Wuppertal Suspension Railway

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Wuppertal Suspension Railway
(Wuppertaler Schwebebahn)
A train hanging from the rail runs above Sonnborner Straße.
Wuppertal Suspension Railway
Locale Wuppertal, Germany
Transit type Suspension railway
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 20
Daily ridership 82,000[1]
Began operation 1 March 1901; 116 years ago (1901-03-01)
Operator(s) Wuppertaler Stadtwerke (WSW)
System length 13.3 km (8.3 mi)
System map

Wuppertaler Schwebebahn Karte.png

Depot and turning loop
L419 Brändströmstraße
Werther Brücke
Alter Markt
Loher Brücke
L433 Loher Straße
Völklinger Straße
L70 Morianstraße
Alte Freiheit
L427 Tannenbergstraße
Varresbecker Straße
Düsseldorf–Elberfeld railway
Former turning loop
Start of the Overland section
Sonnborner Straße
Sonnborner Straße
Sonnborner Kreuz
Gräfrather Straße
Vohwinkel Schwebebahn
Main workshops, depot and turning loop

The Wuppertal Suspension Railway (German: Wuppertaler Schwebebahn) is a suspension railway in Wuppertal, Germany.

Its full name is "Electric Elevated Railway (Suspension Railway) Installation, Eugen Langen System" (Anlage einer elektrischen Hochbahn (Schwebebahn), System Eugen Langen).[2] It is the oldest electric elevated railway with hanging cars in the world and is a unique system.

Designed by Eugen Langen to sell to the city of Berlin,[3] the installation with elevated stations was built in Barmen, Elberfeld and Vohwinkel between 1897 and 1903; the first track opened in 1901. The Schwebebahn is still in use today as a normal means of local public transport, moving 25 million passengers annually (2008).[4]

The suspension railway runs along a route of 13.3 kilometres (8.3 mi), at a height of about 12 metres (39 ft) above the River Wupper between Oberbarmen and Sonnborner Straße (10 kilometres or 6.2 miles) and about 8 metres (26 ft) above the valley road between Sonnborner Straße and Vohwinkel (3.3 kilometres or 2.1 miles).[5][6] At one point the railway crosses the A46 motorway. The entire trip takes about 30 minutes.[6] The Wuppertal Suspension Railway operates within the VRR transport association and accepts tickets issued by the VRR companies.


The Wuppertal Suspension Railway had a forerunner: in 1824, Henry Robinson Palmer of Britain presented a railway system which differed from all previous constructions. It was a low single-rail suspension railway on which the carriages were drawn by horses. Friedrich Harkort, a Prussian industrial entrepreneur and politician, loved the idea. He saw big advantages for the transportation of coal to the early industrialised region in and around the Wupper valley. Harkort had his own steel mill in Elberfeld; he built a demonstration segment of the Palmer system and set it up in 1826 on the grounds of what is today the Wuppertal tax office. He tried to attract public attention to his railway plans.

On 9 September 1826, the town councillors of Elberfeld met to discuss the use of a "Palmer's Railway" from the Ruhr region, Hinsbeck or Langenberg, to the Wupper valley, Elberfeld, connecting Harkort's factories. Friedrich Harkort inspected the projected route with a surveyor and a member of the town council. The plans never went ahead because of protests from the transport branch[clarification needed] and owners of mills that were not on the routes.

In 1887 the cities of Elberfeld and Barmen formed a commission for the construction of an elevated railway or Hochbahn. In 1894 they chose the system of the engineer Eugen Langen of Cologne, and in 1896 the order was licensed by the City of Düsseldorf.[6][7] In 2003, the Rhine Heritage Office (Rheinisches Amt für Denkmalpflege des Landschaftsverbandes Rheinland or LVR) announced the discovery of an original section of the test route of the Wuppertal Suspension Railway.

Construction on the actual Wuppertal Suspension Railway began in 1898, overseen by the government's master builder, Wilhelm Feldmann. On 24 October 1900, Emperor Wilhelm II participated in a monorail trial run.[6]

In 1901 the railway came into operation. It opened in sections: the line from Kluse to Zoo/Stadion opened on 1 March, the line to the western terminus at Vohwinkel opened on 24 May, while the line to the eastern terminus at Oberbarmen did not open until 27 June 1903.[5] Around 19,200 tonnes (18,900 long tons; 21,200 short tons) of steel were used to produce the supporting frame and the railway stations.[6] The construction cost 16 million gold marks. The railway was closed owing to severe damage during World War II, but reopened as early as 1946.[5]

Construction of Wuppertal Suspension Railway, 1900 
Werther Brücke station in 1913 
A 1977 train crossing an intersection 
A train in Wuppertal in 2010 

