' (;
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

for "city railway"; plural ') is a German word referring to various types of
rail transport Rail transport (also known as train transport) is a means of transferring passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails, which are located on tracks. In contrast to road transport, where the vehicles run on a prepared flat surf ...

rail transport
. One type of transport originated in the 19th century, firstly in
Berlin Berlin ( , ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3.7 million inhabitants make it the European Union's List of cities in the European Union by populat ...
and followed by
Vienna en, Viennese , iso_code = AT-9 , registration_plate = Vehicle registration plates of Austria, W , postal_code_type = Postal code , postal_code = , timezone ...
, where rail routes were created that could be used independently from other traffic. In the 1960s and 1970s ''Stadtbahn'' networks were created again but now by upgrading
tram A tram (also known as a streetcar or trolley in North America) is a train that runs on tramway track on public urban streets; some include segments of segregated Right-of-way (transportation), right-of-way. The lines or networks operated by ...

ways or
light rail Light rail transit (LRT) is a form of passenger Urban rail transit, urban rail transit characterized by a combination of tram and Rapid transit, metro features. While its rolling stock is more similar to a traditional tram, it operates at a hi ...

light rail
ways. This process includes adding segments built to
rapid transit Rapid transit or mass rapid transit (MRT), also known as heavy rail, metro, subway, tube, U-Bahn, metropolitana or underground, is a type of high-capacity public transport generally found in urban areas. Unlike buses or trams, rapid transit s ...
standards –usually as part of a process of conversion to a
metro Metro, short for metropolitan, may refer to: Geography * Metro (city), a city in Indonesia * A metropolitan area A metropolitan area or metro is a region consisting of a densely populated core city, urban core and its less-populated surro ...
railway– mainly by the building of metro-grade
tunnel A tunnel is an underground passageway, dug through the surrounding soil/earth/rock and enclosed except for entrance and exit, commonly at each end. A pipeline Pipeline may refer to: Electronics, computers and computing * Pipeline (computi ...

s in the central city area. In the first years after the opening of the tunnel sections, often regular trams vehicles (but adapted for tunnel service) were used. These trams were followed by specially designed vehicles like the Stadtbahn B series. By the 1980s virtually all cities had abandoned the long-term goal of establishing a full-scale metro system due to the excessive costs associated with converting the tramways. Most ''Stadtbahn'' systems are now a mixture of tramway-like operations in suburban and peripheral areas and a more metro-like mode of operation in city centres, with underground stations. This 20th century ''Stadtbahn'' concept eventually spread from Germany to other European countries, where it became known as
pre-metro A premetro is a tramway or light railway which includes segments built to rapid transit standards, generally as part of a process of conversion to a rapid transit, metro-standards railway usually by the construction of tunnels in the central city ...


1920s: Berlin and Vienna cross-city lines

The term ''Stadtbahn'' first arose in the first half of the 20th century as a name for the cross-city lines in Berlin and Vienna. The Berlin Stadtbahn line is an elevated heavy rail line linking the East and the West. Long distance, regional, suburban, and urban services (S-Bahn) are operated on it. In Berlin unqualified use of the term "Stadtbahn" is still widely understood to refer to the Berlin Stadtbahn. The Vienna Stadtbahn was in the beginning a system of heavy rail lines circling the city, free of level crossings, operated by steam trains. After World War I the ''Wiental'', ''Donaukanal'' and ''Gürtel'' lines were converted into an electric light rail system with tram-like two-axle cars (which on line 18G until 1945 switched into the tram network at Gumpendorfer Strasse station). In the 1970s to 1990s the infrastructure was updated, and the lines were partially relocated: they are now part of the Vienna U-Bahn services 'U4' and 'U6'. The ''Vorortelinie'' line remained heavy rail and is now part of the Vienna S-Bahn.

1960s: modern ''Stadtbahn''

