The Anonymous Widower

Building A Tram-Train Tunnel In Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe has quite a few tram–trains routes in the Karlsruhe Stadtbahn. This is said as an introduction to the system in Wikipedia.

The Karlsruhe Stadtbahn is a German tram-train system combining tram lines in the city of Karlsruhe with railway lines in the surrounding countryside, serving the entire region of the middle upper Rhine valley and creating connections to neighbouring regions. The Stadtbahn combines an efficient urban railway in the city with an S-Bahn (suburban railway), overcoming the boundary between trams/light railways and heavy railways. Its logo does not include the green and white S-Bahn symbol used in other German suburban rail systems and the symbol is only used at stops and stations outside the inner-city tram-operation area.

It works according to the Karlsruhe model.

A typical tram-train route could start on say the west of the city running on a typical suburban railway electrified to the German standard of 15 kVAC. It might share the tracks with any passenger or freight train, just like any EMU in the UK shares the heavy rail tracks.

For passing through the centre of the city, the tram-train takes to the tram tracks with their electrification of 750 VDC and runs like a normal tram. Provided the platforms are of a compatible height and the gauge is acceptable, Karlsruhe’s tram-trains can go anywhere a normal tram could go in the city. But in Karlsruhe, there doesn’t seem to be any normal trams any more so all the lines in the city are full of tram-trains, running at typical tram frequencies.

After passing through the city centre, they would take to the heavy rail system again. Some routes even go quite large distances into the surrounding countryside.

I didn’t actually find a place where voltages change, but it looked to be automatic, with ceramic rods isolating the different voltages.

This is a map of the system.

Karlsruhe Stadtbahn

Karlsruhe Stadtbahn

I think that Harry Beck would have approved of this map, as it certainly has a touch of the Londons about it!

Note the east-west line of routes across the map. These run along Karlsruhe’s equivalent of Oxford Street in London or Lord Street in Liverpool.

So they have decided to build a tunnel using cut-and-cover methods from one end to the other. A section in the Wikipedia entry for the Karlsruhe is called New Tunnel In Karlsruhe, and gives more details. This extract gives some objectives of the new tunnel.

The tunnel will shorten the travel time for the Stadtbahn through the pedestrian zone and the stability of the timetable will improve. In addition, the platforms of the station’s tunnel will have pedestals that are about 15 metres long with a height of 55 cm above the rail so that the first two doors of Stadtbahn trains will have step-less entry. This will make possible stepless entrance on lines S 4 / S 41 and S 5 / S 51 / S 52 in Karlsruhe for the first time, reflecting a trend that has long been standard elsewhere.

These pictures show the current state of the project, as I first walked in an easterly direction down the main street and then approached it from the East in a tram..

When I wrote Exploring Karlsruhe And Its Trams And Tram-Trains, it was in a much worse state.

But I don’t think the digging of the tunnel has been without problems. Note the blue pipe running along the street, which wasn’t there last time I visited. One of the locals told me it was all due to the wasser and gave flooding actions.

It would certainly appear, that they’ve had a lot more tunnelling problems than Crossrail.

I do think that the Karlsruhe tram tunnel, is one of the most significant transport ideas of recent years.

I shall be visiting the city of Karlsruhe again, when it opens.

Just imagine what Manchester would be like, if instead of its current tram system, they’d used a tunnel. Perhaps something like this could have been built.

  • A double track tunnel was built under the city from Piccadilly to Victoria.
  • The tunnel would be able to take Karlsruhe-style tram-trains.
  • There would be sensibly placed underground stations at places like Arndale Centre and Piccadilly Gardens.
  • Tram-trains were used on the various suburban routes, would connect back-to-back.

Unfortunately, the technology to create such a system has probably only existed for ten years and it was only developed after Manchester’s tram system was built.

But that doesn’t stop a tram-train route being created across the city, if the tracks were connected at the two main stations. After all the Class 399 tram-trains, which are UK versions of The Latest Citylink Tram-Trains In Karlsruhe, will be running through the centre of Sheffield.

So will we see them running through Manchester? Don’t underestimate the engineers!

I don’t know the Tyne and Wear Metro very well. Regarding the system and the trains.

  • The trains are very elderly and there is talk of replacement.
  • If say Pelaw Junction to Sunderland or any other part of the network needed to be electrified at 25 kVAC, Class 399 tram-trains would take it all in their stride, just as they do in Karlsruhe.
  • The Leamside Line could be reopened to Washington for the Metro and as a diversionary route for freight. It would need electrification of some sort, but surely 25 kVAC would be better, as it would allow electric haulage of freight trains. Class 399 tram-trains wouldn’t care, so long as there was volts and amps!
  • Extensions up the East Coast Main Line might be easier.
  • If the Durham Coast Line is electrified, the Metro could go all the way to Middlesbrough.
  • The Tyne and Wear Metro is based on the Karlsruhe model.

So could the trains be replaced directly by Karlsruhe-style Class 399 tram-trains?

I have no idea, but I do foresee some problems.

  • The Metro runs on 1500 VDC. But I suspect any decent electrical engineer with rail transport experience could modify the design of the Class 399 tram-trains, so they ran on 1500 VDC and 25 kVAC.
  • Is the platform height compatible? I suspect that if they aren’t then it could be quite easy to build the new fleet of trains to fit the current platforms.

Any Geordie with a little bit of imagination must be able to see the opportunities that would be created, by changing the rolling stock with what I believe could become Europe’s standard tram-train.

And then there’s Sheffield!

I can’t wait to ride the new Class 399 tram-trains in the city!


I saw the future in Karlsruhe and it will come to Sheffield.

I can envisage a day, when I catch a Class 399 tram-train at Sheffield Cathedral and after running along the picturesque Hope Valley Line, I will alight at the Piccadilly Gardens tram stop in the centre of Manchester.

If you think that is fantasy look at the reality of Karlsruhe, where tram-trains go between the centre of the city and places further away than Manchester is from Sheffield.

May 14, 2016 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] incidentally, only seems to have a few buses and you will notice in Building A Tram-Train Tunnel In Karlruhe, how few cars and taxis there are. So are all the people on foot or in the […]

    Pingback by Summing Up Karlsruhe’s Tram-Trains « The Anonymous Widower | June 2, 2017 | Reply

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