The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn is a suspension railway in the German city of Wuppertal, where trains hang from a single rail built underneath a supporting steel frame. But how do the trains turn around at the end of the line?
The first reversing loop is found at Oberbarmen – eastern terminus of the 13.3 km long track, and also a small depot facility.
The reversing loop is located beyond the station platforms.
Where trains pass through the depot building.
And a second reversing loop is located beyond the stabling tracks.
Open Street Map
The next reversing loop is found at the western terminus of Vohwinkel, and home of the main workshops and depot.
The station has a reversing loop beyond the station platforms.
Allowing trains to go back the way they came.
And beyond is the depot.
Where trains are parked.
Inside is a second reversing loop.
Bringing the total to four.
Open Street Map
A set of points can be used to send trains into the depot.
Sliding from the diverge to the straight route.
And a sliding piece of track leads into the depot tracks.
Directing trains into an empty track.
And then moving back to the diverge route so trains are sent around the reversing loop.
And a former reversing loop – Kluse
The first 4.59 kilometre long stage of the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn opened in March 1901, between Kluse in the east and and Zoological Garden in the west in March 1901, with the line extended 2.97 kilometers west to Vohwinkel in May 1901, and 5.74 kilometers east to Oberbarmen in June 1903.
The intermediate terminus of Kluse was provided with a reversing loop, which was used between 1901 and 1903.
Photo via die-schwebebahn.de
Following the extension of the line east the loop became superfluous, but it remained in place until after World War II, when it was demolished along with the damaged Kluse station.
Photo via die-schwebebahn.de
The intermediate terminus of Zoo/Stadion was also provided with a reversing loop. The tracks passed beneath the mainline route, with a gradient so steep that only single carriage trains could operate along it.
The loop remained in place until 1945, when it was dismantled to provide spare parts for the rest of the system.
And a turntable!
In 1974 it was decided to provide a new reversing facility at Zoo/Stadion station, but this time something different was chosen – a turntable! A rotating track segment was provided beneath a circular support structure, along with a short siding for the stabling of trains.
Photo via die-schwebebahn.de
However operation of the turntable was time consuming, through trains delayed whenever it was in use, and trains needed to stop with centimetre precision before they could be turned. As a result, in 1992 the turntable was taken out of use, and the tracks later welded closed, with the support structure removed in 2002 as part of a track renewal program.
Footnote: rail noise and breakdowns
Turns out sending trains around sharp curves is quite noisy – from Solinger Tageblatt in 2014:
Good news for noise-sensitive suspension railway users and residents: According to Stadtwerke spokesman Holger Stephan, the hairpin bend in front of the Wagenhalle in Oberbarmen has now been upgraded to such an extent that the turning of the vehicles can hardly be heard. Accordingly, Wuppertal’s landmark is almost squeak-free at this point.
“The built-in lubrication system, but above all the water spray mist, does the job excellently,” assures Holger Stephan.
The Wuppertal public utility company has invested a good 15,000 euros in the new suspension railway noise protection in Oberbarmen alone: A spray system covers the track at the hairpin bend with a combination of grease and water droplets, which prevents squeaking. For comparison: A total of 28 million euros went into the renewal of the wagon hall in Oberbarmen.
The spray system to suppress the squeaking noise is also to be installed in Vohwinkel, the turning point at the other end of the 13.3-kilometer route. Probably later this year, they say. However, there is no exact date yet.
The junctions at each depot can also breakdown – this 2011 piece from Westdeutsche Zeitung describes the troubles at Vohwinkel.
Without them, the landmark stands: The electronically controlled switch system at the terminus in Vohwinkel is still moody — and caused problems with the operation of the suspension railway again on Monday morning. In order to prevent the points from being blocked again, the Wuppertal public utility company replaced a sensor there on Tuesday night.
Small cause, big effect: The component of the system monitors the position of the so-called locking lever in the points. If this electronic sensor fails, the system is blocked and thus paralyzes the entire train operation at the interface of the suspension railway in Vohwinkel: The trains are routed via the switch to the workshop hall at the final stop or back on the track on a hairpin bend.
“If you like, the points system is the Achilles’ heel of the suspension railway,” explains operations manager Thomas Kaulfuss when asked by WZ. As reported, the opening of the new terminus in Vohwinkel in October 2007 also involved the installation of the electronic points system.
Since it was commissioned, there have always been technical problems there, most recently also related to the severe winter: when the temperatures were below zero, the WSW had to deal with a point motor that water had gotten into and frozen solid there. A blocked switch wagon also caused operational disruptions in winter.
In the meantime, the system had to be operated manually in order to prevent the train traffic from collapsing completely. This in turn brought the timetable out of sync, since the points cannot be set as quickly with a crank as with electronic means.
Kaulfuss emphasizes that basically every disruption is “annoying”. “But one mustn’t forget that the old switch also had its technical quirks.”
While there was initial talk of “teething troubles” in the system after commissioning, the switch system in Vohwinkel was technically overhauled again last summer.
The current problems were due to the sensor control, which was checked last Friday during troubleshooting and has now been replaced overnight. According to the WSW, the sensor costs a three-digit amount — and is part of the fixed spare parts inventory.
But those to the east at Oberbarmen have also caused problems – from 2015.
Train strikes, traffic jams, late buses — the people of Wuppertal accept all of this with enviable composure. But when the suspension railway isn’t running, the fun is over. Up to 80,000 passengers use the most famous means of transport in the world every day. It’s all the worse when it doesn’t float, but stands. That seems to have been the case more often in the past few days and weeks.
“We are in the situation that the suspension railway is now down every other day due to an operational disruption. This situation has existed for months now. Sometimes the suspension railway also fails several times a day,” a reader of our newspaper vented his anger yesterday. Others joined him, albeit a little more relaxed.
The Wuppertaler Stadtwerke (DSW) are the operators of the suspension railway. The WZ readers’ criticism comes as no surprise to the WSW. “We have problems in Oberbarmen,” explains company spokesman Holger Stephan. “The train stood from 11.05 a.m. to 11.40 a.m.”
The current signalling system on the line dates to 1962 – with one control panel responsible for the bulk of the line, and a second for the depot at Vohwinkel.