The German Way of Building Rapid Transit

Continuing my series on different traditions of building urban rapid transit, today it’s time for Germany and Austria, following the posts on the US, the Soviet bloc, Britain, and France. Germany had a small maritime empire by British and French standards and lost it all after World War 1, but has been tremendously influential on its immediate neighbors as a continental power. This is equally true of rapid transit: Germany and Austria’s rail traditions have evolved in a similar direction, influential also in Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium to varying extents.

S-Bahns and U-Bahns

Germany is one of the origins of urban regional rail, called S-Bahn here in contrast with the U-Bahn subway. The first frequent urban rail service in the world appeared in London in 1836, but trains ran every 20 minutes and the stop spacing was only borderline urban. Berlin in contrast innovated when it opened the east-west elevated Stadtbahn in 1882, running frequent steam trains with local spacing.

As elevated steam-powered urban rail, the Stadtbahn was not particularly innovative. New York had already been running such service on its own els going back to 1872. But the Stadtbahn differed in being integrated into the mainline rail system from the start. Berlin already had the Ringbahn circling the city’s then-built up area to permit freight trains to go around, but it still built the Stadtbahn with four tracks, two dedicated to local traffic and two to intercity traffic. Moreover, it was built to mainline rail standards, and was upgraded over time as these standards changed with the new national rail regulation of 1925. This more than anything was the origin of the concept of regional rail or S-Bahn today.

Vienna built such a system as well, inspired by many sources, including Berlin, opening in 1898. Hamburg further built a mainline urban rail connection between Hauptbahnhof and Altona, electrifying it in 1907 to become the first electrified S-Bahn in the world. Copenhagen, today not particularly German in its transportation system, built an S-Bahn in the 1930s, naming it S-tog after the German term.

However, German cities that built such S-Bahn systems would also build separate U-Bahn systems. U-Bahns in Germany have short stop spacing and tend to mostly serve inner areas: for example, on this map of Munich, the U-Bahn is in blue, and the trams are in red. Berlin has some farther-reaching U-Bahn lines, especially U7, a Cold War line built when the West got the U-Bahn and the East got the S-Bahn; had the city not been divided, it’s unlikely it would have been built at all.

Some of the early U-Bahns were even elevated, similarly to New York subway lines and a few Paris Métro lines. Hamburg’s operator is even called Hochbahn in recognition of the elevated characteristic of much of its system. Like Paris and unlike New York, those elevated segments are on concrete viaducts and not steel structures, and therefore the trains above are not very noisy, generally quieter than the cars at street level.

Light rail and Stadtbahns

The early els of Berlin and Vienna were called Stadtbahn when built in the 19th century, but since the 1960s, the term has been used to refer to mixed subway-surface systems.

Germany had long been a world leader in streetcar systems – the first electric streetcar in the world opened in Berlin in 1881. But after World War Two, streetcars began to be viewed as old-fashioned and just getting in the way of cars. West German cities generally tore out their streetcars in their centers, but unlike American or French cities, they replaced those streetcars with Stadtbahn tunnels and retained the historic streetcar alignments in outer neighborhoods feeding those tunnels.

The closure of the streetcars was not universal. Munich and Vienna retained the majority of their tram route-length, though they did close lines parallel to the fully grade-separated U-Bahn systems both cities built postwar. Many smaller cities retained their trams, like Augsburg and Salzburg, though this was generally more consistent in the Eastern Bloc, which built very little rapid transit (East Berlin) or severed itself from the German planning tradition and Sovietized (Prague, Budapest).

The Stadtbahn concept is also extensively used in Belgium, where it is called pre-metro; the Vienna U-Bahn and even the generally un-German Stockholm T-bana both have pre-metro history, only later transitioning to full grade separation. Mixed rapid transit-streetcar operations also exist in the Netherlands, but not in the consistent fashion of either the fast-in-the-center-slow-outside Stadtbahn or its fast-outside-slow-in-the-center inverse, the Karlsruhe model of the tram-train.