Since the 1960s the term ''Stadtbahn'' has become identified with a second, now dominant, meaning. Here ''Stadtbahn'' is an underground urban rail network that is used by conventional trams but planned at the outset to be eventually converted into a metro system. A final metro system may or may not be implemented in the end. This concept has the benefit of being cheaper in comparison with constructing a metro from scratch.Urban Transportation Abstracts, Volume 1 (1982), page 78; retrieved 2020 Nov 14th.
/ref> Post-World War II transport policies in West German cities aimed for a separation of public and private transport. The conflicts that arose between increasing car usage and the existing tramway systems led to the so-called 'second level' concept for future light rail schemes. This concept focused on the grade separation, i.e., elevation and/or tunneling of tram lines. Munich U-Bahn, Munich and Nuremberg U-Bahn, Nuremberg decided to build pure, full-scale Rapid transit in Germany#U-Bahn, U-Bahn (metro) systems. Berlin U-Bahn, Berlin and Hamburg U-Bahn, Hamburg planned expansions of their existing U-Bahn networks, while most West German cities decided to upgrade their tramway networks step by step, linking new 'second level' infrastructure to existing sections. While some cities regarded this solution as an interim step that would lead to a fully separated Rapid transit in Germany#U-Bahn, U-Bahn (metro) network independent of other forms of transport, others planned for a lesser degree of separation, one that would accommodate additional tram-like sections in the long run. For both the interim and the long-term based concepts, the following terms came into use: "U-Straßenbahn" or "Untergrund-Straßenbahn" (underground tramway, abbreviated as "U-Strab"), "Schnellstraßenbahn" (rapid tramway) and finally ''Stadtbahn''. (In French-speaking countries, these concepts were also known as "premetro, pre-metro", stressing their interim nature.) All German cities that had a "true" U-Bahn network had plans to abandon their tramway network at one point or another. In the case of Hamburg, those plans resulted in the shutdown of the Hamburg tramway by 1978. In the case of Berlin, the network in West Berlin was shut down in 1967 while the plans to shut down the system in East Berlin were reversed and ultimately the tram network started expanding again in the last years of East Germany. In Nuremberg and Munich the plans to shut down the tram networks were slowed down - in part due to protests by citizens against losing tram service without adequate replacement - ultimately abandoned and there are now plans for new tram construction in both cities. However, as late as 2011 the tram line through Pirckheimer Straße in Nuremberg was shut down in the course of the opening of a new section of U3 (Nuremberg U-Bahn), subway line U3 which runs slightly to the North. Some operators and cities decided to identify the term ''Stadtbahn'' with the eventual goal of installing an Rapid transit in Germany#U-Bahn, U-Bahn so that both the original U-Bahn logo (e.g. Frankfurt U-Bahn, Cologne Stadtbahn, Hanover Stadtbahn) and the derived ''U-Stadtbahn'' logos (e.g. North Rhine-Westphalia, Stuttgart Stadtbahn; see example above) mark station entries and stops. The numbering scheme for ''Stadtbahn'' services was prefixed with a 'U', except in the Cologne Stadtbahn, Bielefeld Stadtbahn, and Hanover Stadtbahn.

1980s: Renaissance of the tramway

By the 1980s conventional tramways had been seen by decision-makers as overloaded systems for almost two decades. However, public attention focused on them at this time for two reasons. The ''Stadtbahn'' cities' second level plans faced unexpected complications in the form of lengthy construction work, budgetary problems for tunnel projects, and protests against elevated sections. At the same time, the smaller cities which had not started Stadtbahn plans reassessed their options in relation to their existing tram systems. East German cities had no 1960s-style Stadtbahn plans in place, and the fleets and the infrastructure were in need of massive investment and improvement. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the use of the ''Stadtbahn'' term became popular in the former East Germany as well, as in Erfurt and Dresden. However, neither the Erfurt tramway nor the Dresden tramway have any significant tunnel or elevated sections or plans to build any. In their case separation from road traffic is achieved by giving the trams their own right of way on the surface. ''Stadtbahn'' in this wider meaning is thus not a clearly defined concept, but a vague one linked to a set of attributes, much in the same way that "Straßenbahn" (tram) is linked to very different, sometimes mutually incompatible attributes. A system that is called ''Stadtbahn'' today may not have all of the Stadtbahn attributes: barrier-free access, higher cruising speed than tramways, doors on both sides of the train, driver's cabs on both ends, higher operating voltage, wider cars with comfortable seats, and so on.

1990s: The tram goes railway

In 1992 Karlsruhe started an innovative new service, using both heavy and light rail infrastructure, to link the wider region to the city. The vehicles were designed to comply with technical specifications for the (federal) heavy railway and for light rail (communal tramways). Such vehicles are called Dual-System Light Rail Vehicles. The meaning of Stadtbahn was enlarged to encompass this new type of "tram-train" service. In other regions, stimulated by the Karlsruhe example and planning to copy it, other terms are in use: Stadt-Umland-Bahn (city-to-region railway, e.g. Erlangen, also in discussion to connect the nearer surroundings of Munich, as far as not supplied with S-Bahn services so far, with the existing public transport there), ''Regional-Stadtbahn'' (regional light rail, e.g. Braunschweig). Straßenbahn (tram) and Stadtbahn in the Karlsruhe region are differentiated more by the nature of their city-border crossings only, and not by the technical dimension (Dual-System Light Rail Vehicles). Only those services that extend into the suburbs are called Stadtbahn. They are represented by the 'S' logo that is used for 'S-Bahn' (Stadtschnellbahn) in the rest of Germany and therefore partially conflict with it, as it has acquired a second meaning in Karlsruhe.

