05. 01. 2021
Prague, 5 January 2021 – The Capital City of Prague and the Prague Public Transit Company (DPP) are preparing to rebuild the Petřín Funicular. They also plan to purchase new, specially designed cars for the funicular. The existing infrastructure of the line dates back to the early 1980s and, based on a recent study, supported by experts from the Czech Technical University in Prague, the line’s remaining service life is no more than 4 to 5 years. Prague is also going to be holding a design competition for the new cars. What they will look like should be known by the end of 2021. If all goes according to plan, the first passengers should be able to go for a ride on the new funicular in late 2023. The current budget for the reconstruction of the line and the purchase of the new cars is CZK 210 million.
The existing Petřín Funicular is the third generation of one of the most popular, most visited attractions in the Czech Republic. It typically carries more than 2 million passengers a year. The current track and carriages date from the first half of the 80s, when the line had to be totally rebuilt after massive landslides on the hill in 1967. The actual chassis of the cars are even older, having been manufactured in 1931 at the Ringhoffer plant in Prague. The passenger carriages themselves date back to the 1980s, at which time their manufacturer vouched for an estimated 20 year service life.
Since the Petřín Funicular was opened in June of 1985, DPP has continually and carefully monitored the condition of the hill and conducted regular annual inspections of all elements of the line, including its control system, braking and other safety elements. There have been regular repairs and maintenance to the concrete slabs, bridges and the anchors of the concrete rail ties. As the funicular is now 35 years old, it is time for more than regular maintenance. Looking back, 1996 saw a major repair of bridge supports and, between 2015 and 2016, there were emergency repairs to the Nebozízek station. The gradually deteriorating technical condition of the line, due to the poor quality of the hill’s subsoil and due to the line’s non-functional water drainage system, was confirmed by a 2018 engineering study, the preparation of which included the use of experts from the Czech Technical University (ČVUT).
Adam Scheinherr, Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the DPP Supervisory Board put it this way: “One of the most attractive and iconic tourist destinations in Prague and, in fact the entire Czech Republic, deserves a new look and we are going to use a design competition to get the results we are hoping for. We expect to be able to increase the passenger capacity of the cars, subject to the related technical and physical limitations of the trackage. We recognize that DPP has done an admirable job of keeping this 35 year old funicular in good operating condition and stretching out its service life. But with the latest reports of only 4 to 5 years of service life remaining, we can no longer postpone investing in this piece of our transportation infrastructure. Our job is to make sure Prague has a modern and fully functional public transport system, part of which includes the Petřín Funicular. We can’t allow it to stop running and be out-of-service 5 years from now. We will discuss this reconstruction at the next meeting of the Prague City Council. We are also planning to announce a design competition for it. We do not want and cannot influence the basic technical parameters of the cars, but potential manufacturers can innovate with certain design elements like the front of the cars, their interiors, window areas and colors. Our goal is for Prague to get a new and unique funicular, which will be able to serve the public for at least another 30 years. An additional benefit will be the ability to make the new funicular barrier-free.”
"This July, the Petřín Funicular will celebrate its 130th anniversary. Over the years, there have been two major periods of interruption to operation, one of 12 years after the founding of the Czech Republic and the other, which lasted 20 years due to landslides, in the 1960s. We do not want to suffer another major period of service interruption, outside of the time necessary for the reconstruction of the track and the testing of new cars. The ground under the Petřín hill is slipping and we know that a major reconstruction will be necessary within the next 4-5 years. The frames of the cars are out of alignment and they have about the same projected service life as the track. It also makes no economic sense to reconstruct the track without knowing what the cars will be like that will using it for the next 30 years”, noted Jan Šurovský, member of the DPP Board of Directors and Technical Director – Surface. He added that, "the production of the new cars, including testing, will take about a year and a half. In the meantime, we can do the necessary planning for the track reconstruction project, the completion of which should take only 6 - 8 months. Thus, we can limit the period in which the funicular is out-of-service to less than one year. We are currently planning for the reconstruction to take place in 2023, with the first passengers able to ride on the newly rebuilt line in late 2023. This will be our celebratory gift to the Petřín Funicular on its 130th anniversary and give it the ability to add at least another 30 years of service to riders.”
