The DB Class 420 EMU (S-Bahn)

The DB Class 420 EMU (S-Bahn)

By Roger Heid


Some say that the ‘S’ is the abbreviation of ‘Strasse’ (street), meaning that an S-Bahn is a Strassen Bahn (Trolley). This is actually incorrect. The ‘S’ is supposed to be standing for the word ‘Schnell’ (fast). However, there appears to be a conflict about this, depending who you listen to. The typical Strassenbahn or trolley ordinarily runs on a narrower track gauge. It is not something the DB would operate. A U-Bahn is a subway, running mostly underground. EMU stands for Electric Multiple Units.

The S-Bahn concept was designed for rapid commuter service, connecting larger cities to other nearby communities and cities. The first Class 420 train units were procured in 1969, initially for the cities of Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt.


Typically, they could seat 194 in 2nd class, 17 or 33 in 1st class, depending on the version. A total of 480 units were produced until 1997 by several manufacturers. The top speed was 75 mph which could be reached in within 40 seconds. For a sports car, that would be considered quite sluggish, but for a whole train this was remarkable.

Later series were constructed of lightweight aluminum to increase the payload. Air conditioning was added to comply with more modern standards. They were then repainted in ‘Traffic Red’. As time went by, the Class 420 was replaced by the more modern Class 430 which is very similar in appearance.


Class 430

Correction: This is actually a Class 425 (see comment below)

Some units were acquired by Sweden and Denmark, to be retired by 2008. A number of units were transferred to the S-Bahn Rhein-Main in the Frankfurt area where some of them are still in use. The S-Bahn Stuttgart took the last 420 out of service in 2013.


Later version of Class 420

Maerklin and Roco are currently listing model versions in 3-rail AC and  2-rail DC, respectively. If you are modeling a modern urban area, you may want to look into one of those. The Maerklin version features factory installed internal lighting.


Maerklin 37506


Roco 63046

2 Responses to The DB Class 420 EMU (S-Bahn)

  1. Ernest Robl says:

    Austria has also long had an extensive S-Bahn network — first in the Vienna area and then also in the Salzburg and Innsbruck areas.

    For many years these were operated primarily with class 4020 EMU sets (available in several versions from Jägerndorfer). Some of these are still in use today.

    A typical S-Bahn pattern is that the S-Bahn has its own dedicated tracks in the urban areas, often running in tunnels and being a level down from the long-distance trains at major stations. Then, further out from the city center, the S-bahn tracks run parallel to the main line long distance tracks and then merge into them.

    In the major suburban stations where some long-distance trains also stop, the S-bahn trains will have their own platforms or tracks.

    Service to major airports is also provided with S-Bahn equipment. For example, in Munich, I have several times taken the S-Bahn EMUs between the airport and either Munich Hbf. or Munich East, where I transferred to trains to Innsbruck or Salzburg.

    As the illustrations above show, S-Bahn equipment has multiple large doors per car, allowing quick movement of passengers during relatively brief stops.

    A French equivalent to the S-Bahn service is the RATP service in the Paris area.

    One factor that differentiates S-Bahn service from subways, which may also operate in the same cities, is that the subway stops are much closer together in the urban areas.

    – Ernest

  2. Misha K says:

    Your third pic (captioned “Class 430″) actually shows a class 425, which is not an S-Bahn really (though used as such in Hannover) but was conceived as a Regionalbahn. You may have meant to show a pic of the very similar looking Class 423 (which has an additional set of exits per unit) and was designed as a true S-Bahn and was the first successor of the 420 in most markets. The 430 showed up a bit later and looks rather different. ;-)

    The 420 also for a long time ran in Nuremberg, as well as in the Rhein-Ruhr S-Bahn network, where it was later replaced by push-pull trains using Class 111/143 and X-Wagen coaches. In N Scale Arnold has a gorgeous new Class 420 model in most of the common paint variants which you sell as well. It has factory installed interior lighting and painted seats as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>