Continuing the Jack May Paris-based trip in Luxembourg and Saarbrucken

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Continuing the Jack May Paris-based trip in Luxembourg and Saarbrucken
Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 2:44 PM
I'd like to say Luxembourg is the most recent European country to participate in the light rail revolution, but that only held true for a mere two weeks, as Denmark joined the club on December 21, 2017 with a new tramway in Aarhus.  OK, at least I can say that Luxembourg is the smallest country in Europe with modern light rail.

On December 10, 2017, after a period of 53 years without urban rail transit, trams began running again in Luxembourg (City).  A single line, receiving 750-volt DC power from a combination of electric overhead wire and batteries/stored current, is being opened in stages and will eventually be 10 miles long.  The first segment, covering a distance of a little over 2 miles (with 8 stations), was inaugurated about six months before the mile-long wireless section (3 more stops) began operating on July 27, 2018--just before our Monday, August 20 visit (see map

Luxembourg is probably one of the smallest countries in Europe that has had an independent government for at least two centuries.  It existed as a part of the Holy Roman Empire, but was given autonomy by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a Grand Duchy under the protection of the King of the Netherlands.  With the death of William III in 1890, his daughter Wilhelmina became the reigning monarch of that country, but the treaty creating Luxembourg did not allow for a female sovereign.  Ironically only a few decades later, after its independence was returned at the close of the first World War, the current constitutional monarchy was ruled by a Grand Duchess, Charlotte.  Its flag, horizontal stripes of red, white and blue, is virtually identical to Holland's.  (Currently Luxembourg's reigning monarch is Henri, brother of a Liechtenstein princess--small countries like to stick together?).  The country is bordered by France, Belgium and Germany.  Its official languages are French and German, but it also has its own, Luxembourgish (Letzebuergesch), which is now taught in schools after children become fluent in German.  [My experience indicated that everyone understands English, and I should mention that my first cousin Henry married a girl from Luxembourg--my mother had trouble pronouncing Edith's name, and always said Ethid.]

Luxembourg's territory covers an area just short of 1,000 square miles, making it smaller by almost half of our tiniest state, Rhode Island, and its population of about 575,000 is about the same as Wyoming's, the least populated of our 50.  The city of Luxembourg, with a population of just under 75,000, is located along the gorge of the Alzette River, presenting it with both scenic splendor and transportation challenges.  Its Old Town is beautiful, with narrow curving streets, magnificent squares and medieval-like palatial buildings, all relatively adjacent to commercial and residential districts.

The country has its own railway system, with passenger service over 7 routes.  Part 2 will include photos of its trains.

As mentioned in the previous segment w
e arrived at our accommodations near Luxembourg's airport on the evening of Sunday, August 19.  After breakfast we drove the Fiat to Luxexpo, a park-and-ride facility at the nearby outer terminal of Luxembourg's new tramway, aboutmiles away.  The facility is at the edge of the prosperous Kirchberg section of the city.  It took us a little time to locate the lot, which is adjacent to a large shopping mall and charges a hefty hourly fee for its use.  But we didn't want to spend any time finding street parking and eventually paid the equivalent of about $12 for the day.

The current 3+ mile long line, known as Luxtram, is served by 21 CAF Urbos 3 100-percent low-floor LRVs.  They contain 7 sections and operate both from overhead and from stored electricity in supercapacitors.  The latter is gained from a plate at track level while stopping at stations on the line's mile-long wireless section.  Twelve more are on order for the next extension, which is scheduled for 2020.

It had rained the previous evening, and was overcast when we parked the car and took our first photos near the line's carhouse and shop.  Although not in the forecast, we were pleased when the skies cleared for about three hours during the middle of the day.  We rode and photographed the line in the morning, then descended on a new funicular to the Kirchberg-Pfaffenthal suburban railway station, where we continued by commuter train to the city's Central Station (Gare Centrale).  We then walked through the old city and eventually took a bus back to the tramway and returned to our auto aboard an LRV.

