Construction of the Hungerburg-Funicular
Innsbruck’s cable railway history began with the construction of a funicular up to the Hungerburg, the second of its kind in the Tyrol after the Mendlbahn Funicular near Bozen.
Construction began in February 1906, and the bridge which was built over the river Inn was a technical masterpiece at the time. With a length of 158m, the bridge crossed the river whereby the whole weight sat on one single column. The wooden carriage could carry 60 passengers and had 10 seats per compartment and standing room for 10 passengers on each of the two open platforms. A full carriage weighed almost 12 tons.
The pioneering spirit of the builders and planners responsible for the Hungerburg Funicular was unique at the time. .
In addition to the previously mentioned bridge over the Inn, the viaduct at the upper part of the funicular was the first of its kind. The 160m-long and up to 13m-high viaduct was manufactured solely from Portland cement and tamped concrete. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was deemed impossible to erect structures of this size using concrete. Therefore, it can be said that the viaduct was the first structure in Austria to be built solely with concrete.
The first journey
After just 7 months of construction, the Hungerburg Funicular was ready to open to the public on September 12th, 1906. With a maximum incline of 55.5%, the funicular negotiated a difference in altitude of 287.7m from the valley station to the upper station, travelling at a speed of 1.2m per second, in just 11 minutes.
From the beginning, it was possible to transport 300 people per hour in both directions. The funicular immediately became very popular with locals who used it to gain easy access to the local recreation area of the Hungerburg/Nordkette. In 1907, the first full year of operation, 155,197 people used the funicular, an average of 425 people per day.ht.
Start of construction on the Seegrube Cable Railway
The first ideas about building a cable railway up to the Nordkette were already proposed in 1909, but they were soon discarded upon the outbreak of the First World War. In 1926, the city of Innsbruck had 4 possibilities to build the cable railway.
One proposal was to build the valley station in the area where the Löwenhaus Station now stands, but the city chose the most easy to implement proposal: The route with a connection to the Hungerburg Funicular (which has remained the route to this day). The official start of construction was July 15th, 1927. In order to transport the building materials to the Seegrube, a temporary cable railway was built, but not from the start; the lion’s share of the transport was carried out by 10 workers. These men carried an average of 70kg of materials up the mountain up to twice a day, transporting up to 1.4 tons a day!
The construction of the Seegrube Cable Railway
Several problems arose during the construction of Section 1 of the Seegrube Cable Railway: The well-known “Column 3” was a particular challenge because, unlike the other columns which were embedded into the rocks, it had to be built on sloping terrain meaning it had to have extremely good foundations. The biggest setback during the construction of Section 1 was when a fire, caused by a coke oven defect, destroyed a large part of the station building.
Despite several setbacks, Section 1 (Hungerburg to Seegrube) was officially opened on July 8th, 1928 and Section 2 (Seegrube to Hafelekar) was opened just 2 weeks later.
Franz Baumann the architect
Franz Baumann, who emerged as the winner of the competition to design the stations of the Nordkette Cable Railways, incorporated the buildings into the natural surroundings and also designed the interior and furniture in great detail; an architectural work of art of international importance.
It was important to Baumann that the stations of the Nordkette Cable Railways not only be treated as purely functional buildings, but that they also have a strong connection to Innsbruck, the “Alpine City”. He developed a multi-phase concept in order to align his architecture with the respective height of the stations.
Local sports enthusiasts
The Tyrol’s history of skiing dates back to the start of the 20th century when small groups of ski tourers (or ski hikers) began to explore the high alpine terrain. Once the Seegrube Cable Railway was completed, there was no stopping Innsbruck’s local skiers and their enthusiasm peaked when a ski jump was built at the Seegrube in 1937. The Nordkette also developed into a hotspot for snowboarding during the 1980s when the sport was still in its infancy.
The Innsbruck author Walter Klier describes the local winter sport enthusiasts in a defining anecdote:
“After several dangerous days in the avalanche-beset winter of 1998/1999, the ban on skiing was extended by one day. A foreign television crew wanted to use the untouched and spectacular volume of snow to film Martin Freinadametz, one of Innsbruck’s most famous snowboarders. The people in charge did not want to hide this fact from the nice locals and told them the real reason for extending the ban. The next day, the nice locals made their way up the mountain walking underneath the cable railway, negotiating their way through extremely deep snow. After a strenuous journey, they reached the ridge, strapped on their boards and skis and carved their way down the untouched slopes with great enjoyment. Unfortunately for the television crew, the slopes were no longer untouched. That’s how we Innsbruckers are.”
