Construction Equipment Europe

Volvo ECR25 Electric reaches new heights on iconic Schilthorn summit

With a jaw-dropping view almost 3,000 meters high – on a ski slope made famous in a James Bond movie – an ECR25 Electric compact excavator from Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is helping to rebuild one of the longest and steepest cable car routes in the world.

  • At an altitude of 2,970 meters, the ECR25 Electric compact excavator is one of the only machines capable of working in this most demanding of locations thanks to its electric driveline.
  • With access and space posing significant challenges, there was only one solution to transport the ECR25 Electric to its picturesque new worksite at the summit of the Schilthorn in Switzerland – via helicopter winch.
  • Here, the excavator is being put to work on excavating and creating the foundations for a new summit station as part of the 100 million Swiss Franc renewal of the popular ski resort.

The 2,970-meter Schilthorn in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland is the new home for a zero emission ECR25 Electric excavator from Volvo CE. The machine is being used on a 100 million Swiss Franc transformation program to construct a new cableway from the small village of Stechelberg at the base of the mountain to the Schilthorn summit. Operated by Schilthornbahn AG, the new cableway will increase passenger capacity and reduce travel time, as well as enabling 365-day access to the mountain summit.

Popular among climbers, access to the Schilthorn was explored as far back as the late 19th Century, but geological and technical challenges proved insurmountable until the 1960’s when a team led by Ernst Feuz developed the Schilthorn cableway, opening up access to the summit for the very first time. For many years, it was the world’s longest and steepest aerial cableway, made more famous thanks to its role in the 1968 James Bond film, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.

With diesel engines suffering from reduced efficiency, increased emissions and serious reliability issues at high altitude, electric machines are the ideal solution to operate in thin air conditions. Whilst already being widely and successfully used in a variety of different applications, this is another new segment for a Volvo electric machine. It is also another important step forward in Volvo CE’s electromobility journey and its ambition to reach net zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Timur Abied, Utility Product Manager from Volvo CE: “We’re thrilled that the ECR25 Electric has been selected for this project. Not only is it a tricky location, it’s also hugely iconic. We’re used to discussing the benefits of near-silent zero emission electric machines in busy urban locations and for indoor works. But this project shows the versatility of electric to solve more problems than one might think. We’re very much looking forward to proving the power of electric machines to rise to the toughest of challenges. “

Rising to the challenge

Construction specialists Ghelma AG Baubetriebe are responsible for the excavation and foundation work for the new summit station, and they were well aware of the challenges of operating at an altitude of almost 3,000 meters.

“There are two main problems up on the mountains,” explains Melchior Burlon, site manager at Ghelma AG Baubetriebe, who is carrying out the work. “On the one hand, we don’t have much space here, and on the other hand we often encounter problems with diesel engines operating at altitude owing to the thin air and the cold.”

The environmental and health hazards from diesel emissions were also a concern. A zero-emission electric machine was the obvious solution.

“Volvo CE is the only supplier that offers something of this magnitude,” Melchior Burlon explains. “Otherwise, there were only excavators up to two tons and we wanted the most powerful machine for the job – and something that we could still transport via helicopter if necessary.”

Off to a flying start

The ECR25 Electric was delivered by local dealer, Robert Aebi AG, where it was loaded onto a snow groomer. Ongoing work with the railway meant the excavator had to be towed up at night piece-by-piece to the station at Birg, which sits at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The machine was then transported via helicopter for the final and most challenging part of the way up to the summit, in what was a meticulously orchestrated process.

The excavator will be used to shift the debris on the Schilthorn, load it and transport blasted material to the installation site.

Moving mountains

The ice and cold conditions in the mountains present the greatest challenges for the machine, although the cold is not proving to be an issue as the machine starts immediately, unlike its diesel counterparts which can take up to an hour. Transport of diesel up the mountain to power the machine is also eliminated. Instead, the ECR25 Electric is charged via the Schilthorn cable car’s power supply – and if required during the project, the fast charger will also be used. The cableway draws 100% of its electricity from hydropower generated in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

“The energy is available up here, and we can tap into it at any time. The other advantage is the absence of exhaust emissions, that’s great,” concludes Burlon.

For Ghelma AG Baubetriebe, their experience with electric machines has only been positive, so much so that they have already ordered a Volvo ECR18 Electric excavator, which is expected to join its big brother on the Schilthorn in just a few months.


Anne Bast

Head of Brand, Marketing & Communication
Volvo Construction Equipment
Sales Region Europe / International
Phone: 0735585906