10 amazing feats of railway engineering

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Since the first primitive iron horse, rail has broken records and these days it's no different. We look at some contemporary examples of amazing railway engineering.

From the tallest, to the deepest, to the oldest, the world of railway engineering is full of extremes. We look at the contemporary bridges, viaducts and tunnels which are pushing the limits of today’s railway engineering.

The tallest railway viaduct

Mala Rijeka viaduct

Taking 4 years to complete, the Mala Rijeka Viaduct or ‘Little River viaduct’, rises 200m above the river valley below. The impressive structure contains 36,000 m³ of concrete and 100,000 tons of steel. To put that in perspective, the base of the largest supporting pillar is the size of a tennis court! It’s not to be confused with the tallest railway bridge, an accolade that goes to China’s Beipanjiang River Railway Bridge.

The steepest funicular railway

Katoomba Scenic Railway

If you consider plunging off a plateau on the edge of a 200m cliff scenic, then Katoomba Scenic Railway in Australia’s Blue Mountains will live up to its name. For the rest of us, perhaps terrifying is a more appropriate description. With a 52-degree incline this is the steepest cable railway in the world, so overcome your vertigo and take the 310m plunge. You’ll be treated to miles of Jurassic rainforest when you reach your valley destination.

The highest railway station (in Europe)

jungfraujoch

Although the world record for highest railway goes to the Qinghai-Tibet railway in Asia (at 16,640 feet above sea level) we thought we’d put the spotlight on Europe. At over 11,000 ft, the Jungfraujoch railway station, in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps is Europe’s highest, thus deserving its nickname as the station at the ‘Top of Europe’. It can be reached via a 7.3 km long railway tunnel, accessible from nearby Interlaken. If you’ve got a real head for heights make your way to the observation deck for spectacular Alpine views.

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The longest rail ‘n’ road bridge (in Europe)

Oresund bridge

The Oresund Bridge stretches from Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden, allowing cars and trains to cross the 16km stretch of water which separates one country from the other. And if the image above looks like an optical illusion it’s because the 2-track railway and 4-lane highway abruptly descend into the sea as the bridge becomes a tunnel for the last stretch. Is it a tunnel or a bridge (a brunnel)? Either way it’s the continent’s longest road and rail bridge by a mile!

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Longest undersea tunnel

channel-tunnel

The notion of a tunnel under the Channel was first envisaged back in the 1800s. Nearly 200 years later, and after 3 years of digging, there was literally light at the end of the tunnel, as the machines boring through the seabed finished their task. Affectionately known as the ‘Chunnel’, the Channel Tunnel now boasts the world’s longest undersea tunnel at 23.5 miles.

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The world’s first undersea rail tunnel

Thames-tunnel

From the world’s longest undersea tunnel to the world’s first. Though not initially designed for rail traffic, London’s Thames Tunnel was the first of its kind. Designed by the infamous Marc Isambard Brunel it was considered the ’8th Wonder of the World’. And after 18 years under construction half of London’s population paid the penny toll to walk the tunnel when it finally opened in 1843. Since 2010, it’s formed part of the new London Overground service that connects Rotherhithe with Wapping.

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The deepest railway tunnel

seikan rail tunnel

Japan’s Seikan tunnel connects the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu via the notoriously stormy Tsugaru strait. Despite being in a known earthquake zone, dynamite and drills were used to blast the tunnel through rock down to 790 ft below sea level. Despite this danger it was a much-needed alternative to boats, that frequently sank in the treacherous waters above. When it was opened it was the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world, but is soon to be eclipsed by the Gotthard tunnel (below) in the length stakes.

The longest railway tunnel (to be)

Gotthard base tunnel

Okay we’re cheating a little here because this tunnel isn’t finished, but we pride ourselves at being ahead of the curve. Once complete the 35.4 mile Gotthard Base tunnel in Switzerland will be the world’s longest rail tunnel. With an estimated cost of £6.6bn (that’s around £850 per Swiss citizen), and 16 years of construction under their belt, we hope that the thrill of travelling by train under the Alps is worth the effort. And if you just can’t wait, you can keep track of their progress via a live webcam feed.

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Oldest railway tunnel in the world

oldest railway tunnel

Also hot off the press are reports of what may be the world’s oldest railway tunnel. In Derbyshire, England, archaeologists have unearthed a tunnel dating back to 1793 concealed under… a garden rockery. Loconuts may point out that the advent of the steam engine wasn’t until the early 1800s and they’d be right. However, it’s thought the tunnel was the conduit for horse-drawn trains before being used by steam locomotives during the 20th century.

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The amphibious train

Elblag canal

We’ve blogged on train-boats and boat-trains before on Loco2, but we couldn’t resist another mention for amphibious trains. The Ostróda-Elbląg canal in Poland is a beautiful example of where rail and hydro engineering combine. To move from one canal to another at a higher level, boats on the Ostróda-Elbląg go a short distance by rail, solving the problem of a difference in canal elevation.

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Image credits: Pranav Bhatt, jonahjonesCornelius BechtlerOmsc7sanpaniOneFlameintheFireDao-hui Chen, Derbyshire Archeological SocietyBilfinger SE, sinfin.net  Reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons licence via photopin