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?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywLhNwSBizE

Simon.

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