Köln – Bonner Eisenbahn

Köln – Bonner Eisenbahn

The Köln-Bonner Eisenbahn’s (KBE – or the Cologne to Bonn Railway) Rheinuferbahn once provided local and express trains between Köln and Bonn. There was a substantial freight operation too with large marshalling yards servicing local industries. The company stayed independent to the very end and it would have been around today had its finances not been compromised by events totally beyond its control.

The KBE’s Rheinuferbahn initially opened on 1st September 1905 as a limited freight operation operation, however from 11th January 1906 its public services were launched and from that day onward the line’s famed high speed services began – initially at 70kmh but later increased to 80kmh. Passenger services finally ended in 1986 – eighty years after they first began.

It was the first main line railway in Germany to be electrified from the start with the operational overhead power voltage at 900v dc. Patronage on the new line was in great demand thus more trains were ordered and the line became fully double tracked – this work was completed in 1908 when the line speeds were raised & expresses introduced half hourly.

In the 1930s the OHLE voltage was increased to 1200v dc on the Marienburg to Bonn section whilst the track itself became continuous welded the whole distance between Köln to Bonn. The section between Marienburg and Hohenzollernbrücke became an exclusive right of way alongside the city’s streets from the mid 1950s thus allowing for greater speeds within the city of Köln.

These improvements permitted a line speed of 120kmh south of Marienburg. The company’s Silberpfeils (Silver Arrows) were introduced as a premium service running at 120kmh/75mph to sustain timings of just 30 minutes (against the national rail operator’s 26 minutes) between Köln and Bonn.

Lovely view of the old Rheinuferbahn terminus sometime prior to 1911 with the previous railway bridge clearly evident. This was the Cathedral Bridge or Dombrücke – it wasn’t suitable for the increased transport demands made upon it by the then new and larger Köln Hauptbahnhof thus it was replaced by the much bigger Hohenzollern Bridge or Hohenzollernbrücke. Source: Philaseiten.

Route of the Rheinuferbahn (Rhine Bank Railway.) The stops marked ‘U’ indicates the newer route in both Köln and Bonn used by tram 16. Sourced from Wikipedia.

The Rheinuferbahn was originally envisaged as a metre gauge electric railway but it was soon thought a rapid transit service would be better operated with standard gauge trains because the company would then be better able to compete with the country’s main railway route (the Linke Rheinstrecke or West Rhine Railway) between the two cities. Until 1918 the company was known as the Cöln-Bonner Kreisbahnen (CBK). From 10th June 1918 it became the Köln-Bonner Eisenbahn.

As convention would have it the company’s other lines were metre gauge too. The earliest of these between Köln and Bonn via Brühl (the Vorgebirgsbahn) had been planned by 1891 and services began on the first section soon after. In due course the Vorgebirgsbahn was electrified and converted to standard gauge.

The railway’s previous technology was this metre gauge line in the streets of Brühl at the turn of the century. The line had opened in two stages during 1897 and 1898. It was the constraints of this that ultimately prompted the company to go for standard gauge electrification on its new Rheinuferbahn in the 1900s. A ‘Fiery Elias’ leads the train pictured. If your’re a fan of Eggerbahn you’ll no doubt be familiar with the concept of ‘Fiery Elias’ in model form! The old Brühl line was replaced by the present standard gauge route in the 1930s. Source: Kölner Stadt Anzeiger

The KBE was a very successful railway company in its heyday and its routes were very diverse, compromising a mix of local routes, tramways, express rail routes, intensive freight facilities and port harbours. The technology used on the KBE was ahead of its time and better than than the systems used by the German State railways! During the mid-1950s the KBE grew into the most modern, busiest, non-state-owned railway. It transported 60,000 people and and carried 27,000 tons of goods daily and for that to be achieved it required 314 passenger and 206 freight trains to be operated each day. The centre of freight operations was at Brühl where a large marshalling yard was provided. Wesseling was the main depot for the company’s passenger trains and the cross country route between Brühl and Wesseling enabled freight trains to access the industries and riverside facilities located on the Rhine whilst passenger trains could easily reach the Vorgebirgsbahn.

One of the KBE’s Bo-Bo electric locomotives for freight services.

I could never do the company’s vast freight locomotive fleet any justice the number of locomotives must have been over a hundred! However this You Tube video shows a good bit of the fleet during an open day at Brühl-Vochem. A Silver Arrow is seen on the Vorgebirgsbahn but would have likely been running a special service to that open day.

Although the Rheinuferbahn wasn’t generally used as an intensive freight operation there was in fact operations at Wesseling serving the local industries and the river itself (the company built a harbour on the Rhine) and freight trains accessed the Rheinuferbahn and the company’s new Rhine harbour (the Godorf Hafen/Godorf Harbour which is still a busy port on the river) by way of the company’s cross country Querbahn (the Brühl-Vochem-Godorfer Hafen railway route) which connected Brühl and Wesseling. Freight trains were also at one time allowed onto the Rheinuferbahn’s streets section in Köln to access the city’s Rheinauhafen (but were not allowed any further north.) The Rheinauhafen closed in 2001 and operations transferred to the Godorf Hafen.

