Crossing over on the Charleroi Metro

The Belgium city of Charleroi is home to the Charleroi Metro – a curious light rail system, with 33-kilometres of track circling the city centre in an underground tunnel, and forming three above ground branches to the surrounding suburbs, along with a fourth branch line that has never opened. It is on this line that this bizarre looking crossover exists – so what is the story behind it?

Some history

Like many cities, Charleroi once had an extensive tramway network, with trams that ran on the right hand side of the road with other traffic. It was made up of lines run by the STIC through the city itself, and others by the SNCV which extended into the surrounding rural countryside.

Then in the 1960s the city planned to build a 52 km long pre-metro network to replace the legacy tram system, with eight branch lines radiating from a central downtown loop, and 69 stations.

The first section opened on 21 June 1976, with subsequent stages opened throughout the 1980s. Each time a new section was completed, the existing tram network would be modified to use the new pre-metro, then return to the street for the remainder of the route.

A fleet of bi-directional articulated light rail vehicles was then acquired to operate the new network, supplied by La Brugeoise et Nivelles (BN) between 1980 to 1982.

By 1985, work has been completed on branch lines to Gilly and Centenaire, but they were never commissioned.

But it took until 1992 for the line to Gilly to see passengers, when route 54 was created to serve the new branch.

And things get weird

With bi-directional trams it doesn’t matter which side of the platform is on, but for the Charleroi pre-metro it wasn’t that simple.

The western half of the network was to be managed by SNCV who wished to keep right hand running so the new new lines could be integrated with their existing street running system, while STIC running the eastern half wanted to run on the left, so that their fleet of legacy unidirectional trams would be able to use the island platforms at underground stations.

This meant the branch lines in the east to Gilly and Centenaire had to be provided with crossovers before joining the central loop, to get the left hand running trams back to the right hand side, and vice versa.

The crossover on the never-opened line to Centenaire is located between Waterloo and Neuville stations, next to the N90/R9 highway.

While the crossover on line M4 to Soleilmont is located in the tunnel west of Samaritaine station.

Footnote: why not swap sides?

The legacy unidirectional trams have since been decommissioned, so why haven’t the new left hand running lines controverted to match the system of the system? The reason – signalling.

The light metro sections of the system was equipped with signalling that matches the existing running direction of trams, so switching sides would require the resginalling of the affected sections of line.

Further reading

Wikipedia has the complete history of the Charleroi Metro.

London Reconnections has a photo essay titled ‘The surreal Métro of Charleroi‘.

Over at they have a tour of the abandoned line to Centenaire.

And ‘The Tim Traveller’ has put together a video on crossovers of Charleroi.

Posted in Trams | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using a railway carriage as a bridge

I stumbled across this interesting scene via Facebook recently – what looks like a retired railway carriage being used as a bridge. So what is the story behind it?

Squatting Slavs In Tracksuits‘ on Facebook

Thankfully the person who shared the post initially included the location – Győr, Hungary – and people in the comments mentioned that the bridge is found on the campus of Széchenyi István University.

Over on their website, they had a photo of the bridge soon after it was installed in 1975 at what was then the ‘Transportation and Telecommunication Faculty of Technical Sciences’.

Photo via

But as the years went on, the bridge was looking a little worse for wear.

Photo via

So it was renovated in 2004, receiving a fresh coat of blue paint.

Google Street View

Inside the bridge, it looks exactly like a railway carriage.

Photo via

But it’s all just a trick – the crossing is just a normal bridge, dressed up to look like a railway carriage.

Google Street View

As you can see on this video tour.


Railway equipment manufacturer Rába is also based in Győr, and assisted with the project.

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A trolleybus turntable in Germany

I’ve written about a lot of oddball turntables over the years, and here is another unusual example – a trolleybus turntable in the Germany city of Solingen.

Located at the terminus of trolleybus line 683 at Unterburg in the Burg an der Wupper district of Solingen, the turntable takes 45 seconds to turn a trolleybus.

The trolley poles are manually lowered before starting the rotation, then raised to the trolley wires afterwards.

