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German S-Bahn logo
Austrian S-Bahn logo
Milan suburban railways service logo
Copenhagen S-tog logo
Czech Esko logo

S-Bahn is a public city centre and suburban rapid transit system within the public transport and commuter rail networks of urban areas in Austria, Germany, German-speaking Switzerland, Northern Italy, Denmark, and the Czech Republic. The Copenhagen S-tog (English: S-trains) refers to trains rather than tracks, but is otherwise the same.

The S-Bahn serves city centre traffic as well as suburbs and nearby towns. A common characteristic is high efficiency and a synchronised timetable that allows for more dense rail traffic on the railway lines. This is achieved by electric locomotives and train doors at platform level and by the complete use of separate tracks. In the city centres the tracks are almost always either underground or elevated.

Name and some history[edit]

The name is an abbreviation for the German "Stadtschnellbahn" (meaning "city rapid railway") and was introduced in December 1930 in Berlin. The label was introduced along with the reconstruction of the suburban commuter train tracks— the first section to be electrified was a section of the Berlin–Szczecin railway from Berlin Nordbahnhof to Bernau bei Berlin station in 1924, leading to the formation of the Berlin S-Bahn.[1]

The main line Berlin Stadtbahn (English: City railway of Berlin) was electrified with a 750 volt third rail in 1928 (some steam trains ran until 1929) and the circle line Berlin Ringbahn was electrified in 1929. The electrification continued on the radial suburban railway tracks along with changing the timetable of the train system into a rapid transit model with no more than 20 minutes per line where a number of lines did overlap on the main line. The system peaked during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin to a train schedule below 2 minutes.[2]

The idea of heavy rail rapid transit was not unique to Berlin. Hamburg had an electric railway between the central station ("Hauptbahnhof") and Altona which opened in 1906 and in 1934 the system adopted the S-Bahn label from Berlin.[citation needed] The same year Copenhagen's S-tog opened its first line. Vienna had its Stadtbahn main line electrified in 1908 and also introduced the term Schnellbahn ("rapid railway") in 1954 for its then planned commuter railway network (which eventually started operations in 1962) - the S-Bahn label was sometimes used as well, but officially the name only switched to S-Bahn Wien in 2005.[citation needed] As for Munich, a first breaking ground for an S-Bahn-like rapid transport system running through tunnels in downtown areas, bundling and interconnecting existing suburban and local railways, as well as the construction of what is now Goetheplatz underground station (line U6) took place in 1938, executed by then "Führer" Adolf Hitler. Plans and construction work came to a halt early in World War II and were no longer pursued in its aftermath. The nowadays very extensive S-Bahn-System, together with the first two U-Bahn lines, began to operate prior to the 1972 Summer Olympics only.


Early steam services[edit]

In 1882, the growing number of steam-powered trains around Berlin prompted the Prussian State Railway to construct separate rail tracks for suburban traffic.[citation needed] The Berliner Stadtbahn connected Berlin's eight intercity rail stations which were spread throughout the city. A lower rate for the newly founded Berliner Stadt-, Ring- und Vorortbahn (Berlin City, Circular and Suburban Rail) was introduced on 1 October 1891. This rate and the growing succession of trains made the short-distance service stand out from other railways.[citation needed]

The second suburban railway was the Hamburg-Altonaer Stadt- und Vorortbahn connecting Hamburg with Altona and Blankenese. The Altona office of the Prussian State Railway established the electric powered railway in 1906.[citation needed]


Electric multiple unit of Berlin S-Bahn
The Hamburg S-Bahn uses a third rail system

The beginning of the 20th century saw the first electric trains, which in Germany operated at 15,000 V on overhead lines. The Berliner Stadt-, Ring- und Vorortbahn instead implemented direct current multiple units running on 750 V from a third rail. In 1924, the first electrified route went into service. The third rail was chosen because it made both the modifications of the rail tracks (especially in tunnels and under bridges) and the side-by-side use of electric and steam trains easier.[citation needed]

To set it apart from its competitor, the subterranean U-Bahn, the term S-Bahn replaced Stadt-, Ring- und Vorortbahn in 1930.[citation needed]

The Hamburg service had established an alternating current line in 1907 with the use of multiple units with slam doors. In 1940 a new system with 1200 V DC third rail and modern electric multiple units with sliding doors was integrated on this line (on the same tracks). The old system with overhead wire remains up to 1955. The other lines of the network still used steam and later Diesel power. In 1934, the Hamburg-Altonaer Stadt- und Vorortbahn was renamed as S-Bahn.[citation needed]


