New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.
BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.
With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a daily basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis. Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five. Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours. Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.
Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024. (More on that here). The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.
The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here). At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.
While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.
Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.
Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:
When traveling with the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), there are two extreme forms of communication to keep in mind, which annoy the customer the most: There is no information and there is the decision that is made and there is no compromise. This is especially the case when you find a train arriving for you to board, with the info-board saying the train is leaving in a half hour to your destination, and you enter the train that is unlocked, ONLY to find that you are locked in and your train leaves the platform 20 minutes earlier, enroute to the railyard for repairs!!! You are surprised when the conductor enters the train and finds a trespasser frantically waiting to get out and return to the train station to catch your real connecting train, if it hadn’t left while he found a way to shuttle you back in the meantime.
People being trapped in miscommunication with the Bahn is nothing new to passengers, for announcements and information on the trains are sometimes very patchy, causing confusion and sometimes anger among the passengers dependent on train service as the alternative to driving the car. Whether there is neither information on the info-board nor announcements on the train and it arrives without notice, the lack of communication between the Bahn and the customers is an ongoing problem, and one that cannot be ignored, along with the increasing costs of traveling by train.
Some more examples of such headaches include a person boarding an ICE train upon arrival at Frankfurt without any information on whether or not to board, only to be locked up for 20 minutes while the cleaning crew takes out the garbage and cleans the seats before allowing people to board enroute to Dresden. Then there is a train that is supposed to leave the platform on time, only to be cancelled without notice because the loc driver went on strike. Or one that is my all time favorite: while riding the CityNightLine enroute to Geneva, 15 minutes before approaching Fulda so that the train can be separated between the one going to Basel and one going to Munich and Vienna, I was trapped in the latter train without notice, as train crews locked the door of the section going to Basel- and this while in the restroom next to a restaurant!
From my own personal experience traveling with the Bahn ever since coming to Germany, one can find the miscommunication very often with long-distance trains, in particular, the ICE, for despite its biggest strength of being the fastest and most efficient, customer service is the poorest. This includes a lack of communication between train crew and customers in terms of providing available information on connections, being impatient with customers arriving from trains that are late, providing alternative train connections that are not realistic, and lastly, being too arrogant to provide information via announcements- both in German as well as in English. When an announcer on an ICE-train upon arriving says “Alle vorgesehene Zügen werden erreicht” (All connections will be reached) and sometimes in a broken dialect in English, the first natural reaction you will find in any situation falls along the lines of : “Häh????”
After having my experience of being locked in a train two times within one month, I decided to provide you with a few tips so that you can get the information you want and not be entangled in a web of misunderstanding.
When a train is waiting to leave for your destination, don’t board right away but wait until 10 minutes before departure. Chances are if a train is on the platform and you have 30 minutes to wait, it will either head to the railyard or is locked with the cleaning crew on board. Better to drink a coffee or Glühwein at the train station and enjoy some company with strangers than to have an experience of a lifetime.
While on the ICE, make sure you have access to a broschure to see when you will reach your destination and what connecting trains are available. They are both in German and English. Chances are likely that you have more than one possibility to catch your connecting train in case you missed the first one.
Know your train and where you should be, especially when travelling overnight. While the CityNightLine is now defunct, other trains have taken its place, such as the EuroNight, EuroCity and NachtZug (Night Train) that have arrangements similar to what was mentioned. That means if a train separates at a railyard station, like Fulda, Hamburg, Nuremberg, etc., please be sure to be in your own carriage 20 minutes before the procedure starts so that you are not locked in the wrong one and end up going in the wrong direction.
While we’re talking about back-up plans, don’t bind yourself with one connection- one train. The German Railways do have Flexi-Tickets and other options, especially if you have a BahnCard. I personally have BahnCard 25 but they have 50 and 100. Pending on how often you travel by train, it is best to look at the best options which will help you financially and in terms of your sanity.
Communicate with the train crew. If in doubt, ask. If you don’t like their service, make it known. The train crew is paid to do one important thing, which is to make the customer happy. They cannot afford to be arrogant, even though there are some explanations for their lack of logic. However they are sometimes very helpful, especially in situations where the customer needs some guidance in difficult situations.