The operation is completed without passengers on board, with the turntable remotely operated by the driver from the neighbouring control panel.


Wikipedia has the full story behind how the turntable came to be.

Until 1959, the independent municipality of Burg an der Wupper was connected to the neighbouring cities of Solingen and Remscheid by tram lines 3 and 4. A separate bridge over the Wupper connected the two tram lines. This was destroyed in the Second World War and not rebuilt. Instead, a stub-end terminal was placed on the Solingen side. The tram was shut down in 1959 and replaced by a trolleybus line.

The narrow valley of the Wupper did not leave enough space for a turning loop, with the tram terminus located on a confined site between the river and a steep slope. Therefore a flat disc-type turntable with with a diameter of 7.5 metres (25 ft) was installed for the new trolleybus line, the mechanism being manually operated by the driver using a hand crank.

In 1968 new 12 metres (39 ft)-long three-axle trolleybuses were acquired for use in Solingen, but these did not fit on the turntable. As a result older vehicles continued to be used on the route until December 1974, when the turntable was extended in length. In 1985, the turntable was completely renovated, and extended to the current 12 metres (39 ft) in diameter.

Why it is no longer used.

Because of the limited size of the turntable, line 683 was the only trolley line in the Solingen network on which articulated trolleybuses could not be used. Enlargement of the turntable would only have been possible with great technical and financial expenditure.

The end came in November 2009, when line 683 was extended to a new bus station at the Seilbahn Burg ropeway terminal. This service was made possible through the use of new articulated trolleybuses fitted with a diesel-engine auxiliary drive, allowing them to operate beyond the end of the trolleybus wires.

The former “Burgbrücke” stop, which was located in the short cul-de-sac between Solingerstraße and the turntable, was moved to the other side of the Wupper river.

And the future for the disused turntable.

The Unterburg turntable is to be permanently preserved for special journeys of the Trolleybus Museum. It also benefits from the fact that it was only renovated in the middle of 2004 and thus has a lifespan of ten to fifteen years. However Stadtwerke Solingen has yet to make a final decision on the future of the trolleybus turntable.

Other trolleybus turntables

Three other trolleybus turntables once existed elsewhere in the world:

  • Christchurch, Great Britain: in service 1936 to 1969
  • Huddersfield, Great Britain: in service 1939 to 1940
  • Guadalajara, Mexico: in service 1982 to 1983, and 1985 to 1988

Plus the oddball turntables I’ve written about previously.


Posted in Trams | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Rigi Bahnen and the weirdest ever turntable

I’ve seen a lot of railway turntables over the years, but this one at Vitznau station in Switzerland is next level – two tracks crossing at right angles, one straight and one curved, both with toothed rack rails, and wired for electric traction. Nothing normal here!

Welcome to Vitznau

Located on the shores of Lake Lucerne in the Swiss canton of Lucerne, Vitznau station is the terminus of the Vitznau–Rigi line of the Rigi Bahnen, and has two tracks with an island platform.

Next door is the main depot for the railway.

Google Street View

With eight roads, located at a 90 degree angle to the mainline.

Diagram via Schweizer Ingenieur und Architekt

But thanks to the constrained site, there was no way to connect the two – hence a convoluted two road turntable, which serves three purposes.

To release trains from the double track terminus.

To allow complete trains to run direct into the main stabling road.

And to allow individual carriages access to the other depot roads.

Shunted in one by one.

And that’s not all!

The current depot was completed in 1988, replacing a previous depot on the same site when the Vitznau–Rigi line was rebuilt for modern trains.

Photo via Schweizer Ingenieur und Architekt

And in 2022 the railway was again refreshed, when the first of six new Stadler Bhe 4/6 EMUs entered service. These new trains are made up of two carriages connected by a Jakobs bogie.

But the extra length presented one problem – they wouldn’t fit onto the existing turntable at Vitznau! The solution – a third track was added to the turntable.

Running at a 45° angle and on a different angle to the two existing tracks, the new track allows the longer Bhe 4/6 trains to run directly into a depot road that was previously only accessible via a shunt move on the turntable.