Network design

Rail network design in German-speaking cities is highly coordinated between modes but is not very systematic or coherent.

The coordination means that different lines work together, even across modes. In the post about France, I noted that the Paris Métro benefited from coordinated planning from the start, so that on the current network, there is only one place where two lines cross without a transfer. This is true, but there are unfortunately many places where a Métro line and an RER line cross without a transfer; the central RER B+D tunnel alone crosses three east-west Métro lines without a transfer. In Berlin, in contrast, there are no missed connections on the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn, and only one between the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, which S21 plans do aim to fix. Hamburg has two missed connections on the U-Bahn and one between the U- and S-Bahn. Munich has no missed connections at all.

But while the lines work well as a graph, they are not very coherent in the sense of having a clear design paradigm. Berlin is the most obvious example of this, having an U-Bahn that is neither radial like London or Moscow nor a grid like Paris. This is not even a Cold War artifact: U6 and U8 are parallel north-south lines, and have been since they opened in the 1920s and early 20s. Hamburg and Vienna are haphazard too. Munich is more coherent – its U-Bahn has three trunk lines meeting in a Soviet triangle – but its branching structure is weird, with two rush hour-only reverse-branches running as U7 and U8. The larger Stadtbahn networks, especially Cologne, are a hodgepodge of mergers and splits.


The German planning tradition has distinguishing characteristics that are rare in other traditions, particularly when it comes to fare payment – in many other respects, the Berlin U-Bahn looks similar to the Paris Métro, especially if one ignores regional rail.

Proof of payment: stations have no fare barriers, and the fare is enforced entirely with proof of payment inspections. This is common globally on light rail (itself partly a German import in North America) and on European commuter rail networks, but in Germany this system is used even on U-Bahns and on very busy S-Bahn trunks like Munich and Berlin’s; in Paris there’s POP on the RER but only in the suburbs, not in the city.

Unstaffed stations: because there are no fare barriers, stations do not require station agents, which reduces operating expenses. In Berlin, most U-Bahn stations have a consistent layout: an island platform with a stairway exit at each end. This is also common in the rest of the German-speaking world. Because there is no need for fare barriers, it is easy to make the stations barrier-free – only one elevator is needed per station, and thus Berlin is approaching fully wheelchair accessibility at low cost, even though it’s contemporary with New York (only 25% accessible) and Paris (only 3% accessible, the lowest among major world metros).

Fare integration: fares are mode-neutral, so riding an express regional train within the city costs the same as the U-Bahn or the bus, and transfers are free. This is such an important component of good transit that it’s spreading across Europe, but Germany is the origin, and this is really part of the coordination of planning between U- and S-Bahn service.

Zonal fares: fares are in zones, rather than depending more granularly on distance as is common in Asia. Zones can be concentric and highly non-granular as in Berlin, concentric and granular as in Munich, or non-concentric as in Zurich.

Monthly and annual discounts: there is a large discount for unlimited monthly tickets, in order to encourage people to prepay and not forget the fare when they ride the train. There are even annual tickets, with further discounts.

No smartcards: the German-speaking world has resisted the nearly global trend of smartcards. Passengers can use paper tickets, or pay by app. This feature, unlike many others, has not really been exported – proof-of-payment is common enough in much of Northern and Central Europe, but there is a smartcard and the fare inspectors have handheld card readers.

Verkehrsverbund: the Verkehrsverbund is an association of transport operators within a region, coordinating fares first of all, and often also timetables. This way, S-Bahn services operated by DB or a concessionaire and U-Bahn and bus services operated by a municipal corporation can share revenue. The first Verkehrsverbund was Hamburg’s, set up in 1965, and now nearly all of Germany is covered by Verkehrsverbünde. This concept has spread as a matter of fare integration and coordinated planning, and now Paris and Lyon have such bodies as well, as does Stockholm.

