History of the Schatzalp Funicular

Article – Swiss Construction Newspaper 1901 (German)

Schatzalp funicular (1899 – 1939)

This historical review of the first 40 years of the Davos-Schatzalp-Bahn (DSB) was written in May 1940 by the then director Alfred Amberg.


On 28 October 1929 a short historical review appeared in the “Davoser Zeitung” on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the collaudation of the Schatzalp Railway. If, after the completion of 40 years of operation – instead of the usual 50 – the writer believes he is entitled to do a somewhat more comprehensive review for those who are close to the company, then perhaps the present time provides the justification for this, a justification, among other things, insofar as the company is consolidated. The delay in the issue of this small publication is justified by the desire not only to report up to the 40th anniversary of the official start of operations – 25 December 1939 – but to conclude the year 1939 and also to include the events of this year in the attached static tables.

How the DSB – always closely connected with the fortunes of the health resort and the sports ground Davos – passed its first 40 years, you may now take from the following explanations which stick to the files. Since 1911, the author has personal recollections at his disposal, for in October of that year he entered the service of the DSB.


Efforts to build a railway from Davos-Platz to the Schatzalp go back at least to the year 1894. On 24 November 1894, A.G. Kurhaus Davos – originally Kuranstalt W.J. Holsboer – submitted an application to the Federal Council for a concession to build a cable railway, possibly an electric rack railway, to the Schatzberg.

On 10 December of the same year, a competing project was submitted for concession by the Stiffler, Issler and Beely consortium.

The minutes of the meeting of the board of directors of the A.G. Kurhaus on 29 January 1895 explain the priority of the concession application on the part of the Kurhaus and the reasons for the opposing proposal, which was supported by the Graubünden government. With the message of 7 June 1895 and the draft of a federal decree, the Federal Council, after thorough examination, approved the granting of a concession to the Kurhaus A.G. Davos-Platz. On 16 October 1895, however, the Federal Assembly concessioned both applicants together on the basis of a consultation by the Graubünden government, despite the fact that the project of the above-mentioned consortium took up the entire length of the Kurhaus forest, so to speak. However, the railway was not built within the concession period, mainly because the efforts of the aforementioned consortium were obviously aimed at making this project of the Kurhaus impossible; for it cannot be concluded from the entire course of events that the consortium was seriously thinking of building the railway. In the years that followed, the Board of Directors of the Kurhaus A.G. repeatedly dealt with the question of building the railway, and it was always Willem Jan Holsboer, the economic founder of our health resort and of the narrow-gauge railway Landquart-Davos and thus of today’s Rhaetian Railway, who kept his eye on the question and also brought it to a conclusion with his characteristic perseverance, after the project to build a sanatorium on the Schatzalp had also taken shape from within the Kurhaus Board of Directors with Dr. Luzius Spengler. By 12 April 1898, the Kurhaus Board of Directors had held 12 meetings to discuss the railway issue, and after lengthy, tedious and patient negotiations with the opposing initiators, the documents for the foundation of a company and the general plans for the construction had also been prepared. The concession granted by federal decree to both applicants was then renewed on 15 April 1898 under the same conditions and transferred to the Kurhaus A.G. for this or for the attention of a joint-stock company to be founded, with the obligation that within eighteen months of the date of the decision the prescribed financial and technical documents and the company statutes had to be submitted. After the company had already been founded and the construction of the Schatzalp Sanatorium had been decided, the constituent general meeting of the Schatzalp Railway took place on 24 June 1898. The statutes written by Dr. Eduard Kern were approved, the share capital of Fr. 150,000 was fully subscribed and the following gentlemen were elected to the Board of Directors:

Dr. Ed. Kern, lawyer and notary in Basel, Chairman
Engineer Ed. Riggenbach, in Basel
Alfred Sarasin, Banquier, in Basel
Willem Alexander Holsboer in Davos
Peter Jakob Bener in Chur

The initiator and actual founder W.J. Holsboer went to Basel in April 1898 – already seriously ill – and from there to Schinznach for a cure, where he died on 8 June, i.e. before the DSB was founded. Dr. Andrea Clavuot created an honourable memorial to him in the commemorative publication “50 Years of the Rhaetian Railway 1889 – 1939”.

In several subsequent meetings, the Board of Directors of the Kurhaus dealt with the transfer of the concession to the railway, which was done free of charge; the transfer of land, for which the Kurhaus was issued apport shares in the amount of Fr. 50,000, and the handing over of the financial and technical documents created so far. The Kurhaus also subscribed to shares for Fr. 30,000, so that it held the majority with 160 shares.


As early as 25 June 1898, the newly elected Board of Directors began the preliminary work for the construction of the railway. It elected a construction committee consisting of the board members Ed. Riggenbach and W.A. Hoelsboer, as well as the engineers A. Schucan, who agreed to act in an advisory capacity, and C. Wetzel. At the same time, a contract for the construction management was prepared with engineer C. Wetzel, cleared by the construction committee and approved by the Board of Directors on 14 July. In the meantime, the purchase contract with the Kurhaus had also been concluded and one prepared with E. Michel concerning the Mad.

On the basis of the general financing project, new terrain surveys were carried out in the autumn of 1898, which resulted in a relocation of the Axen railway with reduced construction costs and a system – the present one – that took better account of the snow conditions.

Before the detailed project planning could proceed, the question of the power supply had to be clarified. Like the board of directors of the Kurhaus, the building committee proposed that the power required for the operation of the cable car should be generated in a separate control centre using Dowson power engines, and that this power should be transmitted to the Schatzalp in the form of direct current. In an enlarged project, it was planned to supply light and power to the Kurhaus and the Schatzalp Sanatorium. The importance of the choice of power supply for the later profitability of the railway will be explained in a later section.

In the course of the winter, a whole series of further construction orders were clarified, among other things the construction of a stop was not considered opportune and the installation of electric carriage heating was also decided against.

On 15 February 1899, the contract with Schweiz. Lokomotiv- und Maschinenfabrik Winterthur as general contractor for the mechanical and electrical part of the railway. The delivery and assembly of the electrical part was to be carried out by A.G. vorm. J.J. Rieter & Cie. in Töss and the mechanical part of the actual cableway system with the rails, superstructure and carriages was entrusted to the v. Roll’sche Eisenwerke, Bern works.

With construction contracts dated 20 and 21 April, the earthworks and masonry work for the substructure and the station buildings were awarded to the construction companies formerly G. Issler and Joh. Caprez & Cie. and on 19 May the buildings for the power and light centre were awarded to A. Baratelli.

On 29 April 1899 the first sod was turned for the substructure, on 13 May the foundations for the lower station began, on 20 May for the upper station and on 23 May for the power station.

The construction work on all four sites was promoted so quickly that the first test runs could already be undertaken on 10 October. The pre-collaudation took place on 12 October and the actual collaudation on 27 October 1899. The immediate start of operations was hindered by the fact that the Federal Assembly had not yet approved the tax increase over and above the concession rates that had become necessary due to cost overruns. However, the new concession fares were then ratified by the Federal Assembly on 24 December and scheduled operations commenced on 25 December 1899.

to be continued….