The International Steam Pages

Rack (Cog) Railways of the World

Some of the biggest challenges faced by railway builders through the years have been presented by hills and mountains. Splitting trains, multiple locomotives, tunnels, curves, even horseshoes and spirals are all commonplace in my book, sometimes it needs something a little more interesting... For some general coverage in Wikipedia, see a short list of relevant articles at the bottom of this page to get started there. These pages instead highlights outstanding currently open (and relatively recently closed) examples especially outside Europe and North America, particularly where reports exist on this website.

By and large there are three solutions for when the problem gets really serious, each one reflecting a more extreme need to climb, these are covered in these pages:

Home Reverses / Zig Zags
(20th Jul 2016)
Rack / Cog
(19th Nov 2016)
Cable Haulage
(5th May 2015)

I would like to thank James Waite for not only suggesting the creation of these pages but also doing a lot of the spade work both in the field and virtually. I would welcome further pictures to illustrate this page.

I have also included notes on some rack railways which survived into the second half of the 20th century, because people like me 'of a certain age' will have enjoyed visiting some of them and maybe will like to learn something of 'the ones that got away'.

The main Wikipedia article also includes excellent descriptions of the various types of rack systems.

This website contains a list of rack railways, I know much of the Indonesian information is wrong, so, like Wikipedia, the further the railway is from Europe the more the data should be treated with suspicion, (German language). Of course, I have also relied on web sources and will also, no doubt, have introduced errors in what follows.


Greece (19th November 2016) - Picture (and report) of restored DK 8001at work.

Switzerland (24th March 2016) - Pictures of both generations of SLM locomotives on the Brienz-Rothorn Bahn

Spain (8th August 2015) - Vall de Núria Rack Railway report.

Germany (22nd June 2015) - Drachenfelsbahn report

Slovakia (11th October 2014) - First trains up the rack line.

Switzerland (30th August 2014)

Slovakia (21st July 2014) - Tisovec – Pohronská Polhora ready to return to steam, (9th August 2014) picture of test run.

New Zealand (5th April 2013) picture of Fell loco added.

Australia (30th March 2013) James Waite's visit to the Mount Lyell Railway and (6th February 2013) Mount Lyell Railway's economic problems

USA (28th September 2012) Pike's Peak locomotive steamed.

Austria (24th August 2012, Achensee Bahn photoreport)

USA (30th January 2012) - Pike's Peak loco at Colorado Railroad Museum

Lebanon (19th December 2009) - extra link and photograph added.

USA (26th October 2011) - Mount Washington Cog Railway report.


I know of no current rack railways in Africa, the 1067mm (3' 6") gauge Benguela Railway had a Riggenbach rack section at one stage it is described briefly in This is the late Basil Roberts' picture of former Esslingen built rack loco 0-6-2T #12 in use as the works pilot at Nova Lisboa in April 1970:


Argentina / Chile

Of historical interest only, the Transandino was a metre gauge line with an Abt rack and adhesion section in its highest parts. Although electrified, it was closed by the mid 1980s for mainly political reasons but is currently being rebuilt with a summit tunnel which will eliminate rack working. It was notable for having had Kitson-Meyer steam locomotives for the rack sections in early days.

Wikipedia - 


The tourist railway from Cosme Velho in Rio de Janeiro to the summit of the Corcovado Mountain (famous for its statue of Christ the Redeemer) is an electrified metre gauge Riggenbach rack line. 

Website - 

Wikpedia -

The 1600mm (5' 3") São Paulo Railway, latterly Estrada de Ferro Santos-Jundiaí, faced a steep climb from Piassagüera to Paranapiacaba on its route from Santos to São Paulo. For many years this was operated as a cable railway with its famous 'brake locomotives' but it was converted to an electrified Abt rack system in the 1970s. The engine house and immediate area at Paranapiacaba is now a superb museum - see this page on this site for photographs and links.

Wikipedia -

This is James Waite's 1977 picture:


The canal locks have traditionally used electric 'mules' running on a rack railway:

Wikpedia -


The 1422mm (4' 8") near standard gauge Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire was the world's first in 1869, using the Marsh system, and exclusively steam powered with locomotives from mainly the Manchester Locomotive Works (and even home made) until very recently. Now the line is being modernised to reduce costs and home made diesels work most of the trains. One of the steam locomotives in working order was offered for sale on EBay in 2009 for USD 100,000 but failed to make its reserve.

Official website -

Wikipedia -

James Waite was here in 2011 and managed an experience almost the opposite of Peter Mosse's below (26th October 2011)

It's always been an idiosyncratic line, a sunny departure can end up in a very misty arrival at the top as Peter Mosse's pictures from September 1980 show.


The standard gauge Pike's Peak Cog Railway in Colorado (Abt rack system) has been dieselised for a long time: 

Official website -

Wikipedia -'s_Peak_Railway

However, in September 2012, #4 was steamed again, see!i=2114445206&k=bX99sjg, this is Nathan Zachman's picture (added 28th September 2012)

This is James Waite's picture of #1, currently (2011) at the Colorado Railroad Museum:



The Abt system metre gauge railway from Metupalayam to Coonoor is one of the great steam railway journeys of the world although the 'modernised' oil burning locomotives would never win a prize in a 'black beauty contest'. The 0-8-2RT (X Class) were supplied before and after World War 2.The line on to Udhagamandalam (Ootacamund, Ooty) was originally worked by the same steam locomotives but has been dieselised for some time.