S-Bahn lines are different from U-Bahn lines in that they developed from conventional railways a long time ago. Some German S-Bahn systems are separate systems of their own, like in Berlin and Hamburg. Also the Copenhagen S-tog are a completely separated system, whereas in Munich and Frankfurt, due to missing separate S-Bahn-tracks, some - if however not all - trackage is shared with mainline trains.[citation needed] In the major German cities S-Bahn often is a complement to U-Bahn (or Stadtbahn which exists in the Rhein-Ruhr conglomerate and in some other German cities). While a U-Bahn (usually) keeps its dual and electrified tracks inside the official city limits. Exceptions do however exists, for instance in the Ruhr area where Gelsenkirchen and Essen have a common Stadtbahn. Munich connects different, suburban campuses of Technische Universität München and a handful of other scientific landmark institutes with U6 underground line that in the north-east crosses city limits and stretches out onto the area of the City of Garching. Plans for the same line's extension to the south-west, attaching a large bio-science cluster in the village of Martinsried, integral part of Planegg municipality, have reached advanced levels. In Copenhagen, like in Berlin, the S-Train network is a fully separated system of its own. (And must not be confused with the more modern Copenhagen Metro).

In Hamburg, Berlin and other large cities new S-Bahn tracks have been built, which never have had any common rail traffic. This applies to Copenhagen S-tog as well In the city centre S-Bahn very often runs as underground — and there is a strong symbiosis when using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn (or Metro in the case of Copenhagen), with common ticket system, fare zones and interchange junction stations.[citation needed]

Stuttgart S-Bahn

S-Bahn networks are typified by many or all of the following characteristics:

  • Specifically numbered, dedicated routes (S1, S2, etc. or A, B, C etc.), each coloured separately on the official network map
  • Equivalents in some countries sometimes use names instead of numbers
  • High frequency fixed interval services on each line (usually every 5–10 minutes in city centre, up to 20 minutes outside the central parts of the lines)
  • Joint sections providing a higher frequency, standing possibilities
  • Dedicated tracks when running alongside main lines
  • An underground section under the city centre, elevated tracks (or both) may be an alternative, usually the core section where most lines converge
  • Dedicated rolling stock, often consistent throughout the network (metro standard on trains, usually no toilets)
  • Integration with other local transport, in terms of ticketing, connectivity and easy interchange between lines or other system like metros
  • (Usually) Same name on all parts of a station which is shared with for instance Light Rail, like junction stations for travelling interchange
  • Symbols at every station (in Germany usually a green S, in Copenhagen a red hexagon with a white "S")
  • Good possibility for inner city urban transport, not only a suburban train with 1-3 stops in central part of the city
  • Unlike regional trains and commuter trains, they use the same time distances throughout the whole day - usually 5 or 10 minutes between departures
  • Service, if not 24 hours, is from 5 AM until well past midnight
  • Preferably some kind of central circle line or (depending on the city geographical structure) a central part of a circle line (at seaside cities railway circle lines do not need to go out to the sea or lake)

Train and station logotypes[edit]

The symbol for the S-Bahn in Germany is a white "S" on a green circle. In Copenhagen, Denmark, the equivalent symbol is a red hexagon with a white "S". (However, in Copenhagen the "S" originally just stood for "Station"). In Austria, S-Bahn lines and stations are displayed by a blue circle with a white "S" in it. There are proper S-Bahn systems in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg. In Switzerland, S-Linien (S-lines) is displayed in black letters on a white background. The term S-Bahn has spawned many similar notations, like the name R-Bahn for regional trains, which do not meet S-Bahn criteria.[citation needed]

The term S-Bahn was until March 14, 2012 a registered wordmark of Deutsche Bahn, where at the request of a transportation association the Federal Patent Court of Germany ordered the wordmark to be removed from the records of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office.[3] Prior to the said event Deutsche Bahn collected a royalty of 0.4 cents per train kilometer for the usage of the said term.

List of S-Bahn networks[edit]


Classic X-Wagen coaches of S-Bahn Rhein-Ruhr (2011)
German S-Bahn logo
S-Bahn networks in Germany, along with other metro systems
map of the Munich S-Bahn system
A line 10 regional suburban train of the Leipzig-Halle S-Bahn Systems

The trains of the Berlin and Hamburg S-Bahn systems ran on separate tracks from the beginning. When other cities started implementing their systems in the 1960s, they mostly had to use the existing intercity rail tracks.

The central intercity stations of Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart are terminal stations, so all three cities have monocentric S-Bahn networks. The S-Bahn trains use a tunnel under the central station and the city centre.

The high number of large cities in the Ruhr area promotes a polycentric network connecting all cities and suburbs. The S-Bahn Rhein-Ruhr, as it is called, features few tunnels, and its routes are longer than those of other networks. The Ruhr S-Bahn is the only S-Bahn network to be run by more than one corporation in Germany, and the Salzburg S-Bahn holds a similar distinction in Austria. Most Swiss S-Bahn systems are multi-corporation networks, however.

Most German S-Bahn networks have a unique ticket system, separated from the Deutsche Bahn rates, instead connected to the city ticket system. The S-Bahn of Hanover, however, operates under five different rates due to its large expanse.

