Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG is a company in Thun, Switzerland. It was founded by Willy Habegger in 1943. They began manufacturing a type of monorail they were calling a “minirail” sometime in the early 1960s. At the time, the company was called Maschinenfabrik Habegger.
European expositions 1964 – 66
The first monorail Habegger designed was for Expo64 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Habegger worked in conjunction with Von Roll Corporation. The ride featured a turntable transfer system named Telecanape. It was one of the more popular attractions at the Swiss expo. When the expo concluded, the ride was removed from the site. Part of the system used there was then bought and moved to Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom for the 1966 season. The system remained in operation through 2012, when it was closed.
The following year, Habegger changed its name to Habegger Engineering Company. They coordinated with Von Roll to build a second minirail system. This time, however, Von Roll used their own monorail trains, the first in Von Roll’s Mk II series of monorail trains. This was seen at the Zurich Transportation Expo. From this point for about the next two decades, Habegger and Von Roll would not work together on monorail projects.
In 1967, Habegger hired the Canadian division of the British firm Hawker Siddeley to manufacture several trains for the monorail system to be operated at Montreal’s Expo ’67. This system was called Minirail, and part of the system operates in La Ronde amusement park. Habegger contributed their own monorail trains from the 1964 Swiss event.
The significance of Habegger’s design of a minirail was the concept of the rail the train ran on. The other significant part of the design was the autopilot system that was on board Habegger minirail systems. The autopilot system was designed by Habegger and manufactured by a German electronics company, Honegger Elektronik AG of Zurich.
With the popularity of Expo ’67, and the interest in monorail systems growing in the United States, Habegger partnered with Salt Lake City, Utah, firm Constam Corporation to sell and manufacture monorails in the United States. Habegger licensed their autopilot system to Constam, while Constam was responsible for fabricating the steel and trains for the system.
Under this agreement, Constam would construct two monorails, one in Sacramento, California, in 1968, the other in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1969. Later in 1969, Constam was reorganized into Universal Mobility, Inc. (UMI). UMI and Habegger’s ties grew closer as they branded their monorail system as Unimobil / Habegger. Under the new arrangement, they sold their first monorail to Magic Mountain in 1970. This was the last old monorail system they sold, which they named UNIMOBIL Type II.
At the same time, Habegger built two minirail systems at Fuji-Q Highlands in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, which opened in 1970. These two systems were the last Habegger systems built outside of the United States.
They developed a second-generation monorail system called the UNIMOBIL Tourister Type II, which was sold to five properties between 1973 and 1984. Universal Mobility ended up going out of business, with their assets being sold off in 1989.
A Series of Mergers
In 1980, Willy Habegger lost control of his company when it entered a liquidity crisis. Berner Kantonalbank took control and sold the company to Von Roll in 1982. (Von Roll possibly sold a segment of the Habegger branch to Waagner-Biro in 1984.) Von Roll folded Habegger into their monorail division, with that division being called Von Roll Habegger.
In 1993, Von Roll Habegger was sold to Westinghouse AEG, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This would mark the beginning of a period of company reorganizations for the monorail division. Westinghouse AEG itself was a subsidiary of AEG Schienenfahrzeuge GmbH of Germany. AEG Schienenfahrzeuge was a subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, the well-known German automobile manufacturer.
In 1995, Daimler-Benz proposed merging of their rail transportation division with the rail transportation division of another company, ABB of Zurich, Switzerland. ABB and Daimler-Benz reached an agreement in which both companies would own 50 percent of the company. The new company was founded on January 1, 1996, operating under the brand name Adtranz. Formally, Adtranz was called ABB Daimler-Benz Transportation. In 1999, Daimler (then called DaimlerChrysler, after acquiring Chrysler Corporation in 1998) bought out ABB’s share of the company; the formal name was changed to DaimlerChrysler Rail Systems. The company kept the Adtranz brand name.
Beginning in August 2000, Bombardier, Inc., a conglomerate and manufacturer of mass transit equipment, airplanes, etc., announced it was going to purchase Adtranz. After a regulatory review process with the European Union, Bombardier purchased Adtranz for $725 million. A representative for DaimlerChrysler said at the time that the company was focusing on their automotive divisions.
The former Von Roll Habegger monorail division continues lives on in Bombardier today, part of the Bombardier Transportation division of the company.
Willy Habegger was able to purchase part of his company back, establishing the modern Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG. Habegger purchased the lifting technologies division, and the company continues to focus on that to this day. He passed away on April 16, 2002, having retired from the business in 1993.
Thank you for reading. The next article will be about Universal Mobility, Incorporated, which will be available later this week.