More photos

Further reading

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Complicated crossing for train and trolleybus in Zurich

I’ve previously written about how tram and trolleybus wires cross over, and in my home of Melbourne, Australia railway and tram wires cross at multiple locations. But this massive steel bridge above a level crossing takes the cake for mechanical and electrical complexity. So why is it needed?

Thomas Egli photo via Tages-Anzeiger

The railway is the Uetlibergbahn in the Swiss city of Zürich, running from the central station to the summit of the Uetliberg. The standard gauge railway was opened in 1875 and electrified in 1923, the line has a maximum gradient of 7.9% and is the steepest standard gauge adhesion railway in Europe.

The route has many level crossings, including one at Friesenbergstrasse.

Which since 1952 has also been crossed by trolleybuses on route 32.

Long bi-articulated trolleybuses.

So why is such a massive steel bridge now needed to carry the overhead wires over the trolleybus crossing?

SZU photo

The answer lies in the voltages used.

The Uetlibergbahn was electrified using overhead lines at 1200 V DC, which is higher than the 600 V DC used on the trolleybus system. These two voltages can coexist using a neutral zone at the crossing, or by switching the voltage supplied to an isolated section of overhead.

Google Street View

But the Uetliberg line also shares tracks with the Sihltalbahn, which is electrified at the mainline standard of 15 kV 16.7 Hz AC. Since 2013 dual system Be 510 EMUs built by Stadler Rail have run between the two lines, using dual pantographs – side mounted for 1200 V DC, and centre for 15 kV AC.

However this was seen as an interim step, with a 2015 study recommending that the Uetliberg line should be converted to the same 15 kV AC standard, with a phased conversion by 2023. Major works were required between April and July 2022.

350 new mast foundations, approximately 1150 cubic meters of concrete, approximately 2000 linear meters of micropiles, 385 tons of steel and 37.5 kilometers of wire – these impressive masses of material are required for the conversion of the power supply of the S10.

So far, the trains have operated with direct current – in 2022 the long-planned conversion from direct to alternating current will take place. The project requires well-organized logistics. Because the measures should be implemented by late summer 2022.

“Viewed from the outside, the duration of the construction work seems very long. There are “only” a few new concrete foundations and catenary masts to be laid, as well as a few meters of power lines. However, if you consider the enormous amounts of materials, the duration of the work is put into perspective,” says project manager Florian Heizmann.

But the sticking point was the Friesenberg level crossing – 15 kV AC and 600 V DC are not compatible, so a complicated switching arrangement was designed.

Marco Graf, spokesman for SZU AG, told ZüriToday: “In August 2019, we submitted the project for converting the power supply on line S10 to the Federal Office of Transport (BAV) for examination and approval. The edition was published in autumn 2019 and everyone was able to view all the documents from the city of Zurich and raise an objection within the specified period.”

The steel construction at the Friesenberg crossing had been largely determined at the time of the approval phase and the geometry and materials were part of the building application, according to Graf.

But local residents were not happy with the massive steel structure.

Complaining about how big it is.

“We were completely surprised by the construction and are appalled. Nobody knew that the construct would be so big. We don’t think it’s necessary,” says Désiréé Sterchi, a resident next to the Friesenberg stop.

Sterchi and some of the residents think they knew about the project too late – they were negatively surprised in particular by the size of the scaffolding.

“We didn’t know that the construct would take on this scale,” says the woman from Zurich. And why is it so big? “The scaffolding is so large because it has to meet high structural requirements and is already geared towards the planned double-track expansion around summer 2024,” says Graf.

And suggesting that battery electric buses could be used instead.

The bus can run on batteries, as it is doing now during the conversion phase, says Sterchi.

But that was not seen as a solution.

Marco Graf, spokesman for SZU AG, explains that battery-powered buses are not an option because they would break the timetable. “The drive currently is not a permanent solution because it takes too much time.”

The reason for the complicated structure?

To allow trolleybuses to pass through without dropping their trolley poles.

