Flood Update: Records fall in Magdeburg and Wittenberge; Solidarity Pact used for flooding

Skyline in Magdeburg. Photo taken in Feb. 2011

 

Records set in Magdeburg, Wittenberge, Hitzacker; Hamburg prepares for Elbe, Solidarity Pact for Reconstruction of Region

Imagine this photo of the city of Magdeburg. It’s a fantastic community with 300,000 people with many bridges, churches (like the Magdeburg Cathedral) and the Hochwasserhaus, one of only two in the world that one can see. This photo was taken at sundown from the eastern bank of the Elbe River at a park.  Now imagine this scenery again but with water filled to the brim.

Residents, crew members and volunteers have been fighting windmills in keeping the violent waters of the Elbe from overflowing its banks, which would have caused substantial and irreparable damage to Magdeburg’s city center. Yet the battle has not been easy, as dikes have bursted and many suburbs of the city had to evacuate tens of thousands. 40% of the city center was under water. Even the rail lines connecting the city, its neighbor Stendal, and the likes of Berlin, Hannover and Oldenburg had to shut down due to water flowing over the Elbe River bridges.  The good news, if there is any right now, is that the water levels are finally going down. Yesterday morning, the city set a new record for flooding at 7.48 meters, more than half a meter higher than the record set in 2002.  In other places, records fell in places, like Stendal, Wittenberge (9.8 meters)  and Hitzacker (9.6 meters), with more to come in the next 24-48 hours in Lueneberg, Lauenberg and even Hamburg.  Most of the records that have fallen were the ones set in 2002, which has many people awing in amazement but scrambling to determine how often such mass floodings will take place. Already Saxony’s minister  Stanislaw Tillich is planning a conference on 19 June to talk about future planning to combat floods like this one. More information with a Frage für den Forum to come once the conference is finished.  But the flooding has already caused many politicians to criticize the current situation in Berlin. For instance:

Solidarity Pact to be Reinforced and used for Reconstruction:

Reiner Haseloff Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt is pushing for all 16 German states to put aside money for the reconstruction efforts in the flood-ravaged region. The Solidarity Pact, created in 1991 was designed for rich German states to pay money to those that are in financial need. This came under fire by the ministers of Hesse and Bavaria who wanted to reduce the amount of money contributed to these states, claiming that the money should be spent for their projects in their own state. Baden-Wurttemberg is the other state that is helping the other 13 states out, but has had no issues with this solidarity pact, according to minister,  Winfried Kretschmann. This pact, together with the Solidarity Pact with the eastern half of the country, scheduled to expire in 2019, will be hot topics on the agenda for the coming weeks for Germany will have to find a way to rebuild on its own. The European Union announced that funding for the solidarity pact established in 2002 has been exhausted due to the bailouts given to southern Europe, including Cyprus, Spain and Greece.

 

Hamburg prepares for the Worst:

Even in Hamburg, city officials are bracing the Elbe and its record-breaking water levels. Even though officials are expecting water levels to rise 2.5 meters with a dike constructed to withstand levels of up to 3.5 meters, people living in low-lying areas are being asked to move to higher ground for safety purposes. The unknown factor that is making many Hamburgers nervous is how high will the Elbe go and how the dikes will withstand the pressure from the river, which has been responsible for punching holes in dikes, especially in the area where it meets the Saale at Barby and Magdeburg. The river is expected to crest by week’s end.

Note: Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have the latest on the 2013 Floods and the Bridge Disasters in its own article. Good news is unlike the 2002 Floods, there were as many bridges destroyed as feared. But some notable ones, mainly in Saxony, are either destroyed or damaged beyond repair and are scheduled to be replaced.

 

More information on the latest regarding the flooding can be found here:

http://www.abendblatt.de/vermischtes/article116941024/Historische-Hoechststaende-fuer-Lauenburg-vorhergesagt.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/schleswig-holstein/lauenburg241.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/elbhochwasser159.html

http://www.thelocal.de/national/20130316-48565.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.dw.de/top-stories/germany/s-1432

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/finanztransfer100.html

http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/staedtetagpraesident-maly-solidarpakt-muss-sich-grundsaetzlich-aendern/8121350.html

 

 

More Trains and More Space, Please!

A busy and chaotic scene at Hamburg Central Station. Taken on 31 July on the busiest day of the summer season as many people took to the highways and tracks to head to their vacation destination.

