlifts out of string and match boxes, while at the age of six he first rode on the old Stoos railway. Since then, he has been a passionate fan of the traditional Swiss wrestling "Schwingfest,” where sportsmen demonstrate their strength on the mountain every year. "Schwingen” is a Swiss national sport, and is performed in an open ring on sawdust.
The two chairlifts that carry on from Stoos up onto the Fronalpstock peak also fall within Annen’s area of responsibility. The chairlift’s seats get grubby or sticky, while the foot rests are dirty. "We find everything imaginable here,” says Stoos Railway employee Pia Schilter, who is picking up wine bottles and empty snack bags and effortlessly washing down the seats’ blue artificial leather.
Top travel destination with unique views
At the very top, there is a 360-degree view over the wonderful Lake Lucerne. The area is known as the Urschweiz, the original core of the country. Chamois and birds of prey complete the idyllic atmosphere. There is also a view of countless mountain peaks, for example the famous Rigi or across to the Stanserhorn. The legendary Rütli is also visible – the field on the bank of Lake Lucerne where the original Oath of Allegiance was sworn by the first Swiss.
"The view is unique and for us too, every time is a new experience,” says Annen. "Visitors take one selfie after another.” In summer, the slopes gleam like green velvet, in winter as if covered in powder. On the mountain restaurant’s terrace, where guests are served fondue, alpine cheese, red wine or schnapps, one can let the surroundings sink in – and then descend from the Fronalpstock on foot or on skis.
There is certainly plenty of time to do so. At weekends, the Stoos Railway runs on into the night: in winter until midnight; outside the official timetable, upon request. Many take advantage of the mountain idyll for events or seminars. And those who have once been to the top will know why the ”New York Times” has chosen the Lake Lucerne region’s Stoos Mountain Railway as one of the 52 travel destinations in the world that people really should visit in 2018.