Wuppertaler Schwebebahn

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Wuppertal, Germany, has a unique public transportation system.

The Wupper River, which is so shallow that you can walk across
it at any point, has carved a valley out of the surrounding solid rock
over the past several million years. The sides of the valley are steep,
drilling under it through solid rock to make a subway system was
extremely cost prohibitive, there was already a train running through the
valley, and there was no room left for a quick, urban transit system.

So, they hung the subway upside down over the only relatively flat
path through the entire valley - the Wupper - and created
the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn (Suspended Train).

In 1901.

We rode the rail from one end to the other and I took a few shots.
Shooting from the train was extremely difficult as it vibrates a bit and swings
from side to side. But, it was a fun, inexpensive thing to do (6.70 eruo buys a
full day pass for five people!).

Schwebebahn Facts:

Length: 13.3 kilometers (9.64 miles)
Stops: 20
Average Speed: 26.6 km/h (16.5 mph)
Maximum Speed: 60 km/h (37.3 mph)
Passengers per working day: 72,000
Power: 600 volts direct current
Number of trains: 27
Type of construction: Dual (bidrectional) monorail

For more information, please see The Official Schwebebahn Site
which is where those facts and figures came from

Click on any photo, then click on the Back button
in your browser to return to this page.

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As the trains wind their ways down the river, they swing, right and left
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This one is just headed into the station I'm standing on
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No tunnels, and no railings on the ends of the platforms. If you are of a mind to walk off the end, it's about a 30 foot drop into a 2-foot deep river
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One view out the front
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Train coming into a curved station. The trains bend in two places
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After experiencing the ride for about 20 minutes, I got curious about what was moving these trains
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Our pass let us hop on and off wherever we liked for the whole day, so, we stopped at this station and I shot the motors. Each train is powered by 4 600vdc motors that drive two wheels apiece
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This is a closer look at one of the motor/wheel assemblies on a different train
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Century-old steel and engineering...
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...still functioning as designed.

Historic Information

On April 12, 1999, one of these trains derailed and fell 30 feet into the Wupper River
killing 5 people. The accident investigation concluded that a metal clamp left by workers
who were restoring the system was to blame for the derailment. Those were the only fatalities
of passengers during transit in the 102 years that this system has been in operation that I have
been able to find. Even Tuffi survived.

On July 21st, 1950, a baby elephant, Tuffi, on its way to a circus, broke through the side of
a car and fell 30 feet into the river. And lived to perform another day.

A short synopsis of a century of mishaps can be found here

The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn has been undergoing extensive renovations for many years.
I am pleased to say that, as of this writing, it is now totally reopened, running every five minutes
from each station, and that the renovations are nearing total completion. All stations are open.

After riding its length, and back, I can only tip my hat to the man who concieved of,
designed and built the electric motor and system that made it possible:

Carl Eugen Langen: 1833-1895

Eugen Langen was an engineer from Cologne who pioneered the use of electricity
for motors in the late 19th century. He didn't live to see the Schwebebahn built. But his
ideas were so good that Kaiser Wilhelm II, who rode the prototype in 1900,
embraced his ideas, and it was built.

Much to Langen's credit, it's still there. His hanging electric train design principles and
vision are still what is the safest railway, monorail or otherwise, for its scope, in the world.

Links to Schwebebahn and Wuppertal History and Information

English Website:

Bergische Universitat Wuppertal More history

German Websites:

Correct dates, times, and original photos Courtesy of Dafkurse.de

Live Schwebebahn Cam! Courtesy of Wuppertal.de

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