The Electric Public Transport Journey In Germany

As the public transport ban and tighter lockdown restrictions make headlines in Germany, perhaps this is the perfect time for its public transport system to start using electric alternatives and for the rest of us to reflect on the progress of this.

Trams in Berlin
This picture shows trams in Berlin (for illustrative purposes). Speaking of trams, the Kaliningrad tramway was electrified between 1895 and 1901 but the tram network was short-lived due to decaying political interest in 1999. But, in 2010, the revival and modernisation of the remaining electrified tram network became an option.
Image Source: Yaoqi Lai

Electric public transport has been around in Germany for much longer than one would expect. Since there have been many developments in Germany that it’s hard to take note of all, let’s just look at some notable ones.

Dubbed as the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger train, the Coradia iLint by Alstom made its grand entrance at the InnoTrans trade fair in 2016 and entered operations 2 years later. With clean energy conversion, flexible energy storage and smart traction power management, this train emits steam, condensed water, less noise and no carbon gases.

The Alstom Coradia iLint being presented at InnoTrans 2016.
The Alstom Coradia iLint being presented at InnoTrans 2016.
Image Source: Frank Paukstat

As diesel bans mushroomed in many German cities at the same time, the cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne became the earliest adopters of electric public transport, followed by Frankfurt and Munich. A German magazine surveyed public transport operators in these 5 cities in 2018 and found that they have a goal of buying at least 3,000 electric buses by 2030!

Then, in 2019, the German Ministry of Environment (Bundesministerium fuer Umwelt) gave €180 million for selected cities (with NOx levels higher than the EU threshold) to buy electric buses. These cities included Aachen, Berlin, Bochum, Darmstadt, Duisburg, Hanover, Kiel, Leipzig, Offenbach am Main, Osnabrück and Wiesbaden.

Lately, more financial aid schemes in Germany were approved by the European Commission and among them was a €300 million scheme to improve the coordination, distribution and sustainability of local public transport over different transport modes.

Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, explained that the €300 million scheme will help Germany’s transition from private motorised transport to sustainable public transport, thus meeting the Green Deal’s goal of reduced carbon emissions.

A picture of 100 euro banknotes to make a point about aid schemes being conditionally approved by the European Commission.
If an EU member state wants to provide a financial scheme (or State Aid), it will have to seek the approval of the European Commission to do so with the condition that the financial scheme meets the requirements of EU agreements like the European Green Deal.
Image Source: Robert Anasch

Maybe with the government subsidies in place, electric bus companies have been able to spread their supply network further as public transport operators are nowadays placing huge orders for electric buses.

In addition to the cities of Münster, Cologne, Osnabrück, Oberhausen-Bottrop, Leipzig and Kiel, the Dutch bus manufacturer VDL Bus & Coach is distributing 7, 6 and 3 electric buses (called Citeas) to Plön, Völklingen and Neuss respectively.

“As more and more subsidies become available, the choice to purchase zero-emission buses has become easier. Doing so will enable not only the big cities but also smaller towns to achieve their desired greening more quickly and effectively.

This is an important development for VDL Bus & Coach because of its continuity and spread. We are looking to use our experience as a European frontrunner in the field of electric public transport as widely as possible.”

Managing Director Boris Höltermann of VDL Bus & Coach Deutschland GmbH.

Another bus manufacturer, Solaris, also distributed 90 electric buses in Berlin. Said to be one of the largest orders for electric buses in Europe, the buses have 300 kWh batteries, can carry up to 65 passengers and include amenities such as air conditioners with carbon dioxide heat pump, CCTV cameras, USB ports for passengers and a turning camera to help the driver drive more safely.

BYD C9 electric coach
The BYD C9 electric bus ordered by some German public transport operators from Chinese manufacturer BYD Auto.
Image Source: Spielvogel

And recently, Maersk rail transport has provided a new CapO2-free intermodal transports solution to German rail companies. This cost-neutral system, powered by green electricity, is said to save around 9,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually compared to normal trains and 40,000 tones compared to road transport.

Another recent headliner, Siemens, won a 5-year contract from Hamburger Hochbahn to equip 2 carports at the 240-parking space Alsterdorf bus depot with 96 charging points as well as medium and low-voltage technology. Each charging point has a capacity of 150 kilowatts to charge the buses when they’re not in service.

Also benefiting from Siemens’ initiative, though miles away from Hamburg, is public transport operator VAG Nürnberg. In a bid to successively electrify its bus services, VAG Nürnberg ordered 39 electric buses from MAN Truck & Bus. The 480 kWh solo and 640 kWh articulated (bendy) buses, which can carry up to 88 and 120 passengers respectively, will be charged in a green electricity depot with 39 parking spaces.

These were a few among the many developments in the country. And since we’re a Big Data company, it’s worth mentioning that there are several Big Data use cases in this pursuit for an electric public transport system including water supply for producing green hydrogen, clean energy and public transport. From the looks of how things are going at the moment, we can expect to see more announcements of orders for electric public transport vehicles in Germany. Could this be a sign that Germany is heading in the right direction?

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