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The railway siding that crossed a motorway on the level

filed on: 09.08.2020 (9th Aug 2020)

A recent discussion on bahnforum.ch reminisces on an interesting feature of the old Gotthard railway line.

piotta ritom funicular The Ritom hydro power station is located close to the southern end of the Gotthard tunnel not far from Airolo, and was built in connection with the electrification of the Gotthard railway and completed in 1920. A funicular stretches alongside the pressure pipes upwards from the turbine house in the valley by the village of Piotta, all the way up to lake Ritom (which was originally a natural lake but was enlarged for the purpose of the power station). The height difference for the pipes is 850m with a length of 1,413m. The funicular parallels it over 1,369m for a vertical rise of 785m. Originally built to assist the construction and maintenance of the power station, the funicular now carries mostly passengers. With a maximum incline of 87.5 percent it is claimed by some to be the steepest funicular of Switzerland. The difference between a funicular and a lift may of course be a semantic question.

The 2007 photo above shows the funicular seen from the upper station, with the pressure pipes to its left.

piotta ritom funicular The area is well worth a visit, both to study the engineering of the installations and for the nature and hiking area it serves.

However, more of interest to the present article is the SBB siding that serves the turbine hall. Most power stations of the period were directly served by railway sidings to permit the delivery of equipment by rail, and also its removal for servicing or repair. Even if such sidings were never expected to see much use, they were at the time the only reasonable means of moving large pieces of equipment.

Such a siding would probably not be worthy of a mention were it not for the fact that on the short distance from Ambri-Piotta SBB station to the turbine hall, it manages to cross both an airstrip (although not actually the runway or any taxiway, but it was until recently a strictly military airstrip) and also crosses the Gotthard motorway. Both crossings are at grade. The siding predates both installations. The siding also crosses the river Ticino on a bridge.

The 2007 picture above shows the Ticino river bridge in the foreground with the railway siding entering the great doors of the turbine hall. To the left of the hall the pressure pipes can be seen as can the track of the funicular to their left.

The siding is no longer used and has partly been aspahlted over or dismantled. Nevertheless, it has not yet vanished entirely.

Below are some Google Earth / Google Maps views of the site, showing the tracks still visible in the asphalt of the A2 Gotthard motorway. Clicking on these opens the Google website with the locations from which the screenshots were taken.
piotta siding crossing motorway
piotta siding crossing motorway
piotta siding crossing motorway
The satellite view shows the funicular and pressure pipes coming into the frame from the top, the turbine hall, and the siding leaving it, its crossing with the Ticino river below that, and then the motorway crossing, with the siding taking a curve across the edge of the airstrip to join the SBB Gotthard railway which stretches in left-right direction at the bottom of the frame. Ambri-Piotta station is outside the frame to the right.

This news item is from the 2020 newslog.


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