Thanks to the new crossing system, the buses of the VBZ and line 10 of the SZU should be able to cross more easily. It is planned that the buses will not have to fold in their pantographs to pass the level crossing, as has been the case up to now. Instead, a crossing system is installed on the steel construction, which enables a seamless transition and yet prevents the bus and train overhead lines from colliding.

But teething troubles have seen it not live up to expectations.

The Friesenberg crossing system is used to separate the contact lines from trains and buses with different voltages. The routing of the catenary in the crossing area is still insufficiently calibrated and the pantograph of the trains sometimes loses contact with the catenary for a short time at higher speeds. This meant that individual sub-functions had to be temporarily switched off. While the technical defects are being corrected, the trains at the crossing have to lower the pantographs and slow down.

But thankfully, a fix was soon put in place.

The SZU spokesman promises optimisations by the end of this week: “According to the information from our supplier, the crossing should then be fully functional.”

The final DC trains ran on the Uetlibergbahn in July 2022, with AC operation in place since August 22.

Further reading

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zigzagging trams for Zürich’s underground tunnel

I’ve been looking at the “left-hand to right-hand running railways” theme for some months now, and I’m still finding more examples – this time it’s the tramway network of Zürich, Switzerland.

Zürich VBZ Tram 7 (Be 4/6) Schwamendingen, Saatlenstrasse / Blauäcker im August 1986
Photo by Kurt Rasmussen, via Wikimedia Commons

The switacharoo is required for trams using the Milchbuck–Schwamendingen tram tunnel on routes 7 and 9.

The 2.5 km long tunnel with three stations was built in the 1970s for a U-Bahn system that was abandoned in 1973, leaving an empty concrete shell. It was later decided to turn over the unused tunnel to trams, which first used the route in 1986. Each station was equipped with a island platform 138 meters long and 6 meters wide.

However there was one problem – Zürich uses unidirectional trams, with doors only on the right side of the vehicle, so trams had to run on the left track to utilise the platforms – the opposite to normal.

So two crossovers were required where the tunnel tied into the rest of the VBZ tram network – the crossover at Schwamendingerplatz is a conventional at-grade diamond crossing once the tracks leave the tunnel.

But a more complicated arrangement exists at the Milchbuck portal – the two tracks cross over using a underground flying junction leading to two single track ramps.

Which merge into a complicated web of surface tracks beside a reversing loop.

Google Earth

Further reading

Posted in Trams | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Switcharoo on the Stockholm light rail

I’ve looked at many examples around Europe at trams tracks that switch from left-hand to right-hand running, and I’ve found yet another – on the Nockebybanan light rail line in the Swedish capital of Stockholm.

The Nockebybanan is a 5.6 kilometre long line between Nockeby and Alvik in in the western suburbs of Stockholm, connecting with the Stockholm metro and Tvärbanan tram at Alvik metro station.

Wikipedia has the full history of the line.

The first part of the current line to Alléparken was opened in 1914, following the construction of a pontoon bridge across Tranebergssund. The line was then gradually extended westwards, reaching the current terminus at Nockeby in 1929. To the east, the line ran to Tegelbacken in central Stockholm.

Planning for a Metro system commenced in the 1930s, with conversion of the tram route completed in 1952, forming the western section of the present-day Green Line of the Stockholm Metro. As a result the Nockebybanan was cut off from running into the city and became a feeder route for the Metro at Alvik.

Nockebybanan and Lidingöbanan were the only tram lines in the Stockholm region not to be withdrawn in conjunction with the switch to right-hand traffic in 1967. Since the line does not run on the street, and was simple and self-contained, and bi-directional rolling stock was available from the pre-metro tram lines, it was easier to convert to right-hand running than the rest of the network.

The make the connection between tram and metro at Alvik convenient, a cross platform transfer was provided.

Alvik station having two island platforms – trams terminating on the centre tracks, flanked by metro trains on the outside.

Google Maps

But since the metro system operates with left-hand running, the tram needed to switch sides so citybound trains would stop beside citybound trains.

