Weston Langford Railway Photography
Documenting railways and related infrastructure since 1960

Fell and Abt Systems


These systems provide traction augments for working trains on gradients steeper than those usually encountered on conventional railways. In this gallery there are illustrations of the Fell system in New Zealand and the Snaefell Mountain Railway on the Isle of Man. The New Zealand examples embrace photos of the world's only extant Fell Locomotive in the Fell Museum at Featherstone and scenes on the Rewanui and Roa Lines in the South Island where the Fell system was used for braking only. On the Snaefell Mountain Railway the Fell system is used for braking only.
The Fell System was devised by an Englishman; John Barraclough Fell. Its pioneer application was over the Mont Cenis Pass between St Michel de Maurienne; France and Susa; Italy. This line, laid to a gauge of 1 100 mm, was 77 km in length. It was opened in June 1868 and was closed on completion of the Mont Cenis Tunnel in October 1871. The Fell Locomotive was essentially two engines powered by one boiler on a single frame. As well as the engine driving the carrying wheels there was a second engine driving pairs of horizontally mounted wheels which bore on the centre rail which was raised above the running rails. For braking pairs of brake shoes bore against the centre rail.
The third and the world's most celebrated and longest lived application of the Fell System, was on the Rimutaka Incline in the North Island of New Zealand. The Fell equipped section of the Wairarapa Line, between Cross Creek and Summit, 5 km in length on a gradient of 1 in 15, opened in October 1878 and closed on completion of the Rimutaka Tunnel in October 1955.
The illustrations of the Abt System embrace scenes on the Snowdon Mountain Railway in North Wales, the only such railway in the British Isles and, in Australia, a relic of the line at Mount Morgan in Queensland also on the Mount Lyell Railway and its successor in Tasmania. The Abt System, devised by a Swiss Dr Roman Abt, was first used in 1885. It has been used in many applications, mainly but not exclusively in Europe. The rack rails, vertically mounted, usually in pairs, are centrally mounted between the running rails. The reason for the paired arrangement with the teeth staggered is to provide more continuous traction than would be available with a single rack bar.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway, 7.5 km in length with a maximum gradient of 1 in 5.5, is 800 mm gauge with double bar racks. Its propulsion is rack only. The locomotives have a single engine and boiler. The carrying wheels do not provide any propulsion. A result of this is that all of the tracks, including turnouts, must be fitted with rack bars throughout. The turnouts, as a consequence, are quite complicated. The locomotives always propel the trains, there being no reversals of grade on the line. Braking is by means of shoes on rack wheels under the carriages as well as Le Chatelier counter pressure brakes on the locomotives.
The Australian applications of the Abt System were both rack and adhesion. The locomotives were essentially two engines worked from a single boiler on a single frame. Only limited sections of the lines over which they worked were provided with rack bars with the rest of the routes worked by adhesion only. In Queensland, on the line from Rockhampton to Mount Morgan, the 2.3 km of rack equipped incline was between Moonmera and Moongan stations. The maximum gradient was 1 in 16.5. Rack operation commenced with the opening of the line in November 1898 and ceased in April 1952 with the cutting in of a deviation.
Rack Operation on the Mount Lyell line in Tasmania commenced with the opening of the line between Queenstown and Teepookana in 1896 and ceased with closure of the line in 1963. The Railway was reconstituted under a Bicentennial Grant between 2000 and 2003. The two rack equipped inclines extend from Halls Creek to Rinadeena (2.5 km on a gradient of 1 in 16) and from Rinadeena to Dubbil Barril (5 km on a gradient of 1 in 20). Operation of the reconstituted line ceased at the end of April 2013 following the withdrawal of the licenced operator. The Tasmanian Government is carrying out further rehabilitation of the line and is seeking a new operator with the view to recommencing operations later in 2013.