"The Petřín Funicular, which started its current operating history in 1891, is of immense importance to us; it is a real technical gem. The number of passengers, which can total up to 250,000 in a typical summer month, has averaged over two million per year. And since the launch of its current operations in 1985, the funicular has transported over 55 million people. This is why it is important that a full and proper reconstruction of the line take place. We want to make sure it can safely serve our visitors for decades into the future,” added Petr Hejma, Mayor of Prague 1.
The reconstruction of the tracks and the purchase of new cars will also make it possible to add a more modern emergency braking system to the line. The existing Petřín Funicular uses an emergency braking system, which is referred to as “on the rope”. This type of braking system is outdated and its manufacture ended several decades ago. Most current funicular braking systems use an “on the rail” technology, which offers several advantages over the current one. The construction of the track itself is simplified. The guide pulleys for the tow rope can be arranged in such a way as to simplify and improve the drainage of water from the track area. And, this will eliminate the need to perform the regular complex maintenance inspections, which include the need for frequent replacements of the braking cables (ropes), pulleys and other components. This will result in both costs savings and improved operating passenger uptime for the funicular. Another benefit of the reconstruction of the line and the new cars will be the ability to make the Petřín Funicular service barrier-free.
A Brief History of the Petřín Funicular
The construction of the current Petřín Funicular began in 1890. The main reason was the need to transport passengers up to the newly built Petřín lookout tower. The Újezd - Petřín Funicular was opened to the public on 25 July 1891. The length of the track was 396.5 meters with a passenger capacity of 50 persons. The original propulsion system used what is referred to as a “water overbalance mechanism”. After four years, it became obvious that there were winter operations problems due to water freezing. The operation of the funicular was interrupted at the beginning World War I and, despite efforts to restart regular operations after the war, the operation of the funicular became sporadic. This was due to the post-war economic situation and a lack of water, the source of propulsion. As a result, 1920 saw a permanent end to the functioning of the funicular.
The operation of the funicular was restarted in 1932, in order to provide transport services needed for that year’s All-Sokol Rally. The funicular was extended with the length of the track increased to 511 meters and the transport capacity of the line increased by more than 100% to 105 passengers. The line was also modernized with the drive system being electrified and the installation of a semi-automatic control system. Other changes included a globally unique, at the time, “on the rope” wedge braking system and a new and atypical “Abt turnout” track design for the passing cars. This period of operation of the funicular ended in 1965 as a result of some extremely bad weather. Due to the accumulation of groundwater under the track in the area of the turnout, a cavern developed beneath the track causing it to drop by approximately 20 cm. During the preparations for the repair of the track in 1967, again due to more extremely heavy precipitation, the entire Petřín slope became waterlogged and there was a massive landslide, mostly in the area of the Nebozízek station. As a result, 80% of the track area, including the rails, was damaged and the operation of the funicular had to be discontinued.
In the following years, extensive work took place to ensure the overall stability of Petřín Hill with the main impetus for the reopening of the Petřín Funicular, the organization of the Spartakiad in 1985. Operations began in June 1985 on newly built track areas and refurbished cars that had been given a more up-to-date look. The funicular then became part of Prague’s urban public transport (MHD) system, which it is still part of today.
Since 1985, DPP has carried more than 55.5 million passengers on the Petřín Funicular. In 2019, there were 2,230,373 passengers for a new record number of riders. The Petřín Funicular has become the second most visited attraction in the Czech Republic. It is busiest during the summer season (April to October), when it carries an average of 250,000 passengers a month. In the winter season, it averages 120,000 passengers a month.
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