 

Here is a sight that I hope that I will never see again: An ICE train departing Hamburg enroute to Copenhagen becomes overcrowded the second the doors open. You try and find a seat you had reserved at a train station in Jena three weeks before, only to find that it is occupied by a mother with two children. It is not a problem considering the fact that the announcer informed the people waiting at the platform that reservations made on the train were considered null and void. That would make a world of sense if learned that all schools in Germany were out for the summer and that  every family with their dog or cat would hit the road or track for their destinations to the Alps, Turkey, or parts of Scandanavia. However the situation becomes unbearable when people are standing side by side in the aisle and on the seats and too close together, resembling a typical ride on the Tokyo subway. To relieve the congestion, the conductor of the train forces the people to take the Regional Express train to Lübeck, which is also the stop on the ICE. It makes sense for only a short time, but does not alleviate the problem when you see a person who makes his spot in one of the closets next to the Bord Restaurant, sitting on top of his luggage. When asked whether he comfortable in that very narrow encasement, he replies with “At least I can sit.”
There are two pet peeves I have with the German Railways (Die Bahn). The first is its customer unfriendliness, especially when it comes to parents with children (please see my article on Single and Business Bahn). Others would disagree with me and say that trains arriving late would be their pet peeve. In a way I would agree if I was one of those commuters going to work at the university as an English lecturer and had an early morning class at 8:30 in the morning, meaning I have to be off to work at 7:00 in the morning in order to make it on time. However, a delay may work as a blessing if there is something very important to do for work before a certain deadline.
There is the other pet peeve which both the Germans and I would have a fun time talking about and that is overcrowded trains. No matter where you go, which train you use (ICE, InterCity or Regional Services), what time of year you travel by train, or what you have for luggage or people travelling with you, Die Bahn has a chronic problem with overcrowding trains. And no matter how hard they try to alleviate the problem, it seems that the problem has worsened within the last five to ten years because of the preference for trains over automobiles- and this goes beyond the increasing price for gas and compulsory automobile inspections taken annually.
If we look at the train demographics for a second, we can see two main north-south arteries (Munich to Berlin and Basel to Hamburg via Frankfurt (Main), three east-west arteries (Dresden to Frankfurt (Main), Berlin to Cologne via Magdeburg and Dusseldorf and Passau/Vienna to Basel via Munich, Ulm and Stuttgart), plus numerous important blood vessels going to key cities, like Cologne from Frankfurt, Copenhagen/Flensburg from Hamburg, Rostock from Berlin and Kaiserslautern/Saarbrücken from Frankfurt(Main).  If a major shortcoming was to take place, such as a storm shutting down the stretch, a train stalling due to a malfunctioning airconditioner, or even a delay of 20 minutes due to overcrowding because of people getting on or off the train (all of which have occurred countless times), then the situation is like a person having a massive heart attack with minutes away from keeling over and expiring if help is not sought in blitzschnell speed. When that happens, pretty much everyone suffers, regardless of whether a passenger misses a flight to Africa, or misses an important meeting with clients and his job is therefore on the line, or if he misses an exam for one of the subjects at the university and he fails the course.  If one lives in Germany as long as I have (twelve years come September 2011), then he/she will have been late at least twice a month- one of which would have consequences as far as meeting deadlines and making appointments are concerned.
The hardest hit areas are the stretches starting in Munich heading north: one heads to Hamburg via Nuremberg, Würzburg, Frankfurt (Main), Göttingen and Hannover; the other heads to Berlin via Nuremberg, Jena and Leipzig. Barring the landscape the two lines have to go through (in particular the latter stretch as it has to go through mountains between Nuremberg and Jena), when boarding the train- in particular the InterCity and ICE, it is always full and despite reservations head of time, there is no guarantee one can sit down in his reserved seat unless he is as aggressive as Happy Gilmore. And when the seat is reserved, then one has to deal with a lack of space as his passenger sitting next to him also needs space to breathe.  The worst is when having luggage and one has no choice but to place them either on the steps or in five different areas of the train. This has occurred with me many times when travelling along this stretch heading to Flensburg and recently to Copenhagen to catch my flight to the USA. If you count the other persons who are travelling with you and are really agitated at the overcrowding, then you can be sure of some potential fireworks going off right there….
Fortunately, measures are being taken to ensure that travelling by train is easier. First and foremost, new tracks are being laid so that one set is designated for ICE service and the other for regional train service. This was done with a stretch between Freiburg (Breisgau) and Karlsruhe and has alleviated the overcrowding a bit. On the Frankfurt-Hamburg route, some stretches are being built north of Göttingen as well as in the metro areas of Hannover and south of Hamburg even as this article is being written.  Another is constructing newer, faster stretches so that passengers can reach their destination quicker and more comfortably. While that has worked on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route between Göttingen and Würzburg, this is being done with the new route between Berlin and Munich, detouring through Ilmenau, Erfurt and Halle (Saale) enroute to Leipzig.  However one has to take into consideration such projects should not be done at the expense of sacrificing original routes, as is the plan by Die Bahn with the new route being constructed- after 2017 no ICEs will pass through Jena and its neighbor to the north, Naumburg (Saale).  Instead both routes should be open and the two types of services (InterCity and ICE) should take turns using the two routes, while respecting the other available services at the same time. This has been done in Hesse with the routes connecting Frankfurt and Cologne as well as the stretch between Mannheim and Karlsruhe. For the stretch between Frankfurt and Cologne, there are two routes one can take: the ICE route via Limburg and Montabaur  and the InterCity/ICE route via Coblence. For the other, one can go straight to Karlsruhe from Mannheim or take the route through Heidelberg and Heilbronn with ICE. Why should it not work for the two stretches going through the state of Thuringia? It would be a win-win situation for Die Bahn as well as the cities of Erfurt and Jena.
This brings me up to two suggestions that are worth considering to ensure more efficiency and less hassles for passengers. Apart from building new stretches and ensuring that the old ones maintain their services to the customers, one should consider utilizing stretches that are less travelled and used by regional services. There one could add some long-distance services to the routes to ensure that passengers have the same satisfaction in service as the ones travelling along the heavily travelled routes. The other is building more trains and reinventing/ reusing types of trains for use on the least travelled routes. While Die Bahn is working on building more InterCity trains to replace the ones that have serving passengers for 20-30 years, the success of the ICE-diesel trains connecting Hamburg and Denmark via Lübeck and Flensburg should force the German train concern to reconsider the idea after they discontinued the service between Dresden and Nuremberg via Bayreuth in 2003. While that stretch is rife for the reintroduction in the ICE-diesel, the stretches between Chemnitz and Göttingen via Gera, Jena, and Mühlhausen and between Cottbus and Berlin are examples of many where the ICE diesel trains could benefit the people in those areas.
The overcrowding of trains and the sometimes overutilization of the routes is a sign that more and more people are using the trains and leaving the cars at home. It is understandable because of the high gas prices combined with the taxes and annual compulsory inspections that have to be paid. Therefore Die Bahn has to react accordingly to accommodate the increasing numbers, even if it means having to put more trains on the existing routes and build new ones so that one will not have to deal with the pet peeve of overcrowding and being forced to stand for long stretches. More trains and better service is better, even if trains come more often and have to keep to a slower speed limit. Passengers will understand and plan accordingly. It is better than finding a place to sit for three hours  at any cost, which was the case with the passenger who sat on his suitcase in the small closet on the ICE to Copenhagen.

