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Cologne, Germany

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KVB B-class 2023+2011 at Zulpicher Platz. Photo by Jos Straathof, August 2003.

Overview

Köln (Cologne) is the fourth largest city in Germany with 1,000,000 inhabitants. The tram and municipal rail service are already a long time part of the city of Köln. The Kölner Verkehrs Betriebe AG - KVB (Köln transit authority) handles the bus and tram service. The first electric tram operated in 1902. The current system is a so called "Stadtbahn" system, mixing subway/tunnel portions with street running and private right of way using tram/light rail style vehicles.

The complete network consists now of approximately 190 route kilometers. Only 12% of the system is street-running. The first subway portion was opened in 1968 in downtown Köln. In the 1970s and 1980s, additional routes were built as subways. An important project was the subway tunnel for the 3 and 4 lines to Bocklemuend. It was completed in 1992. The latest subway portion is in Bensberg (terminus of the 1). The line was extended to the center of Bensberg and the new terminus is underground. It was opened in May 2000.

A very interesting route is the 13 line going from Suelzguertel to Holweide. Between Nussbaumerstrasse and Slabystrasse it runs on an elevated line built in the early 1970´s. It crosses the Rhine river over the Muelheimer Bridge and takes a more modern subway tunnel from Wiener Platz to Bahnhof Muelheim. Service was inaugurated in 1997.

Another interesting line is the 5, from Ossendorf to Reichenspergerplatz. There is a lot of street-running in Ehrenfeld. The rest of the run including the turning loop is subway. It has lots of junctions in the tunnel which makes it a noisy trip as well!

The 16 and 18 lines run to Bonn on railroad tracks jointly used with Köln´s harbour railroad (with interchange to the Gramn Railroad-DB). This part makes up 48 km of the system and another big part is either subway or elevated (13) or runs on own right-of-way. At one time this service was operated by an organization known as the KBE, Köln-Bonner Eisenbahn. Now, you will find cars from Bonn running in Köln and vice versa, but only on these two lines. The 18 line passes through a rural farming area between Köln and Bonn; the 16 to Bonn is faster but passes through mostly industrial and refinery complexes, presenting two different types of scenery to the rider.

Currently work is in progress on the 1 which is being extended to Weiden (westward) and on the 3 & 4-extension to Mengenich. Another big project is the new "North-South tunnel" from Dom/Hbf via Heumarkt, Severinstrasse, Chlodwigplatz to Bonner Wall and Marktstrasse (altogether 4 kilometers long). This last stop will be already on surface again. Once it is completed the 6 and 16 lines should use it. Completion is planned for 2010 (or probably later). Such a north-south project had already been planned and construction even began in the 1970s, but after some 100 meters work was stopped. Still today this portion of tunnel can be seen. Directly behind the station of Dom/Hbf is a junction. The tracks going to the right are part of this first north-south project, but it is only used as a lay-up track for the 14. As the plans say this old portion will be part of the new tunnel (as a big wye) so that trains coming from the south can enter the new subway as well. Later a connection is planned to the tracks beside the Rhine river, where the 16 runs today. And the last step will be the surface extension to Arnoldshoehe, going along the whole Bonner Strasse.

The KVB-museum is in Thielenbruch (terminus of the 3 & 15). It has a large collection of old streetcars and other KVB-related items.

In the summer of 2002, the last 3700/3800-trains were withdrawn from service with the closure of the 6-line's Marienburg extension. With this change the 6-line was relegated to a peak-hour only service, running weekdays only from 7-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., with "Ubierring" as its southern terminus. Only some weeks after that the no. 12 saw its last 3100/3200-"double-trains" and the 2000-series and 2100-series took over the services. The loop at the 12-line's southern terminus at "Zollstock" was thereby rendered obsolete owing to the fact that the single-ended cars of the 3100/3200-classes had been withdrawn. Interestingly, the two northern termini of the 12-line ("Niehl" and "Merkenich") still feature loops! However, all 3100-trains were retired leaving a lonely fleet of 3200s on the roster. The no. 6 is now the last line to be operated by 8-axle Duewag-built articulated trains.