Lastly, be patient. All of us are human, and many of us make mistakes. Therefore, if you are in any of the situations like the ones mentioned here, relax. There is always a way out of any bad situation. I’m reminded of the song by the Wiseguys which describes the adventures of the German Railways quite well, and one doesn’t need to learn German or English just to see the descriptions and the facial reactions of the passengers (see this Genre of the Week Article here).
And if you want my word of advice: If you are ever in doubt whether or not you should board your train and you have more than enough time to spare, please, bitte NICHT einsteigen. Even if the sign says the train is leaving at your time, it is better to wait until right before the train’s planned departure than to board too early only to be locked in at the worst possible time. Especially if the crew wants to clean the train before it leaves, it is better to have a coffee and sandwich at a restaurant and give them a token of thanks for their service than to have some frowned looks in the end. 🙂
Author’s personal note: In reference to the CityNightLine train heading to Geneva, the one I now tout as the Jodie-Foster-Express thanks to the film Flightplan, I did manage to get back into the carriage going to Basel but not before waiting 20 minutes until one of the railway workers came and led me off the Munich coach back onto the Basel coach. With my wife accompanying me to Geneva, my first response to her question of what happened was: “Don’t ask!” 😉
Imagine this scenario: You travel on a regional train from Leipzig to Chemnitz, but wanting to get off at Geithain for an interview for a teaching post at a local school. The train has seven coaches like the picture above, but are mostly full of passengers. You try to find a seat somewhere so you can practice your presentation to give to the interview panel. You walk through one coach full of children returning to a school in Bad Lausick after a field trip to a popular church in Leipzig. Another coach is full of football hooligans from RB Leipzig as they prepare to crash the party in a friendly match with Chemnitz FC, taking place in the evening, the next two coaches are full of passengers, but one male is spying on a woman in the next coach you are entering, which is full of women and children. The sign says for women as well as children up to 10 years of age only. You see mostly women occupying the seats, ranging from nuns and teachers to businesswomen and mothers nursing babies. You find it awkward but decide to pass on to the next coach, where you finally find a seat. Two seconds after you sit down, the aforementioned male predator sits next to his prey and pries her privacy open, only to get the “Blauste Wunder seines Lebens”- in other words, the biggest but most unpleasant surprise of his life (I’ll leave the scene up to the women to complete the story to their liking). 😉
Then the light bulb goes on! Having a women’s compartment on the train is a great idea, but is it really worth it and why?
This experiment is being attempted by the Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), where such a compartment mentioned in this situation is being reserved for women and children. Unless granted, men are not allowed to sit in the compartment reserved for this group. The experiment is intended to make the female passengers feel safer while traveling, according to a statement by the MRB. Other countries have similar coaches reserved only for women, such as Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and India, while Great Britain is experimenting with reserving areas of the public transport trains, street cars and busses for women. While the goal is to protect women from being sexually harassed or assaulted, this measure presented by MRB has nothing to do with that, nor the incident on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where over 1000 reports of women being sexually assaulted were made. Only one person has been charged. The attacks have sparked a backlash against refugees coming to Germany, as many assailants originated from the Middle East and Africa, according to the reports. Many refugees have been harassed and assaulted by right-wing extremists, their places of lodging were set ablaze, and the right populist party Alternative für Deutschland has been gaining success and votes as their anti-immigration policies have gained enormous support and traction.
Yet the idea of having a women’s only compartment on trains have sparked emotional outrage between those who are for such measures and those who consider it absurd. The article and question for the forum posted on many facebook pages including that of the Files’ have been met with mixed results. Proponents of such a measure believe that it would serve as place of refuge against people who are potential predators, giving them a warning of not to cross into their territory unless (….). Some who have supported this either experienced such incidents in person or know someone who has encountered such a person. Opponents claim that by designating areas solely for women would be going back to the age of segregation, where every facility was divided up between White people and Black people only, resulting in the likes of Rosa Parks breaking the barriers on the bus and Martin Luther King Jr. having a dream in his historical speech in Washington in 1963. Some people responded sarcastically by proposing everyone wearing burkas and having a men’s only cars, which had existed in Saudi Arabia until just recently. Others claim that such an arrangement is not enough and that more police protection and stiffer penalties are needed to keep predators and stalkers away. This includes longer sentences in prison and heavier fines. The German government has introduced tough measures to deport refugees committing such crimes, yet psychological counseling is patchy and only a fraction of the population, both victim and perpetrator alike, receive treatment, regardless of country of origin.
This leads to the question of the effectiveness of such a designation in the trains. Speaking from personal experience traveling in the family compartment of an ICE Train such designations are crowded and unwelcomed by “normal” passengers who believe that the safest and most convenient way to travel is by car. A 2011 article explains why (click here). Furthermore, should it be successful in the MRB, how can other railroad providers designate them in their trains, as the newer models are either double-decker InterCitys or sleaker Abellios, both of which have a major caveat, which is space availability, especially if other passengers have bikes to take with (another article written in 2011 on bike space can be found here). The intentions are there, but better is civil courage either by standing up and saying NO or having others nearby stand up and help by shooing the person away. Then the person should be reported and tough(-er) measures will help him understand the meaning of NO! There are many reasons why women say no, and an article written by a columnist explains the meaning and reason why NO is used and many times ignored (click here)
Inspite of the opinions from all sides, the question will be whether this new experiment will be the norm for all rail services in the future, or if it will become a fad and other measures to protect people regardless of gender and ethnic background. Right now, the experiment is being tried on the trains traveling between Leipzig and Chemnitz along the Black-and-Blue Line, which connects the two with Halle and Magdeburg, each city having a storied history with their soccer teams and rivalries. If successful, it is expected to be expanded to other lines, and eventually to other train services, including the Bahn.
But is it really necessary?
1. Do you think having a women and children’s coach in the train is appropriate? Why or why not? Make a list of advantages and disadvantages before answering, apart from the ones mentioned in the article.
2. Does your country have similar arrangements to the one being performed by the MRB? How does it work?
3. What measures does your home country have to protect women from predators and stalkers? Have they worked to date?
4.Using the two pictures below, how would you envision a women only compartment? Keep in mind that the double-decker train is an InterCity train with 10-12 coaches and the Abellio is a regional train similar to the MRB but has only one whole coach that can seat up to 300 passengers. Use your imagination. 🙂
ERFURT/LEIPZIG/HALLE(SAALE)- It took 25 years of planning, of which 19 years of construction and delays, but now, the new ICE Train Line has become a reality. Several prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, the ministers of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the CEO of the German Railways (Die Bahn) were on hand at Leipzig Central Station to open the new rail line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle to rail traffic. According to information from German public radio/TV MDR, the ceremony featured two special ICE-T trains, carrying invited guests, travelling side-by-side from Erfurt to its final destination in Leipzig, where they were greeted by hundreds of people including those involved in the 2.9 billion Euro project. “The new ICE line is a gift for the 25-years of German unity,” said Merkel at the ceremony in Leipzig. Thuringian minister Bodo Ramelow considered this day a historic one and the line would turn Thuringia into a economic hub. The Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle line is part of the project to connect Berlin and Munich via Erfurt and the Thuringian Forest, and the northern part is half of the two-part project, which will start serving passengers beginning on Sunday. The southern part from Erfurt to Nuremberg via Suhl is expected to be completed in 2017, even though all of the bridges and tunnels have been completed already.
The opening of the northern half of the new line will mark the beginning of the end of long-distance train service for Weimar, Naumburg and Jena, for Weimar will lose its ICE stop by year’s end and will have InterCity trains stopping in the city. Jena and Naumburg will still have their ICE stops until the end of 2017. Afterwards InterCity trains are expected to serve the two cities with Jena-Göschwitz train station to become Jena Central Station and serving InterCity lines between Karlsruhe and Leipzig (after 2023) and between Chemnitz/Gera and Cologne (after 2017). Also planned after 2017 is ICE to Berlin from Jena twice a day. The cities will also lose its night train network, as Die Bahn plans to decommision the City Night Line service altogether by 2017. A CNL line connecting Prague and Berlin with Basel and Zurich runs through Naumburg, Weimar and Erfurt. Whether another international line connecting Paris and Moscow via Erfurt will use the new line or the old one remains open.
Here are some interesting facts to know about the northern half of the ICE line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle:
The new rail line is 123 kilometers long, which is half the distance needed with the older line going through Weimar and Naumburg
One can reach Leipzig in 40 minutes and Halle (Saale) in 35. This is half to a third as long as with the old line, counting the stops, regardless of what type of long-distance train used.