More Bike Space Needed, Please.

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?

Photo taken by the author enroute to Hamburg on the IC

 

 

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.

Inside a regional train service enroute to Flensburg. Photo taken by the author.

 

 

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.

 

LINK: http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/trains/overview/ice.shtml (All the information on the trains of the German Railways Die Bahn can be found here).

http://mct.sbb.ch/mct/en/reisemarkt/services/wissen/velo/veloselbstverlad-schweiz/veloselbstverlad-icn.htm (Info on the SBB’s ICN train and it’s availability to bikers)

 

 

 

German Christmas Market Pic 5: Frankfurt/Main

Despite having to put up with overcrowding trains as well as trains arriving two hours later, I did make it to the last Christmas market on my places to visit list- in Frankfurt am Main.  A couple of interesting points about Frankfurt that one should know about: First and foremost, there are two Frankfurts- one in the western half of Germany in the state of Hesse, and one in the far eastern part of the state on the border to Poland. When the Iron Curtain sliced the two Germanys into two resulting in 45 years of hostility between the Communists and the Westerners, the people in the eastern part of Germany (known at the time as the German Democratic Republic) could not imagine that region to not have a town called Frankfurt. Therefore, they fought to keep the name Frankfurt, which after the Reunification of 1990 became known as Frankfurt an der Oder.  Both Main and Oder are rivers that flow through the cities respectively.  Another point about Frankfurt am Main that is well-known is the fact that the city is the third largest in Germany (in terms of the population), is the headquarters of the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange (DAX), but yet despite being the largest city in Hesse with a population of over 600,000 (minus the metropolitan area), it is not the capital of the state. That honor goes to the one of the Twin Cities straddling the Main and Rhein Rivers, Wiesbaden (ironically, its sister on the other side of the rivers, Mainz is the capital of Rheinland Palatinate).

