Wuppertal Schwebebahn: Germany’s Hanging Train

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Wuppertal Schwebebahn or Wuppertal Floating Tram is a suspension monorail in Wuppertal, Germany. First opened in 1901, the Wuppertal Schwebebahn is one of the oldest monorail still in operation today. What is also interesting is that the Schwebebahn was never copied as a model for ‘public transit’ anywhere else in the world. This is the world’s first and the only suspended monorail in the world.

At the end of the 19th century, Wuppertal was at its peak of industrialization. The population had reached 400,000 individuals and growing. Even before industrialization set in, Wuppertal was a prosperous town, larger than Cologne, and fully built. The roads there were meant for carriages and pedestrians, and there was no place for laying tracks for tram without creating serious blockages. Underground subway construction was also ruled out as the area was very rocky and contained a lot of groundwater. The German engineers decided that taking the aerial route was the only way.


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Construction of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn began in 1898 and the first test drive took place the same year. In 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire was one of the first official visitors to go for a ride on the suspension line. In 1901 transport was opened to the public. The suspension line quickly became Wuppertal’s most prominent landmark and after 100 years, it is still the easiest and fastest way to get around in the city.

The suspension railway travels along a route of 13.3 kilometers. Most of the track runs above the Wupper river at a height of 12 meters. The 3 kilometer stretch between Wohlwinkel and Sonnborner Strasse is called the overland track, which runs above the streets at a height of about 8 meters. The over the river route was one of the main reasons why the Schwebebahn survived World War Two. Suspended above the river the Schwebebahn was able to escape serious bomb damage.

Wuppertal Schwebebahn operated over 98 years before it recorded its first fatal accident and thus quite correctly, called the safest public transit system in the world. The only fatal accident occurred in April 1999 when the train derailed and crashed down into the river Wupper, killing 5 passengers and leaving 49 injured.

In one bizarre incident, an elephant named Tuffi was brought aboard the Schwebebahn in 1950 as a marketing stunt for the Althoff Circus. Apparently Tuffi didn’t enjoy the ride because she soon began stomping wildly throughout the cabin, eventually crashing through the side and falling into the river below. Tuffi was injured but survived. Today, the incident has become a famous tale in the history of the Schwebebahn. There’s even a painting of Tuffi on a building near the spot where the elephant jumped between stations Alter Markt und Adlerbrücke.

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn nowadays carries up to 82,000 passengers a day through the city. Since 1997, the supporting frame has been largely modernised, and many stations have been reconstructed and brought technically up to date. The original Kaiserwagen (Emperor's car), the 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. The beautifully restored Kaiserwagen offers guests a unique nostalgic experience with treats like cushioned seats, gold decorative windows, lamps, and a retro Art Nouveau ornament disc separating the first and second class compartments. The train attendants even dress in period costume and offer beverage service to make for a very enjoyable ride.


The April 1999 accident that resulted in the death of 5 people, the only such incident in the history of Wuppertaler Schwebebahn. Photo credit


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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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