In 2003, following complaints of older people and people with children about the high three-step climb into the 90cm-high 2000-/2100-trains on the 12-line, where no high platforms exist and the trains are boarded from street level, the 12 line became the first North-South line to be completely operated by the K4000 low-floor trams. Doing so was not easy, there were not enough K4000s on the roster to operate all four East-West-lines (1,7,8,9) plus the quite long no. 12. Approaching Bombardier for a new order of K4000-trains following the initial 120 unit-order delivered between 1996 and 1999 led to four more new K4000s, numbered 4121-4124; after which the builder Bombardier discontinued the production of this type of train. Since four cars were not enough to solve the problem, more help was sought; the no. 8 was chosen to have 2000-/2100-series cars deployed, and the K4000s freed from duty on the #8 were shifted to the #12. The no. 8 is now operated by double-sets of 2000+2000, 2100+2100, or mixed.

(All B-type cars (2000, 2100, 2200 and 2300) can be coupled freely, which is mostly practiced by coupling 2000 with 2100 and 2200 with 2300, nevertheless all combinations are possible. Despite the technical possibilities, train operators prefer a set of the same units, because the different B-type sub-series behave quite different in breaking and accelerating.)

Today, the 1,7,9 and 12 services are operated with the K4000-stock. But considering that during rush-hour the #1 operates on a 4-minute schedule even the aforementioned redeployments were not sufficient, resulting in the additional rush-hour stock consisting of the newer K5000 high-floor trains. From time to time, the lucky railfan will see old 2000s or even a 2300-double on the #1 rush-hour services, but the latter two occur only very, very rarely. Things like that only happen in case of a failure on a K4000 or K5000-train.

Roster

In 1963, Duewag commenced delivery of 57 6-axle articulated trams numbered in the 3600 series, which were initially operated with a trailer car. In 1964, the first seven 8-axle articulated trains numbered in the 3800-class arrived, delivery of which continued a until a total of 65 units had been delivered by 1966. Around 1966 it was decided to abolish the use of trailer cars, so the 3600-series 6-axle cars were rebuilt to 8-axle cars by means of an additional frame, truck and body. Following the rebuilding these cars were renumbered as 3700s. In 1968 and 1969, KVB took delivery of 39 more 8-axle trams in the 3000-series, and from 1969 to 1971 took delivery of 39 more units, in the 3100 series, all from Duewag. Altogether, a fleet of 200 Duewag-built 8-axle articulated trams were now in service, forming the backbone of service.

In the early 1980´s the 3100s received couplers to form double-units to handle increasing passenger numbers during the peak hours; 3101-3119 received a coupler at the rear of the car, while 3121-3139 received it at the front.

In the 1980s and 1990s the KVB rebuilt the 39-unit fleet of 3000s using new Kiepe Elektrik components including the a new control panel (similar to that in the 2000 class), and the fitting of a coupler; 3201-3220 received their couplers at their back while 3220-3239 became "trailing"-units with the couplers mounted to the front. Of course, all cars with the couplers at the front were still able to operate an their own. Only a little metal shield in the cab reminded the train operator of the overhanging coupler to not pull up to close to a car stopped ahead!

The next generation of rolling stock was delivered in the 1970s and 1980s. The 2000-class trams were very popular and were known as B-cars or "Stadtbahn" cars. In 1983 the 2100 class (appearance mostly the same as 2000) were introduced, and again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, new types of the "B"-family were delivered. These, the 2200-series, are always run in pairs of two cars, with only the leading one having a cab. The last of the B-cars were the 2300-series. They are bi-directional so that single-car assignments can be made. The access level of all the 2000-2300 cars is 90 cm., but they have steps coming out automatically when a platform is at a lower level than 90cm.

To begin replacing the aging 3100/3200´s and 2000´s the KVB ordered two sets of new cars: low-floor trams of type K4000 (4001-4120), which brought about a modernization of the stops to accommodate the platform height of 35cm; and the K5000 (5101-5159) series for the Stadtbahn system. The K4000 cars are nearly identical to those used on the Croydon Tramlink system in the United Kingdom.

