Munich-based bus provider to offer long-distance train services to compete with German Railways- The Bahn. Expansion is expected.
MUNICH- “Actually, for us is the train like a big bus.” When the CEO of FlixBus Jochen Engert mentioned this in an interview with the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, the first thing that came to mind is how to get passengers from point a to point b on the tracks without getting nickeled and dimed by the German Railways- The Bahn. When FlixBus was established in 2011, its primary goal was to provide travelers with an affordable and painless way to get them where they want to be, while on the highway. Today’s FlixBus covers 80% of all bus markets in Germany, providing 120,000 daily connections to over 1,000 destinations in 20 countries, from Bucharest to Bordeaux, Kiel to Milan and from Luxembourg to Prague, with stops big cities like Berlin, Hanover and Frankfurt, as well as smaller ones like Jena, Bamberg and Wolfsburg, just to name a few.
While FlixBus is making its American debut this April, providing residents along the West Coast with the signature modern green double-decker busses that Europeans are accustomed to, the company is making a splash on the railways. In a railroad market where the Bahn predominates long-distance rail services with its white, black and red ICE-trains and InterCity services, as well as its red and white Regio-trains, passengers are going to see the light green trains, known as FlixTrains competing beginning in April. At a cost of 10 Euros per single ticket, passengers can travel on the Flixbus going up to 200 km/h (125 mph)- equivalent to most IC-trains and the older ICE-trains between Berlin and Stuttgart as well as between Hamburg and Cologne. The plan is to have 28 stops available for up to four trains traveling in each direction per day on both routes.
The routes are somewhat familiar for they had been used by other private train services. Locomore was the first to provide daily services from Berlin to Stuttgart via Wolfsburg, Fulda and Frankfurt/Main. Starting in December 2016 until its insolvency in May 2017, Locomore operated one train in each direction, stopping at 18 stations. It had planned new routes between Berlin and Binz, Berlin-Hanover-Cologne-Bonn and Frankfurt-Augsburg-Berlin. In August 2017, the Czech-based Leo-Express and FlixBus acquired Locomore’s assets and have started painting the Locomore trains green to show ownership of the services. The trains will be run under FlixTrain by April. The Hamburg-Cologne line used to be an independent entity known as HBX, where trains stopped in Osnabrück, Düsseldorf and Essen. The HBX was acquired by FlixBus and will start operating under FlixTrain at the end of March.
While this FlixTrain experiment will be done gradually (starting with two trains in each direction per day), the plan is if successful, the Flixtrain will provide more trains on these two routes and expand to include more cities in the near future. The caveat behind this expansion is twofold. Firstly, despite its generous offers of: long distance trains at 200 kph at a price equivalent to a trip by FlixBus, coaches with an eatery, children’s playground and air conditioned seating, free Wifi and films and ordering tickets online or with an app, it will be difficult to lure passengers away from their loyal Bahn or car because of the advantages both has, plus private trains have as many problems with train delays and technical issues as other train services, both private and public. Secondly the provider would have to choose carefully which cities to expand their services to for many reasons: 1. The train engines would need to be compatible with the track as some areas are not electrified, 2. They will need to be aware of the other trains that serve the cities and their customers and 3. The train’s availability on a daily basis may present some problems as private trains tend to have a difficult time sharing the track with the competitors.
But despite the possible setbacks of Flixtrain, there are some lines that couple possibly benefit from the expansion should business be successful and people turn to them instead of the Bahn and its reputation of being late most of the time and having overpriced tickets. Some potential candidates include:
Saale- Route (Leipzig-Jena-Saalfeld-Bamberg-Nuremberg)- Especially residents in Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg have suffered a great deal since the ICE-train was rerouted onto the new Berlin-Leipzig/Halle-Erfurt-Nuremberg-Munich line in December 2017 as they had to face taking Regio-trains to Erfurt or Leipzig just to catch the next available long-distance train. Despite efforts to have faster Regio-Express trains available by December 2018, it may not be enough for many who have already invested a year’s salary in a new car. With FlixTrain, it could serve as a medium to long-term fix for people going to either Berlin or Munich without changing trains.
Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate- It has been 16 years since the last ICE-train has served this route and plans to electrify the line has been really slow-going- the requirement for having a long-distance train. Yet if diesel locomotives are available this would be a temporary fix until the electrification is finished. For people in Bayreuth, Hof, Zwickau, Glauchau and Chemnitz, having a FlixTrain would be a blessing as they could arrive at their destinations in time that is much quicker than with the motorway, which runs parallel but is beset with traffic jams caused by accidents and narrow four-lanes. Currently MRB-Rail operates the Hof-Dresden portion and the Bahn the rest, both as RegioTrains.
MDV Route- Consisting of the lines Leipzig-Naumburg-Weimar-Erfurt, Chemnitz-Glauchau-Gera-Jena-Weimar-Erfurt and Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne, the route has similar problems with electrification as the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate but between Weimar and Glauchau. Still the route has potential for attracting passengers who have been forced to deal with mostly RegioTrains and a pair of InterCity trains per day.
Schleswig-Holstein-Express- Connecting Hamburg with Flensburg via Rendsburg, this route has rarely seen Fernverkehr since the Bahn pulled its ICE-trains off the tracks three years ago and Germany and Denmark allowed the inter-rail agreement to run out at the end of 2016. The trains have operated regionally but people would benefit more with long-distance rail services between Hamburg and Denmark via Flensburg with the option of extending southward. As an alternative one could route a train through Kiel before entering Flensburg, yet a pair of bridges will need replacement and the tracks need to be added. FlixBus already has bus connections in Scandanavia and could benefit with a pair of FlixTrain services going through Denmark.
North Sea Route: As the North Sea region in Schleswig-Holstein is very popular, especially during the summer, this route between Hamburg and Sylt via Husum would be beneficial for a FlixTrain. Originally, this route was operated by Nord-Ostsee Bahn Rail before it went bankrupt in 2014 and was taken over by the Bahn. Yet many customers are dissatisfied with the old-timer trains and the service of the Regio-Trains. Plus only a handful of IC-trains connect Sylt with Frankfurt on a daily basis.
These are the top five routes FlixTrain should pursue if it is successful and decides to expand. There are other routes to consider, yet one has to think about the advantages and disadvantages to having a cheap train service with the same services as the Bahn’s. Therefore to conclude, here are a couple questions to think about (let alone comment on):
Would you prefer FlixTrain over the Bahn (or other rail services) if it was to come to your town?
Which rail routes, aside from the five mentioned ones, would you like to see FlixTrain using and why?
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 dail 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:
Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles
Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.
BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.
Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process. The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….
…..and for a good reason!
Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built. At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.
The current situation during the visit:
The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.
Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.
Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit. While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.
And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.
Do you want to stop the project, click hereto read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly. If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the wordpress version of the Flensburg Files. There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.
Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.
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. 🙂
“Ding-Dong! Gleis eins, Einfahrt ICE 737 nach Hamburg Hauptbahnhof über Neumünster. Abfahrt 13:25. Vorsicht bei der Einfahrt!” Seconds later, a white worm with black and white stripes approaches the platform of Schleswig, south of Flensburg, where a half dozen passengers board the train heading to Hamburg and all places to the south of there. As the train departs the platform, it takes off at high speed, as it heads to its next station.
Speeds of up to 350 km/ph (218 mph), with comfort seats, a children’s compartment, a rather formal Bord Restaurant and lastly, enjoying the company of other passengers while checking the train schedule via broschure or even computer. At the same time, one can see the landscape fly by with a wink of an eye. These are the characteristics of the Inter City Express trains (short: ICE-trains), the flagship of the German Railways (The Bahn). Since the introduction of the Experimental in 1985 and the ICE-1 in 1991, the ICE-trains have become the most beloved for its service and quickness yet the most scrutinized by others for their delays and air conditioning units going awry (as you probably heard through the song by Wiseguys in the last entry). But little do the readers realize is that the making of the fast train goes back many years, and it took efforts by many people and organizations to make it happen. In this 25th Anniversary of Germany special, we will look at why the ICE-Train has become an integral part of German culture since 1990 and why other countries are looking up to the Bahn and its trains for guidance in constructing their train lines and locs. Furthermore, we will look at the future of the ICE-Trains as the Bahn is entering its next chapter in its storied history.