Germany has no head

The American, Soviet, British, and French traditions all rely on exports of ideas from one head megacity: New York, Moscow, London, Paris. This is not at all true of the German tradition. Berlin was the richest German city up until World War 2, and did influence planning elsewhere, inspiring the Vienna Stadtbahn and the re-electrification of the Hamburg S-Bahn with third rail in the late 1930s. But it was never dominant; Hamburg electrified its S-Bahn 20 years earlier, and the Rhine-Ruhr region was planning express regional service connecting its main cities as early as the 1920s.

Instead, German transportation knowledge has evolved in a more polycentric fashion. Hamburg invented the Verkehrsverbund. Munich invented the postwar S-Bahn, with innovations like scheduling a clockface timetable (“Takt”) around single-track branches. Cologne and Frankfurt opened the first German Stadtbahn tunnels (Boston had done so generations earlier, but this fell out of the American planning paradigm). Karlsruhe is so identified with the tram-train that this technology is called the Karlsruhe model. Nuremberg atypically built a fully segregated U-Bahn, and even more atypically was a pioneer of driverless operations, even beating Paris to be the first city in the world to automate a previously-manual subway, doing so in 2010 vs. 2012 for Paris.

There’s even significant learning from the periphery, or at least from the periphery that Germany deigns acknowledge, that is its immediate neighbors, but not anything non-European. Plans for the Deutschlandtakt are based on the success of intercity rail takt planning in Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands, and aim to build the same system at grander scale in a larger country.

The same polycentric, headless geography is also apparent in intercity rail. It’s not just Germany and Switzerland that build an everywhere-to-everywhere intercity rail system, in lieu of the French focus on connecting the capital with specific secondary cities. It’s Austria too, even though Vienna is a dominant capital. For that matter, the metropolitan area of Zurich too is around a fifth of the population of Switzerland, and yet the Swiss integrated timed transfer concept is polycentric.

Does this work?

On the most ridiculously wide definition of its metropolitan area, Vienna has 3.7 million people, consisting of the city proper and of Lower Austria. In 2012, it had 922 million rail trips (source, PDF-p. 44); the weighted average work trip modal split in these two states is 40% (source, PDF-p. 39). In reality, Vienna is smaller and its modal split is higher. Zurich, an even smaller and richer city, has a 30% modal split. Mode shares in Germany are somewhat lower – nationwide Austria’s is 20%, Germany’s is 16% – but still healthy for how small German cities are. Hamburg and Stuttgart both have metropolitan public transport modal splits of 26%, and neither is a very large city – their metro areas are about 3.1 and 2.6 million, respectively. Munich is within that range as well.

In fact, in the developed world, one doesn’t really find larger modal splits than these in the 2 million size class. Stockholm is very high as well, as are 1.5th-world Prague and Budapest, but one sees certain German influences in all three, even though for the most part Stockholm is its own thing and the other two are Soviet. Significantly higher rates of public transport usage exist in very large Asian cities and in Paris, and Germany does deserve demerits for its NIMBYism, but NIMBYism is not why Munich is a smaller city than Taipei.

To the extent there’s any criticism of the German rapid transit planning tradition, it’s that construction costs lately have been high by Continental European standards, stymieing plans for needed expansion. Märkisches Viertel has been waiting for an extension of U8 for 50 years and it might finally get it this decade.

The activist sphere in Germany is especially remarkable for not caring very much about U-Bahn expansion. One occasionally finds dedicated transport activists, like Zukunft Mobilität, but the main of green urbanist activism here is bike lanes and trams. People perceive U- and S-Bahn expansion as a center-right pro-car plot to remove public transit from the streets in order to make more room for cars.

The high construction costs in Germany and the slow, NIMBY-infused process are both big drags on Germany’s ability to provide better public transportation in the future. It’s plausible that YIMBYer countries will overtake it – that Korean and Taiwanese cities of the same size as Munich and Hamburg will have higher modal splits than Munich and Hamburg thanks to better transit-oriented development. But in the present, the systems in Munich and Zurich are more or less at the technological frontier of urban public transportation for cities of their size class, and not for nothing, much of Europe is slowly Germanizing its public transport planning paradigm.