Today, with all 3100, 3700 and 3800-trains gone and already 25 of the 3200s sidelined or retired there remains only a little fleet of fifteen 3200s to keep an era of public transport at Köln alive with limited operating range for these single-direction cars due to the fact that many turning loops have already been removed in favour of simple stub-end terminals. To sum it up, not only railfans and friends of the municipal transit of Köln like these old goodies! Although not air-conditioned they are the most favoured trams in Köln mostly because they feature seats only in the driving direction and have single seats on the door-side. Thanks to their length and width they are spacious and can accommodate the most riders of all trains of the KVB, especially when they ran as double-sets. Besides that, they look good, they sound great, their appearance is classy and elegant!

But signs do not stand good for a still long service-period of this ageing little fleet. In 2004, the KVB received the first four K4500-prototypes which are underging testing under regular service conditions. If 4501-4504 proof to be reliable, the KVB will give the green light to the rest of the order from Bombardier and if everything happens as planned, by 2007 there will be 69 of these K4500 units on the property. This will make it possible to unify the fleet of the 1,7,8,9 plus the 6,12 and 15 to be operated by low-floor trains, either by K4000s or the K4500s. The delivery of the K4500 will make all 3200s obsolete and the first B-type trains will likely be retired by the same time, most probably the older units of the 2000-series that will have by then a service-life of about 30 years!

Germany will host the Soccer World Championship 2006 and some games will be held at Köln´s soccer stadium that was entirely rebuilt and modernized for that event. This will most likely be the last chance to see the 3200s, as "Soccer-Specials" bound for the "Stadion" (stadium in German). After the games, probably within days, all 8-axle trains will be retired, closing an era of public transport in Köln. And some of these cars will have seen far more than 40 years of service by that time!

In 2005 the KVB introduced a new paint scheme for their fleet. The front and cab is painted bright red and the rest of the car in white. Every car to have a major overhaul or a scheduled main inspection at KVB´s main shops will receive the new livery. Up to now (end of June 2005) 27 cars have been repainted. However, since the first car to be repainted in early 2004 to the latest one several changes to the new design took place. The first four K4000 to be repainted (4067, 4012, 4007, and 4076 consecutively) in the first quarter of 2004 featured dark grey doors and window fittings. With the first two 2300s, 2325 and 2304, painting of doors and window fittings in grey was discontinued in favour of a completely white carbody, except for the cab. This became the first standard with the second yet to come. While painting the first 2200s, 2238 and 2224, it was decided to paint the area around the headlights in white as well, owing to security and visibility concerns: Voilà - Standard No.2! This all resulted in the current livery of the KVB.

Four trains, two K4000s and two 2200s received a special large logo-design with KVB's new logo. It was attached to the first cars in September to October 2004. The whole fleet except for the maintenance-of-way equipment received this new company emblem. However, some cars managed to refuse the new logo and still have not received one while to some cars the new one was attached but someone forgot to remove the old logos! It is worth mentioning four cars in this context, because the new logo was used for an own advertisement of the KVB an cars 2224, 2238, 4007 and 4097. Huge new logos were applied to these cars' sides fitting the red cabs. Once more we have a change in a change. The 2000/2100-series used to have the car number attached to the front center right under the windshield. In October 2004, the first 2000s and 2100s appeared with the new logo simply attached above the number resulting in a front that looked somewhat "jammed". Obviously the KVB shared the opinion of most drivers and railfans and rearranged its lettering-rules for the 2000s and 2100s. This design problem evolved on these two types only, because of their front design in two steps, the lower "bar" carrying the built-in headlights on the side. And this bar is part of the actual design, because the center of it now hosts the car number and the new logo was put in place right in the center of the front where the car-numbers used to be.

Fleet update, October 2006. More and more of the rolling stock has been repainted into the new paint scheme. The work was focussed on the K4000 cars and the 2200-fleet, especially the 2251-2260 sub-series, because their paint was in a very bad washed-out and weathered condition. Their original dark red paint even started to look pink! As of September 2006 all members of that sub-series have received the new paint scheme. In total about 50 units now feature the new bright red and white livery, with more to follow.