The trip to Berlin from Frankfurt (Main) is reduced by up to 50 minutes.
ICE Trains travelling the new line can maximize their speed to 300 kilometers/hour (187 miles/hour)
The opening of the line will also usher in the ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Frankfurt with stops in either Erfurt or Leipzig. Before, the Sprinter travelled north to Hanover before heading east to the German capital.
Seven bridges and two tunnels serve the new line. The longest tunnel is the Finnetunnel, which is 6.9 kilometers long and located at the border between Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt near Bad Bibra. The longest bridge is the Saale/Elster Viaduct, located south of Halle (Saale) near Schkopau. The 8.5 kilometer long bridge features a 6.4 kilometer long viaduct (Leipzig-bound) crossing the two rivers and the 2.1 kilometer long branch viaduct going to Halle (Saale). The viaduct is the longest of its kind in Europe.
Freight trains can also use the new line, but will be restricted to night time use only due to less train traffic.
Die Bahn plans to install a automated man-less train system on the line in the future- most likely when the entire line is finished in 2017. Basically, trains would be operated automatically from the train stations, and can stop automatically when problems arises. The Shinkansen high-speed train in Japan is the only system known to have this function.
Citizens in Halle (Saale) will benefit from the connection as its train station is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
The opening will mark the total completion of the renovation of Leipzig Central Station, which included an underground tunnel connecting the station with the Bavarian railway station south of the city, and the introduction and expansion of the City Lines (S-bahn) connecting the city with Bitterfeld, Halle, Geitahin, Altenberg and Zwickau.
The opening of the line will also usher in the introduction of the Abellio train service to serve Erfurt and points to the east. Abellio is owned by the Dutch Rail Services.
More information on the ICE-Trains can be found here. Otherwise, here’s a question for our travellers: which is better: train lines that get you to your destination directly without any chance of seeing much of the view because of speed and time or train lines with stops in between to provide some scenic views? It depends on which line has to offer, but what is your view?
“Meine Damen und Herren, bitte beachten Sie: ICE 1209 nach Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Abfahrt 13:37 fällt heute aus.”
“Auf Grund von Streiks endet alle Züge in Buxtehude. Wir bitte um Verständnis.”
“Meine Damen und Herren, wegen der Klimaanlage sind Wagen 3 bis 5 im IC 2230 nicht verfügbar. Wir bitten um Entschuldigung.”
Cancellation of an ICE Train, trains ending in the middle of nowhere because of strikes, and three coaches are inhabitable because of a malfunctioning air conditioner. Factors which one would normally not find in Germany, especially with the Deutsche Bahn. Yet, they are the norm. And with each unexpected announcement comes more head shaking and many people looking for other forms of transportation because of announcement’s absurdity. Living in Germany for many years now and being an avid fan of train travel, one has to get used to the unexpected, despite the promises made by The Bahn to make services more convenient. But with each attempt comes another “Panne!” Another strike, another broken down computer system in an ICE train, train detours because of people setting fires to cables along the tracks, and fights over how to utilize the children’s area on a regional train. One has to witness them all in order to appreciate what the Bahn has to offer. 🙂
There are many works written about the Bahn, some of which are poking fun at the way the train service has been treating their customers- one of which I will get to in a not so distant future 😉 – yet this genre of the week looks at the a capella version of the Bahn. Featuring Daniel (Dän) Dickopf, Edzard (Eddi) Hüneke, Marc(Sari) Sahr, Andrea Figallo, and Nils Olfert, the group Wiseguysis in its 21st year in business, and is known as one of the most popular vocal groups in post-Reunification Germany. Formed in Cologne in 1995, the group has released 16 single albums featuring many satire songs mainly in German, but also some in English. They have performed mainly in German-speaking countries but have made rare appearances in the US, Canada, Poland, Luxembourg and the UK. The song “Thank You for Traveling with Deutsche Bahn,” produced in 2012, is a pun in connection with the attempts to make announcements on the trains in English, only to be ashamed of the strong German dialect that comes out of their mouths. While some announcers have done a great job of trying to conceal that flaw, others I have heard were way too over-confident when speaking that they have been analogized with the Americans trying to learn French (Believe me, you don’t want to go there!) In either case, if you choose to travel by train next time, whether you are a tourist or someone wanting to take a vacation, this is what you can get into while traveling with the Bahn (Enjoy! 🙂 )
But yet there are some things a person can be happy about, when traveling with the Bahn. One of which is in the next entry…..
