The funicular and the rack mechanism

There were pronounced slopes that the trains could not overcome because the adherence of the driving wheels was insufficient. They were again facing the famous problem of adherence that the pioneers of the railway suffered. One could think that the problem would be of easy solution by just increasing the number of driving wheels to increase adherence. But such idea is wrong.

In fact, if on a slope of 40 per 1000 the towable load is about twice as the adherent weight of the locomotive, in a slope of 66 per 1000 the same locomotive can not tow more than such weight. Hence, it was necessary to find a new system to avoid the same problem every time that the slope is increased, and the solution was the revival of an old idea from Blenkinsop, this is, the gear wheel, useless in the flat railway, but very useful or necessary in the slopes. This type of railway is called rack railway or cog railway and its creator was engineer Niklaus Riggenbach, who on 12th March 1862 obtained the patent and the authorization for a line in service in the Swiss slope of the Gotthard Pass.

However, the first practical realization of this system took place in United States, in the strong slope of Mount Washington, located in the state of the same name. When this railway was projected, the most skeptical of the Americans had but words of pungent irony for the building company. The engineer from the company, inquired about how he would do to triumph in a work of such magnitude, replied that it would be done by placing a third teething rail in the center of the railway and a gear wheel - known as pinion - in the locomotive - fixed to the driving axis -, whose teeth would engage in the rail, ensuring so the propulsion. In 1866 this new type of railway was ready.

Mountain locomotive, 1891
Mountain locomotive of the Pike's Peak Railway, 1891.

In Europe the first application was made in 1870 in the railway in Mount Rigi, in Switzerland. The system that we are addressing was the point of arrival of some attempts that had been made in 1830 in Panama and in 1847 in Pennsylvania, based in the utilization of a single center rail. But the project made by Riggenbach offered greater safety, since the locomotives benefited from higher adherence and stability, being much lesser the risk of sliding in the curves.

Snow locomotive, 1897
Locomotive for snowy and icy conditions, built in 1897 by the American company Phoenix.

In short routes with very pronounced slopes it was adopted the traction by funicular, this is, the cars were dragged along the rails (single or double) by a steel cable actuated by powerful engines. A curious system using a counterweight was experimented in Switzerland in the funicular on the lake near Berna. In the terminal station, in the top of the mountain, were filled with water the deposits installed in the car, which, once loaded, started the descent, dragged by the heavy deposits; by means of a cable running around a wheel placed in the terminal station, the descending car made to ascend a second car in a parallel railway. Once the car arrived down, it was emptied of water, and filled with water the car that had reached the top, ensuring so the continuous movement.

Trains and ships

The steam engine was always conquering new terrains, bringing with itself the economic and social welfare; thus were increasingly more indispensable freer links and a new maritime transport. It was required to bring the train as close as possible to the ships to avoid the transfer; it was required to give to the train the chance of overcome the obstacle of a water channel, such as the English Channel, for example. The link between the train and the ship was made for the first time in 1851 in the Firth of Forth, between Scotland and England, by means of a strange and ungainly ship which transported the trains from one coast to the other, and which the British called ferry boat. The first ferry boats transported freight trains, then came the ferries accross the English Channel for transporting passenger trains.

Old drawbridge in New York dock
Drawbridge used in the New York docks to link the railways with the rails in the ferry boats.

These ships started to be built all around the world, serving between isles, in the channels, isthmus and straits; the first of the countries was United States where, already in 1870, were transported by means of appropriate pontoons the wagons towards the surroundings and the interior of the New York docks, and in 1878, by adapting an old steam ship, it was established a regular line of 15 miles between New York and Cape Charles, in Maryland. Also the famous Lake Michigan, which due to its tempests and winterly ices had forced the trains to surround it, "surrendered" in 1894 when powerful ferry boats displacing about 1000 tonnes were built, suitables for navigating difficult waters. The line ran along 56 miles which were covered in five or six hours.

Railway ferry boat, 1881
This ferry boat started in 1881 the service in the mouth of the Sacramento River, in California.

Hundreds of them existed in the mid 20th century in the great lakes of North America, in the bay of New York and in San Francisco. A service of ferry boats with four tracks was installed between San Francisco and Sacramento, with a course of 145 kilometers. Somewhat longer is the line established between La Habana and Key West, in southern Florida, and specially long is, with its 1100 kilometers, the route between La Habana and New Orleans, capable of transporting up to 80 heavy wagons. Many ferry boats were established also in the Japanese archipelago, being the longer route, of 210 kilometers, between the islands of Sakhalin and Yeso.

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