Tram-trains in Kassel by John Murray ….

Posted on July 23rd, 2012, by The Chairman

Based on a visit made on 16 July 2012.

The Department for Transport recently announced a trial of tram-train technology in Sheffield. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is closely following the trial with a view to introducing tram-trains on the Mid-Cheshire railway line between Manchester, Northwich and Chester.

The proposal is that tram-trains operate on the Manchester Metrolink tram network as far as Altrincham where they would then join the existing Mid Cheshire line.

Tram-trains are tram like vehicles, capable of operating on both city tramway networks and conventional railway lines. They are built to a higher specification than standard trams to comply with railway safety and operational requirements.

Dual mode diesel-electric tram-train in the centre of Kassel running on electric power

To find out more my son Stephen and I visited the city of Kassel in central Germany where tram-trains have been used for 6 years.

Kassel, like many German cities, has an extensive tram network. In 2006 the network was extended onto four regional railway lines using tram-trains.

Tram-train alongside a regular Kassel city tram showing the more substantial construction

The vehicles were built by French company Alstom and come in two versions: all-electric and a dual mode diesel-electric model for use on non-electrified railway lines. It is the latter type that would be deployed on the Mid Cheshire line.

To try out the system, we took route RT4 from the centre of Kassel to the town of Wolfhagen, 20 miles west.

The journey started in the centre of the city where the tram-train runs on the city tram network alongside local services. The most noticeable difference between the tram-train and a conventional tram is the more substantial construction to comply with railway crash worthiness standards. They also have a higher top speed of 100 km/h (63 mph) compared with 80 km/h (50 mph) for city trams.

Cab view from Tram-Train passing Kassel tram 652 whilst following another Kassel tram

The tram-train runs through the city streets using electric power from the overhead wires to the main railway station where it enters a short subway emerging to join the main lines in the platforms.

Emerging from the subway into the platforms at Kassel main railway station

Here the driver starts the roof mounted diesel engines and lowers the pantograph (current collection device) for the onward journey to Wolfhagen sharing the tracks with regular trains.

On the regular railway line approaching Wolfhagen running on diesel power

On the main line performance is excellent. Acceleration is rapid and the ride smooth. While the noise of the diesel engines is obvious, the vehicle is much quieter than the current trains on the Mid Cheshire line.

In the platform at Wolfhagen

The interior of the vehicle is spacious, comfortable and fully accessible for people with disabilities.

Interior view

Since tram-trains were introduced in Kassel, services operate at higher frequencies than the former rail service. Such is the popularity that track work is currently being carried out to increase capacity to provide a 30 minute off-peak frequency on all four routes.

Leaving a passing loop

I was impressed with the service, and it is certainly well used. I believe that tram-trains would be ideally suited to a route such as the Mid Cheshire line with frequent stops. The extension of the service onto the Manchester Metrolink tram network would provide direct services from Chester and Northwich to a variety of destinations in Manchester such as Old Trafford and the main shopping district without the need for change.

Arriving at a station whilst a mainline Deutsche Bahn class 646 DEMU awaits departure

At the Chester end, the tram-trains could again run on existing roads into the city centre, but this would require considerable investment to install tracks.

Driving position

John Murray
18 July 2012 (date of visit to Kassel 16 July 2012)

Please leave a comment

  1. Mike Battman Says:

    They look the business; I’d love to see them on the Mid-Cheshire Line

  2. Edd Says:

    From the above pictures it looks like they have the same style of seating as the DB Regio services in the Berlin area, which is a bit firm but OK for half an hour or so. Given how many suitcases I saw on one of the Manchester-Chester services yesterday and how many people went to the toilet on the same service, I’d question whether the interior design would be suitable as replacement for existing trains, opposed to running alongside normal trains.

    I’ve also heard suggestions of tram-trains between Chester city centre and Liverpool Airport via Runcorn and Liverpool South Parkway, as well as between the Albert Dock and Liverpool Airport via Liverpool South Parkway. Are there any plans for these or is it just someone’s dream?

  3. John Murray Says:

    I found the seats quite comfortable on the 45 minute journey from Kassel to Wolfhagen. They certainly beat a 142 on comfort any day! Mind you, that’s not difficult.

    These had luggage racks fitted and various options are available. They also have a bike area. Toilets are an option on the Alstom Citadis tram trains. There are many other configuration options in terms of seating, number of sections, luggage provision etc.

    Many Karlsruhe Siemens built tram-trains have a toilet fitted and a small number even have a bistro in the centre section! I saw a handful of them from passing trains.

    On the Kassel lines the tram-trains run alongside regular trains which tend to stop at the larger stations only.

  4. The Chairman Says:

    Here’s some information about costs from a Swiss rail contact of mine: –

    “A tram-train costs today between €3m and €4m depending on the options and the number of sections each tram-train has. For bi-mode, the diesel and related equipment is about an extra €0.5m to €0.75m. It depends on the builder. Thus, I think that for between €3.5m and €5m you can buy a bi-mode tram-train.

    Kassel has two types of tram-trains some running under the city tram’s DC system, then on diesel on the main railway (DB), and others running on the city’s DC system, then on AC overhead on DB.”

    That’s interesting compared to the cost of full electrification.

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