Another new item that started to appear on the K4000s in 2005 was an "anti-climber" mounted to the front of the car. This was a reaction to many trying to climb over a double-units´ couplers in between two coupled trains. Some severe injuries and even fatalities resulted from these foolish actions of some. The car numbers were put on these new attachments.

During 2005, a new type of train was welcomed to Cologne, the new Bombardier and Kiepe-built K4500. Delivery of these modern and air-conditioned trains began in April 2005. It was on Monday, April 18th 2005 when the first unit was delivered and shortly afterwards interested passengers and fans were welcome to enjoy its first "steps" on Cologne rails. It made some round-trips from Neumarkt to the loop at Moltkestrasse. Four prototypes (4501-4504) were tested thoroughly in a six-month period under normal service conditions. They appeared on the 1-line's rush-hour services; normal teething problems occurred during that period, but were solved. Finally, they proved to be a reliable addition to the KVB rolling stock and the they gave green light for the 6-unit 2005 batch. During 2006 a further 37-unit delivery should take place. In October 2006, the acceptance test-run of 4531 coupled to 4532 took place. In 2007 the rest of the 69-unit order of the K4500 (22 units) will be delivered allowing completely low-floor train operated services on lines 1,7,8,9 (east-west low-floor system) and on lines 6,12,15 (north-south lines via ring-line). Up to now the rush-hour only lines 6 and 8 are still generally operated with high-floor trains, 2000/2100s on the 6 and 5100s on the 8.

To allow greater flexibility it is planned that mismatched pairs of K4000s and K4500s can operate in the future. Therefore it is necessary to give the K4000 a couple of updates and modifications (especially concerning software-controlled systems) in order to make the two types "like" each other. A test-train in normal service is currently underway on the low-floor system with the modification-prototype being the K4000-prototype 4001, coupled to different 4500s.

The new order of K4500's will allow all remaining 8-axle units of the 3200-class to be retired, and so we had to go through sad times here in Cologne. Just like New York had to say good bye to the magnificent Redbirds, Cologne had to bid farewell to the beloved 8-axle trains, "Achtachser", as they have been referred to. Their last assignments were the services on the rush-hour only #6-line. But in mid-2006 most of the services were operated by either 2000s or 2100s, some K4000 appeared as well. Even the popular Mondays-Fridays mid-day "school's out"-special designated as an E15 round-trip with a double-unit of 8-axle units was terminated and handed over to 2000/2100- trains.

During the games of the World Cup in Cologne 2-unit lash-ups of the 3200s made special runs to and from the stadium. But finally, their time has come! On Saturday, July 22nd 2006, the KVB in cooperation with the KVB museum organised a farewell day for the 8-axle trams that were part of the City of Cologne since 1963. For more than 40 years these handsome and reliable units were the backbone of services in Cologne. On that particular Saturday two units ran on a #1-service from Neumarkt to Junkersdorf and back and two further units ran a shortened #7-service from Neumarkt to Poll and back between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., followed by a parade from Neumarkt to the west yard and than along the #13-line to the museum at Thielenbruch. Everyone could enjoy a free last ride on these wonderful cars. Involved in this event were 3205 and 3764 on the 1-services and 3209 and 3230 on the 7-services. 3764 is of an earlier batch of trains delivered in the early 1960s as a six-axle unit and was rebuilt to an 8-axle unit later. It is part of the museum´s fleet and can be seen from time to time making special runs or fan trips. It will gladly take on the memories of this great class of trains.

From October 2006 on some dramatic changes will take place. In conjunction with the work on the new north-south subway project the existing north-to-south line via Neumarkt (low- level) and Dom/Hbf. (cathedral and central station) will be gapped and through trains will be rerouted via the ring line for a period of 10 months. The reason is the construction of a new triangular junction at the northern end of the new line, where it will link up with the existing north-south line. Definitely, we are about to enter a highly interesting period of transit in Cologne with lots of detoured lines. However, the 8-axle trains will be greatly missed!

Photo Gallery


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Page Credits

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