Dining on the Move

Rheinbahn Bistro Tram © Simon field

Rheinbahn Bistro Tram © Simon field

I like searching out interesting and quirky public transport operations on my travels around Europe, the kinds of things that add some style and class to otherwise mundane buses, trams and trains.

Germany is well known for its extensive metropolitan rail-based public transport networks and innovative ‘tram-trains’ in Karlsruhe, Kassel and Zwickau, an idea which has spread to France and is shortly to be trialled in England (on the wrong kind of route, but never mind).

But did you know it’s possible to arrive at your destination refreshed, having been fed and watered en route? Yes, there are a handful of ‘bistro trams’ in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany! As far as I know – and please send in any information you have – Rheinbahn line U76 between Duesseldorf and Krefeld is the only remaining tram or light rail route offering food and drink on normal scheduled services. For the technical, this uses standard Duewag high-floor Stadtbahn B-cars dating from the 1970s. The route is about 30 km in length, with an end to end journey time of 45 minutes. That’s enough of the boring stuff…

A soup on the way to work! © Simon Field

A soup on the way to work? © Simon Field

A café vehicle first appeared on the line in 1924, thanks to Rheinbahn director Max Schwab’s determination to do something a little different. Such was its success that four more were ordered for the Krefeld route, joined by further restaurant trams for the Duesseldorf-Duisburg inter-urban line in 1949. A decline in patronage from the late-1950s saw the Krefeld line lose its buffets in 1963, not returning until 1989, by which time the new VRR ‘Verkehrsverbund’ (travel authority) had been coordinating timetables and offering integrated ticketing throughout the Ruhr for 9 years. In particular, the introduction of low-cost transferable season tickets undoubtedly played a large role in the 18% growth in passenger km between 1980 and 1989.

So what’s on offer today? The ‘Bistrowagen’ operate every 40 minutes on weekdays on line U76. The inexpensive menu includes hot and cold drinks (including beer of course), soup, sandwiches and cakes, plus a ‘special’ such as meatballs in a roll. As my pictures show, it’s all very civilised and, most importantly, people were using the service during my visit on a wet Tuesday in March. Guten Appetit!

Sadly it appears that Ruhr line U79 no longer sees any bistro trams – unless you know different – and those on the Karlsruhe system are used only for special events and private hire.

Guten Appetit! © Simon Field

Guten Appetit! © Simon Field

Other special – and often expensive – restaurant tram services include:

* Fondue-trams in Zurich, Switzerland.

* ‘Dining cars’ in heritage trams in Milan, Italy.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re aware of any others, especially those operating regular scheduled services rather than special tours for diners.

And finally, can anyone beat this for impromptu at-seat dining on a metro system?



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Carfree London?

Imagine the plot… an evil tycoon or dictator plans to destroy the planet by pumping out carbon dioxide until irreversible climate change takes hold and we all drown, starve or kill each other in wars over scarce resources. Who or what could save us?

What’s that in the distance?

Is it a giant shield to deflect the sun’s energy?
Is it an electric car?
Is it the promised bionic duckweed-powered perpetual motion transportation machine of the future here today?
Is it Superman?

No! It’s a carfree London.

Move over Clarke Kent, today’s heroes are James Woodcock and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Their recent research in medical journal The Lancet (too radical for the academic transport press?) examined various scenarios designed to reduce CO2 emissions from transport in London by 80%, in line with the British target enshrined in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

They found that a carfree Greater London with significant land use changes to reduce trip distances – facilitating a shift to active travel – and challenging transport energy efficiency improvements are required to reduce emissions by 83% on a 2000 baseline. Unfortunately for the ‘technology will save us’ brigade, business as usual with moderate efficiency gains would deliver a cut of only 11.5%. A third scenario of a carfree inner London with ‘hybrid suburbs’ would enable a maximum reduction of 55%.

As well as ignoring Londoners’ air travel and emissions associated with commuters and tourists from outside London, there are a host of optimistic assumptions in the modelling of these scenarios, ranging from de-carbonisation of energy supplies (vital for electric cars to deliver net carbon savings), measures to limit population growth in the south-east of England and implementation of policies to support active travel. So the message is clear: a carfree Greater London is required, but is just one of the policies we need if serious about reducing CO2 emissions from transport, currently the only sector in which they are still increasing.

Boris, will you be the superman who banishes the car and saves us from ourselves? Perhaps your near miss with a Luther Industries truck and parked car has focussed your mind somewhat? Over to you…

Simon Field

Note: please contact me if you would like a copy of the full text from the Lancet article.

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Fuming mad

Air quality has plummeted along one of the main traffic sewers into Brighton to such an extent that the Council has said no to new house building on the route: residents would be poisoned in their own homes.

Air pollution in Brighton - ©The Argus

Air pollution in Brighton - ©The Argus

Green councillor Ian Davey said, “It is staggering we have allowed air quality to get so terrible.”

Quite. What about the existing population of the area? Er, they’ve been told not to open their windows.

My questions for car drivers, the local authority and the Department for Transport are:

1. In a city well served by rail and bus, do you have to make your journey by car?

2. When will we have ‘action’ from the local Air Quality Action Plan e.g. bans on a proportion of the private car fleet on hot days, as used in Italy and Greece? Was it sensible to permit the withdrawal of Brighton’s sole park and ride service in April, and why are you considering lower city centre car parking charges?

3. Why are the premature deaths of 24,000 people in Britain every year from air pollution considered acceptable? What happened to the polluter pays concept?

What does our society value more: the freedom from entirely controllable threats to our health, or the so-called right to drive when, where and as often as we want without restriction?

In the words of the EC’s 2001 transport white paper, it’s time to decide.

Simon Field

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