This poster, announcing the opening of the second segment of Luxtram, greeted us on our arrival at the Luxepo station.  It indicates that no fares would be charged for riding the tramway between July 27 and September 16--perfect for our visit.

Above and below:  The modernistic features of Luxembourg's CAF-built trams struck us immediately.  The angular front/rear end design is somewhat reminiscent of the Alstom units built for Tours in France, with similar stylized fixtures functioning as both headlights and taillights.  The destination signs in the upper view show both terminals.  The city of Strasbourg also tried to improve the aesthetics of modern trams with the introduction of the Eurotram in 1994.  Here in Luxembourg an attempt was made to use "transparent and luminous" color to provide a distinctive riding experience.  The glass panels on the upper portion of the doors come in six different colors, specifically from one end to the other:  dark blue, purple, orange, green and light blue.  Publicity material states that the "soft shades awaken the senses and reinforce the identification of the doors" (the last sadly missing in the Eurotram).  "By day, the inner harmony changes according to the natural light that varies . . . at night the interior lighting is diffused outwards by colored keys."  The explanation sounds good, but I don't think it really works, although I made a valiant attempt to illustrate the blue and purple in the photo below (taken outside the shop).  I don't know how it would have come out on a sunny day.


Above and below:  The Luxexpo terminal has a stylized canopy that stretches over both platforms protecting passengers from inclement weather.  With short 6- and 7-minute headways, passengers do not have to spend much time on either side of the tracks.  Outbound cars continue toward the shop, where they change ends.  Countdown clocks and informational displays are installed on both sides.

Above and below:  Many traffic generators populate the initial portion of the line along Avenue John F. Kennedy, a busy boulevard supporting bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks and metered parking--in addition to motor traffic of course.  The upper photo shows the Coque stop, the location of a huge entertainment complex containing an indoor sports arena with an olympic-sized swimming pool and hotel (  The buildings at the Philharmonie-Mudam stop (below) include a large concert hall and modern art museum.  A
 new National Library and buildings supporting the administrative seat of the European Parliament, including the European Court of Justice, are under construction along the boulevard.

The Rout Breck-Pafendall stop is very busy, serving a host of bus lines.  The Kirchberge-Pfaffenthal railway station is reached via a funicular here and a new glass elevator, offering sweeping views of the area, connects the stop with a park in the city center.  This was the initial inner terminal of the line, and now is where inbound trams lower their pantographs and enter the wireless section.  The tracks occupy the northern lanes of the so-called "red bridge," actually the Ponte Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, which crosses the Alzette valley and gorge on its way toward downtown.  The top of the Ferris wheel, one of  the major attractions of the Schueberfouer, Luxembourg's annual fun fair, peeks out at the far left. 

There was still some cleaning up and incidental work taking place on the new wireless section of the line, which included preparation for the Schueberfouer, which would begin the following week.  As a result, the trams operated over single track immediately west of the bridge.  Here, at the Faiencerie stop, one in from the current end of the line, a westbound tram pulls away while an eastbound is about to enter the single track.
:Above and below  A carpet of green grass graces the line between its last two stops.  While these photos don't show it, trams were running only on westbound rails during our visit.  Also, I did not see signs of any work on phase three of the line, which will extend it from Stareplatz/Place de l'Etoile to Gare Centrale by 2020.

Before we continue the narrative about our Luxembourg sojourn, I want to include a message I received from my friend Richard Horne about the tramway museum in that country.  He wrote: 

Luxembourg is great!  My brother in law worked there for 15 years (IT department of Goodyear) so we had about the same number of summer holidays there.  We explored some routes (and many remaining buildings) of the former meter gauge railway network.  There were many old span wire rosettes on buildings from the original tram system with the superb tramway museum in the forecourt of the bus depot, as a reminder (and with excellent books for sale).  On my visits to the museum, it was lucky if there was another visitor.  I did persuade the staff to open the doors and run one of the trams on the short stretch of track that had been provided (see photo below).  The Tourist Information office in the Town Hall didn't know the museum existed!  It is a superb museum it is, typically continental and beautifully done;  it must have cost a fortune and no one knows it is there.  The bronze letters 'Tramways Municipaux' came off the original depot. 

