Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hanging Train in Germany

This is a bridge over the "Wupper" at Wuppertal Barmen. In addition there is the famous Railway of the "Schwebebahn " over it. A Trains hang under the railway and connect the whole valley of Wuppertal in Germany.

Wuppertal in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, has one unique attraction, its hanging railway. While most cities preferred the underground solution for their public transports, Wuppertal decided to use an idea by Eugen Langen.

Eugen Langen had designed a hanging railway in Dresden, although it was more of a funicular railway. The length of the line was only 274 metres. Langen died in 1895 so he never saw his famous railway himself. The Hanging Railway in Wuppertal started operating in 1901. The track was extended in 1903, creating the route that is still used today.

In German the railway is called Schwebebahn, which translates to floating railway but in English it is generally called the hanging railway or the suspension railway. The official German name is Einschienige Hangebahn System Eugen Langen. Given that the length of the track is just 13,3 kilometres (8,3 miles) it is more of a tram than a railway.

Most of the track runs above the Wupper river. The 3 kilometre stretch between Wohlwinkel and Sonnborner Strasse is called the overland track, which runs above the streets. The overland part of the track has a completely different design of the support pylons compared to the main part of the track that runs above the Wupper river.

People that are expecting a roller coaster ride will be disappointed. The trains swing slightly but not much, you soon get used to it. The trains run just 8 metres (27 ft) above the streets and 10 to 12 metres (33-40 ft) above the Wupper river so do not expect any panoramic views from the trains. Also, calling Wupper a river is a little bit of exaggeration, it is more of a stream.

The stations are an interesting mix of old and new styles. It is well worth stopping at many of the stations and have a look at the building before continuing the journey. It is only a few minutes between the trains.

The suspension railway has been very safe. Only one fatal accident has happened, despite that the line has been operating for more than a hundred years. In 1999, five people were killed when a train plunged into the Wupper river. Unfortunately, it was an unnecessary accident. During weekend maintenance work, a piece of metal was forgotten on the track and the first train on Monday morning hit the piece of metal and plunged into the river.

Wuppertal is easy to reach, both by car and by train, from Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr-region. It is roughly a thirty minute train ride from all three places. The Hanging Railway stops at the main railway station, Hauptbahnhof in German. Tickets can be bought from machines at every station. A daily ticket is good value for your money.

Wuppertal was one of the first German towns to become industrialised. In the early 19th century Wuppertal was a prosperous town, larger than Cologne. But once the industrialisation really got underway in Germany, Wuppertal could not keep up with its neighbours. Thanks to its unique railway, Wuppertal receives a small but steady stream of visitors.

All in all, the Hanging Railway is more of a unique experience rather than an exciting railway journey. Well worth trying if you are in the neighbourhood. Although Wuppertal has some other attractions, most tourists go to Wuppertal just for the Schwebebahn.

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