  1. andrewla

    Typo/missing words:

    “ Hamburg’s operator is even called Hochbahn in recognition of the elevated characteristic of Like Paris and unlike New York, ”

    Is the Swiss poly-centric approach strengthened by a political need to not look like it is subordinating French areas to Zurich priorities?

    To what degree does having politically important states contribute to the willingness to look towards other areas for learning compared to a primary city/national government model?

    • Alon Levy

      Thanks for the catch! Updated.

      The Swiss ITT system doesn’t even cover Geneva, and only in the Rail 2035 update will Lausanne truly be included. The Rail 2000 core is the Zurich-Basel-Bern triangle, plus some nearby places like Biel. I think it’s mostly a boring artifact of German-Swiss urban geography, whereas Austria could plausibly put a bunch of secondary cities on one line to Vienna.

      • Onux

        “ The Swiss ITT system doesn’t even cover Geneva, and only in the Rail 2035 update will Lausanne truly be included.”

        Do you mean bus ITT? I thought there was ITT for rail over the whole of Switzerland? (Hence the circuit diagram rail maps showing hourly arrivals/departures over the whole country, and the inspiration for D-Takt).

        • Alon Levy

          The rail schedule is Switzerland-wide, but Lausanne is only marginally integrated (thus it’s 75 minutes from Bern, not 60), and Geneva isn’t really within the takt system.

          • Onux

            Are you defining an ITT as different than a takt? I thought the key feature of a takt was regular departures at a repeating minute (1:27,2:27,etc.). My understanding is that while integer hour nominal travel time was of course optimal, you could have the passenger benefits of a takt with 75 min travel-either with 4 tph (0:00 departures S becomes 1:15 departure N) or terrible utilization with a 45 min turnaround.
            I assumed Geneva was part of the take because the Swiss timetable diagram clearly shows services arriving and departing at the same minute past the hour.

            Tangential question: how do you handle two nodes that don’t support twice-an-hour service (with 90 min nominal travel), but it is not possible to get nominal time to 60 min (for instance the nodes are 77 min apart on a 350kph line). I realize anything on a 350koh line is a contrived example, but I am sure there must be instances of nodes more than 60 min apart where it is not technically or financially feasible to increase speed.

          • Alon Levy

            ITT is something much bigger than a takt. It’s a program for capital expansion that’s designed around a takt with timed transfers. Switzerland made such investments in German-speaking areas, and is now moving on to doing the same with trains to Lugano and Lausanne, but has not done this yet with Geneva.

            Re the tangential question: 90 minute nominal travel is fine with an hourly timetable, because the roundtrip is 3 hours. There’s a broader question about why you would ever build a 350 km/h railroad that could only support 1 tph or for that matter 2, though – you usually want 4-6, maybe a bit less if the line is a branch and then much of the extra ridership is seen as extra trains on a preexisting trunk.

          • Onux

            Thank you for the clarification on ITT vs takt.

            I’ll refine my question. There are two cities which should be nodes in a takt, but demand for only 1 tph. Travel time between them is too long to fit an hourly takt, 68 or 97 min say, but the the cost to shave the needed minutes can’t be justified by demand (would require a tunnel or brand new ROW for instance). What should be done? Abandon trying to fit a takt? Slow service to make the hourly departures work? (Does the convenience of clock face scheduling outweigh the benefits of faster travel?)

          • Alon Levy

            In that case you probably just break the timed transfer at one of them. They can’t both be large cities with many lines that need to interchange, or else they’d support more than an hourly train.

          • adirondacker12800

            4 to 6 an hour makes Washington DC or Boston a “branch” off NY-Philadelphia. For Boston anyway because there isn’t much of anything north or east of Boston. There might someday be demand for more than six an hour originating/through DC in some far off future.

          • Max Wyss

            It was planned to get Bern – Lausanne to under 60 minutes, but there was quite a lot of opposition. Local improvements, plus the use of suitable rolling stock get it somewhat shorter. But Lausanne – Fribourg is still tedious (in other countries, that line would be considered a mountain railway anyways, with 2.5% grades).

