The Anonymous Widower

Karlsruhe Kombilösung Tram Tunnels Inaugurated

The title of this post, is the same as that as this article on Railway Gazette.

I first came to Karlsruhe to see the tram-trains in 2015 and wrote about them in Exploring Karlsruhe And Its Trams And Tram/Trains.

I couldn’t help notice, that the good citizens of Karlsruhe were digging a tunnel for tram-trains, all the way along their equivalent of Oxford Street.

I said this.

It will certainly be worth returning to Karlsruhe, when the tunnel is complete and the network is expanded.

So now almost seven years after that first visit, the €1·5bn project has been completed and I had better think about returning.

January 10, 2022 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Karlsruhe Tunnel Is Still Not Finished

The main reason to go to Karlsruhe was to see if the contractors had completed the Stadtbahn tunnel under the city.

The pictures, show that they haven’t!

February 14, 2018 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Summing Up Karlsruhe’s Tram-Trains

Karlsruhe invented the tram-train and running them under the Karlsruhe model.

It’s a bit like having a vehicle that can go anywhere in your city carrying a couple of hundred people, where there is a railway or tram track.

The only other vehicle that offers a similar flexibility is a bus, but buses are less eco-friendly and they are difficult to make all electric.

Karlsruhe 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 tram-trains?

Surely, the great thing about a tram-train network like Karlsruhe, is that once the main tracks are laid and electrified, as they will be in Karlsruhe, once the tunnel is open, your biggest improvements come by adding more and better vehicles to the routes.

I went to Karlsruhe to see The Latest Citylink Tram-Trains In Karlsruhe, as they are similar to those being introduced in Sheffield.

According to this article in the Internation Railway Journal, the city has just ordered another twenty five of these tram-trains.

On return from Dubrovnik I found this article on Global Rail News, which says that they’ve also ordered another twelve Flexity Swift tram-trains from Bombardier.

If you want to see what a low-floor Flexity-Swift looks like, go to Croydon. I don’t think that the London Tramlink could use tram-trains, as all the rail lines in South London are third-rail, but don’t underestimate engineers. You probably couldn’t have the automatic voltage changeover that you get with overhead wires.

Both these batches are low-floor, so expect one of the developments over the next few years in Karlsruhe is that more trams become low-floor. Obviously, some stations won’t be able to be modified, so the network probably won’t become 100% low-floor.

Are Karlsruhe playing this network expansion in a very canny way?

They now have a specification for a vehicle than can work all lines in its network.

  • Dual voltage of 750 VDC and 15 kVAC.
  • Low floor or adapted to railway and tram stations.
  • A defined loading gauge.
  • A preferred seating layout.

It strikes me that there will be several manufacturers, who would like to supply Karlsruhe, as they obviously know what works, as they invented the standard.

Karlsruhe also has the advantage in that the tram-trains they don’t want probably have a good residual value, as if say a city wants to built a tram-train network, provided that they obey Karlsruhe’s rules, then the tram-trains can be delivered and after testing, start a service.

The only problem is that Germany’s non-standard 15 kVAC may need to be changed to perhaps 25 KVAC. But that would probably be more affordable than buying a whole fleet of new tram-trains.

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

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

Exploring Karlsruhe And Its Trams And Tram/Trains

As the main reason I went to Karlsruhe was to see their tram/trains, properly called the Karlsruhe Stadtbahn,  in action, I’m combining all the posts in the city in one.

It’s also probably a good idea to combine the pictures, as the main street of the city is being dug up to create a new tunnel for the tram/trains across the city. So you can’t really see any of the city’s attractions.

Notice that Karlsruhe’s tram/trains can be quite large and I think I saw some of four or possibly five coaches. Their network is also over two hundred and fifty kilometres, so small it is not! By comparison the Sheffield Supertram is just thirty kilometres, but Sheffield has a population twice that of Karlsruhe. These figures show how undeveloped our tram systems are compared to those in Germany.

It will certainly be worth returning to Karlsruhe, when the tunnel is complete and the network is expanded.

The operation of Karlsruhe’s tram-trains are often described as the Karlsruhe model. Kassel is described as working to this and so is the Tyne and Wear Metro, although that is not a tram-train, but it does share tracks with heavy rail.

Karldruhe also uses Vossloh Citylink tram-trains, which are similar to the Class 399 ordered for Sheffield for operation as tram-trains to Rotherham.

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 12 Comments