The First Train: The ICE Experimental
There is an analogy that best describes the development of the ICE-Train, comparing that with the one from the film “Chicken Run”: You cannot have the egg without the chicken- or was it the other way around? Click here to learn more. The same can be applied with the development of the first ICE Train: do you start with the train first or the rail line? The idea of the InterCity trains, which go as fast as 200 km/ph (124 mph) had been realized and put into service since the 1960s, providing services to cities with at least 25,000 inhabitants, yet the Bahn (which was known as the Reichsbahn at that time) was thinking bigger, bolder, and faster. And for a good reason: much of Germany has rugged hills and winding rivers, which made it difficult for trains to achieve speeds higher than 140 km/ph (87 mph). If one combines the amount of regional trains clogging up the rail lines, then it is a foregone conclusion that trains arrived at their destination- eventually!
Henceforth in the 1970s, the German Ministry of Transportation (which was based in Bonn at that time) started an initiative to construct the main artery lines, which would serve fast train services in the future. This included the lines from Mannheim to Hanover via Frankfurt and Fulda, Würzburg to Frankfurt, Hanover to Berlin, Mannheim to Stuttgart, Ingolstadt to Nuremberg and Frankfurt to Cologne. Authorities had envisioned trains travelling along these lines at 300+ km/ph (186 mph) with little or no delays. At the same time, the government (which still owns the Bahn today) contracted to companies like Siemens, to construct the first fast train that was supposed to travel these lines. The end result, after many attempts, was the introduction of the ICE Experimental in 1985. It featured two locomotive heads on each end plus 2-3 coaches. The purpose of the Experimental was to test the maximum speed of the train in hopes to further develop the train for passenger use. The Experimental broke several records, including one on 1 May 1988 at a speed of 406.9 km/ph and topping the French Rail Service’s TGV’s record twice in May 1990: 510.6 km/ph (317.2 mph) on the 9th and 515.3 km/ph (320 mph) on the 18th. All of this was along the completed stretch of the line between Mannheim and Hanover, Würzburg and Frankfurt and Mannheim to Stuttgart. Although passenger use was restricted, the Experimental took the then Soviet President Michail Gorbachev to Dortmund in June 1989 to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, introducing him to the advancement in train technology. Although the Reichsbahn set a speed limit of up to 300 km/ph for fast train services for safety reasons, developments involving the ICE continued, culminating in the introduction of the first of seven types that are still in use today.
After several successful test runs, contracts were let out between the Bahn and German companies, like AEG, Siemens, Thyssen-Henschel, Krupp, etc.) to design the first of seven ICE class trains that are still in use. This class is not only the oldest in service today, but also the longest, as it features (minus the two loc heads) at least 15 coaches- one of which is a Bord Restaurant that resembles a double-decker but in reality, it provides a skylight view while dining. 2-3 coaches are reserved for first class. A computer information system was also included in the trains to provide travellers with information on the train connections- this was later included in future ICE trains. Unlike the InterCity trains, where passengers had to use steps to get on board, the ICE-1 became the first class to make boarding much easier, especially for those who need special assistance. And lastly, the train was climate-controlled, which made travelling a convenience year round.
The ICE-1s made their debuts along the main artery route connecting Basel and Hamburg in 1991 with the first 41 trains being put into service. However, as the lines were expanded to include the Berlin-Hanover, Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich, Munich-Würzburg-Mannheim-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden, and the Frankfurt-Cologne-Rhein Region lines, plus the extensions to Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich and Berne, more ICE-1 trains were manufactured and put into use.