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a throw-back article dating back to Easter 2011, when the author took a tour of Flensburg and parts of Schleswig-Holstein for articles for both the Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. This article fits very nicely with the problem that train commuters and tourists have when using the Deutsche Bahn- bikes on trains and the availability of trains and coaches to accomodate them. In response to the latest strikes by the union GDL over salary increases and better working conditions, the Bahn has more issues than ever before going beyond the salary dispute, as seen with the author’s pet peeve below.
This Easter kicks off the start of the biking season over here in Germany (and parts of Europe). After months of having the bikes in the garages for many months due to a rather wintry season with more snow than what the continent is used to, cyclists, like yours truly are taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather by packing the bikes and whatever they can use for on the way and head hundreds of kilometers away from their homes to their destinations, so that they can see many new places and pedal many kilometers, whether it is a nice 20 km scenic tour or a marathon of over 110 km long. It all depends on preference mainly, although some people go to extremes only to pay the price physically in the end.
For many who are taking their bikes with to their destinations, it is not unusual to load them up on the trains and take off with them. It’s easier than having to load them up on top of their cars or in the back of their trucks, and one only needs to pay for train fare for himself and the bike. Sadly though, as you can see in the picture, the German Railways (Die Bahn) are trying to indirectly discourage that possibility, as there are too many bikes clogging up the train. Now why would railway services, like Die Bahn would want to do that?
The explanation is cause and effect. In Germany (and you can also include the rest of Europe as they have the same issue), it is too expensive to own a car. Apart from the very high gas prices (please refer to my last column on dictating our driving habits), one has to worry about paying taxes for the car- let alone car insurance which is twice as expensive as in the United States (in most cases). Furthermore, it is obligatory to have your car inspected annually to ensure that it functions properly. The so-called TÜV inspection ensures that cars that do not meet strict requirements, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and eliminating harmful gases produced by the exhaust system, the car engine making minimum noise while in operation, and the outer body looking like brand new, are taken off the roads unless the problems are corrected. In a way, it encourages more business on the part of the car dealers and law enforcement agencies and safety on the part of the drivers. But by the same token, it discourages many drivers from purchasing a car and use alternative forms of transportation instead, such as bus, streetcar, bike, and the train.
Problem with the alternative with train and bike is not just the overcrowding of bikes, but the lack of availability of coaches to store the bikes. While one can take their bikes onto a regional service train at no cost (most of the time, that is), these trains stop at every single train station at every town, big or small, resulting in the travel time being three times as long as it would be, if one would use long-distance train services, which travels faster and stops at only the big and most popular stations, like in Frankfurt (Main), Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg, for example. The fastest long-distance train service in Germany is the ICE, which travels up to 300 km/h. The second quickest is the Inter City, which can clock in a maximum speed of 250 km/h. Yet the IC is the only one that provides the cyclists with the possibility to take the bike on board, even though they have to reserve a spot at a small price. The problem with this possibility is the fact that the bike reservations on the ICs are as limited as the number of these trains that are still running on the tracks. And it will only get worse in the next decade, as many changes by Die Bahn is forcing many to either adapt to the changes or consider alternatives. First and foremost, the ICs are retiring, as many of the coaches have been in operation for 30-40 years and despite consistent renovations, they are approaching the end of their useful lives. At the same time however, the newest version of the ICE, the ICx will make its debut as early as 2017, which will make the ICs and the first two generations of the ICE trains obsolete. There are currently four types in operation: The ICE I, which has been in service since 1990, the ICE II (since 1993), the ICE T (since 2000) and the ICE III (since 2004). All four of these types cannot accommodate the bikes and are therefore forbidden to take aboard unless one wants to face legal action. Also disturbing is the possible elimination of ICE routes as they are either considered non-profitable or are being bypassed with more efficient routes. This includes the weaning of the route Stralsund- Berlin-Leipzig-Weimar-Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne off the ICs and replacing them with regional services, which has caused some massive protests from those who want a quick route to either the Cathedral in Cologne and points in the Ruhrgebiet (an industrial area where Dortmund and Cologne are located) or the Baltic Sea, in places like Stralsund, or the islands of Rügen and Usedom [Oooh-se-dome]. Another route, the Berlin-Leipzig-Erfurt-Nuremberg route is getting a new route, which would go through Suhl instead of Naumburg, Jena and Lichtenfels and with that, the treacherous mountains located between Saalfeld and Lichtenfels. While it may cut down the amount of time because the trains will go through a series of bridges and tunnels, there are concerns that Jena and Naumburg may end up without long-distance train services, a discussion that was brought up last year in Jena, as the city of 120,000 inhabitants is the center of its optical industry and has two renowned universities that are focused on the sciences.