          • Max Wyss

            @Onux: What is done in such a situation, is to create half nodes (x:15 in one direction, x:45 in the other). Local connecting services may either set priorities for the direction, or they may run at 30 minute intervals. A good example in Switzerland is Olten.

  2. GojiMet86

    “The activist sphere in Germany is especially remarkable for not caring very much about U-Bahn expansion. One occasionally finds dedicated transport activists, like Zukunft Mobilität, but the main of green urbanist activism here is bike lanes and trams. People perceive U- and S-Bahn expansion as a center-right pro-car plot to remove public transit from the streets in order to make more room for cars.”

    Writing as a New Yorker, that is a very interesting take on rail expansion. They do know that one can have both expanded subway and rail service, and expanded lanes and trams, right?

    • Eric2

      German cities are much smaller than NYC, and generally have very good transit to begin with. So the marginal value of a new line (in ridership and increased mobility) is relatively small. It is not financially worthwhile to build *two* lines on the same ROW.

    • jakob

      Hey, Berliner here with insights to the pro tram drivers within the Green party. The main argument for a focus on tram is capacity of the administration.

      The mentioned point (subway is convening cars) play a role, but so does planning and construction periods. If we want the Verkehrswende in the next decade, we need to build fast. .

      I personally think that both systems should be further develop, and that a massive expensive of the bus network will save us in the meantime.

      • Alon Levy

        Yeah, but that leads to the broader question of why it takes so long to build an U-Bahn. Large programs of metro construction are regularly executed within a decade in Southern Europe and Scandinavia.

        • Herbert

          As they like to say in Berlin: “Bremser in der Verwaltung“. No idea wether that’s on the mark…

          • Felix Thoma

            I think the argument of the capacity of the administration is only partly true. Metro construction (part. tunneling and signalling) and tram construction (part. partition of street space and respective civic participation) are largely different expertises, done by more “conservative” and more “green” professions, respectively. That’s exactly the reason why there is some internal conflict within the administration between these two fraction, but politics should let do both of them their jobs where they can be productive. The second reason for the political conflict is that the Greens and the Left are strong in inner city and Eastern Berlin districts which mostly already have trams (e.g. Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg), while the western city borders which are more in U-Bahn&S-Bahn distance of the city center are more conservative or social democrat. So it’s only about different interests!

          • Felix Thoma

            And there might also be some conflict between money in private companies for U-Bahn construction (right-wing parties) vs. money in labour organised in public companies for tram driving (left-wing parties), as construction vs. operating cost ratio is higher for metro, while driver per passenger ratio is higher for trams. But in times of general skill shortage, a long-term metro automatisation and a retraining of metro drivers to jobs like driving other means of transport, passenger service or administration (the latter with better working times) would be perfect! Unfortunately discussion is not about weighing up different factors, but different political affiliations of certain groups, both on the “supply” and the “demand” side of the PT offer.

          • Alon Levy

            Politically, who automated the U-Bahn in Nuremberg? I don’t know the history of that at all, unlike in Paris, where it’s an apolitical project.

          • Felix Thoma

            If I see it correctly, it was decided when Nuremberg and Bavaria were both CSU-governed, but Nuremberg and protestant parts of Franconia are still more SPD-voting than average Bavaria, although perhaps not so much as SPD-Grüne stronghold Munich. U3 is a new branch, and there was a deal that train drivers on U2 got some alternative jobs e.g. in the control center of U2/U3 or in passenger service. Automatisation of U1 is optional but not focussed at the moment, as it would result in larger job changes and probably also require a new technical system probably with (half-height?) platform screen doors resulting in a bigger architectural impact of the existing station, as the other system is not state of the art anymore as far as I know.

