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Behind the scenes

Track laying at RhB – what's it all about?

Jonas Krummenacher is a track layer for Rhaetian Railway. Monotonous work? Certainly not! Track laying at Rhaetian Railway covers a wide range of different activities. We take a closer look at them in this article.

Lorena Campa, trainee in Marketing Communication, 28. aprile 2020

With over 5,000 kilometres of track, Switzerland has the densest and busiest rail network in the world. Our narrow-gauge railway covers 384 kilometres of that network and is also known as the largest metre gauge railway in Switzerland. The Albula district covers 62 kilometres and has 22 employees in the railway maintenance department. And this is where Jonas Krummenacher works. 

The safety of the employees is our top priority

Jonas Krummenacher works on viaducts or bridges whatever the weather. The network in the Albula district comprises around 36 tunnels and 129 bridges (including culverts and flyovers). The construction sites are located between approx. 600 and 1,709 metres above sea level. 

It is therefore important for RhB and its employees to wear the right working clothes. In most cases, the staff from the maintenance department are out “on the rails”. Protective clothing with illuminated strips and sturdy footwear in the form of safety shoes (steel toecaps) are therefore a must. There are also training sessions as well as guidelines on the important rules of conduct in the track area.

A safety officer ensures the safety of the maintenance staff when they work during the day while trains are running normally. This person is specially trained for this purpose and is responsible for warning staff in good time of approaching trains.

During night work, when no trains are running, the "safety foreman" is responsible for the implementation of safety measures when staff are working in and around the track area. 

Creating a new route

When a new section of track is being created, rails are laid where they have never been before. Last year, after a three-year planning and construction period, the dual track Sils im Domleschg – Thusis was completed. 

On this construction site, RhB first needed space for a new, additional track. An external civil engineering company constructed a new retaining wall and used ballast for the envisaged route. The maintenance department then laid the sleepers on the ballast 60 cm apart and installed the new rails. Then the whole track was ballasted so that the straightening and tamping machine could bring the track into the correct position.

The straightening, tamping and levelling work was taken on by Sersa Group AG, as it has the necessary large track-laying machines. The end of the rails was welded together with thermite by Sersa Group AG, helped by the maintenance department.

How are the rails delivered to the construction sites?

RhB orders the rails in lengths of 60 and 30 metres from the manufacturer, who delivers the rails to the storeroom in Landquart. From there they are distributed to the construction sites with special rail unloading compositions provided by the Graubünden goods railway and unloaded on site by the maintenance department.

When night becomes day

For some of the team, a working day on the construction site in the summer starts when others are finishing work, for example on the dual track in Sils im Domleschg. In order to ensure Rhaetian Railway's rail traffic runs normally during the day, longer and more complex work, such as major rail replacements from 20 metres upwards, takes place at night as it is easier then and can usually be carried out without interruptions. 

The employees’ work is planned in compliance with the labour law. For example, an employee can work a maximum of four weeks of night shifts in succession, after which two weeks of "day duty" must follow. 

In winter, the maintenance department in the Albula district only works during the night in exceptional cases, for example when the employees are needed to clear snow in the early shift.

The maintenance and servicing of existing track

Existing track has to be maintained at specific intervals.

  • “Tamping" is a way of eliminating vertical unevenness and horizontal shifts in the track position by lifting and/or moving the track, points and crossings by lining the railway sleepers with ballast.
  • Retightening or replacing the rail fasteners.
  • Rail replacement is carried out when the rails are worn down, i.e. when they no longer have sufficient profile, but the sleepers and ballast are still in good condition.
  • Embankments are maintained with mowing or weeding along the edge of the track to prevent weeds and grass from growing into the track.
  • The points are lubricated so that they do not rust and jam.

Böschungsmäher

The linesman – another important member of the team

Another important person in the Albula district team is the linesman. The linesman checks the entire railway line on a weekly basis on foot (Reichenau-Tamins to Preda). 

The linesman's main task is to check for changes and damage to the track, such as rail breaks or gauge changes, and initiate the necessary measures. Problems that can be put right straight away, such as loose track fastenings, are immediately repaired by the linesman himself using the tools he carries with him. Problems which cannot be solved immediately have to be marked and reported to the relevant way inspector immediately. 

The reward for the effort

Track layers are rewarded for their hard work with views of at times unspoiled nature, fresh air and the mostly fantastic weather in Graubünden. 

The maintenance department of the entire Rhaetian Railway always strives to offer its passengers a pleasant and unforgettable journey.

Would you perhaps like to work as a track layer for RhB and take part in construction and maintenance? There are currently vacancies free in Chur and Thusis

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