In 1938 three-axle No. 26 was constructed in the Luxembourg Tramway's shops from a four-wheeler built by Nivelles in 1926.  R. T. Horne photo from 8/28/2001    

Single-truck Uerdingen-built No. 34 from 1931 outside the Tramway Museum in Luxembourg on 8/21/1997.  R. T. Horne


Continued from Part 10.

After we finished covering Luxembourg's tram line, we decided some sightseeing in the old city was in order, and used the railway to reach Gare Centrale.  To accomplish that we first rode the funicular from the tramway's Rout Breck-Pafendall stop, located along Avenue John F. Kennedy, to the CFL (Chemin de Fer Luxembourgeois) Kirchberg-Pfaffenthal station.  The funicular was built as part of the light rail project and opened on December 10, 2017, the date of the inauguration of the first segment of Luxtram 
(see map

Two independent parallel lines, each containing two counterbalanced cars, constitute the Doppelmayr cable funicular.  Thus unlike most of the record keeping undertaken by members of the funicular division of the trainspotting hobby, instead of a constant stream of 1s and 2s, the notebooks in Luxembourg are also interspersed with 3s and 4s.  It takes a little over a minute to traverse the 660-foot long track, which covers 127 feet of altitude at a 19.7 percent grade.

The lower station of the funicular is the glass-enclosed mezzanine of the Kirchberg-Pfaffenthal rail station, which contains just about all the services and amenities that can be found in any modern railway station.  With stairs, escalators and elevators leading to the two platforms, its picture windows overlooking the line invite photographers.  Herewith a 2000-series eMU train 
dating from the 1990s, built to a French design by Alsthom.  These units are only capable of running under 25kV overhead, and thus are restricted to Luxembourg and France.

We then rode one of the frequent trains one stop to Gare Centrale, taking some photos out of our coach's large windows during the five-minute run.

The Ville Hauteis (Old Town) is a UNESCO World Heritage site and riding a train provides an excellent view of the surroundings from a viaduct crossing the Alzette River gorge.  Steeples are the main feature of the area, which occupies several levels, connected through attractive squares by steep cobblestone streets and stairways.

Despite the small size of the country, CFL (Chemin de Fer Luxembourgeios), with a route network of 172 miles, operates passenger service on 7 lines, all either running through or ending in other countries (2 in Belgium, 1 in Germany and 4 in France).  Passenger trains consist of eMU cars or locomotive-hauled coaches, with many being double deck.  Various types of equipment are capable of gathering power at 3 different voltages, 3000 DC (Belgium), 15,000 AC (Germany) and 25,000 AC (France).  And some trains are operated by crews and equipment from SNCB (Belgium), SNCF (France) and DB (Germany)
Above and below:  Two of the many viaducts that criss-cross the ancient and modern city.  The eMUs shown in both views are a part of a series of 22 bi-voltage 3-car sets built in the last 10 years for service in Luxembourg, France and Germany.

A locomotive-hauled train of Corail-type coaches from the same overlook in Luxembourg's old city.  The 3000-series consists of 20 tri-voltage units that can also run in Belgium as well as in France and Germany.  Usually used for trains to and from Liege, the SNCB (Belgian National Railways) owns 40 more of the 20-year old units.

Just outside Gare Centrale, a major locus for the city's transit routes (and eventually Luxtram), the batteries of a pair of electric buses are being charged while laying over between dropping their passengers and receiving new ones.  Unlike Luxtram, whose super capacitors are charged from below when stopping in wireless territory, the pantographs of these vehicles are only used when stationary.

