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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Europe's most successful tram

Bielefeld, Germany 1965. New Duwag articulated 'grosswaumwagen' replace this systems motley fleet of pre-war two axle trams and trailers.

Both Images : John Woodman

Whilst the French builder Alstom has created a whole new market for its 'Citadis' design over the past two decades - with examples close to home operating in Nottingham and Dublin, probably the most successful tram design from a European company was the 'grossraumwagen' launched by Duwag, in the aftermath of World War Two. Even while the Continent was recovering from the ravages of war and the interim building and rebuilding of worn out two axle cars in Germany, the Dusseldorfer Wagenfabrik, Uerdingen developed a stylish concept design for four axle trams (and matching trailers).

These initially came as bogie cars, both single ended and double ended versions, with enthusiastic take up naturally enough in the Ruhr area to start with. The Hannover (Ustra) system also launched a prototype design for the fast service linking that city with Hildesheim, while both Dusseldorf and Essen were similarly taking delivery of the brand new Duwag design. Thereafter tram development in Germany utilised this benchmark model which was copied by other builders with visible styling and technical variants. From West Berlin to Bremen, Kassel, Munich, Mannheim, Heidelberg and most Ruhr systems - the new bogie design (with seated conductor) became a common denominator in most (but not all) German cities.

It was not long before Duwag went one better with the launch of an articulated version in the mid 1950s. This had a redesigned front windscreen to avoid sunlight and glare on the driver (rather like the postwar PCC design in the US). The larger resulting capacity aided many systems by replacing trailer operation entirely, although articulated versions pulling bogie trailers were common. A subsequent improved version involved double articulation which became equally popular with the larger systems. By this time seated conductor operation was no longer viable given the large loading and self cancelling ticket machines or pre-paid tickets.

Duwag's products dominated the German market. Elsewhere Copenhagen, Basle, Rotterdam were among several European cities which bought the articulated model. Copenhagen's 100-strong fleet was subsequently sold to Egypt for a second life in Cairo. Two examples actually returned to Denmark for that country's national operating tram museum. When I was based in Germany in the 1960s I had many opportunities to sample Duwag cars in various cities - from the unusual coffee coloured versions in Dortmund to the usual cream liveried versions in Dusseldorf, Bielefeld and various Ruhr systems. Nearby Kassel favoured its local builder Crede which came out with its own variation on the Duwag design with the operator painting them a light blue and cream. Likewise Aachen's red coloured fleet built locally by Talbot had its own distinctive styling derived from the Duwag model. Bremen's local tram builder, Weggman, came out with its own design.

The 'other' Germany in the east (DDR) paid ironic tribute to Duwag by building a four axle clone which ran in several cities - most notably in Berlin. Of course the Comecon arrangement for tram construction meant that the Tatra designs from Prague became the most widely build model in Europe (if not the world) but top down central control ordained that success. Belgium's own distinctive post war bogie car design with a subsequent articulated version found favour only in that country and understandably perhaps also in Marseille and St Etienne. Efforts to breach other markets failed with the solitary exception of a handful to Belgrade.

Many articulated 'grossraumwagen' went on to second homes in eastern Europe after the collapse of communism and the evolving upgrade of fleets in Germany. One (or possibly two) examples actually managed to make it to the UK as 'gifts' whilst another was shipped to the Isle of Man in a technical upgrade programme on the Snaefell Railway. This former Aachen example built by local manufacturer Talbot - may still be providing staffroom facilities in its final non running state. The UK of course went its own way with Blackpool's 'Coronation cars' and Leeds 'rail cars' as pointers to possible rejuvenation of tram operation - this was not to be. It was typically Germany's prowess in rail equipment design which was the market leader. Not much has changed it seems.

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