From Berlin, to Budapest, to the world

Siemens metros – Past and present

Siemens has been a pioneer in electromobility on rails since 1879, and has been building modern, high-performance mass transit systems since 1881. Whether as trams in dedicated lanes, as elevated trains, or as subways, Siemens’ technological innovations in rail traffic still stand today as pioneering achievements in the ongoing development of urban mobility worldwide.

Cities continue to grow – Environmental friendly mobility

In addition to demographic upheaval and climate change, urbanization is presenting us with challenges on a global scale. In 2010, over half of the world’s population was already living in densely populated urban areas. It’s expected that 90 percent of future population growth will be concentrated in cities. As a result, mass transit is also growing: By 2050, the number of passenger-kilometers travelled in the world’s major cities will have tripled. Efficient and sustainable mobility is therefore a key focus for cities and local communities around the world. High-capacity mass transit systems are the answer to overcoming gridlock, air pollution, and lack of parking spaces. Rail-based, electrically powered light rail vehicles and metros play a significant role, because they not only ensure the attractiveness and competitiveness of urban centers, they also make a significant contribution to environmental protection.


Electromobility right from the start – From the first tram to light rail vehicles for Canada

From its earliest days, Siemens was already committed to electrified mass transit on rails. Since the 1880s, a tremendous dynamic had been unfolding in the world’s major cities, both economically and in terms of population growth. Since discovering the dynamicelectric principle  in 1866, Werner von Siemens dreamed of an elevated railway in Berlin, but his plan initially failed due to technical restrictions and political resistance. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur persisted, and in 1881 he began accumulating valuable experience with the world’s first electric tram. In 1867, excited about the potential applications of the dynamo-electric principle he had discovered the year before, Werner von Siemens was already talking about “building railways on iron pillars along the streets of Berlin and operating them with electricity.” 


Werner von Siemens didn’t live to see how Siemens & Halske used his expertise to build the first subway on the European continent two years after his death. The subway entered operation in Budapest in 1896 and its first cars continued to be deployed for the next 77 years. The German capital was just a few years behind: In 1902, Siemens’ dream was finally fulfilled with the inauguration of the first elevated and underground railway in Berlin. In the 1930s, the company took on more and more of a pioneering role in subway projects in Europe and South America, including Athens and Buenos Aires. Since the 1950s, Siemens’ vehicles, traction units, and train protection systems have been highly sought after around the world. Siemens’ expertise and energy-saving trains have been used, for example, to build or expand subway systems in Lisbon, Munich, Nuremberg, and Vienna. In 1977, Siemens succeeded in breaking into the North American market with modern light rail vehicles that were a further development of the U2 type from Frankfurt am Main. Administrators for the region around Edmonton and Calgary in the Province of Alberta, Canada, continue to place orders. Calgary is so impressed with the trains produced in California that Siemens has been their sole supplier for 40 years.

New continents, new solutions – Turnkey mass transit systems

Siemens has been successfully bidding on metro projects in Asia since the 1970s. Under the company’s leadership, new railways have been established in Singapore, Shanghai, Taipei, and Guangzhou. New trains and modern signal technology have also been introduced to enable higher passenger capacities with closer headways. At the same time, Siemens has been processing new contracts in Europe, North America, and South America. Shanghai in China and San Juan on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico received some of the first turnkey mass transit systems in which Siemens played a key role from planning to commissioning. From line construction and railway stations through electrification and train control technology all the way to the vehicles and trained personnel, Siemens was involved in every detail and coordinated the work of subcontractors. Today Siemens is a leading supplier for the construction of turnkey systems. Orders of this type have come, for example, from Puerto Rico, the U.S. (1996), Kaohsiung, Taiwan (2003), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (2014), Bangkok, Thailand (multiple projects in 1997, 2002, 2016, 2017), Rennes, France (2002), and Gurgaon near Delhi, India (2010). A tram system with no overhead contact lines is being installed in Doha, Qatar.

Long-term responsibility for trains – Maintenance included

Siemens also developed the first elevated and underground railways In Bangkok and was responsible for project management and for manufacturing the trains. A new trend emerged at the turn of the century: Mass transit services were increasingly being advertised for bids and awarded for a specific time period, which often meant that the operator no longer owned the infrastructure. In Bangkok, Siemens assumed responsibility for a period of ten years or more and ensured maximum vehicle availability – maximum in this case meaning over 99 percent. This trend caught on quickly and continues today. In mass transit, maintenance contracts are being concluded for 30 years or more, allowing vehicle and infrastructure owners to calculate the long-term lifecycle costs of transportation systems. Companies with short-term transportation contracts benefit from vehicles that are perfectly maintained and always in near-mint condition by simply renting them. This gives them more flexibility because they don’t have to finance or support their own rolling stock. Siemens also benefits, because the manufacturer knows the vehicles best and can eliminate vulnerabilities discovered in operation from future vehicle generations.

Automatic driving – Flexible and high-capacity

Metros are usually closed systems that are ideal for automation. Thanks to their high operating frequency, driverless trains increase line capacity. They can also be centrally controlled and deployed as needed, without having to keep drivers in reserve for peak periods. With the RUBIN project, Siemens did pioneering work for VAG Nürnberg by initially automating the new U3 subway line but temporarily allowing mixed operation with manually controlled trains. This demanded considerable expertise when it came to protecting the line, platforms, and equipment on the camera-monitored vehicles. After years of preparatory work, regular fully automatic operation began in 2008 and was then expanded to include U2.


Another mode of fully automatic transportation began operation at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris in 2007. The Val (Véhicule automatique léger or Automated People Mover) automatically commutes between the three terminals and makes five stops. The world’s largest metro project was implemented in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. In 2013, Siemens was awarded a €1.5 billion contract to supply a complete turnkey system including rolling stock, power supply systems, and train protection systems as well as system integration for two driverless subway lines. During peak periods, the automatic trains can operate at 90-second intervals and provide the necessary capacity for handling the urban transit needs of the city’s five million inhabitants. Vehicle delivery began in 2018.

Looking to the future – Energy-saving, automatic, reliable, and comfortable

Mass transit systems are living systems that are constantly growing, developing, and needing to be adapted to increasing numbers of passengers. Siemens is collaborating with major cities on many levels. Light rail vehicles and metros have long been recognized as alternatives to gridlock and its consequences – air pollution and lack of parking spaces. Modern trains save energy and offer new lighting concepts, WiFi, air-conditioning, a comfortable interior, entertainment, and information. Thanks to digitalization, passengers will soon have access to displays of cars with empty seats before their train arrives. The acceptance of metros and light rail vehicles will continue to improve as public transportation and electronic ticketing systems become networked. New control systems and automatic trains permit closer headways, thereby increasing capacity and enhancing the comfort of commuters, tourists, and occasional drivers. And finally, sophisticated maintenance concepts will in the future ensure highly available trains that break down far less often.


Siemens isn’t just the leading provider of long-term maintenance contracts with its own workshops and trained personnel. The company is constantly improving its metros and light rail vehicles, which can be modularly tailored to the needs of the operator and are so flexible that they can still be upgraded with the latest technology even after many years. Automatic metro trains have been operating for many years. As a pioneer in rail-based urban transit, Siemens continues to develop its vehicles and automatic train control systems. Innotrans 2018 will see the world premiere of an autonomous tram that registers its environment visually and electronically, uses artificial intelligence to evaluate the data, and reacts autonomously to signals, cars, and pedestrians. Siemens is fully prepared for the transport of the future. 

Milestones of urban mobility

Take a look at our picture gallery, where you'll find selected Siemens solutions for the challenges of urban public transport.

Friedhelm Weidelich