Right before the deluge.  One last photo of Luxtram, in wireless mode at the Faienceri stop.  We walked up from Stareplatz and boarded the next car just before the skies opened and the purple rain descended (purple not because of Prince, but because it was viewed through the door/windows at the rear of the car).
It turned out to be mostly sunny on Tuesday, August 21 when we drove to the fourth country on our trip, Germany, specifically to ride and photograph the international tramway that runs between Saarbrucken and Sarreguemines, France.  Our initial destination was the Brebach Park and Ride lot, one of two large facilities on the S1, the tram-train that serves the busiest conurbation of the Saarland.  The 70-mile drive took us less than an hour and a half, and it looked like we were lucky to grab the last parking space at about 10:00 (although I cheated a bit, leaving the car partly on the sidewalk, as did a few other cars before me).

We chose that location because it is on the southern part of the tram-train line, and we would be driving further in that direction later in the day to reach Kehl and Strasbourg.  Saarbrucken has about 180,000 inhabitants, and is located on the western edge of Germany, not easily accessible by rail to and from most other large cities in that nation without having to change trains.  It is by far the biggest city in the Saar (Saarland), an industrial area that is bound closely to France and Luxembourg.  Rich in coal and as a result highly industrialized, this historically part of Germany was administered by France after World War I (from 1920 until ceded to the Nazi regime in 1935) and then again from the end of World War II to 1959.

The city has but one carline, but it is very interesting, as it operates as a dual-voltage tram-train, using German (Deutsche Bahn) railway system infrastructure on both ends.  A meter-gauge legacy system once operated in the city, but it closed in 1965.  Some 30 years later the current Saarbahn (now route S1) opened over an alignment that closely paralleled one of the old tramway routes.  Karlsruhe is very close to Saarbrucken (about 90 miles by road, but quite a bit longer by rail) and the incredible success of that city's ground-breaking tram-train, right from its inauguration in 1992, was not lost on the planners in the Saarland.  Having a similar problem with regional rail service (no distribution in the city center without time-consuming transfers), combined with a bus corridor that had already reached its maximum capacity, the concept was studied and then quickly implemented, solving both issues.

The first section of the standard-gauge line, mainly serving the southern part of the city and crossing the border into 
Sarreguemines, France, opened in 1997.  A city of just under 20,000 residents and part of the province of Lorraine (technically Alsace-Lorraine), that railway station is also served by SNCF (French National Railways) regional diesel railcars on two lines.  Interestingly, the DB tracks to Sarreguemines had been electrified in 1983, and so tracks in the area already had German overhead wire for 14 years prior to the inauguration of tram-train service. 

On its first day the initial 12-mile long tram-train ran for only a short distance (about 3 miles) within the city of Saarbrucken, under overhead wire at 750 volts DC, but then continued on Deutsche Bahn trackage for the further 9 miles to France, powered by the DB's 15kV 16 2/3-Hertz AC current.  To provide this service Bombardier supplied a fleet of 15 dual-voltage 70-percent* low-floor Flexity Link trams, which has since been expanded to 28 in conjunction with extensions of the line.  The rolling stock is compatible with Karlsruhe's tram-train equipment and units of both had been occasionally operated over their counterparts for tests and to meet rolling stock shortages.  The upper terminal of the line was gradually pushed northward inside the city from 1999 to 2001, with the line crossing the city limits into Riegelsberg in 2001.  In 2011 the northern portion of the line began operating as a tram-train as well, and in 2014 rail service was pushed to its current terminal in Lebach over 8 miles of a previously abandoned short line railway, the former Koellertalbahn (passenger service discontinued in 1975, closed and dismantled in 1993).  That right-of-way was electrified from scratch at the same 750 volts DC as the city portion of the line, so the S1 has only one current conversion location.  The Saarbahn is now 27 miles long from end to end and has 43 stops.  See for a map.  