2000s: The Tram logo

As part of the redevelopment of their main city railway station, stations, national railway company Deutsche Bahn adopted a new logo to indicate ''Straßenbahn'' (tram) connections: a square containing the word 'Tram'. Although the design is the same nationwide, the colour varies from city to city to match local public transport operators' systems of colour-coding. The logo is part of the 'S logo scheme' initially developed by Berlin public transport operator Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, BVG, based on the established logos for urban metro ('U', for ''U-Bahn'') and suburban metro ('S', for ''S-Bahn'') and including bus ('Bus') and ferry ('F', for ''Fähre'') operations. As the new logos became part of the information systems at more and more main railway stations, an increasing number of cities and public transport operators came to accept and adopt the scheme. As far as the ''Stadtbahn'' terminology problem is concerned, however, the scheme serves only to add further confusion to the matter, since there is no nationwide logo for ''Stadtbahn'' services. The result appears to be a contraction in the use of the term ''Stadtbahn'', especially in cities where it has been used in its wider 1980s 'light-rail system' meaning. In cities where ''Stadtbahn'' has the 1960s 'premetro, pre-metro' meaning, both the 'U' (for U-Bahn) and the 'Tram' logo are used on city maps (to indicate the location of stops) and on railway station signage (to indicate connections). The 'U' Logo is normally used both where stops or stations are underground and where they serve 'second-level' pre-metro type lines. In cities which prefix all their ''Stadtbahn'' line numbers with a 'U' (e.g. Stuttgart), the 'U' logo is used at stops on services that are essentially 'classic' tram lines, not 'second-level' at all.


The concept of ''Regionalstadtbahnen'' (also known by ''RegioStadtbahn'' or other names) arose as a result of the harmonisation or integration of railway lines into Stadtbahn networks. In the area of Cologne–Bonn a single operational system (of so-called above ground lines or ''Hochflurstrecken'') was created by the Cologne Stadtbahn and the Bonn Stadtbahn, opened in 1974, from the conversion of two former railway lines (the Rheinuferbahn and Vorgebirgsbahn belonging to the old Köln-Bonner Eisenbahnen). Further developments led to ''tram-train'' networks that rather resembled an S-Bahn. This idea was first realised in 1992 in Karlsruhe (Karlsruhe Stadtbahn), where as part of the Karlsruhe model even so-called Mehrsystemfahrzeug, dual system railbuses were used, which in addition to the direct current of Straßenbahn lines (750 V) could also draw power from the 15-kV-alternating current from normal Deutsche Bahn, DB catenary. In Karlsruhe this network reached as far as Heilbronn, away, where a Stadtbahn network was created going out from this line. Both in Karlsruhe and in Heilbronn the Stadtbahn filled both the roles of a classic tramway system as well as an S-Bahn. The Karlsruhe mixed-operation concept was also adopted by the Saarbahn in Saarbrücken. This model is today referred to in France as the tram-train. Other Stadtbahn networks in Germany without tunnels, but which incorporate railway lines, are found in: * Kassel (Kassel RegioTram with hybrid railcars for the transition between electrified and non-electrified routes) * Zwickau (Diesel railbuses of the Vogtlandbahn on Trams in Zwickau, tramways in the city centre) * Chemnitz (Variotrams Trams in Chemnitz, trams fitted with railway equipment, which City-Bahn Chemnitz runs daily on the Chemnitz–Stollberg/Erzgeb. line) * Gotha (town), Gotha (Trams in Gotha/Thüringerwaldbahn), above ground tramway (24 km long), in existence since 1924, to Waltershausen, Friedrichroda and Bad Tabarz * Nordhausen, Thuringia, Nordhausen in the South Harz. This Trams in Nordhausen, tramway network run by the ''Harz Narrow Gauge Railways'' is notable because it supplements the diesel-hybrid cars with steam engines.

Legal terms

Although a precise legal definition of ''Stadtbahn'' was planned in the 1970s, there is currently no such definition. By law, the BOStrab regulates all ''Stadtbahn'' systems as
tram A tram (also known as a streetcar or trolley in North America) is a train that runs on tramway track on public urban streets; some include segments of segregated Right-of-way (transportation), right-of-way. The lines or networks operated by ...

systems, as long as they are light rail rather than heavy rail.

Difference between Stadtbahn and S-Bahn in Germany

While the names ''Stadtbahn'' and ''S-Bahn'' have common origin (''"rapid urban train"''), their meaning today is different. S-Bahn is commuter rail, usually integrated into the railway network and mostly operated by the German national railway company Deutsche Bahn. ''Stadtbahn'', on the other hand, generally use
light rail Light rail transit (LRT) is a form of passenger Urban rail transit, urban rail transit characterized by a combination of tram and Rapid transit, metro features. While its rolling stock is more similar to a traditional tram, it operates at a hi ...

light rail
vehicles (either high-floor or low-floor), and are usually integrated into the tram network, though the Stadtbahn portions do not operate with street running like trams do. They also differ in legal status: S-Bahn systems are governed under the rail rules of the Eisenbahn-Bau- und Betriebsordnung (EBO, ''"Ordinance on the Construction and Operation of Railways"''), while Stadtbahn systems are tramways by law governed under the regulations of Verordnung über den Bau und Betrieb der Straßenbahnen (BOStrab, ''"Ordinance on the Construction and Operation of Trams"'').

See also

* Tram * Light rail * Premetro * Light metro * Tram-train * Train categories in Europe


{{Authority control Rapid transit in Germany Tram transport in Germany German words and phrases