Its full name is “Electric Elevated Railway (Suspension Railway) Installation, Eugen Langen System”, 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, 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).
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). At one point the railway crosses the A46 motorway. The entire trip takes about 30 minutes.
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.
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. 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. 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.
The Wuppertal Suspension Railway nowadays carries approximately 80,000 passengers per weekday through the city. Since 1997, the supporting frame has been largely modernised, 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 modernisation. 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.
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.
On 10 November 2011 Wuppertaler Stadtwerke (Wuppertal City Works) 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.
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).
The modernisation was completed and the line fully reopened on 19 August 2013.
The cars are suspended from a single rail built underneath a supporting steel frame. The cars hang on wheels which are driven by an electric motor operating at 600 volts DC, fed from an extra rail.
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. The termini at each end of the line also serve as train depots and reversers.
The current fleet consists of twenty-seven two-car trains built in the 1970s. The cars are 24 metres long and have 4 doors. One carriage can seat 48 with approximately 130 standing passengers. The top speed is 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph) and the average speed is 27 km/h (17 mph).
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.
On July 21, 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. 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.
Driving one of these things would be a great job.