Stuttgart-the Motor City that has Supported Public Transportation for Decades

Stuttgart,  Baden- Wurttemberg,  Deutschland.

  • Hometown of Gottlieb Daimler,  (1834-1900) inventor of the automobile /the internal combustion engine. (Okay history buffs, there was Karl Benz also, from Mannheim; I  think scorekeepers give them a tie, at least the Mercedes-Benz museum does, ( which is in Stuttgart, not Mannheim).)DSCF2432
  • Headquarters of Mercedes-Benz,  Porsche, Bosch. the soccer team plays in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and other events are held in the Porshe Arena.  I saw a sign that said Bosch Areal- Bosch Area?
  • Affluent.
  • Hilly.DSCF2360

Why then, in the 1950’s, when cities across Europe and USA were dumping their streetcars  and designing their cities around automobiles (mainly) and buses (sort of), did Stuttgart not only retain its trams, but also proactively look to the future and analyze the options for the best public transportation system for Stuttgart?  The answer to that question will have to be answered by someone else.  (Or maybe in fact it has  already been.  Anybody know if this has been written about? Let me know!)

I will focus on describing what they chose to do and what it looks like today.

(See post on SSB for info on the Transit Agency itself, or see blogroll in the margin for their link, in English.)

First- the  terminology used by the City of Stuttgart:

  • Tram or  Straßenbahn– what we in America would call a streetcar (translates as streetrail)
  • Stadtbahn -(Translates as city rail. It is abbreviated as U-Bahn (U stands for Unabhängig which means Independent as in independent right-of-way).  Will explain how this differs from a tram below.
  • S-Bahn– what we in America call Commuter Rail, except not like Caltrain. They’re electric, and also underground downtown. (S stands for Schnell- fast or faster?) (not to confuse you, but operated by DB)
  • R-Bahn – Regional Rail  – what we don’t  have in America, really, except maybe amtrack in the northeast corridor. (not to confuse you, but operated by DB)
  • Deutsche Bahn- D-BahnDB– Long distance trains are another level of trains- but are not considered part of the City or County  transportation network. In America, we fly.

It has something to do, as all good (or bad) policy decisions, with the political leadership at the time.   Especially influential was Burgermeister Manfred Rommel, the  mayor of Stuttgart between 1974 and 1996, (only son of that Rommel).  Among other things, he strongly supported giving trams /streetcar  priority at traffic signals; with the subsequent advance in technology in the last 30 years, this is a 100 % effective today.

Brief history: Beginning in the 1950’s city leaders recognized that the traffic congestion was impeding the effectiveness of the trams on the street; a study was commissioned and delivered in 1959; by 1961 the city was building underground lines for the trams in the city center and had an ambitious plan for an electric underground rail system.  By the late 60’s additional analysis  was performed and concluded that:  1) extending / converting/ expanding these underground lines into a subway/metro would not be best for Stuttgart; the population was and was projected to be too low to support it; and 2) dual service (U-bahn, S-bahn and R-bahn along the same corridor) was eliminated from the plans.

In 1976, the City decided to upgrade their existing trams (__ km on ___lines)  and have a high quality mostly surface transportation system, incorporating elements of a metro in the dense urban core, where 7 of the 16 lines converge, and upgrading the rest of sytem from “tram” to Light Rail”. This was compatible with the undergrounding that had occurred to-date and had has been incrementally implemented ever since.  As of October 2009, only 8 km of 1.o m gauge remain to be converted.

Metro Elements

  • A network of lines  (16) that cover the entire city.
  • Each line is numbered and has a distinct color and are shown on all city maps.
  • Level platform boarding.
  • Underground in the center city with multiple platforms for the intersecting lines.
  • Service frequency: every 10 minutes or less
  • Service hours: 4:30 am to 1:30 am.
  • Distinctive signing, real time information.

Upgrading from Tram to Light Rail -what  does that mean in Stuttgart?

  • Switched from 1.o meter gauge to standard gauge.
  • Increased min horizontal curvature radius from 25 m to 50 m.
  • __ % max grade to 8.5% max grade.
  • 100 % priority at traffic signals.
  • Independent ROW,  (except a few exceptions at the extremities of some lines).
  • Computer controlled with automatic breaking if operator failure.
  • Electronic display destination signs inside the vehicles.

Other upgrades from the former tram cars:

  • Air-conditioning
  • Wide panoramic tinted windows
  • Outside arm rests
  • Coordinated interior design
  • Upholstered seats
  • Spacious entry ways
  • Space for bikes, wheelchairs and prams
  • Intercom communication with driver
  • Regenerative braking

The independent ROW was obtained in several ways:

  • historically the tram had operated in an independent or exclusive  ROW;
  • removed street parking;
  • removed travel lane;
  • eminent domain (in American terminology; they need State approval);
  • Flexibility: in some locations, one direction of track has an exclusive row and the opposite direction shares with mixed with traffic.

As you can see, it was not a simple task to convert from tram to Light Rail. Even when they had the exclusive ROW, new track had to be laid at the new gauge, at cruves  they needed new alignment to meet the larger radius.  New signal equipment was needed at every traffic signal and of course, new vehicles were bought.

The first full line line to be converted was the U3, which opened for service in 1985.  By 2009, they have  completed 120 line KM, 24o km of track. As each line reopened after the conversion, there was an immediate 20 % increase in ridership. There is one last section, 8 km,  of old tram.

Of course a transit agency’s job is never done. There are plans to extend several lines, and the first cars bought 25 years ago are now being rebuilt in-house (at a pace of about one a month, €1.5  million each, compared to €5 million new).DSCF2332

It should be noted that  the initial plan developed in 1979 has been modified as time and conditions changed. For example, when the old army base was converted to a neighborhood (just outside the city limits), part of the project was the extension of the a light rail into the neighborhood.

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