This question is primarily about human performance. I do know about hypoxia, hence this question.

I'm busy designing a fictional region, currently in the 1930's. I have a railway line that climbs to 15,000ft (4670m) in order to traverse a mountain range. The line was build in the 1900's, with the climb being gradual at 1:100 gradient. The town on the Eastern side is at around 5,000ft. the town in the west is at about 7,000 ft. Distance by rail is about 800km, (about 10 to 14 hour journey) with about 20 to 40km spent at 15,000ft. Using real-world data, I only have a basic understanding of the human body, and would like to ask the following questions:

1.) With 1900's to 1930's attitudes, would it be "safe" / "wise" to send passenger trains over that pass?

2.) How would this altitude affect the drivers / firemen on the steam-engine's footplate?

3.) From a biological point of view, how do I make this journey more comfortable?

4.) Any other point which I might have missed.

  • $\begingroup$ The train connection (from mainland China) to Tibet is very similar to what you are describing - with exception for the time it was built. Looking into the details of that will probably give you a lot of useful information: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qinghai-Tibet_railway $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jan 8 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ For something with similar elevation changes, see the Pike's Peak Cog Railway cograilway.com Probablly millions of tourists rode it without any major ill effects. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 8 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ People have used other modes of transport in that time without any significant health problem. Why do you think a train journey would be any different? $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 9 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG The train journey climbs to altitudes above 12,000ft (4,000m aprx), for several hours. In modern aviation law, oxygen is mandatory above that altitude if unpressurized. Some people (the elderly, smokers) could have reduced lung function. The high altitude may cause them illness or worse. I estimate that about 50% (if not more) of the people traveling will be affected by the altitude in some way or another. $\endgroup$ – Greg Wochlik Jan 9 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG (... continuation) I'm mainly worried about the fireman who needs to exert physical effort at this altitude. It would be bad for business if the firemen drop dead during the journey... $\endgroup$ – Greg Wochlik Jan 9 at 10:55

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