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Trains of the future in the DB Museum Nuremberg

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Trains of the future in the DB Museum Nuremberg

Dhe future of the railway is more than 200 years old: in the 18th century, low-friction wagon trains with iron wheels running on iron rails became established in British mining. It wasn’t long before far-sighted innovators started thinking about further developing this infrastructure technology as a public service for goods and passenger transport. From today’s perspective, 1825 is considered the final moment of upheaval. At that time, the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened in England as the first public railway to haul trains with steam locomotives. A few basic technical principles have not changed since then: metal wheels roll very efficiently on metal rails with little friction and are track-guided. Even the track gauge of 1435 millimeters is still the same as that used today in most countries around the world for the tracks of new high-speed lines.

Sounds like a rather sedate, straight forward development? The new special exhibition “Futurails. Paths and false paths on rails” at the DB Museum in Nuremberg tells a different story. Because railway history is technical and cultural history full of visions, dreams and ideas. “There is often the assumption that the development of the railways has been linear. But the overall picture is more like biological evolution with its many ramifications and dead ends,” says Rainer Mertens. The historian is deputy director of the DB Museum in Nuremberg and designed the exhibition. It opened at the end of March 2023 and can be seen until December 4, 2023.

Nothing has changed in principle

What is possibly the most astounding finding of the show is the stubbornness with which the adhesion track, which is guided by flanged wheels, has survived to this day. The principle hasn’t changed since the “Adler” locomotive pulled the first train in Germany from Nuremberg to Fürth in 1835 – right up until the latest generation of the Deutsche Bahn’s Intercity Express and other high-speed trains. Leaving aside the drive (before the steam locomotive, the horse in the lead provided the traction power), the tradition goes back even further: “The wheel-rail system is around 250 years old and still works in principle as it did in the beginning”. , confirms Mertens.

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There was never a lack of alternative designs for the further development of the railway system. In the early days of railway history in particular, in the 1820s and 1830s, the openness to technology was immense. The exhibition tells of monorails of various types, overhead railways and magnetic levitation trains, also of trains with pneumatic drives or propellers. All of this has been thought up, many things have been built as prototypes and some have been implemented as isolated solutions. So far, none of the systems have made the big breakthrough – neither the Transrapid nor the space-efficient monorails, of which there are two well-known examples in Germany that are firmly integrated into public transport in Dresden and Wuppertal.

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“Futurails. Paths and wrong turns on rails”

Visions and plans for alternative railway systems are always driven by the desire to increase efficiency and technical improvements: Can the complex construction of the classic track with two rails, sleepers and embankment be replaced by another solution? Are there alternatives to propelling the train versus sending power to the wheels? And could even the air resistance be largely overcome?

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