Wikipedia -

Unesco Listing -

Pictures of steam in its original form

An unusual day out at Ooty

I took this picture in 1976:


There were historically two rack railways in Indonesia both 1067mm (3' 6") gauge using the Riggenbach system, both survive and are used for tourist operation only:

Ambarawa was a former Dutch military town served by a former standard gauge branch from the Semarang - Solo line from Kedungjati which closed in the 1970s. The line south towards Yogyakarta closed to regular traffic at about the same time but the adhesion Ambarawa - Jambu and rack Jambu - Bedono sections were kept active for occasional charters. The railway is now part of the Ambarawa railway museum and two of the five 0-4-2RT supplied by Esslingen are serviceable with a third preserved nearby.

See the unofficial website:

In West Sumatra, there was once an extensive system. The 'main line' up from the coastal plain at Padang changed to rack at Kajutanam and climbed through the spectacular Anai Valley to Padang Panjang. From here the line divided, one section climbed to its summit at Kota Baru before descending to Bukit Tinggi and the other descended to Lake Singkarak where it changed back to adhesion for the run to Sawahlunto where there was a large coal mine. The Bukit Tinggi line closed in the 1970s and the remaining rack section was dieselised in the 1980s. Services were withdrawn when the mine closed in 2003, but a museum has been established at the old coal mine and tourist trains are currently running between Padang Panjang and Sawahlunto at weekends (effective mid-2009). E1060 was sent to Ambarawa and restored to action in 1998 but has now returned 'home' where it runs short trips between Sawahlunto and Muarakalaban at weekends. There are odd notes on the web but nothing of any substance - it's on my list of 'things to do' as I knew it well in steam days. Here are three nostalgic pictures, one from each section, taken from our Incredible Indonesia CD-ROM. I can safely say that none could be taken during a 21st century charter!


The Ōigawa Railway Ikawa Railway is an electrified 25km 1067mm (3' 6") gauge (part) rack line (Abt system) which is mainly used by tourists.

Wikipedia -,_Oigawa_Railway

Website - (Japanese language)

Lebanon (extra link and picture added 17th December 2009).

Now of historical interest only, the 1050mm gauge line from Beirut to Damascus featured Abt rack operation, it also had reversing stations at Chouit-Araye and Aley. There is very little information on this railway on the web save:

Introduction - 

Pictures of survivors at Riyak in 2002 -

Extracts from Hughes' Middle East Railways published by the CRC -

Tourret's Hedajz Railway ISBN 0-905878-05-1, despite its title, has a lot of information on this railway.

Undoubtedly the last active 'rack' steam survivor is 805 (SLM 845/1894) which I photographed without its rack equipment in Damascus (Syria) on 23rd September 1997:


Now possibly of historical interest only, the 84km Thap Cham to Dalat section of the metre gauge Vietnam Railways featured 16km of Abt rack operation. There were nine original rack locomotives and in 1947 four more were bought from the Furka Oberalp Bahn (FOB) after its change from steam to electric traction. In 1990 the four FOB locomotives were returned to their original railway plus two of the originals. According to (link broken 1st November 2019) the entire railway will be restored between 2008 and 2015 - what they will do about the rack section is unstated, the steam locomotives assumed left at Dalat will hardly be 'ready to run'. 

Historical article - (link not working 26th April 2014)

The FOB in 2009.

This is John Alexander's picture of 2-6-0RT 31-201 dumped half in and half out of the shed at Da Lat on 6th October 1987, and below is James Waite's picture of it running on the FOB in 2009:




Further to what is written below, a local newspaper, the Mercury, reported in February 2013 states that the line is in serious economic difficulty and faces a service suspension - (thanks to Wilson Lythgoe for this, 6th February 2013). James Waite made a big effort to visit during March 2013 and was well rewarded (30th March 2013). It has since been taken over by the state.

In the last few years, the former Mt. Lyell Mining and Railway Company's Abt rack line from Strahan has been progressively relaid for 34km up to Queenstown and operates as the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Three of the original locomotives have returned to service, steam passenger trains operate over the completed section from Queenstown.

Official website - (updated 20th May 2015)

Wikipedia -

The Skitube Alpine Railway is a standard gauge electrified 8km Lamella system rack line in the Snowy Mountains:

Website -

Wikipedia -

New Zealand

The Rimutaka Incline in North Island used the Fell system which is not so much a rack as a friction system with wheels to grip a central rail. It is just be a memory now but the Fell Railway Museum has the world's only surviving Fell locomotive - and This picture (added 5th April 2013) is from Wikimedia (Optimist on the run):

As always Wikipedia is some help in a specialist subject but when 'push comes to shove' you soon find gaps in the coverage, not to mention things which are downright wrong...  Worse still are the 'Look Alike' sites which lift material from Wikipedia in a bid to make money from advertisements and thereby foul up the search engines.

Hill Railways in General - (link corrected 26th April 2014)

Mountain Railways - 

Rack Railways - and - look for conflicts!

Reverses -

Funiculars -

There are many sub-links within these pages, some to specialist technical information, others to items on individual railways.

Rob Dickinson