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On home ground in front of your own station

For him, the world record attempt is literally taking place on his own doorstep: Ueli Nyffenegger, Head of Operations for New Albula Tunnel Construction. He is at home at the construction station in Preda, where a new tunnel is being built.

Dr. Reto Wilhelm, Managing Owner Panta Rhei PR AG, 13. wrzesień 2022

Nyffenegger, who has already seen and experienced many things, completed his apprenticeship at Rhaetian Railway almost half a century ago – at Preda station. And now the world record train with its 25 formations is carefully lined up on his doorstep in the existing Albula Tunnel. How does a railway expert like him feel about the upcoming world record attempt?

1 Mr Nyffenegger, you have been with RhB for a long time. Do you still remember starting out at the Graubünden railway?

Of course I do, really clearly in fact. I started my two-year apprenticeship as an operations planner at RhB on 1 May 1974: at Davos Dorf station. And at the time it was standard for apprentices to move around after the first year – after successfully passing the intermediate examination. As a result, I worked at various stations from the second year of my apprenticeship onwards. In the winter of 1975/1976 I was transferred from Ospizio Bernina to Preda. The reason was simple: they needed more people to work on the sledging operation there, with all that that entailed. At that time, sledges were hired through and handed over by RhB staff.

2 And now you’re back in Preda, 40 years later – with a whole new task...

Yes. I have been working in Preda for the new Albula Tunnel project since April 2014. And I will end my career up here in the Albula Valley. With the opening of the new Albula Tunnel in June 2024, my time with RhB will come to an end after 50 years of service.

3 Wow, that must be something approaching record-breaking, too. Speaking of records: you'll be in the front row when it comes to the big day on 29 October 2022. How are you involved in this major event?

It goes without saying that I will be on site in Preda on this memorable day. I’ll be there in case I'm needed. I can perform a wide range of functions if necessary. Be it as a customer manager, a shunting man or  head of security. In short, I’m the troubleshooter on duty.

4 In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in this attempt?

Clearly the communication. It is crucial that all 25 compositions communicate with each other without interference.

5 And how high do you think the chances are that RhB will break the record?

I’m very confident about that. I would say that RhB will set a world record.

6 Guests on the VIP train will walk through the new tunnel in Preda to the first connecting tunnel. What safety and comfort precautions will you and your team be taking?

I’ll not be escorting our VIP guests through the new Albula Tunnel personally. The local construction management will be taking care of that. Track has not yet been laid in the new Albula Tunnel, so the walk of almost 500 metres is absolutely no problem. The tunnel is also well lit.

7 Another “record” is imminent – the Rhaetian Railway is opening the new Albula Tunnel the year after next. How are things going on that score?

Currently, the new Albula Tunnel is scheduled to open on 7 June 2024. According to site management, we can make that opening date.

8 Why does there have to be a new tunnel? Or to put it another way, why didn’t you just refurbish the old one?

The old tunnel – it was opened in 1903 – is beginning to show its age. If we had just gone for a refurbishment, we would still have had to build a separate safety tunnel in parallel. RhB calculated the costs. The cost of constructing a new tunnel was only marginally higher. That’s why they opted for the new Albula Tunnel construction. A further advantage of the new construction is that – in addition to a larger tunnel profile – all the technology is also being brought up to date. Ultimately, the new Albula Tunnel is to last for at least 100 years.

9 What’s going to happen to the tunnel from 1903?

It’s being kept, of course: as a safety tunnel.

10 Are you on schedule with the tunnel construction? Are you anticipating any stumbling blocks?

Yes and no. The first, admittedly ambitious date for the inauguration of the new Albula Tunnel dates back to 2020. However, construction work took longer for various reasons. But we should still be able to make the aforementioned opening date of 7 June 2024.

11 One final personal question: you live right next to one of the best sledging runs in Switzerland. Do you occasionally go sledging down to the valley in winter? And, if you do, what’s your track record?

I usually use our fantastic sledging run between Preda and Bergün in February. Normally, I sledge down to the valley two or three times a year. I can’t really say what my track record is. But I’ve already done top speeds of between 45 and 50 km/h. Provided the runway is clear.

Construction of the new Albula Tunnel – preparation for blasting

On track: the new Albula Tunnel

Construction work on the 5,860-metre-long Albula Tunnel is in full swing. 2022 will be the year of major changes for the Albula Tunnel II construction site. The tunnel shell will be completed. This represents an important milestone. The dismantling of the construction installation – including the striking conveyor belts and the gravel plant – is under way. In Spinas, the reshaping of the Beverin floodplain and the redevelopment of the station are under way. The tunnel will then be fitted with the railway installations from 2023. The renovation of Preda station will also continue. The actual commissioning of the new tunnel is scheduled for 7 June 2024. The historic Albula Tunnel will then be converted into a modern safety tunnel with ventilation centres, communication facilities and emergency lighting. If everything goes according to plan, the entire system will be able to be fully commissioned in 2025.

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