This swap being achieved at the Alléparken tram stop, the penultimate stop before the cross platform interchange at Alvik.

Google Street View

This video by Leif Spångberg showing the crossover in operation.

Further reading

Posted in Trams | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holmestrand – the station deep beneath a mountain

Underground stations on metro systems are a dime a dozen, but ones located on mainline railways are far less common – with Holmestrand station in Norway being one of them, being located 70 meters beneath a mountain.

Serving the town of Holmestrand in Vestfold, Norway, Holmestrand station is located inside the 12 kilometre long Holmestrandsporten Tunnel. The station is located inside a 500 metre long, 30 metre wide cavern which contains two 350 metre long platforms and four tracks.

Tekla BIM diagram

The two centre tracks allow for future 250 km/h high speed train services to run express through the station.

Holmestrand Underground Railway Station – Analysis of Groundwater Inflow and Methods for Water Sealing

Three station entrances are provided – two serve the town of Holmestrand.

Accessed via 100 metre long but level tunnels.

Bane NOR diagram

Quite the walk!

And the third exit is located on the top of the mountain.

Accessed via a 70 metre lift shaft.

Teknisk Ukeblad diagram

The station opened on 28 November 2016 as part of a project to duplicate the Vestfold line, with the new 12 kilometre long tunnel replacing the old surface route through the town of Holmestrand.

Originally opened in 1881, the single track route through Holmestrand had been built as a narrow-gauge railway, converted to standard gauge in 1949 and was electrified in 1957.

Footnote: another example

I’ve written about a station inside a mainline tunnel before – “Stazione delle Precedenze” in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.

Further reading

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Underground archaeology at the metro station

During my visit to Vienna, I found something interesting when passing through the U-Bahn station of Stephansplatz – a window into an underground crypt.

Viewing window at Stephansplatz station into the remains of the underground Vergilius Chapel

The Vergilius Chapel (German: Virgilkapelle) dated back to the early 13th century, with the Magdalene Chapel being constructed above it in the Middle Ages to serve the neighbour cemetery. After the Magdalene Chapel was destroyed by fire in 1781, the Vergilius Chapel was abandoned and filled with rubble. It was then forgotten until 1973, when it was rediscovered during construction of the Vienna U-Bahn.

Remains of the underground Vergilius Chapel at Stephansplatz station

Today the chapel lies approximately 12 meters beneath the Stephansplatz, with access provided via the adjacent U-Bahn station concourse since December 2015.

Some examples elsewhere

The ruins of the Bastille prison can be found on the Line 5 platform at Bastille station on the Paris Metro.

Serdika II station on the Sofia Metro has glass display cases along the platform, with prehistoric and ancient artefacts on show.

And from Greece

The Athens Metro takes the cake, with eight stations featuring archaeological finds unearthed during construction of the system.

Syntagma station features a large exhibition space.

As does Panepistimio station.

Akropoli station.

Evangelismos station.

Monastiraki station.

Dafni station.

And finally, Egaleo and Elaionas station.

Further reading

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modelling the railways of Hungary in N scale

Continuing my theme of modelling the railways of eastern Europe in 1:160 N scale model railways, this time I’m looking at the railways of Hungary and state operator MÁV (Magyar Államvasutak).

Ready to run

These models are ‘ready to run’ out of the box, and don’t require any work on the part of the modeller.

MÁV M62 diesel locomotive
Manufacturer: Fleischmann #725203

MÁV-Start Class 470 electric locomotive
Manufacturer: Fleischmann #731124

MÁV “EC Venezia” carriages
Manufacturer: Trix #18253

Display models to convert

There models are static items for display on a shelf, but can be modified into operating models with some effort.

MÁV-Start Class 470 electric locomotive
Manufacturer: Del Prado

Free 3D models to print

A number of websites allow users to upload 3D models for others to print at home on their own 3D printers.

Faur L45H narrow gauge locomotive
Thingiverse user: duncanbourne

Further reading

Other than the N scale models I’ve directly linked to above, here are a few more links to people modelling the railways of Hungary in other scales.

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment