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Cologne’s KVB opens electric bus depot in Porz

The new electric bus depot in Porz. The charging traverses have photovoltaic panels on the top | © KVB/Stephan Anemüller

On 15 March 2024, the first construction phase of the new electric bus depot of Cologne’s public transport operator KVB was officially opened in the Porz district as part of the “Smart City KVB” project. It took just 1.5 years to obtain planning permission, with construction due to start in January 2022. Stefanie Haaks, Chairwoman of the KVB Management Board, NRW Transport Minister Oliver Krischer, planner Ascan Egerer and KVB Chief Technical Officer Jörn Schwarze attended the opening.

As Cologne’s fleet of electric buses continues to grow, work on the second construction phase is already underway in Porz.

From left to right: NRW Transport Minister Oliver Kirchner, the district mayor of Cologne-Porz, KVB boss Stefanie Haaks, planner Aslan Egerer and KVB chief technician Jörn Schwarze (far right) | © Christian Marquordt
Brand new VDL Citea articulated e-bus KVB no. 7031 at the e-depot in Porz | © Christian Marquordt

About the new electric bus depot

The new electric bus depot has been built on an area of 63,000 square metres – roughly the size of nine football pitches. The site was originally home to Dielektra (originally Meirowski AG, later taken over by Siemens). Dielektra manufactured transformers and insulators for the electrical industry here. After Dielektra (Siemens) ceased production here, the site lay derelict for twenty years. And this in a relatively central location in the Porz district in the neighbourhood of the Cologne-Porz S-Bahn station and the important “Porz Markt” transfer point within the KVB network.

KVB CEO Haaks: “Back then, people didn’t really pay attention to this. As a result, the site was contaminated when we took it over. We first had to start with a thorough clean-up.”

KVB CEO Stefanie Haaks during her speech | © Christian Marquordt

This new depot is home exclusively to electric buses. It is the first electric bus depot not only of the KVB, but in the whole of North Rhine-Westphalia. It is also the largest electric bus depot in the whole of Germany. KVB currently has 81 battery electric buses in operation, with a further 12 in the process of being registered. In addition, there are 24 vehicles that are currently under construction or awaiting delivery to Cologne. All of Cologne’s electric buses come from the Dutch manufacturer VDL (even though they are built in Roeselare, Belgium). A tender for a further 46 electric buses is currently underway.

In addition to the parking and recharging areas for the buses, the new depot will of course also have a workshop, a washing facility and a transport service building. A transformer station for Rheinische Netz-Gesellschaft (RNG) is also being built here.

KVB currently operates a total of 407 buses on a daily basis, around 300 of which are owned by KVB, while the rest are private vehicles operated on behalf of KVB. With currently 117 electric buses – plus 46 that are currently out to tender – Cologne’s KVB is one of the pioneers of electric buses in Germany. Around a third of its (own) fleet is already electric.

E-bus 6003, one of the first VDL Citea SLFA-181/electric from 2016, under the charging station at the central station | © Christian Marquordt

First electric bus line in December 2016

In December 2016, Cologne’s first electric bus line went into operation with line 133 (Central Station – Heumarkt – Südstadt – Südfriedhof), with eight “VDL Citea SLFA-181/electric” vehicles at the time. The vehicles were designed for recharging on their route, so there were (and still are) recharging masts at the main railway station and on Höninger Platz at the Südfriedhof. Cologne’s first eight electric buses have now been fitted with new batteries, not because the first ones were “at the end”, but because the buses have a significantly greater range with the new batteries. Lines 126, 141, 145 and 149 on the left bank of the Rhine and lines 150, 153, 159 and 196 on the right bank are now also being operated with battery buses.

With the new electric bus depot in Porz, lines 160, 161, 162, 165 and 166 are now also being converted to the use of electric buses. These five lines operate in the Porz area and therefore in the neighbourhood of the new depot. Charging stations will be installed at the central “Porz Markt” stop for recharging on the line. The KVB is also thinking about setting up an express bus network.

Long empty journeys of 25 kilometres between the northern depot, where the previous electric buses were based and which took around 35 minutes, and the area of operation in the Porz district will be avoided. KVB also emphasises that the location of the new electric bus depot within the city has economic advantages. The location of the new depot is also advantageous for any rail replacement services. Note: electric buses will of course continue to be located at the Depot Nord.

The buses “refuel” with green electricity

There is also a charging station for every parking space for a bus at the new Porz depot. As on the line, the bus drives under a “funnel” to which a roof pantograph rises – this is how the electrical contact is established. Several charging stations are attached to a “traverse”, which is reminiscent of overhead contact line systems, for example above multi-track railway stations.

Cologne’s electric buses are charged with green electricity. And although a bus depot naturally means that a large area is sealed, great care has been taken to ensure that the electric bus depot is a “green depot”. For example, the facades of four buildings covering an area of 540 square metres have been greened.

Group sister company “RheinEnergie” is currently supplying the required alternating current via two 10 kV lines. This is transformed to 750 volts, distributed to the individual chargers and converted into direct current. Each charger supplies two charging stations.

As soon as contact is established between the bus and the charging station, the bus communicates how much power it needs via data exchange. Based on this information, the system recharges the bus accordingly.

Electricity for the buses is also generated by nine photovoltaic systems with a peak output of up to 440 kilowatt hours. And thus “produced on site”. The top of the tavers with the recharging stations for the buses are also fitted with photovoltaic panels. – The energy consumption for heat generation was kept very low.

The roofs of all seven buildings on the site will be planted, which corresponds to an area of 3,735 square metres. The vegetation is already starting to feel at home there.

Trees are being planted around the edges of the depot. This not only makes the site more visually appealing, but also helps the microclimate on site. A biotope has also been created – nobody would have thought of something like this before when building something as sober as a depot …

Rainwater is not channelled into the sewage system, but is allowed to seep away on the site.

About the financing

In her speech, KVB boss Stefanie Haaks expressed her dissatisfaction with the current situation regarding the funding of electric buses. She said that de facto discontinuing the funding now would definitely jeopardise the transport turnaround. The federal government must take a step back and continue its current financial commitment. “Without the joint shaping of the drive turnaround, this threatens to fail.” Haaks continued: “I expect the federal government to find a constructive solution and also that the next conference of transport ministers will push for an early solution. The transport companies need this funding in order to achieve the climate protection targets.”

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has subsidised the purchase of Cologne’s electric buses to date with around 18.5 million euros, while the federal government has contributed around 26.3 million euros. Around 26 million euros in funding is currently outstanding.

Brand new VDL Citea articulated e-bus KVB no. 7039 at the e-depot in Porz | © Christian Marquordt