HGK – Häfen und Güterverkehr Köln which incorporates the Godorf Hafen – link to website.

A number of other port sites, industrial sites and the area’s coal mines were also serviced by branches off both the KBE’s main routes although these additional routes were not electrified. Most of the former KBE lines around the Rhine bank areas are still a private railway owned by the HGK (Häfen und Güterverkehr Köln or Ports and Freight Traffic Cologne) – part owned by Stadtwerke Köln, the city’s tram and bus operator, and other companies.

The KBE’s very last trains ran well over thirty years ago thus anyone who took pictures of it now has to be at least 50 years of age! I have barely any rail photographs left from the late sixties and early seventies. The few photographs I took of the KBE no longer exist except this one of Bonn Rheinuferbahnhof taken in October 1971.

My photo of two Silver Arrow sets at Bonn along with an ET57 unit (centre.) I had arrived on the single car unit at left. The Silver Arrows were employed on schnellzug (express) services whilst the ET57s primarily consisted the personenzug (stopping) services. Date – 21 October 1971.

Left: Schnellzug (express) ticket from Köln to Bonn. Right: Personenzug (stopping) ticket from Köln to Rodenkirchen. These tickets were issued only at the company’s main termini. Despite requesting Marienburg it was always a Rodenkirchen destination issued. The personenzug served all the tram stops between Uberring and Marienburg whilt the schnellzug’s only stop was at Wesseling.

Generic ticket issued by the train guard when we wanted to go from Marienburg (where we stayed) to the city centre. Both Marienburg and Rodenkirchen are listed! This paper ticket was also issued for stops along the Vorgebirgsbahn.

The last time I used the Rheinuferbahn was at Easter 1972 and that was practically the last years of the KBE too. I didn’t know this at the time but nevertheless change was on the way. The KBE was already struggling financially and the following year proposals to convert the system to light rail (tramway) operation were put forward. Work began in 1975 with the conversion of the OHLE down to 750v and pointwork across the system were converted to moveable frogs rather than being controlled remotely. It was in August 1978 the Rheinuferbahn ended its mainline status and light rail operations began.

Although a fair bit of the former Rheinuferbahn is now a tramway operated by route 16, the journey times between the two cities take at least an hour. On top of that the KBE’s once prominent termini stations at Köln Hohenzollernbrücke, Köln Barbarossaplatz and Bonn Rheinuferbahnhof, as well as quite a few kilometres of the KBE’s right of ways in both cities has disappeared and is now all but history. We take a look at those three termini sites as they once were and now – and later in the post there’s a look at the route of the now disappeared streets section through Köln:

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Köln Hohenzollernbrücke probably early 1970s with an ET57 unit on a personenzug (stopping train) for Bonn. Source: Flickr.

The present site that once was the KBE’s Köln Hohenzollernbrücke. The first of the company’s two Köln termini to close, Hohenzollernbrücke was practically adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof and within a stone’s throw of Köln’s famous cathedral. The station shut for good on 12 August 1978. The only building in both these scenes is the offices of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in the background. Source: Google Streets.

The KBE’s other terminus in Köln was the central location at Barbarossaplatz which serviced the Vorgebirgsbahn and where this picture of a ET57 is seen during the 1970s. The former station site can be seen here on Google Streets although its now totally unrecognisable. Source: Abload.

Although the Barbarossaplatz terminus no longer exists, the adjacent tramway is operated by routes 16 and 18 which utilises both of the KBE’s former routes towards Bonn. Route 16 picks up the former Rheinuferbahn at Uberring whilst 18 uses the former Vorgebirgsbahn route.

As the next picture shows, this is how the company’s southern terminus at Bonn Rheinuferbahnhof once looked.

The electric rapid transit station at Bonn in 1906. Note the ultra modern signal box on the adjacent main line! Source: Stadtwerke Bonn.

Bonn Rheinuferbahnhof – this being the post war buildings of the KBE’s southern terminus at Bonn. Services were progressively reduced from 26 October 1985 and ended completely on 8 November 1986. The terminus was demolished soon after and is now a car park. Source: Twitter.

The same exact view of where the Rheinuferbahnhof once stood! The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years are the tramlines! The site was immediately adjacent to Bonn Hauptbahnhof. Source: Google Streets.

The underground platforms at Bonn Hauptbahnhof in 1991. These replaced the KBE’s Bonn Rheinuferbahnhof terminus. The tram is on Line 18 which utilises the Vorgebirgsbahn. Note the ‘twinned with Cleethorpes’ on the side of the tram! Source: Twitter.

The KBE remained independent right to the very end but it faced financial problems from the sixties onwards and there was soon a time when it was the profits from the KBE’s substantial freight operations which were keeping its passenger services alive. Sadly a huge fire at Wesseling depot destroyed a substantial part of the passenger fleet, a calamity the company never recovered from.

On top of that there were disputes with the regional government re compensation payments for passenger services the KBE had been asked to provide for local schools and factories. Plus there were disputes as to who should look after the roadways around the level crossings.