* actually 50 percent of the cars are low floor, but you get the idea.  The cars operate at speeds of over 60 mph, but only on the outer ends of the line.

Service through the built up area (from Brebach to Siedlerheim, a 24-minute run) operates every 7
½ minutes, with 15-minute, half-hourly and hourly frequencies at different times of the day on the outermost "train" sections, which contain some single track.  Running time from the Hauptbahnhof to Sarreguemines is 30 minutes and from the railway station to Lebach at the line's other end, 57 minutes.  Thus if through service was operated from one end to the other, the running time would be 87 minutes.  There are additional intermediate terminals that have more frequent service than the end points.  Every station has annunciators (countdown clocks).  For the most part, typical tram-type signals coordinated with traffic lights control movement within the city, but crossing gates are used on the railroad portions of the tram-train line.

As for railfanning the system, I have to say I was a little frustrated.  While the technical aspects are interesting, especially the rights-of-way on the outer portions of the tram-train, the operation through the city leaves a lot to be desired with regard to my personal taste.  First (and worst), almost all cars are wrapped in advertising paint schemes, many quite garish (ugh).  As a result when riding we were forced to look forward because it was difficult to observe the scenery through the wrapped side windows.  Not that the city is particularly handsome (it's hardly Paris), but that probably is a result of its industrial history.  However some architectural landmarks are attractive, and they were certainly welcome sights.  Otherwise, there was nothing else annoying about our experiences in riding--except for the purchase of our tickets. 

After dropping our car we found fare kiosks, but it took us a very long time to figure out how to buy the most economical tickets for riding the entire line, because of the complex zone system (which was diagrammed on maps that fortunately included the names of stops).  There was no savings on round-trip tickets, as day passes cost twice the one way fares.  We first bought these to cover the entire urban area for 5.80 euros each.  When we got to the last stop of validity, we bought day tickets to the northern end of the line at Lebach-Janbach, and similarly, when we got back to Brebach, we bought the equivalent to 
Sarreguemines.  Perhaps we overpaid, but if so, it was not by much.

Our explorations began with riding into the city center for some photos along street trackage, followed by a visit to the Saarbahn's sales office, where we got very thick detailed timetables for the S1.

Our first view of a Saarbahn tram on this trip was at the Brebach stop, a very busy one located in a slight cut with lots of cars turning back and only a few continuing southward toward France.  Already on DB 15kV trackage, this Bombardier Flexity would reverse ends at the very wide platform shown in the photo.  Access is via an overhead bridge behind the photographer, which also crosses freight tracks.  

This photo, and the two below, are along Saarbrucken's main north-south artery, Grossherzog-Friedrich Strasse in the city's shopping district.  The building with the tower is the city's Rathaus (City Hall) a neo-Gothic structure of note completed in 1900, when Rathausplatz was actually in the City of St. Johann.  In 1909 St. Johann and two other municipalities were merged together to create Saarbrucken.  The step-gabled edifice in the background is a residential/commercial building from the same era, over 100 years ago. 

Above and below:  Johanneskirche is the most notable church in Saarbrucken, completed in 1898 in the same neo-Gothic style as the City Hall.  It is said that this type of architecture was an adverse reaction to the modern industrial buildings of the time and became favored by Protestant clergy to show a continuity of their religion from the medieval (before the reformation) Catholic church.  The upper photo features the twin steeples of the city's primary Evangelical church, while the lower view looks at the neo-Gothic establishment on the other side of Stephanstrasse, which houses stores along with residences above.


Then we worked our way northward for more photos including at the beginning of reserved track.

The tracks are at the side of the street at Cottbuser Platz north of the Hauptbahnhof.  Note that this car is absent the advertising wraps found on almost all of the Saarbahn's rolling stock.

Many trams are turned back at Siedlerheim, the northern end of 7½-minute headway territory.  Crossovers are located beyond both ends of the island platform.

