Double decker passenger cars in Europe

Double decker passenger cars in Europe


By Ernest H. Robl


While double-decker passenger equipment, Amtrak Superliner cars, are a familiar sight to much of America, particularly in areas west of Chicago, double-decker passenger cars are a fairly recent development in Europe.


Amtrak  Superliner (USA)


Roger’s earlier post on Schnellbahn (S-Bahn) commuter equipment prompted me to look at this subject, as some European commuter services are now being run with push-pull sets of double-decker equipment rather than EMU or DMU trains.

Double-decker equipment has also been used in commuter service in North America, but the most obvious comparisons between American and European equipment focus on the more familiar Superliner equipment.

Superliners are very tall and heavy cars that have full standing room on both the upper and lower levels.  These cars were only possible due to the large clearances found on most lines in the western U.S.

Boarding is on the lower level, which usually also has some accommodations and seating.  But, as the lower floor is between the trucks and close to the tracks, it extends for only part of the length of the car.

The upper level is reached via a staircase in each car and connections between cars are all at the upper level.  This makes it impossible to have access between single-level cars and Superliner cars in the same train – unless a special transition car is used.



With the much tighter clearances in Europe, developing any kind of double-decker cars took a lot of ingenuity.

That, of course, raises the question of why have double-decker cars to begin with?  The answer is capacity.

In both urban areas and at stations in mountainous terrain, there were situations where existing trains were at capacity – but where extending platform lengths was not a cost-effective option.  And, running more trains of the standard length also posed problems in that the existing lines were already at capacity.

European double-decker designs were squeezed into the existing clearance profile by sacrificing headroom in the seating areas on both decks.


First in the East

East Germany was actually a pioneer in the introduction of double-decker equipment in early Era IV.  True to East German aesthetics of the time, the cars were rather boxy-looking without much flair for elegant design.

HO models of these cars were already being produced by Sachsenmodelle in the early 1990s, some of which were also distributed by Roco.

The rest of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (as well as some other European countries) had their first wide-spread introductions of double-decker equipment during Era V.  Most of this equipment continues to operate in Era VI.



So, why were existing DMU trains being replaced with push-pull double-decker equipment?  Here the reason was flexibility.

The power unit of any train is the most maintenance-intensive and prone to failure part of the train.  As most EMU and DMU trains are usually semi-permanently coupled into fixed sets, any problem with the power car usually meant that the whole train was out of service.

Yes, these trains could be split up in the shops, but these sets often had non-standard couplers, which led to problems with moving any parts of such trains by themselves.

Of course, double-decker equipment was not the only equipment used in a push-pull configuration —Austria’s Railjet long-distance trains are a prime example — but double-decker equipment offered high passenger capacity within a relatively short train length.

Push-pull operation became much simpler once digital standards were developed for communication between locomotive and cab control car.  These modern standards use relatively simple wiring between equipment, as two-way communication is over a data bus that allows complex signals over few wires.  (See my earlier post about MU operation in Europe.)

With push-pull operation, you can easily swap out the engine for maintenance or repairs.  And, you can vary the train length as conditions require.

You can also use either an electric or diesel locomotive, as needed.  (Again, modern cab cars have the capability of working with either type of motive power.)


Lucerne-Zurich, Switzerland

My Austrian double-deckers

Double-deck passenger cars really were not on my radar.  True, I had seen some double-deck equipment in Austria in 2001, but I had never traveled in any of these cars.

But, several factors converged.  About two years ago, I was beginning to look at options for a possible future layout.  And, I had already decided that I would only use 1:100 HO passenger cars.

I found the assortment of current (Era V-VI) severely limited – but did find that Reynauld’s had a nice set of Roco Austrian double-deckers in Era V paint and lettering.  The Roco 64010 set, consisting of two second class coaches and a second-class cab car, was a bit pricey, but would fit in well with what I planned to do on my future layout.  (A supplemental additional coach with different numbers was available, but I decided to pass on that for now.)

A little research showed that these models were produced from toolings that Roco acquired from the Austrian firm Klein Modellbahn (KMB) when the latter firm shut down.  I had always liked KMB models, so that was an additional factor in their favor.

I plan to run the three-car set with a Roco 1142 (a 1042 upgraded for MU operation), quite sufficient power for such a train.  But, any of my modern MU capable locomotives could be used on this train.

This year Roco has produced a new run of these Austrian double-decker cars with different car numbers and a slightly different paint scheme.  The new version has catalog number 64140, and also has an additional matching supplemental car available.



 Roco 64140, the current version of the HO three-car set of Austrian double-decker commuter cars (in 1:100 length scale).

A pleasant surprise, when I opened up the cab control car of my set, was that this car had an eight-pin NEM 652 decoder plug installed.  Adding a decoder for digital operation was a simple matter of plugging it in and programming it to the correct address.  Now the installed head and tail lights also change correctly during digital operation.


Additional features

Most European double-deck equipment has the vestibules at the end of the car (above the trucks) at the standard floor height of single-level equipment.  So, the connection to the adjoining car is also at the standard height of single-level equipment.  Therefore, if necessary, double-decker equipment can be combined with single-level cars in the same train, while still providing continuous passage through the train.

Both push-pull and double-decker operations have also gained popularity on North American commuter railroads.


Maerklin 43584


This has only been a quick introduction to double-decker passenger equipment.  Take a look through the passenger rolling stock offerings of your favorite model manufacturer, and you will see just how popular double decker equipment has become in Europe.  Even a double-decker version of the French TGV high-speed train has been in service for years on some French high-speed lines.

In the meantime, I’ve found that the market of 1:100 modern passenger cars wasn’t nearly as limited as I had initially feared.  I’ve acquired a variety of other, primarily Austrian, cars – some used and some new.  Piko, for example, has announced some new Swiss long-distance coaches in 1:100 for later this year, which will fit in nicely with my other equipment.  But, I don’t have any regrets about getting the Roco double-deckers.

On my planned layout, the push-pull double decker set will run from the main station to a hidden stub-end track with a matching electric locomotive.  But, for special events, the double-decker cars could even make a trip up the non-electrified branch line with a suitable diesel.



2 Responses to Double decker passenger cars in Europe

  1. Martin Heald says:

    I am very interested in purchasing a four car set of the blue Swiss double decker train. I assume theyvare AC powered as Marklin. Are they self propelled and will they run on Marklin eqipment?
    I look forward to your reply
    Kind regards
    Martin Heald

  2. Ernest Robl says:

    I am not that familiar with Swiss equipment, other than what I see listed in catalogs. However, I do know that the Swiss have quite a range of equipment, some of which is self-propelled (EMU) and other of which is locomotive-hauled (including push-pull equipment with cab control cars).

    It would help if you indicate which equipment (and from what model manufacturer) you are interested in.

    Many manufacturers, such as Roco, now make equipment for both two rail DC and three-rail AC systems. Where there are different versions for each of the systems (such as in the case of locomotives) the manufacturer specifies which model number is for which system. Most cars can be used on both systems, but you may need to change out the wheel sets. In those cases, the manufacturer usually lists the compatible set of AC axles.

    Where cars have powered features, there may also be DC and AC versions of the cars.

    Again, let us know what equipment you are interested in, and perhaps someone can then answer your specific questions.

    – Ernest

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