Subway Blunders in Europe ai??i?? Can “Old Dog” TransLink Learn From Otherai??i??s Mistakes?

Subway Blunders in Europe ai??i?? Can TransLink Learn From Other’s Mistakes?

From a September 2012 post. Unfortunately, many of the links no longer work and have been omitted for brevity.

Herr Keller is a German transit specialist from Germany and gives wonderful insight to the pitfalls of building new subways for the sake of building new subways. The following mail shows theAi??problems and counter productiveAi??resultsAi??of building subways and metros, where ordinary trams would do just fine. There are lessons to be learned, but Iai??i??m afraid TransLink is an ai???oldai??? dog that just canai??i??t be taught new tricks!

Nuremberg has both a driverless metro and trams (streetcars).


Muenchen and Nuernberg show pretty well how Europeans fail at transit system design, too.

In Muenchen, at the beginning of the 60s, experts had recommended to extend the existing streetcar system out to the periphery on new lines built on separated row, even with grade-free road crossings where possible at low expense. Work on this had already been started in the 50s and got pretty far. The result was an excellent, extensive and
dense network, attractive for both passengers and the operator.

For the city center, the experts had recommended building a few tunnels under the main choke points and especially under the entire area which is today pedestrian zone. After municipal authorities had taken over planning of these tunnels, however, they got more and more extensive, eventually creeping into a plan to replace the entire streetcar network by a full-blown subway. This plan was decided nearly 50 years ago.Today, after ai???investingai??? a few billion EUR, the subway network does not cover a larger area than the streetcar network around 1965-1975 and it doesnai??i??t allow to travel significantly faster, if travel time is measured from door to door. In fact on lots of (especially tangent) relations where the streetcar network offered a direct connection, today you are forced to make detours and change trains, losing time.

Another issue is that the dense surface network was replaced by just three trunk lines (which are split up into branch lines towards the ends), which resulted in hopeless overcrowding of some stretches during rush hours and especially of the connecting stations. Besides, the subway network offers less stations, so walking distances have been
significantly increased for the passengers. When living in Muenchen, I almost always preferred to go by bicycle because it was faster than the subway.

In the end, the streetcar network has never been entirely replaced, some lines that had been closed, but without replacement by subway, even had to be reopened because buses were inefficient in handling the volume of passengers who stubbornly refused to take a detour underground.

Today, the streetcar network is slowly being revived and new lines are being planned. One streetcar extension line that had been planned in the early 60s and for which the row had already been reserved, eventually got opened in 2011. One streetcar line that was closed without replacement by subway in 1983 got reopened the next year after protests by the citizens flooded the town hall, closed again in 1993 and might be reopened again in the near future.

For the north and the southwest of the city, there are now plans for the construction of entire new streetcar sub-networks, including some stretches of extension lines built in the 50s/early 60s which were closed in the 80s/90s.

One important short tangent connection, which was planned as part of a loop line around the entire city before WW1, never got built due to WW1, depression and then WW2, and it was the only segment of that loop line that was never completed. Today, the only thing that prevents it from finally being built is the county government whose opposition to the city councilai??i??s decision is nominally based on the false pretension that the streetcar line would wreak havoc to park it has to pass through. On a row where currently diesel busses operate, the tarmac would be replaced with grassed tracks. A few hundred meters north of this row, a six lane ai???highwayai??? passes through the same park. The real reason of course is just that the county government is in the hands of a different political party than the city council and is has been like this for decades now.

The ai???tunnel maniaai??? of the subway planners gave some ai???interestingai??? results. For example, when the technical university of Muenchen moved some of the engineering faculties to a new campus outside the city in the middle of nowhere, it took roughly a decade to built a subway line there. This line passes underneath a place named Garching, essentially a tiny village, they have a maypole on their village square with a subway station underneath. Next to this village, the tunnel passes even below a potato field (or is it a cow paddock?) before reaching the campus.

During the decades of subway tunnel construction, suburbanisation has progressed further outward, creating more traffic. With the result that the suburban commuter network (ai???S-Bahnai???) got overloaded, especially on its main trunk line which passes in a tunnel under the city. Plans for adding two separate tracks for commuter trains and connecting stations with the urban network to an existing surface bypass line south of the immediate city center have been put aside by the politicians. They could have been implemented by now, at comparatively low cost.

Instead, a new tunnel parallel to the existing one was planned, with connection to the existing urban network at stations which are already hopelessly overcrowded. The cost for the tunnel, as usual, rose during the planning stage and in the end financing could not be warranted so the project is stalled.

So while a foreigner coming to Muenchen might think this city has an excellent transit network, as someone who has lived there for a few years I beg to differ. After decades of tunnel construction with >10 billion EUR (CAD 15.6 billion) wasted, large areas of the city still have no decent connection while the subway and the commuter network are overcrowded and unable to handle more traffic. Besides the fact that tangent connections are missing and buses (not only on these relations) arestuck in gridlock during rush hours.

In Nuernberg, which mostly imitated the system at Muenchen, they built a single-track (!) subway tunnel to the airport, which before was served by 12m buses every hour or so. Right before arriving at the airport, the tunnel passes underneath paddocks, community gardens and a small forest.

The Nuernberg system is really a ai???niceai??? example how to screw up an outrageously expensive transit system. One false pretense for building the subway was, among others, that it would provide a higher capacity than the streetcar. But actually, the subway was built with stations only for 75m train sets, very narrow platforms at some stations and few and narrow staircases.

As it happens, one of the most cramped stations is the one that has to handle the most passengers, during the annual Christmas market, which is *the* touristic event in this city.




One Response to “Subway Blunders in Europe ai??i?? Can “Old Dog” TransLink Learn From Otherai??i??s Mistakes?”
  1. Haveacow says:

    The picture of the staircase looks a lot like one in the Montreal Metro at Guy-Concordia Station. Do you know which U Bahn or S Bahn station that is?

    Zwei replies: supposedly it is in Munich.