The Frankfurt Christmas Market, which is located along the Main River at Römerplatz between the St. Paul’s and St. Nicolas Cathedrals was touted by many as the cream of the crop with regards to the Christmas markets in Germany- even more popular than the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Yet still, despite its size and various shops located in three different areas around the two churches, the market still offers the same goods as the ones in Nuremberg and Erfurt, which doesn’t really make it that spectacular to begin with. Furthermore, for those who are claustrophobic, most of the area is located in tight quarters, which does not provide for some breathing room to manoever; especially when it is on a Saturday, when most of the people do their Christmas shopping. It is even more depressing when the weather is gloomy, as it was the case when I visited the market. And finally, for those wanting to stay longer at the Christmas market- meaning beyond closing time for most shops- so that they can enjoy their last cup of Glühwein, they are more or less screwed for when the clock strikes 9:00 at night, the shops and food/drink areas close almost simultaneously! It is not like in Bayreuth, where Winterdorf is open longer than the shops, or in Erfurt where every food and beverage stand is open longer than the shops (even at Domplatz). This caused some considerable anger among those wanting to grab one more Glühwein or visit one more food stand only to find that the lights are shut off and the windows and doors hastily shut right before their eyes! I found the experience to be rather disappointing for someone who has visited the market for the first time but has seen other Christmas markets that were more flexible and relaxed than this one. I can imagine when the market is open and in full action that a person can get a considerable amount of aggression after a short time, which is easily comparable to the market in Nuremberg although the latter is more genuine than the one 3 hours to the west (by train, that is). For a person living in or near Frankfurt and does not like to travel that much, this market will provide people with a taste of typical German goods, although almost all of them originate from the south and far northwest of the city. However, if one wants to see a real market and find genuine goods, than they should look elsewhere as there are enough places to go around. It does not mean that a person should avoid the Frankfurt Christmas Market altogether. One could use the place as a venue for meetings over Glühwein and pretzels or other local specialties from Hesse and the surrounding area. The people at the stands would benefit from listening to all kinds of negotiations that take place in front of them, while at the same time, listen and learn the different languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. It is also a place for any last minute Christmas shopping ideas, although you have to put up with some elbowing and some lectures on how to “be polite,” which is something that many in Frankfurt have forgotten about. But like the city itself, the Christmas market is something that you see only once and never again. It is like living in the city- you only live there for a short time and then you move on to greener pastures unless you are: 1. A naturally born city slicker, or 2. You were born and raised in Frankfurt and you would never trade it in for anything else.

With that said, I went back to the hotel where I could try and get a good night’s rest before taking off for home, which is in the great state of Minnesota. As I was going back by light rail and subway, I was thinking of the events that occurred earlier in the day, where I befriended a German police officer who originates from Saxony but works in Frankfurt, and her company I got while drinking a coffee and a Glühwein, while waiting for the next ICE Train to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought to myself that good company from someone you never met before can create paths that you never knew existed. Seeing the Christmas markets in Germany are only a side dish to having some good company from your family, friends, and people you meet along the way. There are times in your life that people come in and out and don’t think about who you really are until they’re gone. However there are some who come into your life and stay there because you are who you are and they like you for that. This was probably the most rewarding effects when you go to a certain event or place, like the Christmas market in Germany.

Entering the honey shop, only to get the lights turned off as they entered and shown the door a second later.

Deutsche Bahn kyrillizes the entire rail network

Well,  winter wonderland is officially here. And with that, we have a massive problem with regards to being underprepared and overwhelmed with frustrated rail passengers and commuters. Yesterday and last night, traffic in Germany grinded to a complete halt as the second and most powerful storm to date this season left hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and travellers stranded in cars, hotels, and even train stations. Especially hardest hit was the northern two thirds of Germany, where many villages in Schleswig-Holstein were cut off from the rest of the world, trees were down in the forests of Bavaria and Hesse, and train service in Thuringia literally halted.