Current modernization[edit]

The Wuppertal Suspension Railway nowadays carries approximately 80,000[1] passengers per weekday through the city. Since 1997, the supporting frame has been largely modernized, and many stations have been reconstructed and brought technically up to date. Kluse station, at the theatre in Elberfeld, had been destroyed during the Second World War. This too was reconstructed during the modernization. Work was planned to be completed in 2001; however a serious accident took place in 1999 which left five people dead and 47 injured. This, along with delivery problems, delayed completion. In recent years (2004), the cost of the reconstruction work has increased from €380 million to €480 million.[8]

On 15 December 2009 the Schwebebahn suspended its operations for safety concerns; several of the older support structures needed to be renewed, a process that was completed on 19 April 2010.[9]

On 10 November 2011 Wuppertaler Stadtwerke (Wuppertal public utility company) signed a contract with Vossloh Kiepe to supply 31 new articulated cars to replace those built in the 1970s. The new cars were built in Valencia, Spain. When they were introduced the line's power supply voltage was raised from 600 to 750 V.[10]

In 2012, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway was closed for significant periods to upgrade the line. The closing times were 7 to 21 July, 6 August to 22 October and weekends in September (15/16) and November (10/11).[11]

The modernization was completed and the line fully reopened on 19 August 2013.


  • Oberbarmen – eastern terminus
  • Wupperfeld
  • Werther Brücke
  • Alter Markt
  • Adlerbrücke
  • Loher Brücke
  • Völklinger Straße
  • Landgericht
  • Kluse
  • Hauptbahnhof
  • Ohligsmühle
  • Robert-Daum-Platz
  • Pestalozzistraße
  • Westende
  • Varresbecker Straße
  • Zoo/Stadion
  • Sonnborner Straße
  • Hammerstein
  • Bruch
  • Vohwinkel – western terminus
Werther Brücke Station 
Zoo/Stadion Station 
Sonnborner Straße Station 


Detail of suspender, wheel and motor

The cars are suspended from a single rail built underneath a supporting steel frame. The cars hang on wheels which are driven by multiple electric motors operating at 750 volts DC, fed from an extra rail.[12]

The supporting frame and tracks are made out of 486 pillars and bridgework sections. For the realization Anton Rieppel Head of MAN-Werk Gustavsburg invented 1895-96 a patented structural system.[13] The termini at each end of the line also serve as train depots and reversers.[6]

The current fleet consists of thirty one articulated cars introduced in November 2011.[6] The cars are 24 metres long and have 4 doors. One carriage can seat 48 with approximately 130 standing passengers.[5] The top speed is 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph) and the average speed is 27 km/h (17 mph).[6]

The Kaiserwagen (Emperor's car), the original train used by Emperor Wilhelm II during a test ride on 24 October 1900, is still operated on scheduled excursion services, special occasions and for charter events.[6]


15 January 1917
A train rear-ended another train that had stopped unexpectedly in front of it between Oberbarmen and Wupperfeld, causing the trailing car of the stopped train to fall off the track. There were two minor injuries.[14] Subsequently, a safety device was developed to make derailments nearly impossible.[6]
21 July 1950
The Althoff Circus organised a publicity stunt by putting a baby elephant on a train at Alter Markt station. As the elephant started to bump around during the ride, she was pushed out of the car and fell into the river Wupper.[15] The elephant, two journalists, and one passenger sustained minor injuries. After this jump, the elephant got the name Tuffi, meaning 'waterdive' in Italian. Both operator and circus director were fined after the incident.
11 September 1968
A truck crashed into a pillar and caused a section of track to fall. There were no trains in the area at the time. This incident led to the use of concrete walls in pillar anchors.
25 March 1997
A technical malfunction caused a rear-end collision in Oberbarmen station between a structure train and the Kaiserwagen. There were 14 injuries, but no derailment.
Incident of 12 April 1999, near Robert-Daum-Platz station
12 April 1999
The line's only fatal incident occurred close to Robert-Daum-Platz station during maintenance work in the early morning hours of 12 April 1999. Workers had forgotten to remove a metal claw from the track on completion of scheduled night work. The first eastbound train of the day hit the claw at a speed of around 50 km/h (31 mph), derailed, and fell about 10 metres (33 ft) into the river Wupper, killing 5 passengers. The salvage operation took 3 days and nights to complete. 8 weeks after the incident the Schwebebahn returned to operation. The cost of the damage was approximately 8 million marks.
The judicial proceedings following the incident highlighted that the disaster was not caused by technical defects or system failure, but by negligence by workers having fallen behind in their schedule during the preceding night, and abandoning the work site hastily 10 minutes before the train departed from the depot. Contributing to the circumstances was a lack of control of their activities by site supervisors.
The Works Manager in charge of safety and the workers dealing with the steel claw at the time were acquitted of all charges by the District Court of Wuppertal. The site supervision personnel, having neglected their duties of control, were sentenced for involuntary manslaughter in 5 cases and bodily injury caused by negligence in 37 cases, but let off on probation with verdict 4 StR 289/01 dated 31 January 2002.[16]
Collision with crane near Hammerstein station, 5 August 2008
5 August 2008
A train collided with a crane truck making deliveries under the track, causing a 10-metre-long (33 ft) tear in the floor of one of the cars. The truck driver was seriously injured, and the train driver and some passengers were treated for shock.[17]
17 October 2013
A section of power rail 100 metres (330 ft) long fell from the track onto Federal Route 7, damaging several cars parked there and forcing closure of the road. The city's fire service had to rescue 70 passengers from a stopped train. No one was injured.[18]

