CHEMNITZ in southern Saxony is the latest German city, and the first in the former East Germany, to follow in the footsteps of Karlsruhe, Saarbrücken and Kassel in introducing tram trains.

The first stage of the Chemnitz tram-train system opened as long ago as 2002 with six Adtranz Variobahn LRVs running from outside Chemnitz Main Station along a new alignment through the city streets and onto the existing Chemnitz - Stollberg line. With further tram-train infrastructure opening between February 2013 and April 2014 operation was extended into and through Chemnitz Main Station, while the latest addition to the network, the Chemnitz Main Station - Mittweida line, opening in April.

Chemnitz tramThis project involved construction of 900m of double-track, the largest amount of construction work in the city centre, and 250m of connections at the eastern end of the main station. The plan is to offer tram-train services from Burgstädt, Mittweida and Hainichen via the city centre and the Zentralhaltestelle interchange to Old Chemnitz in the south of the city, and Mid-Saxony Transport Authority (VMS) confirmed on August 18 that these services will commence on October 10 following delays with approving the line’s eight Stadler (formerly Vossloh) CityLink vehicles for operation.

This is Phase 1 of the city’s development plan for the Chemnitzer-Modell tram-train network with the original 2002 project deemed Phase 0. With Chemnitz Main Station, the traditional hub for regional rail services situated around 1km east of the city centre, the aim is to offer regional rail and tram services that directly serve the main commercial and employment locations in the city centre, boosting public transport and reducing road traffic congestion.

A further four-phase expansion programme is envisaged for the network over the next decade which will ultimately consist of 226km of heavy rail and tram lines, including 13.5km of new double-track light rail infrastructure and 18.6km of new or completely rebuilt heavy rail lines. VMS, in cooperation with Chemnitz City Council and city-owned tram operator CVAG, is driving the development of the network. The step-by-step approach reflects both the financing approach for the project and the desire of administrators to assess the success of each phase as it comes online.

The total cost for steps 1 to 5 was estimated by VMS at €264m in 2010. It is likely the final total will be over €300m, with the German federal government expected to fund around 60% with European Fund for Regional Development also providing support.

Bi-mode operation

Unlike the first line, which uses 750V dc electrification on the stretch from Chemnitz to Stollberg, and 600V dc in the city centre, subsequent phases are set to utilise bi-mode operation pioneered in Kassel. Vehicles are fitted with diesel powerpacks to enable operation away from overhead electrification on rural lines which do not warrant electrification. Planners in Saxony are hoping that by offering a through-service to Chemitz city centre, the tram-train network will transform currently relatively little used branch lines and make the service a much more attractive option than existing trains, buses or driving.

Phase 2, which is currently under construction, will extend tram-train operation to Thalheim 27.3km from Chemnitz by rail and currently served by DB Regio subsidiary Erzgebirgsbahn. A 2km section of new tramway is currently under construction plus around 400m of railway connecting the DB RegioNetz Infrastructure, which is jointly owned by DB Networks and DB Regio, to the new CVAG tram line. Construction is budgeted at €74.3m and includes two new stations on the railway section plus two new passing loops to enable operation at 30-minute headways. Services from Thalheim to Chemnitz are forecast to start in 2018, and these will operate via the city centre to DB Networks’ tracks at Chemnitz Main Station.

Extension of this service to Hainichen, Olbernau and Annaberg-Buchholz, around 40km east of Chemnitz, will take place under Phase 3 of the project, which is currently in the planning stage. This will require the construction of approximately 4.5km of new double-track tram lines east of Chemnitz Central Station and rebuilding around 4.7km of former freight lines in the east of the city.

Phase 4 comprises a new 6.1km long double-track tram line from the city centre north west via the Chemnitz Centre retail park to connect with a 9.6km single-track line to Limbach-Oberfrohna, part of which will use an existing, but closed, alignment. Costs are estimated at €90-€100m with contributions of 60% from the federal government, 15% from Saxony and VMS funding the rest. The line will effectively serve as an extension to Phase 0.

Phase 5 will extend tram-train operation beyond Stollberg to Oelsnitz with construction of a new 3.5km long single-track line with three stops. Planning work partly funded by the local authorities in Stollberg is underway with the aim of completing construction in 2019.

For steps 3 - 5 additional LRVs will be ordered and service patterns will increasingly interwork between different routes to maximise journey opportunities and fleet productivity.

For step 2, four additional Citylink LRVs are on order from Stadler under a €23.7m option from the original contract, which was financed by Saxony and the European Fund for Regional Development.

Each of the 100km/h air-conditioned three-section Citylink bi-mode LRVs that have been introduced in Phase 1 is 37.2m long and 2.65m wide with 68 seats and 16 tip-up seats in multi-purpose areas also suitable for bikes or buggies. The articulated vehicles have two motor bogies and two trailer bogies, and are low floor but equipped to deal with four varying platform heights as those on the city tram network are lower (190mm/380mm) than those on the mainline railway (380mm/550mm). They are fitted with a toilet, real-time information systems, and ticket machines.

Like the Adtranz Variobahn LRVs, the new trams are able to operate on both the city’s tram network and the line to Stollberg. Each VMS Citylink is also fitted with two roof-mounted 390kW six-cylinder diesel power-packs supplied by MTU, which comply with EU Stage IIIB emissions requirements and 1500-litre diesel fuel tanks capable of sustaining two days of planned non-electric operation. Stadler displayed one of the VMS Citylinks at InnoTrans in September.

CVAG maintains the Citylink vehicles at its Chemnitz-Adelsberg tram depot, which has been re-modelled from a traditional urban tram facility. This includes the addition of high level working gantries as all equipment is roof mounted plus diesel exhaust extractor equipment to enable testing of the Citylinks inside the depot. An 80,000-litre diesel fuel storage tank plus retention toilet emptying facilities have also been installed.

While VMS owns the vehicles, the operator is selected following tendering as the services are treated as rail rather than tram services. CBC, which is part-owned by CVAG, won the contract to operate the network up to 2020 which covers all stage one and two services.

A further tender will be issued for operation beyond 2020, which will include stage 3. By this point the growing tram-train network should be providing real benefits to Chemnitz, and its surrounding towns, making a noticeable difference to traffic congestion and mobility in the city.