From Siedlerheim we rode to the northern end of the line at Lebach-Jabach.  The stretch before entering the old railway alignment at Walpershofen
 is quite interesting, with a combination of single and double track both in the street (with traffic) and at the side of the road.  Unfortunately I don't have any good photos of this area as heavy automobile traffic kept getting in the way.  One aspect of the route is rather unusual, as cars run left-handed after some tortuous curves at Riegelsberghalle.

The end of the line is Lebach-Jabach, which translates to middle-of-nowhere.  We pulled in, the operator changed ends, we waited for five minutes, and then pulled back out.  Service runs to this point only in peak periods; at other times, cars operate only to Lebach, two minutes further back on this single track line.  Apparently one or two freight customers are located beyond the platform.  Sorry that the tram's wrap is so ugly.

A carhouse is located between Lebach and Lebach-Janbach.  Since we had a bit of time to wait for the next car, we walked into the facility for a photo.

Above and below:  Two photos at Lebach station, a locus of activity in this town of 20,000 that also includes a small bus terminal.  The station has two platforms and two tracks, which are signaled in each direction, as this is a terminal and layover point for pull-outs from the adjacent carhouse.  We were surprised to find out that in addition to the tram-trains on the S1 line (top), there is also hourly commuter train service to Saarbrucken from this location (bottom).  The 628/928 series of Deutsche Bahn dMUs (shown below) date from the mid-1980s and their use is quite common throughout Germany.  The dMU trains take about 45 minutes to reach the Hauptbahnhof with 9 intermediate stations, while the tram-train takes only 8 minutes longer while having 26 stops, and it then takes passengers directly into the city's commercial and activity center.  The dMUs have a first-class section, but do not have low-floor accessible loading.  The two lines do not compete directly, as only the stations in Lebach are common.

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The view looking toward Saarbrucken from the Lebach station shows an incoming pair of dMUs of the 628/928 series, consisting of a motor and driving trailer.  The two tracks merge into one in the background, but diverge shortly afterward onto the two separate routes.

We rode the dMU back to Saarbrucken and then continued our exploration of the S1.  Our last trip of the day took us all the way to 
Sarreguemines, where we noted that the stations south of Brebach could use a little renovation.  It's possible they have not been touched since the electrification.  In Sarreguemines we operated on the track closest to the station building, the only electrified one.

Rather than using stairs to go under and then up to reach the nearest SNCF platform, I hopped down from the platform onto the roadbed for this photo.  It turned out that my not waiting for the operator to head back to the rear of the tram-train was a tactical error, as he gave me hell for acting in an unsafe and possibly illegal manner (I don't remember whether he said "verboten" or "interdit").  In either case it was too late, as I already took this photo of him and the Flexity on the weed-covered right-of-way.

We then headed back to Brebach and found our auto undisturbed.  All in all our visit was quite enjoyable, and we found ridership to be quite heavy, especially within the city where there were often standees.  The 
7½-minute headway needs to be increased, but I wonder if that is possible, considering that there's a great deal of traffic on the street running portion of the route.

It took about an hour and a half to cover the 80 miles from Brebach to Kehl, and we had no trouble checking in at our hotel, in this across-the-border suburb of Strasbourg, to which the tramway system had just been extended.  We were directed to park on the street, which turned out to be no problem. 
 In traversing the town's busy pedestrian street/mall we found an excellent restaurant that served regional cuisine and had a relaxing meal before retiring for the evening.  We had set foot in three different countries on this pleasant Tuesday.


We had noticed some restaurants along Avenue John F. Kennedy, and after a little rest and relaxation we drove back and ate at a Spanish seafood restaurant that prepared excellent meals for us.  It was a fitting end to a great day of sampling the new tramway.
  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 15,635 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 2:56 PM



  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 15,635 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, September 1, 2019 5:19 AM

The posting has been cleaned up.

A few duplicates remain....

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