A Topsy-Turvy Railway
The Novel Sensation of Travelling by the only Suspended Railway Line in the World.
By Vivian Carter
Pearson's Magazine - November 1904
A RIDE on the new Suspended Railway, between the two German towns of Eberfeld and Barmen, provides quite a novel sensation.
It is altogether a topsy-turvy affair. Its trains run below, and not above, the track. It transports passengers through the air and dumps them down at stations hung up in space. To cap the absurdity, the passengers chief fear is —drowning! For this odd railway passes for a great part of its course right over the surface of a river, the Wupper. Its girders meet over the surface of the stream, inclosing it in a continuous iron arch-way.
First, on approaching the Vohwinkel terminal station from the ordinary railway from Dusseldorf,you will probably be greeted with an unique spectacle—a railway carriage hung up in mid-air! It is out for repair, perhaps, and has had to be shunted into a siding in space, for it would be a terrible undertaking to lower such a waggon to terra firma whenever it wanted anything done to it.
Then, reaching the track — a long series of iron arches meeting across a narrow street, and looking very ugly — you will be startled at the approach of an incoming train. It seems to be swimming in from the distance for all the world like a torpedo, both in shape, and motion, swaying to and fro, and seeming to dart at the station over your head.
The fare, second class, for the whole journey—about eight miles—is only four-pence, which is half the cost to the Elberfeld folk of the trip on the ordinary line. That alone makes the suspended railway popular, but otherwise I doubt if it would be much patronised. For travelling by it is not the most pleasant of sensations, though certainly it is a novel one.
On entering the station the train glides in at one side, sweeps round a semi-circle to the opposite platform, and is ready for the return journey. It rests against the platform in a tired fashion, reclining on its side like a ship in dry-dock. You step in, and the signal is given for the start. This signal, by the way, is a little glimmering light hung up a few yards distant on the track. Gliding out, there is no jerking at all or vibration, but something worse. One feels a slight but well-defined sensation of sea-sickness! It is that gentle lurch we know so well on board ship, and the train indulges in it every time it runs round a curve.
At first, all is town. Then one is greeted with a quaint reminder of the country, for we rush through a cluster of tree-tops which brush against the windows as we pass. The oddity of the journey begins when the River Wupper is reached. It is a pathetic stream. Designed by Nature to run between high hills and wooded banks, its chief surroundings now are a forest of factory chimneys.
The girders that uphold the line are driven right into the factory walls and meet the ground somewhere indoors.
As one approaches a station it looks odd enough from the window of the train. One sees only two thin pieces of wood, with a small space between them, looking like stationary kites sitting in the air. Then we glide in between them and find they are substantial planks on which stand a crowd of passengers.
We pass through Elberfeld, with its narrow streets and its little cafes with high-sounding names, trying their best to disguise the grime of their surroundings by new architectural patterns. Beer gardens line the banks, which, in summer, lighted up and with bands playing, must give a pleasant view of gaiety to passengers overhead.
We make many an odd crossing. Bridges cross the river, sometimes underneath us, sometimes over our heads. At one point a tram crawls along, it seems, almost touching us underneath. Another time, a puffing and jolting announces that another train is passing over our heads.
Whenever there is a curve, one notices that same awful feeling as of sea-sickness, for the train generally takes its bends in a disconcertingly clever fashion. It is this feeling which makes the trip unpleasant. Otherwise its novelty has much to recommend it. Descending at the Barmen-Rittershausen, one pines for a breath of fresh air, and inquires the way to the station on the older and more expensive line.Whatever happens we will not return the same way as we came.
It should be added that the Suspended Railway was not constructed as a curiosity. It is best suited to the needs of the district. A very crowded neighbourhood, wedged in between high hills, it cannot expand save lengthwise. Therefore its suburbs are far apart. To connect them there is already an ordinary railway service and electric cars. These being inadequate, something else was necessary. At first the authorities were puzzled as to how to find space for yet another railway line. Then the designing eye fell on the River Wupper. Steamboats? No; too shallow. An ordinary overhead railway? There were objections. Then the principle of a "swaying railway" was hit on. Thus it comes about that the only line of the sort exists between places in need of it.
The article above describes what is now the oldest working monorail in the world, opened in 1901. For more information see the following web sites:
- The Monorail Society
- The official web site for the line (includes maps etc.)
- A fan site for the line
- Another fan site
Many thanks to Feòrag NicBhrìde for providing these links.
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