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Hamburg - Driving a sustainability shift with the laws of attraction

Instead of simply meeting mobility demand, the city of Hamburg, Germany, has decided to proactively invest into public transport with the hopes of enticing commuters to adopt greener, more sustainable urban mobility solutions.

Ask a German and they’ll likely tell you that Hamburg is ‘Germany’s gateway to the world’. Settled near the end of the Elbe River and home to Europe’s third-busiest port, Hamburg indeed has been Germany’s connection to the rest of the world.

However, to an outsider the city is not so easy to characterize. Hamburg just seems full of contradictions. Newcomers will see what appears to be the textbook German city: wide green parks, dotted with neo-classical architecture. But look deeper and you’ll see foreign influences run deep: its cuisine has a Baltic flavour, there is a large English-speaking community, and Hamburgers even have a saying, “Wenn es in London anfängt zu regnen, spannen die Hamburger den Schirm auf," essentially "When it starts raining in London, people in Hamburg open their umbrella.”

Don’t focus just on meeting transport demand. Instead lead the way with a premium commuting experience and people will make the switch to public transport themselves.

With a long list of famous churches, theatres and museums, Hamburg is a place for sophistication and high culture. But it’s also known for a famous punk-rock scene and a counter-culture vibe. Hamburg doesn’t even agree on which local team to support as most of the city is split between following one of the city’s two rival teams, the left-wing FC St Pauli or the traditional Hamburger SV. Hamburg truly seems to be a city without a great deal of mutual agreement.

The common cause for modern, sustainable mobility

The DT5 has been operating in Hamburg since 2012.

But there is one thing that Hamburg does seem to agree on: the importance of a strong urban mobility network. For proof of this, one needs to look no further than Hamburg public transport operator Hamburger Hochbahn’s (HOCHBAHN) strategy of using the laws of attraction to entice Hamburgers to make a shift from automobiles to public transport. Quite simply: don’t focus just on meeting transport demand. Instead lead the way with a premium commuting experience and people will make the switch to public transport themselves. 

To achieve this, HOCHBAHN focused on three key areas: delivering a reliable timetable, offering a premium passenger experience and doing it all sustainably. Together, the advantages of taking the train would become obvious and launch a city-wide transportation shift.

But getting a German out of his car isn’t always as easy as it sounds. That’s why HOCHBAHN, in cooperation with the local government, has invested heavily into building a world-class, modern and sustainable public mobility network that could compete and win against private cars.

The plan began with a tender process, and in 2006 a consortium of Alstom and Bombardier Transportation won the contract to deliver Hamburg’s next generation of urban transport vehicles. Under the agreement, Alstom would deliver the mechanical systems while Bombardier would provide the electrical and traction equipment as well as the passenger information system and vehicle control technology. The result of this collaboration is the Hamburg U-Bahn Type DT5. 

A premium passenger experience

These new vehicles augment Hamburg’s ageing DT3 and DT4 fleet and form the backbone of HOCHBAHN’s urban mobility attraction plan. Spacious and wide, the 3-car DT5 was designed to easily carry 96 seated passengers and 128 standing with extra space for passengers using wheelchairs. Hamburg’s new fleet is also one of the quietest in the world and is outfitted with Hamburg-style livery.

With the goal of improving the passenger experience even further, the DT5 is Hamburg’s first ever U-Bahn train to feature fully walk-through gangways and air-conditioning to beat the oppressive summer heat.

Hamburg subway is one of the quietest metro systems in the world.

The additional DT5s, scheduled to enter passenger service mid-2020, will feature larger 24” infotainment displays, even larger than the current 15” displays.

Entering service in 2012 on the new U3 line, they are equipped with additional features like anti-fire sprinklers and USB charging ports for passengers. There is also a CCTV network and an improved passenger information system with video displays.

The passenger infotainment system will be compatible with the line’s new state-of-the-art LTE-based train-to-wayside communication (TWC) system, due to be implemented in the summer of 2020. In addition to managing train control and signalling data, the TWC system also offers additional functions to the infotainment system like targeted, dynamic content.  

Fast facts: Hamburg metro

106 km of track

5-minute headway

92 stops

664,380 daily passengers

861 cars

242.5 million passengers per year

Improved reliability

However, to entice car drivers onto the rails, the DT5 needed to do more than be comfortable. It had to be reliable, since improved service was the second key to HOCHBAHN’s attraction plan. The strategy being, a steady and frequent service would enable passengers to reliably travel on their own terms. If travellers were stuck waiting for trains, couldn’t find a seat, or if trains didn’t depart and arrive on time, then public transport would never really match the freedom of best the driving. 

The DT5 metro's regenerative traction motor improves sustainability by recovering the kinetic energy lost while braking and feeding it back into the vehicle’s power system.

Therefore, the new DT5 needed to be the flagship of Hamburg’s expanding mobility offering. Hamburg’s first line, the U1 opened in the 1920s and was expanded over the decades. The second line, the U2 got its start in the 1960s and 70s and was expanded even further in the 1990s. But the DT5 made its debut on the new U3 line, playing a major role in the expansion of the mobility solution and will support Hamburg’s further expansion plans. As of 2017, Hamburg saw on average, nearly 250 million rides annually with approximately 660,000 daily riders under HOCHBAHN’s expansion and improvement plan. On weekdays U3 passengers can expect four trains every ten minutes (between 6am and 9pm), with a wait time as low as three minutes during peak hours and weekend service being slightly less frequent. 

Sustainable transport

In June of 2019, Hamburger Hochbahn ordered another 32 DT5 metro trains to support an expanding mobility offering.

Part three of the plan was just as crucial: sustainability. After all Hamburg was named Europe’s Green Capital in 2011 and HOCHBAHN wanted a vehicle that would set an example. Like all Alstom trains, the DT5 was designed to be 95% recyclable, meaning when the fleet finally reached the end of the line, nearly all of it could be scrapped and reused. The DT5 also uses a regenerative traction motor that further improves sustainability over its lifetime by recovering the kinetic energy lost while braking and feeding it back into the vehicle’s power system.

In 2018, Hamburger Hochbahn AG ordered another 13 trainsets, increasing the total number of vehicles ordered to 131, and followed up with another call off for 32 more three-car trains in the summer of 2019. This order brought the total up to 163 vehicles. The first units out of these two additional orders are scheduled to begin passenger service in the summer of 2020 with the final delivery scheduled for autumn 2022. In February of 2019, Bombardier, Alstom and HOCHBAHN celebrated the 100th DT5 delivery with an official event and a special ride on the 100th vehicle to the U4 line’s new Elbbrücken station.

What the future holds

Hamburg keeps on booming, and this trend raises the question of how the increasing traffic can be mastered. With thousands of new people moving into the city each year, the goal of switching to public transport is more important than ever. Hamburger Hochbahn AG is constantly working on intelligently interlinking various mobility offers to provide the right means of transport for everyone’s needs. 

Featured video

In May 2018, Hamburg's passengers enjoy their first trip on the city's new air-conditioned BR490 S-Bahn train.