        • Felix Thoma

          The U5 Lückenschluss construction didn’t take much longer than a decade. What took so long was only the decision-making to connect U5 and U55, because financial problems of Berlin after a banking scandal by CDU, which lead to cuts by the following SPD government, and the resistance against U-Bahn in large parts of SPD and Linke. While tram construction is certainly easier, it’s rather tram planning which can also take decades because of conflicts in the street space, as you can see from resistance even against streetbound trams through politically quite “green” districts, e.g. Hauptbahnhof, Ostkreuz, Leipziger Straße and Görlitzer Park. We shouldn’t think transit planning only from the perspective of climate reduction untik 2030, but also from the perspective of the citizens, and they expect a more long-term metro planning, as polls have shown.

  3. ks905383

    I’ll give you that building an U-Bahn on the existing odd triangular loop-ish structure of the Stadtbahn made Vienna a bit concept-less for a while, but the current U2/U5 expansion will make the system, including the S45 and the S-Bahn Stammstrecke, a rough rotated 4-4 grid in the city area; one of the goals is explicitly to make the U2 not have its odd half circle loop at the end.

    (Of course I probably don’t have to get into how the rail expansion politics in Austria are probably different from in Germany – and N Germany probably different than S Germany. There’s a pretty big crayoning community around a Vienna S-Bahn ring; the suburban Niederösterreich suburbs want specifically U-Bahn extensions because they think the S-Bahn isn’t fancy enough, etc.)

  4. Joe Wong

    Didn’t many of these underground stations in Berlin became “GHOST STATIONS” in 1961, and reopened in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell ????

    • Alon Levy

      Yep! A long segment of U8 became nonstop, and a long segment of U6 became one-stop, Friedrichstrasse being used as a transfer point within the Western network and a border crossing point.

  5. Bobson Dugnutt

    Alon, do you know if a sourdough-like “mother starter” approach has ever been tried for rail construction techniques? Like if Germany has these methods for itself, can another country import not only the vehicles but also the Germans themselves to teach expertise so native professionals can take it on themselves?

    • R. W. Rynerson

      There often are consultants brought in, foreign or domestic, but they may introduce some of the issues that having local staff could deal with better or cheaper. I’ve been interested in this for many years, Edmonton, where modern (post-WWII) Light Rail and POP were introduced to North America, had a number of staff with connections to Europe. It had over-the-arctic air service by a discount carrier and Air Canada and CP Air long before most interior U.S. cities, so decision-makers and community leaders had at least a customer’s familiarity with the concepts. Just as examples in the municipal transportation department I can recall an Austrian traffic engineer, a German computer programmer who rewrote scheduling software to make the timed transfer focal point system easier to schedule, a German customer information specialist, etc. Having a few people with imported knowledge around all the time was better than hiring a whole troop for a short time.

      One exception was the re-assembly of the original Edmonton LRV’s. They were built in Germany and then sent in pieces by ship to Vancouver, BC and then rail to Edmonton. There were a lot of things that could go wrong. I was relieved when I dropped by the shop and found that German technicians had a sheaf of papers headed “Nicht fur Dritte” with point by point trouble-shooting notes from the previous Frankfurt experience with the DueWag cars. The line opened in April 1978, two months ahead of schedule. In August 1978 the Queen opened the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and we had 100% availability of the fleet for the crush loads. So there was an example of imported talent and knowledge giving an advantage.

      • Max Wyss

        Well, that involves the willingness to listen to furriners…

        The “nicht für Dritte” made me chuckle a little bit… that’s the stuff not written in the manuals…

  6. fmobus

    Seems like there is a typo in

    “””In Berlin, in contrast, there are no missed connections on the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn, and only one between the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, which S21 plans do aim to fix”””

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t think there’s a typo. Berlin has no missed connections on the U-Bahn; it has no missed connections on the S-Bahn; it has one missed connection between the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn; the S21 plans do aim to fix that one missed connection.

      • danielgrogers

        I was issued a smartcard in 2017 with my annual subscription, and it was occasionally verified by inspectors. Don’t know if these are still used though.

