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The Berlin S-Bahn

From a lecture presented by Hartmut Schnorr, 2nd Operating Manager Berlin S-Bahn and a Member of the Locomotive & Carriage Institution on 4th October 1996.  Re-written by John Lunn & Tom Chaffin March 1997.

From the March 1997 Newsletter.

The Development of the Railways in Berlin:

An important chapter in the history of the Berlin was the development of the different types of transport infrastructure:

With the industrialisation at the beginning of the 19th Century some important companies were established in Berlin, amongst others, these included:

The railway age began in Germany with the opening of the first railway between Nrnberg and Fhrt in 1835.  It was then possible to transport quantities of people and goods over long distances quickly - the age of the post coaches was soon finished

The first German Emperor believed that the existing road network was sufficient to carry all the traffic on offer at the time, however the military authorities thought otherwise and as a result the first Prussian railway opened on 29th October 1838 between Berlin and Potsdam.  The opening of the first railway was the initial step towards creating a railway industry in the Prussian state, which would then be free from having to import locomotives and rolling stock from England.  This was important for both military and financial interests as the Prussian state wanted to be free from dependence on imported railway equipment.

A rapidly growing Berlin needed special solutions for passenger transport because new plants and factories were situated outside the City and large amounts of workers needed to commute to these from their City Centre homes. There was also a demand for City dwellers to travel out into the countryside at weekends.

In the following years, between 1841 and 1879, an abundance of private railways opened in Berlin each with its own terminus.  The only way to travel from one termini to the other was by horse drawn bus or coach and transfer of rolling stock between companies was impossible.

In 1851 a single track connection was built by the Prussian state connecting the following main stations: Stettiner Bahnhof, Hamburger Bahnhof, Potsdamer Bahnhof, Anhalter Bahnhof and Frankfurter Bahnhof.  It was now possible to transfer rolling stock between companies in Berlin.  The drawback of this single track railway was that it crossed many streets presenting a danger to road users; therefore a new elevated railway was planned bridging over the numerous street crossings.

By 1861 Berlin had expanded by 2500 hectares and in 1862 it was decided that the elevated railway should connect up all the mainline stations, thus the idea of a Circle Line, "The Ringbahn Line" was born.

The Stadtbahn Line.

Construction of the Stadtbahn (City Line), across the centre of Berlin, was started between Charlottenhurg Bahnhof and Schlesischer Bahnhof in 1872. Like the approaches to London Bridge Station, the line was built on arches.  The line is 12Km Ion and passes over some 731 arches.  To reduce construction costs the arches and bridges near Jannowitzbrcke were built in the River Spree.

In 1878 the Stadtbahn line company Stadteisenbahn-Gesellschaft went bankrupt and construction of the line was taken over by the Prussian State, completing; in 1882.  The line was built with two double tracks at the then very high cost of 68.1 million RM.  Passenger services commenced m 1882 over the following routes:

Stadtbahn Line Opening Specifications:

The Electrification of the S-Bahn:

The Berlin system at this time was one of the best in the world, but operating the Ringbahn and Stadtbahn Lines with steam traction had as problems:

        By 1900 Berlin had become a significant cultural, economic and political centre, creating an even greater strain on the S-Bahn system.

In 1879 the first electric locomotive was demonstrated by Werner von Siemens and by 1881 the first tram line had opened in Spandau.  Engineers and technicians quickly learnt the advantages of electric traction:

The following sections of line were electrified on different systems on an experimental basis:

The best results were obtained with the DC electrification, therefore the Berlin S-Bahn adopted the underside contact third rail system at 750V DC.  Early electric rolling stock included the experimental vehicles in Classes A to F, these lead in 1923 to creation of the first production S-Bahn units of Class 169 or the "Bernau Train".

Rapid electrification of the system was not possible due to a number of reasons, chief amongst these being: the resistance of the German locomotive industry; World Was 1, and the economic difficulties caused by inflation in the years between 1922 and 1923.

On 8th August 1924 the 23Km of the S-Bahn between Stettiner Bahnhof and Bernau was opened with 750V DC electrification and 17 x 5car units of Class 169.

Class 169 Formation:

Power Car


Trailer Car


Trailer Car


Trailer Car


Trailer Car


Power Car


These units could work in multiple with each other - originally by Wileson couplers but these were later replaced by a Scharfenberg couplers.

On 5th June 1925 the S-Bahn line from Stettiner Bahnhof to Birkenwerder, on the outskirts of Berlin, was opened and was extended further to Oranienburg by 4th October 1925 giving a total length of 26Km

New two-car units of Class 168 (Oranienburg Trams) were supplied for the line and were capable of multiple operation with each other up to an 8-car train length.

