08.04.2021 | Linesmen at work for Axpo

High-wire act with some views | Axpo

A high-wire act at dizzying heights - for Axpo, for other companies, and most of all for a reliable power grid in Switzerland. Linesmen work where no one else other than birds can get to: High up on the power masts and high voltage lines of the Swiss power grid the Axpo linesmen carry out repairs and make a significant contribution to a high security of supply with a great deal of physical strength. Safety is always the top priority.

It's exciting to watch a linesman at work on an overhead line some 20 metres above the ground, and somehow, we are relieved to be standing on the ground. Anyone who has experienced that queasy feeling while climbing up an observation tower and was forced to turn back half-way should definitely not pursue the occupation of linesman. However, the profession requires a great deal more than a head for heights. We accompanied Thomas Steiner, who has been working for Axpo Grids as a linesman for nearly 20 years, on a job with his team.

"You have to be able to depend on your colleagues"

The day starts early. Depending on the job, sometimes for external companies, the Axpo linesmen are en route all over Switzerland. Today, we are meeting Thomas and his work colleagues in Unterterzen on the Walensee. A transmission line above the lake was damaged by a falling tree during the Burglind storm and has to be repaired.

The morning coffee break with colleagues serves as the final briefing before the work begins. "As linesmen we never work alone. For safety reasons we always work in pairs. Teamwork is important. Once we are up there we don't have much flexibility and have to be able to count on our colleagues to one hundred per cent," Thomas explains.

While he and his teammate Sepp make their way to the job site, another colleague at the Grid Control Center in Baden makes sure that the line section has been switched off during the repair work. Every power mast in Switzerland has a number and information about the line and line owner so that the damaged line section can be identified as quickly as possible. The Axpo medium- and high-voltage grid is 2200 kilometres long and has about 8,000 masts.

Stinging nettles and blisters

We're lucky – "our" masts and the damaged transmission line is in an accessible location near an asphalt hiking trail so that we can get to the site by car. It's not always that easy to reach a site, as Thomas knows from his own experience. "Usually it's a 10 to 30-minute walk up a mountain with up to 200 kg of material that we transport on our backs or with motorised carts." Sometimes helicopters are used for very remote sites in alpine terrain.

Not only the route, but also the work can vary depending on the location. High-voltage lines along railway lines or over highways have to be repaired during the night.

Today the only obstacle is the patch of stinging nettles around the power mast. A tick vaccination is also a must for every linesman.

Safety is the highest priority

We look up in awe at the 20-metre high mast that Thomas has to climb today and are reminded of shaking knees on the edge of the ten-metre diving board at the swimming pool. The height is not a problem for Thomas. Depending on the masts, the linesmen work up to 100 metres above the ground. Thomas warns: "Whether its 20 or 100 metres, and regardless of the work - the height and the work should never become routine. That would be dangerous because the work up there on the line requires high concentration and one has to be able to react quickly."

Wearing a helmet, safety belt and long trousers and gloves for protection is a must. The safety of the linesman is always the highest priority. A line that connects the linesman to the guy on the ground also serves as a means of transporting material. In emergencies the second man on the ground can help quickly or call for rescue. All linesmen are trained as first responders and participate regularly in emergency drills. Fortunately, no serious accidents have occurred so far.

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