  7. Herbert

    Nuremberg and Munich had originally planned to abolish their tram networks and Hamburg and west Berlin actually went through with it… Which is all four German U-Bahn cities…

  8. Herbert

    The youngest parts of U8 are among the most baffling and frustrating in the Berlin network. They were built parallel to the S-Bahn during the tail end of the S-Bahn boycott and in fact some stops even after that. But they stopped just short of Märkisches Viertel because reunification got in the way…. As one could expect, ridership on that last stretch is… Not great

  9. R. W. Rynerson

    “The American, Soviet, British, and French traditions all rely on exports of ideas from one head megacity: New York…”
    That would not explain where the Illinois Central Electric / Metra Electric came from. Its development proceeded almost in lock step with the Berlin S-Bahn, applying “rapid transit” ideas rather than “railroad” ideas. As Germans were one of the largest ethnic groups in Chicago I suspect that there may have been some sharing of ideas.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know where it came from. Might have been an internal railroad development? But it was out of lockstep with the national tradition and therefore Metra canceled it once it took over.

      • adirondacker12800

        Or they cancelled it for lack of interest.
        It’s the New York City subway with the locals in the middle instead of on the outside. they likely came up with it after the Electric Railway Journal for years. The IRT had been open for 22 years when it was grade separated and electrified.

        • Alon Levy

          No, that’s not what happened. The IC was running frequent urban service well into the postwar era, with various investments like high platforms and IIRC fare barriers, and this only ended with the Metra takeover.

          • adirondacker12800

            And you have annual ridership numbers from the electrification in 1926 to now? WIkipedia says ridership peaked in 1946. The Illinois Central didn’t palm off commuter operations until much later.

          • Nilo

            Ridership collapses first after the CTA opens the Dan Ryan Branch and reworks the bus network to feed it. The combination of better bus service and free transfers hammers the IC, which actually needs to make money. Then the line gets nationalized and Metra kills anything resembling rapid transit service.You can actually see this in Metra’s ridership stats, after it takes over the IC it sheds something like 30% of its annual ridership as it phases out rapid service, and only gains it back as commuter service along the other lines leads to improved ridership as Chicago keeps building downtown office space.

        • R. W. Rynerson

          The reasons that the IC Electric looked like a relative of the S-Bahn rather than urban rapid transit lines or interurban lines include evolution from a steam-powered high volume, high-level platform commuter service and rolling stock and clearance profiles compatible with some main line operations. Add to that multiple stations in the central business district, clock headway operation day, night, weekends, owl, which distinguished it from the typical North American commuter rail operation. Of course there were multiple influences on their planning, but marketing it as a package was similar to the S-Bahn, as well.

    • threestationsquare

      The IC electrification seems somewhat similar to the NYW&B, and to some extent other New Haven Railroad electrification projects which predate it by over a decade? Albeit with DC instead of AC electrification.

      That said, it’s a relevant note that the early 20th century US interurban boom was driven by places far from New York. To some extent the same can be said for streetcars as well (as Manhattan’s rules against overhead wires meant it lagged other cities by decades in streetcar electrification, though this didn’t apply to Brooklyn). Both of these traditions largely died out in the US in the mid 20th century, but when US cities started building “light rail” beginning in the 80s they again looked to inspirations other than New York.

  10. R. W. Rynerson

    “Stadtbahn tunnels (Boston had done so generations earlier, but this fell out of the American planning paradigm). …”
    Philadelphia and San Francisco “undergrounded” their streetcars in the central parts of their systems. San Francisco also has some street median right of ways.

    • yuuka

      The SEPTA subway-surface lines are approximately of the same vintage as the Boston Green Line, so the only really new one is San Francisco – even so, people were talking about it since the 1910s too, but the Market Street subway didn’t really get that much of a push until BART showed up in the 60s.

      • Lee Ratner

        There were plans for subway like system in San Francisco for a long time but it kept getting delayed because the politicians and civil servants believed the population levels, or even the built environment in some cases, wasn’t there yet. Building it back then would have been cheaper though and paid dividends.

  11. Max Wyss

    Somehow forgotten is Stuttgart, which converted the streetcar network (meter gauge) to subway (standard gauge) … well, heavier light rail, one could say. Most in the city center is underground.

    But Stuttgart is not a poor city…

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