Class 168 Formation:

Power Car


Trailer Car


With the opening of the 22Km line from Stettiner to Velten on 16th March 1927 the first stage of the electrification of the Berlin S-Bahn was completed.  On each line services ran at 10 minute intervals during the rush-hours and 20 to 30 minute frequencies off-peak.

The Great Electrification:

Between 1928 and 1929 230 track kilometres were electrified at a cost of 160 million RM.  In connection with this the following associated works were also carried out:

Electrification was completed as follows:

In 1928/29 the Siemens Line was electrified between Jungfernheide and Siemensstadt.  Two thirds of the 14 million RM cost                    of this electrification was paid for by the Siemens Company.

In 1930 the S-Bahn name was adopted along with the S logo, which consists of a large "S" on a green background which is still in use today on maps and on signage outside stations.

History of the S-Bahn North - South Tunnel:

The S Bahn route through the north south tunnel has an interesting history which mirrors the political and economic development in Germany between 1914 and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

In Summary:

In Detail:


Construction of the North-South Tunnel agreed;


Construction commenced;


An accident at the Brandenburger Tor construction site kills 19 workers;


Opening of the line between Humboldthain and Unter den Linden in time for the Berlin Olympics;


A fire broke put at the Potsdamer Platz construction site destroying new equipment;


The line opened between Potsdamer Platz and Unter den Linden;


Opening of the Potsdamer Platz, Anhalter to Grogrschenstrae section;


Opening of the Anhalter Bahnhof to Yorkstrae section;


North - South Tunnel and large parts of the Berlin Underground (U-Bahn) flooded;


Repair of the North - South Tunnel was ordered by the Soviet General, Bersarin;


First trains run between Wannsee and Potsdamer Ringbanghof;


Service restored from the North to Stettiner Bahnhof (mainline);


Reopening of the Stettiner Bahnhof S-Bahn station in side the tunnel;


Line between Anhalter Bahnhof and Freidrichsrae (island track) reopened;


S-Bahn able to run all the way between Wansee and Freidrichsrae;


Services from Rangsdorf, Mahlow and Lichterfelde could run as gar as Potsdamer Platz;


Trains could now run throughout the reopened tunnel;


Reconstruction works complete.

On the 21st May 1949 S-Bahn staff employed in the Western Sector of Berlin went on strike for higher wages, to demand payment in DM rather than RM (Eastern Mark) and for union recognition.  The communist transport police forced a returbn to work on 28th June 1949, however, some staff had been injured during exchanges with the police.  This strike became known as the "VGO Strike”.

As a result of the Berlin uprising in the Soviet Sector the North - South Tunnel was again closed on 17th June 1953, not reopening for traffic until 9th July.

On the 13th August 1961 the border between the GDR (German Democratic Republic, what was known as East Germany) and the West (Federal Republic) was closed and the notorious Berlin Wall was erected sealing in West Berlin.  The construction of the wall led to the closure of the North - South Tunnel and its East stations at Nordbanhof, Oranienburger Stare, Unter den Linden and Potsdamner Platz were blocked up.  Fredrichstrae station became an infamous frontier station and the so called "Tears Palace” as the boarder control point was built on the North side of the station.  People leaving the GDR had to pass through the Tears Palace to get to the West.

S-Bahn in a Divided Berlin:

After the Second World War a large parts of the system had to be rebuilt.  Routes reopened into suburban and rural Berlin were as follows:


Mahlsdorf - Hoppegarten - Strausberg;


Zewlendorf - Dppel (Stammbahn)


Falkensee - Spandau.    Spandau - Jungfernheide


Lichterfelde Sd - Telton


Spandau West - Staaken


Grnau - Knigs Wusterhausen


Strausberg - Strausberg Nord

With the closure of the border between East and West Berlin on 13th August 1961 the following lines were cut:

Between Soviet and Western Sectors:Sonnenalle - Treptower Park

Between West Berlin and Country Areas:

As a result of the border closure, the Berlin S-Bahn was split into two illogical systems the only connection between them being through, Freidrichsrae station (Stadtbahn / City Line) which was kept open for the exchange of rolling stock for maintenance purposes and for a cross-border passenger service.  For the next 23 years two thirds of the system lay in the west and only one third in the East.

S-Bahn in the Western Sector:

As is now well recorded in history, West Berlin became the centre of the cold war between East and West Europe.  The former East German Railways - Deutshe Reichsbahn (DR) had their headquarters in East Berlin and were responsible for operating the S-Bahn in both East and West Berlin.  Eastern control led to a whole series of problems with the staff employed in West Berlin, but political interests were trying to prove that the socialist system was better than capitalism.