Regional services do have three advantages. First it better serves the communities as the trains stop at all stations and towns, big or small. People are more connected as they meet and get to know each other, and one can load their bikes on the train and take them to their destinations, no matter where they go, for free. But this privilege will not last for long. Already in some places, like Hesse, the trains now have limitations for the number of bikes allowed on board. And in Bavaria, bike fees are being imposed on certain routes. One wonders whether these restrictions will actually do more harm to Die Bahn and its profits, let alone the customers; especially those who do not want to resort to the car to load their bikes and go to their destinations, if they can help it.
While the situation is still bearable, it will be a matter of time before the frustration between the customers with the bikes and Die Bahn come to a boil and that solutions offering flexibility will have to be found. This includes looking at neighboring countries for references, as their systems are more complex but more logical than what Die Bahn is offering. This includes the rail service in Switzerland (the SBB), where bikes are allowed on any train regardless of whether it is the regional services or the quickest service, the ICN, which runs services between Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. The reintroduction of InterRegio services, which was discontinued in 2006, would provide passengers with better connections to medium-sized communities and more space for the bikes. This is one service that the SBB still retains alongside its InterCity services. And lastly, to better serve the customers, having more train services running regularly- namely three per hour in the more populated areas- would provide the passengers with more opportunities to travel and trains with more space for the bikes. This is being practiced in Switzerland; especially in the corridor of Geneva-Montreaux-Bern as well as Montreaux-Sion-Lugano, for example.
Whether Die Bahn will look to other sources for references or find other creative ideas on their own depends on the costs, let alone the supply vs. demand- namely what the customers want and what the rail service can provide them in order for them to be satisfied. No matter what the case may be, many people are not going to let any train service put them down. They will do whatever it takes to travel by train; especially now because of the increasing oil prices, which shows no signs of slowing down at all. And on a beautiful weekend, like Easter, with temperatures between 20 and 30°C and mostly sunny skies, many people, like myself, are taking the bikes into the trains and travelling to their destinations, where they will hit the trails and see the places that they want to see, but without the use of a set of wheels that has guzzled one liter of gas too many.
After getting bombarded with non-column-related commitments in the last weeks (which explains my reason for my absence from the Flensburg Files) and almost losing it in the entire process, I decided to flee the world of academia and all the proliterian politics that went along with that and spend my Pentecost weekend at the Baltic Sea again, this time in the northeast corner of Germany on the island of Usedom, where I was able to enjoy a good dip in the water and a good bake in the sun for the entire time I was there, no matter where I went.
Going roundtrip by train to this destination was a bit of a challenge, though. While I had to put up with crowded people going north to my destination, feeling scrunched after being surrounded by women sitting across from and next to me on the first leg going from Erfurt to Berlin via Halle and a bit displaced sitting in the supposedly good carriage provided by the Deutsche Bahn on the EuroCity to Züssow (where I got off to board my train to Usedom), even though the Czechs provided more luxurious and sexier coaches and food, going back to Erfurt was an experience not worth forgetting, but worth writing about.
On the stretch from Berlin heading south via ICE, I saw an incident which if one has a child like I do, one can relate to it. In the children’s compartment of the train, which was a small room about 4m long and only 1 meter wide, a mother with a 2 ½ year-old daughter were boarding the train and wanted to move the baby carriage to the Bord Restaurant, which was next door, as there was some free space there and the little one wanted to play around in the child compartment. The ticket personnel, who saw this, ordered the mother to bring the carriage back into the compartment claiming that it was not allowed to park it in the Bord Restaurant and that there was enough space to store it- IN THE CHILDREN’S COMPARTMENT! Why do I have the last ones in capital letters? Well, to elaborate more about the children’s compartment further, I should provide you with a further but brief description so that you have an idea what I’m talking about:
Over half the space in the children’s compartment consisted of seating, which is almost impossible to reserve in advance- unless you book half a year in advance; almost like booking your plane ticket for a Trans-Atlantic flight.