Despite these the company continued to run a stopping service with its remaining ET57s plus a limited express service with three Silver Arrow units which escaped the depot fire. This service continued right up to 1978. Afterwards a much reduced passenger service was run whilst the KBE’s passenger lines were converted to light rail operation. Its once profitable freight operation struggled on a bit longer. In 1992 that too folded and the KBE was no more.

The Rheinuferbahn from Bonn to Köln

It must be said the original route is a bit complex. There was an earlier station at Bonn Ellerbahnhof (the terminus for the narrow gauge Vorgebirgsbahn.) That on street route lasted until 1954 when a more direct route was built between Hersel and Tannenbusch. The Ellerbahnhof site continued to be a freight operation for the KBE until 1979. What this means is the newer sections of the Rheinuferbahn were built in 1954 and therefore lasted just 24 years under KBE ownership!

The old route of the Rheinuferbahn out of Bonn is now a roadway! This is Rabinstrasse. The tram/light rail from Köln is in a tunnel beneath. Source: Google Streets.

The Bonn West tram stop is the furthest the old KBE goes these days. Just south of the station the new alignment down into the Bonn tram tunnels can be easily be seen as it descends into tunnels between Route K1 (actually Thomasstrasse) and the main state railway tracks. Source: Google Streets.

Ironically whilst these tunnels were being built the KBE temporarily ran where the road is, and once that diversion was completed the KBE closed and the alignment became a fully fledged roadway.

The most important stop on the KBE’s Rheinuferbahn is at Wesseling, evidenced by the large station buildings. Just south of the station is the former Wesseling depot, still home to a number of preserved KBE units. These are looked after by the Verein der Köln-Bonner Eisenbahn-Freunde e.V. (translated in Google as Club of the Cologne-Bonn Railway Friends – or perhaps more correctly – The Cologne-Bonn Railway Society.)

Wesseling of course still has substantial freight operations in various locations including in and around the depot, as well as serving local industries plus the vast Rhine harbour at Godorf Hafen. These are all operated by the KBE’s successor, HGK, as we noted earlier.

The Rheinuferbahn at Wesseling in the very early days. Source: Nailizakon.

The original 1905 station still stands considerably altered and now a stop for tram route 16. Source: Wikipedia.

In the suburbs of Köln is Marienburg where the urban section (formerly on street and latterly on a separate right of way) towards Hohenzollernbrücke began. The Köln tramway system formerly split here to continue along local streets but was switched to use the KBE’s route from 1978.

Originally the section from Marienburg to Hohenzollernbrücke ran on the street but from 1954 it was given its own right of way to give the company a competitive edge against the national rail operator in terms of services between Köln and Bonn.

Marienburg was indeed a place to sit and watch the trams and the KBE trains as they split routes here. The traffic lights were quite complicated because these had to allow for trams running down the street itself as well as allow the KBE trains to pass straight across the main road.

Upon leaving the city limits south of Marienburg the Silver Arrows could hit 120kmh! The Rhine is visible at left. Source: Google Streets.

From Marienburg to Ubierring both the Köln tramway system and the KBE shared tracks. Today its just trams that use the old KBE route. This is as far as Ubierring where they then join their original street section into the city centre. As noted earlier a considerable length of the Rheinuferbahn within the city is no longer extant. That’s roughly 2.38 km (one and half miles) between Ubierring and Hohenzollernbrücke. These days its mainly a cycleway whilst nearer the city centre its become substantial landscaped gardens and shopping areas giving good views of the vistas along the River Rhine.

This is Ubierring where the present tramway leaves the old Rheinuferbahn alignment and heads through Köln via the city’s streets. North of here the KBE (which continued where the cyclist is) no longer exists. Source: Google Streets.

A rarity – a former European railway now the course of a dedicated cycleway! The former KBE route at Holzmarkt. Source: Google Streets.

Here both the roadway and former KBE have vanished. The road is now sent beneath through tunnels – ironically called the Rheinufertunnel) whilst the former KBE alignment itself is now these grassed areas. Source: Google Streets.

The site of the former KBE terminus south of the Hohenzollernbrücke. It was after WWII that the KBE’s terminus was moved to the more modern terminus just north of the bridge. Source: Google Streets.

How it looked! The original terminus at Köln 1919. Though now called the KBE trains still displayed the older Kreisbahnen name. Source: Twitter.

The former KBE alignment at Hohenzollernbrücke is now a ramp leading to these new road tunnels! The famous cathedral and the city’s hauptbahnhof are just off picture to the right. Source: Google Streets.

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Comparative view showing how it looked when the KBE was extant. A Silver Arrow is seen leaving Hohenzollernbrücke for Bonn circa 1970s. Source: Flickr.

Köln Hohenzollernbrücke was demolished almost immediately after the last train left for Bonn in 1978. In fact the tracks were ripped up as soon as the KBE’s final train headed south! As the pictures (and the relevant Google Street views) show the site is now a substantial road intersection. Its somewhat ironic a major European railway had to disappear for the purpose of the car – especially when we now take into consideration CO2/climate change and the need to reduce car use.