“For us, public transport is the backbone of traffic transformation, and it is critical that it is attractive,” says Berlin Mobility Senator Bettina Garach (Green Party). Left and right in the workshop are two hulls for two cars, with ten others, set to be rolling on subway tracks by the end of the year. The two cars are the first in the yellow row that actually have a face, so the front is tied up. They are naked on the inside. Aside from the impressive cable straps – a total of 42 kilometers should be laid per unit – just over the body can be seen. No wheels, no obstacles, no seats, no doors – only some windows installed.
But Garach is in a festive mood by appointment on Monday afternoon at the Stadler Germany plant in Berlin-Wilhelmsruhe. Because with this fleet, the supply on most of the capital’s subway lines is set to halve at peak times in the future. Instead of every five minutes, as has been the case for years, a train will come every three minutes 20 seconds.
But even then, there is still a long way to go. The twelve cars, which will be delivered as two units of four and two cars, are the vanguard of the first segment of 376 vehicles, named Type J and JK. These first four trains are for the subnetwork of lines U1 to U4, which is called Kleinprofil because of the narrow tunnels. It will be tested for a year before passengers actually use it by 2024 at the latest – possibly on the U3. In the summer of 2023, the other twelve cars of the so-called large profile of the remaining lines should reach the grid. Also tested on a U5 without passengers.
“There is a very practical reason for this,” says Rolf Erfurt, Director of BVG. “Let’s do the hardest thing first. Anything that fits any small vehicle also fits a larger vehicle. With a width of 2.30 metres, the compact vehicles are not only 35 centimeters narrower than those in the large profile, but also more than three meters shorter.” In addition, the floor of the car is low because the platforms are also low.
Since for the first time vehicles for both sides of the U-Bahn are being developed in Berlin at the same time and BVG has ordered as many identical parts as possible for more efficient maintenance, this sequence makes sense, even if there is a more dramatic shortage of cars in the large profile . Accordingly, for the lines U5 to U9, the initial order with 236 cars is much more generous than the small profile with 140 cars. This chip will be delivered by the end of 2025.
The contract between the manufacturer Stadler and Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe provides for a minimum order of 606 cars. A maximum of 1,500 cars can be recalled until 2035 – including a 32-year supply of spare parts. In the case of current vehicles, some of which are over 50 years old, BVG often has to manufacture the parts manually in their own workshops.
But Senator Garach gives little hope that 1,500 cars will actually be recalled. “Specifically 1,000 good cars are provided in the transfer contract with BVG, which will come gradually, depending on their financial capacity,” she says. Specifically 756pcs for the large profile and 262 for the small profile. Transfer contracts are fixed and nothing will change. But if we go beyond that, we have to develop new possibilities”, says Grash, in light of the process of incorporation that began in the state budget. According to Grash, expenses have increased more than income.
This raises doubts about whether the promised increase in frequency in the subway network can actually occur. Because according to BVG, 792 cars are currently available in the large profile. The fleet of vehicles is so old that in the next few years from U5 to U9, one vehicle will be taken out of inventory for every newly delivered vehicle. The trains of the latest large-scale series are now 20 to 27 years old. As vehicles have been built over decades using materials more economically than ever before, the series must also be phased out by 2035.
Jens Fisk, a spokesman for the Berlin passenger union IGEB, criticized the word “second” because “everything is just a crisis”. Even if there were fewer new vehicles in the workshop, he didn’t think such an increase in frequency was possible in the long run. “The announced purchase numbers are not enough to divert traffic,” he added.
“The order of 1,500 new subway cars is central to our common goal as a coalition to significantly improve domestic passenger transport in Berlin,” Christian Runeburg told “Second”. Only with new cars and mobile materials from the old fleet can more frequent services be carried out in succession on all lines over the next few years, thus making the subway more attractive, explains a spokesman for the left-wing transport policy. “More passengers will benefit from this much more quickly than the long-running subway expansion plans, some of which could be implemented in the 1930s at the earliest, rather than in the 1940s,” Runeburg says.