Ironically, the ICE-1 trains were introduced in the USA in 1993 to serve the coastal route- specifically, between Boston and Washington via New York City as well as as a demo route between Boston and Portland . Neither bore fruit because of the lack of interest in train travel and were later taken out of service. Yet despite the mentality that train service is for hauling freight, the thought of having high-speed train service has not escaped the minds of many Americans, especially because of environmental reasons, and many cities have been trying to copy the successes of Germany, albeit in snail’s pace.
Despite the successful debut of the ICE-1, the only caveat is because of its length, the maximum speed of this train was 280 km/ph (174 mph). On some of the stretches, the train’s pace around the curves were on par with that of the InterCity trains, which raised questions about the effectiveness of the trains and the need to shorten the trains when designing the next class of trains. This includes the introduction of the ICE-2 Train which made its debut shortly after the ICE-1’s introduction.
Introduced in 1996, the ICE-2 featured a similar design to its forefather the ICE-1, but it had two most noteworthy exceptions. The first is that the trains were shorter in length- eight coaches and two loc-heads, which includes the Bord Restaurant and 1-2 first class coaches. The second is that the train was the first to feature a coupling which can attach to another ICE-2 train, thus making it longer. A demonstration on how this concept works can be found below:
The danger of this mechanism is the potential of the train to derail due to crosswind during storms and headwind from oncoming trains. The end result: a speed limit of 200 km/ph (124 mph) and its use on lesser-used lines that use ICE-1 trains seldomly. Therefore, one can find ICE-2 trains on lines connecting Berlin, Hanover and the Rhein-Ruhr region, as well as between Hamburg and Cologne (later extending to Kiel), Bremen and Hamburg (extending to Berlin), as well as between Frankfurt and Cologne via Coblence. They are also used as a substitute for the next class of trains to be discussed, the ICE-T, should it be deemed necessary. Despite the train’s shortcomings, they have gained popularity in other European countries as they were implemented and/or mimicked in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France, just to name a few.
The next class of ICE-Trains to make its debut was the ICE-T. Not to be mistaken with the American rapper turned actor ICE-T, this train has one unique feature that makes it one of the most versatile of the ICE-trains: its tilting technology. A demonstration on how it works is below:
That, plus its ability to reach speeds of up to 250 km/ph and its coupling technology made it useful on rail-lines that normally use InterCity lines. Therefore when it was introduced in 1999, it was put into service along the line connecting Berlin and Munich via Leipzig, Jena, Bamberg and Nuremberg as well as the line between Frankfurt and Dresden via Fulda, Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig. They were later used on lines connecting Switzerland with Stuttgart and Munich, respectively, Frankfurt and Vienna, as well as between Berlin and Rostock and Hamburg, respectively (even though its terminus had been in Kiel at one time). The trains have two different types: one featuring 10 coaches and one with 7 coaches. This include the end coaches as the motors of the trains are found in the bottom part of the train. It was also the first to introduce the Bord Bistro, a sandwich/snackbar which normally would be found on InterCity trains, as well as a play area, which has been a focus of several critiques from parents, one of which was written by the Files in 2011.
The ICE-T became a forefront of another class of ICE-Train which became one’s loss and one’s gain, the ICE-TD.
As seen in the picture above, the train stopping at Schleswig is an example of a train class that is still being used despite its shortcomings, the diesel-version of the ICE-T. Introduced in 2001, the ICE-TD was similar to its sister but ran on diesel. It operated along the Vogtland route between Dresden and Nuremberg (extending to Munich) via Hof and Bayreuth as well as between Munich and Zurich. These lines were not electrified but the high number of passengers boarding along these routes justified the use of these trains. Yet technical problems combined with an increase in diesel taxes to be paid by the Bahn made its service shortlived. While the trains were decommissioned in 2004, they were recommissioned two years later to provide extra service for those going to the World Cup Soccer tournaments taking place in Germany. Subsequentially, all 20 train units were bought by the Danish Rail Services (DSB) a year later and have since been serving the northern half of Germany: one line between Berlin and Aarhus via Hamburg, Flensburg and Kolding and one between Berlin and Copenhagen via Hamburg, Lübeck, Fehmarn and Ringsted. A happy ending for a class of trains that was one the black sheep of the Bahn but has become the darlings for the Danes.
