Over the ground

The search for a collision-free railway resulted in numerous experiments with suspended structures. The main principle was placing a rail on supports and suspending the vehicle below the rail. Of course, wind pressure, centrifugal force or swing had to be prevented, thus guiding rails were used on several levels or a gyroscope was applied. Also, different drive systems were used: haul rope, driving wheels, and even a propeller. In 1861, Franz Fritz von Dücker from Germany designed the first elevated railway. Subsequent attempts were made by others: in 1870 Theobald Obach from Austria, in 1886 Siemens in the Pyrenees, and in 1899 Ippolit Romanov in Gatchina, Russia.


But the breakthrough came with a technology developed by Eugen Langen. In 1901, the Wuppertal railway was built between Barmen, Elberfeld and Vohwinkel according to his idea. In the course of construction, and exactly on 24 October 1900, the German Emperor Wilhelm II took a test ride. This railway, currently known as the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, operates to date as an element of the city transport landscape and is the longest suspension railway line in the world. The length of the route totals 8.26 miles (13.3 kilometres), including 6.21 miles (10 kilometres) over the river Wupper, 12 metres above the water table. On other sections, the rail is suspended 8 metres over the ground. Technically, this is a double-track monorail with a car suspended from the rail on 2 two-wheel bogies. The permissible swing of the moving car is 15 degrees. The wagon hall is located in Vohwinkel. The rolling stock comprises 28 cars dating back to the early 1970s and the Emperor's car of 1900 in which Wilhelm II took the test ride. The cars are driven by electric motors of 65 kW each and can run at a speed of up to 37 mph (60 km/h).

Symmetrical suspended monorail Wuppertal Schwebebahn
Symmetrical suspended railway Wuppertal Schwebebahn – 1913
Japanese suspended Shonan Monorail of SAFEGE type, Fujisawa

On 21 July 1950 an unusual accident took place. The Althoff Circus organised a publicity stunt by putting a young elephant, Tuffi, on a train travelling between Rathausbrücke and Adlerbrücke. The agitated animal crashed the wall of the wagon and landed in the river Wupper suffering minor injuries. This event is commemorated by a painting of the elephant on the wall of the house near the river. The only fatal accident occurred on 12 April 1999 at 5:45 AM. The train travelling at a speed of 31 mph (50 km/h) hit a metal claw left on the track by maintenance workers after night work. One of the wagons was derailed and it fell down into the river. 5 passengers were killed and 47 suffered serious injuries.


The second suspended railway line designed by Eugen Langen, which is still in operation, was built in 1902 in Dresden between Körnerplatz and Oberloschwitz. On only 281 metres long route two wagons capable of carrying 55 passengers each travel in a shuttle system. The difference in elevation between the terminuses is 84 metres.

In 1957, the French consortium Société Anonyme Française d'Étude de Gestion et d'Entreprises (SAFEGE) presented a new symmetrically suspended train, thus marking the beginning of the so-called Safege railway. The design of the suspension rail was different from previously used ones. Thanks to a shield the tracks were not exposed to the impact of weather. Following the French company, similar test tracks were built in 1964 in New York, and later in Japan, England and the USSR. A short line at Ueno Park in Tokyo has survived until the present times, and the Shonan Monorail established in 1970 is in regular operation in Fujisawa, similar to the Safege line in Chiba.

Asymmetrical “Skyway” monorail in the Arrowhead Park, Houston

As a consequence of the success of the Wuppertal line, in the 1950s interest in suspension monorail was restored. At that time, the asymmetrical “Skyway” monorail was built in Arrowhead Park in Houston (the vehicle was suspended from one side of the rail only). The rail, made from an appropriately profiled steel pipe and suspended at a height of 3 to 9 metres, would descend at the stops to enable boarding from the ground level. The wagon was mounted on 2 bogies driven by a diesel motor. Each bogie had 4 load and 8 drive tyred wheels. This type of railway was built and developed in Dallas. Its advantages included fast assembly (0.99 mile, i.e. 1.6 km of tracks per week) and a relatively low construction cost. Unfortunately, excessive noise (the rails were hollow inside) and sensitivity to wind turned out to be its main drawbacks.

Japanese suspended monorail in Chiba
Wersja do druku Wersja do druku | Mapa witryny
© Całość praw autorskich - Antoni Bochen, Filip Wiśniewski