There was limited possibilities for children to play with their toys, let alone use the playground equipment provided on the train- there was one rocking horse and a puzzle board, whose pictures were missing. By the way, one should mention that it was made by a very popular puzzle company named Ravensburger.
Most irritating was the fact that the armrest was all made of wood and NOT padded. That combined with the fact that the seat was right next to the rocking horse, it provided less space for the child to move around and more risk of a child bumping his/her head against the armrest, even if it is adjusted.
It was at this point that I concluded that the German railways should change its name from the Deutsche Bahn to the Single and Businessman Bahn (SBB) for its lack of sensitivity to the increasing needs of families with children. While one cannot use SBB, as it has been taken by the Swiss, they and some of the neighboring countries have done much better in terms of accommodating the needs of families. Since the German government has introduced incentives to encourage parents to have children in 2006- by providing more financial incentives for mothers to stay at home to care for their children for 2-3 years as well as allowing fathers to stay home while the mother is working- the birth rate in Germany has increased in the last three years to its current rate of 8.3 out of 1000, up from its lowest rate in history in 2009 at 8.18 per 1000. While that puts the country still near the bottom of the rankings (the USA has a birth rate of 13 for every 1000, ranking it at 153rd), it does not reflect on the difference in regions where the baby boom is taking place. In the eastern and northern parts of Germany, the rates are much higher than those in the western part. Aware of the fact that the German population is slowly dying off (with one statistic from 2006 claiming that this far-fetched prediction will happen in 2080), there has been an attempt to try and increase the birth rate to offset the aging population.
Yet still, when looking at the current situation and the ICE incident as an example, it shows that Germany is not ready for change and more so for encouraging families to have children, despite initiatives by the government. For instance, jobs are going to regions in the western part of the countries, in places like Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, and the Ruhr Region (where Cologne, Duesseldorf and Dortmund are located), where housing is scarce and expensive and the environment is child-unfriendly. More women are choosing a career over children, fearing that maternity leave would mean being a stay-at-home mom forever. And when it comes to even the tiniest conveniences, like travelling by train for example, Germany falls flat on its face, although the country does a very good job in providing as much green as possible for children to go out and play, such as parks and other natural places along certain bodies of water.
It is logical that a train should not be converted into a jungle gym for children. But by the same token, more space for families with children is needed; especially on long trips when children become bored and ancy to a point where they do not sit still in the end. Children should be allowed to walk around and play with other children while they endure many hours of travelling. In order to do that, I do have a few suggestions that might be useful:
Replace the wooden armrests with those made of cloth for more protection against head injuries
Fewer seats and more space in the children’s compartment of all ICE trains, while at the same time,
Add another compartment in the ICE train making each one have two of them
Provide more space for baby carriages so that the children’s compartment is not used as a parking lot
Empower the families to ensure that the train crew keep to the rules and respect the wishes for more space for the children.
The problem with these plans is the fact that many of these trains will be replaced with the new InterCity trains, which will be larger, with half of them being double-decked. The first ones will be rolling out by 2013. Other ICE models, like the one in the picture above will be modernized to prolong its service life even more. Whether these suggestions will be considered remains to be seen. But it is a foregone conclusion that should the Deutsche Bahn continue with its current policies, then families will resort to the last form of transportation that is really expensive (because of gas prices), which is the car. Then the DB can change its name to SBB, for after all, most of the passengers are either single, a couple with no children, or businessmen who love to travel in comfort. This will make neighboring countries shake their heads; especially the Danes in the north, as their trains are more spacious and more child-friendly than that of the Bahn. Perhaps a trip with their trains to Copenhagen and points to the north and east will testify to that argument. If not convincing enough. then I’m sure the French, Swiss, and even the Englishmen can help in that department.
Now that I’m finished bashing the Bahn, it’s now time for some rum……