Over time management of the West Berlin part of the system became more difficult and expensive to operate, made worse by DR having to pay for the operating costs for the West Berlin section in West marks (DM).  As a result of these problems, ridership fell and parts of the system in the West began to close and infrastructure and rolling stock was left to decay.

In 1983 the GDR Government negotiated with the West Berlin authorities to take over the operation of the S-Bahn system inside West Berlin.  Control of the system eventually passed to BVG (West Berlin Transport Authority) on the 9th January 1984.  Between 1984 and 1993 the BVG reconstructed three routes and introduced new rolling stock of Class 480.

Notable points in history between 1980 and 1992 are summarised below:

September 1980

The second strike of the employees took place in a bid for higher wages. Large parts of the Western S-Bahn closed with passenger services restricted to just a few routes.

January 1984

BVG took over operation of the S-Bahn from DR, but services are restricted to two lines: Anhalter Bahnhof - Lichtenrade and Fredrichstrae - Westkreuz

October 1984

The North - South line reopened between Anhalter Banhof and Gesundbrunnen

February 1985

Anhalter Banhof - Wansee line reopened


Reconstruction of Anhalter Banhof commences

November 1989

The Berlin War collapses


Nordbanhof, Oranienburger Srae, Unter den Linden and Potsdammer Platz station in the North - South tunnel reopen

1991 - 1992

Track and stations between Potsdamer Platz and Nordbanhof reconstructed

Development of the S-Bahn in East Berlin:

The development of the S-Bahn in East Berlin was closely connected with socialist policy.  East Berlin was the capital of the GDR and new districts were built with flats for over a million people.  Problems arose, as citizens of East Berlin could not travel through West Berlin, as a result S-Bahn routes running around West Berlin gradually reopened; each new section being promoted as a success of socialist policies.

The S-Bahn after 1989:

After the fall of the Berlin wall on 9th November 1989, traffic between East and West Berlin rapidly expanded as the road system was reopened.  Before any part of the railway system could be reopened a good deal of planning was required on aspects such as the rolling stock requirements and a common signalling system to replace the three different systems which had independently evolved.

Rebuilding was to prove an extensive operation which in many cases included: complete track renewal and re-electrification, demolition either partial or completely of stations and subsequent rebuilding, installation of new signals and signalboxes and the construction of new stations. Despite all this work, six lines reopened between April 1992 and May 1995.

Other routes still in the course of construction with planned opening dates are as follows:

June 1905

Westkreuz - Spandau

Westend - Jungferheide

Treptower Park - Neuklln

June 1905

Lichterfelde - Lichterfelde Sd

June 1905

Nordkreuz (Gesunbrunnen - Bonnhalner Str - Pankow - Schnhauser Allee)


Lichterfelde Sd - Teltow Stadt

Tegel - Heiligensee- Hennigsdorf

Spandau - Falkensee

The Pilzkonzept: North - South Mainline Tunnel:

The first plans for a north-south connection between Stettiner Bahnhof and Potsdamer Bahnhof were made during the planning stages of the Stadtbahn Line.  It was originally intended to build the line on arches, similar to the Stadtbahn Line, but due to property development it was later found impossible to build overground.  In the last half of the 19th Century tunnelling techniques had not advanced sufficiently to tunnel through the sandy soil under Berlin.

Now, at the end of the 20th Century, as Berlin's importance rises as a new European political, cultural and economic centre, with the return of the scat of German Government in a few years time, plans are once again being made for a North - South mainline connection.  A tunnel will be built between Anhalter Bahnhof and Gesundbrunnen stations to provide a route for mainline trains running between Dresden, Halle, and Leipzig to Sweden, Rostock and Hamburg.  Three new large interchange stations will be built at Potsdamer Platz, Stadtbahnhof and Gesundbrunnen to allow passenger transfer between the mainline trains and Berlin's different transport modes including the S-Bahn.

Signalling Systems:

There are four signalling systems presently used on the S-Bahn: the SV system dates from the 1930's; the H1 system was developed and used on lines operating in East Berlin; whilst the BP system was developed in West Berlin after the BVG take-aver in 1984 and installed on the sections of line in the West and which remains m use; finally the KS system was introduced after the reunification of the system and will in time replace all the other systems.

It is intended to operate the entire S-Bahn system from an IECC at Westkreux, with a completion date early in the next century.  The system is presently operated by 85 signalboxes which range from five mechanical boxes (operating colour light signals) through electro mechanical and panel boxes to five IECC's.