At the same time as the ICE-T, the ICE-3 made its debut for the Bahn. Featuring eight coaches including the end coaches, the trains up until most recently had been the fastest of the ICE-Trains in service, reaching maximum speeds of up to 330 km/ph (205 mph), making them suitable for the main artery tracks that do not require the twists and turns of the ICE-2 and ICE-T trains. Introduced for the World Expo in Hanover in 2000, the trains have since served the lines connecting Frankfurt-Basel, Frankfurt-Amsterdam via Cologne, Frankfurt-Brussels via Cologne and Frankfurt-Paris via Strassburg.
The Velaro version of the ICE-3 train is the newest version of the ICE train, and perhaps one that will dominate the European continent if the Bahn has it their way. The concept was first conceived in 2009 and since 2014, the first trains have taken over some of the important lines, namely between Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. This may change in the next year as more of these trains, looking sleeker than the original ICE-3 but going just as fast as its predecessor, are set to take over some of the main artery lines, including the new line between Berlin and Nuremberg via Erfurt. In addition, with its successful test run through the Euro-Tunnel, the Bahn is looking at commissioning these trains to serve the line to London via Paris and/or Brussels. As the time to travel to Frankfurt from London takes six hours instead of 18-20 with normal trains, the use of these trains for this purpose, if successful, could take the Bahn to newer levels, causing other countries to look at Germany as an example of how passenger rail service can be developed. Sadly though, the introduction of the ICE-3V will come at the cost of two train classes: The ICE-1 and ICE-2, despite their recent renovations, will be decomissioned, bit by bit, beginning in 2020 and 2025, respectively. While the newer versions will change the image of the Bahn, many people will miss the older versions that have made rail travel faster but comfortable.
Finally, the latest advancement in train technology that will take rail travel further beyond 2020 is the ICx. The concept has been worked on by several companies in the private sectors but the trains will feature both this version, a cross between the ICE-2 and the ICE-3 with 12 coaches, as well as a double-decker version. The designs have not yet been finalized, but two factors are certain: They will be slower than the ICE-trains with speeds, maxing out at 200 km/ph (124 mph), plus they will replace the existing InterCity trains that are over 35 years old and are meeting the end of their useful lives. Already planned is the commissioning of the lines in the eastern half of Germany beginning in 2020, the lines one which InterCity and former ICE trains once travelled will have these trains in use by 2030, including areas in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and parts of northern Germany.
In the past 40 years, we have seen the advancement in passenger train technology in Germany and beyond, starting with the construction of new high-speed lines and the development of high speed trains, followed by the advancement of train technology to make trains faster but safer for use, the expansion and modernization of existing rail lines to attract more passengers, and the extension of rail services to as far away as the UK and Russia. The railroad landscape is currently undergoing a transformation where, with the introduction and commissioning of new trains, many lines are being designated for certain trains. While this may come at the dismay of residents of cities, like Wolfsburg, Jena, Weimar and other smaller communities, who will see their ICE train services be replaced with ICx, in the end, rail travel in Germany will still remain a lasting experience. This applies to those who never had never gotten the luxury to travel by train before because of the lack of availability, but have recently tried it and would do anything to use the train again on the next trip. A friend of mine from North Dakota had that experience during her last visit to Germany and has that on her list of things to do again on the next European trip. 🙂 But for those who think that train travel restricts the freedom to travel wherever they want to, here’s a little food for thought worth mulling as this long article comes to a close:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness- Mark Twain
If one wishes to try something new, as an alternative to traveling by car (or sometimes by plane), one has to open up to the options that are in front of us, and look at all the benefits involved. This is what makes Germany a special place. We have the bus, the boats, the bike, and despite all the bickering, the Bahn. 😉