In popular culture[edit]


The Schwebebahn is alluded to in Theodor Herzl's 1902 utopian novel Altneuland (The Old New Land). For Herzl, the Schwebebahn was the ideal form of urban transport, and he imagined a large monorail built in its style in Haifa.[19]


A sequence in Lyrical Nitrate, using film from between 1905 and 1915, features the Schwebebahn. Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer use images of the Schwebebahn in Wim Wenders's 1974 movie Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten). It also appears in the 1992 Dutch movie The Sunday Child (De Zondagsjongen) by Pieter Verhoeff, in Tom Tykwer's 2000 film The Princess and the Warrior (Der Krieger und die Kaiserin) and as a background and to a number of outdoor dance choreographies in another Wim Wenders film – 2011's Pina, and some dances are set inside the cars.

The Schwebebahn is both subject and title of video work by the Turner Prize-nominated artist Darren Almond. Produced in 1995, Schwebebahn is the first of three videos that constitute his Train Trilogy.

Other fiction[edit]

Some of the events in Le Feu de Wotan, a Belgian bande dessinée in the Yoko Tsuno series, take place in the Schwebebahn.

The television series Thunderbirds never mentions the name Wuppertal, but often features high-speed trains travelling using suspended rails in a similar style to the Schwebebahn.

The denouement of the episode of the 1972 ITC TV series The Adventurer called "I'll Get There Sometime" takes place on the railway.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Facts & Figures". Schwebebahn. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  2. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110718195017/http://www.ag-sdd.de/ausgew_erw/rundgaenge/vollansicht/rundgang_5/spk_9.htm. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Die Große Erneuerung ist schon arg in Verzug" Archived 5 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine. (in German), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 25 August 1998.
  4. ^ 2008 Annual report (in German), p. 44. Archived 15 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b c d Robert Schwandl. "Wuppertal". UrbanRail.net. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Uni Wuppertal – Wuppertal's Suspension Railway: overview and history". Archived from the original on 8 October 2006. Retrieved 20 February 2007. 
  7. ^ "Die Geschichte der Schwebebahn" (in German). Schwebebahn. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  8. ^ Von Andreas Spiegelhauer (18 March 2009). "Schwebebahn-Ausbau: Betrug bei Millionen-Hilfe?". Westdeutsche Zeitung (in German). 
  9. ^ WSW-Online: Altgerüst muss verstärkt werden -Schwebebahn außer Betrieb Archived 2 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine. (in German).
  10. ^ Railway Magazine, January 2012[full citation needed]
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 February 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  12. ^ "Wuppertaler Stadtwerke AG – English". Archived from the original on 9 October 2006. Retrieved 20 February 2007. 
  13. ^ "Unbenanntes Dokument". rheinische-industriekultur.de (in German). 
  14. ^ "Schwebebahn in Wuppertal und mehr". Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Article in Westdeutsche Zeitung, March 2009[full citation needed]
  16. ^ "BGH 4 StR 289/01 - 31. Januar 2002 (LG Wuppertal)". hrr-strafrecht.de (in German). 
  17. ^ "Rettung aus der Luft: Wuppertaler Schwebebahn kollidiert mit Kran". Spiegel Online (in German). Hamburg, Germany. 5 August 2008. 
  18. ^ "Nach Schwebebahn-Unfall in Wuppertal ermittelt jetzt der Staatsanwalt". DerWesten.de (in German). WAZ Mediengruppe. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  19. ^ "Monorails were a great idea in 1902, and they're a great idea now". Yesterday's Salad. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°16′1.52″N 7°10′53.13″E / 51.2670889°N 7.1814250°E / 51.2670889; 7.1814250