Check out Berlin's new S-Bahns

Air conditioning, video surveillance and seat cushions that'll make you think you're in a regional train.

Berlin, meet your new trains.
Berlin, meet your new trains.Berliner Zeitung/Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Berlin-The S-Bahn is hoping to celebrate Silvester, or New Years, with new trains rather than the German tradition of excessive fireworks. At 1.01am, 1 January 2021, the public transport authority hopes to put a new generation of its red-and-tan carriages into service. 

"Passenger compartments will be air-conditioned for the first time," says S-Bahn Berlin CEO Peter Buchner. The trains have fewer seats than current S-Bahns but more room for wheelchairs and strollers, as well as the air conditioning units that can cool ambient air by three degrees celsius.

The trains still need official approval from German authorities and don't yet belong to Berlin – the city-state has ordered 382 of the futuristic-looking trains at a cost of €900 million from makers Stadler Pankow and Siemens.  They're known formally as model 483/484. 

"We definitely want to celebrate. If that's not possible on the platform because of the pandemic, then we'll do it virtually on the internet," Buchner says while at the Grünau factory where the first 10 model trains are stationed. Half have four cars and the other half just two. 

Engineer Marco Förster.
Engineer Marco Förster.Berliner Zeitung/Benjamin Pritzkuleit

The trains have been undergoing tests on Berlin's network and riders say the interior is more Deutsche Bahn than S-Bahn and have grumbled about the hardness of the seats. Windows can open in the new models but only with a special square key that isn't available in the local hardware shop. Destinations are also displayed both on the outside of the cars as well as information screens inside.

Theoretically the S-Bahn control centre can also beam up-to-the-minute information on to the monitors, if necessary, and video cameras keep an eye on passenger areas. In addition to the hard seats, the warning tone for opening and closing doors is more grating than the current lullaby. 

The S-Bahn is getting more than just new trains. A Polish contractor is also constructing a new €9m facility to wash the new trains. A normal cycle will take 28 minutes and heavily-soiled trains will require 46 minutes. The new train wash also includes a pit, which is already complete, to assist in removing debris. 

The test trains are now mostly enjoying a hard-earned rest.

Plenty of room for wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.
Plenty of room for wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.

"They were put through a demanding trial," says Jürgen Strippel, senior vehicle manager at the S-Bahn. Initial tests ran through August 28 and included a reliability test where the trains had to cover 25,000 kilometres without a break – runing non-stop for several weeks. During the testing phase, the 10 trains will have to cover about 200,000 kilometres total, with most complete.

"I know every ballast stone by name on the way to BER," says engineer Marco Förster. The route was often the site of test runs because it won't be part of regular service until 26 October.

Regular production of the cars has already begun at Stadler's plant in Pankow with the first 10 bodies complete. The project was delayed several years ago by a quibble within Berlin's then Linke-SPD government over the city's mass transit future.

The first trains will be six-car trains on the S47.

"An app tells me how long it will take [before the start]," Buchner says.  Less than 99 days. 

This article was adapted from the German original for Berliner Zeitung English Edition by Andrew Bulkeley.