The Deutsche Bahn (EN: German Railways), overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of complaints made by stranded travellers and dealing with delays of up to 4 hours, decided to kyrillize the entire network, resulting in many trains stopping at the next available train station and many train stations, including that of Erfurt shutting down for the night. The term kyrillize comes from the name of the hurricane Kyrill, which wreaked havoc in January 2007, resulting in the Deutsche Bahn shutting down all services across Germany. The problem with that was the fact that the stranded passengers and even the personnel at the stations in Germany were misinformed of the trains being shut down. In fact, the information on the website of the Bahn was also false, as trains scheduled to arrive at stations 15-60 minutes later did not run as some rail lines were no longer able to run because of snow drifts and downed trees. In Jena at Westbahnhof (West Railway Station), no trains were running after 7:00pm last night in both directions, even though data on the computer stated that many were to arrive either late or punctually! Since this morning, many trains are running, but with either delays of up to 2 hours, replacement trains running on abnormal train schedules, and some services being cancelled. And with another storm pounding places like Kiel, Flensburg and other towns, one will have to figure in delays and cancellations through the weekend throughout all of Germany.

While kyrillizing the entire rail network was the only viable option in a situation like this, one has to start getting used to the concept of disaster management, because transportation agencies, like the Deutsche Bahn are operating based too much on long-term planning and little on spontaneous planning to accomodate passengers in times like these. This is one of many complaints the passengers have against the railway company, which is mostly owned by the German government.  Other complaints include lack of availability of trains, overcrowding, and unnecessarily cutting lines that serve many passengers to cut costs. One should also figure in cutting down on personnel and shutting down smaller train stations. However, when it comes to disaster planning, as one person stated, the Deutsche Bahn is behaving like it is living on the Mediterranean coast. In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the number of massive storms, including those like we witnessed last night and into today. Yet there is not enough personnel and trains on call to mobilize the passengers and get them to their destination. Worse is that there is no communication between train stations resulting in personnel and passengers making assumptions on what was going to happen, let alone some personnel trying to calm down passengers by offering sweet lies, like promising bus services, when the roads were blocked off completely, when they could have said “Sorry. But you may want to look into a place to stay overnight and we’ll try again to get you home tomorrow.” Better to taste the bitter truth than to drink a sweet lie and suffer from it, huh?

I have to give the German railways some credit for improving their services. Their ICE-trains are one of the best in Europe, which includes the ICE-T and ICE 3, the most modern of the trains. New tracks are being laid to better accomodate the passengers, which includes the stretch from Leipzig to Nuremberg via Erfurt and Illmenau, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The plan to expand the service from Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark through the Fehmarn region is in full swing as a bridge is being planned to connect Fehmarn Island with mainland Denmark, scheduled to be completed also in 2018. And customer service has improved where personnel are more helpful and flexible to meet the increasing needs of the customers; especially those with children. However, despite all this, the one big improvement that is needed in general is with disaster management; this goes way beyond shovelling snow off the platforms of the train stations and kyrillizing the entire network because of a massive snow storm. What is needed is improved communication among all train stations including the smaller stations. This means all technological means have to be utilized to the exponential degree, including online and through electronic signs on the platforms and in railway station buildings. This also means designating regional train stations as the main contact points to distribute the news to all stations at the quickest possible convenience. In addition, extra trains should be available in case if one (of them or a line) is not running, they can get the passengers to their destinations more quickly than it would be when it sticks to its long-term planning.  And finally, more information on lodging possiblities should be made available even in small to medium-sized cities like Weimar, Bayreuth, Fulda or Flensburg. Currently one can find this option in the big cities, like Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, just to name a few.

Only some small changes, plus having more personnel, will make the Deutsche Bahn more efficient and prepared for disasters like this. By sticking with the old plan, the railway will run the risk of losing more passengers than necessary. It has lost quite a few because of the increase in ticket prices. It may not want to excaberate the situation by sticking to the old ideology. It is time that the Deutsche Bahn think short term and react to disasters to better accomodate the passengers. It may be tough at the beginning, but in the end, the company will benefit in terms of profits and the passengers will be spared the headaches like we had last night with this snow storm.

Snow covered and snowed in for the night.
Train delays- by 100 minutes!

Useful links: http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/schneeeuropa102.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/12/02/uk.snow/index.html