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S-Bahn is the term for suburban railway services in German cities. The 'S' is short for Schnellbahn (fast railway), though it is sometimes understood alternatively as being short for Stadtbahn (city railway) or Stadtschnellbahn (fast city railway).

S-Bahn trains service greater city areas and depending on the city and time of day run every 10 to 40 minutes, with 20 minutes being the most typical headway.

Some S-Bahn systems (for example, those in Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart) run several lines through a tunnel underneath the city centre. With so many lines converging into these tunnels the result is a headway as short as one to two minutes, which elevates S-Bahn service in the city centre to that typical of high-capacity metro/underground systems.

The S-Bahn systems in Berlin and Hamburg are unique, in that they cover a geographically-smaller area, have much shorter station spacing and run on third rail power. While still providing service to the suburbs, these two systems exhibit characteristics typical of larger metro/underground systems.

In cities with smaller S-Bahn networks (for example, Nürnberg, Bremen), service is more typical to the traditional concept of a suburban commuter railway, albeit with more regular service (20 to 40 minute headways). A tunnel under the Leipzig city centre will convert that city's S-Bahn service from this to the more high-performance form familiar to riders in cities such as Munich.

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