List of German S-Bahn systems[edit]

One S-Bahn system is no longer in operation; it is the Erfurt S-Bahn which operated from 1976 until 1993 and was an 8.6 km (5.3 mi) single-line system which consisted of four stations from Erfurt Central Station to Erfurt Berliner Straße station in the then newly built northern suburbs of Erfurt.[4]

Future S-Bahn systems are the Danube-Iller S-Bahn which is expected to enter service in December 2013,[5] and the Augsburg S-Bahn which was originally planned to go into service in 2011 but has now been delayed to 2015.[6] The S-Bahn system in Lübeck is under discussion (Network plan).

The Stadtbahn Karlsruhe (a tram-train network) uses the green "S" logo, but does not refer to itself as S-Bahn. The blue U-Bahn logo is not used either, due to the lack of subterranean lines.

Despite their names, the Breisgau S-Bahn (Freiburg) and the Ortenau S-Bahn (Offenburg) are both RegionalBahn services.


Austrian S-Bahn logo
Salzburg S-Bahn logo
The S-Bahn logos of Austria respectively Salzburg
Vienna S-Bahn, S45 line

The oldest S-Bahn system in Austria is the Vienna S-Bahn, which predominantly uses intercity rails. It was established in 1962, although it was usually referred to as Schnellbahn until 2005. The white "S" on a blue circle used as the logo reflects the layout of the central railway lines. The rolling stock was blue for a long time, reflecting the logo colour, but red is used uniformly for nearly all local traffic today.

In 2004, the Salzburg S-Bahn went into service as the first Euroregion S-Bahn, crossing the border to the neighbouring towns of Freilassing and Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. The network is served by three corporations: the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), the Salzburger Lokalbahn (SLB) and the Berchtesgadener Land Bahn (BLB). The Salzburg S-Bahn logo is a white S on a light blue circle.

The S-Bahn network in Graz is in its first phase (Network plan). Currently the following lines are active: S1, S11, S5, S51, S6, S7 while S3, S31 and S32 are still under construction. Extension works shall be finished by 2012.

On December 9, 2007 the Tyrol S-Bahn opened, running from Hall in Tirol in the east to Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof and Telfs in the west and from Innsbruck to Steinach am Brenner.

The rolling stock used on the Tyrol S-Bahn are Desiro and Talent trains. It shall be finally upgraded till 2012.

The regional train line in the Vorarlberg Rhine Valley is a nominal S-Bahn. The S-Bahn network in Linz is under discussion.


S-Bahn is also used in German-speaking Switzerland. While French publications of those networks translate it as RER, the line numbers are still prefixed with an S (e.g. S2).

Berne S-Bahn logo

The oldest network in Switzerland is the Bern S-Bahn, established in stages from 1974 and has adopted the term S-Bahn since 1995. It is also the only one in Switzerland to use a coloured "S" logo. In 1990, the Zürich S-Bahn, which covers the largest area, went into service. S-Bahn services were set up in the course of the Bahn 2000 initiative in Central Switzerland (a collaborative network of S-Bahn Luzern and Stadtbahn Zug), St. Gallen (S-Bahn St. Gallen) and Ticino (Rete celere del Canton Ticino).

The Regio S-Bahn Basel services the whole Euroregion "Regio TriRhena", thus providing cross-border transportation into both France and Germany. A tunnel connecting Basel's two large intercity stations (Basel Badischer Bahnhof and Basel SBB) is planned as Herzstück Regio-S-Bahn Basel (lit. heart-piece Regio-S-Bahn Basel).

The Réseau Express Vaudois of Lausanne will be incorporated in the planned S-Bahn Léman (called RER Léman in French-speaking areas) around Lake Geneva (fr. Lac Léman). Geneva will be the second centre of this network. Transborder networks for the Lake Constance-adjacent German states Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the Austrian state Vorarlberg and the Swiss cantons St. Gallen and Thurgau are under discussion. Possible names are Bodensee-S-Bahn and Alpenrhein-Bahn.

Northern Italy[edit]

Suburban railways service in Northern Italy are operated by regional train companies such as Trenord in Lombardy in joint venture with metropolitan transit authority like GTT in Turin, Piedmont. With ten lines Milan suburban railway service is the biggest one. Operating services in the country are:

Czech Republic[edit]

Czech Esko logo

In Czech Republic, integrated commuter rail systems exist in Prague and Moravian-Silesian Region. Both systems are called Esko, which is how S letter is usually called in Czech. Esko Prague has been operating since December 9, 2007 as a part of the Prague Integrated Transport system. Esko Moravian-Silesian Region began operating on 14 December 2008 as a part of the ODIS Integrated Transport system serving the Moravian-Silesian Region. Both systems are operated by České dráhy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.stadtschnellbahn-berlin.de (in German)
  2. ^ http://www.stadtschnellbahn-berlin.de (in German); chose "Geschichte" (History)
  3. ^ Beschluss Bundespatentgericht vom 14. März 2012. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  4. ^ de:S-Bahn Erfurt
  5. ^ de:Regio-S-Bahn Donau-Iller
  6. ^ de:S-Bahn Augsburg

External links[edit]

Pages on German Wikipedia[edit]