Local sports enthusiasts
The core value of the Nordkette is clearly evident in another quote from Walter Klier:
“The Nordkette Cable Railways play such a central role in the soul of the city; it is hard to imagine that they were not always there. The mountain has been a hotspot for decades. Changes in fashion don’t affect it: the young kids up there show everybody what’s what.”
Hermann Buhl (* September 21st, 1924, Innsbruck; † June 27th, 1957, Chogolisa, Pakistan) was an Austrian mountaineer. He was the first person to reach the summit of Nanga Parbat in 1953, and four years later he was one of the first people to conquer Broad Peak. He is considered a pioneer of the alpine style of mountain climbing.
Hermann Buhl was the first person to reach the summit of an eight-thousander alone and without additional oxygen. He was named Austrian Sportsman of the year in 1953. Buhl was a member of the Austrian Alpine Club.
He is regarded among experts as one of the most important rock climbers and high-mountain climbers of all time. This is due to his sensational first ascents in the Alps and in Karakorum. His style of extreme alpine mountaineering broke with the mountain climbing ideals of earlier decades. Buhl oriented himself towards personal motives such as the passion to push things to the limit. Rather than carry heavy loads, he opted for light loads, fast ascents and a style of mountaineering where additional oxygen was not used. That is why Buhl is seen as the mountaineer who paved the way for Reinhold Messner.
The Hungerburg Funicular in 1958
In 1957, it was determined that a general renovation was necessary and the architect Prachensky was responsible for the planning. The renovation included the upper station of the Hungerburg Funicular being rebuilt and relocated, as well as a reduction of the route’s gradient.
As a result, the route was extended by 15 meters. Two new funiculars increased the transportation capacity to 1,100 people per hour. The new and improved Hungerburg Funicular was officially opened on July 23rd, 1958, travelling at a speed of 4m per second and reaching the upper station in just 8 minutes.
Seegrube and Hafelekar Cable Railway renovations
The railways became more and more popular in the time following the Second World War, and attempts were made to increase the speed of transportation in order to accommodate more visitors. However, in the mid-50s the railways reached the limits of their capacity, especially in the summer months when they were extremely busy. Renovations were planned and investments in the existing infrastructure of the railways were put on hold.
Having fun at the Seegrube
The Seegrube is a special place where Innsbruckers spend a lot of their free time and in the past it was no different. The opening of the Seegrube ski lift in 1947 and the Frau-Hitt ski lift in 1950 was a big plus for local ski enthusiasts, and in the summer months there was and still is the Seegrube Restaurant patio where locals could sit back and enjoy the sun: There’s always something going on at the Nordkette.
The Seegrube Cable Railways from 1960 to the present day
After almost 30 year in operation, it was determined that renovations were necessary. New cable cars with a capacity of 50 were acquired. The railway columns and the three stations were also renovated. The newly renovated railways resumed operation at the start of the 1960s.
An intermediate station at column 3 was destroyed by an avalanche in 1966 and was never rebuilt. Instead, a new ski lift (Lift 3) was built to replace the older Seegrube ski lift. The Frau-Hitt ski lift was completely rebuilt in 1996. Around the turn of the century, there were several discussions about expansion and further renovations.
In 2004, plans were made for more extensive renovations. An important part of the plans was keeping the unique and listed buildings intact. Construction began in 2006 and after 7 months, the new Seegrube Cable Railway was officially opened on December 22nd, 2006 and the new Hafelekar Cable Railway was opened on January 20th, 2007.
A monument to Zaha Hadid
The Hungerburg Funicular (listed as a protected monument) discontinued its service on December 8th, 2005. After a construction phase of just 2 years, a new era in the history of Innsbruck’s Nordkette Cable Railways began: On December 21st, 2007, the brand new Section 1 (Innsbruck to Hungerburg) was officially opened.
The completely rebuilt funicular now starts its journey directly in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from the famous Golden Roof, beside Innsbruck’s Congress House. Designed by star architect Zaha Hadid, already well-known in Innsbruck for designing the Bergisel Ski Jump, the new station buildings set new international standards in architecture.
The new Hungerburg Funicular
Although the new funicular does not reach the maximum incline of its predecessor, it does have a notable feature: A longitudinal incline which changes significantly, both along the route and at the different stations. Leitner Ropeways developed an automatic inclination system for the two carriages of the funicular which are each divided into 5 compartments within one main frame. The active inclination system ensures that passengers can easily board and exit from the carriages at all stations. Each carriage can hold 130 people and can transport 1,200 people per hour in both directions.