Hamburg's rapid transit system has earned a reputation of being one of the most reliable in both Germany and Europe.
The U-Bahn in Hamburg is run by the HHA (Hamburger Hochbahn-Aktiengesellschaft "Hamburg Elevated Train Joint-Stock Company", which also runs most of the city's buses), and even though the train stations are marked with the usual German sign of a white "U" on a blue square meaning Untergrundbahn, Hamburgers refer to it as the Hochbahn. Most of the tracks are above ground and some of the oldest parts of the net are in fact elevated lines. The S-Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn "Urban rapid rail"), as in other German cities, is run by Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company. The U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, some smaller privately-owned suburban trains (numbered A1-A3), the buses and the harbour ferries (Hafenfähren) all belong to the Hamburger Verkehrsverbund ("Hamburg Transport Association"), which means that if you buy a day ticket for the system you can ride by train, bus, and boat. And the HVV area is huge - more than ten times as large as Hamburg - a full area ticket will bring you (as 2019) from the North Sea (read Cuxhaven) nearly to the Baltic Sea (one mile before Lübeck, where another Verkehrsverbund gets in the way). A printed version of the timetable book (city area only!) can serve as an emergency brake pad for a bus. The S-Bahn first opened in Hamburg in 1907, the first U-Bahn line in 1912.
The original U-Bahn/Hochbahn formed a circle that ran and runs partly above and below ground (the stations now all belong to the modern line U3), with two notable stretches built as elevated railways on iron stilts. One of them is the showpiece of the system and a tourist attraction in its own right: starting from Rathaus station, you emerge from the underground part in an elegant curve on the steepest incline in German rapid transport, and the route becomes an elevated railway above a street and a canal. Then, through Rödingsmarkt, Baumwall and Landungsbrücken stations, the elevated track goes along the harbourside, providing a spectacular view of the port of Hamburg, before becoming an underground train again.
Unlike all the other major German cities, such as (East) Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich, Hamburg discontinued the use of trams. The last remaining tram line to run in Hamburg ceased operation in 1978. While there have been proposals to reintroduce trams in the form of light rail (Stadtbahn) to Hamburg, they have yet to come to fruition. Due to the high cost of U-Bahn or S-Bahn expansion and the lack of a tramway to serve corridors where an U-Bahn doesn't (yet) make sense, the city bus system is often quite crowded. Unlike (West) Berlin where double decker buses provide additional capacity, the numerous bridges in Hamburg don't allow the use of such high vehicles leading to double articulated buses on many routes. City Mayor Olaf Scholz, who in 2018 resigned to become a federal minister put into place a "Busbeschleunigung" after he killed plans for a tram system which is intended to reduce the time buses spend stuck in traffic.
U and S-Bahn linesThere are four main S-Bahn lines, with two more during rush hour. Single-digit numbers use the southern route through the city centre (via Jungfernstieg and Landungsbrücken), double-digit numbers the northern one (via Dammtor and Sternschanze).
- S1 (green): Runs between Wedel and Hamburg Airport/Poppenbüttel, splits into two branches at Ohlsdorf.
- S11 (green): Runs between Blankenese and Ohlsdorf during rush hours, on the same lines as S1 outside the city centre.
- S2 (claret): Runs between Altona and Bergedorf during rush hours, on the same lines as S21 outside the city centre.
- S21 (claret): Runs between Elbgaustraße and Aumühle.
- S3 (purple): Runs between Pinneberg and Stade.
- S31 (purple): Runs between Altona and Hauptbahnhof, during rush hours between Altona and Neugraben.
- In older maps you might still find S4 and S5 (in fact regional lines RE 8 and RE 7 by the Deutsche Bahn in the direction of Lübeck and Itzehoe, respectively). Plans to build a "real" S-Bahn on the chronical overloaded S4 line are running.
There are four U-Bahn lines.
- U1 (blue): Runs between and Norderstedt Mitte and Ohlstedt/Großhansdorf, splits into two branches at Volksdorf. Has the longest route of the U-Bahn lines in Hamburg.
- U2 (red): Runs between Niendorf Nord and Mümmelmannsberg.
- U3 (yellow): Runs between Barmbek and Wandsbek-Gartenstadt. Loops around central Hamburg.
- U4 (light green): Runs between Elbbrücken and Billstedt. The newest line in Hamburg, with an option to be further extended to the Wilhelmsburg island (don't hold your breath).
- A new line U5 (light blue) is heavily in the planning stages as of 2019.
Important Stations and Hubs
- Altona: S1, S3, S31. End of the line for regional and many inter-city trains coming into Hamburg. Hub for connections to the west and into Schleswig-Holstein.
- Landungsbrücken: S1, S3, U3. Located on the edge of the St. Pauli quarter, this is the main harbor landing for the Port of Hamburg and a good place to board the harbour ferries and the ferries to the two musical theatres south of the Elbe. The main youth hostel sits right on top of the station.
- Jungfernstieg: S1, S3, all U-Bahn lines. Right next to the Rathaus (town hall), this is the only station besides Hauptbahnhof to have all U-Bahn lines (technically, U3 stops at "Rathaus", a separate station connected to Jungfernstieg by a pedestrian subway). It is also adjacent to the Alster basin. However, HVV tickets are not good on the Alster ferries.
- Dammtor: S21, S31, regional rail. Adjacent to Planten un Blomen, a hundred-acre urban park in the middle of Hamburg, and the university. Considered by many the most beautiful railway station of Hamburg, this is where Wilhelm II got off when he visited the city.
- Hauptbahnhof: The central rail station. All S and U-Bahn lines converge here, linking up with regional and international rail services. Long-distance coach services depart and arrive at the adjacent ZOB (Zentral-Omnibus-Bahnhof). Situated in the middle of downtown Hamburg, the Hauptbahnhof is positioned on one end of Mönckebergstraße (the city's most famous shopping street), and directly next to two of Hamburg's most prominent theatres (the Deutsches Schauspielhaus and the Ohnsorg-Theater) and two of its most important museums (the Kunsthalle and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe).
- Harburg: S3, S31, regional trains. Hub for rail and bus connections south of the Elbe. Also the first stop in Hamburg for long-distance trains coming from the south.
- Ohlsdorf: S1, U1. The first three cars of the S1 trains continue on to the Hamburg Airport, with the rest continuing to Poppenbüttel.
- Bergedorf: S2, S21, regional trains: Rail and bus hub for the rural east of Hamburg, notably the Vierlande. Long-distance trains to and from Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern also stop here.